Episode 20: The end
Rainy Pass (Winthrop) to Manning Park (Canada!)
(September 24 – 26) Mileage: 2,659
Note: We are so sorry to hear about the ongoing search for missing hiker Sherpa. We finished on September 26th and I am now updating blog posts retrospectively. Although we never overlapped with him our thoughts are with the family and rescue team. I am so grateful to be part of the hiking community, that has such a reserve of determination, hope, and love.
We woke up in a real bed, wondering for the first time in months what we would be doing at the end of the week. We breathed in the warm dry air of Eastern Washington, a couple miles from downtown Winthrop – but we knew that the cold fog of Rainy Pass was waiting for us, and with it the realization that we were less than 70 miles from the end of the line.
Or at least, two out of three of us were 70 miles from the end of the line. Centerfold had sent his passport to himself in the previous town and Spoon had been carrying his passport card since Campo, but mine was sitting in the tiny town post office of an old western tourist town where nothing was open on Saturday except saloons and square dancing halls. And without a passport, there’s no entering Canada legally – and definitely no getting back into the US without a lot of trouble.
Fortunately, we were staying with the right people.
Spoon’s cousins, the Rohrers, seem to be royalty in the Winthrop and Twisp area. In fact, every person we met that Saturday was excited to see them and have a long conversation. Had I spent the day before that walking around Winthrop with the Rohrers instead of hiking towards them, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the morning’s events. But as it was, I was pretty shocked to walk into the living room, worried and despondent – and find Kelly holding the missing box that held my passport.
She had run out in the early morning to find her friend who worked at the post office and begged for the box. I couldn’t believe they did this for us; without their help, we would have been there another two days, watching our weather window shrink even more.
After exploring Winthrop and hearing a lot of stories, we finally agreed we needed to finish this trip we’d given our whole summer to. It’s hard, starting on the last leg of a journey. A lot of hikers also get caught up in Stehekin, bouncing between the bakery and the town and thinking about what comes next. We had learned to conquer a lot of natural fears this summer: carrying water for long stretches of the desert, climbing high elevation passes in deep snow, and even waking up next to Elks in mating season (which was by far the most frightening and least dangerous of the three), but now we were facing something I felt completely unprepared for: going home.
Starting out, Joel and Kelly walked with us to the trail head and waved goodbye. We were off, pointed North. That day we were sluggish (or at least, I was) and only did about 10 miles before deciding to camp at Methow pass. Centerfold has realized that if he doesn’t hike with us and camp with us, we’re simply not going to finish together. So he stuck it out at our pace and we all camped on the flat top of the pass in autumn-tinted ground cover, along with a few other Northbounders and some flip-floppers who have had to skip to the end and walk back because of timing. We’ve seen quite a few flip-floppers in the past week, just one more sign that the season is coming to an end.
The next morning we had planned to get an early start and even woke up around sunrise, but then we took our time. The day was gorgeous and all of the colors were lighting up. The Washington state clouds are ever-present at dawn and dusk, reflecting the sun’s transitional yellows back at us. The day was filled with swooping trails ringed by bright yellow larches cutting into the side of mountains. Maybe because we knew we were almost done, everything felt extremely vivid.
We took a long lunch by water and watched a family of Mule deer creep toward us. They wanted to drink but weren’t so sure about what our intentions were. Eventually, the fauns came down and started drinking, to the chagrin of a head doe. They finally decided to continue on and crossed the bridge towards us, their big floppy ears alert and twitching. We tried not to move while the whole string of deer walked past us, big black eyes trained on the trail ahead.
Towards the end of the day, when it was starting to get pretty cold, we walked past a ranger station. Someone had left trail magic beer for hikers there and they were closing up the very next day, so we did our part and helped to drink a few while we talked to the caretaker Bill and his dog, Lucky. About an hour later, we finally got going again. I think Centerfold is beginning to understand why it takes us so long to hike anywhere.
I also think he might have been a little horrified that we only did 23 miles; in some ways, we were all disappointed. We had 36 miles left to Manning Park Lodge, which meant it would probably take us an extra half day. Personally, I wouldn’t be upset if it took us two more weeks to finish, with how beautiful the fall is out here. But none of us wanted to show up to Manning Park midday and wait around for 12 hours until the 2 AM bus came to pick us up. Plus, we already had out plane tickets booked.
Without speaking it out loud, all of us were thinking the same thing: what if we hiked the whole 36 tomorrow? Spoon and I had done more than 30, and it wouldn’t even be Centerfold’s longest day… but we didn’t want to jinx it by talking about it. We decided to wake up and just hike as far as we felt like.
On the day before Spoon and I had our two year wedding anniversary, we woke up to an orange world that smelled like crisp leaves and morning ice and we sat there in our sleeping bags, staring out of our tent.
We were all pretty quiet that day, hiking over Northern Washington’s small rolling passes. Each time we crested a rise, we saw more Canadian peaks. Spread out in front of us was a wrinkly blue blanket of Canadian mountains, moving from distinct to fuzzy. And we covered a lot of miles quickly that day. Powered onward by all of our snacks – we decided we could eat anything we wanted on these last 70 miles – and conversation that danced around our future plans, we kept a steady pace until the sun started to slump in on the West side of the sky and we realized we had gone almost 27 miles – we were on the edge of Canada.
We hiked mostly in silence the last mile, as if talking would move the border further away or upset the delicate balance of these last minutes on the US side of the PCT, our last minutes before becoming thru-hikers of this trail.
Then off to the right and down through the trees, we saw the monument. Of course, we started running. Laughing, tripping, yelling, we charged into the clearing and dropped our packs, staring up at the obelisk we walked 2,650 miles to see. Dirty Sal the Russian was sitting nearby, laughing at our victory dances. We pulled out the ridiculous things that our friends had sent us, the leis and tiny bottles of alcohol, and spent a long time at the monument taking pictures, drinking, and talking breathlessly about what it meant to us – and what comes next.
It might not be a surprise to anyone that, drunk on success and the long day’s hike and not a small amount of good whiskey, we decided to hike the last 8 miles to Manning Park Lodge tonight. The sun was almost set and Dirty Sal was turning in for the night (because customs are trickier for the foreign hikers, Sal is planning to hike back to the last pass and take a flight out of America rather than cross into Canada.) We pulled out our headlamps, threw everything into our packs, and charged ahead, yelling.
The last eight miles were a blur, and we finished them in about 2 and ½ hours. We were running almost at some points, and then we got to the road and crashed. At 9:30, we were exhausted with only a couple miles of road walking left. But the long day alone hadn’t tired us out; we all had the same thought weighing us down those last 8 miles: we were done. This was it. I knew intellectually that it wasn’t as if I wasn’t going to hike again. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t come back to hike parts of the PCT. But the idea that right now, in this moment, the door on this adventure had swung shut and we were on the other side – it was hard to look head on at that.
We walked up to the glowing lodge and pulled its massive wooden doors open. There was a few minutes of smiling and hugging as we saw other hikers we knew, and a few more minutes of sorting out the bus schedule. Yes, it was coming at 2 AM to get us and yes, we would arrive in Vancouver before sunrise. And yes, we had hiked 36 miles and we couldn’t wait for breakfast.
We slept fitfully on the big chairs of the lodge, then on a shifting, churning bus that was packed with unfortunate Canadians who were stuck in an enclosed space with a dozen rank hikers, and then, sometime around 5 AM, Spoon woke me up. I was amazed that I had fallen asleep at all, being tossed out of my seat every couple of minutes, but I think I could have probably slept even if I had been strapped onto the top of the bus.
We filed numbly out of the bus and walked through the bus station. It was so loud and windy and full of machine hisses and honks, no one bothered to talk until we were inside. Even there, I wondered if my voice would work in this new place. This was our first time being in a real city in months, and everything felt familiar but foreign.
We didn’t want to wait in the bus station all morning, so we went towards Canada’s welcoming station: Tim Horton’s.
We drank weak, hot coffee and ate donuts while watching the sun rise over Vancouver from a table at Tim Horton’s. The past 36 hours had been a crazy whirlwind of movement and now, for the first time, we were still. The feeling of being finished started to sink in while the chrome buildings grew lighter, and eventually, when there was enough light to call this time morning, we started walking through the city towards our day’s goals: breakfast and a bed. This is all we knew how to do: eat, sleep, and walk. Eventually, if we keep doing those three things, we know that the other things will come back, slowly.
For now, I’m going to keep walking.
Thanks for reading this blog, and happy trails!
Other links to check out:
Bivvy’s Book: How to Survive in the North
Little Spoon’s Instagram (Mark Santoski)
The Camel of Corvallis’ Instagram (Shaughn Dugan)
Centerfold’s Instagram (Jon Graca)
Toe Touch’s Instagram (Julie McCloskey)
Toe Touch’s Blog
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