Water and Gravity Always Win

We woke up to rain, we finished our road walk in the rain and we set up camp in the rain.

Jennifer and I with Spectrum just after he stuffed us with pancakes and right before he sent us down the road.

The title for this blog has been something we have been saying all along this trail.

Once we got back on the PCT, we spent a lot of time clearing and kicking new drains so that water could leave the trail.

There was a lot of water.

Thankfully our Yama Mountain Gear Swiftline was ready to keep us dry.

We had the wings deployed to keep the breeze moving through the tent and hopefully keep the condensation to a minimum. It isn’t any fun if the inside of the tent is as wet as the outside.

Day 140 – 18 / 1,828 (2,256)

We woke up to torrential rain.  Seriously torrential rain.  Our tent was surrounded by a moat.

Perfect tent siting.

We hoped for the rain to let up, but it wasn’t. So we packed up and got moving in our least favorite weather – cold and wet.

Cold is fine.

Wet is fine.

Cold and wet isn’t.

At that point I would have preferred that the temperature dropped another 15 degrees and it started snowing.

Although I may end up eating those words before this hike is over.

Thankfully the rain let up after a couple of hours and we saw hints of the sun.  A quick layer change and we were warm.

We hadn’t run across another person all morning, but within minutes of sitting down for lunch five hikers were standing in front of us.  Two headed the same way as us, three headed south.

Our goal was to get across a stretch of rock in the Goat Rocks Wilderness known as The Knife Edge.  As you can picture, it’s a sharp ridgeline with steep drops on either side.  I’ve read descriptions of it along the lines of “absolutely beautiful in good weather, absolutely terrifying in bad”.

We had bad.

We quickly learned from two of the southbounders who had crossed it that morning that conditions were treacherous, including a couple of falls in almost whiteout conditions.

They also passed a report from a northbound couple that had crossed late the afternoon before – “no doubt that it was the most terrifying thing we have ever done in our lives”.

Oh good.

The third southbound hike was someone we had met way back in southern California. She said that she got to the final approach, saw the whiteout conditions and decided to turn around.  As in hike all the way back out to Trout Lake and wait for the weather to clear.

We decided to stop short and see how the following day would turn out.  Plus, with the rain clearing, we could let stuff dry out.

First we enjoyed the great views in the Yakama Indian Reservation.

image

image

Soon after I took that photo, the rain returned.  So much for drying out.

We set up camp in a steady rain and imagined what it was like a few miles up the trail.

Day 141 – 15 / 1,843 (2,271)

An early morning nature call showed clearing skies. Hope for a drier morning.

We have to quit hoping.

The rain started again right before our alarm buzzed.

The first few miles of our approach weren’t too bad.  One southbound hiker had crossed earlier that morning and said that it was a “tough, but do-able” crossing.

A bit further up, we ran into another hiker.  It turns out he was a northbound hiker and turned around halfway across.

We pressed forward.

Our first obstacle was a glacier crossing.  We knew to stay high, but determining what was a high line was tough as the other side of the glacier would disappear as the clouds moved in.

The ice was too slick, so we opted for the rock line at the head of the glacier.  Very loose rocks that made for unsteady footing and visions of broken legs.

Soon the second hiker, the one who turned around, came up from behind.  Apparently his friend who was now with him had convinced him to try again.  He knew the way, so we followed him.

One of the keys that we discussed was that due to the conditions we were going to take the stock animal bypass of the Knife Edge.  The bypass ran a couple of hundred feet below the ridgeline.  It was still exposed to the weather, but had a steep drop on only one side, not two.

Once we got to where the trails diverged, our guide made a right turn towards the Knife Edge, the route that he insisted he was avoiding. I quickly recognized the error and yelled after him, but he couldn’t hear me in the wind and continued with his friend. 

A quick discussion with Jennifer and we decided to turn around and stick to the stock animal PCT route.

The confusion at the trailhead is exacerbated by the signs, which point towards the PCT and the alternate.  One phone app shows the PCT as the alternate, another shows it as the stock route.  The paper maps show both.  Luckily I had looked at the maps the night before and knew we needed to stick left.  So we did, occasionally losing sight of the trail as the clouds blew through. 

Luckily we had only one side to fall and the wind was blowing from that side.

After a few hundred yards, we rejoined the alternate. Looking back up, it was obvious why it was called The Knife Edge.

We chose well.

For the next two hours we crossed a very exposed ridgeline with winds gusting 40-50 mph, enough to stop us in our tracks several times to brace ourselves.  Although not as narrow as the Knife Edge, it was still a narrow ridgeline with significant drops down both sides, often dropping onto glaciers that led to cliffs. 

We were glad to reach the end of the ridgeline.

Did I really need to type that?

Looking back along the ridgeline towards the Knife Edge.

image

A quick lunch in the meadow below and we kept heading down trail

But we didn’t get too far.

It was a mentally and physically exhausting day.  We stopped at a cold spring for water, spied nice campsite and set up for the night.

Perhaps we could finally dry out.

(The two hikers did make it safely off the Knife Edge).

Day 142 – 13 / 1,856 (2,284)

Please help us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j

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6 thoughts on “Water and Gravity Always Win”

  1. Angels, heavenly ones are watching over you and guarding your steps every moment! So thankful that you all made it safely over that treacherous area! Praying for you! Love you!

  2. Bill, thank you so much for the update! I’m glad you two made it over the Goat Rocks. I went through during a dry spell and recall how sketchy it was, even in good weather. I hope the weather improves for you as you proceed northward. You two inspire me!

  3. I was thinking about you guys when we backpacked just few hundred feet above Deep Lake this past weekend and woke up to 3 inches of snow. Hopefully that was the worst of it. Forecast looks brighter for near future. Fingers crossed for you to see more sunshine.

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