Day 7: Lake Valhalla to Lake Janus (4 miles)
The morning of my seventh day on trail I woke up in pain. My legs were really stiff, particularly my shins and ankles. I took a bit of extra time to stretch and it wasn’t so bad getting up and out of the tent. It was a bit of a chilly morning. The night had been clear, and there was a smell of autumn in the air.
I got my geared stowed away and got my pack on. From the campsite I had a mile of steady uphill to reach a gap below Lichtenberg Mountain. I realised I was in trouble once the downhill started on the other side of the gap. My shins were in a lot of pain. Climbing uphill the pain had been present, but not unmanageable. On the downhill slopes my legs were on fire.
I stopped alongside the trail to pull out my first aid kit. I took some pain medication and wrapped my right ankle, hoping to compress some of the possible swelling and stabilize the muscle.
I knew there was a large lake another 2 miles along. I decided to make that my goal and then make some decisions once I got there. So I put on an audiobook and slowly worked my way along the trail, sadly conscious of the pain at every step.
Lake Janus was even more scenic than I’d expected. It was a large lake, with gentle slopes coming down to it. The campground area was large, with many sites to choose from. I took the time to scout out the best site and set up my tent.
The intensity of the last couple miles made me realize that I could not keep going forward. I was on the edge of a long stretch in the wilderness, with little to no exit points. I decided that I would spend the rest of the day at the lake, lying down and off my feet as much as possible, and then hike out the next day.
During my time on trail I’d been carrying a Garmin Inreach GPS device. It had allowed me to stay in touch with my husband and my family. With it I was able to tell my husband that I was done, and that I would be needing a trailhead pick-up the following day.
I consulted my guidebook and map a bit more and realised that I was only a few miles away from a forest road trailhead. I would only have to hike 3 miles out in the morning, not the full 10 miles back to Steven’s Pass. I passed the info on to my husband and he told me he’d see me in the morning.
The rest of the day was very very quiet. It was mid-week and so there weren’t many day hikers. My campsite was tucked a few minutes back from the main trail, so I didn’t see any of the PCT hikers either. I took some time to soak my feet in the lake, and spent a lot of time lying in my tent reading, with my feet elevated.
Mid afternoon I was getting a bit bored so I decided to scrounge for some wood. There was a really nice fire pit at the site and I figured I’d make my last night a bit more enjoyable with a campfire. There was lots of downed wood and the fire caught quickly. It was a nice way to relax further through the evening.
Just as the sun was disappearing behind the ridges, a hiker wandered into camp. It was my friend, Diesel, who I’d met along the trail! He had spent a night in a hotel in Skykomish as part of his resupply and I hadn’t expected to see him again so soon (seeing as I was supposed to be another 7 miles along the trail…)
He was sad to hear my disappointing news, but shared a carton of wine that he had picked up while in town. I was glad to get a bit of comfort from my friend, but was certainly jealous that he was going to be going forward.
I slept well enough that night, and slept in a bit in the morning. I dawdled a bit getting my gear together and chatted with Diesel over breakfast. Finally though I knew it was time to get moving. My timing couldn’t have been more perfect though. Just as I was about to strap on my pack, hubby walked into our campsite. He had given Diesel a lift to Skykomish a couple days earlier and so we chatted a bit more.
Eventually I took his daypack and he picked up my large pack and we headed south towards the trailhead.
I was pretty quiet on the trail back. I was dealing with a whole host of emotions: disappointment, sadness, regret, grief… I knew I’d made the right decision, but it was hard to accept that my adventure was over.