Groovin' on the PCT

What better way to spend a day off, the start to a three day weekend, than running a high alpine trail? Especially if it's one of my all time favorites?

Finn and I headed out to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) early, hoping to beat the crowds. We arrived at the PCT North trail head, at Snoqualmie Pass, just after 7:00 AM. The sun was shining, it was already 60F. Perfect.

It's been five years since I've enjoyed this trail. I was eager to tread it's dirt, rocks and roots yet again, and introduce it to Finn. It was a bittersweet moment, though - the girls were home, too old to enjoy this sort of adventure anymore. I have such fond memories of running this trail with them many, many times.

In the first photo, taken early in our run, Finn poses with The Tooth (or Guye Peak? - not sure) in the background.

Through a short scree field. Didn't seem to bother Finn's feet one bit. The early morning light makes for a hazy background.

We stopped for a quick drink from this stream that cascades across the trail. Then back into the forest. As we passed through this lower section of the forest, about a mile up from the trail head, the scent of wild roses was wonderfully strong.

A little higher up, another stream and waterfall across the trail. Finn has decided he really enjoys these small waterfalls, playing in the pools and biting the water as it cascades off the rocks.

We've run about 4.5 miles to reach this small plateau with views of the scree fields ahead. The sun is cresting over the peaks and filtering through the trees. I'm glad we got such an early start; it's warm!

As we make our way through the big scree fields about five miles up the trail, the marmots whistle their objections. Finn's never heard marmots, and he's very intrigued! The picas in Idaho simply couldn't whistle as loud.

Aaahhh. Mount Rainier in all her glory. This is why we live and play in the Pacific Northwest!

The upper reaches of the scree field. We're getting close to snow level.

These purple phlox were blooming alongside the trail among the granite scree. Gorgeous. A few lupine were starting to bloom, some heather, and I saw one Indian Paintbrush in bloom. In another couple of weeks this trail will be awash with colors. Not sure whether phlox or lupine is my favorite wildflower. I do know that purple is my favorite color.

We're close to 6000' in elevation feet now. Finn - like me - seems to take in the amazing vista and think, "Let's go see what's around the bend, over the next ridge; let's keep going!"

It's hard to beat the beauty of the Cascades in early summer.

Blocked by snow. Bummer. But not unexpected. I know from experience in years past that this spot often has huge snow chutes that take forever to melt out because they sit in steep gullies on north-facing slopes. Finn didn't see a problem, but I - without ice ax or crampons - didn't want to risk ending up broken into pieces several hundred feet down such a chute. And there are usually three or four of these chutes between here and the Cat Walk, the wonderfully narrow section of trail that boasts steep drops off both sides and incredible views north and south that was our goal for today's run. The Cat Walk (formally, the Kendall Cat Walk) is roughly six miles from the trail head and a good turnaround point for a shorter run.

We were close enough. Best to turn back, without any regrets.

The view north from that snow blockade, a teasing taste of the vistas to be gained if one continues north. Next time. I never tire of this trail or the views I earn as a reward for my efforts.

At about this spot, I met two men hiking back down. They'd gotten an even earlier start than me! We chatted for several minutes about the differences between how people in western Washington appreciate wilderness and how those in Idaho do. Both men spend a lot of time in Yellowstone and so had encountered many of the mindsets I lived with while with Idaho - the fear of wolves, the need to always have guns, the desire to shoot and kill wildlife, using motorized transportation to get into the forest rather than their own legs. I love meeting complete strangers in this way, sharing a love of nature and the outdoors, noting our similarities. I'm so, so glad to be home again.

Heading back to the car. That's Snoqualmie Pass ski resort in the middle right distance.

As we returned down through the big scree field, we came upon a couple of young men hiking that we'd passed on the way up. When Finn and I ran by them the first time, I heard one seemingly explain to the other the concept of running versus hiking; somehow I gathered at least one spoke little English and the other was trying to describe my unusual activity. For some reason I guessed the were visiting from Japan. When I ran toward them this second time, the first one said to me in broken English: "You very energetic!" I giggled. The second said, "You're strong!" to which I replied, "Lots of practice!" I smiled at their comments for the rest of my run. I'm smiling as I write this.

Finn takes the opportunity to bite the wild water one last time before returning to the car.

Near this waterfall, we encountered more hikers heading up. (By now it was close to 11:00 AM so many hikers were starting their trek up the trail.) Finn had gotten ahead of me and startled a man in his 40s or 50s. I apologized, saying, "I'm sorry if he scared you." The man smiled wryly and replied, "He didn't scare me...but you do!" I knew he meant because I was running, and laughed. And when I came upon another hiking couple in a bend in the trail, the man smiled at me and said casually, "We were just talking about you." Huh? "Oh?" I asked, thinking, I don't know these people, how do they know me? "We were just talking about those people who run these trails," he explained. I told them about the wildflowers and vistas that awaited them higher up. We all had silly grins on our faces.

Those comments reminded me that the PCT is dominated by hikers, so trail runners are an oddity worth remarking upon. On Tiger and Cougar mountains, closer to Seattle, there can easily be as many trail runners as hikers on a weekend morning. But up here on the PCT, I was someone who caused puzzlement, or amusement. That's fine with me; makes for lots of fun encounters.

Finn and I spent about 3.5 hours on the trail, ran about 11 miles with lots of elevation change, and I took close to 40 photos. A great morning. Life is indeed good.