I approached the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) via Ross Lake. My original plan was to hike the East Bank Trail, connect at Lightning Creek Trail and follow that to the Three Fools Junction, which would then connect to the PCT about 4 miles south of Monument 78. After some internet searching and some last minute trail conversations at Ross Lake, I heard the Three Fools Trail was overgrown, hard to follow and the PCT junction was hard to catch…so I opted to follow the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) via Devils Dome Trail instead. This trail would eventually connect to the PCT at Holman Pass about 17 miles south of Monument 78.
I arrived to the Ross Lake trailhead late in the evening on Tuesday, July 14th. I only hiked in about 3 miles from Hwy 20 before making camp and only then did I “finalize” my plan to take the PNT to the PCT.
The next morning I headed out along the East Bank Trail. This trail wanders through the woods, mid slope, and even though it’s “along” the lake there’s only about one mile of exposure where you can actually see the lake. Additionally, the Devil’s Dome Junction is about 13 miles or so from the highway so it’s a long walk in the woods. If I knew how little you could see during this trek I would have taken the boat taxi, which would have saved me half a day walking and would have allowed me to at least see more of the lake…oh, hindsight.
I hit the Devil’s Dome junction a little before noon and headed East. I had a digital PNT map that showed a campsite about 5 miles in, which I planned to camp at that night. I passed a group of four hikers about a mile in hiking out and they said there was lots of water along the trail and water at the campsite. This was great news for me, it meant I didn’t have to carry so much water up slope, on what was, a very hot day. Not to mention it was the first day of adjusting to my pack weight and a full day of hiking after a long hiatus…
Hours later the sun is beating down and I’m heading up switchbacks that are not on my digital map. I haven’t seen water in hours and I’m getting low. Four O’clock passes, then five O’clock…where is this campsite? The map said only about five miles and it definitely felt like more than five miles, I haven’t seen any cross trails or camp spurs since the main junction. What were these other hikers talking about? Where did they hike in from? Were they even real or did I dream them? At this point I was starting to get worried that I got on to the wrong trail. It was getting late, and I was now rationing my water and my map didn’t match the terrain, what the heck was going on? Finally, around seven O’clock I reach the top of a ridge and there is clear indication that someone has camped there before, relieved I set up camp, assuming this was finally the camp on the map. Once camp was set up, I grabbed my water bottles and set off to find water. I walked a mile or so farther down the trail. Nothing. Not a darn thing! It was starting to get dark so I went back to my camp and hashed out a plan. I planned to walk back to the last known water early the next morning, which was a trickling stream about four hours back. It would have been foolish of me to push on farther into the unknown without water, with my map not matching it could be an infinite amount of miles before, well, anything. Disheartened but my amateurish setback on the first real day out on the trail I lay in my tent dreaming of drinking an entire raging river while hating myself for fumbling right out of the gate.
Later that night I hear a light tapping on my tent walls…. what odd luck and a good omen, it was RAIN!!! I immediately sat up and grabbed for my pack. I pulled out my emergency poncho and went out to the fire pit and laid it in the concavity. Smugly I went back to sleep.
The next morning I collected my harvest, which was about 1/2 a liter of water. This, I felt was enough to push on, so I continued into the unknown. Everything around me was dripping wet so I collected more water as I went, shaking drops from bushes and pine trees…being as greedy as if collecting gold nuggets.
Finally, about mid-day I hit a beautiful spring up on the ridge, I filled everything, triumphantly and foolishly. I trudged another few miles, happy to have water but still worried I might not be on the correct trail. Then, finally, a sign!