PNT Day 27: Highs & Lows

Today’s miles: 22.8

Total miles: 372.5

It’s cold overnight, making me reluctant to get out of my quilt in the morning. But when I finally do, I’m thrilled to find that my tent has dried out at last. I wear my puffy jacket during morning chores, only shedding it at the last minute before I leave camp. There’s frost on the ground!

The trail continues a relatively reasonable uphill on my approach to Hayden Pass. Just as the sun is fully emerging from behind the mountains, I exit the forest and can see clearly the remainder of the switchbacks up to the pass. It doesn’t look that hard — though I know the me of three weeks ago would have found it intimidating. There are absolutely gorgeous views on the way up. My feet steadily carry me forward on long switchbacks as I look out over layers of mountains, snowfields, and sub-alpine streams bubbling away. The temperature is nice and cool, and I feel an enormous sense of gratitude all the way up, just so glad to experience this, to be here this morning.

Looking at my last set of long switchbacks up Hayden Pass.
View near the top of the pass.

After cresting the pass, there are 8.5 miles of descent, including some blowdowns, rocky trail tread, and mud. It feels very long. I’m also experiencing some painful chafe on my inner thighs. I’ve lost a lot of weight on this hike so far, and my boxer briefs—which I wear to protect from chafe—no longer fit snugly, so they are only contributing to the problem. (Reader, I am just trying to give you a complete and accurate account of long-distance hiking.)

Snow-covered peaks in the distance on my way down!

Eventually I reach the ranger station at Hayes River, and stop on the porch there to eat lunch. I spread out my quilt, socks, and a few other things to dry in the sun. It’s difficult to motivate myself to leave this comfortable bench on the porch, but I have many miles still to my campsite. After hiking rolling trail for a while, I cross an inviting stream and stop to filter water. There’s a moss-covered log here that I suspect generations of hikers have sat on before me, and even though I have been alone all day, this space makes me feel connected, somehow.

First good view of the Elwha River.
Optimal seating for filtering water.

On the Elwha River Trail now, I zip through 4.5 miles of mostly gradual downhill. This must be a more popular trail in the park because I pass a few sets of overnighters around Elkhorn camp, most of whom look relieved to be arriving at their campsite. But I still have miles ahead of me. At Mary’s Falls camp, just before my last climb of the day, I stop for a snack and put my dinner in to soak. I’m getting tired, but I put my audiobook in and let it carry me uphill. On the descent, I’m kind of zombie-hiking though. My legs feel okay but my feet are done. The audiobook ends just as I arrive at Lillian camp. There is one other tent set up, upriver from me. I reach camp at 6pm, and one hour later I have done all of my evening chores: pitched tent, filtered water, eaten dinner, brushed teeth, set up bedding, changed into sleep clothes. My body is ready to sleep, but my brain is negotiating some anxieties: tomorrow I will have just as many miles as today, but with a very long, very steep climb at the end. Fortunately, these worries are no match for my sheer physical exhaustion, and I fall asleep quickly to the rushing river sounds below me.

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