A face appeared beyond the jumble of bushes surrounding my creek-side campsite. I blinked once. Twice. Shook my head. The face still remained, and after the shock faded away, I realized it was a girl about my age looking at me. Me, in my sliders. Bare-chested. Trying to cook dinner in my Jetboil. I let out a feeble, “Yo…” and fumbled with what to say. The human mind plays weird tricks on a solo hiker. When you hike solo, you have no one to talk to besides yourself and God. When you encounter another hiker, all of those bottled up words and lonely feelings bubble up and explode into a geyser of rapid-firing, semi-intelligible speech. I managed to offer dinner to the girl, and proceeded to tidy up my temporary home as both of us spoke about our previous solo days and adventures we had encountered. Mountains, elevation gains, weird noises, hidden paths, great views, and a lack of water made for a great campfire storytime.
The following day, we hiked past more bubbling streams of ice cold snow melt, up to pleasant vistas, and back down along the spongy forest floor. The forests we traveled through were like places where time seemed to stand still as the quiet psithurism rustled overhead and the golden shafts of light brightened the path.
We set up camp near moist moss covered trees alongside Panther Creek after a long, tiring day of hiking. I grabbed my Daiwa backpacking fishing pole and headed down to the creek to fish for trout and try to bathe in the frigid waters. The fishing was unsuccessful, but the bath sure felt great. Afterwards, while cooking dinner, a friendly family stopped by and talked to us about life outside the wilderness (mainly about the World Cup, which was going on during this time), and left us with a bowl of pineapple chunks and chips. Trail angels.
The next day, we crossed the rushing waters of Panther Creek and headed up one of the steepest segments encountered so far. The sun was rapidly heating up the path and temperatures were in the upper 80s to low 90s that day. We wandered amongst the lava flows from the nearby volcanoes and even went so far as to rappel down into a one of the numerous crevasses. It ended about twenty feet further in a lava pocked room with remnants of some animal’s meal. I climbed back out and we headed off toward Horse Crest Camp.
Horse Crest Camp had no water at it, so I ended up jogging back 2 miles to our last water source, which consisted of a PVC pipe that had been tapped into a spring flowing out of a rock wall. Then I walked the 2 miles back to camp, which ended up making for a very long day of 21 miles total for me. The following day, the girl and I separated and I went on ahead. As I was mucking through Indian Heaven Wilderness, I encountered swarms of mosquitoes, and my traveling companion for that day was a constant whining sound around my head. So persistent were the little devils, that I ended up having to toss on my rain jacket, gloves, and balaclava to avoid their bites. The only relief I got from the mosquitoes was whenever I climbed up a ridge or peak where the wind blew the mosquitoes away. Towards the middle of the day, I noticed a large cloud mass approaching with dark nimbuses further on in the distance. Knowing that rain or worse would be here soon, I hurried to get through the marshy “heaven” and get over Sawtooth Peak before finding a safe place to set up camp.
As I continued along, the clouds soon overtook me and small drops of rain began to fall. They actually felt amazing as they cooled down the air and dissipated the swarms of skeeters. I came across the first sign of snow on my journey north, but it was too hard and crusty to attempt any snow angels or the like.
I headed down Sawtooth Peak with the sound of distant thunder rumbling through the wilderness. The drops became fatter and soon everything was soaked. I half-sprinted, half limped off the ridge with my pack threatening to upset my balance.
After finally getting off Sawtooth Peak, I set up camp in a small valley around 3’o clock in the afternoon and proceeded to wait out the storm from the claustrophobic confines of my tiny shelter. As I listened to the rain pattering on the tent fly and Jayde Duncan speaking through my mp3 player’s speakers about community, I realized just how true it is that man is not meant to be alone and how much he needs a strong community to be around him.
With the storm receding into the distance, I built a small fire and reflected on the events of that day. The wet wood popped and hissed at me and I wondered what had happened to the girl. How far did she get before the storm came? Did she pass me? Was she stuck somewhere on Sawtooth Peak, zapped by lightning?
I fell asleep early as it started to rain again and woke up around 4 am. I set off at a quick pace to try to get to a forest road that, according to online sources, one could hitchhike from and get a ride to Trout Lake, Washington where cheap lodging, warm nourishing food, and friendly townsfolk greeted weary PCT hikers. I arrived at the road, and ended up waiting two hours in the blazing sun for a single vehicle to pass by in the direction of Trout Lake…but the lady driving barely glanced at me, my thumb, and my sign. Part of me wanted to just camp further along the trail, but the other part of me really wanted to hitchhike for the first time. I was rewarded for my patience after another thirty minutes with a ride to Trout Lake in the back of a grizzled fisherman’s truck. Down the dusty road we went, and after arriving in Trout Lake, he gave me a quick tour and dropped me off at the General Store. The town is right at the base of Mt. Adams and it dazzled brilliantly in the dusky sky. Apparently, the forest rangers stationed there don’t watch TV during their evenings – instead, they watch Mt. Adams stare down upon the town.
As I checked in to the lodging above the General Store and trotted around the tiny town, I tried to discern what to do and how to act properly around other people. I had scheduled a resupply drop here weeks back with a friend from my teenage days, and so I kept on the lookout for his car to drive by. After waiting a while, I headed back inside to do laundry and figure out a way to get rid of my stench that seemed to permeat the air wherever I went. Suddenly, my friend comes through the door with my resupply box and right behind him comes my mom…
End of Part II. Continue to Part III.