“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/shoe-lake, https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/old-snowy-mountain-elk-pass, https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/coyote-trail-79, https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/clear-lost-trail-to-lost-lake-lookout
Once you’ve wandered through the mountains, over long and laborious miles, climbing and descending time and again – you will never see vibrant vistas and far off peaks the same. You’ll realize that strong and determine strides can take you places you have never been before. And that distances that once seemed unsurmountable are actually quite possible, if one is only willing to put in the work. To be brave enough to push one’s self beyond its comfort zone and just keeping going. However they can.
This is a story about an adventure, where I ‘
almost killed‘ my friends a few times. Or so they thought. Where the miles we crossed tested their bodies and minds and they came through smiling, most of the time.
They will never see a far-off peak the same again.
Everything is reachable.
To be fair, this story first began when Jen asked me if Mikey and I wanted to hike the PCT with her and her hubs from White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. We didn’t have the days to cover that many miles. So, I came up with what I ‘thought’ was a lesser plan that we could squeeze into our four-day itinerary. Our starting point would remain the same, but we’d head South instead and venture into one of the most proclaimed portions of the WA PCT, the rugged and glorious Goat Rocks Wilderness. As adventures go, the miles ended up being a tad bit more than I thought. And the path, a tad bit more strenuous than they thought. But the beauty that unfolded before us was breathtaking. And their resilience was pretty awe-inspiring as well.
Anyways, here’s the story…
Once upon a time four friends set off on an adventure.
The first leg of our journey was magical and mild. We took two cars to the fine town of Packwood, and camped out in a field where the elk roamed free.
After a dinner of Jimmy John Sammies we meandered down some overgrown paths and rustic roads to…
the Cowlitz River.
Where we sat on rocks.
And. watched the mountains swallow the sun, transforming the sky into a shimmering display of wonder.
Early the next morning we dropped one car at the Clear Lost Trail Head and parked the other at the White Pass Trail Head where we stepped onto the proclaimed PCT heading South.
And this is where our journey really began.
The first few miles were spent steadily gaining elevation among the pretty pines.
And before we knew it, we were entering the Glorious Goat Rock Wilderness.
As we passed little Ginnette Lake it was hot and humid and the mosquitos were on point.
But, just when we thought we couldn’t take one more bite, the ceiling opened up and a sweet breeze swept in.
As did the views.
At this point the trail opened up as well, allowing us a birds eye view of the road ahead.
Half way through our miles we veered off the PCT just a bit and had lunch down at Shoe Lake where the cloudy skies dusted us with a refreshing shower of dewy drops.
And then we were off again, traipsing where wildflowers roam and wildfires once had.
By the time we crossed the intersection of Tieton Pass, Clear Fork Trail and the PCT we had about a mile and half, plus a little shimmy:) to go before we could drop our packs. Our pals were smiling at Shoe Lake. But at this point, their grins had faded with the views. This short but weary stretch was one the worst and I feared they were both wondering what I had gotten them into.
To get to McCall Basin you jump off of the PCT and head down into a pretty meadow. We could have made camp in the green fields below or somewhere along the stream that feeds into the North Fork Tieton River. But, I was hoping our weary pals could make it a little further, to a sweet little spot we had been before. And to our surprise, with aching shoulders and cramping legs, those two rockstars agreed to push on.
Near death experience #1)
Finally, after fourteen miles – we made camp amidst a huddle of tall timbers.
All nestled inside this big bowl of beauty.
We spent the few remaining hours of our day recovering by the bountiful streams, feeding our bellies with freeze dried deliciousness and our souls with the solitude and scenery that enveloped us.
The next morning, I was the first to rise. So I slipped back on down to this tenacious trickle and lost myself in some pages for a bit.
We took the morning slow with a much shorter hike ahead of us. Then packed up and said farewell to the majestic McCall.
And then headed back up to the PCT.
For the first couple miles she pulled us up into the mountain tops.
And then down into a vibrant valley strewn with streams and wildflowers.
We pushed on, climbing from one stream bed to another.
Until we found this perfect place.
Nestled next to a stream of our very own.
Royce faired much better on this little leg of our journey but we had grand plans for a pretty nice day hike from here, so he tended to his body just a bit before we took off again, creating a mummified version of himself to tend off the skeeters and the sun:)
After a couple hours of rest and relaxation, we headed on up to Elk Pass.
At this grand viewpoint the PCT carries on along what it is called The Knife, or you can veere off and connect with the Coyote Ridge Trail. Coyote would be our turn-off the next day. This day was all about The Knife.
And Mikey lead the way.
The Knife is a marvelous mile and half stretch that tiptoes along a sharp ridge, with incredible views of mountains layered upon mountains as far as you can see.
Mikey had been to the knife just a few weeks prior. So, he hung around long enough to peak down over the portion of The Knife where you can see McCall Basin, where our day began.
And then he and Royce headed back the way we had come to chill at camp.
Jen started out on this little side show shaky and unsure. The drops along the ridge can be pretty intimidating. But, the further along we went the more giddy she became. So, when the boys had had their fill, she was just getting started and there was no turning back for her. As we dipped and climbed along the rest of The Knife towards Old Snowy she was like a kid in a candy store, eyes wide and bright, grinning from ear to ear, not necessarily fearless but, definitively drawn to magic of the place – so much so that her steps had become sure and unshakeable once again.
We posed and applauded ourselves and then we turned around and did The Knife again:)
(On a day without haze Mt. Rainier would be sitting big and bold off in the distance as you head this way along The Knife.)
It’s always fun to look back and see how far you’ve come. Here you can see Old Snowy – that tippy top poignant little point just off to the right of Jen’s left shoulder.
As we dropped back down towards our pretty meadow-land haze that hid Mt Rainier from us along the way filled the foothills creating a lovely layering effect; a copious collection of grey hues hovering off in the distance.
The sun dropped along with us as we approached our sweet resting place and those fine fellas we get to call our own.
The high that carried Jen along the knife dipped quickly into a low once were back at camp. The heat or the miles or the combination of the two hit her pretty hard. She climbed into her little Marmot abode and I spent the rest of the evening with the boys.
(Near death experience #2)
And wouldn’t you know, that ridiculously ravishing Rainier showed up for dinner.
So we netted up and watched her put on a show for us.
And then, just as it was ending,
That white and woolly creature that gives the Goat Rocks their name showed up to tell us goodnight.
I rose early, once again, to have coffee with my BeeKeeper, who matched the morning sky pretty perfectly.
The day that lay ahead promised to be a long one again. So my pals didn’t rise too far behind me.
As we packed up and readied ourselves for another long day, Rainier stuck around to keep us company.
Soon we were at that PCT and Coyote Trail junction once again. This time with that big beauteous mountain at our backs.
The Coyote Ridge Trail is a sneaky fella. He dipped down into some pretty meadow lands all mellow and mild like making us think this leg of our journey was going to be pleasant.
Then as soon as we passed through the Packwood Saddle he turned on us.
Up and then down and then up again and again and again.
With dust on our feet and the hot sun on our backs we’d occasionally step off the path to catch a breeze and our breathe up on the ridge.
It was scenic way up there.
But as we walk among the mountains don’t forget to zoom in and catch the looks on these faces. This was hard.
Just when we thought it would never end, the trail carved a way for us into the side of the hills and eased up on the roller coaster ride. From here we could look across the miles between us and were we had just begun and see Old Snowy’s peak again.
We stopped for lunch in the shade of the trees where the skeeters had finally peaced out but annoying little black flies took their place. So in the heat of the day, we layered up and ate fast.
A mile or so down the way, we met up with Lost Lake and more lovely black biters than anyone could count. Jen’s not letting on here, but this was the scene of ( near death experience #3). We gave her the option of staying here to rest up and ready ourselves for the last leg of our journey or climbing up to that ghost town of timbers above Lost to the little and even more remote Lost Hat Lake. And that crazy kid chose to move on.
So we did.
And the climb up to the ghost trees was no joke.
But it sure was pretty.
I loved this next section of the trail. Golden rays of light were streaming through the clouds and the scape was all rugged and rough. It felt like the heavens were trying to shed some light on the jagged parts of this earth and it made me feel like everything – far beyond this trail – was going to be ok.
Our pals didn’t feel the same.
By the time we got to this little turn in the path they were both just about to ‘ almost die’ their fourth death.
We reached Lost Lake Lookout and the mountains folded out all around us in and endless see of wonder.
And Rainier was still fighting her way through the heavy haze.
Jens smiling here, but when we got to the top and our lake was nowhere in sight she might have cursed the ground we walked on:) She walks out loud. You always know where she is at and how she is feeling. And even when its rough, I find it refreshing. Because she always finds her way back to that smile. You can see Roycie in the background, head down and quiet. That’s how he gets through. He also is dying his fourth death. But, you’d never know. You have to listen to his deep purposeful breaths and look for that tip of his brow to know he’s struggling. Which is novel as well. High above the crazy world we live in I can see how their individual and contrasting cadences work together, balancing each other out. And it’s lovely.
I have learned that when the path that sits beneath you is hard, often times the only thing to do is push on. To keep on walking. But it’s important to look up as you move forward. To not let the difficult parts of life rob you of the beauty that consistently and persistently lingers off in the distance – just waiting for us to witness and remember – there is so much good to see along this way.
At long last we arrived at Lost Hat Lake – and delightfully found that we had the place all to ourselves.
In just a bit, camp was set.
And those ever resilient smiles were lighting up everyone’s faces once again.
And then the light began to fade away with the day.
Morning broke quickly.
And with an early rise, we all got to sit back and watch the sun rise radiantly through a fiery haze.
There was one last pack up.
And one last section of trail to blaze.
The heavens spread out wide for our departure.
While Mikey lead the way through fields of wild violet vibrance.
And then just across the way and up and bit of a grind we found ourselves victoriously 40 miles along the way – at the end.
There was a celebratory lunch at The Mint in Enumclaw, where I am pretty sure Royce silently ‘ almost died’ his fifth death, with a smile on his face. And then we set off again in two separate cars to two separate destinations of which we call home, a rugged and glorious path all its own.
They say the best views come after the most difficult climbs. And I believe this is as true in life as it is on the trail. We’re all walking down or up a rugged and rough trail. It’s not always hard. But, when it is, it can be really really hard. But if we push through – however we can, out loud and on fire or in our own silent resilient way, I believe we will look back, proud of where we came from and what we went through and how we were willing to keep on moving forward. Just don’t forget to look up along the way. Because even the most difficult dirt path is strewn with beauty – just waiting for us to see. It’s that kind of contrasting goodness and grace that draws me back again and again.
And reminds me nothing is unreachable.
Day One ~ White Pass Down to Shoe Lake and on to McCall Basin, 14.3 miles
Day Two ~ McCall Basin to the Meadows Below Elk Pass, 3.2 miles
Day Hike Along the Knife ~ 5.8 miles
Day Three ~ Meadow Camp Along Coyote Ridge to Lost Hat, 11 miles
Day Four ~ Lost Hat Lake to the Clear Lost Trail Head, 6.5 miles
Total Trip Miles ~ 40.8