Washington Section L: Rainy
Pass (Hwy 20) to Manning Park (Hwy 3)
Canada: 61 miles
Mexico: 2589 miles
Manning Park: 69 miles
(Note, The trail's end at
Hwy 3 is 8 miles inside Canada)
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
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.