I’ve postponed this one quite a bit. This is the last post of my journey on the PCT. The post I wish I’d never have to write. To top it off, I managed to completely delete all the pictures of Washington I took with my camera. Luckily I still have a few on my phone.
I flew back to Washington after having finished the Sierra. I spent all day just trying to get out of Seattle. Just after nightfall, after countless failed hitchhiking attempts I made it back to Hiker Haven. There I met Baby Gap, Quibbles, Fresh Meat and Percolator.
The next morning we got a ride back to Stevens Pass and the trailhead. We had a large town breakfast and postponed heading into mountains. Just as I was about to begin hiking, I realised I forgot my poles at Hiker Haven. My tent doesn’t set up without poles, so I had to go back. I stayed another night, ate a lot of tangerines and got back to the trail early the next morning.
Preparing for the trail.
The weather couldn’t have been better. Walking by myself, not seeing anyone for a few days, I had the perfect last week on trail. I set up camp early and watched the sunset, picked blueberries for hours and cherished the mountain air.
Just as expected, Northern Washington did not disappoint
This is the bluest, clearest lake I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Mica Lake”. It overlooks a ridiculous amount of mountains. I want to live there. Oh, and the picture doesn’t do it justice by a long shot. It’s one of those “have-to-bee-there” kind of deals.
After a beautiful stretch of trail and a lot of elevation change, I entered The North Cascades National Park and arrived at the trailhead leading into Stehekin, last town of the PCT. Stehekin is 11 miles from the trail and there’s an $8 shuttle running a couple times a day. At this point I had caught back up with the people I met at Hiker haven.
The Stehekin Shuttle
Stehekin is a tiny town/resort located on Lake Chelan and is only reachable by hiking, boat and possibly seaplane. This makes it quite exclusive and expensive. Just like us hikers. When we got there, we did what we do and scavenged the hiker boxes, spread our things out everywhere and generally messed the place up. First night there I cowboy camped on a flat spot of gravel. Despite the chance of rain, cowboy camping seemed a better idea than trying to pitch my tent in the dark, on a concrete hard surface. Luckily, no rain.
Apparently a storm was rolling in up in the higher elevations, so I decided to take a zero day with the others. This also gave me plenty of time to shower and do laundry.
Feeling like somewhat of a person again
During the day I just went exploring and walking around. Well, I guess it’s not so much “around” since there’s only one road. This road is important though, it leads to the bakery.
The main reason Stehekin is a popular trail town, besides looking like the spitting image of a Disney writer’s happy place, is the otherworldly bakery. Rumours of it are spread as far down the trail as Northern California.
So I walked the 2 miles to get there. The road follows the lake and passes several resting spots, movie worthy benches and a few stupid-gorgeous lakefront cabins.
“One of everything please”
After devouring a cinnamon bun and a couple of pizza slices, I headed back down the road in the direction I came. On the way I was picked up by a family transporting lawn chairs in the back of their pickup. It made for the perfect hitching throne, a first row seat on the stunning drive back.
The hitchhiking throne
Later in the evening we set up camp on the floor in a boathouse overlooking the lake and, beyond it, the very mountains from which we had come. Here I met “Boo”, “Oddball” and “Happy Meal”.
We shared snacks, drank beers and watched half a movie, wrapped in our sleeping bags, curled up in lawn chairs.
Later that evening I went to bed, thinking about the coming days and what they meant, feeling exhilaration and melancholy at the same time.
We left Stehekin early in the morning. Took the shuttle back to the trail. Nobody said much, struck with the realisation that we’d just left our last trail town, grateful that it was a good one.
It rained on us a little bit that day, nothing too bad.
I was the last one to get to camp at Rainy Pass, 60 miles from the Canadian border. The others had made a fire. I set up my tent and went to join. A couple named Cedar and Alex were there too. We sat there for a long time, doing movie trivia quizzes. I thought I knew my movies. But apparently not.
All the people around this fire would be the ones I finished the trail with.
As the trail went further north and higher up, the larches started to turn yellow, as they do in fall. Witnessing entire mountain sides ablaze with the yellow of larches and red of blueberry bushes is indescribable. It’s as if the second half of Washington isn’t actually real. It carries enough beauty to last a lifetime and holds a ruggedness that becomes part of anyone who spends enough time there.
Heading toward the larches
We set up camp at Glacier Peak. Made a fire again and did pretty much what we did the previous day. It was freezing cold and quite wonderful.
I was unable to get going in the morning because of the world feeling like a frozen tundra and my sleeping bag like the soft, warm arms of angels. Eventually I got going though. It was a beautiful and sunny day, albeit a bit cold. We all stopped for lunch at Harts Pass, the last road crossing in the US, the last sign of society. And a little one at that. After drying our things that had all been soaked from condensation in the morning, we kept walking. Planning on camping 17 miles from the border.
I got to camp late, almost didn’t find it since it was a little ways down a spur trail, but did and was again greeted by a warm fire. I had really gotten accustomed to this routine. Especially getting in late on purpose because it meant the fire would already be going and all the friends would be there.
The last campsite
October 4th. 17 or so miles from the border. I started hiking early, excited about reaching a place that had been talked about so much, it felt like a myth. This last part, or actually everything after Stehekin, might as well have been parts of fairytales.
I reached the Canadian border at noon. When I got to the end I was alone. I turned a corner and saw the monument there. Tears started running down my face. I walked up to the monument, touched it and just stood there. Speechless.
It’s a funny thing, actually living the moment you’ve imagined for months. Because how could one moment, one place, possibly hold all the feelings that have been built up along the way? Reaching a goal sure is cause for celebration, but it’s also the end of a huge journey and there’s no denying how sad that really is.
After partying for a while with the others that had now arrived at the monument, I turned around, together with Oddball and started hiking back. Since I hadn’t gotten my permit to enter Canada, I still had to walk 30 miles back to Hearts Pass. By the time we got going it was nearly nightfall, so we hiked into the dark of the evening, accompanied by moonlight, back to the place where we had previously set up camp.
In the morning of October 5th, I took down my tent and packed my backpack for the last time.
Walking the 17 miles back to Harts Pass, I don’t remember feeling sad. I took my time and although I cried a lot, it was more out of a sort of somber thankfulness than grief.
When finally saying my goodbyes to the trail I remember it feeling like less of a “goodbye” and more of a “see you soon”.
Nick, you are such an amazing person and I love you to bits. I cried reading this. I know how much this has meant to you and I hope you can show some parts of it to me sometime in the future. Such brill pics even from a telephone. You will have all those images and memories from conversations, meetings, talks, smells …….for ever and ever, what a lucky person you are.Love from auntie Eva xxx
Very moving last part of your trail ❤️
My heart is full, reading your post. Thank you for sharing it with us.Namaste~