Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Last Days of the Pacific Crest Trail

The end of the thru-hiker train passed us as we continued northward from Stehekin. It was another unusually warm, sunny day in the North Cascades. Only four more days were left of the PCT for us. While all the thru-hikers were striving to reach the Canadian border, we would be cutting out early to fly out of Seattle.

Once we reached the top, we felt rather warm. We came across Coon Lake and decided that it was time to take a refreshing dip here. Then we sat on a boulder above the lake, overlooking the beautiful fall colors while putting together some wraps for lunch.

Soon after lunch we met residents Mike and Nancy Barnhart of Stehekin. They were returning from one of their photography shoots. They both produce lots of breathtaking photography of the area, where they met and got married. Nancy had moved here years ago; Mike was born in Stehekin. He is very knowledgeable about the area's history and has recorded it over the years. According to him, half of the information on the Lady of the Lake tour was false!

The PCT meanders briefly through North Cascades National Park.

At Fireweed Camp we came across this shelter, which Freebird tells me is similar to those he's seen on the AT. It was interesting to look at, but we had no desire to stay in this dusty place. We would continue on and search for a different campsite.

We found a spot in the forest and set up the tent, just before the rain hit. The next morning the rain had cleared, and we walked onward to Bridge Creek.

And then the rain started once again...

A bridge no longer maintained. This wasn't part of the PCT though, so we didn't have to attempt to cross this bridge. Rather, about a quarter mile up the trail we had to cross over some precarious, slick logs, trying not to fall into the cold water below. Then we arrived at Rainy Pass in the midst of the downpour, the location proving to live up to its name!

We camped a few miles beyond Rainy Pass. The next morning the rains had subsided and all the plants were covered with water droplets.

We walked beneath the mountaintops dotted with golden tamaracks and observed that it had snowed in the higher altitudes last night. A woman and her dog passed us on the trail, and she excitedly informed us that it was still snowing up there! Very soon we would be walking through a snow-covered wonderland.

We arrived at Cutthroat Pass in the midst of a snowstorm. I caught up to Freebird and some hikers that he was talking with. Then I noticed just what they were laughing about. Standing 50 feet away from us, next to the Cutthroat Pass sign, was a man completely naked with nothing but a hat on! At first glance I thought that this couldn't be really happening. He looked likea cardboard cutout! I double-checked ... triple-checked ... and then I was for sure certain that there really was a naked man standing at Cutthroat Pass. Passing hikers were thrilled to meet this tourist attraction, stopping to ask him why and how he was even naked in a snowstorm. Each group was taking pictures with him!

One of the hikers that Freebird was talking with encouraged me to go over and take his picture. She assured me with the obvious, "He's not shy!" Freebird and I walked over there and met Randy. He had been celebrating Oktoberfest in a town below and had hiked 6 miles up the trail with absolutely no clothes. Ok, so maybe that explains how he was able to withstand the cold!

Just then, two mountain bikers rode up the very same trail that Randy had traversed. They laughed when they realized what surprise stood at the summit, waiting for them. When they came over to us, Randy remarked to them, "I don't know who's crazier for being up here, me or you!" We all came to the same conclusion that the mountain bikers were, in fact, the craziest of the people at Cutthroat Pass that day.

Kathleen ("Jupiter") and her friend Anitra posed with Randy for a picture. Anitra asked Randy, "Where are your clothes?? Didn't you bring them with you???" She couldn't get over the fact that he didn't even carry his clothing with him! Somehow Randy talked with us for a half hour before returning the 6 miles to town. Who knows how long he had already been up there before we arrived!

The majority of the people that walked through Cutthroat Pass had no problem with Randy. Good for him, that he is comfortable enough to be naked in public! The only exception was an older couple who walked past quickly, glancing at him disgustedly. It appeared as if they wanted to call the police!

When Kathleen aka "Jupiter" introduced herself to us as a former thru-hiker, we found that she and Freebird knew some of the same people. She invited us to stay at her place in Seattle in a few days, from where we could take a shuttle to the airport the next day.

The storm cleared, Kathleen and Anitra rode away, and we continued on...

Closeup of a tamarack larch, a deciduous conifer whose needles turn yellow in autumn and fall to the ground.

Shortly after leaving Cutthoat Pass, we found the only spot out of the wind. Here it would be more possible to make some wraps for lunch. So we ate lunch with this incredible view. Once we rounded the corner, we were barraged with huge gusts of wind!

With a brief moment of sunshine, we took the opportunity to dry everything out from the rain the night before. The "sucker hole" as the locals call it, only lasted 15 minutes, but everything of ours successfully dried.

We met Diane and her son Dwight. Diane has thru-hiked the PCT before and wanted her son to experience some of the trail. They live in Connecticut and have hiked the whole AT together. One day Dwight hopes to thru-hike the PCT as well. When they heard about the unusually warm weather in Washington, they decided to purchase some last-minute tickets and fly out there. They missed that opportunity by just a few days. Now the temperatures were rapidly plummeting as a winter storm was approaching.

Just a few minutes before, when we had been "hiker trashing it out" on the trail, with our belongings scattered everywhere, some locals walked past and told us that tomorrow, "all hell breaks loose." Massive snowstorms were coming, and the North Cascades would be "closed down" for the hiking season. Of course tomorrow would be our last day on the PCT. What timing, again! Thank God!

Upon reaching Methow Pass, Freebird ran ahead to stake out a campsite and to get a fire started for us. He told me to take my time. I slowed my pace a bit and began the descent down into the forest. 

Once I was under tree cover, it began to sprinkle. I quickened my pace once again and soon found Freebird. Once the rains stopped, we started a fire. We sat beside it all night until we were warm enough, then we crawled into our sleeping bags and went to bed. As we dozed off, we were serenaded by the calls of the Great Horned Owl.

The following morning we had one more fire to commemorate our last campsite on the PCT.

Putting out the fire before we left.

Brush Creek
After wandering along Brush Creek we began rising up into the mountains again. As we walked along and beheld the North Cascades around us, knowing it to be the last day, we recalled for hours all of the wonderful memories from our journey thus far.

Along the trail we found a log and prepared lunch here, while the sun was still shining. We knew that it wouldn't be long until it was cloudy again. Sure enough, as soon as we finished eating, the clouds rolled in once again.

We walked through Glacier Pass, then up a long set of switchbacks that would lead us into the tundra. Freebird recounted when he hiked this section with Ravensong and her daughter Bear, when they raced down this path during an approaching thunderstorm to shelter themselves in the forest below. We would be meeting Ravensong that very evening, if we would be able to get a ride to Mazama.

Some evidence of past avalanches.

The temperatures continued to plummet, so I put on another jacket!

We stopped on a ridge to have a quick snack. As we sat there, we saw some south-bounders coming our way. Who would be heading southbound, or even flip-flopping, this late in the season? Once they got closer, we realized that this was the end of the train that we had seen in Stehekin! In the group were Dimples, Blueberry, Spirit Fingers, and Slack.

Blueberry and Spirit Fingers told us that when they reached Rainy Pass, they hitched to Mazama and stayed 2 nights at Ravensong's Roost. Someone then gave them a ride to Harts Pass, where they began to head south, back to Rainy Pass. From there, they planned to stay one more night with Ravensong and then continue northward to Canada.

They heard of the impending snow forecast that night, but most of them didn't seem to be worried! I admire their lack of concern and hurry. We directed them to the forest where we had camped the previous night, which would be the best shelter from the snow.

As we hiked along the crest, a raven flew up from below. We made several calls to him. He could tell that he had our attention and entertained us with performing some barrel rolls before flying away.

Frequently pikas, who hid themselves in the rocks all around us, would squeak as we passed by. This would be the last time we heard them this year. It was as if they and the raven were saying farewell.

Tatie Peak, a mountain Freebird climbed during a previous thru-hike.

Looking northward into the Pasayten Wilderness and Canada.

We would be getting off of the trail at Harts Pass, about 30 miles from the Canadian border.

Arriving at Harts Pass as the sun was going down. Freebird walked across the road to read the trail register and to see around what time each of our friends had made it to Canada. The traffic on the road was very minimal, and it was cold.

We began walking down the road toward Mazama to keep warm. We put on all of our clothes and kept following the sunlight until the sun had gone down behind the mountains. Perhaps eventually someone would pick us up. There were hunters all over the area who would be heading back home anytime now. We had no idea if we would catch a ride, but we continued to travel with faith as Peace Pilgrim did. During the nights, she would often walk to stay warm.

A father and son who were out for a hunt, Dave and Mike, picked us up at 5:55. They were staying in Lost River, a small town on the way to Mazama. They drove us out of their way to Ravensong's Roost and stayed in the driveway until they were assured that we had a place to stay. If not, they were willing to take us back to their place in Lost River and feed us dinner.

Caroline (Ravensong) was sitting at the campfire with her friend, Slim. She came over to see who had just gotten out of the truck. Once she realized it was Freebird, she excitedly threw her arms around him. "I thought I heard a familiar voice!" Dave and Mike, satisfied to know that we would be taken care of, drove back to Lost River.

Caroline invited us over to the fire with her and Slim for pork chops and salad. Slim, another hiker, was living at her place and fixing up Ravensong's Roost for her. Caroline had only recently opened up her home to hikers. 

Then we were invited inside for showers and laundry, and to watch the well-known slideshow of Caroline's first thru-hike of the PCT in '76. As I have stated in the previous post, Caroline is arguably the first woman to ever hike the whole PCT. She paused the slideshow at a picture of a mountain and asked if we knew which one it was. Neither of us knew. It was actually Mount Saint Helens, before its eruption!

Caroline and Freebird caught up for hours and shared all sorts of interesting stories with me of their hike together. They showed me photos and videos of her daughter, Tamara (Bear), who had joined them. Caroline invited us to stay inside the house that night, but we refused and slept in the loft outside like the rest of the hikers do.

The next morning Caroline prepared breakfast for us and Slim. We talked for a few more hours and looked through more pictures. Caroline shared with me some photos taken in Alaska, in a small indigenous, fishing community near Siberia that she stayed with for months at a time, starting several decades ago. I loved hearing her stories and would've enjoyed staying longer. But we had a flight to catch the next day, and it was time to go to Seattle.

Caroline's brother lives in Seattle, much closer to the airport than Katherine. Caroline arranged for us to stay with him, and I called Katherine to thank her but inform her that we found another place.

We collected a few apples from Caroline's yard for some snacks throughout the day. Then she handed us a cardboard sign that some other hikers had used to get to Seattle, asking us to leave it in the culvert when we were done. She would pick it up later and save it for others. Caroline gave both of us huge hugs goodbye, and then we selected a hitching spot along the highway.

As I held the sign along the road, watching the cars zoom past, it finally felt "real" to me that we were done with the PCT. We had hiked over 700 miles of this trail and in less than one day we would be on an airplane heading to Vegas. We would continue to backpack in a different climate, around a different culture of people. More of the tourist crowd, and no more of the thru-hiker subculture. The past 3 months of the backpacking journey had been quite a learning experience. Never an athletic person, I never imagined that I would do long-distance hiking. In fact, I had never even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail until Freebird invited me along. As the journey so far has shown me, with Spirit, all things are possible!

Not much later after leaving Ravensong's Roost, Dennis picked us up. We drove westward through the North Cascades, passing through Rainy Pass. It was interesting to see it on a sunny day this time around. I had been so desperate to hitch to Mazama from there before, not wanting to deal with the rain any longer. But in hindsight I'm glad that we continued on to Harts Pass. Scenes of yellow tamaracks, blizzards, all the wildlife, the naked man, the carefree end of the train, the Canadian mountains, the friendly hunters, and so on... all drifted through my thoughts as I looked back in gratitude. We wouldn't have experienced any of this had we run off to Ravensong's Roost earlier.

And lastly, we finished off a beautiful adventure on the PCT with the meeting of the first woman thru-hiker of the trail, reconnecting with a dear friend of Freebird's.

Everything had happened perfectly.

Farewell and perhaps see you later, Pacific Crest Trail! Seattle, here we come!


  1. Eek! I can't look anymore. I'm experiencing sensory overload - and the bottoms of my feet itch to go hiking!!

  2. Great, maybe that will get us back on the trail that much sooner, Bruce! ;)