Date: Saturday, 26 August 2017
Start: Camped in Suiattle Gap at Mile 2549.5, 6010 ft
Finish: High Bridge Ranger Station at Mile 2569.4, 1581 ft
Daily Miles: 19.9 PCT
Total PCT Miles: 2029.1
Weather: Very warm and sunny
Accommodation: Basic cabin at Stehekin Valley Ranch
Dinner: Salad, prime rib roast & vegetables, peach cobbler and ice-cream.
Aches: Blister back on left heel! Curses!
Highlight: I know that too many of my highlìghts involve getting off the trail for some real food and creature comforts. Nevertheless, the highlight of today was being picked up at the High Bridge Trailhead (along with some day hikers) by the Stehekin Valley Ranch bus at 5:20pm as scheduled, being driven 15 minutes to the ranch, given my cabin, and after a quick shower, sitting down at 6:00pm to a massive plate of prime rib and vegetables, along with some salad and followed by dessert. Hard to beat for a tired and hungry hiker.
Lowlight: The return of the blister on my left heel. There is a small store in Stehekin, which I will visit tomorrow, but they are unlikely to have any blister treatments. I’ve popped it and hopefully it will dry out with a day off and I can try some bandaging before I head out on Monday.
Pictures: Click here when they can be uploaded which may not be until September 1st because of low Wi-Fi bandwidth and no mobile phone coverage.
Position: Not available.
Map: Click here for Google Map
I stirred at 4:30am and thought about getting up early to try and catch the 3:00pm shuttle at the end of my day’s hiking, but decided it would just put pressure on me to hike fast and that I was better to grab an extra hour’s sleep and have a more relaxed hike to catch the 5:20pm shuttle as booked. I made the right decision. Although it was a 20 mile day, and not quite as easy as anticipated, it felt comfortable and I didn’t lose anything by finishing two hours later.
Much of thè early hiking was out in the open, often across open scree, with lovely views down the Agnes Creek valley which was covered in forest that rose to bare craggy peaks on both sides. Despite a cool night, it warmed up rapidly and I was soon shedding layers even though my journey was mostly downhill. After my breakfast break, I was thankfully mostly in the cooler old growth forest, but there were plenty of short uphills and exposed sections for the rest of the day to remind me how warm it was. I was also steadily losing a lot of altitude and that may have accounted for some of the warmth.
I met a lot of hikers going the other way for short camping trips, and felt sorry for some who were clearly not particularly fit, struggling with heavy packs, and in for a lot of climbing. Some were already florid and sweating profusely (reminding me of the early days just north of the Mexican border on this trip). It is true, I think, that you don’t get in the groove for any backcountry hiking trip until you have been on the trail for a week or more, so short trips are often tough. On the other hand, I doubt that any were planning to hike 20+ miles for the day.
For almost all of the day, the trail followed Agnes Creek downstream. My first encounter was around 10:00am where the guidebook suggested it would have to be forded since a bridge had been washed away. Hikers had commented that it could be crossed on logs a little way downstream if you wanted to keep your footwear dry, but my judgment on arriving was that with my ankle-length Goretex boots, I could pick my way across on the least-submerged rocks using my trekking poles for stability. I had one or two anxious moments, but got safely across and saved myself time, stress and energy. The creek itself was beautiful clear water, and that was its hallmark all day as I followed it downstream. It swelled in size, negotiated rapids and gorges and was a constant roar, but when it wasn’t foaming white in rapids it was crystal clear with the pebbled bottom easily visible. Very inviting on a hot day, but I had no time, and knowing me, probably couldn’t be bothered anyway.
All day, I was making sure I was comfortably on time, walking my usual two-hour stints and taking half hour breaks. The trail was good enough for me, the slowest hiker on the PCT, to average 2.5 mph, so it was easy to predict my arrival time. I duly reached the (unmanned) High Bridge Ranger Station at the trailhead on the road to Stehekin at around 4:30pm and then sat around in the shade, doing my map calculations for likely overnight stops on the next section to Manning Park in Canada. Four more days of hiking. The shuttle bus from the Stehekin Valley Ranch ranch arrived on time and I was directed to my tiny basic cabin (no bathroom facilities or power outlets), but the deal includes three meals a day and free shuttles, and I’m staying for two nights. They let me use their laundry after dinner, but there is no dryer so my washing is currently spread across the chairs on my cabin’s deck to dry, which should be no problem. The ranch has minimal Wi-Fi, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to post photos and blog updates. Stehekin is not accessible by road from the outside world, just by boat across Lake Chelan, or float plane, or on foot. The ranch is some distance from the Lake and Stehekin’s small store and famous bakery, so I will take the shuttle there in the morning and have a look. My food parcels from Walmart are here, so repacking food for the last few day’s hiking will also be on the agenda, but so will be relaxing.