Snoqualmie Pass to Tacoma Pass (29.1 PCT miles)
After we left Aardvark, we checked in at the Summit Inn. All was going smoothly until we asked for the PCT hiker discount (a whole $10 less than our quoted reservation rate). We were given a look by the front desk employee and were informed that there is a strict 2 hikers per room policy, beause hikers damage rooms. We would be fined if we tried to sneak more hikers in. Also, our room would be changed to one "better for hikers." Apparently this is at the end of a long, dark hallway, facing the back parking lot, but at least right night door to the laundry. We picked up our resupply box that Cheri's dad had mailed and discovered there was a care package from our friend Sue. I went to the Chevron to get some razors and upon my return, the same lady at the front desk chased me down the hall, thinking I was some sneaky hiker trying to do laundry. I had to show her my room key to get by. After that incident, we did our laundry, had showers and shaved. For dinner we cooked Drunken Noodles in the room, no reason to not have a perfectly yummy trail dinner. We inhaled the chocolate bar Sue sent as dessert. After that it was time to collapse into bed.
After a blissful night of sleep, we had breakfast and packed up our bags. We had some spare gear, so I took it to the hiker box at Aardvark. I added the spare batteries and a tent stake I had found on the trail. I rummaged through and found 8 packets of Idahoans (instant mashed potatoes) and some sun dried tomato tortillas (thank you Clemetine, who left them in the hiker box). I'm not always a fan of instant foods, but mashed potatoes after a long day on the trail are amazingly good and have a lot of calories, too. Oh, and I grabbed a foil pouch of tuna as we can always find a use for that.
We left Snoqualmie Pass under the good auspices of blue bird skies and bright sun and soon we were past the smal ski hill and into wooded trails. The surroundings were bucolic, dappled sunlight through trees and plenty of salmonberries and huckleberries to snack on as we made our way down the trail. The slopes were gentle, and the trail was forest duff, which made for easy miles. Soon the dull roar of I-90 disappeared and it was replaced with the noise of burbling creeks. Not long after we left these wooded trails for short stints on unpaved road and then back on trail. It was a lazy sunny Sunday and there were heaps of people out on the trail. The wildflowers changed a little in this area too, we started to see tall bear grass for the first time near Ollalie Meadow, though lupine and columbine were still ubiquitous. We soon discovered that the PCT here led to two popular day-use destinations, Silver Peak (an off-trail destination) and Mirror Peak right on the trail. Cheri and I called this section the starter trail because it was so easy compared to everything else we had been hiking on so far. Every log has been cut, every boardwalk and bridge is pristine, and the trail tread is wide and even. I guess there is an upside to non-wilderness area with ready access via dirt roads.
Once past Mirror Lake (~8 miles from our trail head), the masses disappeared. The trail continue through USFS land but this was managed timber forest, not wilderness area. It was also a lot drier than any of trail we had been on so far. Although managed forest is not particularly scenic, it was good to see the balance of wilderness vs well managed timber forest. After all, we all use wood products and the wood has to come from somwhere. The trail took us though areas of new growth, areas that has been thinned with cut trees were drying out in piles before they will be burned, and areas that had yet to be cut. One of the last sections was three bands of clear cut timber with dirt roads on either side, to make way for another necessity, high voltage transmission lines for electricity, again giving a reminder of our reality and impact on the planet. As we crossed I the forest between these sets of power lines, we could hear the sound of an engine as someone was driving these roads. One bonus of the clear cut for the power lines, is that we got our first views of Mt. Rainier in the golden hour light. As much as I want to be in the wilderness, I felt it was an appropriate and honest for us to pass though something like this. Although at times it felt like walking through a "Christmas tree forest" with all of the trees a single species of fir, evenly spaced, and only 8-10' tall.
That night we stayed at a dry campsite, one with no water source at it. There was a spring 0.4 miles away, but it was an uphill so we decided to fetch more water when we left. We had enough for dinner and brekkie but would need more for drinking the following day. As we were making dinner, a WA section hiker, Marty McFly, came into the campsite. He had filled up at the spring and had extra water, so he shared a liter with us. He also told us the best place to get water in the next 5-6 miles and finally he gave us details on a great campsite that had a view of Rainier. Finally, he and I had a discussion on the various edible berries out right now as there were 3 varieties of huckleberry (short bushes and the berries looked like blueberries, taller bushes with either red or purplish blue berries), salmonberries ( yellow and red varieties), thimbleberries and wild strawberries. Yes, as a whole, hikers talk about food a lot. I told him the best water source ahead of him and we gave him some fig bars in exchange. This is one thing that Cheri and I love about the PCT, there is a strong sense of community and sharing of information and resources.
Just as we were leaving camp in the morning, another WA section hiker came through and she told us we'd have great views of Rainier soon. We shouldered our packs and headed up the hill and made our way south. It was another blue bird sky day, honestly we never expected to get two in a row, and temperature was warm. Sure enough within a couple of hours of hiking we got our first unobstructed views of the magnificent Mt. Rainier. About 6 miles later, we made it to the very small stream Marty McFly had recommended and filled our water reservoirs and our spare 1 L bottles because we knew there would be a nearly 12 miles stretch of no water ahead. We continued on to Tacoma Pass, where we were shocked to come across a full-on 2 lane chip-sealed road. This is definitely not the wilderness.