The past two weeks of been a whirlwind of excitement, agony, awe, perseverance, bliss and lessons learned. To say our journey was life-altering would be an understatement. This whole summer has been about pushing and exceeding our limits and I feel as though our 2-week journey on section K & L of the PCT was a marvelous finale to this summer’s theme.

The idea to hike sections K & L was proposed by Damien about a year ago on a very wet, cold and rainy trek of the Seven Passes Loop which includes part of section L. We were both intrigued by the idea of spending 2 weeks on the trail doing high mileage and getting a better taste of thru-hiking. Damien and I did section J in 2014, averaging a comfortable 12 miles a day and traveled in the opposite direction of the thru-hikers. On this longer, 200 mile adventure, we thought we would get a more complete PCT venture. In addition, it seemed fitting that this trip would be our Honeymoon. Many couples travel to a different country to experience a new culture. Damien and I are immersed in climbing culture and it seemed fitting that on our Honeymoon we wanted to experience Thru-Hiker culture. Not straying from our identity, we did plan of scrambling several peaks along the way. It seemed like they would be easy add ons to our 15-18 mile per day itinerary. How different could hiking be from climbing approaches? Very different as it turns out, but I’ll get to that.

We didn’t train for the trip specifically assuming our constant alpine climbing projects would suffice. Oops! I believe our total planning involved printing out beta for the climbs, downloading the Guthooks app, packing for the trip and sending our resupply boxes to Stehekin. Our packs weighed out 50lbs to start out, mostly loaded with 9 days of food. We planned to be in Stehekin in 7 days, but wanted a few extra days in case something didn’t go as planned. We packed minimal clothes, food (only 2600 calories a day for me opposed to my normal 3500) and gear. Then we cut that down even more as we realized that we couldn’t quite cram everything into our packs. Some of the extra weight was attributed to having climbing oriented backcountry gear which is, by nature, a bit heavier since it has to be burly to withstand more abuse. Plus, even with all the triple checking our pile of stuff, we ended up bringing some un-needed items by accident… more on that also later!

Melanie dropped us off At Stevens Pass at 7am September 2 on a clear sunny day. I am forever in debt to her for always being willing to shuttle us on these types of trips and for picking us up at 4:30am! PCT 2017, made possible by Melanie!

The first section of trail was mostly flat and uneventful. I decided after about 15 minutes that every day Damien and I should take a “morning selfie” to record changes in our appearance/ expressions as we went along. We managed to remember to take the picture on all but one day. Everything seemed to go pretty much like one of our normal climb/backpack trips until about a mile after Lake Valhalla. My boots had 50 miles on them and had previously given me no trouble at all. But suddenly I felt pain in my right ankle bone area. It was like the boot bruising my bone. It was not a hot spot. No redness. No blister. Just bone pain. As we went on the pain grew harder to ignore and duct taping the area did not help; neither did an ace bandage or lacing the boot only halfway. It was at its worse going downhill. I didn’t know what to do, so I just endured the increasing agony.

About 2 hours after the boot issue I developed blisters on my lower back from my 3 year old pack that never caused issues in the past. So now there was pain on multiple levels of my body. I do like a challenge! Fortunately, at Lake Janus I caught a toad and then discovered a plethora of tiny frogs no bigger than a beetle scurrying about on the mud. This made me feel much better! Also, we had spectacular views of Glacier Peak and the billowing smoke of the Jolly Mountain Wildfire to distract me. The trail never disappoints in vistas! We tagged the summit of Grizzly Peak, the easiest of the peaks we planned on climbing being only several yards off the trail.

It became clear as evening moved in that getting to Pear Lake might be a stretch. We were tired and the pain in my back and foot were growing severely with each step. Damien found a camp 1.5 miles closer to us that had possible seasonal water on Guthooks. Upon arriving we saw the murky looking water felt and felt defeated. However, after moving a few more steps I noticed some willows and Damien heard the faint sound of running water. There was a hidden Creek hiding behind the mucky pond-like water! Relieved we set up camp here at about 17 miles in. At this point Damien discovered he brought two tent footprints… and I found out that I had gopro and climbing headlamp batteries even though I did not have any of the coinciding electronics with me! This concluded our first day.

In the morning duct tape was applied to my lower back and foot and we completed the short walk to Pear Lake. We filtered here and discovered that the folks who had camped at the lake were rather arrogant people to put it politely. This made us even happier about the Hidden Creek Camp. Our plan for that day was to tone things down and ease into the trail a bit by doing only 12.6 miles to Lake Sally Ann. This proved to still be a rough day on us. Section K is the 2nd most difficult part of the PCT with its up and down terrain. The constant up and down is difficult to get used to, especially for climbers spend one day going up and another day going down! Still we were rewarded with excellent scenery, clear skies and expansive patches of ripe blueberries! I couldn’t’ stop eating them! Lake Sally Ann is a small lake tucked under Skykomish Peak. I’m pretty sure we took the final campsite. The area was crowded with Labor Day weekenders. Still our site was private and we enjoyed washing off in the lake. The next day we would be back to high mileage.

On the third day our goal was 18 miles with including ten miles of terrain we had hiked before as part of the Pilot Ridge Loop. However, when I did that hike it had been rainy and misty. This time I would get to see the view! We started before sunrise to beat some of the heat. For some reason it occurred to me that perhaps I could wedge a rock into my boot to stop the cuff from banging into my throbbing bone. To my surprise the tiny rock made the pain much more manageable! We crossed open slopes under Kodak Peak which we climbed last year and after a brief stop at Reflection Pond, continued to White Pass. This area reminds us of the Sound of Music. Glorious alpine meadows that make you want to spin and sing that the “Hills are Alive”! Jungle Jym, a long distance section hiker we had run into the day before, caught up with us at the pass and joined Damien and I for the climb to Red Pass. Red Pass was the base of one of the climbs we had planned on: Portal Peak. However, we skipped it. Damien and I had been discussing things as we went and came to the conclusion that adding summits to an already grueling trip was not a good idea. Summits on Section J worked because we had tons of extra time doing only 12 miles per day and the terrain was not nearly as challenging. This trip would focus on the PCT.

We dropped on endless switchbacks into a wide open valley with sprawling meadows beneath towering peaks. Reentering the forest, we descended further until we reached the banks of Sitkum Creek at 18 miles. This was a very pretty forest camp and the creek offered a marvelous place to take our first real bath! It also put us in position to start most grueling part of Section K first thing in the morning before the heat hit. In fact, we planned on waking up well before sunrise.

We left Sitkum in the cover of darkness, traveling a few flat miles to the “Broken bridge”. This bridge is split down the middle, but still crossable. Right after the bridge the switchbacks begin… and they never cease. We gained about 1500 feet to begin with, but to ascend the final 1000 feet to Fire Creek Pass we walked up and down many Mini- ridges. Endless disheartening switchbacks in thick heat. I say thick because smoke had rolled in and a thick haze shrouded the mountains. The final 200 feet were the worst for me. I began to get heat exhaustion.

From the pass one can gaze down to see the trail spiraling downward into the valley about 2000 feet below. One can also observe the ridge directly across from us which is adorned with switchbacks zigzagging across the slope going back up 2500 feet! Luckily, we planned to camp in the valley do the final ascent the following day.

My boot caused some extreme pain going down the pass, but a long visit to Mica Lake was rejuvenating. The deep blue lake lays beneath cliff faces and the waters were the perfect swimming temperature. We chatted with Catalyst at the shore, a thru-hiker. She was going “only” 25 miles per day. A leisurely pace for a thru-hiker. We had run into folks doing 35s!

Feeling refreshed we continued down to the valley bottom and the bridge across Milk Creek. We planned to stay at the nearby camp and paused here to filter water. This led to a quick discovery that Milk Creek was aptly named. It was full of silt and promptly began to clog our filter! It was 6:30pm and a choice had been made for us. We couldn’t camp here at the 15-mile mark. We had to move to the next water source 2500 feet and 4 more miles further on the trail. We had to go up the next ridge to the basin that night.

We didn’t allow ourselves to feel dread. We had to keep morale high. After eating and filtering just enough water to get by we marched across the bridge and ventured into the forested maze of switchbacks. I am extremely proud of Damien and I. We never allowed our fatigue to get to us. We kept the conversation and laugher going all the way up the switchbacks and into the red-mooned night. Only when we reached the top of the plateau did the talk cease. We had one mile to go to the basin and to water. It was 10pm. Driven by some primal force, by legs flew over the plateau in search of water. I was beyond exhausted, but I pressed on with increasing speed. The sooner we arrived the sooner it would end. The sound of running water spurred me forward and 20 minutes later we stood in front of a creek.

Damien began to filter as I looked for a suitable bivy spot. The only tent camp we could see was about .2 miles away and it was occupied. But I found a tiny, flat sandy platform in the middle of the uneven basin just beside the 2nd creek. The perfect place to lay our sleeping bag. This actually turned out to be our favorite camp of Section K!

Our 19-mile extravaganza into the night led us to a later start the next morning of day 5. This was just as well since we intended take a rest and only go 15 miles. We continued through the basin and to Suiattle Creek. Maybe I was just exhausted, but I recall it being an uneventful day after we left behind the Basin and upper meadows filled with plump blueberries. The trail flows the creek to a large bridge that crossed fast moving water. Then the tread just doubles back in the direction we had just come from on the other side. The bridge was built in it’s out of the way location due to washout potential, but it’s still frustrating. We camped a few miles down at Lower Miner’s Creek.

The next day was about 18 miles to Cedar Camp. This was a day of beautiful scenery even with the smoke. Damien and I started early passing through some camps in the cover of night with our headlamps. The thru-hikers at those camps passed us later wondering why they had all dreamt of people walking by with headlamps in the wee morning hours. Thus, began our reputation of the Alpine Start. We journeyed through more open basins in the shadow of mammoth Dark and Bonanza Peaks. There was a fair amount of elevation gain involved, but not as significant as previous days. Our camp for part of that night was Cedar Camp on the banks of Spruce Creek. We had ten more miles to go to get to Stehekin. Our plan was to hike it all at night so we could catch the first shuttle to town at 8:15am. We decided to give ourselves 10 hours for the ten miles to account for fatigue. The walked much faster than anticipated. I even managed to stop myself from catching all but one of the 16 toads/frogs I found on the trail! For me this is no small feat! I guess I felt extremely drawn to the bakery! It turned out that our start time of 10:30am was premature to say the least. We were only 2.3 miles away at 2:30am. We set up a bivy and continued to the shuttle stop at 5:30am.

Damien and I the first one’s at the bus stop of course, arriving at 6:30. We also found that the bus arrived even later than we thought: 9:15am. The schedule posted online was difficult to interpret unlike the straight forward sign at the Trailhead.  We got comfortable on the picnic tables, slipping on our crocs and preparing for a long wait. Thru-hikers that had passed us during the past 2 days began to arrive, surprised that we had somehow, once again, snuck ahead of them. The power of the Alpine start! I think us arriving first somehow gained some of their respect. We were no longer “those suffering section hikers”. We might have been slow, but we were relentless. We struck up a conversation with the hikers, including Back Out who was out researching the trail so he could update the guidebook. I wished my line of worked involved that kind of research! A car arrived at the parking lot. The driver was there to pick up Aquarius. Damien asked if they were willing stop drop us off at the bakery. We had discovered that the famed Stehekin Bakery we had been dreaming about was actually 2 miles out of town. The bus made a ten minute stop there which hardly seemed like enough time to gorge ourselves. Luckily, we were granted a ride to the Bakery early! The car was a bit crowded; so crowded that No Show sat in the trunk. But it didn’t matter… we all wanted FOOD!

Damien had mob mentality when we entered the bakery. He walked directly to the day old shelves and fridge, promptly clearing them. The whole memory is a blur. We were so hungry and calorie deprived we kept eating and then getting up to order more! I do vividly recall ordering a cream cheese berry krugel, strawberry pie a la mode, breakfast sandwich and spinach mushroom croissant. Damien swore that his sticky bun was the best he ever tasted. I was in love with the krugel, a marvelously sumptuous confection consisting of a shortbread cookie crust, and layer of silky sweet cream cheese toped with a thick topped of berry crumble. I will dream of that heavenly dessert for years to come! Everything we consumed was exceeded our expectations and we left with bags full of day old pizza and assorted pastries. The plan was to replace a fair amount of our resupply with the baked goods. They ended up only surviving 2 days on the trail though. We couldn’t resist!

After somehow walking out the bakery feeling lighter than when we went in, we took the bus to the smoky town of Stehekin. First, we picked up a camping permit from High Bridge in North Cascades National Park. Next was a visit to the pricey general store where I purchased the entire stock of moleskin for my severely bruised and blistered lower back. In addition, the duct tape was causing a rash. Fortuitously, my boot had finally broken in the day before! We paid a visit to the single public shower in town costing a dollar for five minutes. The coin machine needed to be banged on for several minutes for the quarters to drop in to the box correctly to initiate the shower! But it was well worth the effort.  Feeling squeaky clean we then picked up our 4 resupply boxes at the tiny Post office. Gratefully, changed into the clean clothes we had sent ourselves. I feared our used attire qualified as a biohazard at that point! We sorted through the food, all of which looked particularly unappetizing to us. Luckily, we had baked goods to replace some of it!

We prepared our “send back” boxes which included not only our malodourous clothing, but also the extra tent footprint and excess batteries we had packed in error! We also sent back some layers which we deemed excess in hopes lightening the load for the next week. For example, I sent back my softshell jacket and Damien his rain pants. We also donated a fair amount of food to the community hiker box. I was grateful to give my assorted bars to someone who might be able to choke them down with more ease. On the bus ride out we stopped once again at the bakery and purchased more pizza and miscellaneous sweet creations! We just couldn’t stop!

High Bridge camp is about a quarter mile down the road from the bus stop. Camping here would allow us to pretty much take a 24 hour break and hopefully give our bodies time to recover. We again went through our food supply and tossed some more bars that we just didn’t think we’d be able to swallow. Damien also got rid of a sizeable amount of chocolate covered almonds since they were too heavy. He regretted this later of course! We napped and ate cold pizza. This is especially significant for me since I normally don’t care much for pizza, but this pizza tasted freaking amazing! The rest was well deserved and certainly needed. We still had another 100 miles to walk! I fell asleep dreaming about the Stehekin Bakery.

We woke on Saturday feeling refreshed and healed. Getting off the trail for 24 hours allowed our bodies to adjust the rugged circumstances we had rather abruptly subjected ourselves to over the previous week. Rejuvenated we set out to cross through North Cascades National Park. The NCNP made up 16 miles of the trail ahead and, in an additional mile, there was a camp in the National Forest just short of Rainy Pass on HWY 20. The smoke had cleared from the sky and the mountains appeared without a curtain of haze as we walked through the valley. However, mid-morning clouds and mist rolled in and RAIN fell from the grey sky for 10 minutes! This was a miraculous and celebratory even as I had not seen rainfall in WA since June 21! I was so thrilled I pulled on my Gore-Tex jacket for the few short minutes just to assure myself that I had not carried it all this way in vain! The terrain was not particularly difficult and the cool temps felt incredible. We re-entered the National Forest in early evening and camped beside Copper River.

Damien and I walked the final 1 or 2 miles to Rainy Pass the next morning under clear, bluebird skies.  We were greeted by Trail Magic when we reached the pass! Trail Magic is a special event for thru and long-distance section hikers. The general idea is that random folks will set up something special for hikers near a road intersection. In this case, a group of good Samaritans had set up a table of fresh fruit, croissants, salad, coffee, etc. that was free for all PCT Hikers! This was a joyous occasion as it meant I could eat 2 less cliff bars that day! We didn’t stay long though, we had miles to walk.

We calculated the miles remaining as we crossed HWY 20 and began Section L. We needed to average about 13 miles per day to arrive on Friday afternoon. Thirteen seemed almost too easy at this point, especially taking into account that section L was not nearly as rugged as K. We considered that we may arrive a bit earlier than anticipated, but agreed we did not want to get to Manning Park earlier than Thursday afternoon. We wanted time to spend our time on the trail!

The trail from Rainy Pass was familiar to us like an old friend. The first 12 miles is the scenic approach to climb Golden Horn and Tower Mountain. We had attempted Golden Horn twice already, but did not mind in the least bit revisiting this section of the PCT. The views after reaching Cutthroat Pass are simply astounding and the larches were even beginning to turn yellow! Overwhelmed by beauty that never grows old we flew through the 12 miles and found ourselves at the turn off for Snowy Lakes, the trail to the basecamp for the peaks. After some discussion since it was so early (only 3:30), we decided to leave the PCT and camp at Lower Snowy Lake .8 miles away. The spot was just too gorgeous to pass up. We climbed the steep, side trail to the lake and set up camp in the perfect setting just above the shoreline in the backdrop of craggy peaks shimmering with alpenglow. Coming to this familiar place felt like visiting home for a moment for us and its beauty reminds me of why I am continuously drawn to the wilderness despite the sufferfests!

With 15.8 miles ahead of us, Damien and I climbed back down to the PCT on Monday morning. It was brisk, cloudy and feeling very much like autumn. Gone was the sweltering heat we had woken up to the week before! It did clear up and the sun beat down as we crossed over Methow Pass and descended into the valley below. We would walk through the most difficult part of Section K that day. About 3000ish feet of steep, switchbacks to gain to Glacier Pass. It was also, of course, the day I realized my greatest fear.

We took a brief break in the valley so I could tend to Damien’s little toe which was blistered and becoming rather raw and gross looking. In my effort to extract my first aid kit, I emptied most of my pack. After the wound was properly cared for we packed up and moved up and out of the valley gaining 800 feet up toward the pass. It was getting warmer and warmer so we paused to cool down. It was then while I was digging through my pack for food that I realized the water filter was missing!!!! I had feared this the entire trip and often stopped after breaks to double check that I had remembered to pack the filter. I was paranoid and, apparently, for good reason. I knew we walked 2 miles since the toe incident. Thus, to retrieving the filter would take a minimum of one hour if I ran without the pack. Was it worth getting back? The thing was getting harder and harder to pump for some mysterious reason despite cleanings and we had iodine as a backup. But was it enough? We weren’t certain. I left my pack with Damien and began the trail run back down the valley. Interesting thing to do in leather boots.

Of course, I discovered the filter not on the ground, but set neatly on top of a very light colored rock making it obvious. I grabbed it and walked/ran back up the incline, pausing briefly to drink from Bush Creek. I made to back to where I had left Damien in an hour, but alas Damien was nowhere to be seen and neither was my pack! Confused I looked down and saw a band aid under a rock inscribed with a quick note. Damien had taken both packs further up the trail! Perplexed on how that was possible and a bit peeved that I didn’t have a water bottle, I hurried up the trail wondering how far he intended to go. Damien was waiting about 1.5 miles up the trail. He had strapped the packs together, once again proving his ingenious rigging abilities! After regrouping we gathered our respective packs and continued up the final exposed switchbacks to Glacier Pass blazing sun. It was the final heat we would contend with on the trail.

From the pass we traversed over, scenic slopes toward Tatie Peak. To the east I could see the massive plooms of the Diamond Creek Wildfire. The fire, caused by a careless camper, was the largest in WA. It was ten miles from the PCT and it shut down all trails directly east of it. A bit too close for comfort and I feared that the PCT would shut down blocking our access to Canada and ending our journey prematurely. This was my second greatest fear, but luckily it was never realized.

We descended about 100 feet down from the traverse to a small oasis camp beside a clear, bubbling spring. This was the final reliable water source for the next 21 miles. We heard some talk of possible water .4 miles from Hart’s Pass, but beyond we had no beta on what seasonal streams were flowing. It was all a question mark. Thus, the next day would involve a water carry. As previously mentioned, our filter pumb was getting increasingly difficult to use and cleaning the filter cartilage was gaining no results. After some inspection we decided that the pump rod had probably collected dust. We put some lubricant on it and usage got much easier. Problem solved.

The next morning was even colder as we ventured out to the final road we would pass on the PCT: Hart’s Pass Rd. Again in familiar territory as we had gone on several climbs/treks in this direction, we were happy to find a sign indicating that the PCT was still open despite the fire when we reached the pass. About ¼ mile later we found the running seasonal creek everyone promised existed. We topped off our water here and continued onto to the section we hiked a year earlier on the Seven Passes Loop when the idea for this adventure came to be.

This time the vistas were not shrouded in heavy clouds and rain. The mountains stretched out as far as the eye could see as we traversed along ridges and crossed over passes that looked completely different under clear skies.  Autumn hues of red and gold painted the landscape and distant Mount Baker poked up beyond craggy peaks. I could not stop taking pictures. With every turn a new brilliant landscape unfolded in front of me. We kept stopping to admire the scenery, barely noticing the 5.5 liters of water on our backs. There are no words to describe the Pasayten that does this wilderness justice.

It was also on this day that we began to run into thru-hikers we had met the week prior on their way back from Canada. To enter Manning Park and exit the PCT through Canada a special document is required. Damien and I had acquired these papers months before. Some folks cannot gain permission to enter Canada on the PCT due to their past record (like a DUI) and some simply don’t wish to exit in Canada. This group hikes to Monument at the border and then treks back to Hart’s Pass where they hitch a ride to Mazama. It was this selection of thru-hikers we would meet again on our final few days on the trail making things come full circle with our PCT family.

We reached our ridge top camp overlooking the Diamond Creek Fire in late afternoon. We could have gone further, but agreed to limit ourselves to 15 miles per day to refrain from cutting out trip short. Besides it was an attractive, secluded spot to spend the night, and Damien built his best bear hang yet! It was textbook! At midnight, we were awakened by a hiker’s music as he passed our camp. He said he was doing a 60-mile day and was going ten more miles to Hart’s Pass…. No words. I glanced down at the valley and saw the orange flames of the wildfire. It made me nervous, but I was determined to not allow anxiety to overtake me as I drifted back to sleep.

On day 12 we set out from the ridgetop camp. It was overcast and mist hung over the mountains as we descended into the trees toward Holeman Pass. Again it rained, but only for a few minutes. But the air was moist and cold warranting an extended visit with gore-tex jackets! By the time we re-emerged from the forest to the open meadows below Rock Pass the clouds were lifting and revealing the most breathtaking terrain we had encountered on the PCT. Even more remarkable than the day before if that was even possible!

From the top of Rock Pass we were able to gaze North to Canada. Bundled up in our puffies, we paused here to enjoy the views. We reveled in how on Section K we were constantly running out of clothes to take off in an effort to escape the heat, and now we could barely stay warm enough when we stopped! Each day on section L had grown progressively colder! We tried to eat, but could barely choke down our food. The Stehekin Bakery food was long gone and all that remained was random bars and gu that had about as much appeal to us horse manure. We’d rather be hungry than eat the wretched, supposedly edible bricks.

Damien and I continued on the PCT, switchbacking down about 500 feet and then traversing Northwest to climb up Woody Pass. Views of Redoubt, Spickard, Jack Mountain and the Chilliwacks greeted us as we crested the top. More incredible beauty that one has to witness to fully comprehend. We traversed blow the ridgeline for several miles. In some places the trail is extremely exposed, narrow and angled downward into the abyss. It made me think of a climber’s trail. The tread ascended so gradually we hardly noticed the elevation change as we reached the high point of our journey at 7100 feet. We paused for a moment to absorb the tranquil, rugged grandeur of the jagged peaks, icy glaciers and rambling meadows that is the Cascade Range. It was difficult to tear ourselves away and begin the switchback descent to Hopkins Lake, the royal blue pool right below the high point we stood on.

Damien and I set up camp in a far corner of the lake near the talus where pika were squeaking their loveable songs. This was a bittersweet evening for us. It was our final camp. Canada was only 6.5 mere miles away and the end of the trail laid 9 additional miles beyond. The journey would soon draw to a close. I felt like a could use some real food and a “resupply” break like we had in Stehekin. Then I felt psyched to rush out and trek another 100 miles. But it would end. There would be a road with no trail beyond it. Just a resort, bus and train back to my old life. I didn’t want to go back. I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready.

After two days of barely eating we scarfed down 2 Mountain House meals EACH that night plus an Alpine Air freeze dried dessert! I never thought I’d ever manage to pull that off! I don’t care what others may believe, freeze dried meals are not all that bad. They are certainly more palatable than energy bars. We didn’t even feel as though our stomachs were full afterward which gives you an idea of how calorie deprived me were!

The sun dropped below the lofty cliffs above Hopkins lake and darkness engulfed the wilderness. We snugged into our sleeping bag one final time bracing against the cold with layers of fluffy down. I didn’t have many thoughts that evening. I didn’t even contemplate our return to society. I just listened to the sound of stillness. When you backpack for so long you run out of things to think about. Then you realize you don’t always have to be thinking. You can just be.

Keeping with our tradition, we woke up one last time before daylight to break camp. I prefer to start my days early in the backcountry regardless of whether or not it is necessary. In the evenings at camp I am always too exhausted to truly enjoy and appreciate the night sky. In fact, I am often asleep before it is truly dark. By rising before dawn I not only have the opportunity to experience the night, I am afforded the chance to watch the magic of sunrise and the golden alpenglow glistening on the mountains. During this final morning, as I tried to swallow my last Bobo bar and Damien sipped coffee, I finally came up with appropriate trail names for us. Alpine Start (Damien) & Alpenglow (me). It made sense. On the PCT our headlamp gave us a reputation. It was our trademark and that is how trail names come to be.

The sun began to rise thawing out the world that had frozen overnight. Our water had shards of ice and the blueberry leaves crystalized. Autumn was fast approaching! We shouldered our packs and walked through the frigid landscape to the final pass: Hopkins Pass, the narrowest slot of a pass I have ever encountered.

We traversed across the slopes headed downward into the valley. The trail grew brushier, but our pace never wavered. Once again, we were drawn to the promise of food by some primal instinct.  My feet moved as though driven by some external force. However, when we reached the few short switchbacks down the Monument my pace faltered.

It was strange. I felt like I was having an out of body experience and watching myself walk the final steps to the finish line. True, the trail to Manning Park was still an additional 9 miles, but the border felt like the true finale to our journey on the PCT. My heart skipped a beat, sputtering for a moment. Then, abruptly a surge of red hot adrenaline coursed through my veins and my heart raced. In that moment, I knew I was afraid. I was afraid to finish. I wanted to run back the other way and hike to Mexico and then back to Canada again. I didn’t want it to be over. But I had to move forward.

We reached the border and Monument 78 at around 9:30am. Just as I had read, the USA government has “mowed the lawn” so to speak and shaved a physical border through the forest separating The States and Canada. There were some inscribed wooden posts and pyramid shaped metal structure, the monument, that held a massive registry of all that had passed through. Standing on the border, reaching the goal, I recognized more than ever that the end result means almost nothing in life. The real adventure is truly in the journey. The goal or destination marks the end. This moment for me was a time of celebration and mourning. Against all odds we had made it! Even with the blisters, shattered nerves, endless switchbacks, sweltering heat, thick smoke and tremendous mileage we pulled through. We never faltered. We learned and grew together in the journey and are stronger as individuals and as a couple because of the PCT. I celebrated this accomplishment, but grieved the conclusion of the quest. There were no more challenges to look forward to on the trail in the days ahead anymore…But we were very much looking forward to food. I collected myself from my moment of conflicting emotions and we crossed the border into British Columbia.

The trail in Manning Park was reported to be poorly maintained. We didn’t think it was any worse than any of the normal trails in WA. It was perhaps not as well manicured as the PCT, but the PCT is an exception to the general condition of PNW trails. After gaining about 800 feet contouring the slopes just above the valley the trail descends slowly to a steep, switchbacking, narrow road. We tried to move swiftly here. The sound of traffic had been echoing in our ears for quite some time and we just knew for certain we were close. But the road kept going until a sign indicated that we needed to turn left onto a trail to reach the PCT TH. This trail ran along a creek’s edge for over a mile. All the while the nearby sounds of the highway tortured us. At this point we had been listening to cars for about 2-3 hours. Finally, we broke out of the trees in a large gravel area beside Hwy 3. We still weren’t there. We needed to walk 1k more down the road in the direction we had just come, but on the other side of the creek to reach Manning Park Resort! Frustrating!

With throbbing toes and tender feet, we walked the final steps to the resort. After securing a reasonably priced room for the night we immediately high tailed it to the restaurant and proceeded to eat the first of many meals at the establishment. Then it was time for showers. Many showers. I don’t think I was truly clean until after shower number 5. We bought clean clothes in the gift shop to replace of filthy trail attire. Damien and I looked like tourist billboards dressed in our matching Canada shirts and bear paw sweat pants! At dinner, we ran into Back Out. He had been on the trail with us since day 2 of Section K and had reached the Resort several hours after we did. Damien and I had wondered where he ended up after Stehekin. We thought we’d never see him again like so many of the people we had talked to on the PCT. But here he was! Turns out that he was only several miles behind us the entire time!

We  booked our bus tickets in advance anticipating arriving in Manning Park on Friday. Since we had arrived on Thursday instead we had a fair amount of time to wait. We spent the day after our arrival at the pool, wandering, sleeping and eating (of course). Damien and I moved to the Hostel across the street. It was in decent shape,  the perfect place to stash our packs during the day and get a few hours of sleep at night before the 2am bus. Note, tons of PCT folks camp out in the game room or lounge of the Resort, but we had more than just a few hours to kill. The bus was one of the more unconformable vehicles I have ever had the misfortune of trying to get some sleep in!

We arrived in the city of Vancouver at 5:30pm. Not in a hurry to return to Washington and get back to real life, we spent the day cycling around Stanley Park, Canada Place and Granville Island. Naturally, we also made a tourist stop at the Arcteryx Store! Luckily the Amtrak train was more comfortable that the bus that night!

Now, back home as the rain falls,I wish I was still out there splashing through the mud and climbing endless switchbacks. I don’t want to sit on this ergonomically correct chair. I want to sit in a blueberry patch or on an uneven, wet rock. I want to feel the brisk wind against my cheek and breathe misty, mountain air. I always feel a similar longing after every trip I take into the mountains; even right after our weekly overnight climbing trips. However, after spending 13 days and 12 nights in the backcountry my hunger for the wilderness has intensified. The mountains are where I belong. The mountains bring clarify to an otherwise complicated world and reveal the small things that are truly meaningful in life. Residing in the wilderness brings to perspective what is truly needed in our lives. When your greatest concern is finding a good place to filter water things are simpler and, much more real. Ulei Steck said that he loved mountains because they are honest. The wilderness does not deceive. It is raw, untamed and beautiful. I am addicted to this honestly and there is just never enough time to get the fix I need! However, as I sit at my desk, back in a world of chaos, I can retreat to the memories of mountains and relive the adventure as I write.

The  rain has stopped and the sun in beginning to poke out of the clouds. I cannot see the mountains from where I sit, but I know the mist is beginning to lift off the craggy peaks.I imagine what it would be like to be in a frosty meadow right now admiring the dusting of snow that has fallen this week in the high country. Another adventure awaits…

SECTION K

SECTION L

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *