Finally, we hit the trail a little after 9am. I was nervous about going off for such a long trip. My family was nervous too. Travelling alone can be very fulfilling but the margins for error are slimmer than travelling with partners. I am used to biking and dayhiking alone, so I am self-sufficient and am good at responding to the inner voice which questions all the choices that need to be made along the way. Still, unexpected injuries and mishaps can happen. There are a few that were on my mind.
Spraining an ankle is my biggest worry. I sprained one of my ankles while trail running a few years ago. I was only a few miles from the road and was able to hobble out. Ten miles of hobbling with a pack would not be fun or desirable. I vowed to be careful.
Blisters are a worry. If you can’t walk or if it is unpleasant to walk, it could ruin a trip. For this trip, I wore low-top hiking shoes which are rugged enough to protect my feet from rocks, but not so stiff that I would be vulnerable to rubbing.
Running out of water or getting sick from water are minor possibilities. The route around Glacier Peak should have tons of water from melting snow and glaciers.
Animal encounters, specifically bear encounters, were definitely possible. However on all my trips in the Cascades, I had never seen a bear in the wild. I carried a bear can for my food which saves the hassle of hanging and protects it from being crushed in my pack, but most hikers in Washington only use them if required by regulation. The area I was visiting has a reputation for bears. It seemed likely I would see one or more on this trip, a prospect that was both exciting and unnerving.
My family hiked with me for about an hour. The trail started wide and level. It appeared to be a remnant of an old roadbed. It was heavily wooded and starts at a low elevation of about 1000ft. The Suiattle river roared and crashed below and to the right but it was rarely in sight. The trail keeps away from the river, circling around the base of Sulphur Mountain.
We hugged goodbye and for a few minutes I felt a tugging sensation as they walked the opposite direction. Then the elastic snapped and I was on my path and they were on theirs.
It was cool in the shade and the river and streams cooled the air as well, but it was starting to heat up and it would again be a very hot day. I kept a steady pace but tried not to go so fast that I was breathing hard or sweating. I had lunch on a sandbar by the river and sent my first location message with a Spot device I had rented. It is a transponder which can be used to send messages via satellite. It has two weaknesses and proved to be unreliable for giving comfort to my family. I could not get a signal unless I was in an open area. There were also two days when the messages appeared to be sent to the satellite but did not reach the messaging center. I planned to check in 3-4 times per day and when it appeared that I did not, my wife panicked and called the ranger who told her it was best to wait and see if I returned on the scheduled date.
After lunch I reached the junction with the PCT. I would follow the northbound trail today and return from the south at the end of the hike. This was the true start of the loop. Soon after the junction, I saw my first and only bear of the trip. There was a black bear downslope from the trail, thrashing around in the berry bushes. When I realized what I was seeing, I scrambled to get my camera . It was too far to get a good shot and my heart was thundering. When I was sure that there were no cubs nearby and that it was uninterested in me, I walked slowly up the trail. For the rest of the day, I was on full alert but sadly would not see any other bears. I don’t know, however, if any bears saw me!
Bear near Suiattle River Trail
I met three climbers chatting with two hikers soon after and told them about the bear. I recognized one of the climbers from nwhikers and there was a woman talking enthusiastically with the hikers who I would later learn was the famous thru-hiker who goes by “Anish”. She is in the process of checking off the Bulger list and would set the speed record on the Arizona trail later in the fall. Amazing hiker!
First view of Glacier Peak (south)
I met a ranger who was supposed to meet up with some incoming horse-packers taking lumber up to Miner’s Ridge to fix the lookout. Since it is wilderness, they can’t use chainsaws and can’t air-drop materials with helicopters.
I hiked the entire day through the woods with no views. The trail skirted below Miner’s Ridge. I’ll have to return someday and hike up there. There is a lookout and a famous lake called Image Lake. There was a possibility to hike up Miner’s Ridge but it would add about 5-6 miles and this early in the trip, I did not feel confident enough to add significant distance to the trip. There were no creeks below Miner’s Ridge.
The trail crossed Miner’s Creek and began zigzagging up the ridge. It was very warm and I was sweating a lot. One of my favorite possessions I had brought was a strip of kitchen towel. I hooked it through the top strap of my pack and used it to wipe sweat off my face when it would start to drip down into my glasses. I was passed by a shaggy through-hiker. He was motoring. There was no way I wanted to match his pace on the first day of the trip and even though I had tried to get my pack weight down, it is nowhere near as light as a through-hiker pack. My pack was about 55lbs on the first day. Through hiker packs are typically below 35lbs.
I reached the forest camp at the junction with the Middle Ridge trail at about 4:30pm. I had thought I might camp there but the camp was mostly destroyed by fallen trees at some point in the recent past. Also, it was a dark area of the forest with no views or water and there were tons of mosquitos. I decided to start up the Middle Ridge trail and see if I could find a campsite near a creek. Soon after leaving the broad, groomed PCT, this started to seem like a poor choice as the Middle Ridge trail was much rougher, steeper, and had lots of trees down over the trail. It also seems much less traveled and there were a few points where I had to scope ahead and find the trail where it was covered by fallen trees. My map showed that the trail would get close to the creek at a few spots and finally I found a very nice camp. It was still in forest and there were no views, but it was close the creek, had a decent spot for the tent, and there were fewer mosquitos. I set up camp at 5:15pm and had dinner, bath, and chores done by 7. Many nearby limbs were draped with damp clothes and I had to hang a bag with some food that would not fit in the bear can.
The first day was done and I had 16miles behind me. Except for the lack of views, it had been an ideal day.
First camp on Middle Ridge