Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 144 - It DOES Have An End!!!

Monday morning I woke up to a light dusting of icy snow on my tent, and a ton of dust that had blow inside.  There were low clouds, but off in the distance sun was beginning to poke through.  So despite a few nights with rain, I would successfully hike through Washington without having to walk in the rain.
The 10 miles to the border was fairly smooth, mostly downhill. For the first several miles the bushes were all still frozen. But as I got lower it warmed up and I got soaked again. I should have left the rain coat at home and carried rain pants instead. Or neither!

Just after 11:00 I reached the Canadian border, 2660 miles of hiking in 144 days. There were 3 other hikers there when I arrived. Each of them had just completed the whole trail as well. One was Calf, a hiker from Germany, named so for his massive hiker calves. I first met him back on day 3 of the hike. I saw him again at Kickoff and most recently at McKenzie Pass and Timberline Lodge. It was nice to see someone there I'd met before. I wish I'd been able to catch up to those I'd hiked in the desert with. I saw a bunch of names I recognized in the trail register.
The trail crosses the border in the middle of the forest. There's a 30' wide path cut through the trees along it. I'm not sure if that's just to mark it or what, but it makes the border pretty visible. There's a "Welcome to Canada" sign with a map of the trails on the Canadian side. The PCT continues on for almost 9 more miles to E C Manning Provincial Park. Part of the trail was down some old gravel roads that made the last few hours of my thru-hike pretty easy. I got a room at the lodge, a long shower, had dinner, then went for a swim in the pool, relaxed in the sauna and soaked in the hot tub. Probably still managed to have some dirt under my toenails, even after all that. It was a perfect sort of place to end the hike.

The next morning I caught a Grayhound bus to Vancouver; never been excited to ride a Grayhound bus before. That evening I rode the train down to Seattle, stayed the night in a hostel and took the train the rest of the way home the next day.

This concludes the story of my PCT thru-hike! I may do another summary post in the next week or two. I also plan on making a photo album with more pictures. Those I included in the blog were all taken with my phone. I have a lot more on my camera.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 143 - The Longest Day

Saturday night it rained and was very windy. Camping on top of Mathow Pass didn't provide much shelter. But my tent held up and I stayed dry. By the time I got up, around 6:30, things had calmed down, and the wind had dried out my tent somewhat. I still wasn't quite sure how far I wanted to go this day. I was 50 miles from the border, 59 from being completely done. Two big days.

I set out down the other side of the pass and after getting through the rougher areas near the top, jogged the last 3 miles to the bottom. The trail followed a big stream and had a lot of overgrown brush. I was soon soaked from the waist down. Ten miles in I took a break before starting a few miles of switchbacks up the last big climb. It was still fairly cool and cloudy but my pants began to dry out quickly once I was back out of the bushes. At the top of the climb I met a hiker named Glen who was doing Ashland to Hart's Pass, so most of OR/WA. Think he said he was 71. Age just doesn't concern some hikers. Glen had met Steve and Alice that morning and said they were planning back-to-back 40's these last couple days so they could catch the bus home a day earlier.

I met a dozen or so day-hikers in the few miles before Hart's Pass. There's a campground there and the last road you see before reaching Canada, 30 miles to the north. I took another break at a creek just past there and decided that I was going to make this, my second-to-last day on the trail, the longest day on the trail and shoot for 40 miles. There didn't appear to be any good camping at the 40 mile mark though so it was going to have to be a bit short or nearly 42.

The trail went on, miles went by, scenery continued with rocky ridges and huge glacial valleys. I got a few more miles of jogging in just before dark. Night fell with me miles beyond my normal stopping distance. Just before 9:00 I reached Rocky Pass, which was indeed rocky, and steep, and dark. I debated with myself over the safety of continuing, though maybe it was more about my sanity; 37 miles in, tiny raindrops falling, and if I go any further it would be 2+ miles before the next flat spot. Not a good place to be in the rain, especially in the dark.

But Glen had said we are not crazy, so I pushed on. And a while later I saw a light from another hiker way behind me following me across the steep slope. If I was crazy, I thought, at least I'm not the only one. I made it across to Woody Pass as tiny snowflakes started falling. It was cold and felt like it could start raining at any second. I was tired and my stomach was about to eat itself. So at 39.5-ish I decided to set up camp. It was a very long, very satisfying day that I'll probably never duplicate. If not crazy, maybe just a bit of a fanatic.

The lights behind me turned out to be Steve and Alice. I had passed them a while back as they ate dinner. So despite their 10 mile head start that morning, I managed to catch up and see them one last time. Their sights were set on the border; at 10:00 at night, 10 miles through pitch darkness, with impending rain. Glen and I may not be crazy, but I'm not sure about those two. I devoured dinner and rolled into bed for the last night on the trail.
You're probably going to have to turn off the lights and squint in order to make out anything in this last picture. It a super grainy picture of the trail going along the side of a steep rocky ridge in the pitch dark. Can't see much more while hiking in the dark with nothing around you than you can in this picture.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Day 142 - The End Is Near(er)

I've hiked nearly 2600 miles and shared all the good views along the way while everyone reading this hasn't had to hike at all (well, a few have). That hardly seems fair. So on that note, you don't get to see this view in the north Cascades.
I left the camping area early Saturday morning, after 4.5 months of hiking I was ready to be done. Actually I'd been feeling like that since mid-Oregon. But now the end is nearly in sight and Canada is calling my name. With 90 miles to go I planned on 3 or 4 days to Manning Park in Canada, depending on the terrain, weather and, of course, my feet.
The hike was fairly gentle for the first 10 or so miles, winding slowly up a valley before crossing a highway. It eventually climbed back up from the low elevation around Stehekin into big mountains and glacier-shaped valleys. There were day hikers and other backpackers here and there, enjoying the great weather.

I'd read blogs and stories from hikers in years past who had tons of rain when hiking through Washington in September. My guidbook suggested planning on staying in a hotel during each Washington town stop in order to dry out your gear and have a night out of the rain. But I think I did the trail during the right year and may just make it through without any of the sort of weather those other hikers experienced.
I reached a saddle after walking a couple miles along the side of a large valley and camped in a flat, open area. I did 30 miles, finishing around 7:30 or so, feeling good about my chances of doing 2 more 30-mile days to finish off the trail.

Ok, fine, here's that view from earlier...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 141 - The Last Town

Friday was about 20 miles of downhill, following a stream toward the town of Stehekin, the last town stop on the trail.  I saw Steve and Alice at a crossing of the stream where the log bridge had broken.  They had just waded across and then spotted a large log downstream and told me to cross there.  I took a break at the log and debated when I'd be able to reach the trailhead at the top of the road going into Stehekin.  There is a shuttle bus that runs every few hours.  I didn't think I would make the 12:15 bus, doing nearly 20 miles by noon usually means 6 hours of non-stop hiking, not my kind of hiking.

I ended up reaching the road a little before 1:00.  Steve and Alice had apparently made it.  I hung out at a picnic table in the shade and ate everything I had left in my pack, which wasn't much.  John Wayne arrived a little while later along with several day hikers.  The bus came back around 3:00 and took us down the road to town.  On the way it stopped at a bakery where I bought a huge cupcake and an even bigger cinnamon roll.  The bakery is a popular resupply point for hikers who just load up on 3-4 days worth of bread, scones, muffins and rolls for the final days of hiking.  I had mom send a box of my standard food though; there's no store in town.

We got to town just before the post office closed, so John Wayne and I were able to get our boxes and sign the trail register there.  We hung out on the lodge's front porch until dinner time.  The town is only accessable by boat, ferry or floatplane (or hiking), it sits on the upper end of Lake Chelan in a huge, long valley.  There are a few homes scattered along the road up to the trail, a campground, lodge and restaurant at the ferry landing and a resort ranch.  John Wayne and I took the bus back up the road a ways to the ranch for dinner.  Dinner at the ranch great, BBQ ribs and chicken, potatoes, corn and pie.  We sat at some long tables and talked to a few of the ranch visitors about our hike.

I had planned on going back to the campground for the night.  But Steve and Alice were also there at dinner and had arranged for a ride back up to the trail that evening.  Since I had been able to get my food box and still had my pack with me I decided to join them in order to get an early start the next morning.  I just didn't get to go back to the bakery for more cinnamon rolls.  Sometimes life is just full of tough decisions like that.

We camped at a tiny campground near where the ranch bus dropped us off.

Day 139-140 - The Last Big Mountain

Wednesday's hike toward Glacier Peak was a lot of high, wide open views of big valleys and far off ridges.  In order to get into the town of Stehekin at a decent time on Friday, I planned for a couple big days for Wed/Thur. There was a decent amount of climbing, but nothing major and I made good time. I did think about how this area would be if it was still covered in snow, fairly tough I'd imagine. And I bet most of this year's southbound hikers had to get through here across some snow. Some of the switchbacks, while not real steep on the trail, go up VERY steep, tree-covered slopes. If you couldn't follow a trail and had to blaze your own up the slope it would be very slow going. It'd be real pretty though, if only a bit intimidating. Glacier Peak has some serious glaciers on it.
I passes a couple women camped a few miles short of a lake I planned to stop at. They mentioned passing a decent campsite just north of the lake. It was about 7:00 then. I charged up to the top of the pass above the lake and had a snack while darkness settled in. I didn't see anywhere to camp around the lake, which was still mostly frozen over. I followed the creek flowing out of it for a ways, looking for the site the women mentioned. When I found it there were a couple other people camped there and the grassy area didn't look very flat. So against my better judgement I pressed on. The next stretch of trail was down the side of one of those very steep slopes, tons of switchbacks and not a square foot of flat ground. I got lucky though and found the only flat-ish area big enough for a tent off the end of a switchback, about halfway to the bottom of the valley. If not for that site it would have been another hour or more down, fighting through overgrown brush at the bottom and sleeping on the bridge. It was about 10:00 by the time I got my tent up. I didn't really need a tent that night, but I wanted something keeping me from sliding off the hill during the night. The day was longer than planned at about 36 miles.

Thrusday I continued down the switchbacks to the bottom of the valley, through the most overgrown section of the entire trail, across a fairly new bridge (rebuilt a mile downstream from where the trail used to cross) and up the other side, which was just as un-flat as the side I came down in the dark. I noticed later that my trail guidebook mention there was no place to camp in this area, guess I should have been reading that a bit closer.

The trail swung around the top of another valley that gave me my only view of Mt Baker, way off to the west. Then it dropped down into a third valley. This one also had its bridge wash out during some flooding a few years ago. The new bridge was rebuilt 3 miles downstream from the original crossing. So at the bottom there was a wide, newly made trail following the glacial stream down to the new bridge, where it met a pre-existing trail on the other side and went all the way back upstream. I learned later that there was a log still across at the old crossing, but it sounded pretty sketchy. It would have saved me 4 or so miles of hiking overall, but this wasn't the sort of stream you'd want to fall into. Only a couple feet deep, but freezing, concrete-colored water rushing over big rocks. Even with the 4 extra miles I still stayed ahead of the hikers just behind me who took the log. A casual 26-mile day.
At the bottom of these valleys are areas where you are suddenly surrounded by massive trees, growing in areas that don't get ripped to shreds by avalanches.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 137-138 - Skykomish

You know you're getting close to civilization when you start seeing ski lifts.
The PCT comes up the back of a ski resort at Stevens Pass. I arrived around mid-morning. In the parking lot I met several ladies who had just finished hiking for a few days in the same area I was in. They offered me a ride down to Skykomish which saved me from having to hitch a ride on the highway.

At the inn where I got a room I met Steve and Alice, a couple I hadn't seen since before the Sierras in southern California. Steve mentioned seeing a couple other hikers I knew who went further down the highway to stay with some trail angles in the next town. I had lunch at a deli/store and bought food for the next section, and some ice cream, and dinner at the inn's restaurant.

The next morning I went back to the highway. It goes right by the deli. John Wayne (the Israeli hiker, not the actor) was there trying to get a ride. I joined him for a bit and we were soon joined by Steve and Alice. The 4 of us took turns holding the sign and talked about what sort of vehicles we'd take rides in; backs of pick-up, RVs, in a boat on a trailer, on a flatbed, squished in the back of a sports car and so on. Despite our willingness to take anything at all, no one was stopping. We got some waves, truckers honking, "sorry" shrugs from people going only a short way up the road and the occassional "look away" (where the driver sees you, then intentionally stares the other direction).

We finally decided that 4 of us on the side of the road together may be hurting our chances. Steve and Alice went back to the deli while John Wayne and I kept trying. A short time later it was Steve and Alice who scored us a ride after talking to a guy who stopped at the deli. He had room for all 4 of us and was headed to the ski resort. It turns out he was actually the owner of the resort. He also owns another in Wrightwood, CA. The trail goes through that one as well. We went through it a few months ago; he said he was there just that morning. Flying is sure a lot faster than hiking.

We made it back to the trail around 12:00. We all had fairly similar plans for the next few days, but with the late start due to the time it took to get a ride we were going to have to hustle. I did about 22 miles before dark and camped near a creek. After I went to bed I heard Steve and Alice show up, hiking by headlamp. Up next, Glacier Peak. It had some clouds around it during the day but cleared up that evening.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Oh, Canada!

At 11:00 on September 10th, after 2660 miles and 144 days, I reached the Canadian border.  I'll catch up on posts over the next few days.  I've been slacking off with typing them up due to hiking 190 miles over the last 7 days; 20, 36, 26, 19, 30, 39 and 20.

Here's the proof!
And here's what I woke up to that morning, think I finished just in time...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Day 136 - Pressing On

I don't see how people hike this trail going south.  Right now the main thing making this hike worth completing is the scenery.  You at least have this to look at while hiking along trying not to think too much of finally finishing. The desert wasn't all bad to look at, but these mountains don't get less impressive the more you see.
Hiked 25 miles today, took it easy after 31 on Saturday. Been seeing lots of other hikers (not thru-hikers though), out enjoying Labor Day weekend. Excellent place for it with excellent weather, though I have hiked with my jacket on for the first hour the past two mornings.

Day 135 - So, Washington Is Pretty Amazing

Here's a few pictures from Saturday.  It was steep according to my GPS, but my legs don't care, did 31 miles anyway.