Looking Back: struck down by sickness (pt. 3)

While we had a 3000+ ft climb that stretched over four miles, I hoped it would be downhill for my sickness. The clinic doctor in North Bend and I thought I had contracted a case of giardia. Luckily by the time Jonathan and I started hiking again I had been on the antibiotics for 18 hours or so. The rumor on the trail was that 24 hours on Flagyl would leave me feeling like normal again - so we were pushing it a bit, but we didn't plan on hiking far. We could not wait around in hotels anymore.

The last post left off with Jonathan and myself at the northbound Snoqualmie Pass trail head. I was still experiencing symptoms, but we were ready to move again. We had a big climb and a challenging section ahead but were only 2 - 3 days away from the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven and Steven's Pass. And I had medication.

My main concern was that as we began this huge climb with full packs, heavy from our resupply I knew I would frequently need to go to the bathroom (normally toilet time in the woods is rather pleasant). This time either side of the trail was very steep, and there were lots of day hikers since we were close to a major highway. This meant that as we ascended the PCT, making our way to a section of trail known as the Kendall Katwalk, I had to frequently throw down my pack and scramble up cliff-sides to find a place to hide and squat. This was challenging for me... but also hilarious as Jonathan patiently sat on the side of trail by my pack and the same couple of people leapfrogged (we'd pass them, they'd pass us) with us. Each time he'd have a brief exchange, but they knew I was in need of some space. One couple hiking back to the highway gave us muffins and fruit, which was great because I was starting to get my appetite back.

Finally, we made it to the top of the climb. The trail at this section was breathtakingly stunning. We had hiked out of old growth forest, waterfalls, and gravity defying rock formations and into fully exposed cliffs and seemingly infinite vistas. There had been heavy cloud cover earlier in the day, but as the evening approached we were watching puffy clouds rise and fall up and over entire mountains like airships. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness certainly lived up to it's name - there were pristine blue, teal, azure waters hidden high up  and away from the rest of the world. As we crossed the ridge I looked out to see Mt. Rainier in the distance as well as sheer valley walls and new mountaintops. The majesty of the Cascade range took my breath away, and I forgot about being sick.

We hiked 11 miles that day. It took around 6 hours and there was one point on the 'Katwalk' where I had to clamber up 25 feet of rocks to find an appropriate perch to do my business (yes, I know, I was in the Leave No Trace grey area here). I finally felt hungry again. We were camping in the clouds. As the misty curtain cleared Jonathan and I ate dinner while we enjoyed a view of Mt. Rainier at sunset. When I say ate dinner, I mean we really, really ate. I mean I made two dinners and had some candy bars, chips and fruit snacks. I was still technically sick; I felt thin as a rail, but I knew as long as I could get calories in and if we took it easy for a day or two, I would be past the worst of it.

Hiking the PCT faced with sickness was frightening as hell. If my condition had deteriorated during a bad storm - we were in Washington, temperatures were dropping and rain can hit any time and last for days - I could have been in serious trouble. There were many other people who had gotten sick on the trail and would get sick in the remaining days of the trail. We faced difficult decisions while experiencing both emotional and physical challenges all while battling out the weather and the trail.

That next morning we woke up enveloped by clouds. I had slept through the entire night, the first full night of rest my body had allowed me to have for three days. We woke and began hiking by 9 am, late by normal standards, but considering our previous circumstances I felt pretty good as we set out. Our goal was to just get as many miles in as we could, but not push it or over-stress my racked body. Clouds rolled in as the day went on, but the scenery was consistently gorgeous and we hiked a decent pace... airship clouds, impossible rock spires, typical PCT stuff. By the afternoon we were starting to get hit by some rain and it felt like the clouds were going to start dumping serious moisture. We had hiked 26 miles. An alright day under normal circumstances, excellent if you are recovering from sickness. We made dinner as it got dark.

"Dude, mice" said Jonathan. Oh man. We were finishing food and getting ready to call it a night when suddenly there were little grey streaks flitting all around us. Great. Mice. I hate mice. But I know better, all the food and anything that could smell like food goes into a bag and the bags hang on a low branch. I rarely hang my food to protect it from bears because bears can climb trees. I will definitely hang my food 12 inches off the ground or higher to keep mice and rodents away from it. I do not like holes in every pocket in my pack, bag or my tent. Even though the food was up I still woke up in the night. The mice had found a single plastic bag outside my tent and were chewing through it repeatedly (probably to spite me). Jonathan did not fare any better - he had left crumbs in a wrapper by his pack. We both woke up multiple times, afraid mice were chewing through tents or bags.

The next morning I was up and moving by 7 am. The damage from the mice was superficial. Jonathan was still asleep, but I figured I could get moving and he would catch me. I felt like I was at 80 or 90% and wanted to get some miles in. This did not happen. I yelled over to him while I was striking camp and all I got was a groan. No. Effing. Way. I finished packing while he ran off into the woods. I knew his pain and he had my sympathies. Getting to Steven's Pass was not going to be easy.

The second Captain was down. Washington wasn't pulling any punches.

Cheers,

Dan (aka Soapbox)

Side note - the Kendall Katwalk section of trail was featured in Backpacker Magazine's October issue. It is an awesome section of trail with a really interesting history. According to the Backpacker article the trail crew "marked the route along the cliff face by dropping beer bottles full of red paint from a helicopter" when they were building it. If you live in Seattle there's no reason to miss out on this hike.

 The ridge top crossing of the Kendall Katwalk

The ridge top crossing of the Kendall Katwalk

 Another view of the Kendal Katwalk

Another view of the Kendal Katwalk

 One of my favorite vista of the trail.

One of my favorite vista of the trail.

 Airship clouds

Airship clouds

 Making camp the first night out of Snoqualimie.

Making camp the first night out of Snoqualimie.