After hiking in perfect weather on the PCT for a couple days, I awoke on my third and final day on the trail to the delicate patter of rain on my tent. Within a few minutes, the patter turned more insistent.
Yes, here in the Pacific Northwest, before the "new normal" of drought-stricken summers, rain in July was not that unusual. In years past, I remember getting swamped with rain on summer backpack trips along the PCT.
This is why we have rain gear.
So after throwing on water-repellent jackets, packing up wet tents, and shielding our packs with rain covers, off we walked, northward. Because that's what we do here. (Rainy day bonus: hardly any mosquito action.)
With my friends Cedar and Rosario (trail names), I'd already hiked 18 miles from White Pass the last two days. I felt good this morning, like I could just keep on walking north all the way to Canada. (Ask me if I felt this way 6 hours later in a drenching downpour.)
Within a mile or two, we crossed back into Mt. Rainier National Park. I hear the views are stunning along this stretch of trail, but today not so much. However, the lush green and abundant wildflowers against a misty backdrop were stunning nonetheless.
With intermittent rain and drizzle, we tramped through verdant and healthy green subalpine forests and meadows without pausing much. However, we did pause trailside to chat with the PCT thru-hiker from North Carolina pictured above carrying the white umbrella. He was a "flipper," having started northward from Mexico, then stopped due to heavy Sierra Nevada snow, and skipped north to continue southward from Canada instead.
Within a few hours we'd clicked off 6 miles, and took a break in the cover of some big trees at Dewey Lake for lunch. (I guess technically it's lakes). With the rain picking up, we didn't stop for long. But oh those wildflowers, wow! I especially love the dark magenta pink paintbrush you see around Mt. Rainier and the tall, elegant beargrass.
During our final push back to Chinook Pass, the rain increased even more. I think we gained about 1,000 feet heading up from the lakes to connect with the always stunning and super popular Naches Peak Loop Trail.
In fact, I didn't realize we'd connected with that trail until Rosario said so. (She has hiked to Dewey Lakes several times.) But suddenly there we were, within only a mile or so of the highway and an enclosed, covered loo (ahem, that's British for toilet, but I think it sounds nicer).
As you can see, it was getting darker and more foreboding, although still beautiful. While I had generally lagged a bit behind my two taller hiking mates, I picked up my pace and churned out the last mile, passing families in shorts and cotton sweatshirts with baby strollers and toddlers on the trail near the highway. They didn't know what they were in for shortly thereafter when the skies opened and a true Northwest mountain downpour commenced.
Soon the highway came into view, and suddenly I was there, near the entrance to the national park.
When we got to the parking lot and Rosario's car, which we'd dropped three days earlier, said downpour began. We threw our packs in the back and got inside, waiting for Lisa's (oops, Cedar's) husband to arrive with fresh food supplies for her continued trek north to Canada. Alas, Claudia (Rosario) and I (Jill, aka Motor Mouse) had to head back to Seattle and work the next day., which was jarring.
Overall, this trip was a wonderful break from urban, daily life: three nights and three days with smartphone turned off, in wilderness. And I really did feel like I could continue and get in better and better shape. In fact, as I write this now, almost two weeks later, I'm craving being out there again.
Lisa is continuing her thru hike of Washington, and Claudia and I hope to join her for a day hike at one of the highway crossings as she heads toward the Canadian border. With two backpack trips this summer so far, I'm hooked all over again with the mountain passion I developed as a teenager through skiing and mountain backpack trips here in the Northwest.
Here's a parting shot of me when I was 15 during a week-long backpack on the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. (We wore Pendleton wool shirts instead of fleece for warmth back then.)
Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!
In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.