Stehekin Bakery Loopish (September 11-13, 2020)

The initial plan for this weekend was three day hike with a border meetup at the PCT’s northern terminus. Then work schedules intervened. Emily decided to visit the Stehekin Bakery instead and it sounded like a good idea to me. The Stehekin Bakery is a notable stop on the PCT. I spent $60 there in 2016 and gave myself a raging food coma. The cinnamon buns are particularly notable. The trip’s secondary objective was to get away from the smoke blowing north. In this regard, we were partially successful.

Northern Terminus – Bridge Creek TH
Southern Terminus – Stehekin Bakery
Outbound – east over McAlester Pass
Return – west over Rainbow Pass & PCT

Friday, September 11

I drove to Bridge Creek Trailhead as soon as work was over, arriving a little after dark. Emily pulled in while I was circling the parking area looking for the stand up paddle paddle board usually strapped to the top of her car. She parked and I pulled up and got out to say hi. I turned around to actually park my car and it was dead. This is a new-to-me car named Elliot since I tore an engine mount bracket on my last car (Eleanor) which isn’t produced anymore. Elliot had done so well on his maiden voyage. At a loss for what to do, we decided to jump Elliot and in the process, accidentally bumped the connection to the positive battery terminal. Elliot powered back on. Rotating the wiring 90 degrees kept Elliot on long enough to park. We’ll call this the pre-adventure adventure.

We made it a few miles of easy downhill to Fireweed Camp in the dark, chatting the whole way. This area was full of memories for me despite being ostensibly nondescript. At one point there was an enormous frog in the middle of the trail. Its camouflage was perfect until it moved. Unfortunately, it moved very slowly, jumping up an embankment and running into plants mid-jump and falling back. It seemed too large for it’s own good. Jolly, Emily’s dog, sniffed it but was kind enough to let it live.

The night was warm and there was no rain forecast so we both cowboy camped in an established site, ate the very soft ice-cream we’d packed in (ice cream ranks as one of the most desired trail foods so why not take some if the first leg of your journey is short?), and admired the stars for a bit before falling asleep.

Saturday, September 12

It was a dry morning – no dew on our sleeping bags and no hikerwash. This is one of the things which makes summer camping so easy and comfortable it feels like cheating. Of course, that dryness was feeding the fires to the south. The smoke from those fires made a light haze in the air, but the sky was still more blue than brown.

The trail was easy and well cut. It climbed slowly through a forest to McAlester Lake which I swam across, and then through some meadows with low peaks on each side. The ground cover is beginning to turn red, signalling the start of my favorite color scheme in the mountains.

Smoke was still a light haze in the morning. Ground cover starting to redden.

On the descent from McAlester Pass, there was a short, wobbly bridge. The trick with these is to place one foot in front of the other to minimize side-to-side sway. We intended to go one at a time so as not cause the bridge to sway for each other, but Jolly didn’t get the memo. He was very unhappy with the bridge. If only he’d waited his turn.

Jolly, unhappy with the swinging bridge, puts Emily off balance.

There’s one road through Stehekin. It doesn’t connect to any other roads. The only way in to Stehekin is by foot or ferry. Clearly we’d chosen foot, but I assume that the presence of cars meant that some people choose ferry. This road presented us with a problem: should we follow it right or left. The bakery wasn’t marked on our map. Fortunately, there was a sign.

A terribly taken selfie. That sign was well welcome guidance. Clearly a popular destination.

The bakery was full of people and baked goods. Surprisingly, there were no PCT through-hikers. We ate two courses, lounged around for a while, then bought some baked goods for the road. Emily tried to make friends with some chickens which were wandering around but they’d run off whenever she got close.

Full bellies don’t make walking easy so in the late afternoon we decided to amble, mosey, or saunter – but not walk – back to the trail in the hopes of getting a head start on tomorrow’s mileage. Smoke had rolled in and shortened our sight lines. However, most of the hike (we did eventually start moving with a little more zest) was up a valley where there weren’t long or sweeping views to ruin.

The sky was now brown, not blue.

We made it as far as the wobbly bridge then cowboy camped. Dinner was mostly an apple pie from the bakery.

Sunday, September 13

It was another dry summer morning. On our way out of camp, we crossed the wobbly bridge which Jolly didn’t like. This time he realized that he could just splash across the low stream underneath instead of placing his paws on its unstable boards.

As the trail crept upward (but mostly horizontally) towards Rainbow Pass, we came suddenly across a large biped munching happily in patch of huckleberries. Fortunately this was a human, not a bear. Josh was his name, and he gave us some tips on berrying and told us about some of his off-trail adventures in the area. It was a great connection because we both like berries and we’d spent some time tracing probable off-trail routes on Emily’s large NatGeo map the prior evening.

The smoke had stayed from the night before. Rainbow Lake didn’t appear to be particularly pretty and the smoke certainly didn’t help. We ate more baked goods instead of real food. On a stump, Emily found a book on transhumanism which made for an interesting conversation and took our mind off the switchbacks to Rainbow Pass. Unfortunately, there were no rainbows, only smoke.

No rainbows over Rainbow Lake, only smoke.

From there, the trail dropped steeply into a river valley then descended gently to a crossing just before the PCT. It was one of those odd situations where a trail gets close to a river but the point where it hits the bank is clearly not where you’re supposed to cross. We found a well used footlog which Jolly liked more than the swinging bridge.

The joys of stability.

We ate a meager lunch at the PCT, having consumed all the baked goods we intended too. I had a bunch of bars left, all the same flavor. Then we made it back the way we’d come.

The last miles were the ones we’d walked on Friday night. They were nondescript miles surrounded by brush and trees. Oddly, it seemed to match my memories from 2016 of the PCT less than when outbound on Friday, despite Friday’s hiking having been in the dark and the opposite direction. Still, the final miles outbound were memorable because we debated how positive modern music is compared to music from an older generation. Having taken the negative side, I lost the debate when Emily introduced me to the music of Michael Franti which seemed like a good match for how fun the weekend had been, even with the smoke.

All my pics

Emily’s Instagram post

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