Monday, September 16, 2013

Hiking the PCT North: Days 15-18: A Sound in the Night, Busting Out Big Miles In Spite of Ourselves, and CANADA!

We crossed the last highway at Rainy Pass under lingering fog, which happily broke through just as we ascended to glorious Cutthroat Pass. Perched at over 6,000 feet, we munched on our hummus and tortillas and enjoyed the sea of mountains around us. A massive scree traverse led us down to Granite Pass and then across a high slope to the place we had planned to camp. But it was early and another tent was set up, the occupants none too pleased about company, so we climbed the last 500 feet to Marr Pass, a flat bench, before dropping into another 3,000 foot descent. Along the way we ran into Cherry Pie.

"I thought you were only going to hike fourteen miles," he said. At that point, 21 miles into the day, I felt like a walking zombie. Only his claim that a good campsite lay .7 miles away was enough to keep me plodding instead of lying distraught in the trail. And a nice campsite it was, nestled in the forest, all peaceful and still...until...


I sat bolt upright in my tent. I knew in my bones that sound was our food bags falling, prey to a bear. But the light of my headlamp had been slowly weakening and I was too afraid to wander into the darkness. "Cherry Pie!" I hissed. Slowly he emerged from under his tarp and agreed to walk with me to where the bags hung undisturbed.

Feeling sheepish I returned to my tent. The huge pile of bear scat we saw early the next day only alleviated my guilt a little bit. Cherry Pie whistled off up Brush Creek, and we assured him we would not see him again. No way were we doing 21 miles again.

We aware of what our map referred to as a possible 21 mile waterless stretch on our route ahead. There were so-called seasonal creeks, but we had no way of knowing which would be running. The only option was to camel up with four liters of water at the last small spring we could find. Our previously light packs hung heavy on our shoulders and we puffed our way along a gorgeous traverse with mysterious blue-green lakes shimmering far below.

We had thought to camp at Hart's Pass, fifteen miles in, because there was an actual campground! With toilets! but as we hiked, the unwelcome thought crept in: if there was water at the campground, why did our map warn us of a waterless stretch? It can't be, I decided. All campgrounds have water! Don't they?

We started to see day hikers, a sure sign we were getting close to a trailhead, though the fire tower and gleaming cars in the distance seemed very far away. Dark clouds flirted with the mountains as we speculated whether one was Mount Baker, finally deciding it was. A day hiker lectured us on the washouts ahead. "You HAVE to take the detour," he said. We had heard about this supposed detour, adding three and a half hours to our trip. No way, we thought, pressing on. How bad could it be?

At Harts Pass, pickups laden with camping paraphrenalia drove past as we wilted in the heat. There was the campground. There were the toilets. There water. The only decision was to move forward. If we were truly in a waterless stretch, it would do no good to sit here at 2 pm and drink all of the water we carried. We trudged on, entering the Pasayten Wilderness.

The sky sprinkled lightly as we traversed through open alpine areas and up a slope feathered with young tamarack trees. We had come 21.2 miles. Again. And there was Cherry Pie in a sweet campsite right below Tamarack Peak. With a seasonal stream! "Are you going to eat all that?" he asked in wonder as we unwrapped a large chocolate bar. Yes, yes we were.

Tomorrow, Cherry Pie said, was his last night on the trail. He wasn't sure where he would camp, but wherever it was would put him in striking distance of the border. Scout and I studied the map carefully. Eighteen miles away lay Hopkins Lake, and I was possessed with the idea of a Lake Day. At this point in our trek, 18 miles was nothing. We'd be there by two! And get to swim! And lounge in the sun!

A sad thing occurred in the morning. Left out in the rain, Scout's stove would not start, and she was forced to forego her morning coffee. This disaster did allow us to begin hiking early, though, into a foggy day. We climbed up and down to an underwhelming pass. Two hikers going the opposite way stopped to tell us that we had "quite a climb" ahead of us and that the washouts were "treacherous." Not feeling cheered by this news, we nevertheless stopped to enjoy the best meadow we had all trip, long and wide and perfect. From there we topped out on a pass where the sun came out long enough for us to dry our gear and for Scout to finally have coffee. Life was good.

After switchbacking down through the talus, we encountered the dreaded washouts. We had been hearing about these for weeks, and they were often referred to as impassible, dangerous, or treacherous. While concentration was needed, Scout and I both agreed that it wasn't any worse than some of the scrambling we've done off trail. Relieved, we continued on a steep climb up Woody Pass and a traverse through misty rain. At this point we reached our highest elevation of the trip--a measly 7,209 feet, accompanied by a single clap of thunder. "Oh great," I screamed, convinced that a major storm was brewing. All it did was rain, though, and thoroughly soaked, we pounded down towards Hopkins.

Scout, not intimidated by the washouts.

At this point I was forced to admit that I had acquired an overuse injury, most likely an inflamed Achilles tendon. I hobbled along behind Scout, fuming because our Lake Day was fast dissolving in a rainstorm and because my body sees fit to remind me that seventeen days without a break is too much.

We got to the junction to find a note from Cherry Pie indicating he had gone to the lake, and despite the rain we found a sheltered campsite for our last night on the trail. Our last night. I could hardly believe it. For the first time on the journey we built a campfire and huddled close, shivering in our wet socks.

Fifteen miles. That was all that lay between us and Manning Park. Popping Vitamin I, I hobbled down the trail, each step a starburst of pain. The trail, as promised, was brushy and laden with moisture. Our stuff was soaked...again. Then we rounded the corner and there it was..Monument 78.

We had done it.

We still had eight semi-boring miles to hike out to the road. We had logistics ahead of us--how to get to Seattle when we were four days early? We had only hiked 1/10th of the PCT, probably not enough to get very excited about. But it still felt like an accomplishment. We had covered 280 miles in some long, hard days. We had done it without drama, without group dynamic issues, and without major injuries. It was something to be proud of.


  1. That's great, Mary! Love the lack of drama too. Looks like a great trip. Hope your Achilles is doing better.

    My boyfriend was asking about your gear list. Did you post one?

    1. Hey Jill...not yet, but I plan to write a what worked and what didn't post soon.

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  3. Loved reading about your journey. Great job!

  4. I'd be sad about the lack of coffee too! Looks like you got a bit of all the weather and terrain. Beautiful hike. Definitely something to be proud of. :)

  5. Definitely something to be proud of! Those of us following you on the trail through your posts are proud of you and Scout. You gave us great views of the trail...both words and photos.

  6. Woohoo! Mary you never cease to amaze me with your energy and your travels! Great Job!

  7. Three cheers for you and your trek. Thanks for the beautiful writing and photos.

  8. Impressive. Congratulations - wonderful to be able to share the ups and downs and beauty of your hike.

  9. Really enjoyed reading about your trip! Awesome!


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