Great Western Loop: Day 124 - 128: Oroville to Stehekin
Day 124: Suicide mission? (32miles)
Due to some fire closures by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) I had more than 30miles of roadwalk ahead of me. In addition to that, my next resupply town of Mazama was not be accessible due to the Cedar and Cub Creek fires.
I therefore planned to hike straight to Stehekin, some 200miles from Oroville.
I started after a full breakfast at the local diner and soon hated it. There wasn't a lot of traffic on the road, but the road had no shoulder and wasn't fun to walk on. After 10miles on the road Kevin passed me in a Taxi that he had called the day before. My mood dropped even more and when 30minutes later a car stopped to offer me a ride, I accepted.
I skipped some 15miles to Touts Coulee Road. Just 30minutes later a car with a horsetrailer passed me and stopped a few hundred yards ahead. When I saw the driver moving stuff from the backseat of the car to the trailer, I knew that he was also going to offer me a ride. I accepted that too and a few minutes later, we picked Kevin up on the road, who had just left the Taxi.
I guess at this point I'm fine with skipping a few roads, especially in very smokey conditions. I still want to be as close as possible to a continuous footprint, but first of all, I want to have a good time and not ruin my weary feet or general health on annoying and smokey tarmac roads.
From the trailhead, the hike started with a gentle climb, following a small creek. We hiked for about 8miles before we had bypassed the fire closure and reconnected with the PNT. Here we ran into a Ranger, who gave us an update on the fires, which we could see in the distance, and on an armed man out here in the wilderness, who was probably about to commit suicide.
We pushed on for another 14miles to Tungsten Mine, camped nearby and even enjoyed some better views as the smoke slowly vanished.
Day 125: Canada is burning too...(29miles)
In the early morning we checked out what was left of the old mining camp at Tungsten Mine. We entered both cabins and found one in reasonably good condition. At least good enough to provide shelter on a stormy day.
The weather constantly changed and it showered several times throughout the day. This was actually quite a nice change, compared to the heat and smoke of the previous days. However, instead of smoke, now clouds of rain blocked our views.
The hike wasn't particularly rough, but we were going rather slow and made little progress. Just before lunch, we hiked through a burn area and dropped some 2,000ft to Ashnola River, before climbing straight back up for another 2,000ft.
Fortunately the weather had once again changed and got better by the minute.
After ascending from Ashnola River, we finally got some outstanding views on the Pasayten Mountain Range and several wildfires in the far distance.
(Quite a big fire. Middle of the picture to the right hand corner. This one was in Canada, pheeew. Luckily fires don't have Visa's and can't cross borders... oO)
In the evening the wind picked up and we had some very dark clouds right above us. Even though the cloud radar predicted no rain, we decided not to head into the blowdown area. Camping among dead trees ain't safe, when there's wind.
Day 126: Not so happy birthday (36miles)
My birthday started with a few miles of easy step-over blowdowns. No big deal, after all the destruction I had seen in Colorado and Wyoming. Once again the comments on guthooks had been worse, than the actual conditions on the ground.
We made good progress and soon forded the Pasayten River. Even though it was a major river, the fording was easy and the current rather gentle in some knee-deep water.
We continued on the western shore and expected another 5-6miles of blowdowns until reaching an abandoned airfield in the middle of nowhere. Interestingly enough, there's no record on who or why this airfield was constructed. Anyways, the blowdowns weren't bad here either, except for a few minor sections. Some 2miles east of the airfield me and Kevin than got a bit startled by a strange sound around the next trail turn. After a few seconds of confusion, we realized that the sound must come from a trailcrew and just minutes later, we found a group of volunteers clearing the trail for us. We spent some time chatting to these people and thanking them for their efforts, before moving on.
(Cabin at the Airfield)
We stopped for an early lunch at the airfield and here, Kevin found out, that we could take a shortcut to the PCT, which would save 7miles. Given the rainy day, we decided to take that alternate to make up for the slow going previous day.
The alternate was not properly maintained and so it took quite some time to finally reach yet another milestone, the PCT.
The PCT is by far, the best maintained trail I've hiked on and it felt great to be back. Upon deciding to take the alternate, I immediately knew where we would connect with the PCT and I got really excited. It brought back a lot of good memories, even though the weather got worse as the day progressed.
I hadn't seen many hikers the days and weeks before and so I said to Kevin, that we might see some early northbound hikers, upon reaching the PCT. And indeed, within the first 30minutes of hiking on the PCT, we met 8-10 other hikers.
(Rainbow in the valley...that's where we came from)
At about 3 or 4pm Kevin and I parted. He continued along the PNT to Ross Lake and I continued south on the PCT towards Stehekin. Having his company was really nice, even though I usually hate hiking with other people.
In the late afternoon the rain had really picked up and it was raining cats and dogs now. Many campsites were flooded and so I kept walking until late to find a somewhat decent spot. I ended up near Foggy Pass, on a campsite that was already occupied by several hikers, but provided enough room for one more tent.
Day 127: A day in the clouds (38miles)
It had rained throughout the entire night and it was still raining, as I packed my stuff in the early morning.
Most of my hiking clothes were still wet from the previous day, when I hiked towards Hart's Pass.
I was bummed. Most of the time I literally hiked in the clouds and I knew from 2018 what beautiful views I was missing. My goal however, was clear. I wanted to get as close as possible to Stehekin, so that I could reach the town on the next day.
At Hart's Pass I briefly stopped at the trailheads privy just to get out of the rain for a few minutes. (Yep...there's times, where people prefer a stinky toilet over rain...)
(That's...how most of the day looked like...)
(Some blowdowns on the trail)
(Small fire in the valley, even though it had rained for 2 days)
(Information on trail closures at this junction, trail below (not PCT) was closed)
Just before nightfall I made it to Rainy Pass on Highway 20. This very road is the main access to point to Mazama and had been closed for weeks, but now, after 2 days of rain, I heard several cars. I camped at the trailhead and didn't contemplate going into Mazama, as I had brought enough food to continue towards Stehekin, just another 20miles south.
Day 128: Push it! (20miles)
When I got up on day 128 I knew, that a bus was leaving at 12:30pm from the Stehekin High Bridge Trailhead towards town. My plan was to get that bus and have a nice and relaxed afternoon in town.
I left camp at 6 and pushed hard to make it to the trailhead in time. Luckily the terrain was flat and the weather was finally great again. Hiking along Bridge Creek a lot of memories came back to me. It's interesting that I remember most campsites that I had used in 2018.
Unfortunately, the rain and all the dirt in my shoes from the previous days, must have caused some abrasions on my left heel. I hiked in pain and even used some Vitamin-I (hiker-term for Ibuprofen...)
(Crossed on that log)
(View from High Bridge near Stehekin)
I made it to the trailhead by 11:45am and spent some time talking to other hikers that were also waiting for the bus. One thing, however, I learned the days before: It's best for me to pretend just being a "normal southbounder" instead of explaining every time what I'm actually doing.
With meeting 10-20 people every day on the PCT i just hate repeating myself over and over again and it just costs too much time and effort. This however, created some interesting moments, when some "experienced PCT Nobo-hikers" thought I had just started and tried to tell me how thru-hiking works...
Anyways. When the bus to Stehekin arrived, we first drove to the Stehekin Valley Ranch and than into town. I spent most of the afternoon eating and cleaning and taping my wounds with some healing ointments and than pitched my tent on the local campground.
(View on Lake Chelan. Stehekin has a Lodge, a Ranch, one Post Office, a tiny General Store and a famous Bakery. That's it.)