Arrrrg! Returning to the city is hard, really hard. I have read about the difficult post trail adjustments but you can’t really prepare yourself when you have no idea how it’s gonna feel. Well it feels lonely, crowded and purposeless.
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I finished and I have been meaning to write about the experience but I have been pretty unmotivated. The shock of finishing something I have been dreaming of for over 4 years was bittersweet. I still can’t really fathom how far I walked and i am really glad we kept the blog to remind me of all the small details I have forgotten. I really needed a break mentally and physically by the end, but as soon as I spent a few days in Seattle there was nothing that I wanted more than to hop back on trial and head south. I miss the simplicity of trail life, the community and my family (Turkey D and Mushy) and sincerity of hikers, sleeping under the stars and the exercise and endorphins (I regularly perve on my leg muscles, very proud of them, but they are deflating).
The end – happysad
I tried to help myself out by going to the Olympic Peninsula and hitching/busing around the beautiful beaches and rainforest. I camped on La Push beach and went for dayhikes in the Hoh Rainforest and still did not feel satisfied. It was an exciting adventure but hiking without an end destination and getting close to the towering Olympic Mountains but never going into them bugged me and I spent most of my time them yearning to go deeper into the forest.
2nd Beach La Push
I’m now in Portland and have been catching up with many PCT friends, it’s been lovely and many of them feel similarly to me. It’s getting easier, I’m starting to get this tourist business and not awkwardly make small everyday mistakes in how to order coffee or make small talk, but I’m still missing how powerful I felt while hiking. There are some nice residual trail traits that I am enjoying, like going with the flow and trusting that whatever you are doing will work out, self-confidence enabling hitching and yogi-ing rides from strangers, being able to walk all around town without breaking a sweat. One thing i am going crazy for is music, i really missed music on trial and now I find I am less picky and am very happy to listen to anything that is catchy and has good hook or beat. I’m sure my old pickiness will return but for now I’m bopping my head at every available opportunity.
The day we’ve been walkin for. Well not really but an important one in the saga. We hit the road at 6:30am and begin descending into the final valley. We are slack packing because we left our tent at Hopkins lake. After visiting the monument we have to hike 30 miles back to Harts Pass to get a ride into the big smoke.
Walking this morning was not comfortable. I began to notice yesterday that we were pushing ourselves to the very end like some strange personal pilgrimage. It was tainting my appreciation of the landscape, not being able to stop and take it in. Also it was excruciating to be this close but still be walking, then all of a sudden it is a if the forest ejected you into a strange linear meadow, there is the monument.
There is a cleared stripe of trees to denote the border along the 49th parallel. I just stared at it for a while, grinning from ear to ear, it was 8:30am. Then all of a sudden Quiz emerges from the forest and starts to tear up. We have a big hug and proceed to make whisky coffee and get photos with the monument. No Show arrives and shows us where the log book is. The 78th marker is the second statue but in by the US Government along the border, when you remove the top there is the ultimate pct log book. I write Turkey D’s first official Female Wresting advertisement!
No Show hits the road back to Harts Pass and we have some alone time at the border. All emotions on the spectrum are felt; disbelief, euphoria, sorrow, hysteria and this feeling of epic time, in terms of how much older and wiser we all feel. It also feels as though a huge weight has been lifted, we walked from Mexico to Canada and we were so dedicated to that for so long, now our tasks were small in comparison. For a second I felt invincible, even though we are far from it. It’s amazing what you can build on day by day and how that can accumulate into something ginormous.
While our path has not been continuous or in any way linear, we have had a completely different experience of the pct than compared to other years. Personal goals have been abandoned and questioned when things have never been easy or predictable. To keep hiking with the knowledge that nothing is technically ‘finished’ and making your own journey out of that was a huge challenge and humbled us to the natural environment which was at times totally inhospitable. Still finishing feels like an acceptance of our limitations and a celebration of the skills we have gained. Be kind/gentle to yourself, love your body and bask in these feelings while you can I say.
This is my last day writing the blog, Quiz is signing off. Today was hard emotionally and physically. I though that 2200 miles would have prepared me for a day like today (not my longest or hardest) but I feel like I’m pushing to the end now while my body and mind are waiting to finish. I’m sure I will write something after we have finished the trail and have reflected on the whole mammoth trip.
This morning was beautiful! We hiked along a ridge for miles going though beautiful high passes and meadows, looking at the jagged northern Cascades all around us. The mountains here are truely amazing and I kept saying to Turkey D that she should apply for jobs in Seattle so she can come here more often. We also saw 3 seperate plumes of smoke from the fires threatening the trail and the monument, one only 10 miles away. Luckily the wind is still blowing in the other direction.
So many spikes
Mountains for miles
After being spoilt for the first 8 miles of grandiose easy terrain the trail plunged into the trees and we descended to a wooded saddle before starting our climb. We stopped for lunch by a little stream and talked with Io and the UN Crew (formally the Kidney Stone Crew) and washed our some clothes so we look nice in our monument photos (jokes). We had done 14 miles and only had 10 left but we knew they involved a lot of climbing.
We didn’t stop for long and soon hit the slopes climbing out of the wood and into high rolling meadows and huge exposed rock faces. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking but it was pretty excellent walking. We passed a few hikers coming the other way many of whom seemed quite emotional. I was semi keeping my feelings in check and TD told me she had a lil cry with Box a hiker she passed on the trail and had never before met. It’s just a nice community like that.
There are fires only a few miles away threatening to shut the trail
Looking towards Rocky Pass
We also got to see Teflon again on our final climb! She was so excited for us and openly admitted to balling her eyes out in this very spot the day before. At the top of our final climb we were sure we were looking at Canada! But by this stage I was too tired to feel emotions I just wanted to get to camp. The trail started to descend steeply down a rocky well eroded slope which scared me in my fatigue and finally made me start crying. I realised I am just tired of pushing myself everyday, 12 hours of walking, confronting my fear of heights, sore feet sore legs, back rub, butt chafe, I’m over it. I know I’m bitching and most of the time I love it, it’s just so hard mentally to struggle on your second last day out here.
TD at Woody Pass
We finally made it to camp (wahoo). Eagle eye TD spotted an owl which was cool. After a stretch and a quick wash in the lake I felt better and we joined UN crew and Io got dinner. We all had really nice reminiscent chats about our favourite moments on trail and the UN Crew gave us a party hat each to go with our whiskey at the monument. What a crazy time, I can’t quite believe that tomorrow we finish, touching that monument is something I have dreamt of doing for so many years and tomorrow it will happen!
We have ourselves an extra 15 minutes this morning, leaving camp at 6:30am to a rather wet and wild world outside. The clouds sat in the valley, sweeping up to lick the sides of the mountains, opening up momentary windows of vision. It was an exciting and disorienting place to be. As the mist began to subside before breakfast we got amazing views of rocky peaks and snow filled glacial valleys. I am mesmerised by a rock that has fallen off the mountain and left a trail of devastation behind it.
Morning views through the mist
We had breakfast at Methow Pass below the dramatic Mt Hardy. It felt strange making coffee for two in such a large saucepan and we missed Mushy greatly. I hope he’s doing ok! We didn’t get reception at the Rainy Pass to check that he got to town ok.
We plunged into the next valley, into pretty but familiar pine forest. All of a sudden I notice No Show hiking behind us, we chat and filter water together. The path descends for a couple of miles and then swings to the west to take another river valley up to Glacier Pass. This is the main climb of the day and it’s really steady, no steep bits. Quiz and I eat lunch in a sunny meadow at Glacier Pass, half way up the climb, and hang the tent out to dry. The temperature has definitely dropped, its cold in the shade but perfect for hiking during the day.
Down the valley from Glacier Pass
After lunch we continue our climb up to the top of a ridge and look out toward Azurite Peak and Ballard Mountain. The top of the ridge is sparse with cute spindly pine trees (maybe they are larches? Not sure if they are changing colour). A series of meadows in browns and yellows and reds makes for a warm feeling. I would definitely camp up here if I could do it a second time around! We can probably see Canada from here! We can definitely point out the Diamond Creek fires to the north east. They are still burning but the smoke looks to be blowing east, when we go to the west of them.
Beautiful larch trees
View from above Glacier Pass
The rest of the day is glorious exposed ridge walking. The flora feels different to the rest of Washiongton’s pct. Many of the pines are smaller, there are less blueberries but more bright red coloured ground cover. The 70 days of no proper rain is far more evident out here, with the grass browned off leaving rocks exposed.
Collection water before Harts Pass
We catch up with No Show again and get into camp at around 6pm. I found today tiring. The lovely forest service folks at the fire guards cabin give us a beer each and we make dinner and hop in our tents, it’s freezing tonight!
Today I (Quiz) would like to call Out of the Campfire and into the Arctic. What a strange few days we have had, Mushy leaving 😭, the smoke finally clearing yesterday arvo only to have rain and cloud shroud us for all of today. No views for Quiz and Turkey D, poo!
Today we climbed 5000ft all day long, we literally only went downhill for the last mile. I woke to rain pattering the tent at 5am and it continued off and on building intensity in the afternoon. We set out following Bridge Creek upstream, at our second crossing of the creek we stopped for coffee and were passed by the kidney stone gang. Catalyst came by a but later and stopped to brush her teeth, after a teeth brushing party we all continued on up the valley. Turkey D was in the lead and I was walking as quickly as I could to keep up with Catalyst as she is great to talk to! We chatted queer culture and politics and books and before I realised it we had walked 8 miles, bonus! While Turkey D and I stopped for a break and water filter we were told of trail magic at Rainy Pass. Needless to say our break was brief.
North Fork Agnes River
We hot footed it another few miles and arrived to one of the best trail magics of the trail – ‘PCTs Last Call’. It was excellent for 2 reasons, The Animal and STP (Stop to Piss) were great hosts and characters and were really engaging to talk to, they had also supplied heaps of food and beer! We ate hamburgers and pulled pork croissants, oranges, mandarins, chips and got drunk off 2 beers and a shot of whiskey. Secondly it was excellent because all the kidney stone crew and Catalyst and a few other hikers were there, they cheered us on arrival and then we all sat about in chairs (I know I have mentioned my love of chairs before) and entertained eachother. We stayed 2.5hrs it was so good.
So many log crossings today
What a good gang!
But keep climbing we must so Turkey D and I tipsily crossed the highway, used the dunny and continued up. We hiked from a light misty rain into cloud and proper rain. The trees dropped away and we found ourselves atop Cutthroat Pass, a white windy place where huge pillars of rock occasionally loomed out of the mist. Usually I quite like such atmosphere but today I couldn’t help wishing for views after so much smoke. Oh well at least this rain will be helping with the fires and will probably give us a better chance of making it to the boarder. We are camped in a sheltered spot on a steep ridge, we can hear the wind howling but it’s not touching us here. I cooked from bed and we are warm and dry and cozy.
Rainy post Rainy Pass
Just near Cutthroat Pass
Oh I almost forgot to say we saw a porcupine today! Turkey D disturbed it while it was poking around a log and it ran up a tree. When I came along it was eye level with us and we spent ages staring into its face. I though it had the face of a rabbit crossed with a Labrador but TD though it looked like an alien.
I don’t think any of us had a very restful night at Agnes Creek. We woke weary eyed and not feeling like hiking. We walked 4 miles for breakfast down the river valley to a babbling creek. Mushy was in a bad way, feeling nauseous and had low moral. We tried to cheer him up but I think all he wants is town, warmth, a bed, some real food, which is fair after all this time.
We walk 12 easy miles by 11:30 and wait an hour for the bus at High Bridge Ranger station. We cross the amazingly blue Stehiken River, where we can see foot long bright red salmon swimming up stream. A local tells us that Lake Chelan used to flow out to the ocean but since the ice age/glaciation the rivers in this valley have been land locked so now the lake is Washingtons largest. The fish species used to be identical to sockeye salmon but are now different due to this isolation.
Mushy crossing a log
The shuttle takes us to the bakery where we get off and spend our time feasting on roast beef sandwiches and sweet rolls. The bakery is awesome. We then road walk 2 miles into the town of Stehiken. It’s a really interesting walk, going past beautiful lake houses and community gardens, bee hives and picnic areas. This town, even in all this smokey haze has its charms. It is completely cut off from other roads, so visitors have to come by foot or ferry. We set up camp behind the visitors centre. There are no ATMs in town so we can’t get quarters for the shower. We swim in the lake and scrounge together what we can for laundry. We meet a very lovely hiker named Catalyst from Portland. She is into biology and does tree research in old growth forests in WA. We all have a couple of beers and hit the hay.
Red salmon swimming up the Stehiken River
A cool community garden
The next morning Mushy tells us that he is thinking of ending his hike here. The struggles he’s had with food and weight have been really difficult. We are all slightly devastated that he is leaving us but agree that health is definitely a priority. Hopefully we will still see him in Seattle after the next section. He catches the ferry across to Chelan and we wave goodbye. We love you Mushy!!! A romantic ending to such an adventure.
Quiz and I head back to the bakery and eat clam chowder and write post cards. Everyone is talking about the Diamond Creek fire which is only 4 miles from the northern terminus of the pct and it could be closed if it moves any further west. Fingers crossed 🤞.
From the bakery we catch the shuttle back to High Bridge, the last 80 miles stand between us and Canada! It funny how everything feels monumental and fatalistic. We bump into Io (no show), Snitch and Bay Watch (aka Peter Pantless and Birdman) and Waterdog! Everything feels like it’s making a full circle!
I paint everyone’s nails purple and we hike out 5 miles with Waterdog and chat about what life might be like after the trail is over. At the group site at Bridge Creek Campground we meet a bunch of hikers we haven’t seen since Tehachapi! Tin Man is one of them, who is estatic because he just passed a kidney stone, which must have been very painful. He said he has been peeing blood for months and this is his biggest kidney stone yet! He is a doctor so I trust that he is ok. We all have a big 15 person group hug in celebration (kidney stone in the middle). Lots of birthing kidney stone jokes were made. Such a funny evening!
There is no denying that our bodies are feeling tired, my legs have no oomph left in them and only go at one pace, slow. And we are hungry all the time! I (Quiz) am writing this when our food bags are empty, so maybe it’s a mental thing too. Mentally we are all ready to finish, helped by the fact that today hinted at great sights but the smoke was so thick we couldn’t see much.
Crossing the raging Suiattle
We got up 15 min later this morning as it’s now just too dark to get up at 5.30. We have all been sleeping like babies our bodies are so beat, Washington recently has just been steep ups and downs, my thigh muscles are bulging! I walked in a bit of a daze all day, but this morning the trees are what brought me back to the present. They were huge! And so beautiful and covered in moss, some with twisted trunks. I think it’s probably some of the oldest forest we have been in and this was one of the parts of Washington I was most excited for. We made it to the bridge over the Suiattle River for breakfast, the river is huge and flowing tumultuously. We gazed at it while sipping coffee, great hiker tv.
Old growth and the TD
We love the trees here
On the other side of the valley the trail didn’t follow the river but climbed higher up the slope. After crossing Miners Creek on a cool homemade log bridge we climbed up the Creeks valley for ages, 8miles in fact. It was a sweaty hot climb, the smoke was a bit thinner today so the sun was hotter. We had lunch just after the peak, we could vaguely see some spikey peaks around us. The spongy wet meadow we stopped in for lunch was full of yellow jacket wasps, they were not aggressive but in such numbers that I found it difficult to relax. While the others had a long lunch I ate and ran to escape them.
Wasps! I hate you
Our descent led us through 2 very glaciated valleys, cirques kinda visible though the smoke. The valley floors were covered in rocks and made walking a bit slow but there were picas everywhere meeping warnings to eachother. There was still quite a bit of snow high up on the ridges and like our damp lunch spot the valleys ran with multiple cascading streams and small waterfalls. We soon descended back into forest switchbacking our way to the valley floor. South Fork Agnes Creek is beautiful and blue and has a rocky bottom. We had to take our shoes off to wade across but better now than tomorrow morning in the cold. Camp is within sight of the creek and we will sleep well with it’s comforting white noise. Stehekin and the bakery tomorrow, OMG!
Smokey cirques and rock fields/stoss
I don’t actually know it’s name but it’s super cool