Pacific Crest Trail Journal Part 2 – Oregon and Washington
Mon July 29 and Tues July 30 Ashland, OR 1721.5 miles
Though the border was crossed a few days ago, it now truly feels as if I am in Oregon. Ashland is a psychological way station for most hikers. A chance to buy new gear, rest up and prepare for the next step of the trail.
Yesterday, did all the town chores. Today is time for some relaxation.
As I explore the town I can’t help but think of my home in Boulder. Ashland, like Boulder, is a college town with an active outdoor oriented community. Many book stores and coffee shops and both towns have an odd cross between tourist area and a liberal, hippie-like atmosphere.
From a hiker’s standpoint Ashland is better. Smaller and easy to get around on foot. Staying in Ashland reminds me of how much I love living in Boulder. The hike is going great. But I look forward to seeing the Rockies again and being in the mountains I now call home.
Wed July 31 On a knob 1742.0 miles
It is now almost August. More than three months since that first step was taken at Campo. I am again astounded at how time has a different meaning out on the trail.
A friend of mine back in Colorado is meeting up with me at Cascade Locks. For him it is only three weeks away. For me it is a state away and many steps.
The months themselves also pass strangely out here. Three months might as well be six months, for that is what is seems like. Three months in the life that was left behind for a while goes quickly. Out here? Time expands. Forgive me for repeating a theme addressed in earlier entries, but every time I talk to friends or family it astounds me. Almost as if there are two separate ways of keeping time in my head. Time in the “real world” is set by alarm clocks, meeting times, what time a television program is on. Much distraction that fritters away our time. Trail time is slow. It is set by the rising and setting of the sun. A natural rhythm that makes for a simple, yet full day.
As the calendar turns to August, I am reminded that the hike will end. The ending is a month and a half away, or well over three months in trail time. Not that far away.
Thurs Aug 1st South Branch Shelter 1765.5 miles
Finally exited BLM land and entered land under Forest Service Management. Made a difference. The clearcuts are gone, less jeep roads. Most of the hiking today was uneventful. One highlight was the fields of huckleberries. I did enjoy the solitude today. All day with just my thoughts. As Crater Lake National Park will be entered this weekend, the solitude will be savored.
Spending the night at an AT style shelter that is on the PCT. Apparently it serves as a shelter in the winter for people skiing/snow shoeing. Tonight it will shelter one hiker.
Fri Aug 2 Red Lake Trail Junction 1789.4 miles
All the recent forest fires in Oregon has made for some less than exciting hiking. There is a constant grey pallor to the air and any views are severely limited. In two days I will be at Crater Lake. I am hoping the fires will have abated a bit.
In the meantime, it is interesting how the fires are effecting the trail experience. All day there is an underlying smell of smoke. Everything looks slightly hazy. Only by looking straight up does the sky have blue color.
Two days in a row I have went without seeing anyone. (people in cars excepted). This stretch of trail seems to be very isolated. Footprints are the only indication that more people are in this area.
Sat Aug 3 Stuart Falls Trail Junction 1814.5 miles
My third day of solitude. Did not even pass a road today. I have never spent this much time by myself. The views off the crest are still smoky. As a result, most of my thoughts were inward. I will confess to having a lot of conversations with myself out loud!
Tomorrow morning I should be in Crater Lake Park. Sundays in a national park tend to be overwhelmingly busy. After three days of just myself for company seeing all the people at once will be intense.
Sun Aug 4 Near Saddle with overlook 1833.5 miles
As expected, was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of people at the Crater Lake Rim today. I was the only hiker present today in the cafeteria and at the rim itself. Received quite a few stares as I strode in with my pack, bandana clad head and about four months of beard growth.
But an interesting thing happened. Invariably someone always comments on how it looks like I’ve been in the backcountry for a while. They ask where I am coming from. “Mexican Border” I reply. A look of shock spreads on their face. Then five or six people around me start asking questions as well. When did you start? Are
you by yourself? Where are you hiking to? In the space of a few minutes I go from a vagrant to someone with an interesting story to tell. Hiking the crest is my life now. I forget that what I take for granted must seem like an incredible adventure for some. And it is.
Today also brought an unexpected mishap. UPS has not delivered my package to the lodge or the general store in the park! Had to do an expensive re-supply out of the store. It could be worse. At last I now have food for the next stretch of trail. The trail forces a person to be flexible. Without flexibility, the trail can’t be hiked.
I must also comment on how helpful the lodge employees were. Not only did they spend fifteen minutes or so on a busy day trying to find my package in the park, but one of the lodge employees gave me a ride back from the general store. (six miles from the rim) and gave me some fruit and a cold soda.
Events do not always unfold as expected, but in the end it all seems to work out.
After all the running around was finally able to look at Crater Lake. The smoke covers the lake like a shroud, but it is still impressive. Looking down, can see the deep blue waters. Wizard Island rises out of the mist like some distant island in a bay. The camp spot tonight is not too far from the Rim. Hoping to get up early tomorrow for a sunrise over the lake.
Should be well worth walking over 1800 miles to see.
Mon Aug 5 Thielsen Creek 1855.7 miles
The sunrise this morning was stunning. Deep red light pierced through the clouds, reflecting on the blue waters below. I only hope the pictures I took came out even partially as nice as what I saw this morning.
Last night and today has been very cold. Hard to believe it is early August. I expected these cooler temperatures at the end of my hike. Good weather to hike in, but sleeping in is another story. Invariably at some point in the night, will have to heed nature’s call. Getting out of a warm sleeping bag to enter the cold night air is the part of backpacking most hikers dislike, But in a few days I am sure the weather will get hot again, making it too warm to stay in a sleeping bag. Always variety on the PCT.
Tues Aug 6 Oldenburg Lake 1883.0 miles
At last! The smoke has cleared, the skies are again blue. Can see off the crest to the
mountains I hiked near but did not see. Finally feel like I am hiking in what I pictured
Oregon to be like. The smoke and cloudy skies made for a hike that was somewhat demoralizing. But today the sun, blue skies and distant views lifted the spirits. Oregon has revealed itself today. Looking forward to seeing more of it in the days to come.
Wed Aug 7 Rosary Lakes 1911.8 miles
Oregon, so far at least has been a state of many lakes. The re-supply today at Shelter Cove was on Lake Odell. Large and gorgeous. While drying out my clothing and gear, just stared at the placid waters. Much like a campfire, water can have a mesmerizing, calming effect.
Maybe it is something deeply rooted in us – but this afternoon complex thoughts such as these vanished as I gazed at the water.
The cold snap continues. A bit of late September in early August. Frost on the ground,
slushy water bottles and frozen fingers in the morning. But a crispness is in the air, the skies are cloudless and the views off the ridges are long. Fall hiking with the long days of Summer. Perfect!
Thurs Aug 8 Elk Creek Trail Junction 1940.4 miles
Summer weather has returned. Naturally the mosquitoes have returned as well. No matter. The trail again went by many gorgeous lakes and was able to see more snow capped volcanic peaks in the distance. Not too much more to write tonight. Just another enjoyable day hiking in the Oregon wilderness.
Fri Aug 9 On a small knob 1967.2 miles
The day was dominated by the Sisters. This trio of mountains is among the more famous in Oregon. Immense, glaciated and seen from miles around. Where I am camped tonight has a view of all three Sisters. The setting sun brings out the red in South Sister and makes for a picturesque way to enjoy the fading sunlight. It is difficult to convey in words or pictures the whole effect of this part of Oregon. Clark Nutcrackers cawing, the sound of insects and the red glow from the fading sun. Why quit a job, leave friends and family behind and experience moments of exhaustion and pain for nearly five months? Part of the reason was tonight at the base of the Three Sisters.
Sat Aug 10 Washington Pond Spur Trail 1991.8 miles
The hike through Oregon continues to be amazing. From one rock outcropping could see Washington, Three Fingered Jack, a regal looking Jefferson and the snow covered Mt. Hood in the distance. Though smaller than the Rockies, each mountain stands by itself and seems that much more impressive.
Also saw the most people on the trail yet. Boy Scout groups, horse packers, day hikers, weekend backpackers, people out for a few days. Every type of hiker was out today and they all seemed to be in Sisters Wilderness. Normally that many people on a trail overwhelms me.
And it did at first. Hard to get in the deep hiking and thinking rhythm when I am saying “Good Morning” of “How are you?” every fifteen minutes or so. But more than a few people out today knew right away I was thru-hiking. Being wished good luck, talking about where I have been and what I hope to see felt good. After almost two thousand miles of hiking it took complete strangers to make me realize just how far I have come.
As I continue to write this entry it occurred to me Coventry High School, Class of 1992 is having their ten year reunion tonight. As I am in the Cascades, decided not to attend my high school reunion. Ten years ago I would not have pictured myself backpacking through Oregon. Hadn’t ever gone on one backpacking trip yet. Life does seem to take some odd twists and turns. Growing up in a working class family from suburban Rhode Island, had a different set of expectations on what I would be doing by the time I was out of high school for ten years. Living at the base of the Rockies and exploring the mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington was not what I expected I would be doing ten years after leaving high school
Makes me look forward to what I will be doing fifteen, twenty, thirty or more years after I graduated from high school. Life has been pretty good these past ten years. These long trips in the mountains are part of the reason why.
Sun Aug 11 Swallow Lake Trail Junction 2017.0 miles
For this stretch of trail a mountain is almost always dominating the views. Yesterday it was Washington. The morning it was Three Fingered Jack. The last part of the day it is Jefferson. Jefferson is a very impressive looking peak. These volcanic peaks look much larger than their actual height. Turning the corner on the trail, my first close-up look of Jefferson had me say a simple, but very appreciative “WOW!”. As I head further North into the Cascades I have a feeling I will be saying this word more and more.
Mon Aug 12 Breiterbush Lake 2041.4 miles
Jefferson Park, dominated by the namesake peak was a sight I will not forget. A meadow full of lakes with the glacier capped Jefferson towering above. As I left the view of Jefferson behind came to a saddle where Mt. Hood appeared. It is only a few days away by trail. As I get closer to Hood, it is getting even more impressive looking. Each of these volcanic peaks are a trail marker beckoning me further North.
Tues Aug 13 Near a Spring 2066.4 miles
A day to re-supply, enjoy the view of Jefferson across Olallie Lake and to head out. As I headed North was greeted by more views of Mt. Hood. Remembering commenting in Ashland how Hood is on the other end of Oregon. And there it is. Oregon went by quickly. Oregon has been a beautiful state. I have been looking forward to seeing the Pacific Northwest since I have started this hike. The past few days have lived up to my expectations. Beautiful, dramatic looking mountains that pictures can only capture a small part of their grandeur.
Wed Aug 14 Near Twin Lakes Trail Junction 2093.2 miles
Some very pleasant hiking today. Contoured around the shores of Timothy Lake and later walked in a shaded hemlock forest. As I came to the top of a ridge saw Mt. Hood just dominating the horizon. It was only fifteen trail miles away.
What I have noticed is my eagerness to engage in conversations with people lately. I have hiked and camped on the Oregon stretch of the PCT mainly by myself. When I see other hikers it is a chance for a brief bit of conversation. As more people are out on the trail, a good portion of which know nothing about the PCT, seem to spend more and more of my time talking about what I am doing. So though I am by myself for the day, seem to gain a fair amount of social interaction. The PCT can be a wilderness experience, but during the height of summer many other people are out trying to gain a sense of wilderness. Be it for a day, a weekend or
Thurs Aug 15 Timberline Trail Junction 2116.8 miles
For most of today contoured around Mt. Hood. Up close this mountain is even more impressive. Large glaciers and enough snow that lifts were running and people were skiing/snowboarding.
As Hood was starting to be left behind could again see the mountain I will be headed to in the next few days. Adams was another volcanic trail marker – a white capped peak framed by a blue sky. And in the foreground and to left was Mt. St.Helens. The hike through the northwest is coming to be a highlight of the trip.
Fri Aug 16 Cascade Locks, OR 2150.2 miles
Because the PCT is both an equestrian and a hiker trail it will often be routed into an area that may be accessible to horses but will not be as scenic as a nearby, hiker only trail. The PCT guide book lists the hiker only Eagle Creek Trail as an alternate route. Though this trail is slightly longer than the PCT, most hikers take this trail. So the alternate trail I did.
The Eagle Creek Trail is a trail that has many cascading waterfalls. The highlight was
Tunnel Falls. A 150 foot waterfall with the trail going through a tunnel. Unique and something a picture just can’t capture. The sound of the rushing water, the feel of spray in the face. Awesome.
As I was about to end my day started talking to a person out hiking for the day. Before I knew it was talking about the PCT while hiking. Had my highest mileage day yet. In town a bit sooner than expected and will end up taking two days off before heading into Washington. I can see Washington across the river. Five hundred miles left on this trail. The northern cascades await and Canada soon after them.
Sat Aug 17 Cascade Locks, OR 2150.2 miles
One advantage of getting into town last night is the fact that I will be taking two zero days in a row.
Today I did not do much. Cascade Locks is small and was explored quickly. Essentially relaxed all day and gazed across the Columbia into Washington. A quick walk across the bridge and I will be in my last state. Thinking of life after the trail is now less of an abstract exercise and more of a condition that is soon to become a reality.
Sun Aug 18 Hood River, OR 2150.2 miles
Today a good friend from Colorado paid me a visit. Tom is an avid windsurfer and the Columbia River Gorge is one of the more famous places in the world to windsurf. After seeing me off Monday morning, Tom will spend the rest of the week windsurfing.
As always, seeing a friend after being on the trail for a while can be amusing. Tom’s words to me were “You look like you have a large, furry squirrel on your face.” Ah, nothing like a little sarcasm in the morning!
We grabbed a campsite in a quiet place in Hood River and should do much of “shooting the breeze” over a few beers. The brew of choice for tonight is “Ranier Beer”. Not only is it appropriate for the next stretch of trail, but it has the “allure” of being the local equivalent of Pabst. Somehow cheap beer seems to go so well in a campground setting. Tomorrow I enter Washington, tonight I will catch up on the news back in Colorado. Assuming Tom does not continue to make furry animal referrals all night!
Mon Aug 19 On a Ridge 2175.4 miles
Said goodbye to Tom this morning, then crossed the “Bridge of the Gods” into Washington. The final stretch of trail has arrived. In less than five hundred miles I will be in Manning Park. It seems like many miles until I realize that I will be done in less than a month. For the past four months my life has been simple. Just crossing into Washington reminded me that this life I know on the trail will eventually end. In the meantime I plan to enjoy the next five hundred miles of trail.
Tues Aug 20 Sheep Lake 2203.7 miles
Today experienced what I always considered to be typical weather for Washington: dark, cold, foggy. No views of Adams, just a slightly surreal walk in the woods. Large trees seem to come out nowhere due to the fog and earlier today surprised what looked to be a small herd of elk.
Their crashing through the trees was amazing. Today was not a day of grand vistas, but of subtle experiences.
Wed Aug 21 On a Ridge 2231.5 miles
The sun thankfully broke through today. Gave me a chance to air out my damp gear. The hiking so far in Washington has been consistent to what I have seen in Oregon. Mainly large, thick trees covered with moss. Lots of huckleberries. Easy trail to hike on. It is relaxing hiking that lets the mind wander and seems to make the miles go by.
Only about four hundred miles to go on this journey. Now that I am in Washington, and the end of the trail is near, the days will probably go by quickly.
Thurs Aug 22 Midway Creek 2257.6 miles
The Forward to “Desert Solitaire” has a line about seeing a sight “more beautiful than you can imagine around the next turn of the canyon walls”. Instead of turning the canyon wall, turned the corner on the trail and there was a sight more incredible than I could imagine: Mt. Rainer.
Never have I seen such a massive looking mountain. It looked almost as if the
mountain was one great glacier. But Rainer was not the only incredible sight today. The glacier field on Adams was intense.
Ice that is blue with crevasses visible from where I was, two thousand feet below. As if that was not enough, had an up-close view of St.Helens with a flat top from the eruption of twenty years ago. It has a marred, but still impressive appearance.
There is nothing subtle about the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. They are simply dramatic.
Fri Aug 23 Old CCT Junction 2284.9 miles
The past year have had a picture of the PCT and Mt. Adams in the background as my computer wallpaper. This dramatic photo has inspired me when I thought of the trail. Today I was at the exact spot where the picture was taken. Being at this spot, as much as anything on the trail, has shown how my initial planning and dreaming about the PCT has been a reality.
The rest of the day was equally dramatic. The Goat Rocks Wilderness is dramatic enough to be the highlight of any backpacking excursion. The massive mountains of Rainer and Adams are in the background while walking through alpine meadows and along a narrow knife edge ridge.
My favorite type of hiking is in alpine terrain. In the Goat Rocks, had my fill of it. As
with the High Sierras, I will be back to the Northern Cascades someday.
Sat Aug 24 Near Pipe Lake 2305.0 miles
Rainer again dominated the views of today. Every accolade said about this massive mountain is deserved. It is a mountain that inspires awe in anyone who sees it.
Had another re-supply today. Only three more left and the journey will be over.
Saw Friendly Bear and Easy E today. They had flipped up to Canada and are now hiking South to California. Along with Iron Chef, camping with them tonight.
Interesting to reminisce over the past few months, who is still on the trail. What we have experienced since the border. Still amazes me how quickly the end of the journey is approaching.
Sun Aug 25 Sheep Lake 2329.7 miles
Where I am camping tonight is titled correctly. Yet another Sheep Lake. I believe this is the fourth or fifth Sheep Lake I have come across since leaving Cascade Locks! Odd fascination the early pioneers had with sheep? Bored cartographers? Think I will just leave that discussion alone.
Due to foggy weather, did not get the views of volcanic peaks to which I am now accustomed. Now that I am in northern Washington, the nights are getting chilly. Makes me realize that my five year old sleeping bag (with quite a few miles on it now) is near the end of its usefulness. Can’t complain too much. Certainly received my money’s worth out of the bag.
What made me happy today was a couple who gave me an early congratulations, as they put it.
Even before I could say hello they knew I was a thru-hiker. I’d like to think it was my
purposeful stride, but I am guessing the thick beard, beat up gear and dirty clothes are what tipped them off. In any case, their words of encouragement put a grin on my face that won’t go away.
Mon Aug 26 Camp Urich 2350.3 miles
The day began and ended the same as yesterday, but with a sunny mid-day that let me see how grand the landscape was off the ridges.
I am enjoying the woods of Washington quite a bit. Even with the clearcuts I could see off the ridges. Washington has a quality about it that makes it feel remote.
I find myself in the odd position of having to slow down my pace. A good friend of mine is joining me for the last bit of trail from Stehekin to Manning Park. Two months ago I did not think I would be going this fast. So now I get to take some early days and spend more time in town than I thought I would. Taking a fairly short day was advantageous today. Camp Urich is a log cabin used in winter. As I look out the window of the cabin and see the cold fog, I am content to be here. A little bit of luxury that will be gladly accepted.
Tues Aug 27 Near Access Road 2377.4 miles
This section of trail is infamous for the amount of clearcuts and logging roads visible from the trail. All day walked through a landscape that can best be described as wounded looking. Small, sickly looking trees, dusty logging roads and a trail that had the feel of just being present so I could get somewhere else.
On the positive side, had my fill of wild berries. Strawberries, blackberries and the ever present huckleberries. Could also see the rugged peaks to the north that are in the next stretch of trail. This upcoming stretch is supposed to rival the High Sierras in terms of beauty.
Looking at my data book, I just realized how few miles there are to Snoqualmie Pass. As I do not want to spend two nights in town, will be taking a short day tomorrow. I originally did not plan to stay in town but with Labor Day being early this year I would have to do big mile days to make the post office by next Saturday. Not something I care to do. So it looks like a leisurely afternoon by a lake for my next day of hiking.
Wed Aug 28 Snoqualmie Pass, WA 2396.6 miles
A thru-hike of a long trail often has a “grand tour” aspect. We travel on the trail, see the highlights, then move on. Seldom does a long distance hiker have time to really immense himself into a particular area. A lifetime could easily be spent just exploring the High Sierras, for example.
Today I immersed myself in a place on the trail, if only for a little while. Spent three
hours plus at Mirror Lake. The lake itself is pretty but nothing out of the ordinary. But sitting by the lake for that length of time was able to see the nuances of the area: the way the sunlight played off the water, the fish jumping to catch some insects, having Clark Nutcrackers come within inches of my feet. On a long hike, a hiker is living in nature for weeks or months at a time. But true to the nature of long distance hiking there are some aspects of the natural world that are missed. Sometime, if only for a little while, it is nice to change the focus of how we choose to experience the outdoors.
Even with my extended rest today, still ended up in town. At 5:30PM, was less than a mile from the Pass. Since sleeping by a chairlift and having I90 in sight is not exactly the outdoor experience I prefer, decided to walk the twenty minutes or so to go into town. Looks like a zero day tomorrow. Don’t feel the need for one, but the rest can’t hurt.
Thurs Aug 29 Snoqualmie Pass, WA 2396.6 miles
Not too much to write. Ate a bit of food, talked to family and friends, caught up on the news. Can tell how far north I am now by the local news. Has the weather for Juneau,(not too far away by ferry) Vancouver and other Canadian cities. The local cable company apparently carries the Canadian Broadcast Company station. Nothing dramatic, but all signs of how far I’ve come in four months of hiking.
Fri Aug 30 Near Lemah Creek 2419.0 miles
An area of craggy mountains, long climbs and even longer views is best how to describe this section. Such a direct contrast to the section across the pass. Instead of clearcuts there are vast trails of forests. Instead of logging roads there are ridges leading to another view over the horizon. If today is any indication of what is to come in the next two weeks of hiking, then the next two weeks of hiking shall be spectacular.
Sat Aug 31 Deep Lake 2441.1 miles
In backpacking an old cliché is reversed: what goes down must go up. Climbed over two thousand feet to the top of a ridge this morning from where I descended to last night. After admiring the view on top, lost the two thousand feet gained on a climb down to a valley. Ended the day by gaining fifteen hundred feet.
But as with yesterday’s hike, the difficulty of the hiking was more than made up for with the corresponding beauty. The same type of features as yesterday, but with the addition of lakes that glisten in the sunlight. Northern Washington is proving to be one of the highlights of the trail.
Sun Sept 1 Mig Lake 2464.2 miles
Constant drizzle for most of the day. As with yesterday, many fairly steep climbs and
descents. Even with the drizzle it was still a scenic area. An especially memorable sight was seeing the fog drift around Cathedral Rock. Made this scenic viewpoint look truly Gothic looking.
Each day seems to bring a new milestone on the trail. Less than two hundred miles until the conclusion of this hike. A small part of me feels that it is time for this hike to end.
Hiking nearly everyday for four plus months leaves the body and mind tired. I am also looking forward to my return to Colorado. When my playground is the Rockies it is hard to not miss where I live.
But the larger part of me does not want the hike to end. A long distance hike is an
adventure that is physically challenging, aesthetically pleasing and spiritually fulfilling.
There are not many activities in life that fulfill the above and last as long. For more than four months I have had a freedom that most are not able to experience. Twice I have been fortunate to live this lifestyle that can be so addicting. With a little luck, lots of planning and a strong dose of stubbornness I hope to again have this type of journey.
Mon Sept 2 Skykomish, WA 2471.6 miles
Skykomish has become a thru-hiker reunion stop. Hikers who have not seen each other in hundreds of miles have bumped into each other. In town tonight are T-Bob, Gottago, Sam I Am, Ivan, Yogi, Drew and one goofy hiker I know of from Colorado. The most hikers I have seen in quite some time. To say there is excitement among us is an understatement. In a little over a week we will all be at Manning Park. Another long walk is about to end.
Tues Sept 3 Pearl Lake 2489.5 miles
Due to the post office opening at nine A.M., did not get on the trail until eleven A.M. this morning. As it was raining out until I hit the trailhead, was not complaining. Thankful for the good timing more than anything.
Though the rain did stop, there was still quite a bit of clouds that obscured the views. However the clouds did open up to show one dramatic sight: a rainbow with the northern Cascades in the background. Not only dramatic, but symbolic. The end of the trail seemed to be at the end of the rainbow.
Wed Sept 4 Sitkum Creek 2517.3 miles
If there is a place on the PCT that rivals the High Sierras it is the northern Cascades. The panorama from Red Pass was nothing short of spectacular. Why do we climb all the switchbacks, have sore legs and become short of breath? For moments such as the top of Red Pass. Surrounded by mountains as far as the eye can see, looking into a deep canyon with streams formed by the glacier melt and seeing Glacier Peak reigning over the valley like a monarch and catching the eye more than any other feature. Simply awesome.
Thu Sept 5 Vista Creek 2540.6 miles
The hiking today was the most arduous since the High Sierras. Up one pass, down into the valley and up another pass. Exhausting.
But the hiking itself just left me in awe. The glaciated peaks thrust sharply into the sky. With every new pass there is a unique and even more wonderful display of the mountains. Yes the climbs were tiring. But when at the top of a pass, you do not think about long it took to climb to the top or how much the knees ache. You just look up at the spectacle all around. These mountains evoke no less.
Fri Sept 6 near a stream 2566.5 miles
As I look at my pack with the sticking coming undone, my banged up cook pot and my shoes full or rips and tears, I realize just long this hike has been.
There are less than one hundred miles left until I take my last step on the PCT. It feels about time for the journey to end. After four and a half months of hiking through deserts, fording streams, crossing snowfields and climbing up ridges the body is tired. Mentally, I am ready to reach the monument and finish the trail.
Long distance hiking is intense on the physical and mental levels. At the end of the hike you are glad to finish. But almost from the first day off the trail the experience is missed. And within weeks or months of finishing of finishing a hike, many long distance hikers can’t wait to do another long hike again. That reason is why I am out here after hiking the Appalachian Trail and why I will do another long hike in the future. For now I will just curl up in my bag, listen to the rain on my tarp and see the lightning flash in the distance.
Sat Sept 7 Stehekin, WA 2569.4 miles
The last re-supply town has been reached. Less than ninety miles until another enjoyable journey is over.
Tonight we are having a thru-hiker “sleep over”; eight of us are all crammed into a lodge room. Plenty of floor space. With all our gear spread out it looks like an REI garage sale. Sleeping bags, packs, poles, trail shoes. The collective miles on the gear must be astounding. It is fun to have this many hikers together the last few days on the trail. As I write this entry we are currently comparing “war wounds” (Hey, I lost X amount of toe nails! Look at these calluses! Gawd, are my knees stiff!). Only thru-hikers could spend an evening talking about their injuries.
The journey is not over and I can already tell I am going to miss the trail experience. The beauty of the mountains, the physical challenge of hiking everyday, the extreme contentment that is felt from living in the wilderness almost every day, the camaraderie among this crazy group of people know as thru-hikers. It is difficult to sum up the experiences of four and half months of hiking. But if I had one word to describe hiking the PCT it would be this word: meaningful.
Sun Sept 8 Stehekin, WA 2569.4 miles
The last day in a town on the PCT. Next time I am in civilization. I'll get to wear cotton clothes, pack up my bag for a trip to Seattle rather than a day on the trail. Friday morning will be here before I know it.
Joining me for this last leg of the trail is my friend Tim from Rhode Island. Tim joined me for the last 115 miles on the Appalachian Trail so it is now a tradition of sorts to finish up a thru-hike with me.
I do question Tim’s sanity. Using hard earned vacation time to spend a week hiking with his bearded and ragged looking buddy would make most second guess their mental stability!
The last day in a trail town for this journey. Last time to eat town food, get stared at by tourists who have know idea why grungy hikers are in town and the last chance to see some of my fellow thru-hikers. The end of the journey is almost here.
Mon Sept 9 Porcupine Creek 2590.6 miles
The first day of the last few days of hiking. There are now two pages left to the guide book. The miles are flying by one at a time.
Had an experience today that seemed to exemplify the thru-hiking lifestyle. Cooked dinner by the road today while admiring the astounding scenery. The passengers in the cars that went by gave us some odd looks by we did not care; our bellies were being filled and the mountains at Rainy Pass looked incredible.
Said goodbye to Yogi and Dewey as Tim and I plan on finishing on Friday rather than Thursday. Or, as I told Yogi, until we meet again. Goodbyes are too final. There are too many great people that were met on this trail that I want to see again.
Tues Sept 10 Campsite near ridge 2613.9 miles
My original intentions on this stretch of trail was to make it a mellow last few days on the PCT. No more than twenty miles a day, ample rest breaks a generally leisurely time. That plan did not happen today. Due to the water situation went further than anticipated. Tim, like myself, can push himself as much as needed. But taking my friend out for a twenty-three mile plus mile day on his vacation is not an action I normally care to do. Tim did well, if a bit tired and sore when we arrived at camp. On the plus side, was able to see Yogi and Dewey for most of the day.
The scenery was incredible. Long views with no sign of civilization. Sharp, jagged peaks and a landscape that made me feel uplifted as I became tired and sore myself. What a great way to end the trail.
Wed Sept 11 campsite near Shaw Creek 2630.7 miles
On this day being in the mountains is perhaps the best place to be. It seems better to admire what is good about America rather to dwell on the tragedy that took place a year ago.
It has bee great hiking with Tim. Tim has backpacked almost exclusively in New Hampshire. While the Whites are beautiful, they do not have the wide panoramic views of the northern Cascades. Tim has enjoyed this stretch of trail and his vacation time spent with me seems to be enjoyable.
As friends who have known each other for quite some time, the conversations are a bit different than my normal conversations with hikers. Our discussions also differ from when we hiked the Wilderness together four years ago. Tim talks about how much he loves and misses his someone Tracy, what he has been doing to his house, etc. We both have changed in the past few years. But change is good, it is a sign of growth. We may marry, move two-thousand miles away, pursue our own goals but the friendship is still there. As the sun sets and the day ends I reflect that my friendships over the years has made me feel fortunate as a person. True friends are hard to come by in life.
Thu Sept 12 Castle Creek 2651.7 miles
My last night on the trail is being spent in Canada. At 5:25 PM, reached the Canadian border. Did not expect to be in Canada today, but with less than four miles to go until the border when it was only 4:30 PM, decided to make “a run for the border”. At a pace of four MPH, almost literally! Getting to the border was a bit of a surprise. Due to our pace, we arrived at the monument much earlier than expected. My words upon reaching the monument? “Oh sh*t. We’re here”. I was dumbfounded that my goal of the past 139 days was reached. I was speechless. After hiking for so long the goal I had striven for literally appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the woods.
My trek on the PCT is essentially over. Tomorrow it is a short walk to a trail head parking lot in Manning Park. No more starchy meals to cook, no more wearing of “poly-pue” underwear, no more duct tape repairs to equipment. Another long walk is over.
As I look back on this journey, I can’t help but think of the walk I took four years ago. The Appalachian Trail was a watershed moment in my life. The hike re-defined would could be done with my life. The trek on the PCT was more of an affirmation of the lifestyle I have chosen for myself. When am I getting back to the real word? For me these long treks ARE the real world. Mountains, rivers, deserts and snow are more real to me after two extended treks in the mountains than a world consisting of six years of car payments, rising to the top of the business ladder and whatever else is generally defined as being successful.
The journey on the crest was amazing. Pushing myself through painful blisters, seeing the High Sierras and the Cascades in all its raw beauty, the camaraderie with my fellow hikers. The Pacific Crest Trail is not just 2650 miles of hiking, it is 2650 miles of memories that will last a lifetime.
Fri Sept 13 Abbotsford, BC 2658.7 miles
My last morning on the trail felt a bit anti-climactic. Hiking to a road in Manning Park did not have the same excitement as hiking to the Canadian border the previous day. Emotionally, the hike was over yesterday. Just wanted to hike to the Manning Park lodge and end the hike for today.
When entering the lodge parking lot my attitude changed considerably. Yogi and Dewey waved Tim and I down. I did not think I would see them again any time soon. Had breakfast with them, along with Yogi’s friend Noid was there to pick her up. Had a memorable hour or so reminiscing over our experiences of the past few months. The scenery, the experiences of hiking every day, the people we have essentially been living with for the past few months. As we ate our eggs and drank our coffee we realized the journey had truly ended.
After breakfast the group of us saw Gottago and T-Bob. All the thru-hikers posed from some celebratory photos. With five thru-hikers present who had just hiked from Mexico to Canada the emotions were running high. Excitement, joy, and a bit of sadness. As the Greyhound bus pulled up and Gottago and T-Bob prepared to board the bus many heartfelt hugs were exchanged. As before, rather think of this last time together on the trail not as a goodbye but as “until we meet again”.
As the bus pulled away, our ride showed up. Hesitated a bit, said “OK, I gotta do this” out loud, and said my final words to Dewey and Yogi then left the park with the Fearings, parents of a friend of mine from Boulder.
On my final day of hiking the PCT I recall a favorite quote from Walden: “The true harvest of my life is intangible…a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched”. In the four and a half months of hiking the PCT have harvested star dust and clutched rainbows. Will never forget the sun setting over the Anza-Borego desert, the surreal combination of the sublime and the raw of the High Sierras, the old growth forests of Oregon and Washington, the immense volcanic peaks of the Cascades. I will not forget my fellow travelers on this journey. The hardships and joys we collectively experienced.
The journey on the Pacific Crest Trail may be over, but the journey of life continues. More mountains to climb, rivers to cross and woods to explore. As long as I can, plan to harvest more star dust and continue to clutch at rainbows.
Sat Sept 14 On the way to Seattle via a bus from Vancouver 2658.7 miles
The last bit of trail magic happened off the trail. A good friend of mine in Boulder arranged to have his parents pick Tim and I up at Manning Park.
The Fearings brought us to their property in rural Abbotsford, let us take a much needed shower, a chance to do laundry and air out some gear, eat our fill of food. Also I am now sans beard for the first time in four years!
The Fearings showed us the house they were building on their property. Has a wonderful view of Mt. Baker. The last rays of the setting sun gave the snow capped Baker a reddish glow. My favorite picture from the trail may just be off the trail.
Afterwards the Fearings drove us to their current residence in Vancouver and then brought us to the bus terminal this morning.
I can see where Paul received his generous nature that makes him so well liked by many in Boulder. His parents opened up their home and were generous beyond all expectations. Their kindness and hospitality eased the transition back to the “real world” and will not be forgotten.
Sun Sept 15 Continental Flt 1880 2658.7 miles
The final leg of the journey from my PCT is now commencing. Rather than hiking on the crest of the mountains, I am now flying over them.
The contrast between Friday and the past two days is astounding. From a quiet park in Canada to downtown Vancouver and Seattle. The sounds of traffic, the pollution in the air, the crowds of people, the crowds of people. Vastly different from the quiet of the forest, the pristine views and the few people I would see in a day.
Am I ready for the return for the “real world”? Not quite yet. The thought of finding a new place to live, job hunting and again the outdoors a weekend at a time are facts I am not quite ready to face.
For the next two weeks will be back on the East Coast visiting family and friends I have not seen in almost in a year. A chance to rest up and relax. I am also sure that with all the home cooking that will be eaten, I will put back on every one of the nearly twenty pounds lost!
My Pacific Crest Trail experience is now over. Time to prepare for the next stage of my life (And time to participate lots of fun in the Rockies!). The dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has been fulfilled. May my other dreams come true.
Transcriber: TJ (snodrog5 AT aol.com)