Anacortes Crossing – Castle Pass Loop (Aug 31 – Sept 1, 2019)

Motivation

I’ve hiked Jackita Ridge to Devil’s Ridge a several of times. Near their intersection, there’s on the map labeled Anacortes Crossing. I’ve never seen a trail there. Solving that mystery was the purpose of the first leg of this trip (start clockwise from lower right on map below).

Second, having been up and down the East Bank trail of Ross Lake (left side of map below), I’d see the turn turn-off to Castle Pass, known it connected to the PCT, and wondered what lay in between. Now would be my time to find out.

Connecting with the East Bank Trail in the west and coming back to Hart’s Pass via the PCT in the east were to be sections of familiarity and comfort in this journey into the unknown. Also, I wanted to try to do this 75 mile loop in one through-the-night push as training for the Plain Endurance 100k, an unsupported run two weeks hence. In hindsight, the plan was ambitious and insufficiently researched. A more positive take might be that, unless you fail at something, you really have no idea where your true limits lie. Ultimately I chose to to slow down, enjoy the journey, and wound up with a cherished the adventure, which will probably give birth to many future trips.

Day 1 (Saturday)

I woke up in the back of my station wagon at 4:05am. That gave me 10 minutes to unglue my eyelids and and disable my the alarm on my phone before the panic inducing noise set to go off at 4:15am. I’m always slow breaking camp when camp is the back of my car. With more space and better shelter, it should be easier change clothes and compress gear into a pack from the back of a car than from under a tarp or inside a tent. Somehow it never is.

Sleeping in a car may make for slow mornings but other gear can be even more dangerous. In this case, a low volume hiking backpack designed to ride like a high volume running pack. Jogging with a hiking pack for any real distance is too uncomfortable because the pack bounces and sways. The wide, padded shoulder straps which fuse into a yolk behind my neck and the double chest straps sufficiently stabilize that, when full with my minimal camping kit (my preference to an emergency bivvy after spending a night on a rainy mountain top shivering in one) and a carefully counted 4800 Calories to fuel a 24hr sufferfest at 200 Cal/hr, I believed I could run the 75 mile route which I’d laid out starting eastbound from the trailhead kiosk where I stood, procrastinating by reading about the roads in the area. I knew the Anacortes Crossing would probably be off trail with a little bushwacking, but in the grand scheme of things that section was short and so might cost an extra hour or two but not severely throw off my larger plan to try and keep up a 4mph pace by running the flats and downhills.

At 4:45am, having read all there was to read on the kiosk, I started jogging down the Chancellor Road which drops several thousand feet to a stream, and provides access to several private mining claims and public hiking trails. I passed large camps with wall tents and burly trucks, sometimes with large fires and barking dogs. Around full light, I rock hopped across a small stream at a fork in the road and continued past a gate down a less frequented but still quite smooth forest road. This continued to a lower stream and over a bridge where I turned right at a trail sign with three trails to the left and only Sky Pilot Pass to the right.

The last of the well maintained trail.

From this point the trail the trail alternated was carefully built through rock fields and completely washed out where it neared the river. Someone had put great effort into this trail and it had been left to rot. Still, it was pretty easy to follow until about the point which on my GPS app said that the Anacortes Crossing route continued up valley and the Sky Pilot pass route, which was listed on the last trail sign, turned right across the creek and headed uphill. I have no idea where the route to Sky Pilot pass went, though there was a tree down across the stream in about the correct place to serve as a footlog if water were higher. As for my route, it was easy to spot where it went, but only if you knew it was supposed to be a trail there.

The Anacortes Crossing trail at the point where the Sky Pilot route turns right.

The trail wasn’t really a trail at this point, so I continued for a few hundred feet along the river, trying to keep an eye on the back where the trail used to go. The map said it would start climbing and I was hoping that it would become clearer and more consistent as it got well above the river bank. This wound up working out and I hopped on a faint trail leaving a small slide chute. The trail widened into what was clearly once a forest road, and while wide for a trail, not wide enough to avoid a number of small washouts. The washouts were slippery and loose only on the top layer and I was able to kick steps which held without much crumbling. I found it comforting to see scuffs here and there from someone’s previous sojourn.

With a sign like that, there was definitely once a trail here. I’m curious why it was abandoned.
Example of a small washout.
This lower section of the route appears to once have been a forest road.

On the map the route has a few initial switchbacks, then climbs slowly in a traverse to a nose where switchbacks resume until cresting the ridge. From there it drops to join the Jackita Ridge trail just as the Jackita Ridge Trail turns west to climb up to Devil’s Ridge. All things considered, the those first set of switchbacks and the beginning of the traverse were much like other abandoned trails I’ve followed: faint and washed out in places, but easy enough to follow and usually good travel. That changed somewhere in the middle of the traverse.

The middle section of the Anacortes Crossing route traverses across several large rock slides which have filled in with alder. Mixed in with the alder are plants with broad leaves and thick stems covered in thin needles. All sign of the road disappears. I relied heavily on my GPS in this section and strongly considered turning back. The situation eventually resolved when, after cutting uphill, I found myself staring at what looked very much like an overgrown passage. While overgrown, there was a clear path of least resistance. I’m not really sure how I found it but it was clearly the abandoned forest road, re-emerged.

While the passage was overgrown, there was usually a clear path of least resistance. There were places where alder had grown in the middle and I’d have to poke around a bit to figure where to go. I had the most success by realizing that in this section the route was something of a ditch under the plants. Trying to visualize where that ditch went and ignoring the direction that that the plans pushed me made navigation easier.

In one place, I was looking around when I spotted something red embedded in the grass layer. It was an ice axe. Someone had stood exactly where I now was. This made it emotionally easier to follow the tunnel-you-had-to-imagine through the foliage. The ice axe would draw a range of reactions from a park ranger’s concern to a through-hiker’s curiosity. I guess a most trail runners don’t have poorly secured self arrest tools hanging out of their packs.

The overgrown forest road eventually crossed a stream. I’d started with 3L of electrolyte solution formulated to give a calorie drip which the manufacturer claims can replace the need for solid food during athletic endeavors. It seemed to be working as advertised but left my mouth feeling dry. My next water supply was supposed to be a spring near the Jackita Ridge – Devil’s Ridge intersection which I’d seen flowing last year relatively late in the season. Not wanting to carry extra weight, I did the pushup-and-suck-up drinking method so I wouldn’t have to take my pack off. Then I took my pack off so I could stash the ice axe, which I’d been carrying in hand, into my pack’s mesh outer pocket. Conveniently, the ice axe had come with a guard on the point. 10ft later, the protruding ice axe hooked on something I was crawling under and so I decided to just carry it in hand again.

After crossing the stream, the route enters it’s third phase, a set of switch backs up a nose to the top of the ridge. The old forest road quickly disappeared but at this point but route finding was simple: go up. The only subtlety was to stay out of dense brush but even in that regard, things were pretty easy as the ground cover was sparse in most areas.

No trail? No problem. Just go up.

Eventually the slope began to get even steeper and the vegetation denser. The surface shifted from dirt to a more rocky soil and tall trees gave way to shorter ones  intermixed with larger shrubs. Hard decisions were going to have to be made. Then, out of nowhere, I was standing on the trail I’d left several thousand feet below.

I’m not sure where this came from but I was glad to see it.

The trail led up and to the north side of the nose, quickly breaking into the open. There were views of the top. There was no more ground cover to block passage, just a traverse up. The trail stuck around for a while but disappeared near a rocky stripe of ground which lead pretty close to the top.

There’s an end to the bushwhacking!

At the top, I could see the valley from which the Jackita Ridge starts it’s climb to the Devil’s Ridge trail. I remembered looking up toward this exact spot many times and wondering how any trail went there. The sides looked so steep. It turns out that there isn’t really a trail. It’s what I think is called a scramble. You can, as I discovered, find a way down which doesn’t technically require the use of your hands. The rock at the top is well enough swept that it forms something of an erratic staircase and you can see the scuffs and erosion from the lines others have picked.

What hands will do for you, however, prevent you from sliding on your but in the scree. I’m probably not the first unintentionally do a “rock glissade” after a minor loss of balance. It was just for a few feet but I was surprised how much the small rocks making up the scree acted like snow. I made my way down to where repeated passage had mashed a contour line had been mashed into the scree. Some number of people have clearly come this way but only the places which hold a mark well that show it. Others get covered by erosion or are too strong to get scuffed in the first place. The trail through the ground cover which picks up where it exist the scree field soon disappeared and I went tromping over ankle high plants in a shallow descent to where I knew the Jackita Ridge trail would be rising up from the bowl below.

The Jackita Ridge trail comes up through the center of the bowl and out the right side staying under the scree field. There’s a social trail in right side of the scree field where the Anacortes Crossing descends.

Around 10:30am I saw my first humans for the day at the Jackita Ridge Trail where the Anacortes Crossing would join it if the Anacortes Crossing were a trail. The trail turns slightly and there’s a sign saying Granite Cr Trail in one direction and Jackita Ridge in the other. No way to get lost if you’re on the main course. However when the two women at the “junction” (which is just a single trail) saw me walking down towards them across the hillside, they stopped and pulled out maps. “We just wanted to be sure we were going the right way” they said. I assured them that they were and that trail I’d been on was long abandoned and they couldn’t stray onto it by accident.

Now that I was on level, well maintained trail, it was now time to continue running so that’s what I did. My legs were still good despite the steep climb on the east side of the crossing and I kept the pace slow and comfortable. Things didn’t start to fall apart until the spring at the Jackita Ridge – Devil’s Ridge intersection turned out to be dry. I was carrying water in bladder inside my pack and so had no idea how much I had left but continued since there wasn’t really any other option. There was no wind and while the sun was out, it felt cooler without a hat since I could feel the sweat in my thinning hair cooling the top of my head from relative wind created by my body passing through the still air.

I have a bad history with Devil’s Dome (a previous out-and-back to it turned into a 17hr ordeal with an upset stomach which I made worse by refusing to turn around) and history now maintained continuity. As I hiked up, I began to feel low on energy and an empty-but-not-hungry unpleasantness in my stomach which is a hallmark of my long distance running experience. I probably hadn’t been getting enough calories and there was a vague exhaustion haunting me. I’d been popping peanut butter M&Ms and my water was caloric but something was just not right. I lay down for a bit at the top with my head in the shade of a shallow wind break someone had built. There was no other shade. It was 7 miles to Ross Lake and the next guaranteed water but I let myself suck on the drinking tube until my water bladder ran dry. I felt a little better and ate some more PB M&Ms. I was now on a popular route and so I wasn’t worried about anything going desperately wrong but I had big plans for the trip and this was not going to help.

Looking back east before the last rise to Devil’s Dome. The trail comes up from the the bottom-right of the frame.
The wind break at the top of Devil’s Dome. Looking South at Jack’s Mountain.
Moving on. Not feeling great but not because of the view.

Devil’s Ridge descends gently for a mile or so before switchbacking down to Ross Lake. I tried to keep a gentle jog going. It was a downhill after all and if I couldn’t jog here, where could I?

One person I passed asked if I were just out running the Devil’s Ridge Loop as a day hike. At some point, one of my steps missed the trail (an early drop off was hidden by the base of waist high tree) and I fell, bending my right trekking pole in the process. I was pretty well out of sorts now. My legs had already been covered in minor lacerations from bushwhacking in the gym shorts I wear for running. Now I was going to lose a trekking pole for the uphills (loose mental math said there were still 14-15 kft of climbing) and wasn’t managing my energy levels well due to some combo of water, food, and heat which I couldn’t quite figure out. Worse yet, my legs were beginning to get tired and I was only 20 miles in. That last part should have been predictable. Even when I try  preserve strength during a long run, my legs start feeling like they’re beginning to break down about 20 miles. One way or another, I was out of sorts enough to hike past someone I recognized from a project at work with just a cursory and awkward greeting instead of a proper stop and chat you’d expect when recognizing someone in such an unexpected place. Fortunately, the vanguard of their group had informed me there was a good water source around 4100ft. I intended to get there quickly.

My last awkward interaction before reaching the water source was with a young woman carrying an ungainly external frame pack who I happened upon while she was struggling to get over a downed tree. I stopped short so she’d have space maneuver on her own. After her attempt failed, I asked if she wanted a hand. There was a long pause during which we made solid eye contact then she let out an awkward laugh and said, “are you waiting on me?”. Maybe she hadn’t heard my offer. I vaulted the log and went on my way trying to figure out what line of thinking causes someone to wear convertible hiking pants at full length paired with a bikini top. Hopefully she didn’t think that was why I’d stopped and was staring at her.

The small stream of water splashing noisily as it crossed the trail was wonderful. I didn’t feel deeply thirsty but drank like it. I could feel my stomach filling like a empty water sack, which isn’t good because too much water on an empty stomach after exertion can cause nausea. Little did I care. I’d noticed that I felt much better when passing through shade and so took a few minutes to sit and cool off. My appetite didn’t return but I ate a little more. I probably should have dug into my food bag for something other than PB M&Ms. Maybe that would have kickstarted things.

I kept up a jog as best I could but by now my legs really were beginning to get tired. I got down to the East Bank trail and turned north. In places my jog turned to a shuffle which is a sign that you might able to go faster by walking. I would try to relax and lengthen my stride. Put a little more effort in. Carry the speed between the bumps. Endure.

Ross lake was about 40 ft below normal.

The East Bank trail is familiar from many out-and-backs. Some good like my first 30+ mile day after knee surgery. Some not so good like when a friend and I spent a night in emergency bivivies in the rain near the top of Desolation Peak and then bailed out the next day because I was having nascent stomach issues. On the spectrum, things were at the good end of the bad side of the spectrum. I was moving. I was even able to move uphill though I resented it. The trail climbs a little to dodge around the base of Desolation Peak and it was more than I remembered.

I crossed paths with a back country ranger who made conversation as I tried to step by. She was out checking permits on her first patrol in the North Cascades, originally being a climber from Alaska who was now tired of rotten rock and crevasses. She asked where I was going and I said down the Castle Pass Trail. She named a few peaks and asked if I was climbing them. No, I was just going to connect back to the PCT. Good, the ice-axe and trail runners was a combo which worried her. Did I have a permit? No? For next time… I explained I was going to outside the park boundaries. Where had I come in from? Hart’s Pass. Via Anacortes Crossing. It’s also outside the park. She turned off the audiobook which had been playing on her phone (she’d taken her earbuds out when we’d approached each other). Confusion and a bunch of place names I didn’t recognize followed. I pulled out my map and showed the route but probably didn’t lay out enough markers she recognized. Then I showed her on her phone app. Then we traded a few more pleasantries. She was going to get to sleep in the fire watch tower because watchman had the night off. We said goodbye and went our separate ways.

The trail finally descended to Lightning Creek. There’s a boarded up cabin, which I remembered, but no latrine, as sign for which I thought I’d seen on a previous trip. A hurried cat hole was dug. The shadows were beginning to get long and as I opened my food bag for dinner, I was tired in mind and body but still didn’t feel like eating anything. I ate some salty, orange-red, peanut butter sandwich crackers in small bites and looked at the elevation profile. I’d made it 30 miles. In a perfect world, I’d wanted to be 48 miles in at this point, over the two climbs which make up the Castle Pass trail and onto the broad, gentle, PCT for going into the night hike. Barring that, I’d hoped to be on the second, much smaller hill on the Castle Pass elevation profile. Instead, it was three miles to a probable campsite and the base of the longest continuous climb of the trip which covered six miles. There were something like two hours of daylight left.

When things go well, this is about the time of day when I get a second wind. It happens so regularly that I’ve come to expect it. The temperature begins to drop and my stride lengthens. I can rage up a hill knowing that my reward at the top will be rest for the night. That wasn’t happening though. I’d burned through most of the day and barely made it above a walking pace. I didn’t feel depleted but I didn’t have an appetite. Pushing through the night wasn’t an option, I needed to sleep before tomorrow. But two thirds or three quarters of the gross elevation gain on this trip was ahead of me and that wasn’t something I could do tomorrow. Not even on a good tomorrow. That much elevation had take me 18hrs on a 68 mile course and though there were only 45 miles remaining, I wasn’t in shape to push like I had in that race. Then there was the rain which had been forecast but hadn’t shown up today.  Weather is unpredictable in the North Cascades. The Castle Pass trail appears to run several exposed ridges. Trying to make it up the big climb tonight to get tomorrow’s elevation gain under 10,000 ft might leave me sleeping on a treeless ridgeline. The first flat place the topo map promised was a thin saddle 3,000 ft up. Last year, I’d camped on a wide saddle with the tarp I now carried. It had mostly held up in the wind but a stake had pulled out and I’d needed to set it again. Now I was only carrying 6 stakes to save weight, not the full complement of 8 stakes. Finally there was the issue that I’d seen a map where the Castle Pass trail was marked as poorly maintained. What if I went up in the night, the rain came, and I lost the trail in the dark but the terrain was too steep to camp. Decisions, decisions. Decisions that could be made three miles from now. I packed up and walked on. The trail was slightly up which was an excuse not to run but in truth it was mostly flat and I chose not to run anyways.

About 1.5 miles later, a stream crossed the trail and I stopped to draw water, eat again and rest again. There was just an hour of daylight and a little over a mile until decisions had to made. My appetite returned a little and I began feel a little better. Maybe salty cracker sandwiches were tastier than PB M&Ms. Maybe I was cooling off.

I came to a fork in the trail. There was a small stick planted in it. The right side was clearly a spur trail to a camp by the river. The left was clearly the an uphill jaunt which lead to a rising traverse, which lead to the base of the switchbacks. Decision time. It came down to the weather. If the weather was nasty, I’d want to deal with that tomorrow, maybe even bail, though that would be long and would require a very difficult hitch. If the weather were good, the reward of walking a ridge into a rising sun would be glorious. The clouds were gathering, but slowly, ambiguously, as they often did in the evening. I killed the route tracking app on my phone which was draining the battery. Things hadn’t gone well today, not well enough that I’d care to share the trip on social media. More importantly, I might need that battery if things didn’t go well tomorrow. Another pause. It was a roll of the dice. I went left.

The climb was easily graded, the trail well cut, and I leaned into it. The 450 Calories of crackers I’d eaten in the last two hours kicking in enough for full strides. It wasn’t an uphill charge but it was some kind of victory over the afternoon’s ponderous efforts. I was just going to the saddle 3,000 ft up, I constantly reminded myself, not the full climb of 4,500 ft, I’ve already made my compromise, now it’s time to follow through. The low but rising traverse to the switchbacks had taken a bite out of the climb. Just after dark, I was up a thousand feet. Around 8:30pm, I bonked and had to sit and eat but the angle of the slope was beginning to flatten as slopes typically do near the top of hills. Around 9pm I found a small, mostly level spot just wide enough to kinda pitch my tarp and level enough that I probably wouldn’t slide out from under it. I tucked in for the night and set my alarm for half an hour before sunrise. This hadn’t turned out to be the running trip I’d wanted but I could still make a hike worth remembering.

Day 2 (Sunday)

I didn’t rain. I woke up  and broke camp efficiently. My legs were seriously sore but not in a deep, exhausted way. It turns out that if I’d held out for another hundred yards or so, I’d have made it to an ideal campsite. It didn’t matter, my gamble had paid off and the morning was everything I wanted.

A ridge walk by morning or evening light is really one of the best experiences hiking has to offer. Pictures don’t capture the experience but I don’t have a lot to say about the next few miles other than that life was good.

The first of the Castle Pass Trail’s ridge walks ends with a descent into a drainage. At first there’s a trail through the grass but turns into a dry rivulet bed. I knew the trail was supposed to cross the creek which was gathering in the moderately steep drainage, then descend with it. Just beyond, however, that was a thicket full of alder which made the question of how far to descend unknowable as it would hide any signs of passage. The grass was knee high and shot through with what I assume were game trails. So many ways to go. I headed downhill, across the drainage in hopes of seeing a weakness in the alder thicket which might indicate a trail. There was some rustling in the bushes that may have indicated a ear on the side of the drainage from which I’d come. It was far enough away chose to just hold my course. I also kept an eye on the GPS to prevent me from dropping significantly below the elevation where the trail begins to work its way out of the drainage. Things looked like were going to get pretty steep when a trail appeared almost in front of me. It continued straight down for a bit before beginning to tack left and then into a small but distinct opening in the alder. The trail was slightly overgrown but nothing to compare with the Anacortes Crossing from the previous morning. That said, pushing through the bushes didn’t help my bare legs, already pretty torn up from yesterday’s bushwhack.

Do you see a trail? Neither do I.
I started the descent somewhere up there.

The trail leveled out and after a time came to a section where there had clearly been a trail crew. I was so excited I took a picture.

Looks like someone came through here with a lawn mower.

I ran across a trio of backpackers who had stopped and were looking down the trail in my direction. I think they had heard me pushing past overhanging bushes and thought I might be a bear. Before I saw them I thought I heard a “hey bear” but I’m not sure. We traded tips on what was coming. Their lead hiker was wearing full length pants. I saw them looking at my thrashed legs and one mentioned an upcoming thicket of salmon berries. I said that when the trail disappeared up the drainage they should figure out where their destination was and then just head straight up to it. They said that’s what they were expecting. The salmon berry thicket was maybe 10 yards across and the trail through it was well enough cut that I didn’t really get scratched. I hope they really were expecting what they were about to run into.

Looking up valley before crossing the stream and starting the second climb of the Castle Pass trail (eastbound).

I gathered water and ate at a stream running through the valley before staring the next climb. My appetite was back and I had big handfuls of delicious PB M&Ms. It’s oddly good to be hungry. Looking at my food supply, it was clear that there might be problems later since I hadn’t planned for two full days. For now, I wanted to stay full and happy. If I was going to bonk, that could happen later when I’d have the impending end of the trip to help pull me through. Based on yesterday’s unintended rationing, rationing now would cause problems sooner rather than later.

From that stream, the trail switchbacked up for a bit but soon turned into a long up-sloping traverse which turned into a ridge walk. It was near mid day so the colors were a little washed out but it was really nice. I tried to put off thinking about what the rest of the day was going to look like. There were 27 miles once I hit the PCT and that’s a lot for an afternoon.

Ridge walks are the best, even when not in soft light.
Yay! More ridge walking. Much better than a treed traverse or soul sucking switchbacks.

At noon, almost exactly, I came to the PCT. I’d been playing the dangerous game of using hunger as a motivation to get to a destination where I then satiate it. Eventually, I felt like I’d pushed it a little too far and I should really just stop and eat immediately to maintain energy and metabolism. I checked the GPS so I could make plans while eating. The PCT was less than a tenth of a mile ahead over mostly level ground. I’d forgotten that Castle Pass is a low, flat, completely forgettable spot which shares nothing in common with the high, narrow, steep places which the word, “pass” typically brings to mind.

Castle Pass in all it’s glory or a trail intersection in the middle of nowhere? You decide.
I’m just one person but I felt like three people’s worth of foolish for biting off more than I could chew on this trip.

Lunch was as brief affair as it tends to be when the options are PB M&M or PB cracker sandwiches. By 12:10pm I was heading south on the PCT back to Hart’s Pass. 27 miles to my car along a trail which felt like home. The first few steps reminded me that the PCT is so well maintained and so gently graded. My head was spinning with mental math. At 3mph, I could be back to my car by 9pm, only an hour after full dark. If I could push that, maybe before dark. The PCT was so gentle. Such a soft and blessed trail. 3mph was what I’d averaged while running the flats and downhills the day before. I just needed to not bonk.

The next three hours were a flying hike through a highlight reel of good views and great memories from my 2016 PCT hike.

Hopkins Pass. The trail rolls from the east side of one hill to the west side of another without a major change of course. It’s a pretty unusual pattern to see.
Gentle climbs which build anticipation about the views to be revealed at the top.

I ran across a number of PCT hikers about to finish their trips. Mostly I just said a brief congratulations. They wanted to get to Canada. I wanted to get to my car and it’s unlimited food supply (a Coke and mostly full bag of Chex Mix). If only there were more time I would have loved to hear all their stories and reminisce.

Left: Dairy Queen class of 2016. Right: Dairy Queen (his secondary trail name) class of 2019.
Even over rugged mountain passes, the PCT is gentle.

Despite keeping most conversations brief (there were some exceptions such as when I gave some weekenders water or listened to an elderly section hiker’s stories about knee issues) I was behind schedule by 4pm and so started running the downhills again. My legs were not feeling good but neither did I feel like dragging this trip out long into a second night. A little before 4:30pm, I had 15 miles to go, and with dusk starting around 7:30pm, I tried to turn it into three 5 mile one-hour runs. Things started out well with a speedy power hike up the first of several small hills. Then energy problems kicked in. I had to sit and eat. My last food came out of my food bag and went into the easily accessible bottom pocket of my pack. I was running on empty and the plan was to eat only when necessary to stave off bonking. Still, I was going to finish, the question was only how pleasant the end would be.

I tracked progress via the elevation profile, checking off each rise as I crested it, then jogged the flat and downhill to the next rise. The jogging was slow. At full energy, I could have run almost the entire section is t was so gentle. At least it was pretty.

I used the hunger-as-motivation game to get myself up Jim Pass, the penultimate rise. Not a hard climb by any means and I moved well but my strides weren’t long like they could have been. At the top, I needed to sit and eat. I’d pushed it just a little too far and had to nibble the breakfast crackers which I’d saved for last. They advertised 4 hours of continuous energy. Despite knowing that this wasn’t going to be my experience, I’d pretended they were going to be my ringer, enough calories to finish the trip, as long as it took me less than 4 hours.

The 10 minute break had stiffened my legs so that I had to hobble until they warmed up. My body had chilled as well and it took over a mile to get the warmth of exertion back into my hands. I didn’t have the desire to try and run any more, I just wanted to walk it out. At 7 miles, that would be 2h 20min to 3h 30min depending on pace. It’s strange how the relatively small proportion of something at the very end can seem so long. I suppose a watched pot never boils either.

Looking north from Jim Pass. The broad valleys kinda remind me of parts the Brooks Range trip earlier this summer.
A particularly picturesque bit of trail through the trees, just south of Jim Pass.

Nightfall came softly leaving a peach colored smudge on the horizon and just enough light in the sky that I didn’t have to stop and pull out my headlight. A few times I could see car headlights in the distance, on a road which I thought extended three miles up to Slate peak from where I’d parked my car. Every marker of progress was noted and rallied as an exhortation to continue.

Night falls. Still three-ish miles to go. I think. So near. So far.

In the dark I passed a trail junction. The broad, beaten trail lead to a parking lot and from there to a road down to where I’d left my car. That would have been the easy way. Still not wanting to stop the forward motion long enough to pull out the headlamp I turned down the less maintained path for those who wanted to hike between here and the lower parking lot a mile or more away. The path got a little rockier but stayed surprisingly even. Despite hiking by moonlight I never stubbed my toes. Even the poorly maintained part of the PCT can be hiked by moonlight.

I almost stopped for my headlamp near the very end. I was now in the trees and really couldn’t see what was under my feet. The trail was defined by a subtle color difference and interpolation between the more visible spots where the moon lit it up. I passed a few tents with their headlamps on. I knew I was being ridiculous but why stop now? I was so close to my car. What really made this minute any different from the minute before.

Xeno’s paradox came to mind. You can’t get somewhere until you get half way there. You can’t get half way until you get to half of that. The recursion continues. Maybe I’d never get to my car. In high school we learned that that limit for that sequence converged. I would get to my car.

I stepped into the clearing made by the Chancellor Road. I turned left. In a few steps I could see the butt of my car, it’s gold color distinct among the others in the small parking lot. In the dark I’d left it and in the dark I’d returned to it. I dropped my pack and fished my keys out of the food bag, popped the back door, and sat down. I didn’t feel relief. My focus on the return to the car had been masking depletion and a stomach unsettled by emptiness. The fight to suppress those had to continue.

The foresight to put a soda in my drop bag was unexpectedly prescient. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to eat, it was that if I put anything down my throat, I couldn’t tell whether or not it would come back up. One sip of sugary, caffeinated, carbonated beverage was an acceptable risk. A minute passed. I could chance another. It was a safer bet this time. After a third, the need to relieve what would soon be gas pain took priority. Fortunately, I’d passed through this campground three years ago on the PCT and while I had no memory of the toilet, I remembered where a trail angel had said it was. I shuffled over to the guard house and found the toilet around back. No toilet paper. Poking around I found the toilet paper behind a bag hanging over the toilet. Clever me. I sat down. Then I found the toilet paper which is where all toilet paper is kept, on a roller easily accessible from the throne. Clearly I was not operating at full capacity.

A while later, I was back my car, but could now stuff the Chex Mix into my face. The stuffing wasn’t stopping. Delicious, crunchy, salty comfort. After most of the bag was gone, I finished the soda. Only then did I have the desire to dig through my pack and pull out my air mattress, then my pillow, then my quilt. I closed the rear door and took off my shoes and socks. That smell was sufficient motivation wriggle up front, turn on the car, and crack the windows. When I finally closed my eyes, I could feel the eye balls under the eyelids. They weren’t moving erratically as they do when I shut them after staring too long at the computer screen. They weren’t dry as they feel when I close them to restore moisture. They weren’t exhausted, welcoming the eyelid closure as the fulfilment of their greatest desire. Somehow they were still straining to find the trail, to do their part to get me home. My rancid corpse relaxed happily under the soft quilt on the deep air mattress. It was some time before my eyeballs stopped trying to keep watch.

2 thoughts on “Anacortes Crossing – Castle Pass Loop (Aug 31 – Sept 1, 2019)

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