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Jack and Barb
Begins: Apr 17, 2011
Date: Thu, Sep 22nd, 2011
Start: Mile 2527
End: Mile 2552
Daily Distance: 25
Trip Distance: 2,507.7
Entry Visits: 2,128
Journal Visits: 385,617
Guestbook Views: 167,217
Guestbook Entrys: 482
The Suiattle River
Today, at mile 2547, I would be crossing the Suiattle River (pronounced soo-AT-tl). At the crossing, there is a very powerful current, maybe classified as a class 2 or 3 rapid. The water is freezing cold and glacial. On Halfmile's map (WA, Sec. K, Page 9), he states "Suiattle River, bridge destroyed by flooding. Very dangerous ford - mile 2547.5 - 2761 ft." With the bridge destroyed, the only way to get across was to use a log. I had seen pictures of this crossing and even watched some youtube movies. I was under the impression that there were two logs. One, most hikers sat on and did a "butt-scoot" across, certainly the safest way to cross. The other was not as smooth and angled upward at the far shore.
I was starting today at 2527 so I had 20 miles to go - That was a long time to think about the crossing.
My plan was to get an early start and move right along so I would have plenty of time to scope out the crossing before dark. But things don't always work out as planned. It was a day of intense uphill climbs - I would climb over 4,300 feet before I would reach the river. There was rain, off and on. There was hiker wash from the plants. I would stop and put on my rain gear, only to see the rain stop or the wet vegetation clear. Remove the rain gear and the rain started up again. I must have done this five times today.
I did pass by a beautiful, semi-frozen lake, Mica Lake and saw many large burrow type openings in the ground. I wasn't sure what type of animal lived here. It was a relatively big one, that's for sure, perhaps a badger.
Around 9:30 I came across a very creative PCT sign. They needed the arrow to point right so they mounted the sign upside down - HA!
Then there was a section of trail that was ready to slide. If you looked closely, you could see fresh cracks in the soil. It would have been a long fall too. - now, here is a good reason not to hike in the dark!
But the Suiattle River crossing lingered on my mind for most of the day. First I thought I would just walk the log. I could use my small gorilla-pod (camera tripod) and mount my camera on the sternum strap of my pack to show a hiker's perspective of the crossing. Then I though of Barb - If I fell off the log, into the river, I would get pretty thrashed on the rocks, maybe get washed into a strainer or perhaps, even die. I was travelling alone and even if I survived a fall in the river, I might lose my pack which would also put me at risk. I wasn't out to prove anything to anyone, so, forget the movie, I would opt for the safe route and butt-scoot the log.
A new bridge crossing had just opened downstream. I read a note tacked to another bridge, well before the Suiattle. More options. Would I choose the new crossing?
At about 5 pm I met two women who were hiking South. "How did you cross the Suiattle?" I asked. One of them made a big frown "We took the long way" She answered. Then she started going off on how the new trail that re-routes over the bridge added seven miles to their day. They were both unhappy but said the trail was easy to follow and the crossing was painless.
I wanted to see the log. Really, I wanted to DO the log and I didn't want to add six more miles to my day. Heck, it was 5 pm and I still had a ways to go before I even reached the river.
Boy was it a slow day for me today. Now, it was almost 6 pm when I reached the trail junction. The new bridge route was to the left, the old PCT, straight ahead. The new trail looked awfully inviting. So fresh, so clean and a bright sign that said "New, PCT plus Bridge". The old PCT trail on the other hand looked like it led into the forbidden forest. I didn't linger long and went into the forbidden forest.
The trail was easy to follow but there was one deadfall after another. I guess that the NFS didn't want to condone the use of this trail anymore and were not putting any effort into cleaning up the fallen trees. According to George, I had about two miles to go on this trail before I reached the Suiattle. There were some easy crossings over some minor creeks then the PCT wound down a hill toward the river.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail seemed to peter out. My GPS told me it continued on but the trail ahead was obliterated with fallen trees and I couldn't find the usual markings from previous hikers - a way through it. I tried to climb through the mess. I got deep into it and realized I was going nowhere. I backed out and then tried going up, high around it. The hillside was very steep and bordering on dangerous. I worked it for about 20 minutes and then backed out from there as well. Finally, I went back to the last part of the trail and, knowing that the river was just "over there" about 30 yards, I bushwhacked my way through some very thick brush, and over a lazy creek. I was finally on the river bed but it was getting late.
The Suiattle River bed is huge. The river itself occupies only about a quarter of it. The rest consists of long expanses of sand, fields of boulders and piles of washed out debris. I estimated the width of the river bed to be about half a football field or more.
George took me right to the first log but was there another one? I scouted up and downstream and couldn't find any other log crossings. By now, it was dark. I had my headlamp on. I headed back to the primary log crossing. I figured I had two options: 1) I could camp here tonight and check things out further in the morning. That would mean that I would only do 20 miles today and would have to wait for light tomorrow before starting out or 2) I could cross the river.
It was almost 8 pm now. There was no one else around. I didn't like the idea of hanging out here with only 20 miles for the day so I decided to check out the log - see how it felt underfoot.
During all this, it was dark and I was way too focused to even consider taking pictures (but, in retrospect, I should have). Malto has an image of this crossing, taken in daylight and he was kind enough to let me use it. It looks like the same log but in darkness, I can't be totally sure. To get on the main log, I had to climb up a smaller angled log (which appears in the picture). It was over very shallow, calmish water and I felt good about it.
From the angled log, I hopped up on the main log, and I felt secure. My headlamp was illuminating the log quite well. I started walking. Very slow, well placed steps. Yikes, from just checking things out, I was now walking the log, in darkness, across the Suiattle River. I used my poles out in front for two more points of contact. I would plant them about a foot ahead of my feet, just off center from the log and take a couple more steps. I didn't want to plant my poles too far over the side as the points might slip. The poles really helped.
One small step after another. I was so focused on the task that I could barely see the raging river below, but I sure could hear it! I desperately tried to tune out the roar of the river and use all my mental energy to focus on the log and my steps. I was doing this thing! I figured if I lost my balance, I would do a belly flop on the log and grab tight.
Perhaps walking this log in darkness was easier than during the daylight as my field of vision was only limited to this log underfoot and a bit of water blasting by under that. Before I knew it, I was climbing over the big roots on the other side of the log and climbing down to Terra Firma. No adrenaline rush, no real excitement, just had to be extremely focused. You see, anyone of us could walk this log if it was sitting on the ground. But put it over a raging river and, for some, it becomes an impossible feat. The fact that I was a rock climber years ago definitely helped.
The forest service or whoever had set up the new reroute for the PCT made it a bit difficult to get to the trail but, with the help of George, I was able to get back on track with little effort. I wanted five more miles tonight so I could stay on track for my arrival at Stehekin. I hiked on through the forest, on nice trail until about 10:30 pm. It was all uphill and I was able to take a good bite out of a big climb that I would have to finish off tomorrow morning. I had a quick dinner and cowboy camped by the trail.
I thought back on the day's events. All the stressing and vacillating about the Suiattle River crossing, deciding to butt-scoot it, then in the end, just cruising on across. I had just walked the log over the Suiattle in darkness, with a headlamp. Don't tell Boo Boo.
Jack And Barb Take On The PCT
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