Also getting water at the lake was a middle-aged hiker with the trail name of Jack Rabbit. We exchanged small talk while he prepared his breakfast. I found him pleasant and would like to have walked awhile with him, but after ascending back to the trail where I left my backpack and continuing my hike, in due time he passed me, and I never saw him again.
The peanut butter and jam sandwich I had for breakfast early this morning certainly sparked something in my bodily machinery, for I found myself hiking with strength and agility, and before long I was standing at Saddle Gap with unobstructed views of Skykomish Peak and Glacier Peak dead ahead.
On all sides, the snow-covered peaks of the mountains soared above me. Their rocky slopes were littered with house-size boulders that had sheared away from the cliffs above as a result of water seeping into cracks and freezing, then expanding and forcing the rock to separate from its natural parent. Steep and precipitous were the slopes that plunged straight down to valleys far below the trail I was standing on. Not since the John Muir Trail in Central California have I encountered such rugged beauty.
At times, the trail wandered through groves of trees, and then abruptly changed and headed out on a long traverse across a talus slope that often had been blasted from the side of a sheer cliff.
The twists and turns made the trail seem alive, for no sooner did it descend, sometimes a thousand or two thousand feet in elevation in order to cross a stream or river, than it would start its ascension again to regain the same amount of elevation on the other side of the valley. These huge gains and declines in elevation would continue all the way to the Canadian border – after all, this is what hiking in Washington was all about.
Snow-covered Skykomish Peak loomed ahead on the horizon, and within an hour I was walking the cobblestone talus slopes below this peak. The weather this day had been pleasant, but off to the south in the direction of Stevens Pass, I could see dark clouds gathering, which was fascinating to watch because they were not just gathering, they were flowing north, ever so slowly around the peaks and down into the valleys. It was like they were devouring everything in their path as they moved northward. It reminds me of old movie newsreel clips I had seen that depicted chemical warfare during World War I where mustard gas was deployed against enemy troops; once the gas canisters had opened, the yellow gas would waft through the air and then slowly began to gravitate towards lower elevations, until the whole landscape was enveloped by the deadly fumes. I moved swiftly up the trail, hoping to find a decent camping spot before the rolling clouds enveloped me and either smothered me with wet mist or soaked me with drizzling rain.
I passed beautiful Lake Sally Ann where I would consider camping for the evening, but most of the decent camping spots had been closed to camping by the Forest Service to allow for revegetation and rejuvenation.
Rounding the corner of Kodak Peak, I met a middle-aged couple – day hikers, who had been picking huckleberries, which were abundant in this area. Their fingers and lips were stained purple with huckleberry juice as well as the seats and knees of their hiking pants where they had sat or kneeled in the bushes as they picked their plunder. No doubt about it, they had been enjoying themselves. When I met them, they said they were through for the day and were heading up the trail to their camp at Indian Pass. We walked together for a ways, and then stopped for pictures at a small wooden sign stuck in the ground that announced the entrance to Glacier Peak Wilderness. This was the beginning of the end of the Pacific Crest Trail, and I knelt in the grass beside the sign and asked the woman to take my picture.
While we were standing at the sign, the misting clouds had finally reached our spot on the mountain and began to swirl around us, slowly obscuring the surrounding mountains, but not before the husband was able to point out to me the faint line of the trail that traversed along the side of the mountain far in the distance. Pointing far to the west, he told me to focus my eyes on a small pass that was barely visible on the horizon several miles away, and said,
“That’s Red Pass, and once you cross over it, it’s all downhill to Stehekin and Lake Chelan.”
Before we took our leave of one another, the woman offered me a quart-size Ziploc bag of huckleberries. She said that she and her husband had eaten all they wanted and had filled this bag hoping they could share it with a PCT hiker. I gladly accepted it, as it was more huckleberries than I could ever hope to pick.
At the Indian Pass trail junction, they turned right on a trail that would take them to their campsite; dusk was now upon me, and being alone, I needed to find a place to camp for myself. As good fortune would have it, I found a relatively large, flat camping spot just on the other side of the trail junction with Indian Pass, and set up my tent, knowing that it was going to rain tonight.
Just as I finished setting up my tent and eaten several spoonfuls of huckleberries, Hermes and Lotus showed up. I told them there was plenty of room for another tent and invited them to stay the night; they accepted the offer. Huckleberries are good, but they’re also a tad bit sour; I knew I wasn’t going to carry the bag with me the next day, so I offered the remaining contents of the bag to Hermes and Lotus. Like me, they were delighted to receive the berries.
One doesn’t conquer a mountain; rather, one is permitted to pass through, and then only on the mountain’s terms. The mountains are indifferent to one’s skill, knowledge or preparation for being in its domain, or, heaven forbid, being unprepared. It’s one thing to think one is prepared to enter the mountains, it’s a totally different matter to think one is prepared, only to find out one is not prepared, for then the mountains are prepared to extract a fearsome toll that most hikers are not prepared to pay.