Glacier Peak Wilderness - Day 8
In the morning, we crossed the bridge and continued following the PCT. We had planned to leave the PCT after a few kilometers and then hike a few more along the river before climbing another huge mountain to a beautiful mountain lake and lookout tower. The trail to get there had been closed off at its other end, so we were likely the first people walking there in a long time. Luckily it wasn't overgrown and very beautiful. According to the map, we would pass 3 streams before we would arrive at the trail going up the mountain. To our surprise, we didn't pass any trail and the trail we were on went downhill while we should have stayed at roughly the same elevation. We again couldn't really see through the trees and had poor GPS reception, so decided to keep going in case the route was again longer than anticipated, just like yesterday.
After walking at least 4 km more than planned, I noticed a marker by some geological institute that indicated an elevation way lower than were we supposed to be. By now we were pretty sure there was something wrong with the map, but it was hard to figure out what it was without being able to see around us or get a GPS signal. We decided to walk another 15 minutes and then turn around. Fifteen minutes later we were even lower and there still was no sign of the trail we were searching for, so we turned around. We had been walking gradually downhill for at least 2 hours so we would lose a big part of the day just to get back to where we started.
As I tended to walk faster than Diane I started walking behind her, so she could determine the pace. I especially didn't mind that on this section, as there regularly were spiderwebs strung across the trail with huge spiders in them. Suddenly, I noticed that Diane had just stepped over a twig with a serious sized snake underneath. It must have been about 60 cm long. I told her, "you must be glad you didn't see what you just stepped over". I knew there weren't any dangerous snakes in the area but making it angry by pushing it aside with a stick didn't seem like a good idea, so I just stepped over it in my shorts. Suddenly it was moving very fast, but fortunately it just tried to get away. I later identified it as a Garter snake. Although they are venomous, they are not harmful to humans.
After hiking a big part of the day, we were back where we started. Luckily, by following the PCT we would effectively take a short cut off our intended route. That meant we would miss the huge climb and nice mountain lake, but also make up for the lost time. We were glad to be back on the PCT, although still very confused about how we could have missed the other trail. There were again trees blown down everywhere. After walking over the PCT for more than an hour, we suddenly saw a sign for a trail to the nice mountain lake. There was only one trail going up on our map -- the one we weren't able to locate that morning -- so we were confused what this trail was. Over the past few days we had encountered a few other trails that didn't show up on our National Geographic Map, so although we were confused, we didn't think too much of it. As the climb would involve 50% more elevation gain than the 4 hour climb we had done 2 days ago, we decided to skip it and enjoy the relatively flat terrain. As anticipated, the trail started following a river. That was fine, except that we were on the other side of the river than we should have been.
By then we finally were confident we knew what was wrong with the map: the PCT had been rerouted by several kilometer. As a result, we had walked much farther west yesterday than anticipated and had started at a completely different place than we thought this morning. This was very unexpected, as our map had been designed only a year before and there was an enormous bridge over the river we crossed this morning, while according to our map there hadn't even been a trail there last year.
Fairly confident we knew where we were, we stopped at the next campsite. As we had been off the PCT that morning, we hadn't seen anyone for most of the day and therefore hadn't been able to ask for directions. Luckily, someone passed by our campsite and confirmed our suspicions. I felt bad we had messed up navigation so badly, but was also glad we had figured it out while only using our erroneous map and observing the landscape. The man was hiking the PCT with another guy and they decided to stay at the same campsite as us. They were commenting on my heavy tent. My gear was definitely way heavier than necessary for the PCT, which is essentially a fully furnished highway for hikers. We felt a bit like tourists with our bear spray and bear canisters since no one else had them, but the men said the canisters were still useful against mice and explained that some PCT campsites were completely infested with the small critters.
Most PCT thru-hikers also wore light running shoes, rather than hiking boots. At first I thought that seemed much better suited to the wide sandy trails. However, the two men explained that after hiking through the mud that morning, their shoes had been soaked all day and they probably wouldn't dry until the next sunny day. Although we were going in another direction soon, we were now only 7 days hiking removed from the end of the PCT. The men at our campsite said that it was very difficult to stay motivated so close to the finish.