If I could wake up to that view every day, I’d be tempted. There he was, my big draft horse of a man with his bad bear personality, sitting on a log in camp while making our morning coffee, staring up at the misty mountain in his thick wool cap. I’d woken to paradise, but we weren’t to linger. Today we would walk the PCT.
The stream was no longer the warm, low friend of the day before. The water had risen, was carrying more silt, and was cold. But it was still just a small hop, so over and out we went. Having scouted the junction on my own the day before, I swung to the right without pause and we began to rise away from the meadow.
We climbed steadily in the growing warmth. Already we were thankful for the colder stream water against our backs. There were many steps up over sharp, upward-facing rocks installed on the trail. Even though we hadn’t been hiking long, we took a short break in a patch of shade, listening to the bees and watching several thru-hikers pass by. Where had they all been last night when we had Horseshoe Meadows to ourselves?
There were plenty of wildflowers to keep us company and so many large rock formations that we didn’t have a clue beyond mileage which was the Bumper, which was the Hump, and which weren’t named at all. We certainly didn’t care. The big rocks we could identify were mountains which, beyond the fascinating new view we were gaining of a different slope of Adams, we could barely see at all. There were obvious places where hundreds of hikers had stopped to photograph the neighboring cascades. St. Helens, which was so covered in smoke it could have had a top hidden under there. And Mt. Rainier, which would have been a magnificent shot, you could barely make out the base of, just an impossibly long line with the promise of invisible grandeur.
We stopped at what felt like the highest point of our route at what might have been midday. We were hot! The only view was in the foreground, a few leftover huckleberries in the bushes at our feet. A family of young men and their father caught up with us and were aiming around the mountain, but today, they were headed near Sheep Lake, like us. We moved on and left them our break spot. I kept expecting them to pass us, but they didn’t catch up until, after a dozen dried up used-to-be-somethings, we finally arrived at the lake, if you can call it that.
It was a stagnant pond. We didn’t want to drink it, we didn’t want to camp by it. So much for being done for the day. We looked at the map. Riley Creek was close by, and a short way beyond that, the Riley Creek trail promised a nice camp beside the water. Onward we went, tired and more than ready to take off these heavy packs. Too heavy, we realized, but far too late to do anything but carry them.
Riley Creek was a clear beauty, and we were relieved to find such fresh water so soon. The trail passed over and beyond, curved around to the left, and offered us Riley Trail. We descended into a greener, wetter world with healthy, mature trees. We were very tired, but appreciated the cool lushness of it all. We crossed the creek again and passed a number of naked posts, perhaps meant to mark the trail in soggier seasons. Riley Camp was not on the trail at all, but across the creek again in its own meadow. Silly Camp, we found you!
Just to the right of the photo, we dropped our packs in the shade of a sticky Noble fir and dropped our butts on the ground next to a big sandy hole perhaps dug by a coyote. We looked inside first. We had some lunch, refilled our water, and refreshed ourselves in the creek. We liked it here, but it was just okay after spending time at Horseshoe Meadows. We were ashamedly underwhelmed, were feeling much better, and there was a whole lot of day left. We were too far behind schedule to consider adding the Riley Camp loop back into our itinerary and knew we’d be headed back down the PCT tomorrow anyway, so… We were crazy, but we decided to go back. Now.
I should’ve known what I was in for when that first climb back out to the PCT was a push. At the time, I was just pleased that I did it steadily in one go. Heading south, pleased that I was getting such a good workout today and that I was doing the kind of mileage I originally intended to test myself with on this trip, we set off back down the PCT. I was a north and south bounder today. Before I realized this was an uphill both ways journey, I enjoyed the kinder, gentler, afternoon light.
There was nothing I was missing, nothing I needed. My heart and my pack were full, too full on that second one. I was walking my favorite trail and it was no longer blazing hot. So what was wrong? I was dead on my feet, that’s what. My shoulders hurt, that’s what, and stopping to lift the weight off and give them breaks didn’t help a bit. I knew this was as much a mental battle as a physical one, but recognizing that didn’t mean I had a game plan. Lucky for me, my boyfriend did. He was just as exhausted as I was, but he started asking me questions about my favorite things to get my mind off my body. It helped to a degree, but I struggled to gather my thoughts. The answers wouldn’t come. He said we were on the last climb on half a dozen climbs, until I giggled despite myself. I didn’t care anymore if it was the last climb, but I wanted to hear him say it was.
When we could finally see the meadow again, I barely believed it. When we collapsed back onto the same ground from which we first rose so well-rested that very morning, then I believed it. I wasn’t moving for a while. I’d been dreaming of our dinner for miles, but sitting on my ass to recover was my first priority. It was 6:40.
Slowly, I noticed the camp opposite the trail from us was occupied. Then a thru-hiker, pack light as can be, a marvel to me, came through the meadow obviously looking to settle down, but respectfully moved on when he saw us. I wanted to catch him, call after him, but I sat and did nothing. My brain was working, but my body wasn’t ready to cooperate. He turned around after a few minutes and this time I called him up to us. We offered him the semi-private space adjacent to us and he took it gratefully. He propped up his tent with his trekking poles and wandered off to take pictures. I never saw him eat or drink, just heard a wrapper inside his tent, so I don’t think he carries a stove. I felt guilty, though ravenous, as we cooked our fragrant dinner: sauteed garlic and Spam with peanut-lime sauce over ramen noodles. It was so good!
We did the minimum of evening chores in the dying light. I didn’t wash my face or brush my teeth. I couldn’t get into my sleeping bag fast enough. I woke in the night and gazed at the star-bright sky, relieved that I didn’t have to move.