My son Justin and I just returned from a lightweight excursion into the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. By comparison this is one of the least popular portions of the Pacific Crest Trail that still crosses into a Wilderness area within the State and while I don’t understand this I’ll avoid argument and just go along with it. I suppose that it’s bordered on all sides by newer wilderness areas or wilderness that is so visually spectacular that glimpses of these locals might dazzle one’s eyes for months. But hey! It is Wilderness and this is the kind of place where popularity is not necessarily a great attribute.
We left Tuesday morning and drove up to Steven’s Pass where we parked, loaded packs, and headed off down the trail. Justin started feeling “tired”, but soon got into the rhythm of the walking and only seemed interested in stopping when there were really neat things to see along the way. We talked a lot, or rather Justin talked and I listened with the dogs bringing up the rear.
Our original intent was to walk to Lake Valhalla and see how we felt and how busy it might be once we got there. We walked through some light rain, dark clouds and wet vegetation stopping for lunch along the way. We munched our kippers and swatted mosquitos for a bit and then continued the climb. Soon we could see Valhalla looming over us and there were cloud breaks from time to time.
When we arrived at the lake’s basin I could see that there were a couple of parties at campsites near the lake already. Justin complained that his feet were tired, but his face was full of energy. We paused and Justin and the girls cooled off in the water. I bundled up and braced against the cold, pausing after activity always makes me colder and the clouds and drizzle wasn’t helping. After a couple of hours everyone seemed to have had their fill and so I suggested that we might want to move along.
We walked up the north pass out of the basin and sallied forth. Between the lake and Union Gap there has been a lot of trail maintenance activity recently. Most of this segment has seen a Pulaski blade and there are occasionally nice new water bars installed by someone who knows what they’re up to. It’s dusty and dry, but that will settle down by next year and the trail work looks to me like it may last a good long while. Thanks to whomever is responsible Nice work!
From Union Gap to Janus Lake the trail could use some brushing at the least, but otherwise it’s in good condition (as opposed to excellent). Near the end of this length I could see that Justin had to apply himself to the walking, but as we came down into the Janus Lake basin he nearly ran with his excitement. Day one down and everyone was super happy.
Dinner of Mac, cheese and salmon, camp set, and sooner than later a PCT through hiker by the trail name of Buckwheat wondered into camp. He ended up pitching his tarp near our encampment and thus conversation was had. Really nice fellow, I hope we can talk again soon as he seems super full of information and good intent.
The night got down into the lower 30s, I don’t think it broke freezing but I was sorry that I didn’t bring my own tarp. I ended up moving everything from the open, soft grassy spot we had originally chosen for its excellent view of the night sky to the relative protection of a Noble Fir to avoid getting completely damped out. Pepper was so cold she became a real pest and ended up sleeping inside my bag. (Note to self: need to make a sleeping bag for her so she can stay happy all by herself).
I awoke early, before the sun broke the eastern horizon, added a little clothing and headed up the trail about a mile or two to get my blood pumping and see if I could crest the next hill north of our camp. Justin stayed in bed and slumbered contentedly. When I arrived back at the camp Buckwheat was moving about I offered tea (we had plenty of fuel) and parked myself over near his set-up to continue our discussion from the previous night. He seems to have a particularly in-depth grasp of ultra-light trail cuisine and I’m still dumbfounded by both his base weight and the food weight of his pack. Very compact set up which will last an unusually long time without resupply, something work emulation.
Eventually he had dried enough from the previous night and loaded up his kit and headed off down the trial. At that point I rousted Justin from his sleeping bag, made breakfast and started to prepare for the next day. The waffling I was getting from the Justin corridor helped me make the decision that perhaps this was a two day trip instead of a three day excursion. Once we’d fueled up, dried everything and got loaded we headed off south back the way we came. There were a number of segments where Justin was really stretching his legs bringing our average pace from 1.2 MPH to above 2.0 MPH. This touched this Dad in a special way; super proud of my boy.
On the return Lake Valhalla had filled up with considerably more traffic. We more or less breezed by the lake only pausing to say hello to another through trekker (an older fellow on a horse whose trail name I did not catch) and exchange information about the trail ahead.
Near the end of the return trip Justin was really dragging. We talked about food and tried to make the time pass. Finally we made our way around the last corner and the relief on his face was quite visible. “Big Mileage Justin” may be his trail name. He better slow down or someone might think he likes this kind of thing.