PCT Photo Journal, Part 9: The Cascade Hustle and into Canada

In this 268 mile stretch from Snoqualmie Pass to Manning Park, I hit bad weather in the Cascades, visit a tacky tourist town, and finally make it to the Northern Terminus on the Canadian Border!

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I meet up with Bear Bait again at Snoqualmie Pass, and notice that someone has graced the hiker box with an entire half rack of PBR.  We help ourselves to four cans, burying them inside our packs, and then head out towards our planned camping spot at Ridge Lake.
The trail gains elevation, winding up switchbacks through the old growth forest and enters my home turf: the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  It’s a tough climb in an area that I’m very familiar with.  We reach Kendall Katwalk, and stop to take a break and enjoy the views.
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The Katwalk is a narrow pathway, blasted into the rock just below Kendall Peak.  It replaced the old trail many years back, which traveled through a basin, had a difficult mountain climb and was always in need of repairs after the winter storms had taken their toll.  From there, we hike on to Ridge Lake.  We find an open area to set up on the far side of the lake, but I discover a huge pile of trash in the bushes, something that could attract bears.  We head back to the other side of the lake and make camp with some other people, just as rain clouds move in.  I sit inside the tent the rest of the evening, drinking my beers that I had scored earlier, then doze off after dinner.
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(Photo: shame on the people responsible for this.)
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(Photo: Kendall Katwalk)
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(Photo: A refreshing beer in camp at Ridge Lake)
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I wake up in the early morning darkness to have to wee, and I find that we are socked in by thick clouds.  I crawl back inside the tent, but Bear Bait is awake now and wants to push on.  We pack up and head out, hiking into the misty morning.
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The weather clears and the sun makes an appearance late in the morning, letting us view our spectacular surroundings.  We climb a series of switchbacks, and Mount Rainier can be seen to the south, peaking over some mountain tops.  The trail dips down into the forest momentarily, then starts across a pathway notched into the side of a scree covered mountain.  It’s narrow and scary through here, and the dense clouds from earlier seemed to have settled in this area, making things extra precarious.  The scree is hard on our feet, and we stop once we climb out of the clouds and have a break on a high ridge.  Below are some shimmering lakes, and we decide to have our lunch there.

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We descend down towards the lakes, our feet and knees aching the whole way.  We find a small spring fed pond in a lovely meadow, and sit on a giant warm rock in the sunshine.  Sailor makes us some coffee to warm up with, and we have some lunch.  We’re feeling pretty tired from hiking on the rough terrain, and we’re both ready to call it a day even though it’s way too early.

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We pass by Spectacle Lake and it’s trail junction in the afternoon, and start a long, tedious descent through an old burn area.  At the bottom, we have to ford a creek where the bridge is washed out, and by that point we’re too knackered to go on much further.  We find a campsite adjacent to a meadow, after only coming 15 miles for the day; a shameful amount of mileage for a thru hiker.  We’re both running on low, though, and agree this trail can’t end soon enough.
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It’s a rotten morning: driving rain and absolutely miserable outside.  We drag ass getting going in the morning, not wanting to face the awful conditions.  Autumn had come to the Pacific Northwest, and it was here to stay.
We start out by gaining elevation, climbing up brutal switchbacks in the pouring rain.  We’re both soaked through and chilled to the bone, and when we stop at a lake for water at the top of the climb, the bitter cold feeling is only exasperated.  We try to walk fast to warm up, but it’s of little use.  My face and hands are numb, and I’m on the verge of tears.  We stop for lunch midday, and huddle under a tree out of the rain.  Things are looking grim for us, and I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of hypothermia.
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Bear Bait suggests we stop at a camp a few miles ahead, at the end of a long descent to the Waptus River.  I agree, although I’m unhappy with doing another short day.  It’s clear we’ll never catch up to the others.  If the weather is this cold already, then snow is likely just around the corner.  What if we’ve come all this way only to fall short by a hundred miles or so? 
We make it to the river and find some campsites on the other side of the bridge.  We set up camp, and I strip out of my wet clothes and then crawl into my bag.  The rain continues to come down hard, creating a steady stream of water flowing down the trail.  I try to warm up with some hot coffee, and then doze off early in the evening to the sound of the rain pounding against the tent.

 

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The rain has ceased by the morning, and the sun is out once again.  I lay my clothes across a flat rock and hang my tent from a tree branch, hoping to get them dry.  I’m still forced to wear damp, cold hiking clothes, and it’s as miserable as it sounds.
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The trail rambles through forest and meadows, with dramatic views of mountains surrounding us.  We stop for an early lunch at the outlet for Deep Lake, and I warm myself in the sunshine.  We each devour a packet of Pop Tarts, something we are thoroughly sick of and is nearly gag inducing.  After lunch, the trail starts to climb up switchbacks towards the Cathedral Pass Junction, and we meet another thru hiker whose possibly suffering from giardia.  We give him some anti-nausea medication and Imodium, and wish him luck.
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We manage to cover decent mileage by the end of the day, and settle into a large campsite beside Mig Lake.  I enjoy the use of the pit toilet (you got to take what you can get these days).  Just as it’s getting dark and I’m dozing off, a group of other thru-hikers sets up camp right next to us.

 

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In the morning, we’re anxious to get to Stevens Pass and enjoy a half day of beer drinking in the town of Leavenworth; a tacky Bavarian themed town on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains.  We pack up quickly and early, and leave our camp mates behind, having never actually seen them.
We follow along a ridge, where a pair of grouse scare the shit out of us by flying off just as we’re about to step on them.  We cross under some ski lifts, and then begin a decent towards the ski resort at Stevens Pass.  We hurry down the exposed switchbacks, kicking up clouds of dust behind us as we go.
Once at the lodge, I sift through the hiker box and grab some tea and snacks.  In the parking area, we are able to secure a ride from a trail angel called Apple Bob, who is dropping more hikers off at the trailhead.  He’s only going as far as the rest stop, miles before Leavenworth, but we hop in his truck anyway.
At the rest stop, we continue trying to hitch alongside Highway 2 towards town, but aren’t having much luck.  There are a lot of cars flying past us, but they are driven by retirees who glare at us from the comfort of their gold-colored luxury sedans.  Finally, a nice man driving from Seattle to Spokane, offers to give us a lift. 
In Leavenworth, we find a room at a cheaper motel (not an easy feat in a tourist trap).  We head to the post office and I retrieve my resupply box, and we go about completing our errands and hitting up the beer garden in town.  I eat as much food as I possible can, including German sausage, a liter of beer, and a variety of deep-fried goodness.
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The next day, we begin trying to hitch outside the outdoor store along the highway.  It takes awhile before we get a ride, and the guy that picks us up is a former thru-hiker.  It’s clear from the beginning why he picked us up: he wanted to relive his PCT glory days and talk about himself.  Bear Bait and I mostly sit in silence as he talks about how awesome he is, and we’re a bit annoyed, but it’s still a ride and we’re happy to be heading back to the trail.
At the trailhead at Stevens Pass, there’s a flat of Monster Energy drinks sitting next to the trail register.  We sit and drink a couple of cans and flip through the register, looking to see who’s ahead of us, and see who made it to the trail just before us: All the Way, Shake n’ Bake and Fun Size.
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With our painfully late start, we only manage to make it about ten miles in before we decide to make camp as it’s getting dark.  We find a suitable spot near a late outlet, and cook our dinners before retiring.
The next day is grim; cold and windy.  We break camp early, and head into the mist.  The views are obstructed all morning and into the afternoon, and we spend the day getting thoroughly soaked, grumpy and miserable.  By late afternoon, and after we’ve had our lunch, the clouds clear temporarily to give us a fleeting glimpse of Glacier Peak ahead.  Our happiness doesn’t last long, though, and the bad weather returns to spoil our evening.  Our spirits are lifted for a moment as we witness a porcupine bumbling its way up the trail in front of us.
We roll into our destination at Lake Sally Ann as the weather is worsening, and quickly try to make camp without getting all of our gear wet.  The wind is whipping across the landscape and driving the rain into us.  I tremble as I collect water from the lake and filter it with frozen fingers.
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I wake up to the sun breaking through the cloud cover, and a gentle breeze is pushing the clouds across the lake and down into the valley below.  We start hiking early, and I’m enjoying the warmth of the sunshine on my face.

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The trail is bursting with color: the hillsides are awash with shades of autumn reds and oranges.  Glacier Peak is poking its head out ahead over the treetops.  We enter more alpine meadow, and all the clouds from the morning have gone, opening up the lovely views ahead of us.  We trek across dramatic ridges, surrounded on all sides by the strikingly beautiful peaks of the North Cascade mountains. By late morning, we enter the Glacier Peak Wilderness, now with its namesake on full display before us.

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I stop in the sunshine to have my lunch just after passing the 2500 mile marker, and sit directly in the trail and eat.  There’s no one around for miles, except for momentary appearances by Bear Bait as he makes his way up the winding trail.  Pink Paintbrush flowers dance in the breeze, and clear mountain streams babble nearby.  It’s a perfect day.

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After lunch, the trail begins a long descent into a glacier carved valley.  I inch closer to Glacier Peak with every labored step, and although the going is difficult, I’m joyful.  Pika and marmots scurry from their warm rocky perches as we pass them by.  We enter the forest once again late in the afternoon, and the sunshine is glimmering through the thick canopy and casting golden patches onto the mossy blanket below.  Mushrooms and toadstools are plentiful, adding to the mystical fairy tale feeling of it all.

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We cross over the silty Kennedy Creek on a dilapidated bridge, and continue through the woods for some time.  We keep going until it’s nearly dark, and the weather had started to change for the worse again.  We find a lumpy campsite near a creek, and made camp with some other hikers in the fading daylight.
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The day is wet and there’s an all too familiar chill in the air: snow is near.  I can feel it, I can smell it.  It sprinkles rain here and there all morning, and we wonder if we’ll make it to the end.
We reach the bridge over Milk Creek by late morning, and pause for quick lunch.  There’s a massive climb ahead of us, and the weather is worsening.  Once we start to climb and gain a bit of elevation, the rain turns into light flutters of snow.  We push forward, trying to stay warm.  But the overgrown and wet bracken is soaking us to the bone.
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We finally reach the top, after quite the struggle.  I’m emotional and not enjoying myself.  The descent proves to be just as challenging as the climb, and we have to clamber down a washed out section of trail on a rope on greasy clay soil.
By evening, we are completely done in.  We reach a campsite, overflowing with other hikers, as it’s getting dark.  The only available free spaces are uneven bivy sites with no room to peg out the guylines on our tents.  I do the best that I can with what I have, pitching my tent next to a rotting nurse log, and settle in as the storm worsens outside.

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By the morning, the storm has cleared and the warm sun on the wet ground is sending wisps of steam up around us as I eat my breakfast.  We hurry off, anxious to put in some miles before the unpredictable weather changes from good to nasty once again.
We hike on level, soggy ground through old growth forest, where the massive cedar trees tower above us and the rest of the forest.
The day is warm and rather enjoyable, meandering through the hills.  By evening, we reach the boundary of the North Cascades National Park, camping just before it and near a rushing creek.
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IIn the morning, we only have a few miles to go until we reach the ranger station where the bus picks up to take hikers to the remote town of Stehekin, our last stop before Canada.  Before leaving the Steven’s Pass area, we had checked the schedule to make sure it was still running regularly, as opposed to limited twice daily service.  We got there just in time, the day before limited service was to take place, but were surprised to find a sign posted saying that limited service was, in fact, in effect.
We hang around the closed up ranger station for around an hour, with a herd of other thru-hikers sharing our same frustrations.  Finally a van from a nearby lodge rolls in to drop off some tourists at the trail, and the driver takes pity on us.  For a ‘tip’ he’ll drive us the several miles into Stehekin, and we all happily agree.
Stehekin is a charming village, located at the head of Lake Chelan and completely inaccessible by road.  The only way in is by ferry, float plane, or in our case, hiking in on the PCT.  After grabbing my resupply from the post office, as well as a nice care package from my Auntie Sig, I head to the lodge at the ferry landing and get a room for the night.  I have a hot shower, a couple of beers, and then mail off a few post cards to friends, before spending the rest of the evening having dinner at the local restaurant with Bear Bait and several other hikers.
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Thanks to the bus in the morning, we get a late start back to the trail.  Bear Bait and I each got a permit to camp within the National Park, something our PCT permits didn’t cover.  It’s yet another cold and damp day, with limited scenery thanks to the misty conditions.
Just before dark, we find the designated campsite on our permit, which comes with a slimy loo and a broken bear wire, and we retreat to our tents before it starts to pour rain.
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The morning is another wet one, with limited visibility as we head out eagerly early on.  I take the lead for a change, charging up the trail a ways in front of Bear Bait.  I have enough food in my pack for four days, but I want to complete the trail in half of that time.  Snow is on the horizon, and I want to go home.
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By midday, we cross the highway at Rainy Pass and start to climb.  I’m still happily motoring ahead, admiring the lovely golden larches and delicate flutters of snowflakes as I gain elevation.
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At the top of Cutthroat pass, the snow is coming down with force.  We have a quick break but then press on, deciding we need to finish the trail by tomorrow or we’ll be snowed out.  We reach Hart’s Pass by early evening, where there’s a trail angel with a camp set up and a roaring fire.  He offers us some sodas, which we happily accept while trying to warm up in front of the blaze.

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By dark, we’ve come quite a ways, and the snowstorm is blowing hard.  We pitch our tents within the cover of some trees, and dive into our warm bags.  We’re pushing for the border tomorrow, a grueling 26 miles ahead, and 34 to Manning Park.
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As promised, I wake up to snow covering the ground and my tent in the morning.  I give everything a good shake, and we set off with a mission to finish the damn trail!
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The day is filled with trudging through snow, up and over mountains and across narrow ridges.  The scenery is lovely, but brutal.  We only stop to pee, and eat snacks from our hip belt pockets.  It’s too cold to stop moving, and there’s the promise of beer and hot food ahead in Manning Park.
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(Photo: Snowy conditions on my last day on the PCT, near Woody Pass)
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Eventually, we get down below the snow line, where it’s muddy trail traveling through thick forest.  We’re racing now, and I catch a glimpse of a clear-cut line through the forest and down the hillside: it’s the border!
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The border is literally cut through the wilderness, with soggy Canadian and U.S. flags hanging from the PCT Northern Terminus Monument.
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I’ve done it!  I walked the 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada, through extreme heat, cold, snow, rain, injury and fear.
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There are few words for how I feel at this moment.  My goofy smile speaks volumes.

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After much joy with our accomplishment, we have another hard reality to face: we still have an 8 mile trek from the monument to Manning Park, the closest form of civilization to the border.  It’s early evening now, and some of the other hikers are calling it a day and camping just north of the border in Canada.  It’s drizzling rain, cold and so gloomy, and I just want to go home, so Bear Bait and I decide to push it to the lodge.  It will be my longest day yet on the trail, 34 miles, but knowing that there’s a hot meal and beer ahead keeps me motivated.
The trail from the monument to Manning Park isn’t maintained, and it’s mucky and slow going.  We see some day hikers who are actually complaining about the distance they’ve trudged from the park, and we roll our eyes. 
By dark, we reach a series of gravel roads that we follow to a day use area, then have to walk along a highway until we reach the lodge.  It’s Canadian Thanksgiving, so no rooms are available, but the lodge is kind enough to let us hang around until we can catch the passing Greyhound Bus at 3:00 in the morning.  They have a space in the lower level for the thru-hikers to sleep in if they choose, but the smell of hiker funk is overwhelming.  We change into our sleep clothes and then head to the bar, where we devour burgers and fries, and nurse on a few beers in front of the fireplace until they close. 
Back at the lodge, we purchase our bus fares online, and wait around in the lobby with some other hikers until the bus arrives.  My adventure is over, I’m going home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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