PCT Day 21, Sheep Lake to Pipe Lake, 24 miles

Beware of monotony; it’s the mother of all the deadly sins. – Edith Wharton

There is nothing like rising before dawn to clear skies and a dry tent. The lake is beautiful – crowded, sure, since only a few miles from the highway, but a mellow crowd, especially our neighbors who hefted chairs all the way here but happily share the view.

There’s a box on the tree next to my tent that reads, “Mercy – not being treated the way one deserves.” I relate to that, open the door and take out a candy.

I usually fly out before everyone, but I’m the last one packed before we head to the highway in a little line – Cheerio, Sweet Blood and me. The light is gorgeous sliding in through the trees. I eat only one bar this morning, rationing the last of the food. We laughed yesterday joking that no one really needs to eat on the last day, as our hiker hunger causes us to pick all the good stuff out of our food bags with still 35 miles to go.

We never heard the highway from our rocky perch, but we see it rounding the bend. There’s a toilet with paper and garbage cans. I love garbage cans! We’re too early for any trail magic, so press on. I think I forgot to mention that at the Ulrich camp there was a bucket of leftover goodies. I found crackers, jelly beans and some sweetened cereal. There was also a couple of powdered beverage blessed by the Church of Latter Day Saints, sort of “doomsday” drinks. They tasted awful.

We enter Mount Rainier National Park and reach a beautiful lake, one of thousands in this section, turquoise, grass and wildflowers, and happy little painting-with-Bob trees. I fill up my water bottle and ‘camel up’ since it’s turning into a hot day. A couple pass by, one wearing a basket with thin leather straps as his backpack. He offers us some wonderful homemade granola, a sort of melt of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. He also tells us there’s a spot coming up where we’ll see Adams, St. Helens and Rainier all at once.

Cheerio makes ramen for ‘second breakfast. She’s cheerfully casual and sets her pot askew on her stove and just as I say it might fall, it spills out on the trail. Fortunately, she rescues some. It’s hard to be too upset in such an idyllic place of bright green against blue sky, though the mosquitos are out in force.

‘Bounce’ told me yesterday he thought these mosquitos are smaller and, in fact, they are. But like small dogs, they’re more aggressive. Still, this beautiful day is the reason one comes to the mountains.

We pass another box, this one saying, “Trust, complete belief and confidence in one who is just.” Trust is such a loaded word to me these days. What exactly does the word mean? To put faith in someone or something, that what they say is true, that they represent themselves honestly, that we are safe believing in them. I have sometimes taken the misguided approach that if I act in a certain manner – a trustworthy manner – I will be treated in a similar manner. The truth is acting with integrity is no guarantee we will be treated fairly or with respect. But does that mean we should not act with integrity and good faith, that we shouldn’t trust?

Cheerio and I talk for a long time about the losses and frustrations in our lives. Some events we describe shake us to the core, but we both agree trusting in the general goodness of people is how we conduct our lives, at least until proven otherwise. Perhaps more important is trusting ourselves – and trusting life itself to provide.

We come to a view of Mount Rainier where you can see even more detail, its rocky facade and hard packed glacier. Sweet is crying, telling us she misses her grandmother, the person who introduced her to the outdoors. We talk a bit about gratitude – for those that opened our eyes to this beauty, for having the means and the time to be here now, for having legs that got is here.

I tell Cheerio sometimes the best thing in the world are the things that break your heart, because you are set free. As painful as a tragedy may feel at the time, it’s protecting you from a worse tragedy.

We walk along a ridge of meadows filled with butterflies and other flying creatures. Firs are frozen in a dance – or were they spinning a hula hoop? Everywhere are flowers like pinwheels, white with yellow faces. A black helicopter flies away from Rainier, possibly an evacuation. One day I’d like to climb it, but I am happy seeing it framed by lupine from the trail.

We reach the little shady section where we see all three mountains. We have lunch, but the mosquitos are vicious and it’s a quick one before we head down, deep into the forest. It’s many miles down and for a moment I suffer ptsd as we thrash through thick, clingy ferns.

I grab water half way down and continue drinking more than I think I need. At the bottom is a fast moving stream and a stunning campsite, where I sit for a while with Cheerio since it’s too early to set up camp.

When I played flute, I led my life with such single mindedness, but I often put off things until other things happened. I still had a pretty full life, but I didn’t learn to climb or kayak or hike a long trail when I was young. I waited until more recent years. I suppose I’m making up for lost time, but I’m hardly ridiculous out here, like someone at the center of their midlife crisis. I hold my own, and still have strength at the end of the day to bolt up the hill for the last six miles. I hike now with an Aussie named Chris who keeps the conversation going on all sorts of topics from hiker food strategies to taking side-trips when on a massive thru-hike on the scale of the PCT. He’s so engaging and generous, I really enjoy the final miles.

We walk through a fairyland of ponds and streams, flowers and meadows, birds and bugs. The tiny bodies of water surround us, some high up and just across the trail, quite a bit lower. The mosquitos are dreadful – my brother Eric would call these bodies of water, ‘malarial’ – but the landscape, punctuated by the bulbous white flower of bear grass, is magical.

Soon, we arrive at our little lake where fast Sweet is set up and reserves spots for us. I quickly dunk under the cool water, avoiding massive sunken logs on the soft and sinky mud bottom. The mosquitos hold us hostage as we quickly cook, then dash inside our tents. No socializing tonight and it’s a constant buzz and a few birds who send me off to sleep after a magnificent day. Good night!

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Have you read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail?

    “At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.”

    Sounds a bit like your journey.

      1. It’s a well written book about redemption, and I’m a firm believer that walking heals. That being said, she was extremely foolish and is lucky to have escaped getting hurt or worse. I realize the myth that a woman with sheer willpower can do the extraordinary sells – are there any stories of men lauded for making impulsive decisions totally unprepared? – but the publishers are irresponsible in my opinion, pushing this fantasy. Frankly, as a female solo hiker who has taken the time to get prepared, the story gets on my nerves – though back to sentence one, it is truly a story of redemption and exceptionally well told.

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