Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Final thoughts

I arrived at High Bridge ranger station about 2:00 on Friday, 11/9.  The station was all closed up for the season and I was preparing to road hike into Stehekin when a truck drove up the road.  Wrong direction for me but I decided that if I start hiking, the truck would be returning.  Sure enough, I had a ride after a few minutes of road walking.
I had a warm welcome when I got into town.  Even though everything was shut down, I received some needed food from a NPS worker - thank you!  I was permitted to make a phone call and left a message with my parents that I would be coming out at Chelan.  Then I was invited to join Ranger Kate and her partner for dinner.  We mostly talked about I'm Fine and his account of being lost for 2 weeks.  Last she knew, he had caught a ferry out to Chelan and ended his hike.  (little did she know he came back the day before and continued on to the border)
Spent 2 days waiting for the ferry since it was on a limited schedule for winter.  The boat arrived and my parents were on it, along with Flatlander.  He had gotten off trail during the Oct 18th snowstorm, gone back home to the Midwest and then drove back out for another attempt at finishing.  We decided to combine forces for the last 70 miles and headed to Chelan.  We would come back for the 20 miles from Stehekin to Rainy Pass at another time.
It started to snow that night.  We woke up to 8" of powder the next morning.  That did not deter us as we made our drive around to Rainy Pass.  In Winthrop, I resupplied, rested and readied myself for the last push.    We devised our plan, exit strategy if needed, and such.
At 5:30 am on 11/13, Flatlander and I headed up to the pass.  It was snowing pretty hard and it was difficult to get motivated with the uncertain weather.  The forecast had called for clearing skies.  We started up the trail after seeing a small break in the clouds.  Trail conditions were fine but it was slow going once we climbed above treeline.  I accelerated once I saw the pass and found myself in the lead - breaking trail - from that point on.  Cutthroat Pass at 6800' had deep snow cover and locating the trail was a little difficult.  What complicated the situation was the prior snow that had iced over but was hidden under the new snow cover.  The cleats from my snowshoes had trouble gaining traction and the side slope that we were on became difficult.  Wished I had crampons at that point.
I waited for Flatlander to catch up and asked him to go first since I was getting a little tired from breaking trail all day.  After he went about 20 yards on the steep sidehill, we decided we had enough.  Clearly it was going to take longer than 6-7 days at the pace we were going.  Our speed at this point was about a mile an hour.  We agreed to turn around at that point.
I regret the decision but I would not have gone on alone.  The trail was passable but more snow was expected in 4 days which could have complicated the situation.  I'm not an avalanche expert and I didn't want to learn any lessons the hard way.  
Its been hard trying to readjust to city life.  Nice to see my friends again.  Trail life is started to fade into memory.  Gear is put away, beard is gone, hair is cut, and weight is being put back on.  I'm glad there still is some of the PCT that I haven't hiked.  It gives me something to look forward to next year.      

Stevens to Stehekin

I decided to try and finish the trail 2 weeks after going home to Portland, Or.  The freezing level had rose to 8500' so I knew that it was possible to continue.  I set a goal of at least finishing the section.
I drove up to the trailhead that Storytime and I had exited 2 weeks before.  I quickly hiked the 9 miles up to Dishpan Gap.  It started to rain so I quickly set up the tent and dove inside - here we go again!
The wind had picked up next morning but the rain had stopped.  At least the wind dried out the tent and I eagerly packed up and started up the PCT.  I passed the campsite where Storytime and I had last seen I'm Fine.  The sun broke out as I rounded Indian Pass and my confidence grew.  Soon, Red Pass and White pass were passed.  I descended into the White Chuck drainage where camp was made.  It felt great to be back on the trail!
I was up early the next day to take advantage of the daylight.  Fire Creek pass was my next goal and the weather held - overcast with really dark clouds.  The sky looked just like it did when it dumped snow 2 weeks prior.  Sure enough, the rain turned to snow overnight and I grew concerned.  I left the tent at 6:00 am and considered bailing on the old PCT down Milk Creek.  At the junction, there was a sign stating the trail was not maintained.  I wasn't about to deal with that uncertainty so up to Vista Ridge I climbed.  It was slow going on the brushy switchbacks and had to knock the snow off the heavily weighted branches.  It snowed harder as I climbed and the trail was really difficult to follow above treeline.  I almost lost the trail before the GPS put me back on the right track.  It was very cold and windy as I passed the Dolly Vista campsite and descended down to the Suiattle River.  I took the new route and arrived at the old junction where I set up camp and built a fire.  One more pass to go!
The next morning I saw the fresh tracks of Dancing w/Lizards and Silent D.  I followed them up to the pass where they turned off to Holden via Cloudy Pass.  I continued on the PCT and made it to Hemlock Camp just before it started snowing again.  It was really cold the next morning and the aluminum tent poles had to be unfrozen to be separated and packed away.
I didn't have enough food to continue to Rainy Pass so made up my mind to exit at Stehekin and reassess.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Last leg ?

Libby for Bouncer again.

So much has happened.   To backtrack.  Bouncer due out of the Alpine Lakes area  by Saturday October 13th.  The predicted rains did indeed hit on Friday.  It had been an unusually dry summer and early fall.  Those who made it through before the rain started are fortunate indeed.  It poured with rain as we sat at the trailhead at Stevens Pass.  We discovered that the rain found its way through the roof seams of the RV so Maks was in for a wet night in his loft bedroom- with 2 buckets to catch the drips.

We waited all the next day, reluctant to move from our spot.  At 5 pm Maks donned his rain gear and started to hike south. Not 10 minutes later I heard the whoops and hollers that signaled they had met on trail.  I was delighted to see that Storytime was with Bouncer.  Always safety in numbers when bad weather hits.
I'm Fine and Bouncer at the Skykomish Hotel
We drove down the pass to Skykomish- a sweet little railroad town that has a hotel catering to hikers.  The guys shared a room and, as they settled in, we ran into I'm Fine in the cafe.  He also had just come off trail and was eating a very large meal.   We all had dinner and  the hikers were able to watch Sunday night football.  The three ended up bunking together.
The next morning after breakfast in the cafe we drove to Baring to the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven.  They are the most northerly of the trail angels and Andrea takes her role as PCT mom very seriously- she frets and worries and rejoices with all the moms involved.  Once again, the hikers settled in.  We drove in to Gold Bar where the hikers bought their supplies for the next section.  Then back again for Monday night football.
Notice the sky in the background

I'm Fine at Hiker Haven


Bouncer ready to hit the trail

Storytime carries I'm Fine as a backpack

On Tuesday we took Bouncer and Storytime up to the pass.  It was snowing there, quite cold and very unpleasant.  Bouncer sat deliberating for an hour.  They had planned to hike in 5 miles as it was already afternoon.  The next day was forecast for sunshine.  Decision was made to return to the Dinsmores and get an early start in the morning. That way the tents and boots would stay dry.
Back at Hiker Haven a young couple had come off trail.  They were 30 miles north of Stevens Pass when their tent collapsed in the rain.  They turned back and were glad to be in the comfort of the wood stove as they dried out their wet sleeping bags and tent.
Oct 17 ready to hike north

Storytime with duck tape on his shoes.

posing under the web cam

To Canada
Stevens Pass Oct 17 doesn't look bad at all
On Wednesday we hit the pass again.  There was some snow built up but it was sunny and it wasn't raining.  Looked like it was going to be a win.  We took our usual pictures and said our farewells.  Storytime had covered his shoes with duct tape hoping that would help.  There was some apprehension for their safety.  This stretch is 117 miles without cell phone coverage, in a remote wilderness with Glacier Peak in the middle of it all.
Maks and I waited at the pass for 2 hours.  When they didn't come back we thought we had the all clear and we drove off for a 4 day mini-vacation around Lake Wenatchee, Leavenworth  and Lake Chelan.  The weather was gorgeous.  It was warm and very sunny. We had a very relaxing time doing a bit of shopping, sight-seeing and reading our books.
On the 3rd day  it was time to stop the denial and check the weather to the west. There were rumors of cold weather and snow. We drove 27 miles up the Entiat River road " Gateway to Glacier Peak".  It was still sunny. At mile 28  the rain had started.  At mile 30 it was snowing with wind swirling around and it was so very cold.  I could not imagine Bouncer and Storytime out there- 20 miles west and another 2000 to 3000ft.
Entiat River road
higher - right in the heart of the storm.  We drove out in silence.  Only one thing to do: figure out how to rescue them.
Entiat River Rd.
We headed for Winthrop where the following day we would try to find a way to get to them.  Around 5 pm we had a call from Bouncer.  They had turned around and found a side trail that took them down to the N. Fork of the Skykomish.  It was a decent trail and was accessed by a forest road that was intact.  They were back at the Dinsmores and  getting warm.  Wonderful to see them again.  They had hiked for two days in sunny weather and got 30 miles in.  Then it rained all day Friday and they stayed in their tents.  By Saturday morning they were in 2 feet of snow and it was really cold.

I'm Fine had hiked past them.  He wanted to keep going even though it was getting difficult to find trail.   Gonzo was also out there somewhere.   We later found out that Gonzo also turned around.
I'm Fine took 16 days to get the 100 miles to Stehekin.  He went 5 days without food.  His will be one of the oft-repeated stories of the challenges of the North Cascades.  The SAR was called out but he walked into Stehekin under his own power.  The same storm meant the end of a dream for  some hikers in Stehekin:  Flatlander and Flower, Special Delivery and the Canadians.  End of hike.  A very determined group hitched into Winthrop to borrow snowshoes and were able to complete their journey .  Bouncer and Storytime were elated to get out alive with all fingers and toes.  Later their emotions changed to the reality that they were done.  No thru-hike for them. They had made the right decision and came out alive.  I think it is more of a failure to lose your life than to fail to reach Canada.
We drove home down I5 , Storytime came home for the night with us , and they stepped back into every-day life.

We kept watching Facebook and reading blogs of those who made it through- and those who came so close.  They were getting texts from those who made it to the monument.
Then I'm Fine was missing - he was way overdue and had not picked up his package in Stehekin. The Facebook page lit up with the hiking family expressing their heartache that their friend was in trouble.   Two days of anxiety- and the good news that he is okay.
Now a break in the weather has put the snow levels back up to 9000 to 10000 feet.  Do you think there's a chance to get it done?  Will let you know how it all turns out next time this is updated.  We will be leaving this Sunday for Stevens Pass and maybe points north.  Will let Bouncer write the next post.