Friday, October 28, 2016

Maxine's 2016 North Cascades Adventure Trek To Stehekin

What follows is Maxine's tale of this year's North Cascades trek to Stehekin...

We took a new route in to Stehekin this year, we wanted to take this trail last year but it was closed due to wildfires. We took the Thunder Creek/Park Pass route, the trailhead is at the Colonial Creek Campground and Mike dropped us off at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday the 6th of September.

I thought I could use my 25 liter pack but it was too small, so borrowed my sisters 36 liter pack and it was too small so I ended up borrowing a 60 liter pack from Skip. We all ended up carrying about 33 # each which doesn’t sound like much but it was heavy enough!!!!! and I used everything I brought.

The first day we hiked 14.8 miles to Skagit Queen Campground, the trail follows Thunder Creek and was up and down all day through a mossy forest. We saw a woman and her daughter about 20 minutes in to the trail (they had spent the night at Neve Campground) and then we didn’t see another person again until day 3 after we made it over the pass.

There were 3 of us, my friend Delyn and Skip and me. Skip has always wanted to hike in this trail; he has always been our fearless leader, when we crawl out of our tent in the morning there is always fresh coffee waiting, he makes sure we have the proper gear and our packs are loaded properly - that kind of a guy. He had colon cancer 3 years ago but is very fit, trim 5’4” 130# and has hiked in Bridge Creek and Cascade Pass since his surgery with no problem.

Skip was sick the whole first day on the trail and ended up so weak by the afternoon he was taking 10 steps and resting, 10 steps and resting. Delyn and I reached Junction Campground at 5 p.m. and thought we should spend the night there rather than go on but Skip wouldn’t have any part of it and insisted we hike on to Skagit Queen. I was ahead on the trail and kept thinking I would reach our campsite, get a nice fire going and hike back to help with the packs.

It kept getting darker and I had to put on my headlamp, I kept thinking the campground would be around the next bend and the next and the next. I reached the bridge crossing Skagit Queen Creek at 7:45 and waited for Delyn and Skip, After a half hour of waiting I started getting uneasy, had I taken the wrong path? Were they in trouble?

So I hiked back down the path, hollering as I went. They were about a mile back. Skip was even weaker. Skip’s GPS said the campground was very near the bridge, once we made it to the bridge Skip said leave me here, find the campground and come back and get me.

I insisted he leave his pack and that we all would find the campground together and I would go back and get his pack. The campground was another 10 minutes down the trail. We got there at 9:30 and set up our camp by head lamp.

I went back and got his pack, armed with Bear Spray. Skip was exhausted and went to bed without eating. Delyn and I made Top Ramen, hung our food in a tree and got into our sleeping bags at 11 p.m. Water was a 20 minute walk away down to the creek.  It started raining after we went to bed and was still raining the next morning.

We slept until 8:30, had a leisurely breakfast and hit the trail at 10:30. We passed ancient mining equipment and followed switchbacks bisected by a huge pipe used to divert Skagit Queen Creek long ago.

We were so tired from that first day, we stopped for lunch at 12:30 in an area strewn with huge boulders near a creek. We decided a hot lunch would be good so boiled water and had more Top Ramen. While we were eating Delyn saw a black blur, we all looked and sure enough it was a mother bear and 2 cubs. Big, beautiful and with glossy black coats. They couldn’t get away from us fast enough and scrambled over each other to get to the other side of the creek.

I am so glad they were scared!

We put on our ponchos and continued down the trail, up, up, up  and down, down, down.  We reached Thunder Basin Horse camp about 4:30. There is creek crossing there with no bridge, no tree to walk across or rocks to hop our way to the other side on so we had to wade across in water that reached midcalf.

We continued on and hiked out of the forest in to a meadow area, we can now see the pass and the trail leading across and it’s way up there. We stared up at it and figured “no way”. By now it’s 5 p.m., we’re soaked and cold. The underbrush is all wet blueberry bushes.

When Skip reaches us we tell him we think we need to spend the night at Thunder Basin and hike over tomorrow and he agreed. We set up camp in the rain, Skip went to bed to warm up and we passed a Mountain High Chicken and Dumpling meal in to him to eat. Hung up the food,

I had a cup of hot Tang and Delyn ate part of an ancient egg salad sandwich and we were in bed by 7. I put on nice warm socks and then went to pee and by the time I got back my socks were soaked. Fortunately I had one more pair of dry socks left. This was supposed to be an 8 mile day and I am sure we did only 5, maybe less.

You know you’re in trouble when you get a 10:30 start and take a hot lunch break 2 hours later.

The next morning the weather had improved, we packed up and were back on the trail by 8:30. The climb up to the pass was steep through woods and rock rubble, but no scary cliffs or drop offs. The whole time I have been anticipating scary drop offs.

We rested at the end of every switch back and reached the pass about 11 a.m. There were nice views of glaciers, mountain peaks and even a rainbow. The pass is 6100 feet and Delyn is nauseated.

Is it the altitude or the egg sandwich?

The sun was coming out on the east side and the east side drops down to a beautiful dry meadow.  We reached Buckner Campground ( our original destination for our 2nd night) after 4 ½ hours of hiking. We see a Park Ranger grooming the trail and then pass a young couple hiking up to the pass.

Skip and I are in the lead and Delyn hears them say “I wonder if those are the people that were supposed to stay at Buckner”. We take a lunch break at Buckner Campground, replenish our water and reach Bridge Creek Campground about 6:45 p.m. This is the meet up spot for 6 members of our group who are hiking to Stehekin via Cascade Pass. Only 2 members of the group are there, Ger and Barb.

This year I invited my cousin Frank and his wife Lynn to hike over to Stehekin. Lyn works with some of the other nurses that are part of this group and both Lyn and Frank are very outdoorsy and I thought they would enjoy the trip. Frank was a boy scout leader for years and they both are in shape and were excited to hike in. They invited a friend and her son to join them. Ger and Barb had talked to the Park Ranger just before we got there. Lyn had trouble walking on the rock scree and her knee was bothering her. Frank was carrying both packs, they were hiking less than a mile per hour. There was a park ranger at Pelton Basin rescuing someone with a heart attack and Frank and Lyn ask him to relay a message to Ger and Barb that they were moving slowly and would get to Bridge Creek late that night or the next morning.

The next morning, Ger and Barb and Skip head on to Stehekin Ranch. I decided to wait for Lyn and Frank and Delyn said she would wait with me. Frank and Lyn were moving so slowly that we figured we would need to spend one more night at Bridge Creek. Ger and Barb and Skip left all their leftover food with us. We settled in for a leisurely day, gathered firewood and cleaned up camp. Lay the tent and our bags out to dry.

At about 11 a.m. Lyn and Frank’s two friends came rushing in to camp. Frank had fallen and twisted his knee and couldn’t bear his weight. They thought we needed to get horses from the ranch and ride up to rescue them.

Then Colter, son of the ranch owner Cliff, showed up to replenish the tent. We told him we would clean up if he would take Lyn and Frank’s friends to the ranch to arrange for a horse rescue. Off they went, we gathered our gear and were back on the trail by 12:30. We made it to the ranch by 3. Cliff set off by horseback with two horses following him. He reached Lyn and Frank by dusk and spent the night on the trail with them. They got up at 5:30 a.m. and came out on horses, Cliff led the way and the horse he rode in on was used to haul their packs.

Lyn and Frank were fine, except for their knees. I heard the horse rescue cost $1,000.00 as opposed to a helicopter rescue of $50,000.00. I didn’t have the heart to ask. They were in good spirits, thank God! And enjoyed their stay at the ranch. We dipped in Lake Chelan the next day and one of our friends brought in blow up paddle boards and so I went paddle boarding for the first time. Had the best massage I’ve ever had in my life and then we hiked  out the Bridge Creek trail on Monday the 12th. We had mandolin and guitar music, it was a great time.

One good thing that happened is that Cottonwood camp that has been closed for years had just been reopened this year and Stehekin Outfitters had a big tent with cots set up there, so Lyn and Frank spent 2 nights there. They didn’t know that is was associated with the same outfit that provides the tent at Bridge Creek, just a fortunate coincidence. When Cliff showed up with the horses they thought they were going to have to move out of the tent because a paying customer had shown up.

My camera died on day one so I didn’t take many pictures. Fortunately Skip did so I will have pictures to show soon.