I was back in the woods again. The trail immediately north of White Pass was more “walking by the woods and next to mountain lakes”. It was pretty, but nothing special caught my eye. I was in the zone… the miles rolled by. At the end of the day I made it to an open ridgetop with a view of Mt. Rainier. The sun was setting behind the mountain, so I looked forward to a spectacular sunrise.
And a spectacular sunrise it was! The early morning sun illuminated the white slopes of Mt. Rainier before anything else. It was a perfect start to what would become “Mt. Rainier day”. As I walked around the mountains and forested ridges, Mt. Rainier kept making surprise appearances. I’d come around a corner and there it would be, larger than life. It seemed more like a mural than a mountain, a majestic backdrop set there to highlight the surrounding hills and forest. It was so huge and bright that it overwhelmed my pitiful little camera. All my pictures of it were severely washed-out – the power of Mt. Rainier knew few boundaries. I wasn’t too dismayed though, Mt. Rainier is one of the most photographed mountains anywhere. I left it to the people with the big fancy cameras.
The trail dipped by some small snow-lined lakes, then up to a ridge. Finally, a side-of-the-mountain traverse took me to Chinook Pass and the boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park. There were a lot of people out hiking. I passed by three old ladies who were having some difficulty negotiating a snow bank. One of them was related to someone who’d written a book about the PCT. They did this hike every year, but had never seen so much snow. I offered to help them somehow, but they said they had it under control. Right near Chinook Pass, I walked by a group of three men. They were walking up a little hill, dragging all kinds of heavy camera equipment with them. They looked really tired… although they couldn’t have walked more than a quarter mile. They were dressed all in black and had slicked-back hairdos. I assumed they were planning to photograph Mt. Rainier. I almost told them that there were much better views and settings a few miles back on the trail, but I quickly decided that would be pointless. I crossed the highway at Chinook Pass on a wooden footbridge, and headed up the mountains on the other side.
I quickly arrived at a small mountain lake, where I cooked a meal. A 30-something couple came by and disappeared over a rock that bordered the lake. I listened to them splashing and laughing. 15 minutes later, they came back over the rock – clothes completely dry. “Nice swim?” I asked. They laughed and headed back toward Chinook Pass. Apparently I’d missed a good show.
The trail took a sharp turn back up the mountains. After a good little climb, I had a view of Crystal Mountain Ski Area to my immediate south. The grassy swaths through the forest seemed so artificial. It had the appearance of a man made mountain… men don’t know how to make mountains. After dipping down to a couple small green valleys, I finally made it to a broad forested ridge. I settled down next to a mountain spring.
Around sunset, I was treated to an eerie chorus of elk. The males were in the rut, and letting everyone know it. The calls sounded like a wounded elephant. It was difficult to pinpoint where they were coming from. Just before I went to sleep, I had a funny thought. What if I was just hearing hunters imitating the calls… what if two hunters had been calling eachother all evening, anxiously awaiting the approach of an elusive elk.
The next day, I continued my walk through lush green forests. It was a steady downhill tread along a fern-lined mossy hillside. I walked right next to a pleasant grassy meadow with a log-cabin on the near side. There was a sign out front “Mike Urich Shelter”. The shelter was open. This was the cleanest, sturdiest shelter I’d seen on the trail. I was sorry that I couldn’t spend the night (although I later heard from other hikers that it was a haven for mice).
Soon after leaving the shelter, I entered logging country. The big trees disappeared in favor of 5-year old saplings growing in patterns around rotting old stumps. As far as I could see, the hillsides were cut into checkerboard patterns. It was a sad sight. The thought that such a lovely green forest could be reduced to this wasteland made me stop and think.
What was my role in this? I used wood just like everyone else. Wood desks, wood floors, wood walls, wood pencils, wood bookshelves, wood doors… Could I really blame an industry that was doing nothing but serving my own appetite? Where was this wood to come from? I couldn’t really determine if the level of cutting around me was “sustainable” or not. The clear-cut areas were being replanted. Sure, the replantings were all one species of tree, but at least it was something. Was this really any worse than the millions of acres of former prairies now turned into farmland? In a sense it was the same thing. The land here just happened to be rippled, and conducive to growing trees. Would I feel any different if the surrounding land was flat? If I had anything to be angry about, this was mostly public land. I knew that the “government” (in other words, me) was not getting a fair price for the land usage. If they were, lumber would be a lot more expensive than it is. As for the private lands, if the companies destroyed it, they’d only be insuring their own rapid downfall. If they cut on public land… what did they care? cut as much as possible before the land is leased to some other company! It was and still is a complex issue. How do we balance the needs of humanity with the needs of nature? And aren’t those needs one in the same thing? What are our real needs and what are our “wants”? I have hope that people will someday have enough sense to look beyond the polarized arguments and answer these questions in a rational way.
The clearcuts continued for miles. A quarter mile section of the trail was littered with blown-down trees. It was a mess. Nothing difficult, but it was time-consuming. I soon came across an entire hillside covered with burned, standing trees. At the top of the hill, a large wooden sign read: “FALLS CREEK BURN. 7-27-88 A fire started in Windy Gap on the Pacific Crest Trail by loggers. By 8-5-88 the fire was under control by the F.S. and WA correctional crews. Total burn 3000+ acres. BSA Troop 422. Eagle Project – Erected Oct 89 by Tony Fox.”
I made it to Tacoma Pass that night, walked down a forest road to get some water, and camped back at the trailhead. I didn’t see a single person all day.
The next morning, I quickly passed a retired couple out hiking sections of the PCT. They were driving their RV from pass to pass, taking it easy and having loads of fun. They were just bursting with conversation, made special by their gentle southern accents.
It had been a cool damp night, all the low-lying areas were covered by a thick layer of fog. The green mountains poked up like a long chain of enchanted islands. Mt. Rainier was still huge on the southern horizon. I dipped up and down the hillsides, racing to get to Snoqualmie Pass that evening. A couple of young men came by, headed south. They had been hiking all the way from the Canadian Border. They were the first hikers I’d passed who had started at the northern end of the PCT. They had passed almost all the northbound thru-hikers on the PCT. They said the trail was essentially clear all the way to Canada. They were planning to get to the California border. I wished them luck, but I knew they didn’t have a really good chance. It would be early November by the time they finished. Snow would be falling regularly.
If there was one “positive” aspect to the clearcuts, they made excellent berry fields. Although I was in a hurry to reach Snoqualmie Pass, I couldn’t help stopping to gorge myself every so often. There were primarily two kinds of berries in the area: Blueberries and Huckleberries. Although, these naming conventions are somewhat arbitrary. The “blueberries” were darker, larger and more red inside. The “huckleberries” were smaller and more of a purple color, they were more tasty in my opinion.
Just before Snoqualmie Pass, I came to a personal landmark of sorts. It was the first bit of the PCT where I’d actually hiked before. I thought back to that time… It had been about a year and a half ago, the idea of hiking the “whole” PCT was only a far off dream. I didn’t see how such a thing could be possible. Now, it not only seemed possible, but probable. The PCT was “in my blood”.
As the trail got closer to Snoqualmie Pass, it dipped into the foggy forest. The day turned to dusk in an instant. The trees pulled the moisture out of the air and sent it down on me in an intermittent drizzle. This section of trail was hardly used, and the neglect showed. Bushes made the path obscure, and the rocky tread made it frustrating. Still, I was within reach of the end of the section, it would take more than a crummy trail to get me down. Before too long, I was walking across the side of the ski hill at Snoqualmie Pass. I went down to the store to pick up my package and learned about an inexpensive bed and breakfast nearby. I had a peaceful night in a clean soft bed.
The next morning, I did some chores and waited for some friends to arrive. Liz and Bill lived in Seattle and were going to join me for most of the next section. I had hiked part of section “J” before, and knew what it was like – back in the rugged majestic mountains… aaah. I looked forward to the change of scenery. By 4PM, the 3 of us… and Lucciano the dog… headed over to the trailhead on the other side of I-90. Time for more hiking!