Rocketing towards a Ross Lakes Reunion
It seems a bit surreal to be writing this from the comfort of home- running water, hot showers, clean clothes- luxuries that become easy to forget on the trail and all that much more appreciated upon return. Our journey out of Oroville began like most exits from town, with a very extensive road walk. Despite crushing temperates and sparse water, we made the best of what was a gorgeous landscape. High above, we followed the Similkameen River and watched as dozens of locals panned for gold. The hills were dusty and dry, similar to what one might find in Moab, but with a slightly darker hue of orange. After 17 miles of road and 5 more miles of dirt, our forest road broke away into the hills and we found an excellent camp site with a view.
We woke eager the next morning to finally enter the Pasayten Wildness. This is an area that includes the northern Cascades and was promised to be some of the best hiking on the PNT. It certainly did not disappoint! Yet, we still had to get there today and the first 4 hours were a maze of forest roads, cow trails and navigation hell that found us collapsed by about 10:30am is the shade of some pines. After reviving ourselves, we headed up hill (the trail had gained 5,000 feet in elevation over the past 8.7 miles) for one final climb. Finally we were back on trail and following orange diamond markers through wooded cow pastures. The flies were relentless, but we pressed on and found the perfect lunch tree at the top of Goodenough (appropriately named) mountain. Alas, we stood up from our break to find that we had both sat in giant globs of sap. 2,200 miles without a stain on my shorts and now there was a giant, sticky spot on my behind! grrrr.. Our afternoon included some tricky navigation, and we hiked under the orangey like of the sun, as it was blocked by fires in the Pasayten and shed the light of dusk, even though it was only early afternoon. We made our way to Dome Camp and settled into another perfect campsite- dining in our tent and mocking the flies as they swarmed around us.
This entire next day of trail ended up being our collective favorite from all miles hiked before. The perfectly maintained trail traversed around crisp mountain tops as we were afforded our first views of Mt. Baker to the west and crossed over the picturesque Cathedral Pass. Glacial pools (tarns) reflected the rocky peaks that loomed above them as we meandered up and down a relatively level and pristine trail. We passed Spanish Camp, used mostly by travelers on horseback, and eventually followed an extensive network of switchbacks down to the Ashnola Shelter. An "Appalachian Trail"-esk 3-sided hut that is slowly decaying. We then had to ford a river and opted for the slightly more dangerous traverse via a slender fallen tree. Luckily we both made it over with dry boots and climbed briefly before setting up camp on a saddle of our climb. We were joined by Sockeye, a PNTer we had yet to meet and assumed was ahead of us. She looked beat and threw down nearby, leaving before us the following morning.
We woke to one of our colder mornings on trail and put on gloves and hats to begin our climb, shedding the extra layers shortly. We crested the hill and began a traverse and ridge walk that afforded some of the most breathtaking views of the trail. We were smack in the center of a 3D panorama of glacial peaks, rolling hills and a perfect example of atmospheric perspective. Eager to hike north of the Pasayten fire, we moved quickly, but were met with an even greater obstacle to the north- The British Columbia Fires. The smoke from the north had blown in quite thick and we entered an old burn area. Immediately, what had begun as a crisp, and picturesque morning, turned into a sparse, black forrest smogged in by smoke. The sun took on its eery orange glow and we descended down to the Pasayten River. To make matters worse, there were hundreds of blowdowns and indecipherable trail directions. Thus, we opted for a bushwack down to the Pasayten River and to just walk upstream instead of dealing with the crappy trail. Here we ran into Sockeye who had opted to do something similar and we pressed on for one final bushwack over to find.. a trail! A had to laugh we we shortly reached a SIGNED intersection and thought of how completely in-the-middle-of-no-where we were, and yet there were signs pointing us onward. Eventually we reached an old airfield and pressed on another 3 miles, passing Dead Lake (seemingly appropriate considering our days events), and camped at a nice site upon reaching the next river.
Our evenings slumber had somewhat erased the previous day's adventures, but we were shortly reminded as no less than 10 yards into our hike, we ran into a tremendous blow down. Luckily they were few and far between and eventually we began to climb up over Frosty Pass. Jeff was particularly giddy about today's miles, as we were going to be hiking on the PCT SOBO (southbound) for about 13 miles today. Due to the trail Pacific Crest Trail recently becoming "WILDly" popular, I knew this also meant we would be on well maintained and trod trail. Yahoo! We connected on to the PCT after the pass and were met by two hikers finishing their 2,400 mile journey. They is, assuming they hadn't hitched around the Sierra's, ;) It seemed momentous for all of us. It was a lovely morning and afternoon, as we sipped from pristine mountain water and some of the smog began to lift. We saw quite a few other hikers and crossed the 700 mile mark on the PNT! We left the PCT and, in somewhat comic fashion, the trail immediately became the lesser maintained tread we'd become used to. Alas, we pressed on, ending with a climb and settling into a dusty camp in a glacial bowl, just beneath some remaining snow patches.
I woke in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke. Winds from the north had intensified the BC fire smog and we slept poorly in its haze. We broke camp and headed out for our last full day of trail together. We shortly summited Devil's Dome and yet had very limited views due to the smoke. My last summit and things started to feel final. Over. But not before a 5,000 foot descent into the Ross Lakes Region. We passed quite a few other day hikers and even a boy scout troop before reaching "Rainbow Camp" and taking an afternoon off to enjoy the lake. The water was perfect and we marveled at how few others were enjoying its perfect temperature and clarity. After sunning ourselves and rinsing off a week's worth of sweat, we headed off toward Hidden Hand Pass and found a place to throw down for the night.
It seemed appropriate that my final morning on trail would end with the "Happy Panther Trail" that runs parallel to state Highway 20, yet just enough below to feel hidden by the trees. We wound around the Ruby Arm of Ross Lake, a popular spot for miners back in the day, until we reached the impressive dam that holds up the pristine body of glacial water. We could see our destination, the Ross Lake Resort, on the other side and knew it was a few short miles away. I was eager to get there and eager to freeze time in place. With each step I got closer to finishing and with each step I got closer to.. an ending I wasn't ready for. Upon reaching the resort, we navigated amongst a floating neighborhood of tiny cabins and located the office to receive our resupply box. It was a strange to open it and find plastic bags of food that we had bought at Sam's Club, months before. It seemed decades ago.
The trail gods were on our side once again, as this very popular resort books out years in advance and we just somehow stumbled upon a one night opening! We rented the bunk house, complete with 8 beds, a full kitchen and a enough towels and soap to shower a family of 10. Showering ourselves in popcorn and candy we feasted like 12 year old kings on candy and popcorn. We dined alfresco and enjoyed what would be our last night together for 3 weeks. We had hoped that perhaps we'd be able to offer some of our copious amounts of beds to other hikers, but everyone showed up the following day! It was great to be able to say good-bye to Dirty B, Simplesole, Night Rider and Bottle Cap. I left my Sandman after enjoying some food his very generous cousin Megan brought. 5 weeks. 735 miles. Thousands of bug bites. More bags of popcorn than I can count. Sweat, tears, smiles, scrapes, and love. Thank you PNT for putting it all in perspective again.
Mural at Oroville motel
Jeff taking a dip outside Oroville
Old Miners Camp
<3 our poetic fellow hikers
Purple smoke moving in from Canada
Yellow stones spelling out longitude and latitude