Goat Rocks Wilderness Boundary to Trout Lake (28.5 PCT miles)
We left the wilderness behind and passed several mosquito factories. These bodies of water have other, nicer, names like pond, small lake, or even marsh, but today they were all just one thing to us, breeding grounds for these pests. We had been leapfrogging with our friends Beanstalk and Dustin since noon (we hadn't seen them since brief town overlaps in both Snoqualmie & White passes), and had made a tentative plan to join them at Killen Creek to camp for the night. This would increase our planned mileage to 24-25 miles for the day, but the trail was easy (aside from fighting the bugs) and it would make tomorrow rather leisurely. Nearing a jeep road we noticed that that forest around us was changing to a more open, drier type with a lack of swarming mosquitos! We also noticed fresh sawdust around several small blowdown that appeared to have been recently cut & moved. Soon, we heard the buzz of a chain saw - apparently they were VERY recently cut.
Around the next corner we found a small PCTA work crew of 5 people and 1 border collie (the latter clearly the supervisor, complete with blaze orange vest albeit no hard hat), clearing blowdown. We waited for them to finish their cuts and walked through freshly cleared trail, thanking them profusely for their efforts. Huckleberry noticed some ripe huckleberries and did her signature hike-by harvesting, until she was interrupted by the trail crew calling out that we were taking their snacks. Everyone shared in a laugh and we continued on. Over the next 2.5 miles, we saw evidence of some serious trail maintenance including cleared blowdown, resurfaced trail tread, and all new water bars. Kudos to these fine volunteers for spending their hot, dry Saturday in this way. The forest had made a complete transition to a dry, arid type and we put our headnets away as there were no more bugs. The undergrowth was limited to huckleberry shrubs, and the few wildflowers, especially tall bear grass and lupine, had spent blooms and were putting their energy into making seeds. With good sun exposure, the huckleberries were all ripe, albeit pretty well picked over so close to a road.
We crossed a gravel road near Potato Hill just as a 4x4 pickup truck pulled up. The driver asked if there were enough huckleberries to make a pie close to the road and when we told him he'd have to work hard to find that many, he turned around and drove off. We found ourselves back in denser, though still somewhat dry forest. Soon we started to see huge piles of dark lava rock through the trees and Mt. Adams became increasingly prominent, playing peekaboo behind the lava fields and trees. It was a stunning change in forest habitat over just a few hours. We reached a cool clear spring emerging from the base of the lava, marking the boundary of Mt. Adams Wilderness. From there we crossed a raging river the color of chocolate milk, fortunately on a sturdy wooden bridge. As we started the steady but gradual climb that would be our final 4 miles of the day, Huckleberry's feet were really bothering her. The new shoes she picked up at White Pass had turned out to be problematic, but she put on a brave face and reminded her feet who was in charge (not them!) and we marshaled onwards.
The climb started with gradual switchbacks through a dense, lush forest then transitioned to a long ascending contour around the edge of a ridge. The trees and alpine meadows were starting to get painted in the warm tones of golden hour light. It made everything seem more alive and vibrant. There is a Japanese word "shinrin-yoku" that literally translates to bathing in the forest, but whose meaning implies soaking in the forest's beauty. Throughout our entire journey we have been fortunate enough to see many different types of forest and this sensation has been accumulating over the past few weeks. However, I cannot think of a finer example of shinrin-yoku than the early evening of Day 25.
As we climbed we had increasingly large and fine views of Mt. Adams. It became apparent that Beanstalk and Dustin had picked an utterly amazing ovation for the night's campsite. We crossed the bridge over Killen Creek at the top of a long cascade over dark rocks and were greeted by acreek meandering through meadows overflowing with tall purple lupine, scarlet paintbrush, and assorted other wildflowers. Rising majestically just beyond this bounty of alpine beauty was Mt. Adams. To the north, Mt. Rainier hung out on the horizon surrounded by a low ring of clouds. Over dinner we caught up with Beanstalk and Dustin who we hadn't really seen since Glacier Peaks Wilderness, and enjoyed exchanging our different experiences of the same trail. Huckleberry collected more PCT motivation stories, and we shared plans for the upcoming days. We will go to the Trout Lake Abbey tomorrow while they will push on to reach Cascade Locks sooner as they have a true zero planned, with2-night reservation at the Best Western there. We hope to overlap with them at Timberline Lodge but if not will probably see them somewhere down the trail. Over a bar of dark chocolate (my sister has kept us well-supplied the past few stops), we savored the alpenglow on Mt. Adams before heading to bed.
The night was chilly, probably the coldest of the trip so far, and reminded me of nights above treeline in the Sierra. Fortunately we were comfortably warm in our down sleeping bags. Dawn brought wonderful views of Mt. Adams' hulking 12,281' presence just above us, and Mt. Rainier surrounded by a moat of clouds in he distance. Since we had a shorter day of hiking planned, we lollygagged around camp enjoying our peaceful surroundings and caught up on journaling. Once on the trail, we had breathtaking views of Mt. Adams above us and Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens in the distance. We have traveled though so many different ecosystems throughout the hike, and Day 26 had a few more to add. Beyond the alpine meadow where we spent the night, we entered mixed meadow and forest, followed by large stretches of lava fields. In northern WA we saw many glacial streams with a milky blue-green suspension, but in the lava fields the glacial melt streams have more of a chocolate milk appearance. It was oddly beautiful. We passed through the last of the lava fields and were back in forest and then entered another burn area. This area was quite extensive and covered portions of the western and southern flanks of the mountain.
There were so many different portions to this ghost forest. Although the burn is only a few years old, there is already evidence of regrowth, primarily wildflowers and shrubs. Despite the destruction it still feels alive. Through the snags of the burned trees we also caught our first glimpses of Mt. Hood on the horizon. We descended into an area with more moisture and taller growth, happy to discover many huckleberry plants with ripe fruit, and some young conifer trees in what seemed like a regenerative nursery. Finally we transitioned back into non-burned forest. We came full circle, revisiting the sense of soaking in, breathing in the forest through its entire life cycle. It is humbling to realize that the forest will completely regenerate, but with a life cycle that far exceeds the length of yours or mine. Shinrin-yoku, indeed.
Shortly after we re-entered intact forest we passed out of the Mt. Adams Wilderness and found ourselves at Forest Service Road 23. While we waited for Doug, the trail angel who we would give us a ride to Trout Lake, we met two guys section-hiking southern WA (Cascade Locks, OR to White Pass, WA). We comisserated about the mosquitos and shared some camping recommendations, then Doug and his wife Janet arrived. On the ride to town they shared local history and told us how they got involved with being trail angels over 10 years ago. We stopped at the store for supplies, and the cafe for huckleberry milkshakes, then delivered us to Trout Lake Abbey (a small spiritual retreat center, Buddhist temple, and Druid sanctuary located a few miles out of town).
We were warmly greeted on our arrival and soon found out that we were the first PCT thru-hikers to stay with them this year. We instantly felt at peace surrounded by their organic garden, small farm, and reflecting pond sitting in the shadow of Mt. Adams. We were smitten by their hospitality. Kozen showed us around and opened the pantry and fridge to supplement our dinner. He even provided fresh vegetables from the garden! We were able to do laundry, have showers, cook in the kitchen, and enjoyed dinner on their deck while we watched barn swallows skimming the pond for insects with ever-present Mt. Adams presiding over the valley. We didn't need to re-supply in Trout Lake but in researching for our PCT journey, we found nothing but glowing tales of visiting the Trout Lake Abbey and we couldn't pass up the opportunity. We would whole-heartedly agree, this place is truly magical and is the perfect place for an overnight rejuvenation. Tomorrow it is back to the trail and onward towards Oregon.