PCT Day 156-160

Day 156

It was a cold morning so we decided to have our breakfast in the tent (which was soaking wet from the condensation, of course). After I went to get some water from the ice cold, glacier-fed stream I popped by T-Bone’s tent to make a plan for the day. We had 25 miles ahead of us.

We hiked out at 9:20, dressed in gloves, jackets and buffs as it was pretty nippy. We went a bit uphill and then down again but stayed in the clouds for pretty much the whole first half of the day – we certainly couldn’t see Glacier Peak looming right over us. A big uphill across grassy meadows then took us to a craggy ridge where we met two German twin brothers, also through hikers. We then descended along another ridge and saw a small green lake. Lots of snowpatches reminded us of being at high altitude but at least the clouds got a little less dense as we made our way lower through the switchbacks. We passed a lot of cute marmots and even saw two of them fighting (well, it looked more like dancing!). The downhill ended at Milk Creek and a bridge, where it felt a little bit warmer to hang out and so we had a quick snack there.

Next up was a long climb in dense green (and wet!) bushes, switchback after switchback. A good podcast helped me cruise throigh it like a champion and soon I found myself on the last gradual uphill part, skirting green mountaintops and passing big trees. At a big open hillside I could see T-Bone and Kristians ahead of me and at one of the streams we sat down for lunch. But as we were still right under the cloud it was very cold and we only stopped for a little bit before continuing on fully dressed again.

Luckily the next 10 miles were spent steadily descending and it got warmer as I went along. The visibility, too, got better and we entered a forest – it was like a fairytale Washington forest: green, misty, with huge fallen trees and moss everywhere. The downhill soon started to hurt my heels but I had to make it to camp by the Suiattle River, so I turned the volume up on my podcast and kept trucking. The last, flat miles took forever but finally I arrived and scrambled to the camp through a dried riverbed.

The guys had luckily already set up camp so all I had to do was sit down and start preparing dinner. There was also a WA section hiker from Ohio camped there and later another section hiker from Australia arrived. After a cozy dinner and good conversation we hit the hay at about 20:30.

Day 157

The plan for the day was to hike the 12 miles uphill to where the fire closure started and then do the 11 mile detour over Cloudy Pass and into Holden Village. We got up at 8, packed the tent, had breakfast around the fireplace and then finally hiked out. It was a pretty cloudy day but we hoped for good weather, we had a big climb ahead, after all.

The trail started off pretty easy – we crossed some streams and bridges and sort of followed the Suiattle River for a while. We caught up with an Italian hiker named Ferrari and passed him just as the trail started to ascend more steeply. A multitude of switchbacks through this dry pine forest took us higher and closer to the clouds. It got chilly and nippy as we reached the end of the 12 miles of uphill and had our lunchbreak by a stream. We put on all our jackets and even made some tea to get warm…and then it started raining. It was best to hike on in order to stay warm.

After 0,8 miles we hit the fire closure tapes, took some photos and then turned to walk the detour. It started by a rocky boulderfield – pretty sketchy when it’s raining – but soon turned into more trees & open fields. I ascended a bit more and as I reached the Cloudy Pass I was completely engulfed by the cloud (the pass is very aptly named). As I started the rather steep downhill I had to stop for a break to take care of a blister that had been developing. That checked I soldiered on – down, down, down for 10 miles.

Because of the muddy & wet trail I couldn’t see Kristians’ footprints (which usually confirm that I’m on the right trail) so I kept thinking that I’ve maybe taken a wrong turn somewhere. This trail simply wasn’t as well marked as the PCT and I couldn’t check the map on my phone either. But it kept on raining so I kept on hiking, following hillsides, crossing streams and bushwacking. At some point I was soaking wet all over!

After a while, though, the rain stopped and I was also rewarded with a view of this amazing, utterly wild valley that ends up at lake Chelan (the longest lake in WA). There were waterfalls everywhere, dense forests covered the mountainsides & valley floor and there was Lake Lyman in the distance. There was no sign of civilization besides this trail.

As I made my way towards the fully off-grid Holden Village, Kristians and T-Bone were up ahead. Kristians even saw a bear! But finally we all met up before the village and set up our tents at the dedicated campsite. Kristians went to check out the village and returned with Coconut and Tomb Raider! Meanwhile T-Bone and I had got some water from the river and started to prepare dinner. We thought that this had been our last day on the actual PCT due to the fire closures up north as tomorrow we’d take the ferry to Stehekin and then get to the road (it turned out otherwise, however).

Day 157

We got up at 8 and quickly packed up in order to catch the breakfast buffet at the village communal canteen. The selection was pretty awesome even for vegans (granola, non-dairy milks, juices & lots of fruit) and they had a huge selection of different leaf teas! We paid for the breakfast & bus and then sat and ate until the bus at 10:45.

The bus was an old school bus, reminding us of Nicaragua. When we drove off in two buses the whole village came out to wave us goodbye. It took about 40 minutes to drive the downhill gravel road through burned forests down to the ferry landing by the lake. We then had to wait about 45 minutes for the ferry but it went fast as we took some pictures and talked to other hikers. The 45 min ferry ride itself was calm – there was no wind and even the sun was shining through the clouds; it promised to be a beautiful day.

When we got to Stehekin we were greeted by some forest rangers who were there to help the PCT hikers regarding the closures. We then realized that we wouldn’t make it to Seattle that day – apparently one can only get to Stehekin by plane, foot, horse or boat; there are no roads to connect this place to major roads. We had to take a short busride and then hike 19 miles to get to Highway 20. But because it was Sunday and the post office was closed (we had a resupply package there) we could only get going the next day after 10.

So we set up camp behind the visitor center and then went to have a meal at the restaurant. While eating we discussed what to do about the end of the trail – how to reach the monument? I didn’t want to hike the detour as it wasn’t the PCT and the monument was different – I wanted to come back another time to finish it. Kristians wanted to hike the detour – for him it was important to touch the border of Canada. For T-Bone everything was ok, as usual. And so it was decided that we’d hike the 31 mile detour and the 31 miles back to the road again.

When Kristians later went to get maps and a permit from the rangers at the visitor center he also agreed with our friend Jon (who had been to the jungle course with us) to meet up at Rainy Pass the next evening and hike the last 62 miles together. There was no phone signal at Stehekin but the wifi was good enough to make a call – 21st century!

For the evening we got some tortillas and hummus and just sat by the picnic table and chatted for a while – this would be the last time that all five of us would hang out together on trail as Coconut and Tomb Raider were going to take an earlier bus out the next morning. So we just enjoyed the evening and reminisced about times past.

Day 158

We got up at 8 as we were in no rush – the post office would only open at 10. It promised to be good weather as it was clear and already warm. We got some breakfast at the restaurant and used the wifi until it was time to pick up our package. Everything went smooth and after repacking our bags we took the 11:30 shuttle to the trailhead. On the way the bus took a short stop at a bakery where we got some muffins and a rice bowl for lunch.

By the time we got to the trailhead it was already very hot. A quick look at the elevation map of the next 19 miles revealed that it would all be uphill. We were going to a mountain pass, after all. We hiked out at 12:30 and the trail was a mix of steep switchbacks and flatter rocky sections. We crossed some creeks but overall the area was a bit dry-looking. Soon Kristians and T-Bone suddenly stopped; I took off my headphones and saw a smaller black bear. He had just walked on the trail towards Kristians and gone into the bushes as we got closer. We even got him on video!

After the bear encounter we hiked a bit together but soon the guys pulled off ahead. I crossed a big river and then kept making my way uphill on the switchbacks. Soon some hours had passed, I took a turn and reached the loud, cascading Maple Creek at a gully with a suspension bridge. We had a quick lunch here but as it was in the shadow it was a bit chilly. Plus we had to be at the pass between 7 and 8 in the evening to meet Jon, so we soon got going again.

The trail now got into a more green, lush & humid forest – a clear sign that we were ascending. The climb became more gradual and within about 3 hours I got close enough to the road to hear the cars passing. For the last half hour the trail paralleled the road, crossing a dozen streams, some if them on sketchy crooked logs (would be dangerous when wet!). Just by the trailhead there was a bit of trail magic, so the guys each got a beer. Someone had also made a small replica of the PCT monument at the Canadian border – for those who couldn’t see it in real life due to the closure.

I found the guys sitting by the big road sign – we sat there until 20:30, which is when T-Bone and I went to set up our tents by the parking lot. It was getting very cold and dark but we found a spot and pitched our tents. At a bit after 21 a car rolls by and we heard Kristians calling his usual “yohooo!”; Jon had arrived! We greeted him and helped him set up his tent. The guys had a beer while we chatted but it didn’t last long because it was now really getting cold, so we decided to escape into the warmth of our sleeping bags.

Day 159

In the morning we packed up already at around 6 as we were technically illegally camping and hadn’t paid for the parking. The previous day we had also consulted the maps a bit and Kristians realized that the daily distances were a bit too much for Jon (26, 30 and 12 miles respectively) so the first order of business was to go and change our campsites on the permit at a ranger office.

We first drove 12 miles to the visitor center at Newhalem but as it was closed we went to the general store to get some breakfast and the missing rations. On our ride diwn the valley we saw the Ross Lake, the Diablo Lake and a lot of looming Cascade peaks all around. Upon returning to the visitor center later on, however, they told us that we’d need to drive 13 more miles to Marblemount as that was the office where they handled these permits. We did what we had to do, changed the hike from 3 days to 4 days and then finally drove back to the trailhead.

We hiked out at 11:15 and had 16 miles ahead of us. After the initial switchbacks down to Panther Creek the trail mainly went uphill. We decided to have a lunchbreak at the campsite by May Creek, where there were seats and a table!

After patching up Jon’s feet, we hiked on at about 15. It took about 8 miles before we actually reached the shore of the Ross Lake. We had about 3 hours to go and the trail got more flat. There was a section where we really hiked on a narrow trail over a steep embankment above the water. Soon we met a ranger who was hiking from camp to camp to gather trash, check people’s permits and see that the PCTers were behaving. He said that our campsite, called Lightning Creek, was only about half a mile ahead and that he’d be camping there too.

We kept following the lakeside, crossed a huge suspension bridge and then took a sidetrail leading us down to the campsite & beach. We set up camp and then went to get water, swim, wash & enjoy the view. It really was quite amazing. We had dinner by a picnic table (what a luxury!) and chatted a bit with the ranger before going to sleep. It had been a tough day, especially for Jon, as he didn’t have trail legs and had a heavy pack.

Day 160

We got up at 7 as we had a big day ahead: about 21 miles. Today was also going to be the day we’d finally touch the border of Canada. We had our breakfast with a view and then slowly set out at 9.

The trail instantly started to go steeply uphill as we were going to hike around Deception Peak. After a number of switchbacks we started to follow the hillside and crossed a lot of streams. We could hear a big river ranging down in the valley but couldn’t see it. The weather had got more cloudy and after we reached a flatter, green forest section it started to rain – nothing serious but enough to make us put our rain jackets on.

On the next uphill we had our lunch under a bigger tree where it was still relatively flat. After the break we followed a stream uphill for a while but once we turned off we came upon some old friends – Coconut and Tomb Raider had already been to the border and were on their way back to the road. We talked for quite some time but had to then move on – we still had a ways to go.

The trail continued uphill for a bit more – through a lush green, real Washington forest. The uphill then turned to a downhill and soon we reached the junction to Hozomeen Lake, which is where we were going to camp for the night. We decided to go there, pitch our tents and then hike the 7 or so miles to and back from the border with just water & snacks. And so that is what we did.

The downhill towards the border took us into clouds of mosquitoes – it got close to unbearable at some point so we covered ourselves with mozi spray. We were going slow but finally made it and saw the International Boundary sign. From there we only had a steep short scramble up to the monument, from where we could see the clear cut line crossing the forests at a straight line, over peaks and valleys. Jon hugged, congratulated and high fived all of us but our own emotions were rather dull: happy to be done but not realizing the achievement itself. We took all the necessary photos and then had to get going because of the mozis and because we still had about 3,5 miles of uphill to hike.

The weather was now pretty dry and clear but the uphill was pretty hard so we took it slow. T-Bone was super hungry so he ran up ahead to cook dinner while we made our way to camp by 19:30. We washed at the Hozomeen Lake, surrounded by dark clouds and omnious high peaks. We ended up having our dinner in the dark, using our headlamps.

What a hike it had been.

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