Miles: 22.61 (including 15.12 on the hot springs alternate trail)
Camping: PCT mile 2445.63
Miles to go: 223.35

I was the first to greet the day at camp this morning, no one else even stirring in their tents. The river nearby provided white noise, the forest provided a gentle peace, the hot springs having relaxed us all before bed. I wasn’t surprised to be going about morning camp chores solo and I greatly appreciated the quiet. Even after I’d completed breakfast, collected water and visited the convenience of the composting toilet, I still hadn’t seen any of my companions so I decided to head off on my own. I knew they’d catch up before too long, as everyone I am hiking with at this point is pretty fast. I’m certainly the slow one of this bunch so a head start is actually what I need on most days. It helps that they will sleep in, so it will be around lunch when they start catching up to me. Dayglo ended up getting up before I officially departed, but he was still packing up as I headed on up the trail. I enjoyed the path through the giant trees, springs seeping through the ground nearly everywhere. There was a piped spring that had burst and was spraying all over the trail and everything surrounding me was of the brightest green. I was wearing my waterproof socks for the first time, as everything around me was saturated and dripping with water, branches slapping me in the face, bushes growing over the trail and forcing their wet branches all over my body and pack. I felt as if I was going through a carwash, but my feet were doing great, dry and warm in my neoprene socks. Thank you Mom!!

Dayglo caught up to me as we entered a horse camp, so we sat and enjoyed second breakfast together. He is one of the faster hikers I hike with and he was off like a shot after break. Dayglo intended on making it a 27 mile day, but I wasn’t feeling that ambitious, and figured I wouldn’t see him again today. The trail continued to climb out of the peaceful valley where we’d had our pleasant soak, and I was covered in the dampness of both sweat and rain covered branches. I still wasn’t on the PCT, so the grade wasn’t as gentle as I am used to, and I worked hard to climb up and up over the serene and beautiful Dutch Miller Gap. It was a spot most reminiscent of the Sierra; a high alpine meadow with meandering rivers, wildflowers and towering granite peaks. Climbing over the pass the views opened up to the valley below, waterfalls cascading off the side of the very steep descent I was then embarking on. The trail was super muddy and my feet got sucked up a few times, making inevitable suction noises as I wrestled them to freedom from the sticky mess. At one point, the slope was so steep and muddy I was virtually skiing down the side of the hill, using my trekking poles to hold me upright and praying that I would stay on the trail and not go over the steep edge. At another point I fell straight down on my butt, covering myself in mud. It was rather fun and exciting, if not a total mess. My plan was to camp at a lake tonight anyhow, so I’d clean up in camp. In the meantime I kept my mind on safely making it down the slope.

I came upon a beautiful waterfall that pooled up into a large outcropping of rock and continued it’s descent into a ravine in the rocks. I decided it would be a great spot for lunch and I laid out my wet tent/sleeping bag to dry in the sun. Lunch today was one of my favorite treats, a pouch of salmon in curry sauce with vegetables wrapped in a tortilla. I pack one per resupply, so it never gets old and is always a treat! I felt as lazy as a lizard in the sun watching the waterfall, wondering if my friends behind me would be catching up soon. I’d been alone for hours, since Dayglo had gone off after second breakfast, which was fine by me. I like hiking with a group and feeling solo all at the same time; knowing Dayglo was ahead, Pockets, Hugs and Steeltoe behind. I was cozy in the middle, feeling safe and serene.

After lunch I climbed down the rest of the descent and came upon a beautiful, pristine lake. The trail hugged the shore for the better part of a mile, and I walked while staring into the crystal clear depths, feeling as if the world could not be more perfect than it is along this trail. I feel so lucky every day, though there is the impending feeling of loss creeping up, as I know this hike is not much longer for this world. I’m about to be in Canada. It’s going to be over. I don’t even know what that means anymore, what it’ll be like. I’m a little scared, a little emotional, a little ready, a lot unsure.

I finally reached the PCT after 15 miles and wasn’t making great time. I knew there was no way I’d catch Dayglo at 27 miles, so I hoped the others wouldn’t fly by me at that point and leave me alone. I liked having them around … but inevitably we are all hiking our own hike, and they could choose to go ahead. Back on the PCT, the trail wound up in a series of steep switchbacks, right back up. It was a day of “PUDs,” or Pointless Ups and Downs, and it was taking a lot out of me! I caught up to Blisster who had left an entire day ahead of us, but having taken the real PCT and not the alternate, we were just catching him now. He was also struggling with the climb at that point, both of us moving through molasses. I was moving faster than him and that wasn’t saying much, so I kept my momentum and climbed. Two miles from my destination, I had to stop and have a snack. I was bonking (hiking term for blood sugar drop) hard and felt like I could barely make any headway. A Snickers tasted like everything I needed and Blisster caught up with me, saying he didn’t think he could even do 2 more miles. I was giving him the, “it’s only 2 more miles,” pep talk when Steeltoe finally caught up with us. He was doing okay and confirmed that he’d be staying at the lake as well, so that made me feel a little relieved. I wanted our group to stay together.

The last couple of miles were slow going, and Hugs eventually came up behind me. She is an incredibly fast hiker, but I was surprised it took her that long to catch me. Apparently she had taken a nap at lunch … “aha!” I thought. We walked the last mile together and found Dayglo and Steeltoe sitting at the campsite we were all aiming for. Even Dayglo had the wind taken out of his sails today! I felt better knowing it wasn’t just me who struggled today and we all set up camp, washed the mud from our feet and legs in the creek and began on dinner as Pockets joined us. She said that Blisster had chosen to camp a mile back, as he was done for the day. I knew we’d see him again soon, so I proceeded to relax next to the fire that the guys were building, everyone accounted for. We all lounged a little zombie like, watching the flames dance, always joking, sharing candy that Steeltoe brought along. He always has extra candy, and loves to share in camp. He’s so thoughtful!

Everyone besides Steeltoe and I were cowboy camping, but we put up our tents (without the rainfly). I like to have everything in my tent, especially in Washington. There are mice everywhere in this state, and I feel overly protective of my food! It is much safer in my tent with me than on the ground where sneaky little rodents can sink their sneaky little teeth into it. Everyone is talking about 30 miles tomorrow, but Pockets and I are both hesitant to commit. We are looking at another lake only 24 miles away, a much easier goal in this ragged PUD terrain. Whatever happens I look forward to sleep tonight. It was a long day and it took a lot of energy to get through it.