Northern Washington: The End of the End
My friends, the moment has finally come. The final journal entry in my Pacific Crest Trail saga. I’ll have at least one more post after this one to wrap up post-trail life, but this will be the last one following my journey from Mexico to Canada.
Since coming home, a lot of people have been asking me how the trip went. And, like most people who do such a grand journey, I’ve been having trouble putting it into words. How do you describe four months of living outside? Of walking 30 miles a day? How do you get people, who may have never seen more than a foot of snow, to understand what it’s like to trudge through miles and miles of that slippery substance? Do you tell people how climbing over Forester Pass was only slightly less scary than going up and over Mather Pass? And how, might I ask, do you describe the smell you and your very close friends gave off in very public places?
In short? You don’t. Instead, you tell people that it was amazing. That it was hard (so hard). That yes, my right foot is still kinda numb. That I miss my friends I made out there (so so much). That it was the best time of my life and that I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Anyway, enjoy the final few days of my journey. I complain a bit about my pinky toe, which was in very painful shape the last couple of days. But don’t let that fool you. I miss these days more than anything.
Day 111 – Miles 2,393.6-2,423.1
I grab a shower as soon as I wake up. The hot water feels good on my tired body, and the water pressure is fantastic. I enjoy the time alone for a few minutes, then crawl back into bed.
Soon enough the restaurant opens, and we go grab breakfast. I eat eggs Benedict, my new go-to for breakfast foods. With bellies full of food, we pack our meager belongings and start walking.
The first few miles are a climb up 2,000 feet. It’s hard, being full and all, but I do it anyway. Near the top, the trail gets rocky but the views reveal themselves out of the fog.
The rest of the morning and afternoon are spent on a ridge, with views of Rainier and briefly Adams greeting our eyes. The trail becomes more rugged than it has been all trip (except maybe the Sierra, but that was covered in snow). I thought all of Washington would be like this, but I guess it begins now.
We then descend from the ridge, going past plenty of day and section hikers as we do. At the bottom we see a trail crew working on the trail, and I thank them. We then cross a creek that used to have a bridge but recently washed out. Thankfully, it was an easy rock hop across.
I hike up the last big climb of the day, a 2,500-foot, six-mile monster. Chef and I hike together, chatting about various things, from running to cooking. At the top we meet Intrepid, who we first met in the desert. She had skipped the Sierra and continued north.
The last three miles go slow, but the four of us chat and talk the hour it takes us. We set up camp in a meadow just past a fragile area, and I slide into a well-deserved sleep.
Day 112 – Miles 2,423.1-2,456.4
And before I know it I’ve slid out of that sleep. I pack up my belongings and we all start walking. I get behind early on (nature calls) but enjoy a morning of beautiful views and a family of deer.
I listen to a podcast on sloths, and it makes me want to see one. I don’t think there are any in Northern Washington, but what with global warming one can never be too sure. I keep my eyes peeled.
I catch the group at the first water source, and we decide to do lunch at the top of the next climb. I put in some music and head on up.
It’s hot today, and I swear to myself more than usual going up. But we go over three mph on the climb, so we are booking it. At the top, we sit down and dry out our slightly damp gear. Two guys join us and are unsure of our plan to get to Canada in a week.
We then start the climb down, since in Washington if you go up you must immediately come back down. Nothing too exciting happens until we roll into our campsite to find… Mushka!
I haven’t seen her since the desert, but she was a part of our squad for a couple of weeks. It’s a happy moment, and we all eat dinner together and talk about the last couple thousand miles until it’s time to call it a night. Tomorrow, we do Stevens Pass to resupply and eat some food.
Day 113 – Miles 2,456.4-2,480.6
We wake up a little earlier than normal since we have a planned stop at Stevens Pass. Mushka is gone before us, and I hike on my own all morning. There is a very steep but short climb, but it feels like nothing going into town.
I talk to my dad for the last mile since I have service. He tells me about the plan to pick me up when I’m done, and I realize it’s been almost two weeks since I’d talked to him last.
The small ski resort is less than ideal. We can’t throw together a resupply here, so we decide to hitch into Leavenworth. I love this town, which is entirely Bavarian themed. Even the McDonald’s!
We catch a ride quickly and go straight to a restaurant. I devour a meal that is not big enough, then we head over to Starbucks to recharge and drink some coffee.
We do resupply two at a time, and soon enough we hitch back to the trail. It looks like rain, and about ten minutes in it becomes rain.
I don’t mind. I love running in the rain, so hiking isn’t too much of a stretch. We don’t get any views, however, which is a bit of a bummer.
I hike with Pavlov and Chef for a while but eventually my blisters make me not up to talking. I pull ahead and put in a podcast (shout-out Backpacker Radio). Soon enough I’m setting up camp in a brief dry spell. As soon as we pitch our tents it starts pouring. Mother Nature gave us a break.
Day 114 – Miles 2,480.6-2,514.9
It rains heavily off and on throughout the night. Thankfully, by the time I open my eyes to a buzzing alarm the rain has stopped. I take my time getting ready, dreading the moment I have to put on my one pair of wet socks. Man, I really should have brought another pair.
We all hike slowly through the morning. We barely hit six miles by 8, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a short day. The sun breaks out through a cloudy morning a few hours later, and we stop to dry out our stuff. A common activity in Washington.
As we get ready to leave, Mushka and Machine walk by. They left their group to head to Stehekin early. I don’t blame them; I’m super excited for the bakery.
After the lunch/dry-out party, my feet are killing me. My toes are blistered and other parts are starting to hurt from compensating. Only a few more days of this, I think. Just a few more days.
I pop some ibuprofen and eventually the pain lessens. The hike is beautiful and I focus on that as we ascend a ridgeline past towering peaks and mountains that are still snowy. Green life crawls toward the tops of these peaks, like a moss taking over a rock.
Then we go down, down, down. We pass through a rocky bowl, and slowly find ourselves amid forest. We see such diversity in a day going over 30 miles. There are moss and mushrooms everywhere, and I’m loving the soft ground.
To end the day, we cross a broken bridge and climb almost 1,000 feet (which is nothing to our strong legs). The tent site is very full, but we manage to find enough level ground to fit the four of us.
Day 115 – Miles 2,514.9-2,549.6
I wrap my aching, bloody, raw pinky toe with moleskin and pray to anyone listening that it will help. It doesn’t the first few steps, but after about a mile the pain subsides. Just a few more days.
We climb for most of the morning and take a break at the top. It starts raining on us right about when we decide it’s time to start hiking again. This is fine for me; I don’t really mind hiking in the rain.
It doesn’t last long, and the trail leads us down and down and down. Typical Washington. The river at the bottom is raging, and there is an option to take the old PCT route and ford the river. This cuts off five miles of trail, but adds a very sketchy river crossing. We opt to do the five, safer miles.
We hike as a group after the bridge at the bottom. Woody gets a little behind, and soon enough we hear “[email protected]$ oh !%#$&, what the !^#%$” or something to that effect. I assume he is dying or has broken something, which us rapidly amended when he comes running around the corner.
It takes a few seconds of babbling to figure out that it was bees. With adrenaline pumping from this event, we all hike a little faster. We make it to the campsite well before I thought we would and fight mice all through the night. It was a beautiful spot in the trees, though.
Day 116 – Miles 2,549.6-2,572.4
Town day again! And with the promise of a zero tomorrow I’m in good spirits. We cruise through the downhill, only stopping for one break on the 23-mile day.
We get to the shuttle area to wait two hours for the bus. During this time we meet some section hikers, see a giant rattlesnake, and generally relax.
When the bus arrives, we pile on and prepare ourselves for the infamous Stehekin bakery. The bus stops there for ten minutes, where we buy as much as we can carry.
We also run into Mushka, Machine, Shellac, Rory, and High Noon at the bakery. We are surprised and overjoyed to see these familiar faces, and when we discover they want to finish the same day as us we decide to do the last section together.
We then pull into the town of Stehekin, a town that has no connecting roads. This means you can only get here by boat, plane, or foot. I opted for foot.
We are reunited with friends old and new, and hang out for the rest of the evening on the porch. We drink beer, eat baked goods, and have a very happy time. At some point early on, we meet a previous thru-hiker named Wildflower, who hiked the PCT in 2002 before it was cool.
Day 117 – Miles 2,572.4-2,591.9
I’m the last in the group to get my stuff together in the morning. My tent is just too cozy to leave. The bus for the bakery doesn’t leave until 8, so I feel no rush.
I do get up eventually, and head up to the store where everyone else is. The plan is now not to zero, but hike 20 miles. I don’t want to hike 20 miles, but the fact of the matter is I don’t want to get to the border alone. So, instead of doing the zero I promised myself I rally up some energy.
So we load up on baked goods, biscuits and gravy, and coffee (I spend over $50 here) for about three hours. We hang out and chat, and after an hour or so Wildflower joins us.
Nothing good can last forever though, and soon we are on the shuttle back to the trailhead. The hike is slightly boring, but we hike as a group of seven for most of it.
We get to Rainy Pass, our planned tent site, and call it good. Sixty-one miles to Canada, my friends.
Day 118 – Miles 2,591.9-2,622.8
Sleeping in has been a luxury these past few months, especially while not taking a zero. This morning, we sleep in. It feels lovely to be breaking camp in the light, and I feel refreshed.
The first ten miles I hike on my own, without music or podcasts. I think about the trail and all it has given me, and I’m filled with immense gratitude for the opportunity to walk. The day is gorgeous: blue skies and warm breezes. This isn’t what they told me Washington would be like, but I have no complaints.
We have a couple big climbs today, but we are so close to the border it feels like nothing. The views are incredible and I’m filled with a weird mix of wanting to be done and wanting the trail to go on forever.
We make it to camp at 6:30, the earliest we’ve stopped in ages. It’s a cowboy camp kind of night, with no clouds in sight. I hope we see shooting stars, our second-to-last night on trail.
Day 119 – Miles 2,622.8-2,646.7
The second-to-last day. I hike all morning without headphones and ponder the trail. I thank it for the wisdom it has given me, and think of plans to do trail magic in Oregon.
My feet feel as good as they have in almost a week. I feel good and happy, knowing we will only hike 24 miles today. The morning, this way, goes by fast. Its chilly. Chef says it’s the coldest night he’s had on trail.
We get to the first water and meet up and load up. We meet a dog (Roscoe!) and Pavlov says she will push to the lake we are camping at without stopping.
I plan to make a few stops along the way, for water and views. And I do. We pass many day and section hikers, and Ally, the daughter of a couple who gave us trail magic at Chinook Pass.
Many thru-hikers are hiking back to Hart’s Pass back from the border. We congratulate each other when we pass. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I’m giddy.
I get to the lake around 3:30, and after a brief rest we all air up our Therm-a-Rests and get in the lake. We float around, but it’s pretty chilly. Eventually we get out, and hang out at the lake on this last evening.
Day 120 – Miles 2,646.7-2,653.1
We hike as a true amoeba this morning. Ten hikers all in a line, from all over the world, finishing a 2,653.1-mile journey. We joke, laugh, and talk lightly about post-trail life.
It’s only a six-mile hike, and it goes by quickly. I can’t believe it’s almost over, and that I’m finishing with all these people I met and became friends with at the same time. I haven’t seen most of these people in over 1,000 miles.
And then we see the border, a clear-cut in the woods. I imagined this moment so many times, shedding countless tears in the days leading up, and I thought there would be more tears here in the moment. None come, but I know they will in the coming weeks. No, what I feel most is numb. Is this happening? Did I really walk all the way here?
Pavlov has friends and family waiting at the monument with beer and champagne. We drink up, and then spend about an hour taking photos and soaking it all in.
And then it is time to go. We say goodbye to those going back to Hart’s Pass, and push on deeper into Canada. It’s eight miles to the car, which doesn’t even seem fair.
Thankfully it goes fast, and in a whirlwind of cheers, food, and drink we celebrate in Manning Park, until it’s time to go to our final destination: Vancouver, British Columbia.
We book a hotel room in the city and Chef, Woody, and I hermit in for the night, only leaving for food. The trail is over. No more sleeping under the stars every night, no more hiking 30 miles a day. My continuous NOBO thru-hike of the PCT is over. And it begs the question: What’s next?
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