The End, Part 2 (The Very, Very End)

Posted on September 21, 2015

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We left Stehekin in the company of new and old friends, and all of a sudden, it was summer again! After two weeks of cold, wet hiking, the sun reemerged, and we got 80-90 degree weather for the rest of the trek. A strange and welcome change for our soggy band of hikers!

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On the shuttle back from town to the High Bridge Ranger Station, our friend IceAxe (a two-time AT thru-hiker and the fittest 68-year-old you’ll ever meet) looked up at the mountains above us and said, “They’re waiting for us.” The sun was shining, and we had only 89 miles left to go.

Trail Magic at Rainy Pass with Easy, B.K. and Prickly Pear.

Trail Magic at Rainy Pass with Easy, B.K. and Prickly Pear.

Our last days on the trail were filled with trail magic, an enormous porcupine, snow-capped peaks, sweeping vistas and a few more tough climbs for good measure.

A porcupine in the trail!

A porcupine in the trail!

We experienced just about every emotion as the miles wound down: sadness for all that was ending, gratitude for what we’d been through and for our health and safety, eagerness for a chance to rest our weary bodies, and excitement for the sense of accomplishment that would come from crossing the border into Canada. But it wasn’t over ’til it was over, and it always seemed that there would be more miles to hike.

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Our last night on the trail was so windy that we weren’t sure if our tent would hold up, or if we’d be able to sleep. We had to laugh, though; it seemed that there was always a new challenge for us on this trail, even at the last possible moment.

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Sunrise special effects on our last morning.

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On little sleep and pure adrenaline, we woke up at sunrise to hike the last 11 miles to the US/Canada border. By late morning, the pull was strong.

At 10:00am, we turned a corner and saw the famous monument marking the northern terminus of the PCT. With a deep breath, a bit of reverence and some nervous giggles, we ran to it. It was a strange and surreal moment, though it still didn’t seem like it could really be the end.

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Monument 78, US/Canada border.

We tried to soak it all in among some of our fellow hikers, but we still had 8 miles left to hike to Manning Park (back to civilization) that loomed over us. So, once again, we packed up and started walking.

As we hiked into Canada, we decompressed. It was really over, and somehow we had managed to hike every mile of the PCT in a year when that had seemed impossible. Plus, we were still in one piece, and we hadn’t gone crazy. We had just kept going until we ran out of miles. In the end, it all felt like a gift, pure and simple.

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It’s been over a week now since our 2,650-mile journey came to an end, and there’s still a lot we haven’t processed. Being back in the “real world” — first, Seattle, now Atlanta — seems fine, and we’re taking it in small doses. We’ve adjusted to using computers and calendars again, and it’s been wonderful to spend time with friends and family who we have missed.

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But, already there’s some grief that comes along with leaving the trail behind. After all, it was our home for nearly five months, and, though it wasn’t always comfortable, it was the most stunning place to call home. We miss the quiet and the beauty, and the surprises around each turn. I miss the humility that comes with staring down a huge volcano, and the peace I felt from walking through every obstacle and every joy.

It was simply amazing, and we tried to savor as much of it as we could take in.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.

Happy trails,

Lara (“Veggie”)

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The End, Part 1

Posted on September 15, 2015

Spoiler alert: we made it to Canada!

Veggie will be offering concluding thoughts shortly (look out for “The End, Part 2”), but I want to take a few minutes to pay tribute to Washington’s beautiful Northern Cascades. Per our last post, we were amazingly lucky to “thread the needle,” so to speak, between two significant fire closures affecting the PCT. The Washington section of the trail is always imbued with emotion for thru-hikers, but, taking our first steps onto trail we’d long-assumed would be closed, we experienced a kind of sensitive disbelief. “Here you are, so tread lightly. And don’t complain. About anything. Especially rain.”

Section K, here we come.

Section K, here we come.

It was Labor Day weekend, so the woods were full of day hikers and campers on their way to Lake Valhalla (a worthy home for any Norse diety), or up into the Glacier Peak Wilderness for a few nights. Forecasts predicted that the weather would abate, but not until we were all treated (surprise!) to an overnight dusting of snow. Our feet felt like popsicles in our trail runners the next morning, then half-melted popsicles that afternoon. But the scenery – what we could see of it through the fog – seemed even more beautiful with an added coating of white. We felt thoroughly prepared with our rain gear, gloves, and umbrellas, but saw a few shivering hikers rush down the mountain back to civilization, chanting mantras about cheeseburgers, hot coffee, and beer.

Veggie ventures into Labor Day snowfall.

Veggie ventures into Labor Day snowfall.

Over the next few days, the sun slowly emerged. Section K proved to be fairly challenging hiking, which made us even more grateful to be walking it now, with our thru-hiker legs, than in the future, when we’d be starting from scratch. The big elevation changes brought great rewards though, leading us to adopt the new motto “Washington Delivers.”

Fog, fog, fog.

Fog, fog, fog.

Micah Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Micah Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Glacier Peak finally emerges.

Glacier Peak finally emerges.

We also had the pleasure of meeting up with some of our favorite hikers, who, like us, were thrilled to have access to this once-closed portion of the trail. Some of them had already hitched up to Chelan and taken a ferry to Stehekin, ready to proceed north, when the heard about the section reopening. In true thru-hiker fashion, they turned around and started trekking south. which made for a very happy intersection/reunion near Glacier Peak. It was one of those moments (and we’d have many more before our trip ended) when we realized that the people really make the experience.

(Left to right) Sweetums, Skua, Ice Axe, Pounder, Twist, and Square.

(Left to right) Sweetums, Skua, Ice Axe, Pounder, Twist, and Square.

(Left to right) Sneezle, Backwise, and Leopard Sauce.

(Left to right) Sneezle, Backwise, and Leopard Sauce.

A few dozen miles later, we found ourselves in North Cascades National Park (our 7th!). We caught the bus from the High Bridge Ranger Station (filled with only thru-hikers, save one brave couple who endured our collective stench) and headed into Stehekin, our last town stop. Stehekin is an idyllic place accessible only by boat, plane, or foot. They have an astonishingly good bakery, which the bus always stops at, and the best post office on the trail, at least in my opinion. They’ve had a rough summer due to all the fires, but, when we were there, you wouldn’t have known. To us, it was paradise. We can’t wait to go back for an extended stay.

Sunset view from the Stehekin Lodge deck.

Sunset view from the Stehekin Lodge deck.

We spent the night dining and reminiscing with other thru-hikers, sharing our favorite (and least favorite) moments from the trail. We’d all come so far, over 2550 miles, and faced just one more stretch. The magnetism of the border pulled us forward, but we couldn’t deny that we were somewhat reluctant to approach the end. Would we ever see these friends again? What would life after the trail hold for each of us? Soon we’d be back in society, trying to explain what it feels like to walk such a long way. But here we were, one last time, surrounded by people who knew exactly what it felt like.

Stay tuned for Part 2,

Square

Up in the Clouds

Posted on September 5, 2015


We are in a happy state of shock. After five weeks of the trail being closed for many miles north of Stevens Pass, it is now all open. And it reopened this morning, the same morning that we showed up at Stevens Pass. We can’t believe our good fortune! We are so grateful for these miles (even though they’re said to be some of the hardest of the trail). Walking from Mexico to Canada may be possible after all.
 Part of the reason the trail has reopened is because of the immense amount of rain we have had. We had been hoping for rain to help with the fires, but after more than a week, we are (selfishly) ready for a break.

 

The Summit Inn at Snoqualmie Pass

It was counterintuitive to leave the dry comfort of the inn at Snoqualmie Pass. It rained throughout our day off while we dried out our gear from the previous days’ deluge. We took pity on the hikers who headed out into the wet weather, while we soaked in the hot tub. But then, inevitably, our turn came. The rain was predicted to last all week, so we had no choice but to go back into the fray and get the authentic “Washington Experience.” It was rough. It wasn’t pretty. We climbed into the clouds, getting wetter and wetter, and it was difficult to see more than a few feet in front of us, let alone catch any glimpses of the views we had heard so much about. Even as we near the end of this hike, this trail has more lessons for us. Here’s what stuck with me from this stretch: The only way through is through. At high elevation, with cold rain (and snow) blowing sideways and low visibility, it’s tempting to throw up your hands and say, “This is terrible! I hate this!” But, then what? The answer is still the same: then, you keep hiking. There’s nothing else to be done, so you let yourself have your pity party while still putting one foot in front of the other. You just get through.


Be OK with being uncomfortable. We take precautions and avoid recklessness and danger, but beyond measures of safety, there’s a certain amount of discomfort that just comes with the territory. That’s when you take a deep breath, put on your wet hiking clothes, and accept the things you cannot change.

Take it in stride. The hardest thing to accept with weather like this is missing the views. When the sun peeks out, and there’s a break in the clouds, the views here are breathtaking. But we know that most of them are shrouded by mist and clouds, and we are simply missing them. Ultimately, though, that’s the nature of a thru-hike. You’ll get some views and miss others. You take what you get when you’re there. (And you keep a list of sections you want to come back to in better weather!)

Enjoy the rainbows! Finally, there’s a reward to enduring buckets of rain. Every day we got at least one rainbow. It’s hard to remember what you wanted to complain about when you’re looking at a rainbow.

We are still adjusting to the news that there is more trail to hike after having accepted that we would have to miss Section K. But even with the additional 104 miles opening up, there isn’t much trail left. Less than 200 miles left to hike. With that, happy trails!

Love,

Lara (“Veggie”)

P.S. – A special thanks to our umbrellas, which have helped keep us sane throughout these days of rain. “Umbrella fellas for life!”

Singing in the Rain

Posted on August 31, 2015

 

A rainbow welcomes us to Snoqualmie Pass.

Greetings from Snoqualmie Pass, WA, where, notably, it’s raining. Hopefully this is good news for the communities threatened by fires up north. At the very least, it’s a refreshing reminder of what this place is usually like in the fall: wet, shimmering, and lush. Last night and today saw some particularly heavy precipitation, collapsing tents and drenching gear for many hikers. More than a few folks woke up in standing water. We managed to stay somewhat dry, thanks to a lucky choice of camping spot, a solid performance from our tent, and our (now) beloved umbrellas. The dry ground seemed unacquainted with so much water, causing large puddles and streams to form on the trail. Interestingly, the day-hikers we met in this stretch seemed wholly unbothered by the weather, donning sweatshirts and baseball caps in contrast to our rain pants and jackets. Guess it’s that Northwest blood, but we still found ourselves thinking, “who are these people!?”

Anywho. Washington continues to offer spectacular hiking. A tiny cut-through of Mt. Rainier National Park (our sixth this trip!) brought us closer to that behemoth than we’ve ever been. And while our views were fogged out at Chinook Pass, we loved watching the clouds weave in and out as we climbed through clear-cuts and around lakes.


 Side note: we happened to overlap with an ultramarathon yesterday, the Cascade Crest 100, part of which was run alon the PCT. We were passed by dozens of runners during the day, about 30 miles into their century trek. It was inspiring to see so many people sharing the trail cordially, and in such athletic fashion, though late in the day, with rains coming in, the race sounded miserable. Around 4:00 PM we asked a runner how he was feeling, and he said, “Great! But ask me in twelve hours.” Some humans are incredible.

We’re spending a day here at the pass to let a bit of the storm system blow by and savor some time with friends. The scenery is supposed to change drastically as we move into the North Cascades, and people who know the area have darn-near drooled when talking about its beauty. Still no solid decisions on our fire-related plans, but we’ll keep you posted.

Dusk at Dewey Lake.

Finally, a special shout-out to our buddy Chimp for the care-package. You sure know how to treat a hiker right.

Love,

Square

“It’s Not ‘If,’ But ‘When'”

Posted on August 26, 2015

Hello from White Pass, Washington! We are well into our last state of the trail, and so far, Washington has been wonderful. We love this state for so many reasons: the friends and family who call it home, my alma mater (dear ol’ Whitman), and our favorite farm (Rosehip on Whidbey Island), to name a few. But as much as we love all the corners of this magical state, we’ve never explored its central region. Thankfully, this National Scenic Trail goes right through the heart of it, through the Cascade range into Canada. Unfortunately, as you may have heard, much of central Washington is currently on fire. (More on that later…) 
 Misty mornings gave way to bright blue skies and prominent peaks for our first few days in the Evergreen State. The terrain, unsurprisingly, felt a lot like northern Oregon, and we were pleased to find it easy on the feet. We’ve still been able to put in our 25-mile days without hurtin’.

Our second day back from Portland, we heard rumors of trail magic where we had planned to camp that night, and sure enough, best surprise ever. Three meals a day cooked up by five guys with trucks full of food. We hadn’t seen many hikers since crossing into Washington, but it seems they had all ended up here, huddled around the campfire with good food and great company.

On our fourth day out, we went into Trout Lake, a small community that has developed a reputation for its generosity. (Zack actually produced a piece about it for WBUR’s Kind World. Listen here.) The folks were top-notch, and we loved our visit to the tiny town. Gary, a retired firefighter who always helps hikers out, gave us a ride back to the trail and a bit of wisdom when it comes to forest fires, “It’s not a matter of if an area will burn, it’s a matter of when.”

Square hikes around Mount Adams.

On that note, we walked around the base of Mount Adams and saw an enormous and expanding plume of smoke in the distance. The trail had been closed in this area a few weeks back but had since reopened. The fire seemed to raged on, and the rising smoke was mesmerizing. We assumed that it must still have been safe for us to walk through, so we kept walking. We found out later that just a few hours after we left the Mount Adams Wilderness, the Forest Service closed it – and 25 miles of the PCT – because of the fire we were watching.

 

The Cougar Creek fire rages.

More about fires. First and foremost, we are fortunate to have made it this far in our hike without encountering impassable closures. Since we hiked through, fires near Big Bear Lake, Crater Lake and  Mount Adams have closed the PCT in those areas. We have also heard stories of early snows and flooding stopping hikers from finishing their treks. To a certain extent, the unexpected is to be expected in the span of a trip like this, and in a record drought year, many areas are bound to burn. We’ve always said, it’s humbling but true: “Nature doesn’t really care about your thru-hike.”

 

Smoky sunset

Currently, multiple fires are wreaking havoc in the communities and wilderness areas in central Washington. Firefighting resources are maxed out. At least 100 miles of the PCT is closed to hikers further north, and originally planned reroutes are actively burning. The situation could get worse; it could get better. The PCTA’s advice is to “wait and see.” (For more details on the fires near the PCT, see the PCTA’s recent write-up.) We will be sad to have to bypass a section (or sections), especially ones we have heard are so beautiful, but we know that this comes with the territory. It’s fitting, though it carries a little extra sting, that the trail would throw us a curveball within the last 200 miles of this 2,650-mile journey, but – as our friend Key Lime says – “It’s all part of the adventure.” And our being blocked from a portion of the trail pales in comparison to the challenges that many of the surrounding communities are facing, as they risk losing homes and economic livelihoods to the fires. We’ve been enjoying dry, sunny weather, but this is a rare occasion when we are desperately hoping for rain.

2,200 miles!

For now, there is still open trail to hike, and we are going to savor it. Yesterday was our four-month “hike-a-versary.” Four months on the trail, and we have seen some amazing things. To top it all off, yesterday we walked through Goat Rocks Wilderness. We had been hearing about it for months: “It’s like the Sierras!” “Best views on the trail!” It seemed like a whole lot of hype. Then, as we got nearer, we’d been hearing from south-bounders that the smoke had obscured the stellar views.

 

Key Lime and Mount Adams

Happily for us, yesterday was a perfectly clear day, and Goat Rocks delivered. Making the day even more spectacular, we reunited with friends Pretzel, Road Runner and Key Lime after many miles apart. We took in panoramic views of Mount Adams, St. Helens and Rainier together and walked along the stunning – and occasionally terrifying – “Knife’s Edge.” A four-month gift, indeed. Now, enjoy the photographic spoils!

 

First glimpse of Rainier

Can you find Liability (above)?

 

Reunion!



Love,

Lara (“Veggie”)

Oregone!

Posted on August 18, 2015

Greetings from Portland, Oregon. This morning we hiked over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington. Another milestone, to be sure, and a signal that we’re really in the fourth quarter of our trip. Our friend (and former AT alum) Ry met us in Cascade Locks on the south side of the bridge, gave us root beers to drink while we walked over the Columbia, then met us on the other side to whisk us back to Oregon. What a dude!

Ry welcomes us to Washington!

 

Washington is rumored to be challenging, wet, and stunningly beautiful. We’re eager to see for ourselves, but not before a few days of R&R on this side of the river.

Since our last post, we’ve woven our way through precious and infinite lakes and around the bases of towering volcanoes. The hiking has been easy, generally, though dusty and frustratingly exposed at times. We met many people attempting to backpack all of Oregon in a summer -It’s possible, and worth it, if you can get out here!

 

Lara and Mt. Hood

Here are a few highlights:

Three Sisters: Leaving Elk Lake we were surprised to find ourselves beneath three large volcanoes, the three sisters. Though we had a hard time distinguishing them from below, they made numerous appearances as we popped in and out of the trees. Obsideon and lava flows dotted the landscape trough this section, as did spot thunderstorms. 

Big Lake Youth Camp: The kind folks here deserve a shout out for their hospitality. They allow hikers to send mail drops, shower, swim, and eat for a small donation. We felt like we were back at summer camp for a few sweet hours.

Mt. Jefferson: Another doozy. We were fortunate enough to enjoy day-long views of Jefferson before a cold front and thick fog rolled in. Jefferson Park, a large alpine plateau, was a popular spot with locals from Salem and Portland.


Special mention in this area also goes to Three Fingered Jack. Can you spot Angie hiking below?: 

Little Crater Lake: As the name implies, it’s small and 45 feet deep. Worth the side trip. The crystal clear water hardly looks real. 

Eagle Creek Alternate: Oregon ended spectacularly with an alternate route off the PCT onto the Eagle Creek Trail. Here’s Veggie at Tunnel Falls, one of the many falls along the route.

 So, Oregon, so long. Washington, see you soon.

Love,

Zack (Square)

Wrong Turns, Smoke and Magic

Posted on August 11, 2015

 

Mount Thielsen

Howdy from more than halfway through the great state of Oregon! Compared to the time it took us to trek through California, Oregon is flying by. It’s been a smoky, gorgeous, frustrating and magical nine days since we left Ashland.

 

Smoky sunset

 

Smoke filled the skies in southern Oregon, though we were reassured that the wildfires causing it (in Northern California and further west of us in Oregon) were a safe distance from the trail. We walked over both wooded and rocky terrain, formed as lava hardened from long-ago volcanic activity.

Speaking of (former) volcanoes, we entered our fifth national park of the PCT: Crater Lake. Created when the once 12,000-foot volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted some 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is one of the most stunning and strange natural wonders we have seen. After the enormous explosion, the mountain lost about 5,000 feet of elevation and caved in on itself, forming an enormous crater. Over time, it filled with water and is now the deepest lake in the country, with depths of up to 1,900 feet.

 

Crater Lake by morning

The water is strikingly blue, and the cliffs drop off straight into it – no sandy beaches on this intense lakeshore. Walking along the rim trail that circles the crater, we felt like we were being let in on a big, beautiful secret.

 

Sunset at Crater Lake

After Crater Lake, we entered the land of much smaller lakes. We’ve enjoyed camping at beautiful lakesides each night. But this idyllic section hasn’t also been without its challenges. We took three wrong turns three days in a row, which took us off-course and tacked on some unproductive miles. It may seem that going a few extra miles in the scheme of a 2,650-mile hike would be a drop in the bucket, but in the moment it always seems like the worst. thing. ever. We let ourselves be very melodramatic about it, and then within a few hours, we regained perspective. Lessons learned on the path less traveled.

 

Square at Diamond View Lake

Finally, the trail miles…Among PCT hikers, Oregon is known as the place to crank out “the big miles.” The terrain is more forgiving and shaded than the trail in California or Washington, and hikers tackle 30+ mile days on the regular. We have been very consistent with our 25-29 mile days, keeping up with our friends who did bigger miles by taking less time off and staying steadily on schedule.

 

Trail magic at the right moment

But we saw the perfect opportunity to try our first 30+ mile day yesterday. The weather was cloudy, the trail was smooth, and the timing was right. With the help of our friends Roadrunner and Pretzel, and some amazing midday trail magic that fueled us through, we made it all 31.3 miles to Mac Lake and celebrated with much silliness.

Pretzel, Roadrunner, Veggie and Square

Today we are taking a half day on the shore of Elk Lake. Not a bad way to mark the halfway point through this amazing state. And while there is still much more time left on this journey (we probably have about five week), we know that many more miles are behind us than lie ahead. It’s hard to soak it all in, but we are just plain grateful to have made it here.

Love,

Lara (“Veggie”)