PCT Days 163-172: Washington Part II, Larches and Lurches

It feels like we reach Washington-Washington, finally. The colors! The views! The COLORS!

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Purples, reds, oranges, yellows… There’s actual sunshine casting actual shadows; there are valleys and mountains and views.

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On the day we hit 2500 miles, we meet a guy who shot a bear. The bear pieces are sealed in a barrel to be safe from other bears until the guy can carry them out. So it goes.

September’s shorter days are definitely here, with lots of drizzle and the occasional sideways rain. The consolidating hiker herd creates competition for campsites at the end of long, grey days. Clouds descend and we walk all the way around Glacier Peak with barely a peek at the glaciers. We clamber over giant blowdowns and slide down muddy slopes.

The elevation gains and losses are intense. According to Halfmile’s app, on Day 166 we lose 7,052 feet in elevation while also climbing 5,404 feet. On Day 167, it’s -5,052’/+6,166′. My feet do still hurt, of course, but mostly I’m just tired, lurching forward because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2500 miles. So I can do it for another 150.

At Stehekin, the bakery is everything it is rumored to be, and more. A red shuttle bus picks up dirty hikers at the trailhead and stops at the bakery on the way to town. We buy All The Things and eat All The Things and it is good. On the way back out of town, we stop again and stock up on pastries and breads and amazing warm treats baked by the bakery employees, who are all lovely hippie girls.

And the larches! Let me tell you about the larches, because I didn’t know: larches are conifers that turn bright yellow and drop their needles. They’re a thing. And they’re beautiful.

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We hit the last passes of the trail. They are beautiful. We stop at an overlook with epic views in every direction where it’s quiet enough to hear a bird’s wings flapping overhead. It’s beautiful.

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Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful:

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On our second-to-last day on the trail we hike through snow all afternoon and camp by a mountain-rimmed lake as the full moon rises over the snowy landscape. Tomorrow: Canada.

Day 163 / September 17 to Day 172 / September 26, 2015
Stevens Pass to Hopkins Lake
182.4 miles, PCT Mile 2461.3 to 2643.7

PCT Days 144-162: Washington, Part I

The rain starts as we walk into Washington across the Bridge of the Gods and sticks around for the next nine days. Being soggy and cold is a downer, but I remind myself that water puts out forest fires, and right now forest fires are what’s blocking our hopes of a continuous footpath to Canada.

The trail changes dramatically in Washington—instead of dry forest filled with huckleberry bushes, everything is lush green, an orgy of ferns and mosses, layer upon layer of decaying trees, populated by slugs and salamanders.

We leave the dripping forest and climb up to Goat Rocks Wilderness—a legendarily beautiful stretch of trail where the path follows a narrow crest (the Knife’s Edge) with thousand-foot drops on either side and 360-degree views of snow-capped volcanos all around. The photos I’ve seen are stunning.

This is what it looks like when we hike it:

Sideways hail, 32 degrees. It’s… frustrating. And cold. But! We get a tiny bit of cell service on the far side of the Knife’s Edge, after exiting the snowstorm, and discover that A) Dilly and Dally have quit the trail after days of nonstop Washington rain (boooo!) and B) the trail is now open all the way to Canada after days of nonstop Washington rain! Hooray! With the trail closure near Stehekin, we would have faced a choice between hitching much farther north, creating the first gap in our hike—or a 100-mile road walk. But now, no choice necessary: Continuous footpath from Mexico, here we come!

We also get a few glimpses of how beautiful this section is when you can, y’know, actually see it:

Then the weather clears, and we get to enjoy clear blue skies and fall colors in full effect. Mount Rainier is ridiculous.

At Snoqualmie Pass we take a zero and get visits from Dilly and Dally (looking so clean and so relaxed in their “normal” clothes) and from a Peace Corps friend and her husband. Donuts, double breakfast, pre-dinner milkshakes… Man, I’m gonna miss feeding my hiker hunger.

Leaving Snoqualmie Pass we take the Goldmyer alternate, which leads us to Goldmyer Hot Springs, a hike-in-only campground + hot springs where the hot springs flow from inside an old mine shaft—which has been built up so that you can actually climb into the horizontal tunnel and slowly cook yourself.

After oh-so-flat Oregon, Washington brings the return of Sierra-style climbs and descents—epic, rocky, unrelenting—which means tough hiking but dramatic views. Though I suppose we’ve technically been in the Cascades since clearing Donner Pass back in California, this is the first time the landscape feels truly… Cascadey.

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Hiker-wise, the end of the trail begins to feel like the beginning of the trail: people are bottlenecking, clumping up as we near our common goal. Hiker Herd, reassemble! Crowds of hikers are passing us who started in May, a full month after we did—I try not to feel abysmally slow. After all, we’ve all hiked the same distance—and, as hikers say, last one to Canada wins.

One moment of trying to wrap our brains around how far we’ve walked: the first major interstate highway we crossed under was I-8 at Mile 26, with San Diego due west. One hundred and fifty-six days and 2,364 miles later, we walk under I-90, where road signs point to Seattle.

Day 144 / August 29 to Day 162 / September 16, 2015
Cascade Locks to Stevens Pass
317.1 miles, PCT Mile 2144.2 to 2461.3