It's truly been an adventure in the Pasayten. For most of yesterday we enjoyed easy walking with spectacular views. At one point we sat atop Bunker Mountain when a helicopter flew over. I imagined that he was looking for fires. About 15 minutes later another helicopter--perhaps the same one--flew over and began circling us. I feared it was a rescue crew, so I tried my best to signal that no help was needed. After the fact, I started to think it was Border Control considering at that time we were within a mile of Canada, and I looked highly questionable wearing just black underwear, a ranger's hat, and a bushy beard.
We proceeded down the mountain through an area of a 2006 fire, which left all the trees charred and the ground thick with soot. Nevertheless, the trail was clear. Just as we reached the bottom of the trail which went into a river valley, we noticed that the whole valley was enveloped in smoke. There was a fire.
All of the neighboring mountain sides were covered in smoke, making us uncertain what to do because we didn't know where the smoke was originating from. The direction we were heading looked the clearest, and we decided to accelerate down the trail. We rushed along the trail to a bridge crossing the Pasayten River--nope, the bridge had burned in an earlier fire. We forded the river and found our trail to be completely covered in blow down. We later learned the three mile stretch of trail had roughly 1,000 downed trees. We tried bushwhacking through the woods, but there was too much blowdown. We didn't want to go back because of the fire, so we headed to the river.
We walked in the river until the sun went down, gradually working against the current, trying to move three miles up to our next trail. By sun down, we had progressed little and were exhausted. Fortunately, the smoke had dissipated, making us feel safe to camp along the bank of the river.
That night while laying in the tent I realized that my body was covered in cuts, bruises, and bites. Not only that but my feet were coimpletely numb from having trudged through the ice cold river. I was so focused on moving down the river and through the blowdown, my body had shut off all the pain receptors. Sometime while I was asleep I redeveloped feeling my legs.
This morning we all reluctantly awoke, knowing a morning of bushwaking awaited us (we decided against walking any farther in the river because the water was too cold). The bushwhacking was awful. I hate bushwhacking and plan to never do it again. At time there would be a wall four high of huge trees surrounding me. I'd have to climb up the wall, hope none of the trees would come loose, try to carefully climb down but more often fall that last yard into chest high brush (uncertain what may be hidden in the brush...jagged rock, hole, skunk), and ultimately learn that I now have a five tree high pile waiting for me.
After two plus hours of dangerous, exhausting bushwhacking, we reached an area with little blowdown. Just as I began to celebrate the easier bushwhacking, we encountered people! We never encounter people, so this was huge. These people weren't just casual hikers but were trail crew and the Ranger clearing the trail. The trail had been impassible since 2006. We finished the section of the trail just as crews came to clear it. In a few weeks, that trail should be spotless.
We spoke to the crew and inquired about the fires. Apparently there was a forest fire, and all the trails we planned on taking were closed (though there were no signs saying so through where we'd pass...only in parking lots). If we hadn't seen the park ranger, we'd have taken the trails and found ourselves in a forest fire. What a good time to run into the Ranger. If we wouldh ave been a day; earlier or if we would had hiked in the river in the morning, we would have taken those closed trails.
From memory, the Ranger (Dan Rogers) kindly drew us three pages of maps depicting an alternate route which avoided the fire. The maps proved to be spot on.
Now I am in our tent at a place called Deer Creek. This is a very appropriate name as there are tame deer here that won't leave our campsite.
Me standing atop of Bunker Mountain.
From afar, one of the helicopters which circled over us, thinking we might be terrorists.
Trail descending into the river valley...which we found to be covered in smoke.
Dan Rogers drawing us the famous map which we relied on for multiple days.
One angle of Hart's Pass.
Another angle of Hart's Pass.
Sign for the Pacific Crest Trail...a National Scenic Trail that actually has a "trail", unlike the PNT. We were constantly jealous of people who were walking this trail and the Appalachian Trail...so much easier to follow.
One of the deer that wouldn't leave us alone. Photo taken from our tent.