Day 118

Day 118 – mile 2305 to 2334 – Here Comes the Smoke Camp to Smoke Views Camp:
The smoke today was easily the worst of the trip thus far.  So thick that any and all views were essentially neutralized, leaving no doubt in my mind that I will come back to hike this section again because the vague shapes that I could see, hinted at amazing things.  Also, a hike through Rainier National Park when the mountain is hidden behind an invisibility cloak of smoke, is worth doing again in better conditions.
Incredibly, this morning was colder than the last despite my location in a forest rather than on a windy ridge.  Probably in the mid-thirties, I had to move with conviction to stay warm with the sun at diminished strength through the smoke.  The smell of fire was in the air and I was starting to get a minor headache, so I wrapped my bandana over my nose and mouth.  The filtering performance was likely inadequate and the effect negligible, but at least I was huffing the scent of my sweaty rag instead of an out of control barbecue.
The trail made me work hard for the views that I was unable to see.  Climbing steeply to a ridge and then traversing along it, the steep slope dropped to a floorless valley of unseen depth and sweeping vistas remained invisible behind the gray veil.  I imagined Rainier planted there, so close now that I could see the human specks climbing all over the glaciers, dodging crevasses and protruding rock buttresses.  Rocky peaks, featureless in the gloom, loomed high above as I wound my way through the endless labyrinth, guided by the trail.
I took a long break at a small lake, a glorified pond really, then felt immediately foolish for doing so when I arrived at Dewey Lake, drastically more scenic and swimmable.  Within range of the weekend warriors day hiking from nearby Chinook Pass, the lake was teeming with people garbed in neon, determined to hike regardless of any potential lung damage.  Working my way through the crowd, I managed to make it to their source, a full parking lot in what is usually probably a beautiful spot.  I used the toilet, but didn’t hang around.  Too many engines running.  Too noisy.  Too many people asking me about my hike.
The smoke seemed to clear a bit as I continued north, climbing and traversing more ridges.  This part of the trail perfectly confirmed my expectations for the Washington portion of the PCT, with endless contouring high above valleys, while flip-flopping from east to west faces over uncountable passes and gaps.  After hours of such walking, I found myself at Martinson Gap, the flattest spot for miles and timed right for camp.  The difference that just one day made in the level of smokiness encourages my expectations for the future.  Even though I’m walking toward some very big fires, I’m walking away from the one responsible for the current mess.  Improvement tomorrow?  I sure hope so because what I can see teases of greatness.  A couple of stars tonight.  A good sign.


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