Runnin' to Republic
Writing to you today from charming Republic, WA. The place is unique as far as trail towns go because there are three "entry points" from which to get here; we've essentially walked a semi-circle around the entire area, crossing several roads that come down to civilization in the process. But without further ado, here are the last few days.
We continued on our southward journey today as we remained on the Kettle Crest trail, largely hiking through an old burn area. The remnants of the fire from were virtually everywhere, with blackened tree fragments and blowdowns frequently on the trail. Merely touching one of these charcoal logs as we clambered over them left us streaked with grime, and consequently we found ourselves getting progressively dirtier throughout the section. The trail meandered over rolling hills filled with wildflowers overtaking the scorched area while hummingbirds went about their work around us. After ascending Copper Butte, the highest peak in the immediate area, we made our way downhill to Highway 20, the first of the three routes in to Republic. With no real need to go in to town at that juncture, we elected to continue on and instead climbed around the stony face of Sherman Peak, topping out on a ridge and passing a Forest Service cabin the the meantime (we've passed several such shelters, but they must be rented well in advance, unlike the free lean-to's on the Appalachian Trail, for instance). We kept going, hoping to camp on an adjacent saddle, but found the area treed-in and muddy, and so the march continued around the southern face of Bald Mountain (thankfully bereft of giant demons and classical music, a la Fantasia). Luckily we stumbled upon a tiny flat spot clinging to the steep slopes, the perfect place to settle in for the evening, and pitched our tent to enjoy the waning light.
Through a burned section
From the top of Copper Butte
One of the many bare trees in this section
Our next morning started blissfully easy as we enjoyed good tread, good light, and good weather. The trail finally swung west, abandoning its southward direction as we started the next phase of the trek around Republic, which lay unseen somewhere 20 miles distant. The "official" PNT through this area includes several arduous (and rather unnecessary) bushwacks, that take the path off some forest roads... and in to some seemingly impenetrable thickets without offering much in the way of views in return. We decided to try our boots at the first of these routes, as it seemed the most fun and challenging without being too egregious, and as such we found ourselves hacking a path downhill towards a ridgeline below us. After scrambling over boulders, pushing our way through undergrowth, and scaling a small cliff, we achieved our goal and were rewarded with some easier walking. The ridge led us to some smalls ponds which were surrounded by the densest fields of huckleberries we have yet seen, slowing our progress even more as we stopped to do some picking. Eventually we found ourselves back on the easier tread, and here we got to see our first bear of the trek, doubtlessly lured in by the prodigious berries everywhere. Given that we only saw its butt running away (as is generally the case in such circumstances) it was hard to say if it was a black or grizzly bear, though probably the former given how far west we are. We continued on in to increasingly dry terrain with views of the rocky hills to the west until we descended into a narrow gorge near the Sanpoil River, and the second of the three entryways to Republic, where we found a campsite for the night.
Last light in Sanpoil Canyon
Looking back down the canyon in the morning
More burns and wildflowers
Our plan for the next day had been to hike until just shy of the last road in to town, and with that in mind, we began our days march. Our walk took us up Sanpoil Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Washington, apparently), and we got to see the morning light splash on the high walls around us while the river wounds its way through tall grass. Eventually we left the gorge and started climbing, first on trail, then on forest roads past several popular camping areas. As we took one route, we spied Tiny, Brainstorm and someone we assumed was Zucchini (a hiker we had heard was behind us) as they took a different path. After some interminable hours of walking on gravel roads through viewless, dry forests, our route rejoined the other and we ran into them. We chatted for a few minutes and learned they had already been into Republic, and recommended staying with some trail angels there. With high praise for the wiles of town, we decided to push and get in for the night. The miles were long and, but with some assertion of willpower we made it to the final road in to Republic. Luckily we had cell service, and Kate managed to get in touch with the Artie and Mike Mcrae, who graciously picked us up despite it being late on a Sunday. There is scarcely a better feeling in the world than hearing that someone is coming to take you to a bed and a shower off the trail, and we gratefully took the ride to their house where they provided us with a bed. We even got to swing by the grocery for some dinner and beer, and seeing as Artie works at the post office, she even retrieved our packages despite if being the weekend. Back at the house, we settled in to watch some Game of Thrones with them. Pretty much the ideal way to end a hard day of hiking.
More Sanpoil Canyon
The vastness of dry Eastern Washington
Today has been mainly filled with resupply and logistics. The Mcraes even furnished us with a car for part of the day to get our errands done, and we feel fresh and ready for the next stretch. Our bounce box full of maps and supplies was here in town, and with Kate's impending departure coming up, we needed to work out our plans for the next few weeks. Luckily my amazing cousin Megan has agreed to retrieve her from the trail, so that bit of uncertainty has been fixed. And with that, our trip continues. Talk to you all later!