Dateline: July 30, 2018
Snowgrass Flat, Gifford Pinchot NF
Note to self: Don’t hike when the temperature is forecast at 95 degrees in the closest town. I thought I would pass out several times. Apparently others knew better. There wasn’t much traffic on the most popular trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and most of what there was were backpackers. Hence we had little competition for attention from the flies. I read on WTA trip reports they were bad, so I succumbed to a small bottle of Deet. Don’t like it, but I like fly bites less; and I seem to have none on the morning after, so I guess it worked.
I had promised my sister I would take her with me on a hike; I don’t know if that felt like a gift to her or not, she is not a hiker. But she closed her shop for the planned day and got up early. Both sacrifices that felt like a gift to me!
We picked up our adventure lattes and headed for my new favorite trail, as of last summer. I was hoping, two weeks earlier than last year, the wild flowers would be at peak.
I promised her it was a pretty easy hike, with a big payoff.
Okay, so I hiked it after I did Indian Henry’s last summer. Compared to that it is a pretty easy hike. It wasn’t 95 degrees last year; and there were no bugs except when I sat on a log to eat my lunch. The sky was deep blue behind the white Mt. Adams last year; there was no haze from California’s wild fires, making it more a white on grey view this time. And the signage on the long forest road up wasn’t broken off last year and was this time, causing us to miss the turn off. Twice. It was already hot when we started up the trail. I also lied a little bit about the mileage. Unintentionally of course.
The first two miles through the Douglas fir/cedar/hemlock forest are flat. Well, there was some downhill, but of course we didn’t notice that until the return. It would have been pleasant, but for the hungry flies. Then the up shit started for the next two miles. That’s when the almost passing out part came, when we couldn’t really stop because of, you know, the flies.
We reached the lower meadows, which, I see now, is the destination of the 4.1 miles the WTA lists, but the big meadow is higher up. We ate our lunch by a babbling brook, soaked our hot feet and dirty ankles in the icy water, and noted the flies weren’t so interested in us there.
There are many options when the trail breaks out of the woods to the lower meadows, and I picked the wrong one (didn’t read the minimal signage). We found out the trail with the brook crossing was heading for Goat Lake. I knew we didn’t want to go there, so after lunch—not sorry for the detour to the brook—we turned back through the paintbrush meadow and got on the right trail. More up. I’d forgotten that part of the trail. Rebecca didn’t believe me that there was a bigger meadow, and by the time we got there she was unimpressed.
The flowers were not what I had hoped, and we weren’t clear if they were past prime or still coming. The bear grass, though, was as pretty as I have ever seen it. And anemone (Old Man on the Mountain) always delights. And there was the paintbrush at the lower meadows.
We built a cairn for our mom and headed back for the bypass loop trail that adds a bit of mileage, but different scenery as it descends in full view of the mountain.
Last year I missed the bypass trail, and after asking someone coming up from wherever that portion of the PCT comes from, I hiked back a mile to the missed trail. Rebecca impressed upon me the need not to miss it this time and I watched closely, knowing now what to look for. Still, I thought we’d gone too far and we turned back before we headed down another slope we’d have to come back up, if indeed we’d gone too far. Finding another PCT hiker at rest, we learned we hadn’t gone far enough, and hiked back where we came from, finding it this time, looking exactly as I remembered it.
We thought we would never get back to the car. The bugs weren’t bad up in the Flat, but picked up briefly when we returned to the forest. A beer at Base Camp Grill in Ashford was screaming our names! And the Grill closes at 8. I would have hurt someone if we missed it, and there was a chance. There was still the 12 or whatever miles of washboard road before we got to the 25 miles of winding road between Packwood and Ashford. And we weren’t down the trail yet. (I discovered the next morning the water bladder in my camel back was empty except for what was in the hose.)
Suddenly, as we walked in exhausted silence, there was a loud scuffling around a curve in the trail ahead. We stopped dead. What the hell was that? I knew what it was. There was only one thing it could be, and I raised my bear whistle to my lips. But it had no interest in meeting up with us, so I didn’t blow it. Black bear. One. We hoped. We started singing, “Valderie, valdera…” loudly as it crashed up the hillside as fast as it could go through the bushes and over fallen logs.
“Well, that was exciting,” I said, when the incident seemed good and truly over. We walked on clicking our poles against rocks and roots just in case.
Farther down the trail, we found tiny wild huckleberries. How had we missed them going up? How did the bear miss them? We picked some, until the flies found us, and the beer stepped up its call, tick tock.
Never have either of us been so glad to see a parking lot. Why the heck are trails longer on the return? We reached the Grill at 7:30. I don’t think Rebecca will ever hike with me again.
Last summer I thought I would do this trail often. (You can read about the first time here.) It was like Paradise without the crowds and flip flops. Now I think I’ve done if for the last time. Maybe I should stick with once per hike; except for Paradise, it will always be my favorite, crowds or not. I’m getting older, and there is still so much to see.
I guess if you try to go home again, you have to know it will be different.