Bears and Wildfire

We pick up our resupply boxes in White Pass, and spend the night in a cute little hotel room. The room is tiny but has a kitchen and a porch.


We explode our gear on the porch.

Andy finds pasta in the cupboard, buys some sauce in the tiny and only shop here, and cooks dinner in the evening and shares it with me!

Felix makes pancakes (with Nutella!) in the morning, and shares them with me as well!

Awesome guys! Thank you!

We linger around the place until 2pm, and slowly head on… It’s sometimes hard to leave a hang out place and get back to business.

These days, we try to camp at lakes. Because they are plentiful here in Washington, and because we are all fed up with having to sleep with these ‘sticky legs’ every night. Baby wipes are OK, but nothing compares to a quick dip/wash in a cold lake before sleeping.

We hike a lot of exhausting up and down, toward Mount Rainier National Park.

And it is so very hot again! Another heat wave?

The guys always said the weather in Washington is cool and drizzly, but nope, it is a hot!

We approach Mount Rainier, but he is hardly visible in the smoky air.

I see this huge cloud over one mountain range and think this is finally a storm coming in. But no! This is smoke from the wildfire!

We have heard of this fire, it apparently burns for three weeks already. There have been several little fires here in the region (caused by lightning), but the PCT is apparently still open.

In fact, the PCT marks exactly the border of the fire closure. This means, we will have to do four mile next to a fire.


But if the fire update says that the PCT is open, it should be save to hike, right?

We find this gorgeous little lake and decide to spend the night here before heading further north.

Felix says: “I am sure we are going to see a bear here”.

And sure enough he spots a bear further up the mountain! We can see him grazing. He is way too far away to take a picture, but we are all rather fine with this.

A bear! We finally get to see a bear! We are in awe and happy!

During my 2 am poo I can see that the sky is blood red over there by the fire zone. Truly spectacular but also intimidating.

And the whole area is so smoky. The air is really bad.

I wake up with a headache in the morning, one of Felix’s eyes is rather red, and Andy has problems breathing.

Felix points out that the hooting we hear is a “Great Horned Owl” and that the high pitched other sound is from an Elk.


We make our way to Chinook Pass. The road which goes over the pass is closed on the east side due to the fire. There is a board here with a fire update. The update is two days old and posts that the PCT is still open.

OK, we can hike on.

We just have to bring these hairy four miles behind us, then we will be fine.
But I feel this tight angst feeling in my chest.

But I go on. I am brave. It will be fine.

“There! Another bear!”,  Felix excitingly whispers.

This guy is much closer than the other one and we can watch him.

We hike up this steep path, the air is thick with smoke and we can hardly see the landscape around us.

I think of something completely random (one always thinks random things while hiking) when I hear a loud thundering crash right in front of me. I scream out loud and jump backwards.

“Holy holy bloody shit!!”

A bear just run over the path from the left to the right, right in front of me!

Only a bloody few feet away from me!!

He must have been sitting there above the path when he heard me and freaked out and dashed down the mountain, over the path.

Had I walked just a tad faster, the bear would have knocked me over and I would have fallen down the steep mountain.

I swear, this was a very close near miss.

It all went so fast. My heart is racing.

Oh PCT! Oh Adventures!

A near miss with a bear! I mean, how much more adventurous can it get?

We make it to Sheep Lake without any further bear encounters.

Fine by me, I had my bear share for today!

The fire is now just behind this next ridge. We filter water out of the lake and prepare ourselves to face this fire section, when some other tru hikers approach us.

“Are you guys northbounders?“ they ask us?


“You guys do not want to get any further! We backtracked the last seven miles. We hiked towards the fire yesterday but decided to turn around when it got too bad. We hiked back down here until midnight. It is terrible up there. The little fires seemed to have merged into one big fire and we could see the flames. The wind blew in our direction and we had to walk directly towards the fire”. It was freeking terrifying up there. We are still shaken up. We don’t understand why the authorities have not closed the section yet!

You seriously do not want to hike any further!”

Oh my! We are all perplexed.

What now?

It is a no-brainer for all three of us that this is it. We are not going any further. But this change of plan comes too quick. We need time to process these news.

So we hang around the lake, I have a quick “cooling my head swim” and we feed this adorable Chipmunk with rather unnatural Chipmunk food.

This is a great distraction for us and for the Chipmunk as well.

We finally get ready to backtrack to the trail head, where we find the other tru hiker group and some Ranger guys.

The Ranger guys inform us that the trail has been closed since last night as of White Pass.

52 Miles of the PCT.

I don’t understand why they had closed the trail last night but did not update the information on the trail head at Chinook pass?

In fact, one of the Rangers walks over to the path and puts up a hand written “PCT closed due to fire” sign at this very moment.

A bit late! Don’t you think?

So we were the last hikers heading up there in a now closed PCT section!

I am so glad and grateful that this other group of hikers had warned us.
It saved me from an experience I don’t really need to experience!

So now how do we get out of here?

Felix comes up with a few plan B ideas. We discuss them and decide to try to get to Seattle where we can stay at Andy’s place. We can take a zero there and get back on trail at Snoqualmie Pass, north of the fire.

So we hitchhike.

It takes us four (!) hitches.

[One of which turns out to be as if it were a scene out of a Quentin Tarantino movie!], two bus rides and one metro ride to get to Andy’s place.

What a crazy crazy crazy day!

Owls in the early morning, a near miss with a bear, a photo session with a Chipmunk, an escape from a fire and an epic hitching and bus journey into Seattle!


8 replies
  1. Leilani says:

    Your chipmunk is actually a golden mantle groundsquirrel, but everyone mixes them up. He certainly was a fat little guy; he must like backpacker food! I thoroughly enjoyed your blog – great writer! Good luck on the rest of your hike.

    • Heidi says:

      A golden mantle groundsquirrel? Really?! :) Haha! I had no idea! Thanks for the clarification Leilani, and thanks so much for liking my blog! :) Yes! I truly hope we make it to Canada!!

  2. Sandy says:

    Wow Heidi……du wirst ein Buch schreiben müssen über alle deine PCT Abenteuer…..Ich bin so froh seid ihr rechtzeitig gewarnt worden hinsichtlich des Feuers um noch umzukehren, da hatte wohl, wie meist in solchen Momenten, euer Schutzengel die Flügel im Spiel…Auch Françoise (Turtle) schreibt ja über diese stickige Luft aufgrund der Waldbrände die wie eine Glocke über allem hängt . Bei deinem letzten Blogeintrag habe ich mit dir gelitten bei deiner Beschreibung des steilen Weges und deinem Bammel dabei…es sah bereits auf den Fotos wirklich steil aus….wie mutig du bist ,und dennoch umsichtig mit dir selbst.Eine gute und wichtige Kombination, Respekt Heidi wie du das alles meisterst ! Dicke Umarmung ;-)

  3. Marlise Lachat says:

    Liebe Heidi
    Dein Schutzengel ist ein prächtiger…zuerst bringt er dir Andy und Felix zurück, dann sorgt er dafür, dass du Bären aus nächster Nähe siehst mit viel Glück (erinnert mich grad an unser Erlebnis damals im Park mit der Brücke, in Vancouver BC:-)!), er bringt euch die anderen hikers mit der fire- info, dann Pause bei Andy in Seattle….you are very blessed!
    Ich freu mich immer ganz aufgeregt auf deine neuen posts….phantastic lecture….
    Que vayas con Dios!
    A challenge for a life time….could say so!
    You will make it until Canada, for sure!
    Mein mentaler Support ist euch dreien gewiss!

  4. Mary says:

    Loved the pictures— so glad you are ok and had a great adventure!!!! Can’t wait to hear some of the stories!!!!! And see you!!!


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