PCT Week 21: A beautifully foolish endeavour

After our flip-flop of going back to Oregon and hiking southbound to reconnect where we left off in California, we travel all the way back to Seattle to tackle the final 180 miles of the PCT. We are full of hope and excitement to make it to Canada. The last miles of the PCT are still closed, but we’re hoping that the expected snow will put out the fires and opens the trail again. It turned out that this sounded good in theory, but really hits us hard in the face on the first day back on trail. 

PCT Day 137: Tackling the final stretch

Stevens Pass (mile 2465.2) to mile 2477.9
21.6km (13.4mi) / 5h / elevation gain of 904m (2,965ft)

After finishing Oregon and California we return to Seattle. We sort out our resupply and cold weather gear. I get a warmer sleeping bag. More of an odyssey it is to get new shoes. We had to spend one day extra in Seattle because the post office in downtown only gives out general delivery between 10 and 12 and we had no idea about that. Then it turned out that I accidentally ordered the wrong shoe. The model doesn’t fit me very well and after a day walking around in them it’s clear that I can’t go hiking with them. So, I decide in the evening to go to REI and look at what shoes they have. I find shoes that fit me. But then I buy them in a different color than the ones I tried on. I happily go back to the hotel, I thought everything worked out in the end. It didn’t.

Smoke and Mount Rainier as seen from the plane that gets us to our last adventure on the PCT

Smoke and Mount Rainier as seen from the plane that gets us to our last adventure on the PCT

Back at the hotel, I discover that they gave me the wrong size and I didn’t double-check. They are way too small. Damn. Now they are closed and the only bus back to Stevens Pass leaves in the morning before they open. Now I have the choice of either going in the bad-fitting ones, the old holey ones with 600 miles on them, or staying another day to sort this out. As we are expecting snow I decide for sorting this out. I switch the shoes out and then we finally leave for the trail the next day. It’s raining when we leave Seattle, not very pleasant. 

Colorful leaves and snow make the forest look magical

Colorful leaves and snow make the forest look magical

The bus brings us to Stevens Pass where we can see the snow a little bit higher up. But it’s not snowing and there is even some blue sky. We start walking, first downhill then we start climbing into the snow. The forest looks magical with the fresh snow cover. The contrast between the colorful leaves and the white of the snow is so pretty. It’s actually pleasant with some nice views. I feel good about this. We pass a beautiful lake and quite some day hikers. 

Lake Valhalla

Lake Valhalla

But then we tackle the next climb and it starts snowing. Soon there are no foot marks anymore and I’m the first one leaving some behind, the snow crunching under my shoes. The snow gets more and is now all around us. Snow covers me from branches and bushes, it’s underneath me and comes from the sky. But even now I still feel good.

A different world in the snow

A different world in the snow

When we arrive at the campsite it starts getting cold as soon as we don’t move anymore. My gloves are somewhere on the bottom of my pack and my hands quickly become numb while I’m pitching the tent. Suddenly, I don’t like it anymore. We knew what we are getting ourselves into. There’s gonna be snow, it’s gonna be cold and we gonna be miserable. But it’s one thing to think about this in theory. It’s different when you’re actually in the situation. Day hikes are actually beautiful right now, but I think you want to go home and be warm at the of the day. It takes a while until I get warm again. Hot tea and dinner help.

View out of the tent

View out of the tent

It’s the first time I’m camping on snow. It crunches underneath our sleeping pads when we move. The last real bailout is behind us. So, if we’re continuing we are kind of stuck when the shit hits the fan with more snow and wind. We will make a decision on that tomorrow.

 

PCT Day 138: Backtracking 

We make the decision to get off trail in the morning. We don’t know what’s gonna be ahead of us and there is no bailout for the next 100 miles. Also, the next section is one of the most challenging of the PCT as the trail isn’t very well maintained. There are lots of blowdowns, washed-out trail, and at least one sketchy river crossing. It’s not easy to make this decision. But I’ve been stuck in a snowstorm before and this was the scariest moment in my life. I don’t wanna be that person that doesn’t learn from her experiences. I know that it can get extremely bad in just minutes and I don’t want to be out there when that happens.

Last morning on the PCT

Last morning on the PCT

Of course, this is circling in our heads while we are backtracking to the last bailout to the Smith Brook Trail 5 miles back. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Especially since it’s a beautiful day today. There are some blue skies and the snow is glittering in the sun like the scattering of a thousand diamonds. It’s hard to accept that it might be nice right now but can change quickly. Better be safe than sorry. 

Backtracking to the last bailout

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that I made the right call. I try to enjoy these last precious moments on the PCT and soak up all the beauty of it. It’s an awesome last day. 

The last picture on the PCT

The last picture on the PCT

It’s just 2 more miles down to the trailhead. As it’s Sunday there are a lot of day hikers and it doesn’t take us long to get a hitch back to the highway. It then takes a while until we get another hitch into Leavenworth, where we want to reevaluate the situation with a closer look at the forecast. But I can see pretty fast that we made the right decision. This place is gonna get dumped with snow the next few days and there will be wind too. Looks like a freaking snowstorm is coming up. And we would be stuck right in the middle of it if we continued. 

Safe and sound back in Leavenworth

Safe and sound back in Leavenworth

So, in the end, it maybe was good that we got held up in Seattle to not get too deep into that situation. So, we celebrate the end of our hike with Schnitzel and beer. Also, Popeye found Lion’s Mane mushrooms on the trail which now pays for our dinner and beer at the restaurant. It’s a good end to an exciting journey, even if we didn’t make it all the way. We tried our best and made it 175 miles before Canada, completing 2,310 miles of the trail. I’m extremely grateful for my time out here, all the people I met, and the beautiful scenery I’ve seen. It was a wild ride. My journey on the PCT didn’t turn out the way I expected it to be, but a lot of great things happened. I found out, once more, how strong I am. And what friendship and true kindness of strangers can feel like. A thruhike can give you back faith in humanity and it’s the best thing for my mental health.

Looking back, we did more miles of the PCT than a lot of people this year who skipped a lot due to the fires but made it to the Northern Terminus. It still feels like failing, just because this last bit is missing. It’s an iconic moment, it’s the goal of the trail that you have in mind for months of hiking, working your way to Canada. You’re thinking about the pose you gonna do on the final photo and how you will feel reaching the end of an epic adventure. Not getting there feels incomplete and pointless. It doesn’t feel right. I think I’m not considered a finisher of a PCT truhike. We didn’t even do a last picture, marking the end of our hike. I think we were still in denial.

What now?

In the end, we do a road trip all the way from Seattle back to Southern California, delaying the inevitable. We drive all the way down the coast, then visit Redwood Nationalpark, Lassen Nationalpark, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia Nationalpark, where winter chases us down again causing the scariest drive of my life. Back in Southern California, we try to hike up Mount Baldy, but winter hits us here as well as we are on the way up to the summit. We realize we can’t run away, we have to face reality.

Yosemite Nationalpark

Yosemite Nationalpark

But what is our reality now? What will our new normal look like? We have to figure that out now. After arriving home after my last thruhike I wanted to curl up in a ball and die. Post trail depression is a real thing and I know that it’s gonna hit again. We had this purpose in life, hiking 20 miles and seeing some beautiful stuff on the way. It was down to the bare necessities: walk, eat, sleep, repeat. And we found fulfillment in it. It is hard to find such fulfillment in normal life.

Everybody wants to know what my next plans are. And I still don’t have any idea. It’s just overwhelming. But I know we gonna be alright. We have to find a way to include adventures in our daily life. We will keep hiking and this will not be the end. Hopefully, the PCT was just the beginning of all the adventures that lay ahead of me.

Keep on hiking, here on Lassen Peak a week later

Keep on hiking, here on Lassen Peak a week later

 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 2

  • David Odel : Nov 12th

    Enjoyed your excellent journal of your adventures on the PCT. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

    Reply
  • Vrooom : Nov 14th

    Congrats on finishing your hike. The place you stop doesn’t matter, it’s the times you didn’t that do. Keep hiking and keep blogging, your posts are great to follow.

    Reply

What Do You Think?