Finish (September 14-15)
September 14. Early morning. I heard two of my friends whispering to each other and laughing this morning, so I unzipped my tent door and looked out to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains ahead of us. It was a stunning view because we were camped up on a ridge, on the level of the golden clouds in the east, the sun rising up.
My friend came around my tent to check on me and said, “OK, good, I’m glad you’re seeing this, I was going to tell you, you’re not gonna want to miss this.” She’s a good friend.
Later in the morning, I saw a layer of white clouds lying over a valley, but it was an especially neat scene because I could see underneath that cloud layer, including patches where sunlight poked through. Really beautiful.
I hiked a few miles through mountain shadows until I got to a sunny summit ahead. The two friends caught up to me there, stopped to study a map, and pointed out to where they thought we could see Canada.
A hiker heading southbound, finishing his journey after having touched the monument, passed by the three of us. Two of us waved and congratulated him. The third muttered after he passed, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and his friend explained to me that he doesn’t care for that hiker because he pees right on the trail. He adamantly emphasized then that it doesn’t take much effort to take a few steps off the trail, which is true. I guess you can accomplish anything, but in the end, how you carried yourself day to day is the bigger part of the equation.
Harsh, but, it’s unpleasant to think of hiking through someone else’s urine on the trail.
After finishing breakfast, I got started hiking again. I had said it looked like it might rain, and had been told, it’s not gonna rain today. But sure enough, I stopped by this pretty lake area (Hopkins Lake) for a water refill and soon saw drops of rain hitting the lake surface. It rained here and there, a misting, over the next few hours.
I hiked along the next few miles towards the border, anticipating, unable to listen to my book, just filled with a feeling that something significant was about to happen, trying to decide how I felt about it, how I wanted to feel about it, thinking at times about the people around me and hikers yet south of me.
I hiked through a few final brushy (ungroomed) miles that surprised me. It felt like we were really out there in the wilderness, in spite of being close to such a significant, well-traveled spot on the trail.
All morning I saw different hikers headed back to Hart’s Pass, and many times we went through the congrats, which was nice. “Congrats!” “Congrats to you, you’re so close!” Then they started saying, “You’re almost there!” And, “There’s a party down there!”
I could see the narrow mown line of the US-Canada border among all those firs, kind of neat. I walked up to the monument area and everyone cheered, and I walked up to the monument and just laid my hand on it, and everyone cheered at that, then someone told me I needed to walk over beyond the Canada border to really count, so I did that, and they all cheered again. It was nice, funny. My good friend gave me a hug. I sat on my pack and started eating a snack then, among everyone.
It was fun to be there together and watch everyone’s personal touches to finishing, one hiker sitting on the very top of the monument for a few minutes, in front of us all, just shaking his head in time to his music, later the two friends solemnly assembling the multiple games they had carried, and standing beside them at the monument for photos, then opening champagne and trying to drench everyone.
My friend said that we needed to get a group pic again, now that Old Soul is here. I thought that was nice. She took a few finish photos for me.
The misting turned to rain, and after a good few hours of sitting there, some hikers left the monument and started the southbound walk back to where we’d left our tents, at Rock Pass. I started hiking behind the two friends, and it started raining harder.
They kept saying things like, we really did it! We made it! And one of them blew his wooden train whistle.
Later I heard them ahead, congratulating another friend. When I walked up to her, she said disappointedly, “I guess I missed the party”, and, “Is there anyone still there?” I decided to turn around and hike back to the monument with her then. We’d shared good moments over the course of this trip, and I was glad to hike a few more miles together.
We hiked back through rain and mud, talking about the trip ending, my friend pointing out things along the way that surprised her. When we turned the final bend and could see the open monument area ahead, she paused for a moment and I hiked ahead to wait. The group of hikers cheered, then looked at me in confusion, because I had been there with them already. Border so nice I had to see it twice, we joked. Eventually, my friend gathered her feelings and walked the final steps to us, to the sound of our cheering.
We snapped a few pictures, and I got some better pictures than I had the first time, self-conscious in front of the larger group. My friend opened her own bottle of champagne and passed it around. It was another satisfying finish moment.
I had further to hike back to my camp site than this friend did, as I’d left my tent set up with the group I’d been hiking with. I said my goodbyes and once again started the trek back towards Rock Pass. I was laughing to myself because I didn’t start until around 3p, with about 14 miles to go. Not my earliest start! I was wondering how this would go, but also felt exhilarated by the challenge I found myself in.
It was quite the adventure. I walked through wet, brushy trail, moving as fast as I could to stay warm. I was cheered by the thought that at least I was slack packing, hopefully with my tent still waiting for me at Rock Pass. (I hoped the stakes were holding in the growing winds and rain!)
I got hungry, which was inconvenient in the cold weather. I knew it’d be unpleasant to stop and take my pack off, expose my back and then have to put a cold pack back on again, but hunger pains eventually forced me to stop anyway. I ate quick snacks in the rain, like a plain tortilla or two, which was so pitiful it made me laugh a little.
When I hiked up to a higher elevation, the wind roared up against the exposed mountainside and trail, rushing over me. In spite of the conditions, several northbound hikers appeared to me in the fog over these miles. It felt surreal to see anyone else out. I felt bad for them because the views were entirely obscured, and I knew what they were missing, having seen it all under clearer skies. But they weren’t missing everything: it surely took some grit to be out there, and some looked at me with a jubilant air, because of hiking in those conditions.
I started feeling colder than ever and took another break to put rain pants on and dig out my iPod. Those things did a lot to motivate me. I strode along, singing into the wind, down Woody Pass, and into an absolutely beautiful basin, looking out at the valley from there, and then up into the mist high above where my tent was waiting for me. It was a little distressing to look up there and see the mist roiling about, but there was nothing to be done except go up there to my tent.
I climbed up the final set of switchbacks as evening turned to night, meeting some more hikers headed northbound, all of us walking in the circles of our headlamps. I was amazed to see them out so late, and to see their lights out in the wilderness, so tiny so soon, as they descended and I ascended and looked down on them.
It felt really satisfying to get back, crawl in my still-standing tent in the dark and wind, and warm up in there. The sky was a beautiful swirl of racing wind clouds white in the big dark sky and mountains.
I loved that I’d had an adventure on this day and that I’d hiked further with a friend instead of worrying too much about the miles. It was one of the last days, and I felt like I’d wrung out the experience for all it was worth.
September 15. I slept from around 9p to midnight, then woke to forceful gusts that made the sides of my tent sway. I thought back to Mount Laguna, the last time I experienced severe winds. Back on Day four or so!
I was still feeling triumphant about my long day. I knew there was a forested camp area about 1 mile south of us, down a 282-foot descent. After thinking and resting for another hour, I decided to pack up and move to that site. It was exhilarating, deciding that I could change my site at midnight if I wanted to. I also wasn’t too physically worn, maybe due to the runner’s high of hiking so hard earlier.
I packed up and dressed in my rain clothes over my coat, again. It was windy enough that I had to pack my tent up strategically, stepping on the body and ground sheet as I packed, so nothing got away.
I knew how the path had looked in the daylight, but by night, the trail seemed narrower, and closer to a steep drop off. I hugged the inside with much more care than I had felt in the daytime!
It felt like it took me a long time to hike that mile! Another wonder, that change in perspective and pace when you can only see what’s in the glow of a headlamp.
When I walked into the camp area, I walked by tents and heard whispers among them. It seemed they weren’t sleeping well down here either, disturbed by the wind. I started to set up, on the bed of a narrow path leading to other sites. I felt it would be okay, circumstances considered.
It was tough setting up! I felt bad for the tent near me because that camper rustled around in response to my noise, then started up with a long coughing spell. I took a long time setting up my tent, because of setting up in the wind, having to step on things all the time to prevent them flying away.
Eventually, I got staked in and settled, then slept very well until 0600, and woke feeling rested. Definitely a good move, as one of my friends later told me it remained windy up top on Rock Pass, all night. I think it was still windy below, but not as bad as up there.
I packed up in the morning, and headed down the trail, wanting to hike and warm up before stopping to eat breakfast. I stopped at a pretty creek and soon my friends came hiking up to me. We talked about the windy night, then we said our goodbyes. That was the last I saw many of them, as they got back to Hart’s Pass before me, then caught a ride back down the mountain.
As I hiked the final miles that day, I felt pretty thankful that we’d finished when we did. It was a breezy cool morning in spite of the sun, with forecasts of cold and snow to come.
I stopped here and there to snack or chat with northbounders, take pictures. Those beautiful deep blue and snowy peaks to the west! I recognized quite a few of the northbounders headed to the monument. It was neat to see them a final time.
Eventually, I made it back to Hart’s Pass, relaxed in the sun with another hiker, then caught a ride with himself and his father down the mountain to one of the closer towns (Winthrop). There is a lot to figure out from here, from how it feels to finish, to how I’ll get over to Seattle.
I’m thankful for so many things, including some new experiences—hiking late into the night, feeling strong enough to change sites halfway through the night to improve my circumstances—right here at the end.
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