Day 9: Windy Pass to Harts Pass

On the ninth and final day of our backpacking trek we left camp at Windy Pass, heading south on the Pacific Crest Trail, back to our car which was parked at the Slate Peak Trailhead, about a mile above Harts Pass.  It was only a four mile day, with about 800 feet of climbing.  Relatively easy, in other words.  And that was exactly what we wanted, so we could embrace the wonders and pleasures of civilization.

We packed up at first light at Windy Pass - today was our final day on the Pacific Crest Trail as we headed to Harts Pass
We packed up at first light – today was our final day and we wanted to get to Harts Pass right away

We thought that we might sleep in, because it was such a short hike, but no.  We both wanted to get our car safely down the hill from Harts Pass, now that Harts Pass Road had been reopened.  That road was crazy, and we didn’t trust it not to get washed out again.  With any luck, it would be the last time I drove on that road.  So we packed up everything and put our final no-cook breakfasts in our pockets.  That bear canister was seriously empty, and my backpack finally felt like I might not pull a muscle lifting it.  It must’ve started above the sixty pound mark, so now it was less than fifty.  I could handle that.

Morning light on the green grasses of Windy Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail
Morning light on the green grasses of Windy Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail
After nine days on the trail I still had a perfectly whole and undamaged Pop-Tart left for breakfast - a minor miracle!
After nine days on the trail I still had a perfectly whole and undamaged Pop-Tart left for breakfast – a minor miracle!

Sadly for Vicki, the trail began climbing almost immediately.  We climbed and climbed, and were often in the shade of the nearby ridge, which was nice.  And the air was cool.  After Buffalo Pass, the trail flattened out for s short time, and we really cruised along.  We were getting higher up now, and the views to the west were getting better with every step.

Hiking in the morning sun south of Buffalo Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, heading for Harts Pass and our car
Hiking in the morning sun south of Buffalo Pass
Panorama view southwest down the Bensen Creek drainage - it was too early to take a break but we liked the view
Panorama view southwest down the Bensen Creek drainage
Crater Mountain and Jack Mountain in the west from the PCT south of Buffalo Pass
Crater Mountain and Jack Mountain in the distance to the west

After Benson Creek the trail started climbing yet again, until we reached the west flank of Slate Peak at which point it leveled out beautifully.  I told Vicki that most of the climbing was already done, but she didn’t really believe me.

Vicki doesn't like scree slopes, but the trail seemed stable this time
Vicki doesn’t like scree slopes, but the trail seemed stable this time
Zoomed-in view of the Slate Peak Fire Tower from down below on the Pacific Crest Trail
Zoomed-in view of the Slate Peak Fire Tower from down below
The hiking was easy as we traversed around Slate Peak toward our car
The hiking was easy as we traversed around Slate Peak

The time flew by, and before we knew it we were at the trailhead!  It had only taken us two and a half hours!  And there was the car.  There weren’t many left.  We had heard from other hikers that they were only letting cars go down the road, not up, because the repairs were very temporary in nature.  So we basically had the parking area to ourselves.  We opened up the car and started prepping our gear for civilization.  We weren’t in all that big a rush, and we didn’t want to forget anything.

The first order of business was changing out of these filthy, stinky clothes!  We put on our road clothing, and I even got out my electric razor and shaved off the nine day bristles.  I felt better already.  We took the important things like wallets out of our backpacks, then stowed the big packs in the roof box.  Our plan was to make enough room in the back so that we could fit some PCT hikers in the car with us.  It was a twenty mile walk down into town, and there wasn’t much traffic heading that way any longer.  Because that’s what Trail Angels do.

We made it back to the car at the Slate Peak trailhead, just up the hill from Harts Pass - our nine day trek was finished!
We made it back to the car at the Slate Peak trailhead, just up the hill from Harts Pass – our nine day trek was finished!
It was still mid-morning when we arrived at the car, so it was time to repack our gear and get ready for civilization
It was still mid-morning when we arrived, so it was time to repack our gear and get ready for civilization
My car has an AC Invertor, so I shaved my nine-day beard and got myself ready to arrive in the real world
My car has an AC Invertor, so I shaved my nine-day beard and got myself ready to arrive in the real world

We drove a mile down to Harts Pass and got our car food our of the bear boxes.  Now we truly hadn’t forgotten anything.  We stopped to talk with some rangers, who told us about the road.  There was only one really bad washout, but she thought our car might make it.  Might?  Hoo boy!  That didn’t sound very good!  But we’ve done more off-roading than she realized, and our car was four wheel drive.  It was the ground clearance we had to worry about.

We asked some hikers sitting at a picnic table whether they needed a ride, but they were all headed north.  Oh well.  Then, just as we were walking back to the car, three hikers showed up, and they needed a ride!  Perfect.  We warned them that it would be a tight fit, and that the road was bumpy, but they didn’t care.  They piled in and away we went!

We drove down to Harts Pass and got our car food out of the bear boxes
We drove down to Harts Pass and got our car food out of the bear boxes
We got the car ready to head back down the re-opened Harts Pass Road, and maybe give some PCT hikers a ride
We got the car ready to head back down the re-opened Harts Pass Road, and maybe give some hikers a ride
We picked up three PCT Thru-Hikers that made it 2600 miles to Canada from the Mexican Border - Congratulations!
We picked up three PCT Thru-Hikers that made it to Canada from the Mexican Border – 2650 miles – Congratulations!

Vicki took the wheel this time, as she gets carsick on winding roads unless she’s driving.  That was OK with me.  It gave me a chance to talk with our passengers and also to take a lot of pictures and videos.  They had started in Mexico in the Spring, and made it to Canada, avoiding all the fire closures along the way, with perfect timing, not unlike their final timing of catching a ride with us. Of course, the road was pretty rough, and maybe there were times when they wished that they were hiking!

We could see the tank treads from some monster bulldozer that had repaired the road.  The dangerous part with all the exposure (and no guardrails!) was particular hard hit by debris slides, and there was a lot of loose soil.  but Vicki had no problems.  It was near the bottom that the main washout had occurred.  Tons of eroded earth had piled itself directly across the road.  The bulldozer made a very loose and temporary path around the edge of the slide, and the ruts of the other trucks that had already made it down before us had dug deep trenches in the soft, rock-filled soil.  Once again, Vicki’s driving was superb, and we made it through with no damage whatsoever!  Whoo hoo!  We were back in the real world once again!

We discovered where the monster bulldozer plowed the washouts on Harts Pass Road - it was extra scary this time
We discovered where the monster bulldozer plowed the washouts – it was extra scary this time
The town of Mazama WA is down below as we descend on Harts Pass Road
The town of Mazama WA was down below as we descended on the exposed dirt road
This was the big washout that closed Harts Pass Road three days ago - there was a very sketchy section for us to cross
This was the big washout that closed Harts Pass Road three days ago – the sketchy part was crossing the creek
We opened and closed the metal gate that shut Harts Pass Road except for cars leaving and for emergency vehicles
We opened and closed the metal gate that shut Harts Pass Road except for cars leaving and for emergency vehicles

After that, we went directly to the Mazama store and dropped off our passengers.  We congratulated them on a job well done, and wished them the best of luck getting home from here.  Then we bought ourselves some deli sandwiches and took them around the corner to the motel.  We checked in at the office and carried up our bags.  The room brought back fond memories of the last time we were here, in 2014.  For the next hour or so, we took turns eating lunch and taking long, hot showers.

After grabbing a sandwich in Mazama, we arrived at the Mazama Country Inn where we had a reservation - Hooray!
After grabbing a sandwich next door, we arrived at the Mazama Country Inn where we had a reservation – Hooray!

After that, we gathered all the dirty clothing and headed south to a laundromat near the town of Winthrop.  A couple of hours later, we were as good as new, and ready for our next adventure.  Later on that day, we walked next door to a local bar for dinner.  I had some burgers and fries, while Vicki ate a salad.  We were both in Heaven.  As we ate, some rain began to fall, and we heard some thunder off in the northwest.  Was it raining up on the road again?  To tell the truth, we didn’t really care.

Back at the motel, we talked about the trip.  Everything had gone perfectly, gear-wise, except for a couple of tent zippers that weren’t always zipping.  The replacement zipperheads were already on order, and would be home when we got there.  Which might not be for a month or more.  We were embarked on a big Road Trip, and at this point, we had to decide where we were going next!  We were retired, on permanent vacation, and the entire state of Washington was ready for our arrival.

But that is another story.

 

 

For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page

For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page

 

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