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

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