Washington, You Beast.
Steven’s Pass to E.C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada
We ended up taking a zero day in Leavenworth because we loved the town so much. There was a sense of urgency to get to Canada as winter was quickly approaching, but the calling to eat and rest won on this day. We hit the final brewery in town, Dog Haus Brewery. The tap room was literally 68 square feet. There was a small bar and enough room for maybe ten patrons. There was the bartender and the “pawtender,” a giant dog wearing a bow tie that greeted you from behind the bar when you entered. Leavenworth quickly became one of our favorite towns on trail.
The next morning we woke up and grabbed breakfast at the hotel. We were standing on the side of the road hitchhiking by 10am. The drive back to Steven’s Pass is about 40 minutes, so I thought getting a hitch would take a while. We stood there for maybe ten minutes before a van pulled up and we jumped in. The driver, Tim, is a Triple Crowner. He has completed the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. He was driving to Seattle to begin his new job at the REI Headquarters. Thank you for the ride, Tim, and best of luck on the new job (remember, better color options for women’s outdoor gear)! We were hiking before Noon. The beginning of the day was relatively flat, but then naturally there were a couple of climbs thrown in for fun. Before we left Leavenworth, Kilo received a warning from his weather app about a flash flood warning from 8pm to 8am. Our goal was 16 miles for the day and we wanted to beat the rain. As we summited Grizzly Peak (one of the few mountains you actually summit on the PCT) we could see a thick fog rolling into the valleys below. We got into camp and immediately set up our tent. As we cooked our dinner the fog rolled in. We got into our tent for the night exactly at 8pm as lightening flashed, thunder rolled and the rain begin to fall. That weather warning was dead-on with the timing of the storm. We camped on top of a hill so that hopefully we would not get rain run off and wake up in a puddle. The next three days were supposed to be off and on rain. Here is our first real taste of Washington weather. We knew it was coming.
Sometime in the night the lightening and thunder stopped, but the rain continued. We woke up to a thick, damp fog. I guess I should have known when I stepped in human feces in the morning that it was going to be a rough day. It rained all day with the exception of an hour. We walked uphill all day with the exception of an hour. We were only about three miles from our tent site when the rain intensified making the trail extremely muddy. I fell - twice. The second fall, face first into a blueberry bush (blueberry bushes smell like Kilo’s wet socks) sent me into a panic attack. As I sat in a mud puddle unable to get up I started to hyperventilate. I have only had a panic attack two other times in life...one was two days after 9/11 when I lived in New York City and the other was when I heard my dad had heart failure. I am not sure why this fall sent me into a panic other than pure exhaustion. I was so tired. It was a tired not cured by taking a nap or having a good night’s sleep. It was an exhaustion to the bone that ran through all of my veins and muscles. Add some pouring, freezing rain and mud to that and apparently that is a recipe for a panic attack. Once I could breathe again, I had a good cry in my mud puddle. Kilo was very patient and helped me take my backpack off and get back up again. I had no choice but to hike on. There were two other tents already set up when we got to the campsite, so for a moment I thought we were going to have to continue hiking to the next one. Luckily we found a site under a bunch of trees. It was a bit of a cluster trying to put our tent up in the downpour while not getting the inside of the tent wet. Once we got in the tent with all of our soaked, muddy clothing we had to keep mopping up the tent floor with our non-absorbent bandanas. We cooked our dinner in the tent and then set up our sleeping bags. Crawling into my sleeping bag and finally getting warm was the best part of my day. Oh, PCT, I will not be defeated! I said from the beginning of this hike I would share both the good and bad. I knew this was going to be the hardest thing I have ever done and I did not want romanticize the PCT by only telling happy stories and showing pictures of beautiful mountains. There were amazing views and great life moments, but there were also the struggles. I realize I have former and potentially future employers reading this blog, so being completely honest might be a risk, but I fell and I got up. And I fell again, and I got back up. On the trail, as in real life, what matters is not the number of times you fall, but that you get up just one more time. So that was my reality on the trail on this day.
Today was my 41st birthday. It felt weird not to be able to speak to my family or friends on the phone (we have no service until WiFi in Canada). We received a weather report on our Garmin that said heavy rain at 8am, so this morning we were not quick to leave. Right on schedule it rained at 8. We finally made it out of camp around 9:40. Per usual, lots of uphill in the pouring rain. The rain did stop long enough for us to hike down into a beautiful valley and have lunch. The sun even came out and there were blue skies for about five minutes. I was about to comment to Kilo on how dry our rain flys and backpacks were, but before I could even say anything the clouds rolled back in and it began to pour. The trail turned into the Pacific Crest River. Our feet were soak and soggy. The downhill was precarious as we tried not to slip in the mud. We had several river crossings today via rocks or logs. I was not as nervous as I usually am on river crossings because I was already soaked. What is more water, maybe it would wash off the mud. Towards the end of the day the trail became an obstacle course. Lots of mud and many downed trees that we had to either crawl under or pull ourselves over. As we got down to one of the river crossings we stopped to let another hiker behind us go by. “How’s it going?” Kilo asked. The hiker’s response, “Shit. Shit (rain) falling from the sky. Shit (point to the raging river we are about to cross over on a broken bridge). Shit.” I feel you man. “Have a nice day.” We then had about seven miles to camp with a 3.5 miles uphill climb. It finally stopped raining, but the trail was slippery and muddy. As we arrived at the creek near our campsite for the night, “shit” man was filtering water. When we approached, he said, “it’s really crowded up there. Only room for one or maybe two more tents.” Thank you, Mr. Optimistic. He was right, shit. It was crowded. There were probably seven tents in what Guthook said was a tent site for four. We found a spot...on a bit of a slant and not the best tent site ever, but we were soaked, cold and hungry so it would have to do. It was not raining when we set the tent up which made that process much easier. We cooked inside the tent and went to sleep.
May you never be freezing cold and have to put on wet rain gear, wet socks and wet shoes. That is how this morning began. And then in all of our wet gear, we hiked two miles straight up the mountain from our tent site. I know we were in a beautiful part of the Cascades because sometimes the fog would clear just long enough to reveal dramatic mountain peaks and glaciers. However, we generally saw fog all day. On the bright side, we were able to hike for about two hours that morning before the rain began again. It began to pour just as we started our second and major uphill, 5-mile climb for the day. When we got to the top of the climb “shit” man from yesterday was up there and the first thing he said to us was, “same story as yesterday....shit.” Hilarious. Once we made it over to the other side of the mountain the rain did stop and the sun came out for about ten minutes...what a tease. For a brief second we were able to see Glacier Peak before it was engulfed in thick, white fog. Finally, came the downhill. A long downhill with so many switchbacks that the trail on Guthook looks like a child scribbled it. Even the downhill in Washington is relentless and hard. At first, the trail was barely wide enough to fit both feet. Our feet were turned inward, the front half of our feet on the bottom of the trail and the back half up the side of the trail. Shortly after we passed a crowded camp site, we saw a man who appeared to be naked behind a massive down tree. He was right by the trail and we had to walk by him so my thought was, “no eye contact. Just look down at the trail.” He managed to wrap a towel around his lower half before we passed by. He was standing in a pool of water underneath a small waterfall. “Alpine shower!” he exclaimed as we walked by and he was cleaning himself with a bar of soap. Well, you do not see that every day out here. After hours of downhill switchbacks we finally arrived at camp right next to the raging Vista Creek. It naturally was pouring rain as we rolled into camp so putting up the tent and deciding on the perfect spot was a little dramatic. Once inside the tent we were able to take off our soaking wet socks to survey the damage. Our feet were all white and wrinkled as though we had been in the bath for days. The bottoms of our feet looked like brains. The downhill plus wet socks literally took the skin right off the top of our toes. I had blisters in places I have never had blisters in all five months of hiking. My toe too long (my second toes are longer than my first) on my right foot was losing the toenail and was bruised and bleeding underneath the nail. Everything we own was wet. Even the items that were in waterproof bags were damp. Our food was wet. We went to bed.
Alas, no rain. Everything was still incredibly wet in the morning, but at least additional water was not falling from the sky. Because our feet were so messed up from the day before and we still had to put wet shoes on, we basically mummified our feet in Leuko tape. It is amazing the things we can do when it does not rain. We hiked 25 miles for the day including one of our biggest climbs yet. We even got into camp at a decent hour so we could relax before going to sleep. We camped on the edge of a roaring river. I found the sound soothing and almost like a white noise while trying to sleep.
Mice, again. Sigh. Those bastards did not want us to sleep. They bit through Kilo’s trash bag in the night. Good news is we only had a 9.6 mile hike down to the Ranger Station where we took a bus into Stehekin, our last resupply stop before Canada. We got to the Ranger Station early so we laid our gear out in the sunshine (finally) to dry. At 12:30 we caught the Red Bus into the small town on Lake Chelan. The first stop the Red Bus makes is “the bakery.” We were a little skeptical of the bakery because we lived in Burbank, home of Portos, THE bakery. I have to say the Stehekin bakery did live up to the hype. We both got a piece of pizza and a baked item and then hopped back on the bus. It was tough to make a decision under fire (which baked item to purchase), but I was happy with my blueberry scone...the best I have ever had (and I do consider myself a scone connoisseur ). The next stop was Stehekin. There was no vacancy left in the lodge so we stayed in the group camping with 30 of our closest PCT hiker friends. We paid $5 for WiFi which worked just enough to let our families know we were still alive. Also, everyone was able to check the weather to see (shocking) it was going to rain and possibly snow the next five days. Kilo and I went to the group camp and set up our tent. Then we headed over to the public showers and laundry. Technically we did our laundry, as in we put the laundry in a washing machine and turned it on. Whether or not it actually cleaned our clothes is up for debate. I guess the same goes for the shower. $1 in quarters for 2 minutes of shower time. Rain or sun or snow all we had left was 80 miles to Canada. All suffering was now short term. We had reservations to stay at the Manning Park Lodge. Now we just had to get there. We had dinner at the Stehekin restaurant. I told myself if I eat these two chicken breasts (protein) I should be able to climb the mountains tomorrow without feeling like doo-doo. After dinner we went back to the campground where the talk was focused on the weather; as if talking about it could change it.
Only five more days of life on the PCT and the weather gods were not going to make them easy. It poured through the night, but stopped (for the most part) in the morning. We packed up our tent and had breakfast at the local restaurant. Then we took the 11am shuttle back to the bakery for more deliciousness. From the bakery we took the bus back to the trailhead. On the bus to the trailhead there were two women tourists along for the ride. Apparently the bus full of hikers stunk because they kept making faces and opening windows. It is funny how we no longer smell ourselves. We have become immune to the hiker stink. Also during the bus ride, one hiker asked the group, “once we are done with the trail, how long do you think it’ll be until you hike again?” The whole bus answered, “never” in unison. One guy said, “I’m never WALKING again. I’m getting one of those scooters and riding that everywhere.” We were all tired and happy to be close to Canada. We hiked out 11.2 miles to camp in a specially designated PCT campsite since we were in Cascades National Park. It rained a bit during the hike as if to preview what is in store for us over the next couple of days. At the campsite there were four other hikers so we all sat around and had dinner together talking about how poor our diet has been on Trail (as we were all eating Ramen Noodles, Knor Side Dishes, and cinnamon rolls from the bakery). We went to bed early in anticipation of the many mountains we have yet to climb.
We woke up to rain, but it stopped in time for us to pack up the tent. I was a little worried about how the day was going to go when about five miles in a wasp stung me on the knee cap, and then immediately afterwards I slipped off a rock crossing a stream and soaked my shoes and socks. I am happy to say the day did turn around. It barely rained. Just some sprinkles although the skies were dark and threatening. The day before a woman hiking Southbound had told us about the amazing views at Cutthroat Pass. We thought for sure our view would be fog, but it turned out to be amazing. All of the weekend and day hikers we passed along the way gave us fist bumps and high fives in Congratulations knowing how close we were to Canada. After Cutthroat Pass we went down several miles only to climb back to Methow Pass. And then back down again to our tent site. 23 miles for the day. When it does not rain we had no problem meeting our daily mileage goal. It is supposed to rain tomorrow.
We woke up in a puddle today. Literally. It poured rain over night, the hardest rain yet, and left our tent and my backpack in a puddle. There was even a tiny frog on our tent in the morning. I could not feel the water atop of my sleeping pad (AKA my floatation device), but Kilo’s sleeping pad had a hole in it and kept deflating throughout the night. We waited until light to pack up all of our wet items and begin hiking in the rain. The lower sections of the Washington mountains are like rainforests with thick, lush green plants. They are often overgrown into the trail. Because of the rain, walking through these sections of the trail are what I called “the human car wash.” They wash your rain clothes for you and sometimes even your face. The first couple of miles today were through the human car wash. Then we got to the serious climbing in which we had to traverse about fifty steep switchbacks. Each time we turned to walked North the wind blew the driving rain right in our faces. I was so happy once that section was over, but only about two miles later we were up on a high ridge as fog was blowing in and it was freezing. Both Kilo and I were thinking the same thing (we later discussed it over dinner)...we might have to stop hiking and pitch the tent to avoid hypothermia. I did not think we were going to come close to meeting our mileage goal for the day because we were so cold. However, the rain finally slowed and the wind disappeared once we got off the ridge line and so we forged ahead. We did not stop to eat, to pee or to filter the water. We were on a mission to get to Hart’s Pass as fast as possible. We experienced our final Trail Magic as we hit Hart’s Pass. We were starving and thirsty as we approached the table. I was literally shaking. It must have looked like we had not eaten in months because we attacked the trail magic table. In less than five minutes I ate a chocolate donut, two large chocolate chip cookies, one small bag of Doritos, a bag of gummies and washed it all down with a Gatorade. Phew, we finally got the fuel we needed to finish our hike for the day. It started raining again so we grabbed our packs and basically flew to our tent site. It had stopped raining by the time we hit camp so we were able to pitch the tent without rain (a total bonus). We let the tent dry out a bit while we ate dinner. As we finally got into the tent it was freezing outside and had started to rain again. Only two more nights left on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Washington State was on the precipice of winter. It was a cold night and we woke up to a cold morning. BUT, no rain. Today was our last 20 plus hiking day on the trail. The weather cleared and we had amazing views of the North Cascades and of Manning Park British Columbia once we got close enough. We camped 3.6 miles from the Canadian border. At dinner we ate all the extra food in our food bags so we do not have to carry the food into Canada, and because we were hungry. This was our last night in our trusty Nemo tent, “home.” And tomorrow, our last day on the Pacific Crest Trail.
It seemed fitting that it would be raining our last morning in Washington. A cold rain. People had told us to finish the PCT by September 15th in order to beat winter. Sure enough on September 15th the temperature dropped and winter was suddenly in the air. It rained on us during the night, but higher elevations got the first dusting of snow in the Washington mountains this season. We packed up our wet gear for the last time and hiked the 3.6 miles to the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Just short of the terminus we could see the United States-Canadian border which is a line in the trees. I got the chills; not just because I was cold, but because we were almost to the PCT monument that marked the end. Suddenly there it was in front of us, the end of the trail. There were a couple of hikers there as well celebrating their accomplishments. I was not as emotional as I thought I would be because it did not feel like the end. Six months of hiking and living in the mountains. Six months. And now it was over. That would take time to process. Plus we still had eight more miles to hike into the Manning Park Lodge. We stayed at the Terminus for a bit until it started to rain again and then we walked into Canada. There is no wall separating the United States and Canada. There is no border control. There are no helicopters flying above. Only cameras watching you cross the border. It poured as we walked our final eight miles which made me laugh out loud. I was tired. I sputtered into Manning Park with my tank on E. I gave it all I had. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and it was one of the greatest things I have ever done. And now it was over.