Stevens Pass to Deep Lake (August 22-23, 2020)

Paul invited me to join him on a three day trip from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, probably for much the same reason I invited him to run the Issy Alps 100mi with me, the company would be nice but the car shuttle was necessary. I’ve done that trip several times and didn’t want to burn a vacation day so we settled on me shuttling from Snoqualmie to Stevens and hiking the first day with him to Deep Lake which I’ve been wanting to camp at in the summer after having camped there on snow earlier in the season. On Sunday, I’d hike back to the car.

Saturday, August 22

I pulled into the Snoqualmie Pass PCT trailhead about 5:20am. I got out to use the outhouse and found a thru-hiker sheltering under the short eves from the the misty rain which hadn’t been forecast. I’d camped a dozen yards away on my own thru-hike in 2016 and so we had an instant source of conversation. I mistook a headlamp coming up from the parking lot as Paul’s. It belonged to a trail runner going up to Kendall Katwalk, running the whole way, even uphill. Another woman appeared alongside her and for a moment, it was a fascinating contrast: the thru-hiker with his large pack who would only walk, two women who would be running the hills in minimal running vests, and me who would be trying to do something in between. The others went on their way and Paul showed up. We loaded his gear into my car and as the sky grew lighter, drove back to the greater Seattle area and then up to Stevens Pass.

About 8:15am we set off up the climb to the to ridge at the top of the Stevens Pass Ski Area’s west side. We passed several groups and I wondered if I’d see them on my way back the next day. Our pace was quick and light on the uphill and our legs felt strong as we flowed down the back side past the ski area boundary and several ponds. Our first stop was about two hours and 7 or 8 miles in at Mig Lake lake where I camped on my last night on this section in 2017. Paul connected with some fast packers who knew his land lady (“fast packing” is when you go backpacking but spend some of the time running instead of hiking – I’m unconvinced of the benefits but it feels good while you have energy).

Paul atop the first climb.

Miles fell away, the clouds burned off, we kept a running conversation even when walking the uphills. One big decision was whether to visit Surprise Lake. I talked Paul out of the extra thousand feet of descending only for a to climb back up to the PCT (and a lakeside meander – didn’t mention that). Maybe my thru-hiker mindset of “these miles don’t go to Canada” is too strong. You don’t get a good look at Surprise and Glacier lakes as you traverse their length in the trees above.

Approaching the divide between Trap Lake and Surprise Lake.
On the climb to Pipier Pass, you finally get a view of Glacier and Surprise Lakes which you’ve already passed.

Deception Lakes wound up being farther away than I expected. It’s funny how memory doesn’t map linearly onto reality. I’ve wanted to swim in the Deception Lakes every time I’ve passed them and so this time I did. Deep Lake is in a valley and we didn’t think there’d be enough direct sun to dry us if we swam at our destination. Paul’s approach to swimming is the one I used to have: jump in with your clothes on so they get clean too and then they keep you cool. The sensual freedom of swimming in the buff won me over last year so now I leave my clothes out on a rock to dry to a crisp which makes them feel clean even if they’re still encrusted with salt.

This section of the PCT is notable for a particular water crossing. Early in the season you have to cross multiple turbulent pools of frothing water. The depth and water pressure are hard to discern. The white water occludes secure footing, forcing you to probe with poles and feel with your feet among the uneven, slippery, and unsteady rocks. The cascade leaves little room to step up or downstream to catch your balance. At this point in the season, however, we could walk down the bank where the trail is cut and hop over the first branch of the stream, step over the second, and walk a log bridge over the third, all of which were shadows of their early season selves.

Paul crossing what turned out to be our last water source before Deep Lake.

The low water at such a notable water crossing might have hinted that the water might also be low at the next stream – which I judged to be the last guaranteed water source before Deep Lake. It was near a campsite which had been so boggy in 2017 that I’d only been able to set up at one of the several campsites. When we got to that stream, however, it was dry. Paul was out of water and I had a little under half a liter. We took a break and investigated some trail magic left in a bear can for PCT thru-hikers. Paul’s shoulders were hurting from having stuffed his fastpack to its limit. We split contents of my flaccid 500ml soft bottle, ate bars and potato chips, and headed up towards the shoulder of Cathedral Rock.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock is the prominent peak which stands apart from other peaks which appear as little more than slight rises above a connecting ridge. It was beautiful as the light started to loose its harsh brilliance after the heat of the day. I was walking behind Paul on this last upward effort. His foot placement wasn’t as crisp as the morning which I noted mostly because I get hyper-aware when low on water. After cresting the shoulder of Cathedral Rock, we walked the 2.5mi descent to Deep Lake, arriving just after 6:30pm and dranking deeply at it’s calm outlet stream which ran between a perfect line of stepping stones.

The last time I was here there were several feet of snow on the ground. It was nice to be able to relax in the relative warmth, though the high valley walls meant we didn’t have direct sunlight to keep off the chill from the cool air sinking into this high lake basin. We set up our tents, ate dinner, sat in the light hammock (an excellent “trail couch”) Paul had brought. I hadn’t brought enough insulation to stand around and so tucked into my quilt to watched color drain from the sky through my translucent tarp.

I was letting my mind drift when I heard a low, blunt, excited voice talking with Paul. I looked out from under my tarp and was introduced to Mike who Paul had met once before on a local, rugged hike. From the sound of it Mike had been considering pushing through the night and doing the entire Snoqualmie to Stevens section in one push but decided to camp with his very minimal gear so as to be able to see more of this beautiful swath of nature by daylight. Mike went to find a campsite and I put on an audiobook and drifted off to sleep.

Sunday, August 23

The sun was up but hadn’t crested the surrounding ridges when I woke up. It was brisk and I ate my cold soaked oatmeal with the last of the maple syrup I’d been gifted by Ross a few weeks ago. I packed up, optimizing for keeping my warm clothes on as long as possible instead of packing in the best order (important for a frameless pack). Paul was making breakfast as I wished him well on the rest of his trip south and headed back the way we’d come the day before.

Smooooooke on the water. Cathedral Peak is on the right but isn’t as striking from this side.

On the way down from Cathedral Rock, I saw some of the trail runners who Paul had connected with early the day before. They hadn’t made it to Deep Lake but camped at the waterless campsite which I’d though would have been our last water the day before. They’d gotten water from hikers headed in the other direction, who were just over a mile down hill to get more in the morning. It was the start of one of the day’s fun themes: seeing people I’d seen the day before.

Looking down the lush valley to Hyas Lake in bright mid-morning light.

The best connection, by far was when I overtook Mike. I stopped to talk but he said we should do a mile together and talk. In the same vein as in veno veritas I think there’s a in trail veritas. Our conversation ranged from swapping gear tips to the most positive, affirming discussion related to identity and values I’ve had in a long time. The one mile of conversation turned into about twenty and two rest stops (no swimming today) before we fell into the quiet which accompanies late-in-the-day sore legs.

Glacier Lake, Surprise Lake (barely visible). Baker is my best guess for the mountain in the distance.

The view from the top of Stevens Pass Ski Area is a special one since it’s a clear point before the final descent. While you can’t see much of the route you just walked, the view is grand enough to summarize everything you just experienced. We rested there a moment, reaping the reward of our hike, then dropped down the front side, flowing like water back to the car.

Mike (middle left) on the final switch back to the top of Stevens Pass Ski Area.

The trail forks just before it ends and I took the path which lead to the ski area not the parking lot. I’d picked up enough of a lead that Mike was out of sight and since I was giving him a ride home and he didn’t know what my car looked like, I was a bit worried that we’d have trouble reconnecting. Somehow he guessed which parking lot I was in and found me. Then, a man came over and asked if we had jumper cables so we helped jump a Prius. Many firsts for the day. The traffic was slow on the way home and since I hadn’t packed car snacks, we bought overpriced cans of Coke from a roadside vendor while the car ahead advanced less than 50 yards. The Dairy Queen we stopped at for milkshakes was poorly located and it took three tries to figure out how to get through the drive-in. Finally, I dropped Mike off and then made it home a little after sunset, just in time for a shower and an early bedtime. A fitting ending to a long day of walking.

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Mt Adams North Side (August 8-9, 2020)

I’d had a rough week and wanted an easy, fun hike to forget about life for a while. With plans to climb Mt Adams on Monday via the south climb, I decided to spend Saturday and Sunday on the north side. I hiked up from the Killen Creek Trailhead, turned west on the PCT, then keep going west to the Yakima Reservation. On a map the route is odd because the trail seems to end for no apparent reason and so has been an object of my curiosity for some time. Ultimately, I didn’t get that far because I came to a beautiful, watered wash and decided to call it early. On the way back Sunday morning, I visited the rich meadow at High Camp on the north side of Mt Adams and had lunch looking out to Mt. St. Helens. There were a number of riding groups out which I haven’t seen in other places. An odd discovery on this trip was that wearing roomy running shorts and supportive underwear (the new, and apparently key ingredient here) with a tight shirt and a well fitted minimal pack makes you feel damn sexy. Perhaps form is function when you’re in an escapist mood.

Horse riders were surprisingly common on the trails around Mt Adams.
If you see this cairn, go back, the proper trail crosses the stream lower. I wound up crossing on that snow patch.
Sunrise over the Yakima Reservation.
Hm…. which is taller, Mt Rainier, or this cairn?
Mt Adams glamor shot.

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Dropping Off Ella (July 31 – August 2, 2020)

I was invited to join Ella, Clare, and Morgan on a hike to the Canadian Border to see Ella off on her attempt to set the fastest known self-supported hike of the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was a remarkable trip best characterized as a party where the guests happened to walk 60 miles.


Driving up to Harts Pass with a full car had the feeling of a road trip. There was fast moving conversation, shallow and deep. Laughter. Dating advice. Everyone had brought enough snacks for everyone so of course, only the donuts got eaten. Pouring water from a wide mouth container to a small mouth container is difficult while traveling a high speeds.

From Harts Pass, we hiked in about seven miles along easy, beautiful single-track crossing lush hillsides. The Cascade peaks and ridges guarded the western horizon. August is prime hiking season and natural beauty was on full display.

It was all at least this pretty.

We set camp around an hour before sundown in a flat spot where, on my Anacortes Crossing – Castle Pass misadventure a group of female hikers had left a disheveled, depleted me with a distinct feeling that I wasn’t welcome (admittedly I shuffled past holding an ice axe like an axe murder). Much better company this time. Ella and Clare bivvied and so were eaten by mosquitoes. By the time Morgan had zipped up her tent, so many mosquitoes had gotten inside that she had to shake out their corpses in the morning. I my dining apparel was a rainsuit and headnet.


Saturday was spent meandering along the well kept single-track of the PCT, taking inordinate numbers of pictures both of nature and of each other, and chatting about god knows what. The primary game became that we had to take a pictures of each subset of the four of us. The individual pictures were done as Hikertrash Vogue with Clare as photographer and Ella as Art Director.

Photographers photographing photographers photographing.

One high point of the day (certainly by elevation) was where we ate lunch. The trail had been easy and so we had full energy to enjoy it. I discovered that the beer cans I’d packed out (provided by Morgan, many thanks) had kept the night’s cool under the the insulating effects of the quilt where they’d sequestered themselves.

Not a bad lunch spot.

By about 5pm we’d meandered our way as far as the monument marking the northern terminus of the PCT at the Canadian border. The spot is small and not really level enough for good camping. Ross was expected to meet us there from the Canadian side but were weren’t quite sure if he’d show up (bets were taken), much less where he’d camp. Just as we were deciding on a cut-off time to eat dinner without him, Ross appeared in the little clearing. After an exultant round of salutations, he lead us off to a wonderful campsite less than a kilometer across the border. As we settled in for dinner, he produced a small container of maple syrup for each of us. My contribution to the evening was a previously unused decade old tube of DEET based purchased by my mother when I hiked a section of the PCT in 2010.

Ella just swallowed a fly.
We were all a little weirdly attracted to Morgan’s crocks & socks.


The big day started just before 2am when Ella woke us up and we marched back to the border to see her off. After farewells, Ella took off uphill, over blowdowns, at a very brisk walk. We watched her headlamp twinkle like a fairy through the trees, zig-zagging upwards. It’s beam would illuminate the clear-cut along the border each time the switchback got close to it. Eventually the light disappeared and we went back to bed.

Think quick: you’re about to go for a 515mile FKT, what’s the most important thing? Even more pictures.

At 4:30am, my alarm went off. We had 30 miles back to the car and from there, five hours of driving. It didn’t have to be a hard day, but it had to be a long day. And it had to start now. Everyone was a good sport, taking food bars for breakfast on foot. I started to bid a potentially sleeping Ross adieu through his tent wall and he told me to stop because he’d get up and give us good by hugs.

We passed a south-bound thru-hiker starting their PCT hike. We ate breakfast where we’d lunched the day before and Morgan pointed out that I could mix Ross’s maple syrup into my oatmeal.

The trail home.

We tended to hike two together and one apart. We’d now been together long enough that it was nice to have some time alone. The day had a calmer feel, but there was an underlying tension thinking that Ella had walked this same dirt just hours before at a furious pace.

The closing miles were almost golden in the late afternoon sun. Clare racked up them up at speed, headphones in. Morgan and I took it easy. Her “big toe was eating her little toe” and had been for some time. We stopped to chat with a family inculcating a love of the outdoors into their late-elementary school age daughters and we did our best to talk up backpacking.

Clare was changed and ready to go by the time we got back to the car and ran down to us in blue dress reminiscent of The Sound of Music. There were still hours of daylight. We were footsore and happy to sit again. We took it all in and snacked. Ella had only been 60% done with her day’s miles when she’d passed the car. It was hard not to think of that.


I followed Ella’s tracker all week with what felt like the anxious tension of the closing minutes of a super bowl. It turns I was giving myself mild food poisoning with breakfast each morning which heightened the effect (maybe you can’t cook sausage in the microwave?). She kept on pace at about 50 miles and 10,000ft of gain per day over sections of trail which haven’t seen a trail crew this year. The day after reaching Stevens Pass, her tracker didn’t start, there was unexpected rain in the mountains, and I privately texted Ross a timeline for calling search and rescue. I needn’t have. A mutual friend who went out for a run that evening saw her descending from Kendall Katwalk. She made it to Snoqualmie Pass with 5 minutes before the gas station which held her resupply package closed.

Ella’s high spirits and playful nature hide a forceful will. Her FKT attempt ended at White Pass when she was unable to carry weight on one foot, having covered the last miles using hiking poles as crutches. From there she hitched home after having been passed by hikers who didn’t stop to help her. When I visited a few days later to drop off some belongings she’d left in my car, her leg was in a boot and, unable to walk, she would throw her keys out the window so people could let themselves up.

Some friends you keep because they show you a good time. Some friends you keep because they inspire and challenge you. Some friends you keep because they show you the terrifying, humbling price of truly finding your limits.

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