Book Six, Chapter Six – Five Days of the Smokebeard
(With apologies to Redford and von Sydow)
We left Harlequin Bridge around 7, and got to High Bridge by 9:30.
Faceplant saw a bald eagle fly slowly down the river here. Dammit!
Seventh national park.
My luck held for almost the entire day; we only had rain for about ten minutes. Once we were back in the woods, the trail followed a river up a canyon all day. It reminded me a lot of Deep Creek Canyon down in the desert at mile 300. Like there, you could hear but not see the river all day long. Unlike there, it wasn’t boiling hot.
Loving the dated grafitti. Fall is definitely here. A lot of the shrubs are turning red, as are the maples. Also, even when the sun is out, it’s not as warm as it used to be. Tonight where I am camping it is supposed to go down to 35 degrees. I am at the Rainy Pass trailhead, a parking lot off State Route 20. Hardly a backcountry paradise. Faceplant is sleeping in the women’s toilet to avoid the inevitable. We are supposed to get some rain tonight and into tomorrow.
Bears. The North Cascades National Park that I walked through today is supposed to have a lot of them. However, I didn’t see any, only their poop.
I passed a tent site where people failed at hanging their food.
Pro tip: bears can climb trees. Also, don’t use your tent or sleeping bag stuff sack for food; you’ll end up sleeping in a peanut butter scented bed.
Tomorrow might be less than a 20-mile day. The weather is supposed to stay nasty, and for us to break 20 miles would mean camping at the top of Glacier Pass. That’s at 5,500 feet of elevation and there might be snow. Only a few miles before that there are tent sites at a river crossing at 4,300 feet. While tenting there will be no picnic in the rain, the extra five degrees of warmth and the protection of the trees will be worth it.
After today there are only four days left. This blows my mind. It’s possible that Monday night, I will be sitting in a restaurant in Vancouver.
Sept. 13 – The Short Day
19.8 today, to the abovementioned site. Right now we’re down to 43 trail miles. Plus the four detour miles and the nine to the Manning Park lodge, and we’re talking 56 total, to cover in three days. A decadently slow pace of less than 19 per day.
Had some fun rain and snow, yes, snow going up and over Cutthroat and Methow passes. Today again the umbrella proved its worth. Since my gloves suck and aren’t waterproof, being able to keep most of me dry under the dome was a huge bonus.
Despite the wind and snow, I had to stop several times to take it all in. So beautiful, so wild, so unspoiled, and all mine for the viewing. I’m on mountain top 40 miles from a road, and at least that from a powerline or cell reception. Awesome.
At lunch we were down to 52 trail miles to go!
I will have barely enough bars to get to Canada at four per day, but I’ll arrive with four extra dinners. Which just proves that sugar and chocolate and dates are more appealing than instant mashed potatoes, even with added lentils, beans, and olive oil. Faceplant has a ridiculous amount of extra food, so she gave me some hot chocolate powder and some kind of banana and berry smoothie. And soy vanilla powder. So … they all went into the jar together and were delish.
Two days of hiking, and then The Last Day. That day will be more Canada than US.
I kind of don’t remember April. I mean, I do with effort, but everything else is so immediate, and requires my focus, that past things lose some of their power. For someone who holds grudges and never lets anything go, maybe this is a mind-set worth keeping.
Sept. 14 – 13 or 23, Depending on How You Count
Over halfway through the detour.
Passed through Harts Pass, the last road on the trail. The only way out is through!
Got trail magic granola bars on trail from some day hikers. And a fist bump.
Met a horseman leading a troop of horses; he congratulated us and said it was quite an accomplishment.
I’m getting pretty excited. Even the cold and rain seem like bonus attractions for the last few days.
Because of the fire, we were routed down a valley over a series of horse trails. Camping and water are wild cards, but we found both, although the quality of the campsites leaves a bit to be desired. The trail has definitely been pounded by horses, and when wet it’s not the best. But it’s getting us to Canada.
Today it rained; of course, this time harder and longer. Once again the Chromedome made things much nicer. But wet feet all day are not fun, especially when it’s chilly enough outside to make olive oil congeal.
Met two returning hikers today, and camping with one here. They’re able to give us good insight into the detour and conditions on the trail. For instance, we hadn’t checked, but we’re going to be back close to 7,000 feet. Everyone apparently froze their butts off last night up there. So … we’re not doing that.
Sept. 15 – 25.7, or Something
Rainy and around 40 degrees. Not the most fun ever. Also, briefly it snowed.
3.7 miles to the border! I had kind of lost perspective since we were wandering around off the real trail. When we got back to the PCT at Woody Pass, Faceplant was waiting for me and said, “There’s only 10.2 miles to Canada.”
We met Jason, a cool guy we’ve been hopscotching with for a while, bouncing back off the border. He had packed out four cinnamon rolls from the Stehekin bakery, and still had one left. He was heading down to the Oregon coast to do more hiking, in his words, to really finish off the summer. When we asked him how it was at the monument, he couldn’t really find words, then said, “Remember how you felt on day one? Like that, but more.”
Today, like the past few, was good until about 2, then it turned to shit.
Here’s me at the last 7,000-foot mark, in the snow. Note the lack of gloves. They’re on my list for next time. After this it’s all downhill from here.
Sept. 16 – The Last Day
Hint: If you want to skip to the end, I did finally make it to Canada.
We were meeting Faceplant’s family at the border at 11, to give them time to hike the eight miles in from the Canadian side. Because we camped low, and not at the lake where the Guthook drones did, we were warm, dry, and only 3.7 miles from the border.
If that’s the Slash (or The Cut) at 49 degrees, then I’m almost there.
And here it is.
Shhhhh. Reentering the US from the Canadian side.
Sept. 18 – Vancouver
After two buses and one train ride, I got to my hostel in Vancouver, where I’m spending a couple of days recuperating. It’s the same old story; Australians everywhere, that guy who stays in his bunk watching cartoons on his phone, people cooking weird things in the communal kitchen, and this place even has a cat.
The place is in a sketchy part of town, so they have PSA posters everywhere, warning everyone, “These are not the same drugs you find at home.”
Here for a bit, then home to my old life.
Announcer Joe: Smokebeard squares off against his final opponent. He blew away Stevens at the start of the frame, had some trouble with Stehekin, and he’s on a full count here with Manning. He’s really digging into the dirt on the mound now, his trademark set when he needs the out.
Announcer Jerry: This has been a long at-bat, with Manning countering with every trick in the book; detours, snow, fog, rain, and freezing cold.
Joe: The deep breath, the set, the kick, the pitch … AND HE’S DONE IT! Smokebeard reaches back for something extra and puts a 102 mph heater right down the heart of the plate! Manning is frozen; called strike three; it’s over! Smokebeard has reached Canada! Can you believe it?!
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