Hello from White Pass, Washington! We are well into our last state of the trail, and so far, Washington has been wonderful. We love this state for so many reasons: the friends and family who call it home, my alma mater (dear ol’ Whitman), and our favorite farm (Rosehip on Whidbey Island), to name a few. But as much as we love all the corners of this magical state, we’ve never explored its central region. Thankfully, this National Scenic Trail goes right through the heart of it, through the Cascade range into Canada. Unfortunately, as you may have heard, much of central Washington is currently on fire. (More on that later…)
Misty mornings gave way to bright blue skies and prominent peaks for our first few days in the Evergreen State. The terrain, unsurprisingly, felt a lot like northern Oregon, and we were pleased to find it easy on the feet. We’ve still been able to put in our 25-mile days without hurtin’.
Our second day back from Portland, we heard rumors of trail magic where we had planned to camp that night, and sure enough, best surprise ever. Three meals a day cooked up by five guys with trucks full of food. We hadn’t seen many hikers since crossing into Washington, but it seems they had all ended up here, huddled around the campfire with good food and great company.
On our fourth day out, we went into Trout Lake, a small community that has developed a reputation for its generosity. (Zack actually produced a piece about it for WBUR’s Kind World. Listen here.) The folks were top-notch, and we loved our visit to the tiny town. Gary, a retired firefighter who always helps hikers out, gave us a ride back to the trail and a bit of wisdom when it comes to forest fires, “It’s not a matter of if an area will burn, it’s a matter of when.”
On that note, we walked around the base of Mount Adams and saw an enormous and expanding plume of smoke in the distance. The trail had been closed in this area a few weeks back but had since reopened. The fire seemed to raged on, and the rising smoke was mesmerizing. We assumed that it must still have been safe for us to walk through, so we kept walking. We found out later that just a few hours after we left the Mount Adams Wilderness, the Forest Service closed it – and 25 miles of the PCT – because of the fire we were watching.
More about fires. First and foremost, we are fortunate to have made it this far in our hike without encountering impassable closures. Since we hiked through, fires near Big Bear Lake, Crater Lake and Mount Adams have closed the PCT in those areas. We have also heard stories of early snows and flooding stopping hikers from finishing their treks. To a certain extent, the unexpected is to be expected in the span of a trip like this, and in a record drought year, many areas are bound to burn. We’ve always said, it’s humbling but true: “Nature doesn’t really care about your thru-hike.”
Currently, multiple fires are wreaking havoc in the communities and wilderness areas in central Washington. Firefighting resources are maxed out. At least 100 miles of the PCT is closed to hikers further north, and originally planned reroutes are actively burning. The situation could get worse; it could get better. The PCTA’s advice is to “wait and see.” (For more details on the fires near the PCT, see the PCTA’s recent write-up.) We will be sad to have to bypass a section (or sections), especially ones we have heard are so beautiful, but we know that this comes with the territory. It’s fitting, though it carries a little extra sting, that the trail would throw us a curveball within the last 200 miles of this 2,650-mile journey, but – as our friend Key Lime says – “It’s all part of the adventure.” And our being blocked from a portion of the trail pales in comparison to the challenges that many of the surrounding communities are facing, as they risk losing homes and economic livelihoods to the fires. We’ve been enjoying dry, sunny weather, but this is a rare occasion when we are desperately hoping for rain.
For now, there is still open trail to hike, and we are going to savor it. Yesterday was our four-month “hike-a-versary.” Four months on the trail, and we have seen some amazing things. To top it all off, yesterday we walked through Goat Rocks Wilderness. We had been hearing about it for months: “It’s like the Sierras!” “Best views on the trail!” It seemed like a whole lot of hype. Then, as we got nearer, we’d been hearing from south-bounders that the smoke had obscured the stellar views.
Happily for us, yesterday was a perfectly clear day, and Goat Rocks delivered. Making the day even more spectacular, we reunited with friends Pretzel, Road Runner and Key Lime after many miles apart. We took in panoramic views of Mount Adams, St. Helens and Rainier together and walked along the stunning – and occasionally terrifying – “Knife’s Edge.” A four-month gift, indeed. Now, enjoy the photographic spoils!