White Pass and Mt St Helens

22/8/18.  Jake’s father took the hikers back to where they had finished on Monday morning and they set off into the wilderness for two days before they crossed a road again at a place called White Pass where there is a convenience store and gas station, a small hotel and some ski lifts. At the moment there is also a large tented village with food and sanitation trucks for the firefighters who are battling a couple of wildfires in the area.

We had arranged to meet Eleri there so that we could hand over the rest of her supplies (after White Pass it is 5 days’ walk to the next resupply point) and her replacement shoes which were due to be delivered to Cascade Locks on Monday. We had a lovely scenic drive up the Columbia Gorge, picking the shoes up on the way, before turning north into the Yakama Indian Reservation and the Yakima River valley where 75% of the US’s hops are grown.

At the town of Yakima we joined the White Pass Scenic Byway and climbed up through the forested Tieton valley to the eponymous pass which is at 4,500 feet where we hoped to meet Eleri either late the next afternoon or the following morning. We found a basic campsite (drop toilets, no running water but only $8) which was almost empty but could not really be described as “quiet” given its proximity to the road which has a significant number of large trucks passing along it. We read the next day that the road was only completed in 1951 – amazing for a road designated US12.

After checking out the convenience store at the pass we headed down the road for a day of sightseeing. Along the way there were a couple of viewpoints at which we stopped. The first looked north west to Mt Rainier, the highest mountain in Washington state at 14,400 feet and considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. With visibility impaired by the smoke from the fires we could just see the mountain and the many glaciers at its summit and it looked impressive. It must be doubly so when visibility is good.

The second viewpoint faced the Palisades, a rocky cliff formed thousands of years ago when hot lava was suddenly chilled and cooled into hexagonal columns. It, too, was stunning.

We then headed for Mt St Helens which erupted in 1980 when more than 500 million tons of ash and smoke poured out of the ground killing more than 50 people. Vegetation is only slowly returning to the area to the north of the volcano and a lake at the foot of the mountain still has a huge number of trees flaring in it – the aftermath of a “tidal wave” which reached 800 feet up the surrounding slopes when a large part of the mountain slid into the lake. The surface of the lake is still 200 feet higher than it was before the eruption!  We found the whole story jaw dropping.

The next day the atmosphere was even more smokey with visibility even more impaired and a much stronger smell everywhere. After breakfast we emptied all of our belongings, including the bikes, from the car into the tent in case we were required to provide taxi services because the trail coming from the south was diverted away from the fires and emerged onto the road 3 or 4 miles down the hill. We knew that several of the people Eleri was walking with (she is currently in a group of six) had posted boxes of food and other supplies to the convenience store to save carrying them part of the way so they had to get to the Pass.

After checking that they were not already at the store we drove down to the point where the alternative route emerged and sat down to wait. After a couple of hours a hiker appeared and we offered him a lift to the store which he gratefully accepted.

After returning to the spot and waiting another half an hour for Eleri we spotted another couple of hikers getting out of a car. One of them shouted “Are you English and are you waiting for your daughter?”

It turned out that she had taken a different alternative route and spent the night in a small town another 20 miles down the road. She then hitched a lift, stopped at the point we had been waiting when we were doing the Good Samaritan thing and then gone on to the Pass whilst we were driving back down!

When we finally met up there was another round of hugs and parental purchasing of provisions for the offspring, followed by a couple of hours waiting for her friends to make their way up from the town.

All too soon it was time to wave them on their way again. We hope to meet them again tomorrow when the trail crosses another road about 25 miles away.

It turns out that the decision not to wait until Eleri reaches Canada before springing the surprise was an excellent one, as the last 20 miles of the trail are closed because of more fires there and it is not possible to walk into Canada. The hikers are all praying for rain in the coming days in the hope that it will be reopened in time for them to complete the trail.

Surprise, Surprise

19/8/18. As you may have seen from the previous post we are on the West Coast of the US to give our daughter Eleri a big surprise. She has been walking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to Canada since early April and is now on the last stretch.

Back in February, when our house in Surrey was on the market but not yet sold, we had the idea that we could meet her as she finished the Trail but, because we didn’t know when she would finish, we had a problem.  She had a start date and thought it would take about 5 months, so we decided to fly 3 weeks either side of her estimated target date of 5 September and make a long holiday of it with the bikes in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

We also thought it would be good fun to see her face when she finished the 2,650 mile hike and unexpectedly saw her parents at the same time. We just hoped that she wouldn’t be too shocked or embarrassed !

In the months that followed, whenever we spoke to her, it was mighty difficult not blurting out the secret. Agreeing to sell the house and moving out in May didn’t complicate matters. What did, however, was finding our new house and being unable to move in until 1 August – only 2 weeks before we were due to fly to Vancouver. But the flights were booked so we were going! If we hadn’t unpacked everything by then it would still be waiting for us when we got back at the end of September.

As things drew closer we began to have doubts about delaying the meeting until Eleri was at the end and so made the decision to hire a car and drive to wherever she was straight after we arrived on the West Coast.

The flight was, thankfully, unremarkable other than being the first time either of us had flown on an Airbus 380 (the enormous double decker jobs) and was followed by a bus trip (courtesy of the American rail company, Amtrak) to Seattle the next day. We had a night in a most odd hotel – the address was 605½ (similar to Platform 9¾ in the Harry Potter books) Main St – which we discovered subsequently is a Historic Monument because it was a boarding house catering for Japanese immigrants saying dating back to 1910. It has been preserved in the same state as when the Japanese were rounded up and sent to camps following Pearl Harbour. An authentic 1940’s experience with creaky bedsprings, ancient sinks and bathroom down the hall!

Then we picked up a car and headed for Portland, Oregon, because Eleri had just crossed into Washington state and was spending a couple of nights in a very small town called Cascade Locks, where there was a “show” for hikers at the weekend.

The next problem was how to locate her without calling her and letting her know we were in town! On her phone she had an app which showed her location when she was in a place  with a phone signal and this showed her to be at the western end of the long, narrow town. So on the Saturday morning we arranged on WhatsApp to have a “chat” with her in an hour’s time and headed of down the interstate to Cascade Locks. She had said she was going for breakfast so we found a diner in the vicinity of her location and there she was in the breakfast queue!

As you can see from the video it was a complete surprise for her and rather an emotional one for all three of us. She had thought a couple of things we had said recently were a little odd (nothing new there, then!) but had dismissed the thought while we were a little stunned that we had pulled it off! The group who she was with all seemed impressed with our feat and Eli, an Australian, said he was going to send a photo of the three of us to his parents asking when they were coming!

We spent the rest of the day with Eleri looking round the show (only small – she was grateful as the last thing she wanted to do was a lot of walking) and going for a drive up the very pretty Columbia River Gorge.

On Sunday we met up with Eleri and her friends for breakfast again but this time in Portland as Jake’s father (they are from Oregon) had given them a lift into town so they could go shopping for equipment at a big camping store and food supplies in somewhere larger than the small convenience stores in most trail towns.

We’re in the US Again!

We’ve come over to the West Coast of the US to meet up with our daughter Eleri who is walking the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border!) Although we booked the flights back in February, we managed to keep it secret from her. This video (apologies for the rubbish camerawork but Stephen makes no claim to be an expert and he was rather caught up in the moment) shows the meeting in a diner in Cascade Locks on the Oregon/Washington border.