August 3, 2019
Small Creek to Chiwawa River Road
Buck Creek Pass Trail, Buck Creek Pass, Liberty Cap Way Trail, Buck Creek Trail, Chiwawa River Road
Our last day!
We wake up at six, already imagining piles of cheap small-town Chinese food, eat a fast last breakfast, and hurry up the easy mile and a half to Buck Creek Pass.
It’s beautiful. The Buck Creek area may be the most popular in the entire Glacier Peak Wilderness, and I get it: the Suiattle Valley’s horseshoe bend stretches beneath endless blooming ridges, and above it all Glacier Peak’s icy glaciers creak and shine in the early morning sun.
At the pass, I peel off from the main trail for a “quick” side trip up to Liberty Cap and High Pass. The route switchbacks up Liberty Cap’s northern shoulder, then flits for a few miles from one side of the ridge to the other, sometimes overlooking Glacier Peak, sometimes the Entiat and Chelan Mountains beyond. I end up taking something like two dozen pictures of Glacier Peak, saying goodbye.
I get turned around by a steep snowfield above Triad Lake that I just don’t have the stomach to deal with, then jog back to the main trail, this time trying to stay on top of the ridge, summiting Rally Cap, then Liberty. I stop on top of the latter, eat my last Snickers, and spend twenty minutes just watching the mountain.
I feel a little like I did at the end of my Olympic traverse a couple years ago: I’ve been here for what seems like so long, walked for so many miles, but I still feel a little like a stranger—like I’m just starting to understand the place.
When I first started hiking or whatever it is I do, I had this weird goal of walking every official or once-official trail on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. And I did it, though it took something like three years and fifty-odd trips. I feel like that, or probably more than that, is what it takes to really know a place. You must see it in all its seasons, walk crowded trails and faded footpaths, get lost in the snow, limp home by headlamp.
Watching the blooming flowers blow in the wind beneath Glacier Peak, I think, as I have several times this trip, about how big the world is. You could walk here for years and never really see the whole thing. Like the Olympics, like the Gorge. You could spend a whole life here.
But, of course, I’m already half an hour past my planned turn-around time, so I scurry back down to Buck Creek Pass, then weave through throngs of weekend hikers—I think it’s Saturday?—down to Buck Creek.
Half the people I meet ask how camping was at the pass, or how long we stayed there—“did you do some dayhikes?”—and seem sort of uncertain when I tell them we’re coming back from something a little longer. There’s a corrosive elitism that runs through long-distance hiking circles, a snobbery about people just out for a single night, and I never want to be anything like that. But I also wonder if there’s some way of signaling how much bigger this wilderness is than just the nearby passes, how much more is possible than a night packed into a crowded spot a few miles from the road.
The day gets hotter and way gets buggier as the trail descends, and I eventually find Krista taking a rest near the Chiwawa River crossing, out of water. I’ve been out of water for a while too, so we stop at the River, put our legs in, and take one last long rest, each drinking several liters.
“Sweets,” she says out of nowhere. “This has been a really wonderful trip.” It has.
The last few miles to the trailhead feel a little tedious—a bunch of ups and downs, and a bunch of black flies—but after more sweat and swearing than I’d like to admit, we eventually make it back to the Buck Creek Trailhead. It’s so strange to see cars when you haven’t for a while, or to smell perfume.
From the trailhead, we still have a few miles of road-walking to do, but they pass relatively quickly. We stop in the shade from time to time to watch the river or wave at the nervous drivers, trying to navigate the road in low-clearance Carollas. Then suddenly we’re back at the car, unceremoniously parked at a small pull-out near Willow Creek.
We did it.
We pile into the car and drive back along the bumpy road to Lake Wenatchee, then the unthinkably fast highway east to Leavenworth and Wenatchee.
Just short of town, we stop along the Wenatchee River for a swim. It’s sunny and the beach is full of tourists with blow-up floating beds and coolers of Coors. I jump in and stay under for as long as I can hold my breath, then walk out in a daze. The world feels new.
Wenatchee is hazy and parched in the late-afternoon sun. We limp into a gleaming chain hotel, take two hours’ worth of showers between us, and order a truly absurd amount of Chinese food—a family feast advertised to feed four. When Krista goes in to pick it up, she asks for four place-settings, because she’s worried that they’ll know it’s just for us, and rightly take us to be irredeemable gluttons. Then she absolutely loses it as she’s leaving, laughs until her face runs red. We’re both still laughing when we make it back to the hotel, and laughing still, an hour later, when we nearly finish the whole damn thing.
“Is it possible to thru hike a Chinese restaurant? Because I think we just did.”