Rainy Pass to High Bridge (19.2 PCT miles, and a trail magic ride into Stehekin)
As we left our campsite the morning of Day 8, Cheri's mantra was "I hope they bring blueberries." We arrived at Rainy Pass just 10 minutes before my sister and mum arrived. Talk about impeccable timing. They had graciously driven 3 hours to meet us with our first resupply and they brought treats! Fresh blueberries, cherries, and grapes, OJ, and sandwiches. Not to mention dark chocolate bars for the trail. Thanks guys! We discussed logistics for our next resupply at Stevens Pass. We both gave up our tall gaiters and exchanged crampons for microspikes given snow conditions so far. We wolfed down fresh food and tried to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitos. It was all over before we knew it, and they headed back home while we continued south on the PCT.
The trail meandered through forested areas with tons of seeps and streams, and tons of recently cut logs. It was clear that a trail crew had been working hard to clear the section of blowdown, and were we ever grateful for their efforts. We ran into several groups of 2-3 backpackers and then three different large guided groups of older teens out for weeklong trips (outward bound?). All told, it was more people than we'd seen since starting the PCT.
The miles were passing quickly through this gradual descent over east terrain. The forest opened up and there were stretches of very tall brush, wildflowers, and heaps of butterflies. The trail stayed high on the shoulder of a steep valley with Bridge Creek far below. We could see snow clad peaks in the distance and hear the rushing water below. When we stopped for a food break, we decided that we making good enough time to shoot for the last shuttle into Stehekin today vs stopping short and and going into town the following morning. With a goal of that famous bakery (and showers and laundry), we picked up our pace.
The weather was a welcome change, our first experience with sunny and hot so far. We stopped for water at Maple Creek after crossing it on an old and springy suspension bridge. The cold water was delightful counterpoint to the hot day and revived us, as we used some to rehydrate our hummus then sat soaking our feet as we ate. We eventually dropped down to cross Bridge Creek at North Fork and started on the final miles, blissfully on the shaded side of the canyon with a delightful cool breeze.
After a while we reached the old Stehekin Road. It used to run all the way from these higher camps into town but it has gotten washed out in several places and is irreparably damaged. The PCT weaves on and off this road for a bit and we met up with a wiry older gentleman, Charlie. He was hiking back to town after a day hike to Goode Ridge Lookout. We told him we were rushing to meet the 6:15 shuttle and he said he thought we'd make it, but if we didn't and waited till he passed he'd give us a lift into town. We let him pass, since he wasn't encumbered with a heavy pack, and he joked that is young folk would soon pass him. He then proceeded to leave us in the dust with a pace that Cheri could barely match at first, then couldn't once we hit the hills. He graciously stopped "to pick blueberries" every so often, looking back for us and just when we came into sight he would skedaddle again. We knew that if we could keep his pace, we'd likely make the shuttle time or have a private ride. If not, we would have neither. Strong motivation despite our exhaustion. He waited at the final junction with the road, pointed us in the direction of the ranger station/shuttle stop, and set off the other direction for his vehicle. He said if we were still walking when he came by he'd pick us up. Not 10-15 minutes later, he came along and we threw our packs in his old truck and crammed into the small cab. This was our first instance of Trail Magic.
Fun Fact: Trail Magic is anything serendipitous that occurs along the trail for thru-hikers. In our case it was pace-setter Charlie and an unexpected ride into to town.
On the 12-mile (@ 20 mph) ride into Stehekin, Charlie filled us in on the local lore & weather. He took us as far as his home and apologized that he couldn't take us to the campground as he was already late for dinner. He pointed us in the right direction and we hiked the last 2.5 miles, where we saw the first bear of our trip as it ran across the road. We took the last open site in Purple Point campground and used the last few hours of light to drink a few beers from the store, do a load of laundry, shower, charge devices, and make dinner (which we ate by headlamp), then crashed into bed clean, exhausted, and happy.
We spent a glorious free morning in Stehekin. We rented bikes to ride to that famous bakery, where we shared a huge cinnamon roll, a slice of veggie quiche, and a very sweet scone. On the way back to town we stopped at a garden and bought picked-to-order carrots (washed, greens removed, and promptly enjoyed on-site) along with some Chelan apricots to go. We stopped in at the post office to sign the trail register, then spent a leisurely morning on the deck of the landing enjoying the mild weather and beautiful surroundings. The town of Stehekin is spread out on the shore of Lake Chelan and up the Stehekin River. The only way to get there is via boat, seaplane, or foot. The road is only ~12 miles long so although there are several vehicles around, most people use bicycles for short trips. After a perfect first town day, we will catch the early afternoon shuttle back to the High Bridge Ranger Station and continue south.