We set off from the High Bridge near Stehekin with way too much food in our packs and they were stupidly heavy. This made our hiking particularly challenging in the arid heat of the low altitude. Cashmere’s bag in particular was seriously overflowing, partly because of some very dubious packing – but also because of the sheer bulk. We were carrying all this food even though the section was likely to be less than four days long.
Not only were our packs heavy and full, our bellies were also extremely full. We had been trying to eat our money’s worth of fairly delicious food. Starting from a low elevation, naturally, the hiking started with a decent climb. You would think that after more than five months of hiking we would be prepared. However, the combination of heavy packs, over-full tummies, hot weather, and steep climbing was not at all easy. How could it be our last section and we still don’t have this down? Doing amateur stuff like packing way too much food? But seriously, we want to eat well for the final section.
After a little while the afternoon heat faded a bit and the gradient calmed down, as did our tummies. We were in the North Cascades National Park and passed a good-looking campground, but decided to push on. As we hiked on the trail paralleled a glacial river. After a while we crossed a bridge and camped on a bit of land between the glacial creek and a clear creek. You are required to camp in designated campsites in North Cascades National Park. This spot worked well for our mileage and the time of day, but being between the two rivers, it was very, very cold and dewy at night. The skies remained clear exhibiting nice stars but making the night even colder.
We awoke very cold in the valley with little motivation to leave the warmth of one another and the sleeping bag. We finally dragged ourselves out of bed around 7, had some breakfast, packed up and slowly set off. As soon as we climbed out of the valley and into the sunshine it was warmer. Suddenly we could take off the beanies, gloves, and jackets that we left camp wearing.
We jabbered on between us, randomly trying to remember who was on who’s side in the World Wars. Then we did a practice job interview for Cashmere who had an upcoming job interview. Our conversations really have covered all bases on the PCT.
Despite being in a National Park (Northern Cascades), the scenery was fairly boring. Interestingly once we had hiked fully out of the National Park, it got better.
We crossed SH20 and reached a trailhead at Rainy Pass. At the trailhead we sat down and joined some other hiker trash we know: Stitch, Otter, and Chronic the Hedgehog. All of us hiker trash had our tents and sleeping bags spread in the sun drying. The two of us also took the opportunity to fix a few random things now that we could finally do so in sunshine. Needless to say our lunch soon ran over 2 hours long. Oops.
After lunch we climbed up and up, passing lots of day and section hikers telling is we were in for a treat. Sweet.
Then, oddly, we saw a hiker named Sundown who we hadn’t seen since the Sierras. He explained that he had been walking with a friend who was slower and had now left the trail because she ran out of time to finish. As a result Sundown had gotten behind schedule and ‘flipped’ to try and get better weather. It was great catching up with him and he agreed to help Cashmere fix ‘an incident’.
Earlier she had got out a water bladder and filled it up at a creek. At the time she thought to herself, ‘that is going to be heavy but I will put it in my pack anyway’. Unfortunately she somehow got distracted and left the full water bladder on the bank! We had enough capacity and water to live without it but didn’t want to be big litterers. Nor did we want to walk back a few miles, then turn around and cover the same section of track for a third time. Sundown agreed to pick up the bladder for us and donate it to a hiker box. Thank God…or maybe just Sundown!
With a newly clean conscience, Cashmere enjoyed A Few Good Blueberries that she found. Then we reached Cutthroat Pass and everyone was right: it did have amazing views.
From there we continued along a ridge, seeing new amazing views around every corner. While Cashmere was pausing to take lots of photos, Physio got ahead and looked so small relative to the scenery. Man oh man we were loving the jagged peaks around. To top it all off we both independently spotted what we believed was a bald eagle.
We continued walking, descending, and found some bits of ice along the way “hmm seems kind of cold around here”. It was getting dark but we were still a couple of miles from water (which we needed) and established campsites. It was unlikely we’d find random campsites soon anyway as the terrain was pretty crazy.
After a few miles we crossed a stream and got lots of water. We then began scouting for a good campsite but had no luck before reaching the campsite listed on our app. It was very busy with at least six or seven tents up. By this time it was already dark and we didn’t want to annoy the other hikers with setting up camp, cooking dinner and flashing our our headlamps around. We decided to follow a random trail up a hill until we got too sick of looking for a campsite and settled for a seriously mediocre one.
The campsite was awful and Cashmere made that well-known, complaining about her fear of rolling down the hill. It was also seriously freezing that night, but on the plus side, dinner was good anyway. With the awkward campsite we snuggled up, only really using the flat side of the tent anyway.
It was so cold overnight that we really didn’t want to leave the bed the next day. A fellow who had been in one of the other tents said his thermometer read 27°F (~ -2°C)….IN HIS TENT. So it was that we only finally stopped snuggling and started moving around 7:30. That is really quite naughty behaviour when the days are getting so short.
We had breakfast, Cashmere starting with her coveted cowboy coffee. Then we were into granola…the last of Cashmere’s mom’s homemade granola on the PCT. 🙁 Luckily we had loads of other granola, enabling us to eat seriously greedy portions:)
Sadly the sun didn’t hit our tent until we were ready to pack it up so the frozen condensation didn’t get a chance to thaw, let alone dry. On the other hand, the sun was out and we were feeling very fortunate to see our gorgeous surroundings. We climbed up to a pass and started dropping down.
We ran into an interesting character, “Shortcut” hiking southbound. He actually finished hiking the PCT in August, but missed the trail too much so had come back with his son to re-live some of the hiking. His son told us he thinks we are all crazy (thru-hikers that is).
Shortcut had started very early. He began hiking in January from his home in Phoenix Arizona and walked to Campo, California to start the trail – certainly not ‘Shortcut’ behaviour. His very early start meant that he reached the Sierras at the same time as the late April and May storms were raging. With some sections seemingly impassable he had to retreat down to the desert east of the Sierras. Not wanting to break his continuous footpath, Shortcut instead opted to walk along the parallel desert highway, route 395.
We walked through a long stretch of trail without any real forest, but surrounded by little trees. The little trees looked like sumacs, with bright orange berries. We also observed quite a lot of orange berry-filled scat along the trail. It didn’t appear that the berries were being digested very well. Maybe the bears were desperate because the huckleberries and blueberry seasons were poor and had come early?
After some snacks by a creek we walked through another sunny area and heard huge crashing in the bushes of a big animal running away. While we didn’t catch a glimpse of the animal, we are fairly certain was a bear.
We proceeded to climb up a gorgeous valley and then climbed a seemingly endless set of switchbacks up a hill to a ridge with great views. There we had a late lunch and then walked along the ridge for some time.
Eventually we descended down to Hart’s Pass. Some hikers who don’t want to cross into Canada leave the trail at Hart’s Pass, usually by first walking up to the Canadian border monument and then turning back. The fact that we were getting to the stage where people turn off really made us realise how close we were getting to the border. So close it was both sad and exciting.
At the pass we signed the trail register and stopped around to see when others we know had passed through. While we were doing this a nice hiker came up and handed us each a beer, saying congratulations. The beer was just a stock standard lager but for some reason it really hit the spot. Thank you! Him and his friends invited us to come hang out at their camp where they were building a warm fire. We considered doing so but realised that the campground didn’t have any water and we were running way too low to cook dinner. So we walked a little more up the PCT to a little creek where we got water. Then we walked back a tenth of a mile and set up camp, cooking dinner too. It was again a cold night but not nearly as cold as the previous night. Still the increasing coolness seemed a sign that the hiking season was really coming to an end.
For our second-to-last day we awoke early. We had another big bowl of homemade granola (thanks Barb!) and got moving. As we filtered some water at the nearby stream we met a couple, two other thru-hikers that we had never met before. It was funny that this was still happening so close to Canada.
It was windy as we got moving. We climbed up to a ridge with seriously spectacular views.
We were glad we were up early since there were already clouds moving in and the views wouldn’t last forever. We were also expecting rain to move in at some stage. In the far distance we could just make out a huge snowy volcano but to this day we are not sure which mountain it was. A girl we had never seen before passed us as we walked, or more correctly, passed us as we stopped to enjoy the scenery and take photos. She appeared to be a thru-hiker who had become a bit antsy to reach the border.
The day continued on with the usual topographic ups and downs and some leap-frogging with other hikers.
In the afternoon we ran into a few hikers who had reached the Canadian border and were on their way back to Hart’s Pass. There was ‘Jugs’, a scruffy fellow from Arizona who carries a huge water jug in his hand, albeit in a bag. There was a couple of fellows, counting how many thru-hikers they saw on the way back from the border (I think we were around 19 & 20) and were maybe 16 miles from the border. We saw Dundee, a lovely guy we hadn’t seen since the Sierras. He seemed really tired and had assumed we were ahead of him since he hadn’t seen us in so long.
We had lovely views and as the evening approached we made it up to 7,000 feet (~2100m) one last time. Our emotions were a strange mix this afternoon. We were a little excited to reach the border and loving the scenery, but also feeling a great sadness that our incredible journey was coming to an end. Luckily we have a few more adventures lined up for after the trail!
We decided to camp ‘somewhere weird’ for our last night on the PCT. It seemed appropriate since we had been camping in weird places the whole trail. We always preferred campsites not listed on the app, loving a little more solitude and the ‘hunt’ for a campsite. We decided upon a spot on a ridge, overlooking a pretty lake, where most of the other hikers we’d been seeing were likely camping. We decided we wanted to camp with nice views since tomorrow we would descend fairly quickly into forest. What’s more we saw dark clouds and rain coming in from the west, which would most likely remove any chance for views the following day.
We had dinner on a rocky outcrop overlooking the lake and went to bed, one last time on the trail. It was cold and overnight we heard the rain arrive. Perhaps it was good, it would encourage us to reach the border rather than dwell on our goodbye to the trail.
Day 167 – September 25, 2015
Our final morning on the PCT started off with coffee (for Cashmere) and then breakfast, both in the rain. The rain continued as we packed up and then stopped temporarily once we were ready to set off. We chatted about rugby stuff (it is Rugby World Cup time – making one of us very excited about rugby).
We crossed some little streams and before we knew it, we heard the sounds of a chainsaw. Usually we would have no idea what this would mean, but Jugs had told us that there had been some chainsaw action when he reached the border monument and that they made him wait to even walk up to it. So when we heard the chainsaws we knew we were close.
Indeed when we reached the border there was a lady walking around with a chainsaw with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. It definitely wasn’t the border encounter we had imagined for the last five months but it is what we got. Apparently they are clearing the forest from the border zone for drone surveillance.
There were two other hikers we’d met in the last few days hanging out too. Their Canadian friend had even walked 8 miles in from the road, bringing cheese, beer and other snacks. The friend shared the bounty with us and so it was that we randomly drank a grapefruit shandy beer on the border and indulged in cheese. Not a bad way to celebrate walking from Mexico to Canada, literally. There were no skips, we had one, really long, continuous footpath.
We pored over the log book at the Monument, reading various hikers’ reflections. We related greatly to one comparing the border experience to summer camp: sadness, some small amount of excitement about going home, and reflection of all the great people and experiences you had met on the trail. We took heaps of photos and ate our morning tea until three hikers we’d seen lots, Stitch, Otter, and Chronic the Hedgehog, rolled up. We congratulated them, took photos of them and then set off.
It continued raining most of the time while we walked the last 8 miles north to Manning Park Canada. Everything we saw became a representation of how things are in Canada. “Wow, the trail is really rough in Canada!” We noted how nice Canadian campsites were too – with firewood and amazing benches provided. We even utilised a covered outhouse at one of the campsites, which was a welcome respite from the rain. Despite such amazing entertainment, the last miles seemed to drag on. To be fair, we did take a wrong turn at one stage, extending the distance even further.
Luckily some nice volunteers congratulated us via a weather beaten sign and an arrangement of trail debris. We also had food and some sort of lodging at Manning Park to look forward to.
We eventually emerged at Manning Park where we decided we definitely deserved a hotel room with access to the jacuzzi, swimming pool, sauna and steam room. We went for lunch with our trail friends, Stitch, Otter and Chronic the Hedgehog, exchanging advice about surf spots and travel advice for South America (our next adventure).
Once fed, the two of us took full advantage of the aquatic and spa facilities, trying them all out for hours like giddy children. Showers ensued, then laundry and a walk to the convenience store to buy some hiker trash dinner (frozen pasta meals etc.) that we could cook in the microwave. Well hey…the price was right and we’re still pretty trashy!
We opened some little presents Trail Angel Barb had sent us to Stehekin for when we finished. They were nice scarves (presumably inspired by the name ‘Cashmere’) and a beautiful card. Barb’s card reflected on our adventure and how nice it was that we could support one another through it.
Next thing you know, Physio was down on bended knee with a ring. He told Cashmere that walking the trail together had been amazing and grown his love for her even more. He said if we could spend basically all day together everyday for over five months with minimal conflict and enhancing each others’ experiences, our relationship is probably going to last pretty well. It was the gift of the ‘Eternity Ring’, given to wives usually after a year of marriage or after a first child is born. In this case a child was not born, but rather two through hikers with an enhanced appreciation for each other. To be honest mostly Cashmere just liked the way the other two rings looked with the third.
It turns out Physio had secretly made the ring distribution plan with Trail Angel Barb. Cashmere, having a poor enough memory to have forgotten that the third ring had come to America, was surprised at this lovely end to our last day of the hike.
Hiking the PCT isn’t for everyone, but it was overall a lovely experience for us. It was a great way to take time out from the ‘real world’ and just chill. I am happy to report that we are still us, a quirky team ready for adventure, so long as we eat enough food and have water to drink.
Prologue: We have since gone to Vancouver, met up with an old friend, Andrew, before he set off to Kyrgyzstan, got sort of adopted by his fam, saw the lunar eclipse, tried to run errands, and went to a hockey game (we are in Canada!) Then we returned to California very briefly to visit our friends’, Missy & Jake, meet their new little baby and retrieve some belongings. Next we set off to Ecuador where we are now, adventuring along. We may write a shorter, more abbreviated blog post about our South American adventures, or not. We’ll see.
Thank you so much again everyone for supporting us. I can’t tell you how much time we have had to reflect on our lives on the trail and how lucky we have felt to have the experiences, families, and friends that we have. Thank you so much for being a part of it.