Thursday, August 4th, 2022, 0610-1830
Fireplace Camp to Barker Brown’s Trail Camp, WEBO mm 673, Section 6 Pasayten Wilderness
30.6 miles, Gain 5380′, Loss 5470′, elevation 6900′
If it weren’t just coming on the heels of several spectacular days in Glacier NP, today would have felt pretty epic. It was still a great day. I was off to a chilly early start to meet up with Wolverine in the morning. My thermometer read 46 degrees…the coldest it had been in a long time and certainly quite the turn around from the 100’s only 2 days before. I walked fast and was quickly in sight of her. She seemed somewhat apologetic or uneasy about our separation overnight…I couldn’t quite tell. She shouldn’t have felt any regrets though. I’d been fine by myself and I think it’s good for hiking partners to exert independence now and again. In retrospect, she probably felt fine and I just misread the situation. It’s so funny how we can easily misinterpret situations. Reading signs along the trail is a piece of cake compared to reading a hiking partner’s feelings.
We hiked together light-hearted and eager for a day of great views. My pack felt so much better, partly because I had packed it better. The surrounding mountains reminded me more of the Sierras than of the Cascades. Everywhere were boulders and slabs of granite. Sparse trees and light undergrowth grew along the hillsides, giving the area an arid look. Perhaps as we moved west these Cascades would look more like the ones I remembered from the PCT. Either way, they were beautiful.
We passed many landmarks: Teapot Dome, Scheelite Pass, Apex Pass, and the awe-inspiring Cathedral Pass and Amphitheater ridge. This was out highpoint of the PNT at 7573′. We’d been nearly as high (7500′) going over Boulder Pass in GNP…which felt a lot higher given all the snow. This pass was nice and easy, with fantastic angles up to Cathedral Peak. It looked like a fun mountain to climb, with giant slabs and steps of granite. The views to the Western Cascades were also marvelous. We took some photos and hurried down. The wind was so chilly.
We finally caught up to four other PNT hikers at Cathedral Lake: Iguana, Chubby Bunny, Mathias and Carol (the German couple). We had an early lunch with all of them, comparing notes on the trail. I’d already surmised that the Germans were pretty hard core for having done Boulder Pass early on, but then they told us the story of their terrible shortcut two days before. It had taken them all day to go 5 miles over the steepest and sketchiest ridge. The route existed as a blue line on the Far Out app but they cautioned that it should be removed before someone dies. There had been life-threatening cliffs and crumbly rock. Mathias is an experienced rock climber and also works for the German gear company Vaude….so this was pretty strong advice that I hope others take seriously. They really regretted the decision and were very honest about it.
We went past a ranger cabin after lunch and I used the open air pit toilet there. It was great..like a cathole but with a seat. The rest of the day was kind of hard hiking. Gone were the immaculate crushed granite and wide trails, replaced by uneven tread, somewhat overgrown, and with layers of burnt dust. I hate walking through fire areas but so much of this wilderness had unfortunately burned. It’s made for a very big challenge for the trail maintainers. Speaking of which, we ran into an 8 person PNTA crew in this area. They were making huge improvements to the rough trail, trying to repair the fire damage. It’s such hard work. I gave them all high-fives and thanked them profusely. I was so happy to hear that one of the guys had thru-hiked the trail in 2019 and now was on this summer crew. Hear that everybody? Isn’t that great! These were paid positions so it was also a reminder to donate money to the PNTA…which I would do later.
We bombed 2000′ down to the Ashnola river on a series of long switchbacks. The trail deteriorated to the worst it’s been in awhile and there were some blowdowns. I put a few new gashes in my legs, which had finally healed fully from previous bushwhacks. One wound was gushing blood to the point that I had to put my last remaining bandaid on it (for years, I’ve only carried 2, both of which I’ve used on this trail). I was walking ahead of Wolverine when she remarked “there’s blood all over my leg but I don’t see a cut.” “It’s my blood,” I replied. It was, left behind on all the overgrowth. Sorry. That’s one way to bond with your hiking partner. A similar thing had happened to me on the Arizona trail, only I didn’t know the hiker or that anyone was even in front of me. Thanks catsclaw.
Even though it was only 66 degrees, I took a dip in the river. The sun was out and I anticipated a warm climb afterwards…up the 2000′ we had just lost. The cold definitely helped me keep a pace, even though my body was wearing down from all the miles. But as we got higher, a cold wind kicked in and I became very chilled. It was nice to wash away the sweat but I regretted getting wet. Now I was only damp but that still made a big difference. We entered an alpine area above the trees and walked through gorgeous meadows. The sky was only partly cloudy and I could see sunshine on surrounding peaks. But of course there was none where I was. I shivered through filtering water for the night at a small stream and washed more blood off my leg. The wound just kept bleeding…it was a pretty good gash.
We walked about half a mile further until we found a flat area with nice big trees. I picked a really nice site partially protected by the trees. I love trees. I still had a view back towards Cathedral Peak, so it was a great site. But going to be very cold. I immediately exploded my pack, digging for a million things all at once. I needed warm dry clothes and my first aid kit to deal with the wound. I put on clothes on my top half and tried to dress the wound while I shivered half naked. It’s hard to do anything when you’re so cold. Finally I got my tights on…which were new ones I found in the Oroville hiker box. They fit great and were much warmer than my old holey ones. I didn’t even wash them before adding them to my kit (just like when my AT buddy Mud Lantern found a puffy in a hiker box and I had a fit that he didn’t wash it). The trail provides.
I was fine after getting in my quite and eating a hot meal. I’ve dealt with cold so much, at least I know what to do. I was also so happy to have my warmer sleeping pad back. Who knew I’d need it so soon? The German couple, who we’d been hopscotching all afternoon, also camped nearby. They had a bombproof Hilleberg tent, which they pitched in the open field. That’s the difference between my single wall DCF tents and a 2 wall dome tent that can withstand gale force winds. You can pitch that tent anywhere and be ok. But I was so happy nestled in the trees. I battened down the hatches by fixing my rain flaps shut and stuffed extra gear along my mesh vents. I also put my cords around my Thermarest so that I could lock in my quilt. I pulled out all the cold-weather stops!
I was expecting to read about the hellish blowdown area just before Dome camp, but the trail crews must have cleared it. (Took us an hour to go half a mile! It was the worst I’ve ever seen…well, until last week’s shit show after running into you at Whatcom. I got seriously lost in that mess and couldn’t find the trail for a good 20 minutes!) I raised over $200 for the PNTA on my birthday, God bless them!!
That’s so great of you. Yeah, that part along Little Beaver was probably the worst yet…not the longest but it came at the end of the day and I almost got stuck in it in the dark