by Cyrus and Niles Desmarais
We’re heading home. We are on the Lady of the Lake, and as we’re sitting on the boat, I can feel the water moving beneath us, the world gently rocking, my vision blurring a little as I look at my cards. There’s a group of kids playing a sort of musical chairs up front. Niles and I are playing what must be our 40th game of cribbage.
img_3121revisedWhen we originally discussed running the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Niles and I had already been toying with the idea of a multiple day running trip for almost a year. A trip of that magnitude held a certain appeal: day after day running in the mountains, stopping only for water and sleep. A pure and simple way of living.
We chose the PCT for several reasons. It had a rich history. We wanted to do something that would extend beyond ourselves—raise awareness for mountain running and show our community the abundance of outdoor recreation in our backyard. Thus as time passed, we toyed with the idea sporadically; and shunted it into the category: “We’ll see after race season.” Suddenly it was October, race season over, and the idea was brought up again. The maybes became reality. “Yes — we want to do this. Let’s make it happen.”
During the planning stages, I brainstormed how the trip might go. A form of mental preparation, I suppose, by looking at many of the possibilities that could occur on this eighteen-day running trip. What would happen if we ran into weather, and had to bail out on a trailhead on the Seattle side? What if one of us became sore, or a miscommunication with a food drop caused us to lose a day? Could we do this sort of thing? I thought we could. I was confident in our fitness, and in our ability to make the right decisions. However, if I’d imagined our PCT trip beforehand, analyzing all the possible scenarios, I wouldn’t have pictured events unfolding in the way they did. Storms that continued on for weeks rather than days. Completing only 60 miles of our projected 436. Spending our last night in a public bathroom.
 So I am sitting here on the ferry, with an unbelievably good 4,4,4,5,5,6 cribbage hand (what do I throw?), and can’t help but review the events of each day over and over in slideshow fashion. Because we’re disappointed. It is so hard to become engrossed in a goal, picture the experience, and then have to turn back so early— even if that is the right thing.
So here’s what happened.
The week before—October 10, 2016:
Storms raked the forecast. Heavy winds, heavy rain, sleet, snow, flying cats and dogs. Our mom was at a conference in Seattle, and she was worried sick. Every day we’d get a call: “Guys. This is one of the worst Pacific coast storms of the century! What are you thinking?”
What were we thinking? Two of our volunteers had dropped out, and Niles was busy dealing with the food logistics. I have always been a planner. If the weather looked bad, we were going to expect it on the trail. Still we were uneasy. My stomach wound like a pretzel. We were checking the forecast three times a day. The start date drew closer, and we were antsy to begin.
Journal logs:
Friday, October 14, 2016, — The Calm Before the Storm—ND
-Weather doesn’t look great. Supposedly, the West side is going to get hit with a typhoon from Japan, causing a lot of high wind and rain.
Current weather: a lot of rain. Every person we talk to seems to think we’ll run into a lot of snow, but weather up at Harts Pass calls for rain and little snow accumulation.img_3186revised
-Mom is worried. Keeps telling us to reconsider.
-Dad seems to think we planned things out OK. He’s going to pick us up at the Oregon border.
-Busy with the veggie dehydrator, and getting last-minute things setup for the 10-mile Oktoberfest race tomorrow. Ever tried dehydrating peanut sauce?
Initial pack weights: Cy-15.3 lbs., Niles-16.6 lbs.
Monday October 17, — Day 1-log entry
Day 1: Our initial plan was to start at Harts Pass, assess conditions as we worked down to Rainy Pass, pick up a food drop, and take off for Stevens. Yet the weather wasn’t cooperating. Storms continually raked the mountains, and we woke up the morning of to find that snow accumulation on Harts pass had jumped from 8 inches to 14 overnight. That was at 6200’. We knew Methow and Cutthroat passes were higher, and things weren’t looking great. We decided then to start at Rainy pass, head north for a day up to Cutthroat and possibly Methow to assess, and then backtrack south to Rainy to keep our itinerary the same.
Rainy Pass log: Day 1, October 17, —Rainy Pass TH—Cutthroat Pass—Rainy Pass TH.
Wet and brisk. Today we headed north up to Cutthroat Pass (6800’), and ran into mega snow: 20+ inches up to our knees! Fun today, but nervous. Trail is still easy to follow.  Right now worried more than anything about our footwear, and future weather. Shoes are wet, and we’re stuck here near the Rainy pass TH overnight. Niles complains of a little soreness in his lower back. We setup the tent again (only the third time setting it up since it arrived last week), and it feels a little cozier than we’d like. Any significant wind/rain combo might get our sleeping bags wet.
Right now, the game plan is to wait for Scott here until tomorrow for some food, and then head towards Stevens. Game after game of cribbage.
Day 2, October 18, ~5:00
tentrevisedMice. Hung all our food up, and they still want to come hang out in the tent. Starting to wish we had an enclosed space. Continuous scuttling behind our heads.
6:00 a.m.—Amazing how much our perception has changed in the last 12 hours. We’ve combed over the maps, and talked to several groups of PCT hikers last night. Snow on most of the passes, and many people look haggard—more so than usual. Discussing things, and now doubts are creeping in. Of course we want to go for it—and there does exist a feeling of some obligation to check things out. We’ll need plenty of warm socks.
Niles: “Last night was restless. Went to sleep way to early, so the night lasted forever. Thought we felt a critter even though we did a bear hang. Stayed relatively dry. Cy skunked me in cribbage again.”
9:00 a.m.—Waiting for a food drop today, but not likely until afternoon. You know that feeling when you just want to get moving, like you have barely gotten things off the ground? Couldn’t sit in the tent anymore, so we went for a jog around the compound. Sleet and wet snow continues to fall, can’t wait to get moving.
13:25 p.m.—“A dog cannot make the journey alone, but maybe a wolf can (Balto).”
19:42 p.m.—Niles: “Scott finally showed up with 4.5 days worth of food, and pizza, and nutterbutters, and chips and orange juice. On the trail towards Stehekin at 16:07, and ran ~8 miles to Six-Mile Camp. Rain continuous, but the fall colors make up for it. Packs feel heavier than we’d like with all the food, but I suppose they’ll get progressively lighter. Excited but nervous for passes ahead. Bail point: Stehekin and ferry.”
Continuously revamping the plan. Now we’re 8 miles ahead of schedule, and we’re thinking of pushing another 6 additional miles ahead of schedule tomorrow to reach Hemlock Camp. That’ll put us at a low elevation (~3800’) and primed before Suiattle Pass where things will start to spice up a little. Looking at the maps, we’ve got around 6 passes 6,000’+ in this section alone. Time to do the math.
Right now at Six-Mile Campground, and the trees and creek are beautiful. Weather has died down a bit, light continuous rain, and the majority of our things are dry.
Day 3, October 19, —Long entry, buckle up.
Today was beautiful! Not a drop of rain until we hit Hemlock camp, which puts us at around 26 miles for the day. Weather outlook called for rain, and today dawned frosty. Must have been in the 20’s. By the time we set of, Niles and my hands were frozen. In the course of an hour, the sun hit, and it was that way all day. Ran into some thru hikers heading north today (yikes), and they saidtongueoutrevised they’d been in 2-3 feet through the Stevens section, and it was still snowing hard. We suggested a lower route north to Canada (many other PCTers we’d seen thus far had been going that route), but they remained insistent. Good luck guys!
Got a wave of nostalgia as we passed Stehekin by, sent a quick wave to Mom and Dad in Chelan. After a kickass day, we’re sitting here poring over the maps, eating falafel-covered couscous with peanuts, broccoli, carrots, black bean soup, and chocolate-covered espresso beans. After doing a long map evaluation, if the weather is good tomorrow, we’re going to head up to Suiattle Pass tomorrow and check out the snow conditions. Here’s our plan if we decide to go for it:
Day 7 will be longer; however, it’ll give us more of a margin per day, and we’ll be sleeping at a lower elevation.
18:36—Raindrops, fast and fat: we had to abandon the comfortable dinner spot by the river, and cram into the tent. I’m going to get annoyed at this thing. It’s too small.
Here’s the plan if the weather isn’t so great tomorrow (looks likely): Head up to Suiattle Pass in the morning, and if weather and snow conditions are bad, bail out at Stehekin. I really hope we don’t have to bail. Having some tough mental battles. Food situation is a little more serious than we’d like it. Went for a lot of dried foods (oatmeal, couscous, lentils, beans, rice, quinoa, falafel, etc…) and didn’t calorie count that closely. We have plenty of running gels and drink mixes, but the chocolate covered espresso beans are being consumed at an alarming rate. Not the end of the world, just makes logistics and planning more serious.
Niles evening entry: “ After doing a serious evaluation of current weather, food and snow conditions, I’d say that it’s very likely we’ll finish back in Stehekin tomorrow.”
Niles log: Day 4, Thursday October 20, —Mice again.
3:15 a.m.—Cy: “Niles, wake up.” There’s 4″ of slushy snow on the tent. Spent 10 minutes knocking it all off, and readjusting the ground plastic. Causing the tent to sag. Every 15 minutes we’re knocking off new snow.
4:00 a.m.—That’s it. It’s over. This made our decision much easier. Up twice more knocking snow off, and it’s sticking like mad. Condensation is everywhere. If it’s like this down here, there’s simply no way we’re going up higher. Went outside for a bathroom break and plunged into 3 inches of icy water. Feet are soaked! Going to pack things up, and get out before 5 a.m.. Hopefully we can catch thesnowrevised ferry home and revamp.
11:48 a.m.– Tough way to end the day. Right now we’re in an open cabana, and there’s a fire going. Lady of the Lake doesn’t run until tomorrow, so we’ll sleep here tonight, and head home tomorrow.
Recap: It was 4:48 a.m., and almost everything oozed water as we shouldered our packs. My hands were cold in my emergency winter ski gloves, which were wet. We were in full raingear, tent and everything packed in drybags (tent leaked—wtf?—must’ve had a faulty seam). To keep critters at bay, we left one of our headlamps on half the night, and it dimmed, blinked, and then plunged Cy into darkness. We were left shuffling under one headlamp, plunging in a continuous 3” icy puddle of a trail as we trudged back. Scrunched toes the entire time, and then ditched the gloves and stuck our hands in our pants like high school freshman.
Around 8:00 a.m. enough light was present to make some good time, and we were on the Stehekin river road by 8:50. Around 9:30, just as we were debating whether Stehekin was 5 miles from the trail, or indeed 12 miles (shuttle and bakery had wintered for the year), a polite local pulled up in an orange beautifully rustic, classy Stehekin car—labeled “For official use only” and offered us a ride into town. Extremely nice. Turns out the ferry didn’t run until tomorrow, and since it’s the end of the season, all lodging options are out. Thus we have choice between an outdoor sheltered cabana we could camp under (no door), or a community bathroom/shower floor with a heater. We chose the heated bathroom. At 20:00 p.m. we headed inside, locked the door, and flipped the light switch. Here’s to hoping nobody needs to pee.
1) What did we learn?
-Plenty. First and foremost, we realized too late that it was very risky starting the trip so late. August and September are the best months for the Washington section of the PCT, and next year we’ll take this into account when we have a rematch with the trail. We learned vital information about caloric content that we would need for this type of trip. In order to minimize weight this year, we brought a combination of dried foods with running gels and drink mixes, and realized early on that our projected 3500 calories/day would need to be closer to 4200-4500 calories/day.
-Test your gear in conditions you expect on the trail. Although much of our gear worked as planned, we had issues with a leaky tent seam, and footwear. We didn’t account for 3-4 inch slush puddles. Without sun, our trail running shoes remained wet and cold throughout the trip.
-Always have a plan B. We did, and we were very glad for it.
 Check back on WenatcheeOutdoors.org for follow up articles about gear used on this trip and more lessons learned.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Like WenOut? Subscribe now!

Get hand-picked trail guide posts, events and more delivered to your inbox specifically with you in mind.

Translate »