Washington Update: The Trail is on Fire

There was something emotional about walking across the Bridge of the Gods Saturday morning, bellies full of omelettes and cinnamon rolls and surrounded by good company.

We had a late night the night before at Shrek’s house, a local trail angel, drinking beer and catching up with friends. It felt like the desert all over again, being at Shrek’s. Everyone was there, or at least everyone within our bubble, all sitting around enjoying one another’s company and talking about the last few hundred miles. I sort of missed the simplicity of these moments when the accordion of hikers all bunch up in one location, bringing us together if only for a brief night. It’s a nice reminder that there’s so many people out here experiencing this too, that we’re not alone.

The emotion was in part, as I said in my last post, to the inevitable end of this journey but also because of the immense task we had just accomplished. All of us in some way or another had just found our way by foot to this bridge. I guess when we were in the desert I was never really sure if this moment would come. The task seemed too daunting, too unattainable. Yet here we were, having walked 2,000+ miles, standing under the entrance to the Bridge of the Gods.

As we crossed the highway and made our way back onto the dirt trail we were greeted with a sign that said “Canada, 507 miles”. It’s strange having such a small amount left, small of course being relative to the entire trail. Things have become a little bit more of a countdown. Only three weeks left, four town stops, a couple hundred miles.

The Washington scenery has stayed relatively similar to Oregon, but with the addition of hills and fern like brush. Mossy trees are still in abundance, flanking the trail and surrounded by lush, green brush and undergrowth. Despite the decrease in fire closures, the sky has remained hazy throughout the day. The decreased air quality has made the climbs a little more difficult and have left me most days feeling a little more tired and very sneezy.

My favorite part of the scenery has been the sudden presence of mountain peaks visible along saddles. Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. St Helens were visible the day before we approached Cascade Locks, welcoming us to our last state. Slightly snow covered, rising high above the surrounding hills, these mountains have appeared like monuments in the distance marking incredible and significant features of the region. For the last couple of days, we’ve witnessed Mt. Adams peaking out around the occasional turn, showing us the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Just the other day we traversed the rocky path following the Knife’s Edge, a narrow path that wove up and down silty hills as it approaches more incredible views of Mt. Rainier. The hike was the highlight of my entire experience on trail, giving way to some of the most stellar views I’ve seen yet. If I wasn’t already so in love with the Midwest, I think the Washington section of the PCT could convert me to a PNWer.

By far my favorite part of Washington has been being in the presence of a trail family again.

Our days are made much more enjoyable when spent with this group. We often find ourselves waiting to leave camp in order to hike alongside one another. The conversations are always fruitful and fun, helping to distract from the sometimes monotonous experience of hiking for hours on end.

The other night we had a truly hysterical experience with one another.

In Encinitas, Bighorn and I downloaded on Netflix the entire first season of the Great British Baking Show. It mostly reminded us of Bighorn’s youngest sister Ruby, but it also gave us something to unwind with at the end of the night that was a little mindless yet still entertaining.

Over the past week, we’ve slowly converted our new trail family to Great British Baking show fanatics, and on the season two finale we all crowded around a small, IPhone 5C screen to watch the drama unfold.

Never in my life did I envision myself cowboy camping next to five dirty men watching the Great British Baking Show, taking bets on who would win with the wager being various types of candy. It was quite the sight.

When I get the chance to post this, it’ll be a few days after arriving in White Pass (mile 2292). This last section was one of my favorites on trail, but yet again we’re being met with the challenges of “the year of fire and ice”. With fires raging just outside of Naches, WA, a new section of the trail has closed just north of White Pass. We took some time in town to discuss our options and have made the decision to press on, hiking the thirty miles to Chinook Pass that are open currently. The risk becomes, if the fire continues to grow as expected, the road we intersect with at the start of the closure may be closed and we may not be able to get a ride to the north part of the closure. Our hope is we can get to Chinook Pass before the fire has the chance to expand, get a ride with Comma’s cousin around the closure, and keep our fingers crossed that the trail closure hasn’t grown in size. Worst case scenario, the roads are closed, the closure has grown, and we have to hike thirty miles back to White Pass and get a ride around the entire area instead.

The presence of fires, coupled with the intense snow year, has left a lot of hikers feeling rather defeated. I’ve grappled with the emotions of having to skip sections of trail and what this means for having completed an “entire thru hike of the PCT”. It may seem silly to someone back home, that hiking anything less than 2,650 miles could make one feel like they didn’t complete an actual thru hike. It’s a lot of miles and certainly still an incredible feat of athletic ability. However, many hikers seem to fall under the spell of feeling committed to a “true thru”, a continuous foot path from Mexico to Canada. Anything less is a failure.

I didn’t want to feel this way towards my experience, and as the trail closures have grown I’ve continued to adapt my way of thinking about our thru hike. Each year, the trail is inevitably different due to closures from previous fires or restoration work, or impassable due to intense weather conditions. If I thought of the trail as static, then my expectations would surely be let down by our inability to forge a continuous footpath. But the reality is, the trail is incredibly dynamic and each year hikers are faced with new challenges unique to their year. I’m not backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, I’m thru hiking the 2017 version of the PCT and I’m damned proud of our experience thus far.

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Ralph McGreevy : Sep 2nd

    Fires everywhere, it seems. In Vancouver (BC, not WA) there was a definite smell of woodsmoke when I went for an evening walk. So strange, into September now and daytime temperatures are about the hottest of the summer. In any case, onward to Canada.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Pat Stillman : Sep 2nd

    You should be damn proud because it’s an incredible feat that you have accomplished. Stay safe.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Patti : Sep 7th

    I love your attitude Alexa. What a fabulous way to think of it, trail is not static! And what you two did is amazing.

    Reply

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