Friday, August 5th, 2022, 0610-1900
Barker Brown’s Trail Camp to Chuchuwanteen Trail Camp, WEBO mm 697, Segment 6 Pasayten Wilderness
24 miles, Gain 3720′, Loss 6050′, elevation 4570′
It was 36 degrees inside my tent when I woke! I never expected such low temperatures when we’d just been experiencing heat index warnings. It was also overcast but at least it wasn’t raining. A breeze had wiped away any condensation but was also stealing my heat. My efforts to stuff my vents had worked a little though. It was definitely colder outside my tent. My thermometer reached 34 after jostling around a bit. Good for my 30 degree quilt! I didn’t even have to put on my puffy overnight, staying just warm enough. As a reward for our high and cold site, I was treated to a fantastic sunrise over Cathedral Peak. We were off just as soon as the sun was up, braving the cold.
I departed wearing a lot of my layers but soon had to change into my hiking clothes. I didn’t want to get my tights wet or dirty from all the dust and dew…how could there be both at the same time? We went through some mundane burned areas and I was glad we stopped where we did for the night before. After a few more miles, we climbed to some more high meadows and the views again popped. High pressure cirrus clouds, mares tails, framed a series of peaks: Ptarmigan and Lago. All the conditions came together to make the views glorious. I did some more peak finding to discover Mt Baker just peaking from behind the nearest ridge. My first WA volcano of this trip! I was so excited. We’d be walking over the shoulder of this grand behemoth in just a few weeks.
For about 5 wonderful miles, we got to enjoy relatively easy travel through these high meadows, skirting the valleys below, which had all been burned. As they say, there would be hell to pay for these good times…and there would be blood. The blowdown section commenced as we worked out way down the ridge. I caught one final glimpse of the Canadian border swath but then became consumed by trying to follow the trail. It was very hard to see and I mostly went by the presence of old cut logs and a few cairns. Now and again I saw footprints…most likely from another PNT hiker named Karaoke, who we first met in Oroville.
It wasn’t as bad as I expected for the first 4 miles, mostly going downhill and with the blowdowns being small enough to step over or go around. Just as I was about to get my hopes up that the rest may not be as bad either, it got worse. A lot worse. As we neared the river, the fallen trees were much bigger and more frequent, often piled in heaps that required slow navigation. I crossed the river, getting my shoes wet because it looked too cumbersome to go barefoot. It’s the only river I’ve ever had to ford while still climbing over blowdowns. I stopped at a small stream for lunch, where Wolverine caught up. We were still pretty light-hearted about the situation at that point, having only about 5 more miles to go to an airfield where crews were likely to have done work beyond. I hoped they had made some progress north and that the relatively flat terrain would make the blowdowns easier.
Nope. My pace went down to 1 mph for the rest of the afternoon and I really had to strive hard not to let the blowdowns get to me. It was a good day for podcasts…letting my mind go elsewhere and my body do the tedious BS…whatever was required, it just sucked. Or rather, blowed. There were over a thousand blowdowns all day. I tried to count for awhile and just got bored. Crews had completely logged out the area in previous years, so everything was less than a year old. These massive fires burn enough to kill everything but they don’t actually burn the whole tree to the ground. So there are just millions of dead sticks waiting their turn to fall down. I officially decided: I hate walking through burn areas.
The last 0.7 miles to the airfield were mercifully cleared. I know this exact number because I couldn’t stop checking my GPS. First it read 3.5 miles to go, an hour later, 2.5, and so on. I yelled with delight upon reaching live green trees surrounding the airfield. I stopped to wait for Wolverine there but after nearly an hour had gone by, I started to worry. Luckily, as I started back down the trail to look for her, the German couple came along, informing me that she’d dropped her water bottle and filter and had gone back to look for it. I was still worried about her only because of the iffy nature of blowdowns (you can fall and skewer yourself on a jagged branch, for instance), but at least now I knew the reason for the delay. I decided to continue on another 4 miles to a campsite, walking with the couple for a stretch. The campsite was sort of a rendezvous site we’d discussed earlier and a good stopping point for the day. I had forfeited my 28 mile average to the blowdowns early in the day. It took me 13 hours to go 24 miles this day, and I was working hard most of it.
The last 4 miles were pretty immaculate and I felt like I was flying. A crew of 2 ladies working for the Forest Service were working on clearing the few blowdowns in the section. They had cleared half of it but had some huge logs to saw for the remainder. Since it’s a wilderness area, they can’t use chainsaws, only cross cut hand saws. A 2 mule team had packed up most of their gear from the airfield. I was thrilled to first run into the mule team coming back, just past the airfield (where pack animals can go means there are no blowdowns). Then we met the 2 women who were camped at our same site for the night. It was a bit of a squeeze getting all the tents to fit. I’m sure they were surprised when 4 PNT hikes rolled in after 7 pm. It happens.
I was so glad to be able to clean in the stream. You can imagine, one gets pretty dirty crawling over burnt logs all day. I was happy that I only got a few small scrapes from this experience… miraculous really.. My wound from the previous day was so far the worst for this section. The couple and I ate dinner together, having great conversation. Even though this is their first long thru-hike, they are incredibly experienced and knowledgeable about gear. Hard core. They have great plans to hike many of the GR routes in Europe, which I’m very interested in learning more about. Wolverine finally rolled in just before dark. She’d done her 28 miles for the day, with the extra 4 that she had to backtrack through the blowdowns to find her missing bottle and filter. That’s 2 miles back to our lunch spot, then 2 miles to resume, plus the rest of the distance left after that. I’d just been thinking earlier about what items of gear I’d go back for through that mess and the list was pretty short…maybe my tent, sleeping bag and full backpack but not much else.