Refreshed and ready for our final days on the PCT, we headed up the mountains north of Rainy Pass. The recent snow accented every rock and ridge on every peak, making for some beautiful mountain scenery. The late September sun was trying to melt the snow, but it was making slow progress. Even some of the areas in full sunlight had 6 inches of crusty snow. We quickly ascended around a large bowl to Cutthroat Pass. A number of day-hikers were sitting up on the pass, taking pictures and pointing at the mountains – this was as far as they would hike.
We traversed around the mountains, skipping from pass to pass. The giant U-shaped valleys below us almost reminded me of the Sierra. Whenever we got to a high-point, we could see hundreds of unidentifiable peaks stretching to the horizon.
Toward the end of the day, we headed over Methow Pass, and down into one of the forested valleys. The forest here was less dense than the Washington forests we’d become accustomed to. We were far to the eastern edge of the North Cascades. The mountains here didn’t get as much rain as they did further east. Larches populated the high mountain sides. Their needles were turning a dull yellow – summer was over. We finally called it a day at a flat little area along the Methow River. The night was cold, everything froze. The recent cold front had finally killed the late warm summer. It would be cold days and colder nights from here on out.
The next morning, we began an ascent toward Glacier Pass. We climbed up the mountain to the east of the pass. Marmots whistled at us as we passed by. They were fat, ready for the long cold winter ahead. As we climbed up the ridge, we were treated to a wonderful view. The soft puffy clouds in the sky provided a perfect contrast to the jagged peaks below them. Immediately across the river basin below, white vertical walls rose and showed-off their majesty.
We continued over the ridge and traversed across more mountainsides. The snowy peaks were everywhere we looked, even under our feet. We finally arrived at Hart’s Pass. Michael and Brian stopped to cook. I kept going.
The snow got thicker north of Harts Pass. There were plenty of flat areas, but none of them were free of snow. It had never gotten warm during the day, the night was shaping up to be really cold. Just when I was about to give up and start scraping snow off the ground, I spotted a building about a quarter mile away.
It was circular with a pointed roof. It looked like some kind of storage facility or ranger cabin. I figured it was worth investigating. Maybe by the grace of a higher power, it would be open. Whatever it was, it would be better than sitting out in the cold. I walked across the snow toward the building. A dirt road appeared to lead right to it. I finally arrived and noticed stairs going up the outside. I climbed up the stairs and stood there… stunned… Inside were futons, blankets, beds, a wood burning stove, a big pile of wood, cabinets, a sink, lamps, rugs, food, you name it. The only thing keeping the door shut was a nylon rope. I went inside. There was a note on the table “This yurt is run by North Cascades Heli-Skiing, please leave it as you found it.”. Score!!! it was the yurt from heaven. It was so amazing that I could barely contain my glee. The PCT wasn’t over yet! Magic was still happening! I bounded down the steps and ran over to the trail. I left a note for Michael and Brian on the trail, then headed back to the yurt. I lit the stove, turned on a lamp, and started reading a book. I called out the window for Michael and Brian, but got no response. I hoped they hadn’t stopped further back on the trail. They’d never believe this place if they didn’t see it. I’d just about given up hope when I heard some voices outside, “where are you?”. “Up here”. As they started up the steps, I beamed a huge smile at them. They came in and just about cried. Hugs and jumping up and down were not out of order. The excitement never waned. We spent the night dreaming of yurts. There should be yurts everywhere. Everyone should live in a yurt. We all shared our most extravagant yurt fantasies.
There was a small glass window on the top of the yurt. The full moon cast a circular beam that moved slowly across the wooden floor all night. I was warm and content.
We didn’t leave until 11AM the next morning. It was still cold outside. If we had to pick one night to “need a yurt”, the previous night was it. We were charged-up for our last full day of hiking on the PCT.
The snowy trail wound around more mountain sides, the views of jagged snowy peaks continued.
Halfway through the day, we were confronted with a sign: “Trail Abandoned”. The trail had been wiped out by so many successive avalanches, that the the maintenance people had given up. There was a detour route forcing us down 1000 feet, then back up 1500 feet. We may have been near the end, but the trail wasn’t easing up. Soon after this, we traversed a snowy mountainside and climbed to the highest PCT-point in Washington, peak 7126. To our immediate south, Three Fools Peak dominated over an expanse of snowy mountains. (The three of us had to wonder about the appropriate naming of the mountain.) It was beautiful, but I was sad. I was saying good-bye. Now, there were only two goals on my mind – the border & hwy 3.
We continued down the north side of peak 7126, looking at Canadian mountains to our north. We hiked a few more miles then camped on a nice saddle. It was the last night on the PCT.
It was also one of the coldest nights on the PCT. Everything froze. My flimsy rubber water bag was stiff as a board in the morning. All the ground was frosted, and the mountains were blocking out the sun. We felt like we were sneaking across the border just ahead of old man winter. I got ahead of Michael and Brian. I hiked a few miles and saw something which stopped me in my tracks.
A thin line of trees was missing from the hill to my left. The line went all the way up the side of the hill and disappeared over the top. I knew instantly that it was the border. The US government cuts all the trees in a 10-yard wide path up and down the border. That way, nobody can stumble across by accident. I waited for Michael and Brain, then the three of us continued on.
We rounded a corner, and there it was. Monument 78 & the PCT “northern terminus marker”. I felt like I’d finally stumbled upon a long lost artifact which had only existed in tall tales of folklore. I just stood there with a big smile on my face. I found it hard to really celebrate. Celebrate what? The end? I didn’t have the feeling that I’d accomplished much. Mexico seemed so far away. The start of the trip didn’t even feel connected to where I stood now.
I tipped over the monument and pulled out the notebook inside. It was filled with the rantings of dozens of jubilant hikers. I slowly read through the entries. Some of them were brief and to the point. Some of them were famous quotes. Some of them were long original works of literature. All of them conveyed the same joyful emotion of relief and release that I was feeling at that very moment. A group of the writings were letters to John, a friend greatly missed.
I felt proud that I could put my name down with the rest of them. It was like the final initiation into an exclusive club. We’d done it!
Oh ya… there were still ~8 miles to hike. But that was only 13km Canadian. The last bit of trail went up over a ridge, then down the other side. Just before Hwy 3, there was a sign which read: “trail flooded, use alternate”. Screw that. I wasn’t going to walk 2650 miles just to miss the Canadian trailhead. We went down to the “flooded” area, and found that it was just a bunch of wet rocks – nothing. We passed by a sewage plant and came out to the road. A worn plastic sign indicated this was the start of the Pacific Crest Trail… or finish. We just stood there, shrugged our shoulders, and kept walking. A few more miles.. or kilometers, whatever! and we arrived at Manning Park Lodge. My parents had flown up to meet me. It was nice to see them, and it finally signaled the end of the long walk.
But more than that, it signaled the end of a lifestyle. I had enjoyed so much freedom, that everything else seemed like a cage. Everything about my life was hiking-related – the clothes I wore, my body weight, the way I carried my money, etc. I didn’t really feel like changing any of it, I was totally comfortable and happy. Economics, news, bills, politics, entertainment, parties, obligations… all these things, bad or good, felt foreign. I felt that in his quest for a more evolved lifestyle, man had forgotten his roots. Urban society isn’t all bad, but when it’s all there is, life is only half-lived.
I let out a sigh and headed to Vancouver. I would just have to find some other way to continue living the dream.