Arriving at the Northern Terminus

The Last Day

My last morning begins like any other morning on the PCT. I wake up with the sun in my eyes and roll over to turn on my stove and boil water for coffee. I groan as I pull on the same dirty clothes that I have been wearing for the past three months. I pack up camp and start walking. Today feels the same as any other morning, but I know it’s different. Today we are arriving at the northern terminus, the end of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Is This For Real?

My brain, however, is having trouble grasping this information. It’s hard to comprehend that the 2,650-mile path that I have been walking north on for the past 100 days is simply just going to end. I cannot and do not want to believe it. Life has become quite simple. The trail provides a sense of direction and rhythm. I have become accustomed to this routine; it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. I’m typically a sentimental person and expected today to be a time of deep reflection on what this journey has been. I expected to feel nostalgic and emotional about the end, but to my surprise, I don’t really feel anything.

So I just keep walking. I hike with my trail family, and we chat about what Canada will be like. Around late morning, we stop and swim at a small lake. We filter water and eat some wild blueberries. “Normal day,” I think to myself. When the lake break is over, we continue walking.

Reality Begins To Sink In

At one point, someone checks the map and exclaims that we are less than two miles from the border. The border! I had completely forgotten about the border! It’s only then that I realize, “Oh, this is actually happening.” I spend the next mile letting reality sink in, or at least trying to. How am I even supposed to process everything that this experience has been?

We check our map and realize we are only 0.4 miles from the Northern Terminus. The energy is visceral and without a word, the group is picking up pace in anticipation. We walk in silence; the anticipation continues to build. Our eyes are focused ahead, scanning the forest for any sign of the wooden monument. The last 0.2 miles creep by. Then I hear voices, my heart begins to beat faster, and suddenly the trees open up and we are in a small clearing. There it is. Four wooden pillars that read, “Northern Terminus Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.” We had made it.

It’s Complicated

My trail family and I take obligatory terminus photos, we pop a bottle of champagne, we hug, and we celebrate.

…But something feels off. Although we’ve all hiked somewhere around 2,000 miles, we know this hike isn’t finished. Each of us has had to skip sections of trail this year due to snow, so what is supposed to represent the end of a journey really just feels like the end of Washington. I feel “incomplete,” and I feel like I’ve been robbed of a true northern terminus experience. There are no happy tears, no big sigh of relief, just this dull feeling. I know that I will be back next year to finish the remaining 465 miles and I know I should be proud of myself. This journey has not been easy, and 2,185 miles is still a lot of miles! It’s more than I ever thought I would walk. And yet, part of me still feels like a fake, like I’m not a true “thru-hiker.” I try without success to shake these unexpected and unwelcome emotions.

A Year Like No Other

What does help, however, is talking to other hikers. It turns out I am not alone in these complicated thoughts and feelings. As we walk the eight miles into Manning Park BC, my trail family and I try to process the complexity of the situation. The reality is, no year on the PCT is the same. Our record snow year, complete with wildfires and a hurricane have all made it nearly impossible to hike every mile of the trail this year. Many have made the claim that 2023 is the worst year to hike the PCT. But we gave it our best.  We navigated the logistical nightmare of flipping and flopping all over trail to avoid snow, we felt the weight of the ever-changing trail community as everyone followed a unique plan of getting to Canada, we adjusted expectations amidst an unprecedented year, we trudged through miles and miles of snow and crossed raging rivers.
And I am proud of us. I am proud of myself. PCT 2023, you were a beast and a half, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

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Comments 4

  • thetentman : Aug 29th


  • Brad : Aug 30th


  • Jd : Aug 30th

    Awesome! Congratulations!!

  • Jeff Greene : Sep 2nd

    Congratulations! I really didn’t think anyone was going to make it this year, so treasure every mile you completed!


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