September 4, 2017
Ridge Lake – Mile 2416.26 (2397.84-2416.26)
We awoke in a thick cloud of smoke this morning. Something must have shifted overnight, because there was no smoke in this area when we went to sleep last night (although we could see the smoke plumes rising in the distance) and now the world was white and the air smelled strongly of campfire. We spent the day travelling through what was definitely really beautiful scenery, although we couldn’t tell because everything was pretty much completely obscured by the smoke.
It was thick enough that it made my nose and throat burn a little, so there was a bit of physical difficulty, but the trouble was mostly mental. The fact that this beautiful area was for the most part totally invisible really frustrated me. It feels like all the coolest parts of the trail have been just out of reach due to the conditions this year. We had to skip the Sierras because of the snow (yes, I know lots of people got through and we probably could have too, but it just wouldn’t have been enjoyable and the risk of literally dying was a bit too high for me), we missed some of the most beautiful parts of Oregon because of the fire closures, and now we’re finally here in Washington, touted as one of the most beautiful areas of trail, and we can’t even see the scenery because of the smoke. I know there’s nothing that I can do to change this, but it’s still really frustrating.
On top of this, the trail was also pretty physically demanding today. In the morning, there were tons of steep ups and downs on really rocky trail, so I was moving pretty slowly, which frustrated me even more. Normally that type of trail would be really enjoyable, because it brings amazing views, but of course we couldn’t see any of those. I get pretty down on myself if I feel like I’m not moving fast enough, so I was kind of melancholy all morning. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in comparing yourself to the other hikers out here, most of whom bust out 30 mile days on the regular, but I just never got into that crazy hiker mode. I’m trying to just do my own thing and enjoy it, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel slow.
After lunch, things got a bit better. I was able to cover the miles with a bit more ease and get my mind off the smoke for a bit. We crossed over some really pretty streams and even a waterfall, which added a nice touch to the afternoon. Of course, as evening was coming on, we approached the big climb of the day. It didn’t end up being too horribly steep, but the smoke was starting to get to me and I was tired. Tiny bits of ash floated through the air as we climbed, and my throat burned. It was fine for a while, and we were hoping to at least get to the top to camp, but we ended up stopping just shy of the top just before 8pm when we noticed a flat patch of ground in the woods.
The day ended up being much shorter than I would have liked, but I’m trying not to let it bother me. We will have to try to make some good miles tomorrow though so we can get into town before nightfall the following day. Here’s hoping the smoke clears up soon!