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On a sweltering Friday morning in July, we woke up at zero dark thirty and got ready to head out on our adventure. Our group was myself, my husband Greg, and our neighbor Lou. Greg and Lou are both experienced hikers and backpackers. I would say that while I'm not a beginner hiker, I lack in experience. The longest hike I had ever done was about 10 miles. And this chubby girl was ready to collapse at the end of it. This adventure was to take us two days and over 21 miles. I had never gone backpacking before, so I was nervous. Thoughts swirled in my brain about what we would encounter along the way. I was worried about missing my children, Ella (4) and Rory (1). In the days, weeks, months prior I had done quite a bit of hiking and biking and water aerobics, just to build up some strength and stamina. I was ready... gulp!
So with my new pack and supplies ready to go, we set off. We drove out to Cascade Pass (Outside of Marblemount, WA) in the beautiful northern Cascade Mountains, where Lou’s wife, Belle, dropped us off. Thanks Belle! We began our climb. I was in the front setting the pace. The first part of the trail is a pretty decent climb, however it was very nicely maintained switchbacks. We were so early that there was no one else out on the trail. This part of the trail can get busy with day hikers, so it was really nice to have to ourselves. I knew this was going to be one of the hardest parts of our trip, and so I pushed hard. The view was absolutely stunning. It took my breath away! Mountains covered in glaciers and snow fields, green trees, alpine flowers. Just stunning. Eventually the switchbacks stopped and our trail evened out a bit. We emerged from the woods into beautiful alpine meadows. We saw our first hiker coming the other direction. He told us that at the pass there was a mountain goat and a little bit of snow to hike through. I was stoked. Not so much about the snow, but mountain goats!! A few feet further down the trail I was sniffing wild flowers and waddling along when out from the rocks popped a marmot!! He almost scared me out of my britches. He was adorable though and very interested to see if we had any snacks. I stopped and took about 100 pictures of the silly little guy. We would see a handful more marmots before we reached the pass, several Pika chattering and scurrying around, and even a grouse who popped out of the bushes to say howdy. Just before we reached the pass, we encountered our first little snow field to cross. Greg, my forever knight in shining armor, took the lead and by stepping in his foot prints I was able to get across without incident.
Eventually we reached the pass. I cannot put into words the beauty and the smell! Oh man, the smell was incredible; the wildflowers were out of control! We stopped at the top to have a rest and some snacks, get rocks out of our shoes, take pictures, etc. After our rest we set off to see what the other side had to offer. We encountered a few more people at the top of the pass, but that was going be it for a long, long while. The trail started to descend down the other side, and we crossed a couple more snow fields and some rock fields. Now, let me tell you how much I hate hiking over rocks! Hahaha. Ugh! The trail would lead us through the woods, and then out on open faces and back and forth. The gorgeous valleys below, rivers, creeks, mountain views, all amazing. Eventually we came to a rather steep descent which would lead us to some terrible switchbacks. The trail wasn’t terrible but we were in full sun, with very little breeze and lots of plants and flowers making the trail pretty narrow. Right about the time where I was convinced I was going to turn into a human loaf of bread baking in all that sun, the switchbacks ceased and we landed at a beautiful waterfall with a lovely pool at the bottom. We took that opportunity to sit, take off the ol' shoes and soak our feet in the cold water. The breeze off the falls was invigorating and a great place to recharge. We had our lunch, and relaxed for a bit. I was super sad to leave that place, but I felt one hundred percent better. Little did we know, our adventure was about to take a very interesting and scary turn!
About an hour and a half later, after we crossed some more rocks, and had found our way back into the trees, we were headed down a narrow part of the trail, with random rocks and not too terribly difficult terrain, but it was just a turd to navigate. In my mind I was crying about all the darn rocks, and also thankful that it looked like the trail would improve shortly, when I heard a noise behind me. I turned to see Lou falling! Oh no! At first I thought nothing of it, maybe a twisted ankle, maybe a good time for another rest? But then I heard Greg say, “oh no, is it broken?”
“Yeah, I am pretty sure I heard something crack.” Oh no! Lou got back on his feet and then sat right back down. It was broken. We knew we weren’t too far out from a camp area and we decided to see if Lou could at least hobble to there, it was about a mile and a half or two miles out. Greg threw Lou’s pack on his shoulders, along with his own, carrying a total of probably 90 lbs. Lou was able to hobble a few feet down the trail, but that was it. We decided that we would have Greg go ahead of us, and see if there were any stock hikers at the camp, thinking maybe if we could get a horse in, we could get Lou out.
So Greg took off, and Lou and I hunkered down. Unfortunately where we were hunkered down, was surrounded by black biting flies! Lou was lucky; he had an insect net and lots of layers to put on. I covered up as best as I could, but they were biting me through my clothes! Lou had mentioned that he was covering up too in case he went into shock. In my mind I am thinking, “Holy shit, what am I gonna do if he goes into shock!” I remembered that you should keep them talking, so I chatted as much as possible and Lou told me stories of his kids, and past adventures etc. Despite the situation it was really nice to get to know Lou more. I had a beacon device that I brought called SPOT which is an awesome device that tracks your trip, lets you send pre-recorded messages back home and also has an SOS button. We decided that we would push the button by 5:00 PM if we couldn’t find help. A group of hikers passed through, a man and FOUR women. The man was a fireman, and he stopped and looked at Lou’s ankle and since there wasn’t much he could do, he said they would go on, set up camp at the next camp and come back in a bit. A couple hours later Greg returned; he hadn’t found any horses, just one other hiker named Mike, who had already set up his camp. Mike tore down his camp and rushed up the trail with Greg to see if he could help. We were very grateful at his willingness to help. At this point, the trail was super narrow and we weren’t sure how they were gonna get Lou out. We decided at that time, it was time to push the SOS. I think it was just about 4:00 when the button got pushed. It turns out, that there was a teeny tiny camp spot about ¼ mile down the trail, so we decided to go set up our stuff there, get water for Lou from a nearby creek and then set him up as much as we could while we waited and prayed that someone would see our SOS. There were only two camping spots and a small “kitchen area.” (They don’t like you cooking in your sleeping space in order to keep bears away, so they have separate cooking spaces). Mike, the hiker, set himself up in one spot, and the fireman and the ladies were in another and so we were left to camp in the kitchen. I was kinda pissed because the firefighter guy came in and was kinda rude that we were camping in the kitchen. I said, "DUDE we don’t have anywhere else to go!” I can get a little sassy sometimes.
While I was setting some stuff up, Greg went down and filled bottles up for Lou. When he got back we wandered back up and brought him water, made sure he was ok, promised we would be back to check on him in a bit after we had finished setting stuff up. While we were doing that, the fireman had went up and checked on Lou and they decided it was time to try and get him down to be with us, so he wasn’t by himself to wait out rescue. So he came down and grabbed Greg and Mike and one of the ladies from his group. They were going to fashion a chair type thing out of tarps and trekking poles and see if they could get him down that way. The next thing I know, someone said “Holy crap, your husband is carrying him on his back!” I guess the trail was way too narrow for them to get him down on the tarp, so Greg said screw it, and threw Lou on his back and carried him the ¼ mile to camp! I was so worried for Lou and also for Greg, because it was so hot. I made sure Greg cooled down and drank lots of water. Everyone was starting to settle in for the night, making plans that the hikers going up to cascade pass would stop at the ranger station in Marblemount the next day, and Greg and I would head toward Stehekin for help. Lou had several days’ worth of food, and we would leave him with enough water, confidant that at the very latest, by Saturday evening he would be rescued. Finally around 7:30-8:00 out of the woods came a forest ranger!!! Five hours after this all began, finally help had arrived. The ranger, also named Mike, said they got our SOS and he used his radio to call in and give them word on what happened and they were gonna figure out how to get Lou out. He wrapped Lou’s ankle, and tried to immobilize it as much as possible. It was settled that a helicopter was going to come in, in the morning, and pick Lou up. So we set up Lou’s tent and bed, and got him settled for the evening, ate dinner, and went to bed ourselves.
Now, we were about six miles outside of our planned destination, 14 miles from where we needed to land Saturday, so we decided that we were gonna wake up as early as possible and hit the trail. However, when we woke up, we realized that we needed to get Lou to where the helicopter could land and get him. So the forest ranger made Lou crutches out of maple trees, and with the help of him and Greg, we set off down the trail to the nearby creek. There was a gravel bar that the copter could land at. It was rocky and difficult to navigate and in some spots Lou actually had to crawl to get through. There was a crazy narrow bridge we had to cross, and the only way to get Lou over safely was to have him crawl. He made it!
Knowing that the helicopter was on its way and that Lou was in the company of the forest ranger, Greg and I set off on our journey. I was so nervous! I really didn’t think I was going to be able to hike 14 miles and get to our end spot. You see, there is a place called High Bridge, where there is a shuttle that goes from there into town. The last shuttle leaves at 6 PM; that would get us into Stehekin and at our last camp location, and then in the morning we would get up and head out on the ferry to Chelan. BUT if we missed that shuttle we would have to get to High Bridge by 9 AM Sunday morning or else we would miss our ferry.
So we knew that we had to get to High Bridge or at least get near to it by nightfall. The goal was to make the 6 PM shuttle though. So I pushed. I pushed harder than I ever have. Eventually we would see Lou’s helicopter come in from a few miles out, and they flew over our heads taking him out. I hiked through forests, over rocks and creeks. We stopped for snacks and rest and water refills several times. I kept thinking there was no way I was gonna make it. I kept pushing though. Yes, Karley, You CAN do this. It was so hot, that even Greg was starting to get worn out. And just when the heat was at its worst we came to Bridge Creek! There is an amazing swimming hole there. AMAZING. The water was freezing. It was so cold it made my toes numb, but Greg dove in. The water cooled our aching feet and Greg’s body and it rejuvenated us. It was just what we needed. At this point, it was about 2:30 PM and we still had a ways to go, but we were making really good time. Shortly after the pool, you turn onto a section of the PCT. This was super exciting because I always admired the hikers who hike the pacific crest trail, starting in Mexico and ending in Canada. I knew, however, that this section of the PCT, the very one my little feet was walking on, was one of, if not THE, hardest sections of the PCT. And now I know why! It was difficult, especially after hiking all day. It was so HOT. We would stop at creeks and dunk our ball caps in them to stay cool. We were drinking tons of water. I stumbled a bit on that trail, but I pushed hard again. We were getting close and the end was in site, and we were determined to make our goal.
All of a sudden, the PCT turned off in its own direction and we emerged onto a road! The sign said two miles to High Bridge! We checked the time. 4:27! All we had to do was hike a little over 1 mile an hour and we would make it. So we busted ass down the road. I closed my eyes and said “ok, two miles, that’s like if I left my house and walked to my friend and neighbor Corinne’s house.” So every tree and rock became part of my neighborhood. That tree over there became the end of my driveway, the bridge was the mailboxes, an Indian paintbrush flower was the scummy house toward the end of the road. Eventually I made it to Corinne’s house! High Bridge. We made it! I told Greg I was about to cry, and when he wasn’t looking I actually did wipe away a little tear. I had pushed myself harder than I ever have. I hiked through rocks that could have been riddled with snakes, past dozens of piles of bear poop, even past several questionable paw prints in the dirt. I wasn’t afraid. I just did it. My husband blew my mind with his heroism, strength, determination, and his encouragement. He never stopped telling me how proud he was of me, but it was me who was SO proud of him!
I looked at the time… 5:10. We had hiked those last two miles in 43 mins. I was amazed. We got to sit at a picnic table and put our feet up and have a snack and check out the river. It was just awesome. We then hopped on the 6 PM shuttle and made it down to Stehekin where we found the backpackers camp and set up our tent. We had some dinner and then passed out. I slept sooo hard that night. At one point I woke up having to use the bathroom, and when I stood up I fell over. My legs had become jello, a true statement of how hard those legs worked to carry this chubby lady this far. The next day we would wake, walk into town and get breakfast, and then hop on the ferry to my parents who had driven to Chelan to take us home.
I did it; I hiked from Cascade Pass to Stehekin… I did it!