August 1, 2019
East Fork Milk Creek to Miner’s Creek
PCT, Suiattle River
The marmots are up before us, whistling at each other from one side of the basin to the other. I can hear Krista rustling around in her tent, making sounds uncannily like the ones she makes at home when she’s looking for an alarm to turn off.
Then we’re up and walking out of the basin as our noisy neighbors scurry through the blooming lupine, nibbling at the flowers. And pikas too: at least a dozen scurry through the talus above, gathering golden blades of grass for winter.
After leaving our basin, the PCT climbs slightly to Grassy Ridge—a long green expanse that stretches north from Glacier Peak all the way down to where Milk Creek flows into the Suiattle River.
The ridge is alive with birds and bees and blooming flowers, every foot full of frantic spring. To the east, the Suiattle’s unthinkably vast valley extends halfway around the mountain, from the south side at Glacier Gap, where I stood several afternoons ago, to the northern floodplains where we’ll sleep tonight.
We each take a hundred pictures.
We cross Grassy Ridge too quickly—I imagine that spending anything short of an whole life here would be passing it too quickly—then switchback steeply into an ancient forest of cedar and pine. Once in shade and moss, the trail becomes broad and easy. The miles come quickly, and we walk nearly side-by-side, talking about everything and nothing at once.
We stop at a small feeder stream above Vista Creek to eat and filter some water. The main waterways here—Vista Creek, and the Suiattle just below—are too full of glacial silt to drink or filter from, so one has to use the smaller streams that tumble down from the ridge every couple miles. We sit happily at our little strip of water for an hour, planning the rest of the day.
The old PCT crossed Vista Creek here, then crossed the Suiattle near its confluence with Dusty Creek. But the old crossing washed out in 2003, in the same spectacular set of floods that broke the bridge over Kennedy Creek, and the trail now follows the old growth valley several miles downstream, to cross at a new, over-built bridge just a few miles up from the end of the Suiattle River Road. Some thru hikers still use the old trail—it’s quite a bit shorter, and sometimes there’s a log to help one across the river—but we elect for the new trail’s old growth and easy miles.
The next several hours are enchanted: dappled shade and gentle rolling hills. We stop at every small stream to top off water, and to listen to the valley’s old cedars swaying in the warm gentle breeze.
For the second time today, I wish we could just stop and live here.
We reach the new bridge in the late afternoon, cross, then start back up the opposite bank, maybe three miles through the lowering light up to Miner’s Creek.
Here and there, campers are crowded into well-established sites—more people than either of us have seen for a week. A group of Girl Scouts are camped above the trail, surrounded by golden slide alder, singing old folk songs as their dinners soak. A fabulous old man in neon short shorts and a tank top stops to tell me about bushwhacking to the head of this valley when he was my age, about the mile-wide forested flat he found there, surrounded on three sides by creaking glaciers. Fifteen minutes later, three fishermen crowd around a small fire at the edge of the floodplain, passing a handle of cheap whiskey.
We reach Miner’s Creek at dusk and find the whole place mysteriously empty. Perfect. We set up our tents and hang our food and collect water for the night, then cook dinner by last light.
Krista drifts to sleep not long after, but I stay out in the gathering dark to watch the stars fight their way through the light evening clouds, and to listen to the sound of Miner’s Creek flowing into the Suiattle.
There’s something about a wild river, about the waters that freeze on unseen glaciers miles away, then thaw and flow through abandoned cold canyons and lonely sunny chutes to arrive at us here, at the edge of the wilderness. Then the waters go on, these to the Sauk, then the Skagit, then finally to Skagit Bay, Puget Sound, and the Pacific Ocean, almost 200 river miles from where we’ll sleep tonight to the water’s song. There’s something about hearing a whole world rush by, about Heraclitus and change, how movement marks time. About the new currents that have made crags into canyons, then built new moraines and mountains in their place.