“The hydrographic apex”

DSC_0118These posts for the next week or so are from a recent backpacking trip I made on the PCT with my dear friend Brad Shaffer. The post titles are taken from the great climber Fred Beckey from his Cascade Alpine Guide which I have no business owning. The posts are standalone but probably better if you can read them in order, going back if needed, or starting at the beginning.

I realized all those Grateful Dead songs I’d been playing on the drive to the North Cascades have death themes, which makes sense given the band name and the skulls and skeletons on the album artwork. And passing Darrington, I remembered a bootleg I had from an organic raspberry farm where they played in ’68, you can probably imagine what that was like then. At the ranger’s station in Marblemount I overheard them telling hikers about Desolation Peak, that Jack Kerouac spent a summer up there working the fire lookout and wrote about it in his books. Brad described how he died, throwing up large quantities of blood, an untreated hernia, bar fights, alcohol abuse, aged 47. We put Jimi Hendrix on Brad’s phone speakers and set it in the cooking pot to act as a resonator and it threw his guitar chords up into the trees and I worried we’d wake the other campers but they were gone before dawn, we never did see them.

Brad said you could tell by the look of them they were going the whole distance, the through-hikers coming up from Mexico (2,600 miles through California, Oregon and Washington, ending in Canada). We passed a young woman on the trail after we’d seen the two bears and she was doing the whole thing solo, nut brown and radiating she was so happy, but also wearing ear buds and we wondered if that was a good idea with the bear.

Brad was planning to quit smoking on the hike, to have his final cigarette on the flanks of Glacier Peak where he’d spread the remains of his brother’s ashes and drop the empty cigarette pack into a deep crevasse — those slits in glaciers like wounds that close and reopen each year, parts of us we’re drawn to look inside but maybe shouldn’t get too close.

He had a cigarette with his coffee and we ate oatmeal and took pain medication, treated our heels and broke camp for our second day, heading south toward the small town of Stehekin, population 87 year-round, which you can only get to by boat or floatplane and the boat takes three hours, the fast one. They just got internet last year and still don’t have cell service: Brad was planning to use their emergency satellite phone to see what happened to me if we hadn’t met at the trailhead, and if I died he would’ve ended his trip there and gone back to Seattle to grieve with Dawn and the kids.

But Dawn said she always felt better when I was out with Brad because she trusted him, and yet the two of us would have to split up after we left Stehekin as Brad continued south to Snoqualmie Pass and I returned north to Rainy Pass, wrapping around some mountains and going up high country for my final night out, solo.

It would be the same area I’d come in 2009 seeking solitude but quickly got enough of it, breaking camp in the middle of the night and hurrying back to Seattle to be with Dawn and my kids, only 1 and 4 at the time. And we were getting ready to take our first sabbatical in Germany, to move there for three months and see if we could get Lily into kindergarten, and possibly go again for a longer period some time in the future.

I befriended a family of hikers on the trail with their young son and complimented him on his pack, but a few hours later when we met again the dad and mom got into a spat about the route and he said to her follow the map, not your emotions — and used his wife’s name when he said it: ‘follow the map, not your emotions Andrea,’ which felt like a beat down and they went quiet for a while, and I pretended not to hear.

There wasn’t much at the High Bridge camp out of Stehekin, just a couple dusty camps and one already occupied, but the nearby river flowed hard through a steep gorge into the mouth of Lake Chelan stretching 50 miles south, the largest lake in Washington, the third deepest in the States.

We found a spot by the river to bathe and gang our beers together with some rocks in the cold water so they wouldn’t float away, and I got into Supta Baddha Konasana pose on a rock to dry off and stretch out, and we took pictures from the surface view of the river to try to capture its mysterious green color but couldn’t, and when we got back to camp we passed a couple young women and realized they were the ones at the camp right next to us.

Later we got out the tequila and had it on the picnic table when one of them came over to introduce herself, and Brad made small talk but I felt shy — and he invited them over for a drink but I hoped they wouldn’t come and they didn’t — and in the morning Brad walked around in his long underwear without a shirt on and I spotted one of the girls changing as I was coming up from the river but pretended not to see, and just kept my eyes on the trail.

Brad had the Led Zeppelin box set on his phone and we got through two of the CDs trying to hit the same notes as Robert Plant but couldn’t, and I feared we were too loud but stopped worrying about it after a while. The next day was a rest day in Stehekin where we’d take a bus shuttle around noon into town and just hang there in the afternoon, climb a couple miles to our final camp for Day 3, say goodbye in the morning, then go our separate ways.

I put on a song by The Band called Tears of Rage, and Brad seemed to struggle with the lyrics so I helped him:

Tears of rage, tears of grief
Why must I always be the thief
Come to me now, you know we’re so alone
And life is brief



Categories: death, hiking, travel, yoga

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. Using just a map seems like it would be harder, though (Tim, or whatever his name was). I have many questions about real hiking, like how do you decide what to bring in your pack and is a map usually enough? These posts would make a nice book or novella, strung together with some photos. There’s much more to them than hiking but that adventure is something many of us seek.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, hiking the PCT doesn’t really require a map if you’re out for a few days or so. Of course it’s good hiking hygiene and there was one spot where it was ambiguous about which way to go, so it was there that the map was useful, but kind of academic. I think you get to places though when you’re really tired you obviously want to go the right way and not add another half mile or something, that was the case here. The PCT is really well groomed but there are remote sections of it I’m sure, that you’d want to double-check things with a map. The through-hikers we met actually used apps on their phones and some went paperless…they said there’s rarely a day you’d go without passing another hiker (5,000 permits issued this year to do the whole thing vs. 2,000 last year). In terms of real hiking, as you say, you just need to practice different stuff and look to others who have some experience I think to help with things that work. Ziploc bags, you know 🙂 This type of hiking is accessible for anyone who’s reasonably fit and has some stamina, and you can go your own pace of course, travel light, drink lots of water etc. Cool that you are intrigued by the adventure, thanks — it’s part of the reason Jon Krakauer’s books are so entertaining I think, that, and he has a lot of restraint as a writer I think. I’m happy you’re enjoying the posts Kristen, I’ve decided I’ll do three more I think and try to wrap this up before school starts next week! Seems a good time to close things out for the season. Bill


      • Restraint. That’s an interesting description. Can’t recall if I read into the wild or not or just saw the movie. Was thinking how my favorite books break down simple elements, nothing to waste. Like it would be a nice way to live but for now I’ll visit. Thanks for the explanation on the trails. Permits, huh. It’s a whole big world out there. Looking forward to the remaining installments and agree it’s a fine way to close out summer/pre-school days.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Into the Wild is just plain sad. But I romanticize living in Alaska (that story’s one good way to shake that romance, though). Restraint I could use more of but for Krakauer it may be his journalist training that has his writing so ‘clean.’ Into thin Air, about the Everest disaster in 96 I think, is a really good read of course. One of those climbing guides once a notable figure in the neighborhood we lived, in West Seattle. Interesting interplay of ego and disorganization, and human nature in that story. Maybe it’s the Jack London (man vs. nature) themes that are most interesting in those stories; it’s what I’m playing with in mine here, about deeper stuff that seems to perk up when you get alone with your thoughts in the wilderness. In terms of permits, for what it’s worth to you, this part of the North Cascades is really wild and beautiful and the park service does a nice job to manage the impact by requiring any overnight stays get a permit — but unlike other parks, here it’s first-come, first-serve: whereas other places you can reserve online months in advance, here you just show up at the ranger station with your intended itinerary and then they rework it with you as needed, if the spaces are full in the backcountry camps, which are often just for a couple parties. They try to be flexible for through-hikers on the PCT too, who can’t plan as well. You see, all this comment-stuff here, what it really means: I’m putting off painting our kids’ rooms, which my wife has done most of and now it’s my turn. Bill


      • Can you imagine Krakauer edging a door frame with masking tape, muttering, swearing, etc. This ordinary life a curse until those girls see their freshly painted rooms. We’ll be undertaking a similar project come Fall (of 2018?) and by we I mean 90% my husband I hope.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nice….good imagery there Kristen! And a deer hung out to dry in the closet.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A little over a year ago, I decided I needed to start backpacking. A co-worker shared pictures from his backpacking trips and I realized how much I was missing by not going to the places you can only see that way. Last year i went on two short trips to get my feet wet but haven’t been able to get out there this year. Your post here inspires me to redouble my efforts to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well Mark, thanks for following my blog and reading this morning, and I’m glad it may inspire you to get out. I think if you’re 45 minutes from Kevin you’ve got some terrific scenery down there, which you know better than I. I was able to go to Lone Pine once and up to Mount Whitney in 2000, for a climbing trip I organized with some co-workers. It’s where I learned the term “spooning” for the first time, in a funny context, in some crap hotel there in Lone Pine. I’m not much of a photographer and usually leave my phone/camera in my pack, because I like to just take it in for its sort of transient offerings, the outdoors. I’m no Ansel Adams you know. But I get inspiration to write when I’m out there too, and this is the first kind of serialized thing I’ve done here, so I’m glad you had a chance to partake. Enjoy the day. Bill


      • I went camping with a group of people I don’t really know a couple of weeks ago. The organizer of that trip is now looking to organize a backpacking trip or two in nearby locales. I’ve already expressed my strong interest. As for photos. I always take my camera. I’m not Ansel Adams either, but I try to get some good shots wherever I go.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Camping with people you don’t really know takes nerve, good for you. I did that with a couple coworkers once, snow camping, where we dug out a cave and it dripped on us a fair bit — and they said they “forgot” to bring alcohol but I shared mine. It worked out, but almost not.


      • There was one couple we knew. The man’s business partner was the organizer of the camping trip. It was a good way to camp. The organizer of the trip (who has been organizing the same trip every year for 16 years) provides all food. So we just needed to show up with our tent, sleeping bags, and drinks of our choice. I think backpacking may be a little different.


      • That sounds good. Yeah, the backpacking is fun, but maybe you need to be a bit bent, I don’t know. I feel right when I do it for whatever that’s worth.


      • If her backpacking trip comes to pass, it will be an interesting experience. I think for me at least that one of the appeals of backpacking is the solitude. The quiet. The complete withdrawal from everything else. Depending on how many people join in and who those people are, those features may be impossible to experience.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Love that description of the glacier. They always look so peaceful as they crush and eat the mountain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have a thing for crevasses. It’s been several years now since I’ve been on a glacier but the last was the Blue Glacier on Olympus, out your way, and they had opened up nicely when we crossed (again with my friend Brad) and I had some video, the sound of my boots crunching that’s just like nothing else. Thanks Jon, happy you are enjoying these tales. I think I’ll do a few more and get back to my real life, for a while. Bill


  4. Sounds like a nice hike. The only hiking book I think I’ve read was “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, mostly because somebody suggested I might enjoy Bryson. Have you read it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • My wife is crazy about Bill Bryson, I think we have three of his books but I haven’t read them yet. I’m looking forward to it though, I feel like I’ve read them already with all her descriptions of them and sometimes reading passages to me. I like what sounds like a lot of accidental, kind of non-ideal scenarios he’s run into traveling, which I can relate to. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m enjoying the idea that next to the billy and long johns and freeze-dried meals that resemble mini mattresses and maps and head torches and sleeping bags, you packed tequila and Led Zep. Nice.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. “The hydrographic apex” | Matthews' Blog

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