Pacific Crest Trail, Washington (Day 4, August 2016)
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Fourth day of an 80 mile section hike from near the Oregon border to White Pass, Washington: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, lands of the Yakama people.
We woke before dawn at the campground in the lava bed next to a stream and packed up camp as light began to glow in the trees, coloring the sky with pastel pinks and purples. The first mile of the trail was surrounded by beautiful wildflower meadows and streams. We didn’t see a single person awake for the first hour (although we passed some tents along the trail near the blue streams).
Just beyond the boulder fields of lava rock, we reached the Lewis River, a tributary of the Columbia River. The rushing water was loud in the dawn light, and I found the solitude eerie. We could see White Salmon Glacier on Mount Adams at 12,276 feet in the near distance above the river. This was the closest we’d get to Mount Adams and it loomed large above the cold rushing water.
I took Elu’s pack off, slung it over my shoulder, then took off my boots, swapping them for the heavy strap sandals I brought for camp and river crossings. I clipped my boots together with a carabiner and grabbed them in one hand with my hiking poles. Clipping the leash onto Elu’s harness, I waded into the most shallow-looking spot at the edge of the river.
Elu stood on the shore, jumping from rock to rock behind me, reluctant to join me in the cold snowmelt river. Early morning river crossings are advisable because of the lower velocity when you're close to the source. Snowmelt increases as the day warms up, and the river flows rougher as the day progresses. I'd planned our campsite the day before for this very reason. Even though we were crossing at dawn, there was an eight foot stretch of water that Elu had to swim, and the water was swift. The numbing cold river reached up to my thighs and Elu had to paddle with all her might. I was grateful for her harness and kept her strong body close to mine with the leash. Elu scrambled up the bank of rocks and dirt on the other side, shaking the water from her fur and panting excitedly, vibrating with the excitement of our first river crossing.
I put down her pack, my boots, and hiking poles on the bank next to Elu and took a deep breath before wading back into the river to return for my pack. Elu ran back down to the edge of the water, concern for me evident on her face. She wouldn’t get back in the water, but she wanted to keep me safe. I hauled my pack onto my shoulders, leaving the waist strap unclipped in case I fell over and needed to dump it, lest I be held under with it. Crossing back to Elu, my sandals slipped on the rocks and my legs were chilled. The water touched the bottom of the pack, but I made it safely across. Elu wiggled her whole body with relief and happiness and I laughed as she sprinted up the bank and jumped around with glee.
We hiked through beautiful fields of lupine, past ponds and meadows with scattered tents and barking dogs. We crossed boardwalks over marshes and along Mount Adam’s lower slopes. The trail passed near the edge of the Yakama Indian Reservation and we crossed a paved road then come to a forest road with a large silver pickup truck parked across it. The PCT followed the forest road for a bit, and families were out picking huckleberries that surrounded the area. Naked and diapered toddlers picked berries from the lower branches and clung to their mothers’ legs, staring at me and Elu, their faces stained with bright purple juice.
I asked what they were picking and one of the kids replied, “Purple berries!” The huckleberries were plentiful and the families filled gallon jugs with them to sell later. One of the women asked, “Are you alone?” and I replied, “Just me and the dog.”
Then she asked, “You’re not scared?”
Me: ”Actually, no. Nobody has bothered us. I feel safe in camp with her by my side.”
A couple of the older kids wanted to pet Elu. She sniffed and licked their fingers and they squealed and giggled.
A little further up the trail, we saw an older white woman with a PCT cap and clean, new gear with hiking poles. She seemed like a local day hiker. The woman stopped me and said, “I can’t believe they parked a truck on the trail! I’m going to report them. That’s illegal. They shouldn’t be here.”
I told her, “I know, I had to squeeze by the truck, but it’s not a big deal. They’re just picking berries. It’s not like they’re hurting anyone.”
Her: “They have no right!”
Me: “I’m pretty sure this used to be Yakama land. They have every right to pick be here. Just walk around the truck.” She huffed at me, and scowled at Elu. I did not made a friend of her, but she was being ridiculous.
Near noon, Elu and I both needed to stop and rest. She was heating up with the sun, and the right side of my neck began to spasm painfully. The nerve-damaged spot on my right shoulder blade was tingling in warning. The past few days of wearing a pack stuffed with a week's worth of food were catching up with my body, even with the shorter mileage and early camps. I also carried a two-person tent and Elu's water, which meant I'd never be a lightweight backpacker. Elu carried her own food and our trash, but I was too concerned about her paws to make her haul any more weight than that. I had a weird anxiety after talking to that older hiker, and I was frustrated that the interaction was bothering me so much. The heat of the lower elevation was getting to me and souring my mood.
We hiked just a couple more miles and found a nice flowing stream near a secluded meadow in the woods. I set up camp and Elu laid down in a shady spot to nap and cool off. I spent the afternoon listening to an audiobook and before dusk we left the tent to explore the area. Beautiful wide open meadows of wildflowers were just down the trail and we refilled our water bottles again before tucking back into the tent to sleep under the stars.
Day 4: Hiked 13 miles to camp at PCT MP 2251.
Elevation change: up 918 ft, down 2152 ft.
Camped at elevation 4699 ft in a meadow near a small creek.