Deep lake is just one of over 700 lakes and mountain ponds that are located in this Wilderness area. It also ecompasses over 300 miles of Forest Service class one and two streams and the headwaters of or at least a portion of them of the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Wenatchee, and Yakima Rivers. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness plays a crucial role in domestic water use in the surrounding areas. With a growing population this area is critical in providing an adequate supply of clean water.
I brought my thoughts back into the present. This day was just beginning and I needed to get moving again despite how magical this place was. Back on with the wet shoes. I noticed that my blister protection was starting to fail on my heels. There wasn’t much I could do about it at this point, having already burned through all my blister packs. Setting off, I began the first long climb of the day to Cathedral Pass, 1,200’ above me. With the trail leading back into the forest, I was protected from the rain and winds as they picked up. My legs felt fatigued and stiff and I was confident that they would warm up on this uphill march. I was thankful for my Marmot shell, and Mountain Hardwear rain pants as they kept the precipitation at bay. Increasingly important items as the temperature dropped and I climbed in altitude.
I could hear waterfalls roaring in the distance to the west and would catch brief glimpses of them through the clouds but, for the most part my views were very limited and my eyes were drawn to those things close at hand. Small babbling brooks, colorful mushrooms and and the bright green lichen that cling to the trees at this altitude. I will freely admit that I have little knowledge of plant or tree species, preferring to spend my time studying maps or to be immersed in Nature instead of pouring over field guides. Just as I was beginning to wonder how long the trail would drag out the 1,200’ of gain to Cathedral Pass, I broke out of the treeline and began to see patches of snow. I spotted the junction with the trail to Peggy’s Pond and knew that I was near the pass.
At 5,600’ I topped and was completely socked in. I just kept moving unable to see the sweeping views around me, choosing instead to remember them from experience. The snow on the east and north facing slopes was much more significant and I found myself sloshing through large patches of wet, slushy snow covering the trail. Even completely soaked, my feet remained warm. At mile 47, not far from the pass, I crossed the junction with the Cathedral Pass Trail. Prevalent at the junction was a sign stating another difficult fordtwo miles ahead. This was no surprise to me. My guidebook had made note of this ford on the newer PCT route. However, from my interpretation the ford was nothing too risky and I chose to keep on the PCT at this point and forego the five or so mile detour. I did grab a trekking “stick” to aid with the ford as I began the five mile traverse towards Deception Pass. The rain continued unabated as I attempted to avoid the slushy bits of trail as best as I could. I was mostly unsuccessful.
I must say I felt some trepidation thinking ahead to this noted ford as I dropped in altitude. I felt committed at this point. Open alpine benches gave way to islands of forest between avalanche chutes with the occasional talus field. The low clouds lifted giving me a view of Hyas Lake to my east and the ridgeline on the other side of the valley. I heard a drainage roaring down the mountain and noted that I was near two miles from the warning sign. Rounding a bend I came into a view of the crossing and was puzzled by the ease of the crossing at first glance. Nothing hazardous here, just a run of the mill stream crossing. I shrugged and quickly made my way across, leaving my fording stick leaning on a log after finishing. Thinking the obstacle complete, my worries were lifted and I quickened my pace remembering I still had more than a marathon distance to cover.
At mile 50 I emerged from a batch of trees and as I crossed another section covered in alder slide, it was impossible to miss ahead of me a steeper portion of the mountain with some very large drainages roaring down, their sources hidden high in the clouds above. I could quickly see that the trail would intersect these and I realized that I had not yet arrived at the ford in question. Apprehension set in again and I could sense that the day of significant rain had increased the volume of this mountain creek to a level worthy of concern. I closed in on the crossing and was confronted with a raging waterway plunging out of a cleft in the cliff face above me.
“Well, shit. I should have probably kept that stick.”
I had two channels to cross with the nearest one looking the easiest. By easiest I mean, most narrow. The current was strong enough to knock me over and take me downstream. This would be a disaster. My celebration of solitude took on a different tone knowing that a mistake here could have grave consequences. I kicked myself again for forgetting my SPOT on the couch. Finding what looked to be the narrowest spot as the water surged between two boulders, I made a running start and jumped. While I’m not Michael Jordan by any means, I made it with plenty of room to spare. Both of my feet immediately went out from under me and I was sliding down the side of the boulder into the water. Fortunately I was able to grab the edge of the rock with both hands and heave myself up and to safety.
Now soaked from the waist down, I roved the middle bank looking for a chink in the armor of this turbulent waterway. At its narrowest point, the water pushed up on the far bank against a cliff that I would be unable to negotiate once I crossed. However, once free from the confines of the cliff the creek turned into a waterfall nearly 30 feet tall that looked impossible to cross. It just felt like too much risk to attempt a crossing there. In hindsight what is interesting to me is that I didn’t consider turning around and backtracking during this time. My mind was completely focused on the task at hand. I knew that careful study would find a way with minimized risk. Then I spotted it, a small niche in the cliff above the waterfall that looked as though I could shimmy through and then down on the far side of the bank. Once across I would have to downclimb about ten feet of wet slabby rock but, a fall there looked like it would only wound my pride.
I didn’t hesitate and began to wade thigh deep through the water towards the notch. Mid-stream boulders helped me to keep my leverage but now my arms and hands were completely soaked. I was able to keep on my feet and on the far side of the bank, down climbed a few boulders to safely arrive at the slab. From there, having no grip whatsoever with my feet, I lowered myself to the far side of the bank using only handholds. I scrambled up a few yards of scree to the trail, looked back at the crossing at let out a shout of joy.