Hiking the Washington PCT Section K: Days 1 & 2

Day 1: August 2nd, 2018

Stevens Pass Trailhead to Lake Janus

9 miles

You know that feeling when you’re excited, but also nervous that you’re making a big mistake?

As my dad dropped me off at the trailhead, lingering until the others arrived because “I can’t just leave you out here”, it hit me; I was leaving everything. Convenience, mostly, but the idea that my family, my girlfriend, and my friends weren’t just a text away was unnerving.

But quickly I reminded myself that that was the point, after all, and after a few quick pictures of our clean selves, we ventured down the open trail before us.

Nervous laughter and energy carried our spirits and bodies quickly through the trees and up above Lake Valhalla for our first of many snack breaks. As I bit into my first Snickers bar (the first of 33 I would carry on this trip), the skepticism and doubt were already creeping in; why walk 118 miles? Why carry such boring food?

I quickly dismissed these thoughts as we started on our way again, winding over a ridge I had only seen once before in the fall, those reds and oranges now replaced with the fading greens and dry brown hues of a long, hot summer.

The sky was a gorgeous clear blue as we hiked the easy, rolling miles to our destination of Lake Janus, a relatively small and low altitude body of water tucked in between the forested mountains rising up on either side.

We set up camp and I quickly learned the danger of chipmunks who have spent too much time with their human friends. Within 10 minutes, half of one of my 33 Snickers bars was devoured, wrapped and all. You bet I never left my Ursack untied again!

After venturing along the shore, making guesses about tracks and wrapping stories around their origins, we retired to our tents, the sun still hanging on to the sky, my head buzzing with excitement, worry, fear and doubt.

Day 2: August 3rd, 2018

Lake Janus to Pear Lake

9 miles

My heart sank before my eyes opened. It was 6am, wake up time on the trail, but I knew it had rained from the faint dampness on my sleeping bag from being up against the sidewall.

Was it true? Had nature really had the nerve to rain on us one day into an 11 day adventure?

Yes it had, and the dense fog and mist that greeted me outside my tent only served to confirm this idea.

After clumsily making my first cocktail of Carnation instant breakfasts and instant coffee powder, we slowly trudged into the dark green mountainside, knowing a morning full of switchbacks and uphill climbing awaited us.

As the day went on, the clouds and mist only seemed to hang on more stubbornly, giving us tantalizing glimpses of the sun, only long enough to make out the faint traces of our shadows, before disappearing again behind the shroud.

We all decided to keep our rain jackets on as we continued through meadows and increasingly dense underbrush, the leaves and branches wet and cold as we passed by.

After making our way past several view points with views we had no chance of enjoying and down through a lush river valley, we climbed back up into the alpine basin that held Pear Lake.

Pika calls echoed across the rocks as we set up camp for the night. Boulder fields seemed to stop right at the lake shore, an inviting pika habitat that I hadn’t seen in such close proximity to a lake. Numb, cold and damp from the day’s adventure, with the wind picking up, we all huddled in our tents hoping for a reprieve that didn’t seem to come.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it and I built a fire! It must be primal, that perfect mix of heat, light and sound. Our spirits immediately lifted as we sat around the fire, trading stories, insights and encouragement. It was then that I first felt the seed start to grow, the bud of a thought saying that we could really do this.

I crawled into my quilt that night with the wind whipping at the sides of the tent, the eerie howl starting high up in the bellies of the mountains before rattling through our camp and our bones. Even the pika had retreated under their rocks and into their holes.

I was scared; wind has always scared me, ever since the days of tornado sirens in Chicago and Omaha that would send me scurrying under my bed until my mom told me it was alright, I could come out.

I tried to replay those words of comfort in my head as I put in my headphones, played a podcast with familiar voices, and drifted off to sleep.

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