We climbed onto the bus for Stehekin in our soaking wet clothes. There were about 20 hikers and a couple normal groups of people packed into a 23 passenger Red Jammer NPS bus. So, it smelled really bad in there! Needless to say we opened some windows and tried to save the day hikers from the stench of hiker trash. But that barely did anything. Oh well! I'm sure they survived the ordeal.
The town itself was situated at the edge of Lake Chelan. The road took us by the Post Office, the public laundromat, and finally the Stehekin Resort. It was a small, cute community. As we pulled up to the Resort I caught a glimpse of Doc hanging out in the small shop on the main deck. We all piled out and greeted him while checking out the storefront. It was still raining at that point and no one had any interest in getting back on trail that day. The plan was to pick up our boxes and go another 5ish miles to a campground but that idea was fading fast. No one had dry gear or clothes and that was the big issue. Going out into the rain after being warm and dry is one thing but continuing to hike with soaked clothing and packs is absolutely miserable. My socks and shoes had been wet for the last 3 days and all I wanted was to dry my feet out.
While I was puttering around in the store, Ride and Wright got us a room upstairs above the shop and restaurant area. Thank goodness. I didn't want to go anywhere until I was dry and the prospect of a warm room sounded wonderful. Everyone went upstairs and threw their stuff down. I left for about a minute or two and walked down the hall to check out the community room. There was a bookcase filled with novels and boardgames against the back wall which was facing a long window overlooking the lake. Everything outside was still misty and grey.
I went back to the room to take a shower and OH MY LORD it smelled bad in there. I took one step inside and instantly turned back around into the hall. It was like hitting a brick wall of wet, sweaty sock smell. It was bad. I mean, I had been smelling my fellow hiker trash and myself for quite a while but this was next level. It took me a minute but I finally walked back in there, trying not to breathe.
The morning we were set to leave Stehekin the sun was shining on the lake and the mountains beyond. The miserable weather from the night before was completely gone and it was a perfect day for some hiking. Everyone was in much better spirits as we boarded the red jammer bus to get back to the trailhead. Luckily, the bus stopped at the Stehekin Bakery again! Everyone piled out and bought a ton of pastries for breakfast and sandwiches for the trail. As I was in the parking lot I made eye contact with someone I instantly recognized. My high school classmate Amy Pavelchek was in Stehekin! I hadn't seen that wonderful lady in several years and we both freaked out with excitement. Apparently she had been working there for the past few summers. After some quick hugs and catching up I had to say farewell to Amy and get on the bus. It was fantastic to see her. It was another reminder that I was in my home state surrounded by amazing people.
The bus dropped us at the High Bridge Ranger Station and I headed out. The boys stayed behind to eat some food but Vanish and I wanted to get some miles done before we ate. The plan was to do 20 miles to Rainy Pass at Highway 20. I didn't want to hike at night so I pushed the pace to start out. It was a beautiful morning full of sunlight, fall colors, and snow-covered mountains. As an extra bonus, the climbing I was doing wasn't as painful as I had anticipated. Yay! Around 2pm I met Nathan and Wright at a small hiker bridge over the confluence of two rivers. We ate lunch there in the sunshine. I munched on a giant cinnamon roll from the bakery and shared some fresh apple cider with the guys. While we were eating, Doc and Puddin' (a new hiker friend) passed us. He was the one who gave us the cider. We all really liked Puddin'. He was a very friendly and kind soul of the trail. And to top it off it was his last day! He had already done the section to Manning Park so he was walking his last 20 miles that day. What a champ! We were all really stoked for him.
I left the guys at the river and trudged on. They passed me several miles later but we met back up at the water right before camp. It was getting very cold so I quickly filled my Platypus bag and rushed the last mile or so to camp. It was a trailhead parking lot but we found a nice little spot with room enough for everyone. On a side note, its very hard to find camping spots big enough for six or seven people. Anyways, when I got to the camping spot there was a trail angel set up with lights and a tarp but no trail angel. It was confusing so I left it alone and talked with Puddin' and Doc who had showed up. Puddin's brother was there to pick him up and he kindly shared some beer with us. Even when its freezing, a cold beer is awesome. We said farewell to Puddin' and set up camp quickly in order to stay warm. I somehow managed to light a fire and we all huddled round the flames in the cold. As we prepped our dinners someone came up in the dark and asked us if we were PCT hikers. We said yes and he introduced himself as Gnarly, a trail angel and former PCT hiker. He then gave us a ton of beer and food! He was awesome and we are very grateful for his amazing trail magic.
I went to bed very happy and woke up very cold. There was no frost or snow outside but it was very chilly. We were on a mountain pass after all. I got moving quickly so I could warm up. We had a 2000 ft climb ahead of us that morning and I wanted to get it over and done with. As I got closer to the pass at the top I started to see snow. It was a dusting at first but it began to pile up as I climbed higher to almost 7000 ft. The top of the pass had about 6 inches of snow on it. It was sunny and snowy, a beautiful blue bird day. I put on my YakTraks and trekked on through the snow. It wasn't very easy going but I was getting much better grip with my yaks on. As I rounded a corner I spotted something shiny. Could it be? Yes! It was beer in the snow! BEER IN THE SNOW!! Huzzah! Oh joy of joys! Gnarly had left three beers up in a snowdrift. What a guy. He also left a big note saying "Happy Trails". Man, that guys knows how to do trail magic. His angel-ing is on point. I got super stoked and took a video. I then put the beer in my pack and kept going. I started to descend as I rounded a corner and saw a massive snow cloud brewing in the distance...Uh oh... So I stopped and put all my cold/rain gear on so I could be prepared. After my preemptive gear strike I motored on. I started climbing again and crested yet another pass. On my way down from this newest pass I hit mile 2600!! What a great feeling! I've been waiting to see that number on the trail for so long. It was great to see it.
I stopped several miles later at a bridge to eat my lunch. Nathan, Matt, and Wright showed up and breaked with me for a while. We all left separately and headed the last ten miles to camp. The next few miles were easy but as we got closer to our destination we began to climb. And then suddenly we were going up a GIANT hill. It was so steep that when you looked up from the bottom you couldn't see the switchbacks crisscrossing up the hill. But you found out about them eventually when you were halfway up getting vertigo from the sheer cliff you were traversing. Mercifully the hill ended after a grueling climb and I crested at sunset. It was beautiful-the kind of beauty that stops you in your tracks as your jaw drops. The most incredible colors were dancing across clouds far in the distance. Pinks and oranges blazed miles and miles away as dark grey clouds swirled over the mountains around me. I was astounded. What a place. I am so lucky to have been able to see that view and many others like it.
The PCT always reminds you what an amazing country we live in.
I got to camp at dusk. It was bitterly cold because we were at about 6600 ft. I quickly set up tent and went hunting for water. When I got back, Matt and Wright had arrived. We all quickly filtered our water and jumped in our tents before we got too cold. It was so chilly that I cooked my dinner in my tent vestibule.
The following morning brought an amazing sunrise. It reminded me of Lion King Day back in the very beginning of the desert. As I walked, I spent a lot of time thinking about the beginning of the trail and Shelly and all that we had been through. I missed that girl! It was our last full day of hiking and I was very sad that she wasn't there to share it with us. As we descended to Harts Pass the clouds burned off and I was greeted by amazing views of larch and pine-covered mountainsides. The larches made the hills look like they were ablaze, covering the valley with their smoky gold color. The vistas brightened my mood and I was smiling as I arrived at Harts Pass. I breaked there, dried out my tent, and ate some food. Eventually Vanish and the boys showed up and we all enjoyed the sunshine. After my tent was mostly dry, I headed out.
Once I had climbed out of Harts Pass I began ridge walking for quite a while. On my way I met a wonderful family from the Seattle area and I chatted with them for quite awhile. They graciously offered me an apple and some avocado which I immediately accepted. I left them by a small creek running through a meadow and continued to the top of a small pass. By then Vanish had caught me and Nathan had passed earlier so I walked with Vanish for a while. We descended from the pass and met up with Nathan who was lounging in the sun enjoying a late lunch. Both Vanish and I paused a while to eat some grub with him and then we all left for camp. It was still a ways away and the probability of having to night hike was pretty high. But, I decided that I would hike after dark with Vanish because I didn't want her to have to night hike on our last evening together. So we moseyed to camp. It was a very slow descent to a canyon floor and then a big climb to get us to Woody Pass where our camp stop would be. We reached the top of a pass about 2 miles before camp as the sun set behind the mountains.
The last two miles were a bit sketchy. It was dark and the rocks were wet and slippery on our way down. Once the trail leveled out it became a little easier to navigate but that didn't last very long. We started climbing in the last mile or so and once again the rocky terrain made the going quite slow. Eventually we made it to camp. It was completely dark and bitterly cold. Once again we were above 6000 ft. The spot we had stopped at was about .5 miles below Woody Pass and it overlooked a large valley. Of course it was completely dark so there was no view to enjoy at the time but far off in the distance we could see two small lights bobbing along the hillside we had just come from. Ride and Wright were getting close to camp.
I climbed into bed as the two boys showed up. Everyone lay in their sleeping bags eating their dinners and chatting about the next day. We then did a couple rounds of MadLibs and then did our final Highs and Lows for the trail. That night my low was knowing that would be my last time doing Highs and Lows with my trail family on the PCT. It was a crushing thought. This adventure had seemed endless at the beginning. Now it was as if it had flown by all at once. Canada was only a day away and soon the group would part for good. I fell asleep trying to process all the thoughts and emotions running through my head. Tomorrow would be a day worthy of remembrance.
At 6:15 am I woke up. It was still dark outside but I needed to pee. I got out and braved the freezing temps outside. Above me was a clear black sky filled with stars. Orion was visible just above the ridge in front of me and Ursa Major was shining directly over our camp. In the distance the faint glow of dawn was starting to appear behind a far off mountain range. Everything was still and quiet. I paused on my way back to my tent to enjoy the serenity of the morning. My breath hung in the chilled air as I stood gazing across the valley. I felt like I was inside an Albert Bierstadt painting. The heavenly gleam in the distance was now cresting the tops of the mountains and the entire valley began to fill with a rich golden light. The sky began to lighten and all the world seemed aglow.
There have been many times in my life, both on and off trail, that a landscape has brought me to tears. The Sierras caused me to become emotional a few times and I of course teared up when I saw Mt. Rainier. But the view I had before me this morning was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It felt like I was witnessing the dawn of creation. Everything was new and clean in the morning light. Steam was rising from the frost on the ground and all around me there was a mist dissipating into the air. The trees swayed softly in the gentle fall breeze coming down the mountain side above me which was now bathed in the golden light of the sunrise. There was no stopping the tears from running down my face. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I spent the rest of my morning trying to process what I had just experienced as I packed up my stuff. I had saved some special food for this morning and I sat around enjoying my breakfast once I was mostly ready to go. It was nothing too extravagant. I had some cinnamon and apple oatmeal, freeze dried berries, and Trader Joe's coffee. It sounds simple, I know, but after about 2 weeks of only having Builder's Bars for breakfast it felt like I was having a 5 star feast.
I sat around with the rest of the pack that morning as they all gathered up their gear. We talked and laughed for a bit and then finally I decided to get going. I put in my headphones and put on the most appropriate song I could think of: the Circle of Life. Once again my eyes got misty. It was a perfect way to enjoy the sunrise while I walked. Through my headphones I could hear the frosted, frozen ground crunching under my feet. Soon I was at the top of the pass and I stopped to turn around and get one last look at the valley. The sun was high above the mountain tops now and everything was bathed in the morning light. I smiled and enjoyed one last moment of reverence before turning around and heading north.
The view in front of me was just as stunning as what I had just walked away from. Far off in the distance a low hanging layer of cloud was settling in a valley. It looked like a white lake from where I stood. Beyond the clouds I could see the white capped tops of high peaks. Even farther still I caught glimpse of Mount Baker completely covered in a blanket of white snow. It was a sublime view with amazing colors and scenes in every direction. I wanted to stop and stare for as long as possible but I walked on.
Soon afterwards, Nathan passed me. We walked around ridge lines and up steep hillsides until the trail reached 7000ft. For a couple miles I lost him ahead of me but eventually I caught him standing on an overlook above the trail.
"Hey Smokey, you gotta come up here and see this." I thought to myself "Buddy, I've seen a lot of things today already. Whatever it is can't be as spectacular as my morning." I couldn't have been more wrong. I joined him on what seemed to be the tallest peak in the area and found myself looking at a 360 degree view of the North Cascades. There were mountains as far as the eye could see and in every direction. I was at a loss for words. Nathan looked at me, smiling. He knew exactly what I wanted to put into words but couldn't find a way to do so. We both stood there in awe. I wish I could describe this place well enough to give you all an idea of what I was looking at but despite my best efforts I can't do it justice.
We sat down and waited for our friends. In hushed tones, Nathan and I talked about our trip. It was a very serious conversation, one filled with awe of our adventure. We talked about how, in many ways, this was our greatest accomplishment, far greater than graduating college. We also talked about how glad we were to have our friends with us and how much we missed those who were not there. We especially talked about Shelly. Both Nathan and I were sad beyond belief that Shelly wouldn't be with us at the border. This was such a tremendous moment and we wanted to share it with her.
We sat there talking for a while until the rest of the group arrived. The Pack sat up on this lone peak together surveying our domain. It was a peaceful moment we shared, just staring out into the world. To the south and the west were rows and rows of mountains. Some of them were dusted with snow, others were completely covered in white. To the east the landscape flattened out and to the north the hills became fully covered in thick evergreens. I peered off in the direction of the border trying to find a straight line cut through the trees. Despite my efforts I saw nothing that looked like the tree cut marking the border.
Eventually we all met at the creek. Some of us grabbed some water and snacks before saddling up for the final miles in the U.S. Before leaving we established an order to our pack train according to start date. Vanish was first followed by Ride, then the Oklahomies, and finally Nathan and I.
It was a slow 2 miles but that was just fine because we were simply taking it all in one last time. We just talked and laughed the whole way down until we reached a clearing. To our left we could finally see the border. Up the hill above us was a perfectly straight line leading off over the horizon. It was clearly the border so naturally we all freaked out! Pictures were taken, high fives were given, and then we continued on for the last quarter mile. The trail did a couple switchbacks on the final descent. One corner actually passed right next to the border cut. I could've reached out and stuck my hand into Canada. But I didn't. I was far too busy looking down the hill through the line in the trees. Farther down the tree cut was the monument. It was only visible for a second but everyone gasped as we rounded the corner. I heard Matt say "Oh my god, I saw it!" as the excitement mounted for the final corner.
The trail curved away from the border and finally turned back-the last switchback. We walked for another couple seconds and then the monument became visible up ahead. Everybody started howling and yelling and laughing. We triumphantly walked into the clearing and found ourselves at the U.S./Canadian border! To our left was a wooden terminus marker just like the one down at Campo. On the left side of the terminus hung the American flag and on the right was the Canadian flag. Beside the marker was a small metal obelisk labeled "Monument 78". Its top was removable and inside we found the logbook and a small hiker box.
Then Nathan asked for everyone's attention. The group fell silent as he began to read aloud. It was a short poem/passage that he had found sometime before we had left the last town. It was short but deeply moving. Somehow it captured the essence of the trail.
Nathan's voice wavered as he read the final lines. I felt my eyes watering. It finally felt like it was ending, the trail and the adventure. I began to feel the impending loss of my family. It hurt to think that in a few days I would say goodbye to some of the most important people in my life. A few tears fell onto the dirt at my feet as Nathan finished reading. It was a beautiful moment. In a way, we were all silently thanking each other for walking this far together.
"Guys, its been a wonderful experience getting to know each of you. I just want to thank you for sharing this adventure with me." It wasn't very eloquent but at least I tried. Matt looked at me and said, "We love you too, Smokey." Thats what I should've said. I love those guys. But, they already knew that so I just smiled and turned towards Canada.
The final 8.8 miles went by fast. The trail was eroded everywhere but I didn't slow my pace. Eventually Nathan passed me in the last few miles. The trail crested a hill and then started a long descent towards town. The dirt path widened to a large gravel ATV road and soon I found myself walking the edge of a river close to town. After a few corners, I was looking at the road. A large sign reading Manning Park was at the trailhead and next to it were my parents and Nathan! I was DONE!!! I let out a monumentally loud howl and ran to my parents. I hugged them, congratulated Nathan, ate some cookies, and set my pack down on trail for the last time. We took a picture at the sign and my mom handed out presents. She had made us Wolf Pack t-shirts! They looked so cool. I loved them and so did Nathan.
We all went over to the resort. Nathan and I signed the logbook and crossed the road to the restaurant to get food. We waited for the others as we ate our meals. My parents wanted to leave that evening so I readied myself for a long drive. Around 7pm everyone else arrived and they all sat down to dinner. Ride and I, however, were leaving with my folks so we grabbed our stuff to leave. Everyone hugged and said goodbye. I was going to see the group in Seattle later that week but Ride was heading to Montana. It was the first real goodbye of the Pack and it was a sad moment. We left the restaurant and began heading for home.
The car ride home was quiet. I sat there thinking about my trip. I had walked from Mexico to Canada. I had left 2600 miles of blood, sweat, and tears
out on that trail.
The PCT was officially over.
P.S. This is not the final post of the trip. I will have one post-trail post to talk about the Pack adventures in Seattle and what life is like after the PCT. So, don't worry. I know its an abrupt ending but I will bring some more closure to the story in the final post. Thanks for reading about our adventures. Stay with me a little longer until I close the book on Emily and Shelly's PCT Adventure.