Day 3: American Lake to Bear Gap Junction (11.5 miles)
It was a beautiful morning at American Lake. I was up with the sun and took my time getting out.
From American Lake the trail meandered back to the junction and climbed through a saddle. I got a couple great morning views of Mount Rainier. After a couple miles the trail dropped to the east and down to Anderson Lake. A couple more miles after that I reached Dewey Lake where I stopped for a good and well-deserved break.
After Dewey Lake I had a steep 700 ft climb to a meadowy saddle. Around that point I started to see day hikers, a good clue that Chinook Pass wasn’t far away. The last couple miles to Chinook Pass were gentle and quite beautiful, offering me views across the highway to the ridges beyond.
I took a short break at the trailhead to use the outhouse, dump my trash and have a snack. Even though I’d only been on trail a few days, it was still a bit surreal to have all the cars around. I can’t imagine how the months-long PCT hikers feel when they come across these busier roads!
The next couple miles were hot as the trail hugged a steep, wildflower-filled slope in full sun. My lunch destination was Sheep Lake, a beautiful spot below craggy peaks.
I decided to make my dinner for lunch, knowing that I would likely end up at a waterless camp for the night. I also rested for a couple of hours through the heat of the day. Eventually it was time to move on and push up through Sourdough Gap, one mile along and 600 feet up.
The views were awesome at the top of Sourdough Gap. Looking south I could see back the way I’d come, and even all the way back to Mount Adams. I decided to take a brief detour along the Crystal Lake spur trail through another saddle and treat myself to a break with a Rainier view.
Once back on the PCT I continued 2 miles along the east side of a ridge. My destination was the Bear Gap junction. The sites at the junction itself weren’t very good. They were small, shaded, and the gap was incredibly windy. I could walk 20 feet in either direction and the wind would die down. Unfortunately the next camps were 5 miles away.
I was feeling a bit frustrated, and chilled by the constant wind. After sitting down in the middle of the sunny trail for some dinner, I had a better look around. Thankfully I managed to find a much better site down on a shelf. Bigger, better view, a little ways off trail and no wind!
Even out here there are some things things that make a difference to comfort and sanity.