PNT Day 12: The Water Challenges

Today’s miles: 13.4

Total miles: 129.3

In the middle of the night, my itchy feet wake me up. They’ve been itchy most nights lately, maybe because they spend most of the days wet? I notice with relief that the rain’s stopped, but while I’m rubbing my feet it starts up again. Argh. It is still raining when my watch alarm beeps at 5am. I do not want to get started, but also I am not really supposed to be camped here, so I need to go. My quilt got a bit wet in the night — everything feels damp, actually. I try to pack up carefully anyway, and cringe as I put on my cold, sodden hiking clothes. I throw a bar in my pocket for breakfast on the go. Gotta hike to stay warm. It’s 6am.

Downhill in the rain. Feeling a bit miserable. The trail winds around a bunch of rocks and scrubby plants, and it’s a cool landscape, but I mostly keep my head down and keep moving. Just as I hit my junction for the Swift Creek Trail, I hear two other hikers coming towards me on the Lake Ann Trail. They (Burn and Coffee) were on a climbing trip that was a complete bust due to the weather. “We just spent 36 hours in a tent.” We chat briefly, a bright spot in this wet morning.

Lake Ann Trail

On the Swift Creek Trail, I begin to feel anxious. There are two water crossings coming up that have quite a reputation. The first in particular. And it’s been raining for three days now, so the waterways are all running fast and deep. I’m very nervous. But all I can do is go look at the situation, and decide then. This trail is not so bad at first, but becomes rockier as I go. There are a number of little rocky crevices that must be crossed, all of them with water flowing down and through them. Everything is wet, so everything is slippery. I step on a small log and my foot slides right across it, sending me straight to the ground. My pants are muddy, but I don’t even have a scratch. I got way more banged up when I slid like that on my back deck at home!

Cold wet morning

Millions of rocks and steep steps to navigate as I descend. It’s slow. At some points maybe just a mile an hour pace. The rain fades at last but everything on the ground remains slick and slidey. My trepidation about the water crossing grows. I traverse a giant boulder field, maybe an avalanche chute? It’s so big and the rocks so haphazard that I can’t tell where to go, and am grateful for a few small cairns to aim toward. After I finish picking my way across and am on trail again, I hear a crashing sound behind me. I turn to see a small rockfall tumbling down what I just crossed. Yikes.

Looking back at the boulder field

I’ve been paralleling Swift Creek for quite a while now, just above it, and finally make the turn down to my crossing point. The creek is raging. There are two felled alders that Sketchy and Veg told me they used to butt-scoot across on. But that was before these three days of rain, and I see they (eastbound) were scooting on a slight downward angle, whereas I will have to scoot up the longest log. I put everything, including my trekking poles, tightly in my pack, and put my emergency beacon in my zippered shirt pocket, just in case. I try once to butt-scoot up the log. I can’t do it. It’s too hard to drag myself upward, and I can tell immediately that I won’t be able to stay on if I do this.

Felled alders across Swift Creek

I scout up and down the bank, wondering if there’s a safe spot to just ford. But the creek is deep. And fast. And I’m small and short. No way. I return to study the logs. If I can manage to straddle the downstream one, which is thicker and sturdier anyway, I can butt-scoot on a down angle instead of up, moving myself backwards to the opposite bank. I can hang on to the upstream log for support. Getting onto the downstream log is its own challenge, but I finally do. “Okay, I’m on,” I say out loud. “I’m scooting now.” It’s an instruction to myself. Inch by inch, I push myself backward, holding on to limbs from both logs. My lower legs dangle in the creek and I can feel how fast it’s running. I am very, very focused. I move very slowly. At the end, I hold onto a thick branch and dismount to stand in calf-deep water, then push through a tangle of branches to the trail. I made it.

I have to sit here for several minutes to let the adrenaline clear from my body. I eat a snack, drink water, and take deep breaths. That was probably the riskiest thing I’ve ever done in the backcountry. I crossed Swift Creek and I never want to do it again.

The trail is suddenly nice and maintained here on the other side. I see a few large toads the size of grapefruit, and a ton of big slugs, mostly black ones and some green ones, almost all as long as my hand. This does seem like a great place to be a toad or a slug.

Giant slugs living their best lives (it would seem)

I hike fast on this easy trail, soon arriving at my second water crossing: Rainbow Creek. There’s a very long log serving as a bridge here; usually volunteers install a cable across it each year as a handrail, but Veg already told me there’s no cable so far this season. I’ve been nervous because balancing above the river with nothing to hold onto freaks me out, and I fear my balance is getting a little worse with age. But the log is slightly wider than I’d imagined, and there are cross-hatches cut into it to help provide traction. I take a deep breath and go for it, keeping my eyes on my next foot placement and muttering to myself “one step at a time, one step at a time” the whole way. At the end I turn to look back on the river. Now I’ve done all the hardest things in this section. A huge weight lifts.

Looking back after crossing this log over Rainbow Creek
Rainbow Creek looking very dramatic in this weather

I zip through the remainder of the Swift Creek Trail, and am so, so glad to leave it behind at the trailhead. I continue south on an old decommissioned road that’s been converted to trail. A few tenths north on this road will take you to a hot springs, but I don’t have time (or the desire to deal with other people there). I pass a large group headed to the springs about halfway through my walk, and I soon arrive at Baker Lake Road. Tomorrow I will circumnavigate the lake, and the day after I will return to this road (a bit further south) to walk into town.

For now, I walk to the nearest campground (there are several all around the lake) and hope there’s room. I spy the camp hosts making the rounds in their golf cart. “Do you have space for a hiker?” “Are you a thru-hiker?” “I am.” “Hop in, I have a special camping spot for my thru-hikers.” Yesssss. They set me up in a little grassy patch across the way from potable water, day-use picnic tables, and a privy, then tell me there’s no charge. What a score!

I pitch my (sopping wet) tent fly to let it dry and then hang out at the tables overlooking the incredibly beautiful Baker Lake. It’s overcast, but not raining, and I am relieved for that. I eat, read, dry everything out (socks and shoes still wet, but maybe tomorrow if it’s sunny…), and enjoy an afternoon of well-deserved rest. If it’s hard to sleep later because of screaming children (some with rage, some with joy), oh well. This was worth it.

Baker Lake

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