Tuesday July 5th, 2022, 1040-2000
Sherman Pass to Hall Creek rd & bushwhack from hell junction, WEBO mm 485, Segment 4 Kettle Range
13 miles, Gain 2400′, Loss 4200′, elevation 4570
It was a day of extremes, I’d have to say. For more than half of it I was in heaven, but the last half in hell. It started with a wonderfully comfortable night in a soft bed, warm and dry. I had coffee with Karrie in the morning, chatting about her career and interests. I was surprised to learn that she’s also really into scuba diving. I was dragging my feet this morning but eventually she proposed a ride up to the trailhead, provided I could help her bring her truck to the mechanic, which was on the way. I was more than happy to do this, regardless of a ride. I got to drive her brand new Prius, which I liked very much.
Shortly I found myself at Sherman pass, ready to head south on the Kettle Crest Trail. Since I began the PNT hike with a flip to the middle, I figured it didn’t matter to be switching directions again to go westbound (WEBO). It worked out better for Kerrie and I would get to enjoy a net elevation loss of about 5000′. In about a day, I would end where I left off at HWY 21 the day before, connecting my footsteps. Another flip…or was it a flop? Who cares as long as I was hiking the whole trail.
From the pass, the trail was immaculate. It was wide, well groomed, and with great switchbacks. Gold-standard. It carried me up into some true alpine loveliness that reminded me so much of the Cascades along the PCT. I was in heaven, walking through all the meadows filled with wildflowers. The sky was a patchwork of blue and fluffy clouds, remnants from the 2 days of rain. It seemed like the sun was especially shining on me and it felt so good. Little rills of water were trickling from everywhere. I reflected on my light pack, essentially with only 1 day of food, and without some other items I’d left at Kerrie’s. I felt like I was more on a day hike…but then, even the word hiking implies effort. I was more like… frolicking.
I came to the Snow Peak cabin, which is a pretty beefy abode sitting atop a pass, with great views and ambiance. It can be rented for pretty cheap but was booked for months in advance when I checked online the week before. I first found the cabin’s spring and water trough, with 3 drink treats floating inside…Trough Magic? I suspected they might have purposely been left by the previous night’s occupants but wasn’t absolutely sure. So I went to the cabin to find it empty but still warm from the fire that morning. This was evidence enough that the cans had been left behind for the next hikers to enjoy. I ran back to grab one (a hard lemonade) and drank it while sitting inside, reading the logbook.
I stayed for way too long, not in a hurry. The cabin even had lighting, powered by a solar panel and a battery. I checked for a wifi signal but found none…just kidding. I finally set off for more frolicking along the Kettle Crest trail. I was so preoccupied with the ease and beauty that I missed a turn onto an obscure trail and continued down the side of a mountain for about half a mile. Finally realizing my mistake, I was surprised by just how much elevation I’d dropped…because now I had to go back uphill. Even still, I was in a good mood. The obscure trail was still fun and took me to a spot where I needed to make a decision.
The red line on Far Out depicted a squiggly route down a steep mountainside, connecting to a ridgeline with a series of knolls, then another drop to a forest road, a total of 3.5 miles of pure bushwhacking. The alternate blue route was over 5 miles with about 3\4 of a mile bushwhack but the rest logging roads. I was in such a good mood that I decided I wanted a little challenge. Big mistake. I should have recognized that starting such an endeavor so late in the afternoon (4:15) was stupid. Easy math, expecting 1 mph pace, would put me finishing close to 8 pm and in jeopardy of it getting dark. But maybe I thought I could go faster. Or just didn’t care due to overconfidence.
I won’t go into all the details since I really didn’t care for the experience. I knew I should have turned around right off the bat but the farther I went, the more vested I became. The forest was really dense and the terrain very steep…a bad combo. There were sketchy rock faces to scramble and a tangled mess of downfall. I was on my hands and knees crawling at times. I had to stuff my umbrella into the main compartment of my pack just to be more streamlined. The main theme was just to keep moving. I had to be very careful to stay right on top of the red line, otherwise I came to tough spots like cliffs and thick stands of trees. Around 6 pm, the mosquitoes predictably came out to say hi, and things got even more miserable. I was a sitting duck for them, moving so slowly. I had to put on my head net, which then made it hard to see and something else to snag on all the branches lashing me in the face.
I stopped to pick up some water from a stream with only 0.7 miles to go. I still wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of the bushwhack by dark, or make it out at all. Even with 0.1 miles to go, I couldn’t see the road and was desperate for it to end. I stumbled out of the woods right on time around 8 pm, picking twigs out of my hair and covered in dirt, plant matter, and blood. My legs were a mess of cuts and contusions. I was lucky I didn’t break or loose something. It was all I could do to immediately pitch my tent, breaking my rule about not camping right next a road. After this experience, I actually wanted to be close to some semblance of civilization. It was a quiet forest road, with no fresh tire tracks and no vehicles coming by while I was on it, so that was good. I rinsed off all the blood and dirt from my legs in a little creek and jumped inside my tent to avoid the mossies. I didn’t even want to eat dinner but forced myself to do so. I’d actually made good time through the bushwhack, so overall it was a success. I should have felt confident and happy but instead I was exhausted and felt dumb for not going the easier route. Oh well. It was still a good day and going forward, I would treat these bushwhack sections with more scrutiny and respect. A valuable lesson on the PNT.