Hi everyone, I'm writing today from Anacortes, WA, today, right near the mouth of Puget Sound, having made it successfully down to the coast. The few hundred miles I've covered since last writing were pretty taxing for a number of reasons, not he least of them being that Kate had to take her leave me head home. It's been years, and 2500 miles, since I last hiked alone, so it's been a bit of a re-learning experience. Anyway, here's the write up. After leaving Kate at the road above Ross Lake Dam, I must have cut a sad figure, going back down the trail to the resort carrying nothing but some plastic bags with my 1-man tent and some baked goods brought by Megan. The man driving the water taxi even quizzically asked me if I was just going for a day hike. Luckily Dirty B, Nightrider and Bottlecap were still relaxing at the resort (Simple Sole had left while I was away) so I had some fellow hiker trash to commiserate with, but not for long; in order to keep my itinerary for the next day through North Cascades Park, I had to make some miles despite the few hours of sunlight left. I had decided not to get a permit for my time there, and unless I could book it across the park in one day there was the possibility of being fined by a ranger. Taking my leave from them for possibly the last time, I headed out north along the lake. The path was relatively level and crossed an impressive waterfall, a milky, glacially fed creek, and a beaver swamp where the resident rodent angrily slapped his tail at me as I trod last. With nice trail and a pack loaded with 6 days of provisions, I made 11 miles to the edge of the park... though I somehow managed to miss the campsite I was aiming for in the waning light and had to (gasp) camp on the trail. For shame.
I woke up alone and lonely, missing my Maybe Mermaid and our little morning routine. Just to be safe I had set an alarm for before first light to make sure I had time to cross the park, so I broke camp in semi-darkness. I made the first of several climbs early, crossing Beaver Pass amidst soaring old growth cedars before descending... and going right back up another valley, this time towards Whatcom Pass. This area reminded me of the St Arnaud lakes area in NZ, with steep creeks fed by glaciers weeping water from every direction high above. The trail then made the a crushing climb of 1,700 feet in only a mile, leaving me winded but with beautiful views in every direction. Down I went again, virtually running down the steep slopes until bottoming out, and immediately turning uphill once again. Here I managed to turn my ankle badly (a very common occurance, sadly), not while vaulting over rocks or skipping down mountains, mind you, but while swatting flies as I sidled across an overgrown traverse. Go figure. Thankfully I had a climb, which is easier on the joints than a descent, so I was safe for awhile. There was also a first for me; a self-propelled cable-car creek crossing on a rickety contraction that gave my upper body a workout. The climb thereafter was mercifully easy, but the flies were brutal as I attempted to wrap my swollen ankle atop the pass. I gingerly made my way down, throwing my planned mileage for the coming days out the window, but it was no worse than I've dealt with before unfortunately. I stopped to camp under the gloom of a northwestern forest, nursing my injury in the process.
The start of the next day was, luckily, another climb, this time on paved roads toward Mt Shuksan. At the top, the path jumped on to neatly manicured trails in a tourist area under the glacially clad peak before picking up the Swift Creek trail. Ahhh that trail; to transfer from highly trafficked, well maintained tread to eroded, overgrown, muddy, blowdown-ridden garbage is always mildly infuriating. It dropped to a ford that had been described as 'impassable' by some section hikers on social media, and word had made it around on the grapevine as these things do. It was less intimidating than anticipated, especially given our watery NZ experiences, and the path beyond was well put together. Whomever did that trail work deserves a Nobel Prize in my opinion.
From here, PNT hikers have to make a some decisions about how to proceed westward. The 'official' trail makes a giant backwards S-curve, first south and around Baker Lake, then north to just below the slopes of Mt. Baker. Much of this can be cut off (perversely, the main trail actually goes backwards on part of the shortcut), and then many miles can also be shaved off by hiking to the town of Concrete and taking a rails-to-trail walkway to Sedro-Woolley. There are a lot of options for how to get to the coast, basically. Being stubborn and too lazy to research said options, I elected to take the longer main route, hoping for some good views of Mt Baker despite the lingering smoke from the BC fires. I began the transit around Baker Lake, enjoying the level tread and awesome views over the water as the sun settled in to its now familiar orange afternoon glow. Sunsets last for hours when so much smoke is in the air. The trail there is picture perfect and passes several quaint campsites, many old growth cedars, and even some cave formations blowing chilled air. I hiked well on into the evening, savoring the light... that and the fact that my maps inexplicably left out 4 miles of trail (a detail I somehow noticed but didn't really internalize), so I arrived at my target camp much later than anticipated. I'm sure the other campers there wondered who the crazy phantom was that rolled in under darkness and mysteriously was gone before they woke in the morning.