A thick foggy must engulfed our camp, obscuring our view of anything farther than twenty feet down our path. A light mist slowly trickled down the outside of our raingear. Water soaked into our pants as we brushed past wet huckleberry bushes. More water seeped into our shoes as we squished our way down the sodden trail.
We plodded down the trail, fingers and toes numb. Approaching Tacoma Pass I noticed a sign proclaiming "Trail Magic! Hot food, ...". Our pace quickened. Not Phil's Dad (father of a 2009 PCT hiker) had a complete set up. Sheltered under a large pop up, two large camp stoves were used to make hot drinks and chili dogs. Under another large pop up were five chairs and all the food you could imagine: fresh fruit, muffins, cookies, candy, granola bars, chips, nuts, Gatorade, and other drinks. Three Washington section hikers joined in the feast. After a blissful hour and a half of food and relaxation, we finally hiked on.
Not far up the trail, we heard voices approaching up the trail. Expecting hunters, we hesitated, hoping the bright, shiny ribbons tied to our packs would be visible through the fog. To our surprise, a large group of day hikers greeted us.
"Are you two thru-hikers?" the group asked incredulously. "We have something for you!" Orange Pacer, Alpine Goat, the newly-named Starbucks, and several other day hikers dug through their packs, pulling out an assortment of candy. One by one, they each handed us a treat as they hiked by. "This feels like Halloween!" I quipped, as I gratefully accepted a package of mint M&Ms from one of the hikers. For the second time that day, the words "thank you" seemed inadequate to convey the debt of gratitude we felt for the warmth and good cheer that had been shared with us on such a cold and stormy day.
We spent most of our afternoon hiking with Matt, Jennifer, and Rachel, the Washington section hikers. Matt is an expert on mushrooms, and shared some of his knowledge as we navigated a series of steep ridges (aka pointless ups and downs).
We reached Stirrup Creek and set up camp before dark. The rain resumed just as we finished and we piled our gear inside. We dried things off as best we could and began to settle in for a relaxing evening in the tent.
Sensing movement, I searched the corner of the tent near my feet. Two eyes stared back at me. I shrieked. A small gray mouse dashed out of the corner of the tent, back into the rainstorm.
Although it was hard to leave our warm, dry camp, we decided to move on. Mice can be destructive little vermin, well known for gnawing holes in backpacking gear (or shoes!) even when there is no food inside. Peering out into the darkness with my headlamp, multiple mice scattered, dashing away from the headlamp beam wherever I pointed it. We were surrounded.
Despite the rain, we packed up and began hiking down the trail. With dark, angry clouds obscuring the night sky, the trail was pitch black. My dimming headlamp cast a faint glow directly in front of me, more shadow than light. I tried to stay directly behind Sierra, whose headlamp was brighter, but repeatedly stumbled over rocks and tree roots, unable to see them in the dark. Our pace slowed.
Reaching Mirror Lake, we finally found flat ground and set up our soggy tent. Once inside, we dried off as best we could, exchanging soggy, dripping socks and clothing for dry ones before crawling into dry, warm sleeping bags for the night.