Week 16: Hunger! Hailstorms! Hey – It’s Canada! (Miles 2592.4-2653 and Beyond)
I woke up nestled under a tree behind the pungent pit toilets of Rainy Pass with no desire to rush. It wasn’t because of the impending “end” of the trail and a desire to prolong my time in Washington; it was because, even after hundreds of miles of hiking, I still hate waking up early. I’m a bartender, for fuck’s sake!
We had planned to hike 34 miles and camp on the ridge north of Hart’s Pass. This would leave us with a marathon to the border the following day, and 30 miles back to Hart’s Pass the day after that (more on this logistical mindfuck shortly). Though we hadn’t signed anything in blood, I did kind of assume we’d enact this plan as a trio. But Crisis had departed at the ass crack of dawn and Quincy LaPorte was sound asleep. I sat on a ledge at the trailhead, writing in my journal and drinking coffee. Then I headed out alone. Alas! I thought. Thus is life in a Loose Alliance.
A solo jaunt was not in the cards, though: Quincy’s legs are about a foot longer than mine so he soon caught up. We hiked up Cutthroat Pass, chatting about the future and marveling at the glorious scene unfolding in front of us. We were heading from the Mount Baker Wilderness towards the Pasayten Wilderness on rugged terrain. It felt desert-esque in that we could see the trail wrapping around the mountains for miles ahead. There was snow on the peaks in the distance even in the summer sun.
Puffy white clouds floated aimlessly and the land around us was endless. We hiked fast. The miles went by. The clouds started joining together, threatening our picture-perfect day. We tried to pretend there wasn’t a wall of thunderheads forming directly in our path. Wishful thinking, unsurprisingly, did little to stop the rain from falling. And falling. And falling.
By the time we got to Brush Creek, the low beginning of the climb to Hart’s Pass, it was pouring. Thunder rumbled in the distance; lightning flashed. While I didn’t mind hiking in the rain, I had no desire to purposely parade into a lightning storm on an exposed ridge. Quincy and I found a flat spot under some bushes and posted up.
A Brief Aside About Rain Gear
I think the issue on the PCT is that when it rains, we don’t think it’s going to keep raining. Therefore, we don’t put our rain jackets on. We get wet. We still don’t put them on. It keeps raining. We keep hiking. By the time the rain jacket comes out of the pack and goes on the body, we’re soaked. I’m not saying this is right; I’m just saying that it’s easy to blame rain gear for our discomfort when in fact the gear is functional and it’s our cocky attitude that makes us cold.
In other words, though we eventually put our rain jackets on, we’d long since gotten wet. The spot we’d chosen wasn’t as protected as we’d thought; we were was cold. We sat there unwrapping Werther’s from a bizarre bag of trail mix Quincy had begged off a lady, wondering if Crisis had gotten struck by lightning (and, to clarify, hoping he hadn’t).
Eventually, the storm moved on to wreak their havoc on hikers north of us. We shivered up the trail, grateful both for the ascent and the company. As we’d sat there under not-so-protective bushes, I’d realized something I’d known deep in my heart since the beginning of this stretch (a.k.a. the day before): I was 100% going to run out of food.
Food: A Huge Problem
People talk about “The Golden Carry,” or getting to town with zero food, as though it’s this standard to aspire to, a way of showing that you know yourself and your food needs so well. No excess, no waste. After many a Golden Carry, I’d like to state my belief that it’s stupid and dangerous.
In Washington, I’d done an abysmal job of monitoring my resupplies. Does it feel great to fly down the trail into town with nary a Propel packet weighing you down? Hell yeah! Does it feel miserable to be on a sixty-mile round trip hike from the nearest escape point with not a single spare calorie, particularly when one of the main highlights of the adventure is eating? Hell yeah.
Quincy and I had done a food inventory and quickly realized there was no way in hell we’d be able to finish the hike on the rations we had. Would we die? No. The human body can survive for weeks with no food if necessary. But we weren’t in a survival situation; we were just stupid. But in my defense, how was I supposed to do an accurate resupply when I had just eaten a cinnamon bun – and about $70 worth of other delectable delights – at the Stehekin Pastry Shop? I spent much of the afternoon doing as much calorie math as my cold wet brain could manage, trying to figure out how I was going to divide up the remainder of my food.
The Last Real Night
If we’d had a couple king-sized Snickers bars and a block of cheddar, we could’ve easily banged out the last six miles. But we were more fixated on setting up camp so we could eat our allotted dinners and pass out; you’re not hungry if you’re sleeping!
I’d caught up to Quincy because foot pain, low morale, and hunger had stopped him in his tracks. (Indeed, a shout-out to both my Brooks Cascadias for being reliably comfortable and his Altras for being reliably terrible, thus allowing me to keep up with someone a foot taller and 15 years younger than me!) We decided we’d get to Hart’s Pass, raid the hiker box for rations, and camp as soon after the road as possible. We did get to Hart’s Pass, the hiker box was empty, and we made camp a quarter mile later.
Hart’s Pass to Canada!
In a magical last-day rally, Quincy and I left camp at 6:45 AM. The morning, once again was beautiful, with fluffy clouds that would surely lead to disaster later in the day.
Not an hour into the morning, we met a group of long-distance hikers on their way back from the border. After we congratulated them, Quincy immediately threw me and my impending foodlessness under the bus (without mentioning his).
“My friend’s running low on food – do you have anything extra?”
They had a few Lara bars – which I usually hated but would currently trade, oh, anything to have in my possession – that they gladly bestowed unto me. As I was thanking them profusely (though stress-calculating how much further 380 calories would get me) a group of older ladies on a section hike appeared. Quincy, a guy who’s extremely palatable to the mothers of the world, asked them for food as well.
Do I have to save face in front of other long-distance hikers? No, but in our suspension-of-disbelief-alternate-reality, yes. Could I care one iota what a group of section hikers thought (again, I am retroactively acknowledging the ridiculousness while challenging any long-distance hiker to show me they’d behave differently in the moment)? Absolutely not. I echoed his question loudly – Did they have any extra food? – while adding dramatic flairs about our long days and the difficulty I was having managing my metabolism (translation: I’m a gluttonous fuck who still subsists on cheddar cheese and Fast Breaks even though I know better).
The ladies were heading out that day and had food to spare. They gave us repackaged Mountain House Meals, snacks, and even a chocolate just-add-water dessert! We certainly hadn’t averted hunger or rationing overall, but we’d at least make it through the day. I hated that I’d gone from being a well-prepared backcountry user who planned for unexpected events to a selfish dirtbag who wasn’t willing to throw extra ramen into her food bag because #WEIGHTANDSPEEDBABY and was reduced to asking strangers for food. But the trail, I hate to fucking say, provides. Had I gotten myself in a pickle? Yes. But maybe swallowing my pride (4 calories per ounce) and having to ask for help, was something I was meant to learn out here.
A Good Time to Talk About Logistics
Up until 2019, a NOBO would get to the Canadian border, snap the requisite photos, and then parade seven kilometers into Manning Park, where’d they’d hit up a final resort before heading to the Vancouver airport. Though the famed late-night Greyhound bus service was discontinued in 2017, Manning Park Resort is a popular place for vacationing families and it was rumored to be easy to get a hitch to the big city.
Since 2020, though, you can’t go into Canada at this crossing. Instead, hikers must tag the border and hike thirty miles back to Hart’s Pass. There’s a Forest Service road that leads to Mazama, where you can then engage in vehicular calculus to extricate yourself from the trail and get to Seattle.
Normally, the hitch down to town wouldn’t be that challenging. It’s a gorgeous section of trail with a good possibility of section hikers. Furthermore, some people’s families and friends do pick them up at the end, and hikers warn their loved ones that if they drive up to Hart’s Pass, they will be heading down the road with a car full of hikers.
As we approached Hart’s Pass, though, we started hearing scuttlebutt about a landslide and subsequent closure of the road to Hart’s Pass: No one in, no one out. The rumor mill was churning! The road was closed. The road might be open. We’d have to hike back to Rainy Pass. The road was open. The road was closed up until a certain point but rangers were driving people to this point and families were allowed to come halfway up. The rangers had gotten in trouble – well, not in trouble trouble, but, like, the supervisor hadn’t been happy because if something happened they weren’t insured, you know? – so they weren’t allowed to do it anymore. It seemed, if nothing else, there’d be an issue getting down to Mazama.
Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
Also weighing on my mind was how to get to Seattle once we were in Mazama. I had an early flight booked for Sunday, August 28th. I’d spend a few days liaising with a friend before flying to Portland and heading to the Timberline Lodge, where I’d reconvene with Crisis to finish the trail. We were slated to tag the border late on Thursday, August 25th, giving us two full travel days. If we could get to Mazama – to be clear, landslide or not, there was no hiker encampment at Hart’s Pass, which meant people were getting off the trail somehow – it seemed we could hitch to Winthrop and then take a bus to Wenatchee, where there was another bus to SEA-TAC.
As we’d hiked out of Stehekin, I’d expressed my concerns about getting to Seattle in time for my flight. Everything seemed uncertain and unreliable; I hated that “put a thumb out” was the most prevalent guidance for how to leave the trail. As luck would have it, Crisis had a semi-local relative willing to meet him in Mazama to get him closer to the city. Yet here’s where being in a Loose Alliance becomes tricky: While a ride-or-die group of hikers would cram the tram’ into the car, no questions asked, it was ambiguous whether or not I could catch a ride with them.
Are there times to be noncommittal? Yes. If I ask you to lend me a sweater for an ugly sweater party and you’re like, “I mean…maybe? But maybe not? IDK. The party’s Tuesday at 7? I’ll let you know around sunset that afternoon,” the stakes are very low. Worst-case scenario is I have to wear a sweater that’s kind of nice. In this instance, though, I found myself wanting a solid yes or no. We’d spent the hot ascent out of Stehekin having a classic debate about it, which did culminate in him using his SPOT to confirm that I could indeed get a ride. At this point, though, we were no longer hiking together! I didn’t even know if he’d made it through the previous day’s lightning storm. I was once again uncertain about how I was getting to Seattle.
The Long High Five
Are you bored? I’m so bored. Logistics! Fuck. Anyway! Were there simmering concerns about getting off trail? Yes. But they were overshadowed by the overall vibe of pure joy on our last northbound day. The fact that people had to do an out-and-back from Hart’s Pass meant that as we were heading towards the monument, we were constantly crossing paths with people who’d already completed their hikes. “Congratulations” rang out across the mountains as everyone high-fived everyone. The people who’d already been to the monument seemed genuinely excited for those of us en route to the end; I felt truly happy for the people who had seen the end of their journey, whatever it had looked like, through.
We met people we’d never seen before. We encountered folks we hadn’t seen since Shasta, when the fires broke out and everyone went separate ways. We saw people who’d been mere miles ahead of us for a couple of weeks but who, for the small shifts in decisions, we hadn’t caught up to. Though it added thirty extra miles (which I recommend taking into account when you send a resupply box to Stehekin), the out-and-back tied up a lot of the connections we’d made over the last few months. Furthermore, the shared celebratory sentiments served to transcend some of the negativity I had toward the mass of hikers. It’s just walking!
As the day went on, the pleasant sky began to look like it had the day before. White clouds darkened and grew in size; the temperature dropped. I’d gotten ahead of Quincy and Crisis was still at large so I found myself alone at the final viewpoint in Washington, 7.9 miles from the border, when the storm broke out. There was rain at first, then hard rain and thunder. I threw my rain jacket on and bolted down the mountain, which was exposed save for a few clumps of mediocre trees every few switchbacks. It started hailing with a vengeance; ice balls flooded the trail and soon my feet were submerged. I hiked and hiked and hiked, trying to get below the treeline and away from the aggressive ice balls plummeting onto my head.
More than anything, I was fucking hungry. My remaining food was: three dinners, one hot-water dessert, a 24-pack of Starburst, a king-sized Fast Break, one instant coffee packet, one Breakfast Essential, and a couple of lemonade packets. I’d planned on saving the Fast Break for breakfast the following day but I was cold and wet and needed those 420 calories to bang out the last chunk of mileage. I stopped under a tree, unwrapped the bar, and devoured it. Instantly I felt better. The creamy peanut butter, the soft sweet nougat, the chocolate exterior melting on my fingers – a perfect food.
I trudged down the flooded trail, kicking hail and watching erosion en vivo. I encountered another hiker and we walked together, chatting about the storm, the end, and the logistics of getting the heck out of Mazama. With 3.7 miles left, I saw a familiar Duplex pitched up at a campsite. Crisis had decided to put his tent up and go out and back to the border to knock a few miles off the following day. I decided I’d stay there as well. We had no idea how far behind Quincy was so we decided to wait for him at the border.
What are you supposed to do when you get to a random triad of wooden beams in the middle of the woods? I’m still not sure. There was a group of people there already, drinking and celebrating. Crisis and I sat down and looked at the damn thing for a while. I succumbed to hunger and ate 24 Starburst in rapid succession. Eventually, Quincy rolled up and we all sat there staring at the monument. The other hikers were doing an ostentatious champagne-soaked photo shoot and asking us why we weren’t taking pictures.
Of course it was exciting to see the border, to drink Pendleton nips and climb the pillars and have a random girl insist on taking a million pictures of us in different poses. But we weren’t done. We had to hike 3.7 miles back to the campsite and 26.2 miles back to Hart’s Pass the following day. Crisis and I still had a month of being on trail. This was a fabulous milestone, to be sure, but for me there was a lack of finality. Don’t get me wrong – it was amazing! But it was a low-key, understated amazing that kept re-hitting me as I hiked the following day: We did it. We got to Canada. And now we’d get to go back to Oregon.
One Last Time
We stayed up late and slept in the following morning. The southbound leg had us being the triumphant returners who got to amp everyone up as they headed to the border. At some point, we encountered two hikers. One of them was a younger woman Quincy had met; the other was a woman I’d hoped we wouldn’t see ever again.
We all talked eagerly, voices over voices, everyone exuberant about the finish. It was a pleasant enough conversation. We talked about our border experience, the landslide, how we were going to get to Seattle. I’d misjudged her, I thought. Maybe I’m too critical. Maybe I should learn to let things go.
“I forget,” said the most arbitrarily passive-aggressive woman on the PCT. “Did you skip?”
“So you haven’t finished the trail,” she said.
Maybe it was the fact that I had 410 left in my food bag with fifteen miles and calories. Maybe it was the fact that I wanted to revel in our achievements and not dwell on the challenges for one moment. Or maybe it was the fact that, on this glorious day of celebration, this damn woman would not let us simply be and had to underscore the fact that we’d had to miss a section because of fire. But I fucking lost it.
“Ma’am,” I said, speaking to her as I would a customer who’d ordered a dirty martini and then complained that her drink tasted salty, “you have asked us this question multiple times. Yes, we skipped a big section because of the fires. No, we’re not true NOBOs. We’re fake hikers, we didn’t do the whole thing.” Quincy La Porte stood there, probably wondering if he was going to have to break up a physical altercation between his starving hiking partner and a senior citizen.
“Hmm,” she said. “It’s just that there are so many of you who skipped miles.” I left.
At this point, we’d ascertained that the road down from Hart’s Pass was indeed closed, that no cars were being allowed up the mountain and that the Forest Service had posted a walkable 10-mile detour to get down to Mazama. I was not happy. I sat at a water source, licking lemonade powder off the back of my hand and feeling desperate about the idea of walking additional miles.
Then, I saw something incredible: Two dogs. More specifically, two dogs attached to two people. Could the people have been long-distance hikers? Yes. But the presence of the dogs suggested that they might just be out for a section.
I was with Crisis at this point, and we struck up a conversation. We told them about the road being closed; they asked us how we were going to get down. We said we were going to try to hitch but that unless someone had a car up there already – as a section hiker would – we’d probably have to hike the 10-mile detour.
“If you don’t mind waiting until tomorrow, we can drive you to Mazama,” they said.
Tagging the border? Fun. Getting a ride off the godforsaken trail and not having to hike foodless? Priceless.
Hart’s Pass, Mazama, Seattle, and Beyond
So in the end, we were able to get out. We spent the night at Hart’s Pass, eating Belvita Almond Butter Cookies from the hiker box. Quincy had befriended a couple of other hikers and secured a ride straight to Seattle so he headed out early in the morning to hike the detour. Crisis and I hung out at the picnic tables, waiting for our saviors to arrive and amassing a small group of stragglers who would also cram into the car for the best hitch of the trail.
They dropped us off in Mazama and we gravitated to the outside patio of the store. OMG. Beer, coffee, pastries, fruits, vegetables, cured meats, salted butter, fresh baguettes…It was a perfect place to wind up after the previous stretch of calorie-counting.
Crisis and his relative let me tag along to their house, where we spent the night before embarking on a public transit odyssey to Seattle that involved a car ride, three buses, and a fuck-it-I’m-calling-an-Uber that Crisis graciously obtained, thus sparing us a fourth bus. Once downtown, he headed off to reunite with his girlfriend while I reunited with Quincy. We wandered around, going into thrift stores and used bookstores and being generally thrilled to be out of the woods. I bought a dress at Goodwill and donned it on the street. We got Mexican food and frozen margaritas. It was like any normal afternoon hanging out in a city with a friend except we had dirty backpacks and had just spent three and a half months walking northward through forests and wilderness national parks on a winding trail for ambiguous reasons. We took the subway for an hour to a motel near the airport, where we organized our packs and did all the same chores we’d done on all our other town days except this time, QLP was flying home, his 2022 PCT journey complete, and I was taking a few days off before continuing on my own.
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