Glory in the North

Days 85-91

Mileage: 213.7
Total distance: 2639.1 

Camp tonight is on woody pass alone on my last night of the PCT. Clouds began to form in the late afternoon and forced me to pick up my pace. The temperature has dropped to nearly 40 degrees and the wind has become ruthless. The sun is setting beyond a ridge line off in the distance with peaks spiking out of the earth in the foreground. Snowy patches rest in tiny crevices of nearly every surrounding mountain and my heart is filled with joy and sorrow for the day to follow. I feel weak and tired and joyous and fulfilled all at the same time. These past few days have been the greatest gift for the struggle it’s called for and tonight I fall asleep with gratitude for the earth and the subtle way I feel led exactly where I need to be. 

The morning I left Snoqualimne I woke up to try and score a free breakfast at a holiday inn hotel. It worked out perfectly. I walked in like I was on the phone and went to the bathroom to change shirts and then sat down for breakfast. Boom. I ate my weight in waffles and met up with Bee Keeper who was giving me a ride to the trail. 

Leaving Snoqualimne was pretty surreal knowing that I was stepping into arguably the most difficult section of trail, but maybe the most beautiful as well. The trail snaked up the river and weaved in and out of the low altitude canopy and finally lifted me into a clearing with ridiculous views of the classic and drastic northern cascades. There were a few lakes resting in the valleys below that reflected the burning sun and trees around it. Every climb from this point on would be worth every drop of sweat and every sharp pain in my left foot. I felt incredibly healthy for the two days hiking into Stevens Pass and busted out an average of 38 miles both days. 

  • There were a few chunks of trail with fallen trees littering the forest. 

  • So many bridges had been washed out. Every finger on my left hand had a splinter from crossing a broken, sketchy bridge. 

When I got to Stevens Pass I found out that my box hadn’t made it yet so I went to the hiker box for rescue. There wasn’t much left but I gathered what I could and got right back on trail. When I woke up the next morning I realized I didn’t have nearly enough for the next three days and 107 miles of hiking through 25,000 feet of elevation gain. As I started to walk I began to panic and feel my stomach growl and if there is anything that can kill a thru hikers spirit it is a lack of food and an empty belly.  

  • Heart Lake: self-named 

I kept noticing berrys on small bushes all around me when I was around 3-4,000 feet and eventually stopped to taste one and had a brilliant idea. I found a bush with hundreds of berrys and plopped down in the middle to begin picking as many as I could and put them in a ziplock I had. I felt like a bear sitting in the bushes and probably looked insane with both hands rapidly picking berries and dropping them in my bag I held in my teeth. It worked out well and before I knew it I had two pounds of huckleberries. My poop the next morning was purple. 

This section from Stevens Pass to Stehekin was in my top three sections of the trail. I had a ridiculous amount of exposure and felt so inspired by all that I was seeing. Glacier peak blew my mind as I wrapped around the west side of the mountain and dropped into an open valley with marmots and rivers and firs and snow. It was straight out of a fairytale and I began feeling overwhelmed that the trip was ending. I got to meet the legendary Billy Goat in this section and celebrated my 5,000th mile of thru hiking. To celebrate I made a fire and reflected on the past three months and all that I’ve seen and gone through and a single tear fell off my cheek. Ok, many tears. 

  • Dropping behind Glacier Peak. 

The next morning I woke up early to get the bus into Stehekin in order to get my last package. As soon as I left I smelt smoke in the air and figured it was my clothes from the night before, but when the sun started to rise I saw a thick cloud of smoke covering the forest around me and as I hiked up and up it got thicker and thicker. I started feeling nauseous and began to panic, but finally made it to the top of the 3,000 foot climb and saw that the fire was coming from the east and a reoccurring fire that has been an issue for several days now. I started down the north side of the mountain and the air began to clear, but I suppose from all of the smoke intake I blacked out and stumbled off the trail and fell down for what I think was a few minutes. I came to and thankfully hadn’t fallen off the steep edges of the cliffs surrounding me, but landed in a nice bed of lupin flowers. I got up and drank some water and began running down the mountain to catch the bus and after completing 27 miles by 2:00 pm, I made it! 

  • Smoke covering the mountains and causing me to struggle for breath. 

  • My creeper shot of Billy Goat; a man with nearly 50,000 miles on his legs. My favorite thing he said when I asked where he lives: Stabs his pole into the earth and slowly looks at me and says “right here”.

Stehekin was unreal. It sits right on Lake Chelan, which is a 50 mile long lake in the northern cascades and filled with all sorts of birds like osprey and barn swallows. The land across from the tiny town was filled with massive mountains which made a gorgeous backdrop to the sunset that evening. I had a few beers on the dock and took in as much of the scenery as I could while reminding myself of the reality I am experiencing and ended up sleeping on the dock while the full moon rose over the mountains. 

  • Got to see some big Douglas firs on the new bridge re-route. 

The next morning I woke up to get back on the bus and start the last 90 miles of trail. I wanted to stay a whole extra day in Stehekin, but I also wanted to get home. That seemed to be the theme of the week; feeling torn between wanting to be done and wanting to live in the glory of these mountains forever, but I opted for the former and got back on trail. 

It’s hard for me to decide if I loved the previous section more than this one. Almost instantly I began a 6,000 foot climb and the sun started beating down on me. I swear it felt as hot as the desert. I had no idea Washington could be so hot. I took my shirt of, which ended up being a horrible idea and made my heat rash a million times worse and made me grit my teeth as I hiked for the final 10 miles of the day. When I was almost done with the 25 mile climb, I rounded a switch back when a bee flew straight into my nostril and stung the hell out of my nose. What the hell!! It hurt like hell and I cussed the bee out after smashing it into liquid on the ground. I took my pack of and put my shirt on to finish another 5 miles before the day was over. 

I rolled into camp and met a group of people doing trail maintenance and was given some cookies before I kept on hiking to the top of the mountain where I met another group of middle aged men out for a yearly backpacking trip. They were very drunk and loud, but I was in celebratin mode myself so I joined their laughter and had a lovely night watching the moon rise in the east in its dark orange fashion. 

I woke up this morning feeling tired, but wanted to have one last 40 mile day and work my body as hard as I could before the trail ended and I achieved that goal. Today was brutal. I had one last 3,000 foot climb, but stayed on the ridge for most of the day with incredible views going into harts pass and hiking north. I hiked in silence without music or podcasts and felt the cool air blowing in from the north surrounding me and watched the clouds begin to roll in and felt incredible blissed out walking on mountains. The clouds began to drop mist and forced me to pick up my pace. Eventually I made my way to Woody Pass and spent an hour watching the sky open up and the sun drop behind some rugged peaks to the west. The contrast of clouds and snow and the sunset made for an incredible last night on this trail and left me feeling that intense struggle between wanting to stay forever and leave tomorrow. I sat for a long time in silence. Reflecting. Breathing. Smiling.  

I couldn’t have asked for a more incredible end to such a magnificent adventure. These past few days have blown my mind and at times literally stopped me in my tracks. I feel so many things tonight as I fall asleep, but the overarching emotion is gratitude. Thankfulness that I am alive and that the world is so glorious and inviting. Happy that I have had a chance to see this country in the way that I have and that tomorrow I will stand 2,650 miles from Mexico and another thru hike in my heart. “The world is a beautiful place and I am no longer afraid to die.”

4 Replies to “Glory in the North”

  1. Again, thanks for sharing a piece of this adventure with the rest of us. Your photography is beautiful, your words are eloquent, and you sense of peace and contentment encouraging. Congratulations on an amazing feat – hiking the PCT!

    Liked by 1 person

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