The Smoke That I Found

My tent in Martinson’s Gap, Norse Peak Wilderness, Central Washington. This part of the trail is currently closed, and possibly destroyed.

On August 7, 2017, I stopped at the campsite next to a creek at mile 2339.3 on the Pacific Crest Trail, near Arch Rock, in the Norse Peak Wilderness. I took a break there, getting more water (it was the first water source I had passed since the afternoon of the previous day) and eating some snacks. As I was filtering water and munching, I noticed that it smelled like smoke. Clearly there had been a campfire the previous night.

Just before I left, I realized that it smelled like smoke because smoke was coming from the campfire ring. In some small way, the campfire was still burning.

Chances are, even if I had failed to notice the smoking campfire ring, it would have self-extinguished anyway. But having noticed it, I did not dare take a chance. Thankfully, it was next to a creek, so it was easy to haul water to completely soak the campfire ring. It stopped smoking after that.

Later, I talked to Ben and Kseniya about that since I knew they had stayed at that campsite the previous night. They told me that a southbound hiker had started the campfire. I had met a couple southbounders that morning before I had reached the campsite with the smoking campfire ring. I wish there were a way to send a message to them, to let them know that they had left a campfire without 100% extinguishing it.

Even though I think it probably would have been okay if I hadn’t doused the campfire with water, there is a tiny chance that I prevented a forest fire, and that I helped the PCT remain open for … two weeks.

On August 11 – just four days after I soaked the source of the smoke – there was a lightning storm which started a bunch of little fires in the Norse Peak Wilderness. These grew into a big fire which is called the ‘Norse Peak Fire’. About a couple weeks after I passed through, the PCT was closed, frustrating the aspirations of many hikers (including Jon). For a while, over 100 miles of the PCT were closed. Now, only about 16 miles are closed due to the Norse Peak fire – including Martinson’s Gap (where the photo at the top of this post was taken), and the place where I found the smoky campfire ring. Since this is the part of the trail which remains closed, my guess is that this is the part of the trail which actually burned (as opposed to being closed because the fire might spread). The trail may be destroyed already, and even if it is intact, it may be destroyed by spring snowmelt.

I hope the trail is okay and easy to repair.

I have an odd feeling, when I think back on that source of smoke I discovered, and the knowledge that that location turned out to be the epicenter of one of the worst fires on the PCT in 2017.

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