Possibly the Prettiest Part: PCT Days 125-128

Day 125.  Miles: 6.6  Total: 2236.5

The next morning, Alisha and I buy coffee and pastries from a café in Trout Lake, and then she heads back to Portland. I wait with Undecided, Cloud Whisperer, and Smiley until the rest of our friends arrive. News of a landslide closing Hart’s Pass Road has made me even more nervous about my timeline to the border, so before I leave cell service in Trout Lake, I move my flight home back from the 16th to the 19th of September. It reduces the amount of time I’ll have with my family in Virginia before I relocate to Arizona, but lessens the pressure I’ve been feeling as my friend’s trail plans diverged from my own.
Cloud Whisperer has decided to attempt the 24-hour challenge. His goal is ambitious– to hike from Trout Lake all the way to White Pass without stopping. It’s over 100km, and we’re not in Oregon anymore. The elevation gain over the next sixty miles is massive. His partner Undecided and I take the 3:30 shuttle back to the trail. We’re eating dinner at a campsite with an incredible view of Mount Adams when Cloud Whisperer passes us, six miles into his journey. We wish him luck, and he disappears into the fading daylight.

Day 126.  Miles: 24.8  Total: 2261.4

We get an early start, and the morning’s miles are beautiful. There’s an undercast, and all four of the area’s nearby volcanic peaks tower above the blanket of clouds. Adams, Hood, St. Helen, and Rainier are all visible from the PCT.
Despite my incredible surroundings, I’m still in a weird, negative headspace. Over four months into this journey, I’m getting mentally and emotionally worn out. In some ways, the 400 remaining miles feel enormous, tedious. But at the same time, I still love it out here. As challenging as thru-hiking can be, this is the least unhappy I’ve felt in years. I don’t feel ready to let go of the PCT and resume my normal life. Half ready to be done, and half terrified to be done, I’m left feeling torn and oddly resentful. Of whom or what, I’m not sure.
I distract myself with audiobooks. Hard science fiction isn’t always my thing, but I’ve really enjoyed Project Hail Mary, and I’m almost done with it. I let the story of imminent planetary disaster remind me that my own problems have extremely low stakes, and I need to get over myself.
In the evening, a text comes through. Cloud Whisperer made it. Sixty-three miles– Washington miles– in 24 hours. I shake my head in wonder, and a little bit of sympathy for how much pain he must be in. At camp, I relay the news to Undecided. We won’t get to White Pass for two more days, so he’ll have time to rest while he waits.
As night falls, we eat dinner with Wild Card and Leaky in a featherlight drizzle of rain.

Day 127.  Miles: 21.8  Total: 2283.2

When you ask people their favorite part of the PCT, if they don’t say the Sierra, they probably say Goat Rocks. The views today are unreal. But I don’t experience them right away.
In the morning, it’s still clouded over and rainy, so I’m grumpy as I hike uphill. It only rains a handful of times on the whole trail, and one of those days has to be here? Still, the wildflowers are beautiful in any weather.
I finish Project Hail Mary on my way up Old Snowy, taking the blue-blazed pedestrian route rather than the red line stock route on FarOut. This trail climbs up the spine of the mountain. The wind is blowing at least 30mph, and the views are mostly obscured by fog. At the top, I look down and find Smiley sprawled on the ground, wrapped in his quilt.
“What are you doing up here?” I ask. He passed Undecided and me yesterday while noncommittally attempting the 24-hour challenge himself. I had no idea where he would end up, but I certainly didn’t expect him here. “Did you sleep up here?” It would have been freezing.
He explains that he abandoned his 24-hour challenge at the base of the mountain because there was no point in pushing through some of the best views of the trail at night time. He ascended in the morning and has been parked up here since, enjoying snippets of the vistas through breaks in the white mist. As always, he seems cheerful, even while bundled in every stitch of his clothing.
It’s getting even colder now, so he decides to descend the mountain with me. As someone with a fear of heights, this stretch of trail is one of the most challenging miles of the PCT I’ve encountered. In mild weather, I’d likely have been fine, but with the howling wind, low visibility, and numb fingers on my trekking poles, I feel unsteady on my feet. I’m glad Smiley is here, and I’m not doing this by myself.
As we continue to descend, the wind clears away most of the fog. The famous views of Goat Rocks finally open up around us, and they’re even better than I imagined.
The trail continues along the ridge line, feeling more like the AT than the PCT, and the last few miles of the day are some of my favorites ever.
Eventually, we wind up beside a lake in the green valley, thousands of feet below the ridge we just crossed. We find Rolls, Royce, and Undecided there, and we make camp.

Day 128.  Miles: 12.7  Total: 2295.9

It’s an easy hike down to White Pass in the morning. Mount Rainier is still miles away to the northwest, but it dominates the horizon.
I start hiking early, but about five miles from the road, the others catch up, and we hike in a line down to camp, talking to pass the time. We find Cloud Whisperer, who isn’t limping quite as much as you’d expect. He’s tired but in good spirits.
We have a lazy afternoon and camp behind the store. To reach Stephen’s Pass in time to meet Jess, I’ll need to do a few big days in a row starting tomorrow, but for now, it’s nice to relax beside a lake and laugh while the international hikers rant about American expressions that don’t make sense.
There are only three more stops after this: Stephen’s Pass, Leavenworth, and Stehekin. Then, Canada.
It will all be over so soon.

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