Day 153: Castle Pass to Canada
When we packed up in the morning it was raining lightly, the misty sort of rain that we’d come to know in the northwest. I felt it was appropriate for us to finish in the rain and I didn’t mind the weather. We layered on our rain gear and headed towards the border. We didn’t talk much this morning, I think we were both too consumed with our reflections on our trail.
I thought a lot about the people we’d met on our way; Texas Grit, the Girls, Samba and Tallywa, and I wished that we were all together again to share this day with each other. None of this experience would have been as enjoyable without each of them sharing parts of it with us. It’s funny how well you come to know people on the trail. At home, in “society” it may take weeks or months to develop strong friendships with new people, but out here, we spend so much time together and see each other through everything (ups and downs), that relationships are able to develop and strengthen within days. The quality of good people that the trail attracts is incredible and we felt blessed to have met such a diverse group of friends. I thought back to all of the miles we’d hiked as a group and all of the off trail memories we’d shared.
I thought about the culture of trail life and how manners, cleanliness and certain reservations had taken a back seat to freedom, lawlessness and the immediate moment. It was strange that in these next few miles this way of living would be coming to an end. Our day at the Mexico border in Campo felt like ages ago. I remember the feeling of anticipation, nervousness and excitement for the unknown. People had warned Mark and I early on that the trail could break us apart. Some even suggested we solo hike in order to save our relationship. I felt that if we could get through this together, we could get through a lot of things together. I can’t imagine hiking a day of this trail without Mark and I admired solo hikers for being able to do it alone; that would never have worked for me.
As we rounded a corner, the last corner, the border came into view. There was no fence, no wall, just a 10 yard wide strip cut through the forest. The northern terminus monument was standing alone except for Mark and me. We set down our packs and for a moment didn’t say anything. We hugged and cheered and took photos. We were happy to have the monument to ourselves, that is after all, how we’d begun this hike. We lifted our packs onto our backs, for one last time and walked into Canada. With us, we carried memories of all the sunsets, sunrises, storms, summits, and wild places that we’d seen. I carried one heart- shaped rock that Mark had found for me in place of my new engagement ring.
Day 152: Tamarack Camp to Castle Pass
The storms passed and we listened to the rain, heavy at times, into the early morning. We slept in and started moving once there was a break in the rain. The precipitation held long enough for us to get packed up and back on the trail. The cold front had brought chilling temperatures, I hiked in my gloves and warm layers. We move quickly in the cold weather so we were able to cover miles fast today.
The trail led through Foggy Pass and Jim Pass, past Devils Backbone and down to Shaw Creek. The ridge that paralleled us across the valley had a light, white dusting on top, we weren’t able to tell if it was snow or hail. The sky was breaking and the fog began to lift. For a moment we could see a patch of blue sky and hoped that it would be clearing. The clouds moved past us and covered the entire sky. The drizzle stopped and there weren’t any threatening thunderheads or dark clouds. We hiked on.
We climbed through Holman Pass and into a huge basin below Holman Peak. There was a large canvas tent set up with a stove and horse packing gear. We assumed the people that occupied it were out hunting but we hoped that it was a trail crew working on the washouts ahead. The storm that had caught us back in Goat Rocks had caused serious damage to the trail ahead. Mudslides had pulled five chutes of earth away from the upcoming ridge and into the vast valley below. Word on the trail was that it was possible to cross the washouts, though they would slow our day by a couple of hours. A few of the slides were said to be 35 feet wide with 20 foot vertical walls on either side. The trail was closed to stock now and there had been an alternate route made available to thru hikers but it added about 50 miles and I didn’t hear of anyone actually taking it.
We continued on towards Rock Pass and came around to Powder Mountain (which was actually bald and jagged) and we could see the washouts. From here they didn’t look so bad. We checked the sky one more time before committing to the time consuming process of crossing the slope towards Woody Pass.
The trail descended a few switchbacks before reaching the first washout. It wasn’t the largest and we were able to cross without much effort. Washouts three, four and five, however, were huge and it took us a while to pick our way down the vertical walls of loose rock and earth. Mark would go first and wait for me at the bottom, helping me lower the trekking poles and my pack so that I could sit and scoot down on my butt. We met a southbound hiker just as we were climbing out of the fifth washout. He was a ranger out for the day to see the washouts. He was responsible for applying for the huge amount of funding it would take to rebuild this section of trail. This whole ridge looked as if it would slide soon and I hoped they would reroute the trail into the valley below.
We hiked over Woody Pass, which was barren, wrapped around a new ridge that faced a huge range of mountains which we knew were in Canada. We climbed, for the last time on the PCT to Hopkins pass. We took in the expansive view before descending towards Hopkins Lake. We hiked past the lake and descended to Castle Pass, just 3.5 miles short of the border. It was getting dark and we wanted to see the terminus in the daylight and take the time there to enjoy our accomplishment. We set up camp and were inside the tent just as it began to rain. Wendy, a solo female hiker, came into camp and set up near us. We fell asleep to the sound of rain.
Day 151: Methow Creek to Tamarack Camp Two (North)
We spent the night sleeping in two hour increments between sleeping pad inflation needs. We gave up at quarter of five and hit the trail. We moved quickly to warm up as the trail descended gradually to Brush Creek. Randy (Sierra) had warned us that even though the trail paralleled Brush Creek we wouldn’t be able to access it due to the thick, branchy vegetation growth along the water. We filled bottles to carry them up our day’s major climb.
When we pulled away from brush creek we monitored to sky. Bad weather was in the forecast for today as a cold front would be moving in against the record breaking heat that we’d been experiencing these last few days. There was no doubt that this storm would be powerful and electric and after our experience in Goat Rocks, we were not going to be caught on a ridge again. The weather from where we were looked surprisingly good. We knew that clouds would be building throughout the day, leading to heavy storms at night.
We took advantage of the sun and moved quickly through Glacier Pass, which was at a comparably low elevation and heavily wooded, we then climbed away from the pass towards Tatie Peak. As we summited the climb we closed in on a woman hiking ahead of us with her dog. We caught up with her at a seasonal creek and visited with her while we filled waters. She explained that she hadn’t been feeling well since she’d left Stehekin and then promptly began vomiting. I gave her some rehydration / electrolyte tablets and hoped that they would help. Mark offered for us to hike with her until Hart’s Pass, about 4 miles away. She urged us to go on and thought it would be best if we could alert a ranger about her condition so that she could have a ride into Mazama, the nearest town. We hiked away quickly and descended to Hart’s Pass.
Upon reaching the Ranger Station we met a pleasant, female ranger and her husband. “Oh you missed the Trail Magic. There was steak and potatoes here until yesterday. Yup, you missed it” he greeted us. “Did you see the weather? Thunderstorms, hail, probably snow, lightening snow even. And you don’t want to drink from this next water source, there’s so much horseshit up in this field, it’ll taste horrible and make you sick.”
“Yeah and I hear Mt. Baker is overdue to blow” Mark said and he walked away. I told the female ranger about the sick lady and her negative husband ranted about how us hikers don’t know how to take care of ourselves. I defended the woman that it was likely food poisoning contracted in the last town and wondered if this man was making a game of trying to prevent hikers from finishing. Mark and I finished lunch, filtered horseshit out of our water (which tasted great) and left Hart’s Pass.
Again we checked the sky. It still held, the weather looked fine and the air was hot. It would be better to cover more ground now than tomorrow in the rain. We chose to hike past our originally intended destination and we crossed over Benson Pass, Buffalo Pass and Windy Pass. We met two hunters, a father and his young son, who were out scoping with their guns in preparation for the first day of deer season tomorrow.
By now we could see a layer of thick thunderheads building above the ridge behind us. It was getting late and we’d had an early start. We were tired and agreed that we’d put in a sufficient number of miles before the rain. At least all of the above tree-line stuff was behind us. We found a gorgeous camp past Tamarack peak and set up for a wet night. We hunkered down just in time. When the storm reached us, it was momentous, violent and intense. We were in a safe, low, protected spot and I actually enjoyed the feeling of being safely surrounded by such a storm. Lightening illuminated our big basin and thunder boomed. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and snuggled down, embracing what would likely be our last western storm for a long time.
Day 150: Hideaway Camp to Methow Creek Camp
We were up an average of three times per night lately to re- inflate our sleeping pads. For the last few nights, I had been up between 3 and 4am, unable to return to sleep after our early morning pad session. This morning I was up through 4:30 when Mark finally asked if I’d rather just go.
We were on the trail by 5:45 and began hiking towards Rainy Pass. We were carrying scones from the bakery so we each had one for breakfast. They were enormous and delicious!
We climbed quickly because the grade was gradual and the air was cool, following a gentle valley. When we reached Highway 20 the trail dumped us into a trailhead parking lot. We walked over to the restrooms and within moments Purple Haze showed up. He walked around the parking lot looking for the trail north but couldn’t find it. We had no luck locating it either. We pulled out maps and apps to locate the trail which showed that it should be leaving from the parking lot. Track Meat arrive and he followed us down the wrong trail for 5 minutes until we realized that this wasn’t the Rainy Pass trailhead but Bridge Creek instead. Rainy pass was still a mile away so we all walked, single file, up the road.
We knew we were at Rainy Pass when we discovered dozens of cars and a much larger lot. it was a sunny Sunday and locals were out enjoying the hot temperatures. We located the correct trail and hiked away towards Cutthroat Pass. We were in a string of day hikers and each one that discovered we were doing the PCT congratulated us and commented on Canada’s close proximity.
The climb to Cutthroat was gradual and straight for the first couple of miles before turning to primarily switchbacks. The switchbacks ascended a basin with sheer, rocky cliffs which encompassed us in a semi circle. The basin was full of Tamarack Larch, a scrageley, Charlie Brown, looking tree. The needles on the larch turn a bright yellow this time of year and they are soft to touch.
As soon as we were through Cutthroat Pass we didn’t see any more day hikers. The trail was cut into a slope covered in white granite slabs. The exposed rock and dry, arid air of eastern Washington reminded me of Utah. We continued towards Methow Pass on a slope that became based of more loose rock. This ridge was exposed and I was happy that we were crossing it in good weather. We descended into the valley through the pass and enjoyed the gradual grade back into the forest below. As we closed in one Methow Creek, our destination for the night, we reached another hiker.
Randy, or Sierra, was a Southbound section hiker who completes the PCT in 1980. We sat down at his site and visited for about 15 minutes. I asked about the upcoming terrain as I didn’t want to be caught in the wrong place as the wrong time in regards to weather. Randy took the time to share stories and recommendations for camps. He marked up his topo map and sent us on our way with it.
We crossed the camp and came to a small tent site that was fragrant with pungent mushrooms. We set up camp in the little clearing between boomers and trees.
Day 149: Stehekin to Hideaway Camp
We slept in until 7:00 and it felt wonderful. We were camped near the Stehekin Visitors Center in a scrappy, but free, lot called “overflow”. We had planned to take the 11:00 bus up to the bakery and from there take the 1:40 bus back to the trailhead. We were packed up by 7:30 so we hoped on the 8:00 bus instead. We ate breakfast and had leisurely coffee with Iceman, Catywampus, and a few others.
We returned to the trail on the next bus. We were dropped off at High Bridge of North Cascade National Park and the driver turned off the bus for 8 minutes while the next batch of Stehekin bound hikers loaded on. This gave all of us thru hikers enough time to hug and shriek and trade quick stories. I felt badly for the day hikers that were headed into town with today’s batch of thru-hikers, the heat certainly doesn’t help anyone’s stench.
It was unseasonably warm today, about 93 degrees, and we were sweaty within 5 minutes of moving up the trail. We followed an old wagon road which paralleled the Stehekin River. We passed Coon Lake and came to Bridge Creek. We would follow this all the way to camp.
The colors of the shrubs lining the trail had changed to yellow and red. Even though the air was hot we could still sense that autumn was in the air. We climbed steadily but at a low gradual grade for the rest of the afternoon. We passed Bridge Creek Camp and a few others before reaching Hideaway Camp. Being that we were in a National Park, we were required to camp in designated sites. This one was right on the creek, it had a great fire ring and a bear wire ( to easily hang food). I’d expected it to be a full campsite, it was Friday night after all, but we were the only people there. We had packed homemade hot-pockets from the bakery and this was one of the best meals we’d had on the trail.
Day 148: Cedar Camp to Stehekin
We were joined at Cedar Camp last night by Purple Haze, an older, friendly gentlemen from Tucson, Arizona and Catywampus and Iceman, a couple that we’d met on the very first day on the trail. We had seen the couple about three times throughout the hike and each time enjoyed getting to know them more. We happily headed down the trail to the High Bridge bus pick up.
We were headed to Stehekin for our last resupply and our hike to the bus stop was less than ten miles. We followed the Agnes Creek until it met Stehekin river. These ten trail miles had brief ups and downs but for the most part, we had a gradual descent all the way. We were on the trail early and enjoyed hiking in the morning shade. As the sun rose and eventually came to reach us, we heated up immediately. We later learned that it was 92 degrees.
We congregated at the bus stop, a dirt turnaround in North Cascade National Park, with Purple Haze, Iceman and Catywampus. Stehekin is a “town”, or small establishment, that can only be reached by trail or by boat across Lake Chelan. There are a few vehicles that have been shuttled over to Stehekin and they operate on the town’s only street: one that runs from the lake to the National Park. The Landing is the town’s primary economy, this lodge rents rooms or cabins and also owns a gift shop and restaurant. There isn’t cell service or Internet access in Stehekin so hikers buy a phone card from the gift shop and are able to call family with the only satellite phone in town. We have been told that Stehekin is the most beautiful town in America so we were anxious to see it.
The bus runs back and forth on its route 3 times per day. We arrived at the dirt patch at 10:30 and waited until noon for the bus. When it came, a horde of other PCT and section hikers jumped out. Squeeks and Happy Hour were among the hikers and we were happy to see them. Happy Hour’s mother had sent him graduation caps, mini bottles of champagne and a Mexico-USA-Canada banner to celebrate with at the boarder. They gave us their leftover beer from town and were on their way.
We rode the bus for about 45 minutes and traveled 9 miles down the dirt road to the Bakery. The Stehekin Bakery is 2 miles out of town and has become so popular among hikers that the bus plans an 8 minute stop there because some people want to get off and catch the later bus into town and some want to grab food to go. We chose the to-go option and promptly bought a half dozen items including home made hot pockets, cinnamon rolls, coffee cake and flatbread pizza. This is the best bakery I have ever been to and I can understand why we have been hearing about it since Southern California.
When we got into town we set up camp just past the Landing and visited the A-Frame building for coin op showers and laundry (also owned by The Landing).
We picked up our resupply box and sorted food for the last time.
We ate dinner on The Landing’s waterfront porch (everything in Stehekin is waterfront) and we enjoyed the company of other hikers that we taking zero days in Stehekin. We went to sleep in the tent feeling grateful that we were able to experience this friendly, beautiful town.
Day 147: Suiattle Tributary to Cedar Camp
We woke up and were surprised to see that another hiker, Veggie, had come in late and set up camp nearby. He’s a nice guy from Rhode Island and we were happy to see him here. He took off up the trail before we had packed up camp.
We spent the night inflating our pads, both of the valves were leaking now. We had also discovered that we were running low on fuel, food, batteries and supplies that we use regularly from the pharmacy. We’d been hoping all of these would last until Canada but this was not the case. Thankfully, we would be coming it to town tomorrow morning and we knew that we had a big resupply box there.
We climbed, paralleling the Suiattle river to our right. It took us a short series of switchbacks to reach Suiattle Pass where we hiked to the east of the massive Plummer Mountain. As we descended from the pass, we met the south fork of the Agnes Creek and paralleled this one for a while before turning west towards Sitting Bull Mountain. The trail was scenic though difficult to hike as it crossed through boulder and talus fields, through muddy creeks, swampy grass areas and over down trees. We moved slowly and took lots of steep ups an downs as we made our way down the creek. The Agnes creek ran just about due North so we followed it all the way to camp.
We came into Cedar camp, about a mile and a half short of our destination. We had plenty of daylight but given the beauty of this campsite and that we’d only need to hike out 10 miles in the morning, we decided to stop early and have a campfire.