This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
We are all ready to leave Snoqualmie, when we go to get breakfast. On the way to the restaurant, we look out of the window- driving rain. All my stuff just dried out. Should we stay another day? In the end, we can’t make ourselves leave, even though it is one day later to Canada, one day closer to snow.
As we are walking back to the trail the next day, a car pulls over in front of us. A man in a shirt and dressy pants steps out. He asks if we remember him, and something clicks. It’s Walking Home! We last saw him in the Sierra. He tells us he had to get off trail for plantar fasciatis, but it is so good to see him again. A sign at the trailhead warns that we should expect delays as they are blowing up trees that are blocking the trail. After a few miles, we are stopped by tape that proclaims “Danger! Blasting area!” We sit by the side of the trail and wait with some day hikers. Finally, a massive BOOM splits the air, making us all jump. We climb up to where a trail crew is cleaning up massive splinters of wood. We are high on a beautiful ridge for the rest of the day. Clouds build on high mountain peaks. Hail starts, then thunder. There is no where to stop and camp so we push on, racing the clouds. Finally, as we drop down to camp, the clouds break. We see snow dusting distant peaks, and in the morning, everything is frosty and frozen. We play this game for the next few days. We climb up high to massive ridges, before dropping back down, racing the lightning. One night, I lie in my sleeping bag, watching the flashes light up the darkness. In the morning, I find a mouse has slipped through a gap in my Ursack and chewed up a chocolate bar and a gas station pastry. I throw the chocolate in my trash zip lock, but I tear off the bitten pastry and eat it anyway. I don’t have enough food to be picky and the elevation gain leaves me permanently hungry. One morning, Shake’nBake’s alarm goes off. Less than 30 seconds later, I hear the patter of rain drops. I stay in bed, hoping it will stop. After a few hours, I give up and pull on my rain jacket. I hike fast and don’t stop- it’s cold enough for hypothermia and I don’t trust my rain jacket to keep me dry. By the time we get to Steven’s pass, I’ve done fifteen miles without stopping and without eating more than a cliff bar. My hands are so cold they can’t undo my pack buckles. I sit by a roaring fire and warm up. We hitch to Skykomish, where we have boxes at the post office and a warm hotel room waiting. A man picks us up quickly. It’s my turn to sit up front and chat. The man seems normal enough to start with, but he quickly begins talking about Cheryl Strayed. He asks if I remember the Oregon ranger she mentions in her book. “Oh, the creepy one that hit on her?” I ask. He tells me that ranger didn’t exist, but when they were casting for the movie, they based it off of him. I’m not sure what his reasoning is for claiming to be the creepy ranger from Wild, but I am suddenly very glad that Shake’nBake is in the car with me. We catch a less bizarre hitch out of Skykomish as the weather clears. It is Saturday and there are a million day hikers on the trail. I am so happy that it is not raining. One day, I am just a little behind Shake’nBake when I see him backing down the trail, a huge smile on his face. By the time I reach him, the porcupine is walking down the trail towards Canada. We walk behind him for a half mile, watching his little butt wiggle and hoping he gets off the trail quickly. We decide to name him Bear Bait, after our absent prickly friend. We have consistently been doing mid twenties through Washington, much higher than our planned twenty mile days, but Glacier Peak Wilderness kicks our butts. One day features trees so wide and slippery that I need a hand to straddle them, lest I slide down the entire trunk. The trail is washed out in many places, and one hillside is so badly eroded that Shake’nBake turns around to spot me as if I were scrambling sheer rocks, not sliding down mud. We manage 19 miles before camping on a postage stamp sized patch of flat ground by Milk Creek. We continue to climb and drop down, until we reach Suittle river, where the trail begins to improve. We reminisce as we walk about each section of trail. Remember the time we fought raccoons? Remember Mt. Whitney? Remember the man out of Seiad Valley who read us poetry? There are so many memories and so many good times. We have just finished climbing and are descending from the pass when we see The Baptist, who is flip flopping. He tells us the last shuttle to Stehekin is at 6pm. We’d planned on camping short, but we think we can make it. It’s all down hill and we run and run. We make it an hour before the last shuttle and sit, waiting. We pick up our boxes in Stehekin and visit the famous bakery on the way out of town. I buy enough baked goods for a full day and my pack is heavy with scones and cinnamon rolls. Then it is back to the trail. We have to make it 16 miles to get out of North Cascades National Park, where we don’t have a permit to camp. We finish in darkness, night hiking until the boundary, where we make out own campsite surrounded by Devil’s club. We reach Rainy Pass as the clouds begin to roll in. We climb up towards Cutthroat pass. Near the top, we rise above the clouds and the view is spectacular. We hit mile 2600- just 50 miles to go. I am going to miss this so much. We count down miles as we walk. The trail is not without its challenges though. With 40 miles to go, I am halted by a shoulder high log. A tangle of fallen trees on either side means I can’t go around. There is a branch to climb up, but nothing to climb down on the other side, and jumping destroys my arches. Shake’nBake finds me still sitting on the log five minutes later, pondering how to get down, and laughs at me. The ground is frozen in the morning, frost heaves making the trail slippery. We round a ridge and drop down towards Hart’s Pass, the last road crossing before Canada. I lose Shake’nBake when I stop to talk to some day hikers. We’d planned on stopping around Hart’s Pass for lunch, but when I get there, there’s no sign of Shake’nBake. Hungry and a little angry, I push on. I stop to tape my heel- I have a blood blister on my second last day and that makes me even more annoyed. I start asking day hikers if they have seen Shake’nBake. The first couple tells me they haven’t seen him. The second tells me his is twenty minutes in front, the third that they saw him stopped just ahead, eating lunch. When I get to the likely lunch spot, there is no one there. Unbeknown to me, Shake’nBake had actually stopped at Hart’s Pass. Once he realized I’d missed him, he had started running to catch up, asking day hikers if they had seen me, leading to some awkward moments as they realized they had given me bad information. He finally catches me on a pass, just as it starts to snow. We drop down, together again, as the snow squall stops. That night is so cold that when I wake in the morning, my feet are blocks of ice. We climb over rock pass, and then woody pass. On the back side of Woody, there is a dusting of snow. “It’s time,” the PCT seems to be saying. “Everything has its season, and it’s time to leave the mountains now.” We drop back down, counting miles until the monument. Then, a narrow clearing through the trees. Is this is? I glimpse the monument at the bottom of the hill. But first, a final switchback. In true PCT fashion, we get further from our objective before we approach it. Then we are there. We sit in silence in front of the monument, reflecting. Shake’nBake packed out a bottle of wine and we share it while we take photos and write in the last trail register. Then, we have to hike one last time. It’s eight miles to the nearest road at Manning Park. We reach it just as the sun is setting.