Mile reached: 2297.6 (+15.0 + 13.1 alternate)
High: Waking up to beautiful blue skies even though it had been misting all night
Low: The fire detour trail had not seen much traffic and was rough going.
Mountain goats seen: 4
It had been a bit wet overnight, so as I was waking up there was some concern that the weather of the past few days would persist. Miraculously, we discovered that the clouds were almost all gone and that we’d actually have views from the Goat Rocks! “Gandalf” beat me out of camp, but I caught him shortly near cascading streams just before the climb up to the ridge. We hiked together for a little bit, but he fell behind as I tromped on uphill into the alpine.
Everywhere, there were weekend backpackers and tents partially hidden in the trees. Several backpackers I passed on the trail insisted on asking questions about my thru-hike, and I indulged them for a few minutes. Near the top of the climb there were snowfields that were a bit icy but very manageable, and we were rewarded with a stunning view of Mount Rainier from the top. From here the official trail traversed across steep slopes and descended the ridge to the north toward White Pass. However, there was also an “essential” alternate that most thru-hikers had been talking about for a while. Namely, the alternate ascends 400 more feet before descending a “knife edge” and joining the official trail on the ridge. “Gandalf” was hurting, so he opted to take the official trail. However, I’d take the alternate and report back.
The alternate was longer and “Gandalf” snuck a few minutes ahead of me. After catching him and comparing notes, the alternate was nothing special. It existed to provide safer access to the ridge, because the official trail cuts across steep slopes with a poor runout that can hold snow until late in the summer. The views from further on the ridge were comparable and just as knife edgey as the alternate. Oh well, at least I had the energy to do the extra gain. From the ridge we descended through beautiful meadows, but it was already apparent that smoke was building. Within a few hours there’d be nothing to see, and the SoBo’s in the morning lamented that everything was socked in with clouds the previous day. So, we were in a good mood knowing that we passed through in a couple hour window with expansive clear views.
The entire afternoon was spent hiking an alternate due to the Miriam Fire closure, and the alternate was terrible compared to the PCT. Throughout the 9.3 mile detour, we repeatedly recanted all of the bad things we had said about the PCT as the detour was overgrown, steep, rocky, and terribly circuitous. Nevertheless, the trail did not smile upon us and we were forced to slog on. Within earshot of the highway the trail climbs hundreds of feet and seemingly goes the wrong direction (I’d later learn that multiple hikers would get lost here). Since I was ahead of “Gandalf”, right before the final junction to the road I was going to start hiking southbound and tell him that we went the wrong way and that we’d have to go all the way back down. He, of course, would have lost it, but just as he caught up a SoBo simultaneously appeared and spoiled my plan. So, I guess the trail smiled on “Gandalf”.
The final mile or so to the highway had some more elevation gain, but it wasn’t so bad. More importantly, we were both excited to be done, but I still had to hike 3 miles on the shoulder of the highway to White Pass to maintain my continuous footpath. On the other hand, “Gandalf” couldn’t care less and hitched a ride up within minutes. The road walk wasn’t good, but the highway had just been resurfaced. So, there were lots of spray painted notes on the asphalt for the crews that gave me something occupy myself with during the hour it took.
Once at the Kracker Barrel, a gas station convenience store, in White Pass I found “Gandalf” and “Red Cross” sitting outside. They even had a cold beer waiting for me, which was leftover trail magic from a dayhiker that had gone out looking for the body of thru-hiker that went missing in 2016. We spent the evening eating some pretty terrible gas station food that had been under the heat lamp far too long, but we were able to charge batteries and complete a resupply. It also briefly rained, so we were content to be able to wait it out indoors. However, we still felt that we needed to do more miles and walked back to the trail after the Kracker Barrel closed. Just a few miles down the trail we found a small pond with plenty of resident mosquitoes. On the bright side it had a nice grassy area near the shore that made for easy camping.