Sunday, September 6, 2009

PCT, Day 3: Fire On The Mountain

When I awoke early the next morning to take a few pictures (feeling better than I'd felt in days, I might add), I could hardly believe my eyes: the delightfully melodic stream known as Cathedral Creek had totally vanished!

Oh, the stream bed and little sandy beach were still there, but not a lick of water remained. Incredulous, we packed up our camp and continued down the trail toward Snoqualmie Pass.

The day before, we heard rumors of a fire on the Pacific Crest Trail from hikers heading north, though few had any specific details. That morning, however, we smelled the unmistakeable aroma of smoke from a forest fire. Passing hikers confirmed our suspicions.

The Lemah Fire, caused by lightning strikes in late July, had spread from 30 to 600 acres. The blaze had been whipped up by winds from the storm front over the Cascades on Friday, August 28. As a result, word on the trail was that a 20-plus mile of the PCT was now closed and an alternative route established, with wilderness rangers patrolling the access points to make sure that hikers used the detour.

Nonplussed, we continued on through Cathedral Pass where we witnessed incredible views of Cathedral Rock (above) and Mt. Daniel and Deep Lake (below). Though we could smell smoke, the Lemah Fire had yet to disrupt the stunning alpine perspectives. Once we passed Deep Lake, however, the smoke grew thicker.

Passing hikers informed us that a wilderness ranger was waiting for southbound hikers at the junction of the PCT and Spinola Creek, where a detour would take us down the creek from the PCT to Waptus Lake. The detour would then direct us over Waptus Pass, down to the Pete Lake Trail and out to the road at Cooper Lake. After another 15 miles of Forest Service Road to the Mineral Creek trailhead, the detour would connect back with the PCT about 12 miles north of Snoqualmie Pass.

Pondering my options, I thought about walking so far -- with full pack and cheap tennis shoes -- on hard road just to catch the last few miles of PCT. I knew that Kelly and Lupe would continue through the detour to their cabin at Snoqualmie Pass, but this would be my opportunity to make something happen for the betterment of all.

As we huddled with the wilderness ranger over a set of maps, I asked if he could convince the Cle Elum Ranger District dispatcher to put in a call for me. "Certainly," he replied, so I had him relay a message to my friend Roger Wallace -- retired Fire Management Officer on the Leavenworth Ranger District -- to pick us up at the Pete Lake Trailhead at Cooper Lake.

The reply came swiftly: Roger would pick us up at Cooper Lake on Monday, August 31 at 2 p.m., the dispatcher reported. We continued down Spinola Creek to Waptus Lake, crossed the Waptus River (Kelly and I in bare feet, Lupe with a new pair of crocs) and climbed the numerous switchbacks up to Waptus Pass, where we established our camp for the night.

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