WA PCT, Day 18: Words and Things

August 3, 2016
Lake Janus to Lake Sally Ann
PCT2471.4 – 2491 (19.6 miles)

11:30 AM, Pear Lake, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness (Mile 2480)

I woke up in the indiscriminate dark last night to the sound of something hitting my tent vestibule. Hard. Huh. Then there were hurried hoof steps through the brush behind my tent. Then perfect silence, but for a steady stream of gentle rain on the trees and tent.

I got out to check things out. One of the stakes in front of my tent had been knocked out, but things were otherwise untouched, and I stared for a while into the foggy dark, now more curious than scared. Maybe fifty feet away, in a thicket I’d thought impenetrable, there was a faint outline of elk antlers. And we stared at each other, the elk and I—at least I imagine we did—until it got too cold, and I returned to the tent to sleep a few more hours with a new sense of wonder.

Rain beat hard just before dawn, but I woke up to silence and sun making its weak way through the low clouds. Everything I owned was wet and I just didn’t want to deal with it, so I threw it all in my bag, said a shouted goodbye to my friends from last night, and set out, up toward Grizzly Peak.

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The climb from Lake Janus to Grizzly Peak isn’t so bad, all things considered—just a few miles and a few thousand feet—but it was cold and wet and I felt like molasses moving uphill. My morning Snickers helped, though, as did the sun breaking a broader path through the clouds, and soon I was on tracing the top of a gentle green ridge, up and down toward the peak.

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I stopped on top at an overgrown camp for breakfast and a quick rest, and was soon joined by three laughing ladies around my age, each carrying a botany book. They were naming the flowers. All of them. The lupine and lilies, bistort and bunchberry. Everything in Latin. They’d stop at every one, all bend down in a semi-circle, and take turns touching it gently, as if it were a fragile gem. Then they’d whisper its name softly, as though Latin were a private language between them and the flowers.

They were soaked but smiling, out for two weeks from Stevens to Stehekin, and we talked pleasantly for a while about nothing. I told them what I’m up to, and they asked if I had everything I need. I laughed and asked them the same. We all laughed, and they made me promise to say hello when I passed them “in just a few minutes.”

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I sat for a while longer, feeling resplendent in the rising fog, and was just packing up when a southbound PCTer stopped to say hello. He was in military surplus combat boots, with triangles of duct tape around is knees. Limping. He seemed nervous: about the trail, about finishing, about how everyone he saw was in trail runners. And I tried to remember what someone had told me my first day. “It’s… everything was hard for me until last week. But now… now I feel like I I’m flying. I bet that’ll happen for you, too.”

From the peak, the trail traversed high above Grizzly Lake, then descended down to Wenatchee Pass as the clouds began to lift. I’m stopped now for an early lunch at Pear Lake, all my soaked stuff yard saled in a tiny spot of sun. I could spend hours here, sitting on the side of the lake, staring across at Fortune Mountain’s high granite walls.

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10:00 PM, Lake Sally Ann, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness (Mile 2491)

After lunch, the trail climbed to the cascade crest, and I spent the afternoon following the ridge, flitting from one side to the other, through overgrown, flower-filled meadows and rocky flats, through Saddle Gap, down to Pass Creek, up to Cady Pass, and finally further, to Skykomish Peak and Lake Sally Ann.

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Just as I was starting my last climb of the day, I ran into a woman I first met in Snoqualmie, who was headed back to Stevens. She’d hurt her knee or something, and couldn’t keep going. As she told me, she seemed perilously close to tears. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t think of anything. She finished and there was silence. “I…” I what? “I… you know, I guess sometimes turning back’s the bravest thing you can do.”

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As the afternoon turned to evening and the shadows grew long, I followed the trail under Skykomish Peak, through meadows made bright by the softening light. I stopped for a while at a low saddle, sat on a smooth piece of granite, and stared at the flowers. I only know maybe three of their names—the obvious ones: heather, lupine, painbrush—and none of those in Latin. What would I know if I knew more? I thought of Wittgenstein: “the limits of my language are the limits of my world.” What hidden place would those private names open to me? I’ll have to learn more when I get home.

Sitting there, I thought too about how lucky I was to have made it so far without any injury to speak of. To be here, in the evening sun, among all these gems I can’t name.

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The bugs are comically terrible at Lake Sally Ann, but I set up camp here all the same, on a high platform some ways off the trail on the north side. Marmots whistled at me as I meandered down to get evening water, and pikas chirped as the sun set and I made dinner. The night grew close and cold, but I stayed out until the bugs went in, and watched the stars come and go, as the clouds washed back and forth.

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