Monday, August 31, 2009

Manning Park, Canada

I left the Dinsmores with resignation and tears. I really didn't want to return to the trail but there was no choice. I got a ride to the car show that Mrs. Dinsmore was in charge of and where there would be breakfast available. It was a pretty good breakfast of eggs and biscuits with country gravy for only $3. I ate mine so hungrily they gave me a second plate. I was good to go so I walked down toward the road to hitch up to Steven's Pass and resume my hike.

On the way to the highway I passed Mr. Dinsmore directing car show traffic. He gave me a big bear hug and assured me it would be ok. He knew how much I didn't want to return to the trail. I walked down the highway with tears running down my face.

Before I stuck out my thumb I stopped at the Skykomish ranger station and got a map of the suggested detour around the Glacier Peak trail damage. Bridges had been washed away a few years ago and there was a section of old growth blowdowns. The lady at the ranger station had me pretty convinced the reroute would be wonderful and I was all set to do it.

I got a ride up to the pass and when I got out there, there was not a cloud in the sky. It was sunny and beautiful. I felt actually happy to be out on the trail again.

I passed up Mr. Zip pretty confident I wouldn't have to listen to his stream of consciousness ever again. Whew. Peace and quiet for the rest of my life!

I hiked all day and finally made camp on a small saddle where there was a lot of grass and just one little camp site. It seemed nice. A couple of guys arrived shortly after I set up my tent. They had been at the Dinsmores', too. I felt bad for taking the only nice spot on the saddle, but they went on a ways and found places to camp.

In the middle of the night the mist reappeared and made everything wet and miserable. I had to pack up wet gear in the morning and walk through wet, encroaching brush. Along the way I lost my gloves because I had stuffed them down my jacket when I warmed up and they had fallen out.

I hiked up to a beautiful pass with gorgeous views and found people having lunch so I joined them. My gloves had been seen on the trail but left there. They were key to me keeping warm without an actual jacket, but I figured I could make do with what I still had. Maybe use socks or the arm warmers I had.

The views of Glacier Peak and the craggy mountains were beautiful. The huckleberries along the trail were tasty. It was quite lovely and despite the ability to trust the weather, I felt happy to be out there. I hiked off and on with four people: Icecap, Grateful, Highlander and Gingersnap. Gingersnap was a woman and the rest were men. Icecap was Swiss. Grateful was hiking only the Washington section.

We reached the detour point of no return at the same time and someone said, Well, you gotta die sometime, and we all chose to stick to the PCT. It really came down to a choice of 7 miles of damaged trail on the PCT vs. 50 miles on the reroute of unmaintained trail that most had failed to make it through and of those who did, they were sorry. We were committed now.

Somewhere around then I suggested to the others that although they had absolutely no responsibility toward me and I didn't expect them to do anything at all to help me, that if they didn't mind, I would appreciate it if they would allow me to tag along through the damaged section just so that I didn't have to do it alone. They agreed that would be fine so long as I was there at the same time they were. We had similar hiking speeds so I was pretty certain I would be. They were faster than me but took long breaks and so we would end up doing the same miles each day. A few times I was pretty certain they had gotten far ahead of me and I was now on my own, but then I would catch up again. So I completed the section all the way to Stehekin with the four of them.

The lady at the ranger station had said that most likely the people who had hiked the damaged section of the PCT had said it wasn't so bad because they had felt committed once they started it and so they were minimizing how bad it was. It actually turned out not to be so bad for real.

The first big challenge was Milk Creek. This creek was a glacial melt stream, cold, swift and milky in color. I arrived at it early in the morning. If I hadn't been so drawn to the brand new trail leading right to Milk Creek's brand new bridge I would have been just fine. The creek in the morning was an easy boulder hop. Instead, I crossed on the bridge and once on the other side, was reluctant to cross back. I ended up bushwhacking up the stream back to the trail. I got tangled in branches and ended up with wet feet from the stream anyway. I ended up crossing parts of the stream multiple times. The rocks were slippery and at some point I could see the PCT trail up a hill and decided it couldn't be that hard to walk straight up to it. So that's what I did. I ended up cursing the wet leaves of thorny blackberry and stinging nettles all the way up to the trail. Icecap and Grateful were on the trail just as I reached it.

I followed them into the next challenge which was the 3 miles of blowdowns. These blowdowns were amazing. Old-growth trees. Absolutely huge. I hadn't realized how amazing the trees in this area were until I saw their immensity laying down. The way through was a well-worn path and easy. It was actually kind of fun. The blowdowns mostly ended at another milky glacial stream that had two logs across. I crossed with a certain amount of fear. Icecap and Grateful only waited on the other side just long enough to see me step up to the logs. That was fine with me. I walked gingerly one step at a time and then was safely on the shore.

The final challenge aside from a few more blowdowns was Suiattle River. The bridge was washed out and we had to cross on a log. Icecap and Grateful waited only long enough to see that I found the log. I crossed all alone at 5:30 PM. I have no idea what the river looked like. I never looked at it. I only looked at the log. I walked one step at a time without crossing my feet. I didn't want to lose balance. Trekking poles, right foot, left foot. Trekking poles, right foot, left foot. I talked to the log: Nice log, good, strong log, sturdy log, nice log. I talked to my feet: Good strong feet, good job, you're doing great. Then the bark was loose on the log so I went back to praising the log.

Once I jumped over the root ball at the end of the log to the other side of the river I breathed. I had made it! I felt with the relief and success of crossing that log and in advance, the immense power and success of reaching Canada. I knew I would make it now. There was nothing now between me and the border but easy trail.

The last day before Stehekin was boring. I hiked down to the bus stop hoping I'd make it in time for the 3 PM bus. I did. All during the bus ride we could talk of nothing more than the Stehekin Bakery. I hoped we weren't making it into something more than it was. But it turned out we couldn't have raised our hopes up too high. The bakery was a miracle out in the middle of nowhere, the absolute best bakery I've ever been to. I had huckleberry pie and a sun dried tomato stuffed croissant that weighed about a pound. So good. I planned to return and buy stuff to bring with me on my last section, which I did. Man that was heavy food! I had to eat it quick or die under the weight.

I ended up taking almost 2 days off in Stehekin. Tony wasn't set to drive up for a few days and I didn't want to finish the trail before he got there. The plan was for him to drive up to Manning Park and hike south. We would cross paths somewhere around Harts Pass and then he would hike back to the border with me. So I lollygagged around Stehekin. Fortunately the food at the restaurant was fabulous. I think it was as good as Drakesbad.

I took a late bus back to the trail and hiked only 5 miles in. I camped there and relaxed with my book. The next day I hiked only 20 miles, meeting Flicker along the way. The scenery had changed dramatically. I had to laugh because people said the scenery up here toward the end was the prettiest and so unlike the rest of Washington. To me it looked an awful lot like Southern California!

That night it rained most of the night. Oh god, not more rain! I decided I couldn't sit out here in Washington being rained on. I just wanted out of here. So I poured the coal on and hiked 29 miles, camping on Jim Pass. On the way I bumped into Mathman who I hadn't seen since White Pass at the end of Washington's first section. I told him about meeting Tony and that I wasn't going to let him meet me at Harts Pass. I was going to cut Tony's hike short and hike as far as I could get toward Canada.

It rained briefly at Jim Pass and then the sky was perfectly clear. My tent was never wetter than under this clear sky. I figured this was the day I would meet Tony. So I set out happily expecting to bump into him somewhere around Woody Pass.

When I got to Woody Pass, which was a rocky, dramatic spot way up high in alpine conditions, I stopped to dry out all my things. I expected Tony to come around the bend any minute. I met 3 hikers instead and they had not seen anyone meeting Tony's description. My heart sank. Tony hadn't come. I started to worry. Maybe he was fiddling with his damn fool GPS in the car and had had an accident. Maybe his mom had died and he had to go to the funeral. Maybe traffic had just been bad and he decided just to wait at Manning Park instead of hike. I was disappointed and worried.

After my stuff was all dry I said to myself, Well, let's go to Canada. And off to the border I went.

The trail went way up high to the highest point in Washington. I studied every person I saw to make sure it wasn't Tony. I saw two people up on a ridge and I walked up to the ridge just to make sure neither was Tony.

I walked down, down, down. I met a couple who were just starting out a section hike. We talked for a while about water sources since this final section had long stretches without water. I told them about not meeting Tony and how I'd have to go to the border alone. I asked them if it was far. They told me I was just right before the final four switchbacks. I broke out in tears. I was almost there!

I counted the switchbacks as I went. At number four I suddenly found myself at the monument. How hard I had worked to reach this point! I cried tears of joy. I took pictures of my pack against the terminus marker and pictures of the metal pyramid that marks the border. I tried to take pictures of myself, too. I only had a disposable camera so I wasn't sure if they came out. I walked around to the back of the terminus looking for the sign-in register. It wasn't there. I looked around the area and saw nothing. I pushed against the metal pyramid. That thing felt solid. So I left. (Later I learned the register was inside the pyramid and I'd have to lift the 40lb top off. I don't think I could have done that.)

I camped at the campground .2 miles from the terminus. I hoped someone else would camp there who might take my picture. Nobody did. I relaxed there as the sun set reading my book and worrying about Tony. I could have hiked further but I had worked so hard and struggled so much that I was going to at least spend the night.

In the morning I set off for the final 8 miles to Manning Park. The trail went annoyingly up hill and then steeply down hill. It went on forever. All I could think was that I was done with all this. I never had to climb up to nowhere again. I never had to feel the loss of built-up energy with a long descent again. I was done with all of it.

I arrived at Manning Park and found my way to a celebratory breakfast where I choked down french toast through buckets of tears. The end of the trail was so anticlimactic. It didn't even say PCT on the trail sign at the end. And there was no trailhead parking lot and no register. It was just the end. There was a thru-hiker trying to hitchhike and all during my breakfast he never got a ride. He was like a symbol to me of how people end the trail and then they just leave. Manning Park was no Emerald City. It was simply the end. People just dispersed. Here I was all alone.

I went over to the lodge and met some hikers who had seen Tony out on the trail. I grilled them for more information. We somehow had missed each other. I hoped he would figure out what happened to me. I called his phone and left a message letting him know I was ok. I called the ranger station at Harts Pass to tell them if someone tried to send out a search party there was no need. I was at Manning Park and ok. Then I figured out where the PCT trailhead parking really was and walked down the highway a mile to leave Tony a note on his car, which was there. Nothing to do now but wait.

I was going to sleep in the forest instead of get a room, but then it started pouring rain. So I got a room in their cheap hostel. As I sat in my room worrying about what the marble-sized hail had to be doing to Tony's tent out there on the trail I heard someone call my name in the hall. It was Tony! Oh my God! I exclaimed. I was so surprised. We hugged for a long time.

It turned out Mathman had clued Tony in to what happened to me. It also turned out that when I slept on Jim Pass Tony had been only a mile away. He had found a camp site just below the trail in the trees. I had walked right by and never saw him. We had had an agreement that we'd leave a note on the trail if we left the trail but he had not left a note. If he had, I would have found him.

We went back to the restaurant for a celebratory dinner with Mathman. We had a great time talking about the trail and drinking wine. Tony and I stayed in the lodge instead of the hostel.

The next few days I have had the luxury of unwinding from the trail by driving south and revisiting places I had been. We stopped at Skykomish and helped hikers get to and from the trail. We stopped at Timberline Lodge and stayed at the lodge and had the breakfast again. I got to visit Little Crater Lake which I had passed by but regretted. It was more amazing than I had expected. If you haven't hiked by it yet, be sure to visit. We hiked the Ramona Falls loop. We visited Crater Lake and toured around Lassen. We're back at Piper's Mom's house getting great food and soon I'll be home again, adrift and tasked with finding a job and returning to "normal" life.

The beauty of Washington lingers through the fading haze of my misery. The mosquitoes of Oregon are mostly forgotten as I realize Oregon had some of the best things to visit. California welcomes me, familiar and dry.

If I had signed the register at the border, this is what I would have written:

There are many things in this world that you can do to make it feel like you've lived your life to the fullest. Hiking the PCT has been one of them.


  1. Way to go, Piper! To be honest, reading your journal this year was a bit painful, but I greatly admire that you stuck with it and completed your journey. Best of luck as you re-adjust. Palomino

  2. Congratulations! Santa Barbara awaits.

  3. Thank you, Diane, for sharing your amazing story with us!

  4. Congratulations! You did it! Please consider writing another book that starts from the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian border. Your tip has inspired me to continue my PCT section hikes. Happy Trails. The Beeman