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My ebooks The Passion Killers, A Dark Wind of Vengeance, Blood Beyond the Abyss and The Second Layer of Hell (apocalyptic fiction) are now available for download. They are the first four installments in the Path of Survival series. To see additional information, click here .
I grew up with an ambition and determination without which I would have been a good deal happier. I thought a lot and developed the faraway look of a dreamer, for it was always the distant heights which fascinated me and drew me to them in spirit. I was not sure what could be accomplished by means of tenacity and little else, but the target was set high and each rebuff only saw me more determined to see at least one major dream through to its fulfillment.
"Alone To Everest"
As I begin my final preparations for what will probably be my last long distance hike (over 500 miles), I have mixed emotions. I am so proud of my life and hiking partner, Brawny. She finished the desert portion of the PCT nearly three weeks ahead of my 1999 pace, taking only 39 days to hike the 703 miles between the Mexican border and Kennedy Meadows. She is hiking the portion of the trail now that I hiked in 1999, and she recently hiked 190 miles, without resupplying, in only 10 days. She learned the basics of long distance hiking in 2000 when we hiked together from Sonora Pass, CA to Crater Lake, OR. However, the hiking she is doing now is well beyond my physical capabilities. As I write this, she is in the High Sierra somewhere between Red's Meadow and Yosemite Valley.
Also, because of back problems, I feel fortunate to actually have a chance to complete the PCT. When I began my section hike in 1999 at Campo, I really didn't think I'd make it out of southern California, much less all the way to Canada. I made the attempt mainly so I'd know in my heart that I'd given it my best shot. I didn't expect my back to hold up at all, but in 1999 I hiked just over a thousand miles. However, by the time I reached Sonora Pass 3 months later, I could barely walk. I made a vow to return to Sonora Pass, and the next year, Brawny and I had the time of our lives hiking an additional 813 miles, from Sonora Pass to Crater Lake. My back held up while we were on the trail, but shortly after we returned home, it suddenly got worse. For over a month, it was extremely difficult and painful just sitting, standing, dressing, bending, and getting in and out of a car. Getting comfortable enough to sleep became a major challenge each night. There seems to be a pattern developing that is difficult to ignore.
However, things are better now and I've been on an active training regimen, hiking several miles each day with a fully loaded pack on mountain trails. I'm about as ready as I'm going to get.
I didn't come this far to give up now, and if at all possible, Brawny and I will finish the PCT together in September at the Canadian border. If this is indeed to be my last long hike, I can't think of a better ending.
- - Rainmaker, June 20, 2001
Brawny and I finished the PCT at the Canadian border on September 17, 2001. We hiked to Manning Park Lodge the next day and we arrived home the night of September 22. My completed journal appears below.
- - Rainmaker
July 12 - After driving to Atlanta last night and spending the night at Viking's house, he drove me to the airport in the afternoon. My flight was on time, and a few hours later I was in Phoenix, where I changed planes. Carol met at the airport in Reno, and we spent the night at the Sands Hotel. To say we were glad to see each other is an understatement! Our period of separation is over, and we are both very anxious to get back to the trail.
July 13 - Checked out of the hotel and went back to the airport, where we picked up our rental car. We had a nice drive to Klamath Falls, Oregon, about 300 miles, and turned in the car. Our friends Ralph and Brenda met us there and took us to their home. Our mutual friends Diane and Dan came over, and we had a wonderful time. Brenda prepared a great dinner, and it was wonderful seeing all of them again. The time seemed to pass too quickly. We managed to get to bed about midnight, eagerly anticipating our return to Crater Lake and PCT the next morning.
July 14 - Got on the trail at Crater Lake Lodge (where we exited last year) about 9:00 a.m. It was a bit sad seeing Ralph and Brenda leave, because we don't know when we will see them again. They are among the kindest people we have ever met, and their generosity is greatly appreciated. We began a 26 mile waterless stretch on a pleasant but cool day. The scenery around Crater Lake is superb, and it felt wonderful to be back on the PCT with Brawny. In a way, it felt like a continuation of last year's hike; sort of like we hadn't left. However, our progress was slow, it seemed that we kept gaining and losing the same 300 feet in elevation over and over. We were loaded down with food and water, and had to make 17 miles to the highway where Ralph & Brenda stashed water for us. We pulled into camp (just across the highway) in the late afternoon and found our water stash. We had our water for the night and next day, along with 2 king size Snickers bars that our friends had left with the water. It is great to be back!
July 15 - Hiked about 12 miles past Mt. Thielsen and some of the most beautiful scenery I've encountered on the PCT. I am very tired and sore from yesterday's hike; have some pain in right knee and ankle. Even though we are loaded with food, we had to carry 5 quarts of water from Thielsen Creek to a saddle about 4 miles away where we camped. While we had lunch at the creek, I noticed that the barometric pressure was dropping. Even though it was sunny at the moment, I knew that rain, and perhaps a thunderstorm, was on the way. Later, it turned windy and cool. We were in our tent by 6:00, and the rain started about 10:30. However, because of my Avocet watch / barometer, we weren't surprised by it, and all our gear was stowed and it stayed dry. That watch paid for itself again. This reminded me of something I thought about shortly before I boarded my plane in Atlanta for the flight out; "Beware of all endeavors that require an altimeter". (Sorry, Henry)
July 16 - Awoke to fog and drizzle. Our Coleman Cobra tent has separate vestibles on each side, and we cooked breakfast in our respective vestibles. I've heard from various folks that this area is in the midst of a drought. You could have fooled me; I suppose Rainmaker strikes again. Drizzle stopped long enough for us to pack up, however, it was cool bordering on cold all day. Scenery is beautiful with many large trees. We hiked about 12 miles and camped at Tolo Camp. We made a steep 1/3 mile descent on a spur trail to get water. I feel a bit stronger, but still have pain in my knee and ankle. It will be unusually cold tonight, just above freezing. We are both wearing just about all the clothes we brought at night. Carol is usually not completely warm even during the day.
July 17 - It was very cold this morning, it is difficult to believe that this is July. To get to lower, warmer elevation, more water and save 7 miles of hiking, we took the Oberland Trail, which originally was on the official PCT route. I suppose the bureaucrats couldn't stand the thought of the trail being flat with many water sources (lakes and ponds) available, so they decided to put the PCT up on the waterless ridge. What a difference! We actually got warm in the sun during our lunch break, and the small lakes and ponds along the trail are beautiful. Part of our alternate route was used in the 1850's by wagon trains heading west. We looked for wagon wheel ruts, but without success. I'm starting to get my "trail legs" back, we hiked about 16 miles and camped at Whitefish Creek.
July 18 - Finished with the Oberland Trail alternate route at Cascade Summit, actually Shelter Cove Resort. Some of the prices at the store were almost reasonable, but others were outlandish, including the $1 per package Ramen (this is a record). Carol and I didn't buy much for the 3 day hike to Bend, OR, but we did manage to finish off a 1/2 gallon of ice cream. Hiked an additional 4 miles to beautiful S. Ruby Lake and camped, which made for an approximate 15 mile day.
July 19 - Hiked about 14 miles and camped at Charlton Lake. It is so nice being able to camp by water each night. The 26 mile and 16 mile waterless stretches just north of Crater Lake have made us very appreciative. Today was a day of changeable weather and many hordes of mosquitoes. Camped on a beautiful little point at the lake, it was breezy enough to keep the bugs off balance, but not so windy that we couldn't cook. We are seeing just a few other hikers each day. The trail has a wilderness feel to it; no logging or roads and a multitude of old growth trees. Some of the trees are probably over 300 years old. I have been very impressed with Carol's navigational skills. She can use a map and compass with the best of them, and has developed that knack for finding the trail that comes only with hundreds of miles of hiking out here.
July 20 - This is my kind of hiking; mostly level trail with flat ground and forest on both sides of it, lots of water and some mountains in the distance. For me, it sure beats hanging off a 6 inch ledge on some windswept California mountain while keeping one eye on a 1,000 ft. dropoff. Some folks have said that this section of trail lacks "challenges". However, for me, getting this nearly 54 year old body 700 miles to the Canadian border by the middle of September represents challenge enough. I've forgotten how painful and difficult it is making the transition from normal citizen to crazy long distance hiker. My body is struggling to keep up. Right knee, ankle and foot are painful, and have some swelling in ankle and foot. I've got to do something about it when we get off the trail in Bend, or this is going to be a very short hike.
July 21 - Arrived at Elk Lake Resort after hiking about 14 miles. Right foot is bad, was limping badly by the time we arrived. It is a good thing we hadn't planned to resupply at the resort. They have only a small shelf of food for hikers, not enough for even one hiker to make a long term resupply. We called our friend Brenda, and she picked us up and took us to her home. We made a very welcome stop at a McDonald's, both Carol and I were completely out of food, neither of us caring to get ripped off at Shelter Cover Resort 3 days ago.
July 22 - We intended to go back to the trail today, but because of my right foot and ankle (which is badly swollen, painful and bruised), we decided to take a day off. I believe I injured my ankle and foot on the first day's hike out of Crater Lake. My New Balance 803 shoes are very comfortable, but I think I'm going to have to change to sandals for a while, so that no part of my shoe comes into contact with the top of my right foot.
We spent the day socializing with Brenda and her two boys, shopping, posting our journals on-line and I rested my foot and ankle. Bought a pair of trail worthy Nike sandals at an outlet store in Bend. Will send my lighter but less durable Wal-Mart sandals ahead or home, hike in the Nikes and use my New Balance 803's as camp shoes. This will add over a pound of pack weight, but could save my hike. Our friend Brenda has gone out of her way to help us and to make us feel welcome. Carol bought a new pack and Brenda worked several hours on her sewing machine making modifications to it. Trail people are the best in the world.
July 23 – Brenda took us back to the trail about 3:00 p.m. After a stop at Wal-Mart to pick up a few last minute items (including an adjustable ankle brace for me), we said good-bye to our friend and began our hike with our heavily laden packs. She did so much for us. We thoroughly enjoyed her company and we will miss her. We hiked about 6 miles and camped at Camelot Lake with several hundred mosquitoes. My right ankle and foot are still swollen, but not real painful. My right knee has indicated that with proper TLC, it is “go” for the Canadian border. However, my ankle / foot has fired a warning shot over the bow of this year’s hike.
July 24 - Reached Wickiup Plain soon after leaving camp. After hiking in mosquito filled woods for days, it was a welcome sight. The plain is beautiful and set the tone for the rest of the day. We crossed several meadows and open, rocky areas. The scenery was wonderful. We saw snow crested mountains, clear, rocky streams, green meadows and some of the most spectacular wildflower displays I’ve ever experienced. There was Indian Paintbrush, Penstamon, Aster, Yellow Cinquefold and Pink Heather (plus some others I couldn’t identify). Camped just north of Obsidian Falls near a small tarn.
July 25 - Spent most of the days hiking across lava flows. They provide scenic views and possess a kind of eerie beauty. However, to protect my right ankle and foot, I am wearing the Nike sandals, thick Smart Wool socks and the ankle brace. Footing on the lava rocks is treacherous. Later, we returned to the more gentle and forgiving forest trail, but once more we were plagued by hordes of mosquitoes. Camped near Lava Lake.
July 26 - We began our day by hiking over another lava flow. The loose footing was very hard on my ankles. There was nothing but bleak lava rocks about as far as we could see in all directions. Occasionally, we would see a small tree or shrub that had gained a foothold in the rocks, but mostly the terrain was as barren as the face of the moon. We left the Three Sisters Wilderness, which is notorious for its voracious mosquitoes. They laugh at 19% DEET and are slowed only momentarily by 29% DEET. The 100% DEET, supposedly good for 8 – 10 hours, is effective anywhere from 5 – 60 minutes. Maybe they mean it will last 8 – 10 hours if you apply the entire contents of the bottle all at once. Both Carol and I have many bites. We did a 17 mile day to get through a 16.4 mile waterless stretch, but managed to get a quart of water each from Coldwater Spring, actually an old well. The guidebook described the water as “horse tainted”. It was kind of “colorful”, like weak tea. I strained it through a bandanna and then added 7 drops of Chlorine and copious amounts of grape Kool-Aid. The water wasn’t bad, actually. It just had a kind of mild aftertaste that I tried not to think about. We camped near the shore of Lilypad Lake, which we have all to ourselves. My right ankle held up to the lava walks and the 17 mile day, so maybe there is hope.
July 27 - Because of access to more frequent and better water sources, we opted for an alternate route of about 25 miles, the Oregon Skyline Trail. It runs south to north a few miles west of the official PCT route. The PCT is up on a waterless ridge, and the OST goes by many lakes and streams. We hiked in old growth forests most of the day, and went through many meadows ablaze with wildflowers. Some of the trees were the size of small Redwoods, 5 – 6 ft. in diameter and well over 100 ft. tall. There were many lush, green ferns on the forest floor. It was a beautiful day of hiking, with clear blue skies, cool air, warm sunlight, cascading waterfalls and even a few snow covered peaks in the distance. We are now camped in a stand of old growth near the shore of Marion Lake. There are rushing streams on both sides of our camp. We will sleep well tonight.
July 28 - We went to bed last night under clear blue skies, rain woke us about 3:00 a.m. This is really some drought! We cooked (heated water) just outside our respective vestibles. Thankfully, the rain stopped long enough for us to pack up, but it continued off and on most of the day. Thinking the temperature would gradually get warmer, I wore only Lycra shorts, Cool-Max T-shirt and rain parka when we began hiking. About 9:30 a.m., I realized 2 things: One, it was getting colder, not warmer, and secondly I was showing early signs of hypothermia. I made myself stop and dig some warmer clothes out of my pack even though it was raining. I also loaded up on calories and was feeling warmer a half hour later. We didn’t take many breaks, it was the kind of cold, rainy and windy day that you want to keep moving. Hiked past many old growth giants, some of the trees had diameters exceeding 6 ft. It was very eerie and beautiful hiking in the fog and mist. Hiked about 14 miles and rejoined the PCT at Milk Creek. The weather has cleared a bit, and there is occasional sunshine. We are drying out gear, cleaning up, admiring the spectacular views of Mt. Jefferson and drinking hot coffee.
July 29 - What a day! Skies were threatening and barometer was dropping as we packed up. Cold rain started several hours after we got on the trail. Successfully forded Russell Creek, where the guidebook states that several hikers have been swept off their feet to make a one way trip into the gorge below. Weather deteriorated all day. At the border of Mt. Jefferson Park and Mt. Hood National Forest, the elevation was 7,010 ft., it was raining, wind was blowing, we were above treeline and we were surrounded by snowpack. We had to make several steeply descending traverses. Carol did very well; I was a bit slower trying to kick in steps in the snow with my sandals. We were both near hypothermia 2 hours later when we reached Breckenbach Lake (not sure of the spelling). We expected to be camping in the rain, but found a vacant stone shelter! We will spend tonight inside and will put up our tent inside the shelter to keep us out of the wind. The tent will also provide some additional warmth. What an unexpected blessing from the trail gods this shelter is! Temperature now is about 40 degrees and there is drizzle and lots of wind. Neither of us are particularly happy with Oregon at the moment. Carol said that this was an adventure, and I agreed that it was. However, I also said if we die from hypothermia, then it will stop being an adventure and will then be a disaster.
July 30 - Hiked in more rain and cold to the very hiker friendly Olallie Resort. Saw Paul, who Brawny had hiked with in the High Sierra. We also saw the original “Three Amigos”. Weather forecast is for more rainy and cold weather the next few days. We resupplied and hiked out. Luckily, we were able to get some items from the hiker box. Also, a couple was getting off the trail and they gave us all their trail food. If we’d had to buy all our food at the store, it would have been very expensive. Paul told us that when he camped last night, he was so hypothermic he couldn’t get his fingers to work. He couldn’t even loosen cord locks. His down sleeping bag is soaked, too. This weather is taking a toll on everyone. We camped at Jude Lake.
July 31 - Awoke to a joyously clear, blue sky. At home, sometimes we barely take note of the weather, but here, after days of cold and rain, the promise of a warm sunny day is cause for happiness and celebration. We got most of our gear dried during our lunch break. Now hiking in Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and we crossed clearcuts and logging roads most of the day. Hiked about 15 miles and camped in a pocket of old growth near a small spring. This was a warm and beautiful day of hiking, despite all the logging. I can’t help but wonder how the Native Americans are using the revenue from the timber sales. It gets so cool at night, we don’t have to decide what to wear. We put on everything we brought and climb into our sleeping bags. My ankle and foot are better.
Aug 1 - Turned 54 on the trail. With my age and physical problems (mostly my back and knees), I am very thankful that I am still able to do 15 mile days in the mountains with a fully loaded backpack. Hiked in beautiful Oregon forests all day. Left Warm Springs Indian Reservation and reentered Mt. Hood National Forest. The Indians seem to be outdoing even the U.S. Forest Service concerning logging operations. It is very sad seeing the old growth harvested. The weather is warmer, but it is usually cloudy in the mornings and then clearer in the afternoons. We hiked about 15 miles and camped near the east shore of Timothy Lake. We are now only about 17 miles from Barlow Pass and Highway 35, where we will hitch 6 miles to the town of Government Camp. It is a kind of ski and snowboarding resort with a post office, motels, restaurants and a grocery store. We are discussing our options, but expect to resupply there and perhaps spend a night or two at a motel.
Aug 2 - Hiked 17 miles to Barlow Pass and camped. This will be our 11th night out, and we plan to go into Government Camp early tomorrow morning for a 24+ hour town stay and rest. There were spectacular views of Mt. Hood today that began just south of Wapiniti Pass. We are very tired and dirty and we are about out of food. We must resupply at Government Camp, and we hope that the motel rates are reasonable. We have an $80 limit on the motel (split 2 ways). Our hike was briefly interrupted on several occasions today as we stopped to feast on wild huckleberries. They are our only supply of fresh food, and they are delicious.
Aug 3 - We camped very close to Highway 35 at Barlow Pass last night, and began hitch-hiking about 7:15 this morning. We got a ride with the first vehicle that came by. At 7:30, we were sitting down to breakfast at the Huckleberry Inn in town. We got a room for $84, which was a bit over our agreed limit, but with rainy weather coming in, we didn’t much care. Oddly named Government Camp is actually a small resort town. There seem to be literally hundreds of snowboarders in town, mostly teenagers and all with similar loose fitting, "thrift store" looking outfits (I'm not being critical; they're all probably better dressed than we are). Carol washed our clothes at the small laundromat and we resupplied at the pleasantly well stocked but small grocery store. I mailed my New Balance 803 shoes to Cascade Locks 50 miles ahead. Nike sandals are now my only footwear.
Aug 4 - Reluctantly left our motel room in cold and fog and hitched back to Barlow Pass. Hiked up to Timberline Lodge among the glacial moraines of Mt. Hood. Carol treated us to a wonderful lunch at the Blue Ox Restaurant & Bar as a birthday treat for me. We packed out the part of the pizza that we couldn’t finish. The woman who gave us a ride back to the trail gave us a pint of fresh raspberries and a couple of dayhikers gave us a ziploc bag full of cherries. So, we arrived in camp with more food than we left town with. Hiked about 9 ½ miles and camped near Lost Creek. The shelter described on maps and in the guidebook no longer exists; only part of the foundation remains. We normally sleep with our food, however, we drew the line concerning the leftover pizza. I carried it downwind of our camp about 100 yards and stashed it at the base of a small tree. The next morning, it was still there. I’ve decided that the bears around here are not exactly Yosemite-class.
Aug 5 - It was very cold and windy last night. We packed up in near freezing temperatures and a 30 – 40 mph wind. We then descended several thousand feet amid spectacular views to the Sandy River. Later, we made a 1,500 ft. ascent and a similar descent to Lolo Pass, which is a particularly ugly place of massive clearcuts, roads, crackling power lines, briars and overgrown trail. I figured it was a fairly good indicator of what all of our country would look like if corporate America had its way. We picked up water and hauled it about a half hour and camped. Oddly, no camping is allowed on the west side of the trail. The city of Portland has had the area condemned as a watershed vital to the public water supply. No public access is allowed. Mosquitoes have mostly been replaced by vicious, biting black flies. Hiked about 15 miles. It was a rough day, but it is nice to be camped in an old growth forest (and on the legal east side of the trail).
Aug 6 - The trail certainly has changed. For most of the day, it was badly overgrown and barely visible. There are large clearcuts as far as the eye can see. However, a few miles south of Indian Springs, there were spectacular views to the west. We took a side trail, Indian Springs Trail to Eagle Creek Trail, which we will follow all the way to Cascade Locks. Indian Springs Trail was one of the steepest I’ve ever hiked; thankfully, we were descending. Camped in lower and warmer elevation about .1 mile north of a 50 ft. waterfall. It is a beautiful area.
Aug 7 - We camped last night just above a horseshoe shaped turn the trail makes above the waterfall. As we walked past the noisy and beautiful cascading falls, we stopped to gather some ripe raspberries adjacent to the trail. I lingered a bit and Brawny went ahead. As I resumed hiking, movement caught my eye and I saw a cub bear scampering up a tree right next to the trail. I couldn't see Brawny, but I knew she was very close to the cub. At that point, the mother bear stood up on her back legs. She was very agitated and was glaring at Brawny, who was only a few feet from her. The mother bear was “huffing”, and deciding whether to charge or run away. The bear hadn’t seen me, and I yelled at it, partly to let it know there was more than one of us and partly to divert its attention from Brawny. I yelled over and over for Brawny not to run, but to back away. Brawny was also yelling, warning me of the bear and telling me not to come any closer. (We would find out later that we couldn't hear each other at all over the noise of the waterfall.) I decided to keep making noise and advancing toward the adult bear. The tactic worked; the bear became confused, lost her nerve and finally ran away. The cub them scampered down the tree after its mother. Brawny had done exactly what she should have done; backed away without running. Luckily, even though she was only about 5 feet from the mother bear, there had been no casualties. We held each other for a few minutes while our pulse rates returned to normal. We had been very fortunate.
Later, we hiked under beautiful Tunnel Falls on a very narrow, exciting trail and then found our way to the town of Cascade Locks late in the afternoon. We secured free camping at the Marine RV Park, compliments of the city. We intend to go to a motel tomorrow, take a rest day and resupply. Oregon is done; we cross into Washington when we cross the Columbia River, which is at the edge of town.
Aug 8 - We spent the day resting at the Econo Inn at Cascade Locks. We got our bounce boxes from the post office and secured coffee, film, sun screen, fuel tablets, DEET, guide book sections and other supplies for the next portion of our hike. We also resupplied at the very nice supermarket and Brawny gave me a haircut. Now I no longer look like an old hippie; I just look old. It feels nice to have the California and Oregon portions of the trail completed. The Bridge Of The Gods (I don’t have a clue concerning the name) is visible from our motel room, and it seems to be calling us into Washington and to the Canadian border, which is less than 500 trail miles from here.
Aug 9 - Crossed the bridge and entered Washington! We are opting for the road walk that goes northeast through Stevenson and Carson, instead of the PCT, which makes a wide loop to the northwest before coming back to the northeast and crossing the road we’ll be hiking on. It was a bit dangerous (and also very warm) on the road, but we stopped and foraged at a mini-mart in Stevenson. Actually, we pigged out on a 44 ounce Big Gulp-type drink, then had no trouble finishing off a ½ gallon of ice cream. Late afternoon found us in Carson at the Wind River RV Campground. Someone doing this same stretch could leave Cascade Locks with NO food, snack to their hearts content in Stevenson, then resupply for the next trail section at the very nice supermarket in Carson.
We were satisfied with our decision to roadwalk; the guidebook states that it cuts out just over 20 miles of very unappealing trail. More importantly, it decreases the length of trail we must hike without resupply from 147 miles to about 126 miles. And it will get us to Canada, and possibly out of cold and snowy weather, one day sooner. Out here, I often think of what I refer to as the "Donner Syndrome"; the Donner wagon train missed getting over that pass by one day. They were camped directly below it the night the first storm hit.
Folks in Carson say that just about every PCT hiker comes through here; they think it should be changed so that Wind River Road is the official trail route. I’m not so sure that I don’t agree.
Aug 10 - A rough, long and very hot day. We left the very hiker friendly and comfortable campground about 7:00 a.m. so that we could finish the remaining 7 miles of road walking while it was still cool. Got back on the PCT near Panther Creek about 10:00 a.m. and began our long ascent back up to the crest. Ascended about 2,500 ft. in near record heat (about 95 degrees) with our fully loaded packs. Hiked about 17.5 miles and camped near Cedar Creek. It is so good to be back in the mountains and woods and away from towns, roads, speeding motorists and RV parks. I tried to Mace a dog that charged us on the roadwalk, but missed. However, he was discouraged when I bluff (?) charged and took a healthy swing at him with one of my Leki poles. Never a dull day out here.
Aug 11 – We made a steep descent to a campsite by water last night which was about a 1/3 mile nearly straight down. So, had to regain the elevation this morning. Accordingly, I was feeling wasted before we even got to the PCT. Very warm again today, but there is beautiful scenery to make up for it. We have Mt. Adams to the east, Mt. Hood to the south, Mt. St. Helens to the west and Mt. Rainier to the north. We have been feasting on blackberries, huckleberries, raspberries and buckberries.
While we were foraging on berries, Brawny asked me if I knew the name of a particular type berry she was munching on. I decided to ad-lib a bit. I looked at the berries studiously, scratched my beard and said I believed that they were what the Native Americans once called Papoose berries and Wild Banshee berries. According to legend, they had quite an effect as a love potion, especially on the Indian maidens. I also added that the Indians used to dry them and make a kind of tea to help pass the long, cold winter months. She immediately stopped munching, looked at me and then back at the berries. I knew she would either be on to my little ruse within the next few seconds or that I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face much longer. However, I added that the pioneers had also heard the legend, but just called them horneyberries. At this point, I could tell she knew I was pulling her leg, but she went along with the joke. For the rest of our hike, our generic name for wild berries was “horneyberries”.
We camped at a crowded lake, one that is obviously popular with week-end hikers. The folks in the site next to us did about the worst job of hanging their food that I’ve ever seen. They hung their food bag about 12 inches from the trunk of a very climbable tree which was only about 4 feet from their tent. If a bear decided to climb the tree and get their food, I tried to visualize the chain of events. First, the bear would be up the tree in about 5 seconds. After one or two swipes at the food bag, the contents of the bag would begin raining down on their tent and campsite. This would be their first indication that something was amiss. They would be coming out of their tent about the same time the bear was coming down the tree to claim its prize. To make matters worse, they had a dog in their tent. I could visualize a hungry, agitated bear, a yelling man, a screaming woman and a barking dog. The next few minutes would be rough on everyone, and I could just imagine the battleground scene the next morning. Thankfully, it was a quiet night.
Aug 12 - Had grand views of Mt. Rainier all day. Black flies are now relentless, swarming us whenever we stop hiking for even a minute. They bite, and they also fly into our eyes, mouth, ears and nose. They drive us to distraction to the point that it is difficult to think clearly. We are supplementing our sugary and starchy diet with many horneyberries. We each pick and eat about a pint a day. They are very good, but all the berry picking is slowing down our progress toward the Canadian border. Today, hiked 15 – 16 miles to Steamboat Lake. We have a beautiful and private campsite. We are pushing ourselves with the constant 15 mile days. We are hot, tired and driven crazy by the bugs. However, we are determined to keep to our schedule and finish the PCT by September 20. Neither of us wants to make another cross-country trip out here again next year.
Aug 13 - The highlight of today’s hike was finding a trailside cooler left by a trail angel (Dawn; trail name Tripod) full of snacks and icy drinks. I am having stomach problems and have low grade nausea most of the time. I also have no appetite and ate very little today. Even coffee doesn’t sound good. Water sources not ideally spaced today, but found a beautiful artesian spring near a dried up fork of the Salmon River. Some southbounders we saw, desperate for water, had walked right past it. The leader of the group had been very adamant that there was no water around for miles. We gained several thousand feet in elevation and we’re now camped near the base of Mt. Adams. We have both been chewed up badly by mosquitoes and black flies. The warmer than average weather has given them a new lease on life.
Aug 14 - The weather had turned a bit cooler than usual when we awoke at 6,000 ft. Today was spectacular with entire hillsides ablaze with the color of late summer wildflowers. Most were blue / purple Penstamon or Lupine. Mt. Adams provided quite a backdrop. We circled the southwest flank of it, with our trail ranging just above treeline to just below it. We had to ford many glacial rivers. The last one, the south fork of the Muddy River, was a dangerous, raging torrent. We picked up water from beautiful Lava Spring after leaving the Mt. Adams Wilderness. We made a dry camp near the border of the Yakima Indian Reservation. Dry camps are not really what we like, but there are far fewer of the damnable, biting black flies at dry camps. I’m getting over my digestive / stomach disorder, and it appears that Brawny is just now catching it.
Aug 15 - Last night was kind of wild. About midnight, a bull elk began bugling about 50 – 75 ft. from our tent. It got old pretty quick, and after about 15 minutes of it, I yelled, “Shut the (bleep) up, you dumb SOB, go bugle somewhere else”. Then there was silence. Satisfied, and a little smug that I had scared off a bull elk in rut, I turned over to go back to sleep. What followed was the loudest and most angry series of grunts, snorts and bugling I’ve ever heard come from one elk. I don’t understand much of the language that elk use, but it was obvious he was saying something like, “Look, this is my turf, I’m in a bad way and I’ll do as I please. Before you antagonize me further, you may wish to consider what my magnificent set of antlers could do to your flimsy little tent”. With that little exchange of pleasantries over, we decided to endure in silence the rest of the night. The noise went on and on but he finally wound down after a few hours. Then the coyotes started, yipping and howling practically until daylight. And when we got back on the trail this morning, we found that the night had been even a bit wilder than we thought. There were fresh bear droppings less than 100 ft. from our tent. When I’d taken a little walk shortly before going into the tent the evening before, they hadn’t been there. Today, we hiked about 14 miles and entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The scenery is great, and getting better. We camped by a small, unnamed pond in beautiful forest with tomorrow’s mountains about a ½ mile away. Dry and very warm weather continues. Brawny had a bear encounter in the early afternoon, but it ran away before I could see it. She’s getting to be an old pro at bear encounters.
Aug 16 – This was an incredible day of indescribable beauty and very challenging trail. Finished the nearly 7,000 ft. ascent from Cascade Locks back up to the crest. Did over 3,000 ft. of ascending and probably about 2,000 ft. of descending. A few years ago, I would never have thought that my knees would have endured all this. However, the hiking poles and my improved “body mechanics” (hiking in a way that produces low impact on the knee joints) have done more for my knees than all the doctors I’ve ever been to.
I’m not much for snow and ice and have been dreading the portion of the trail that traverses the Packwood Glacier. We crossed a flat snowpack and I was hoping it was the glacier, but it wasn’t. It was just ahead. Old Snowy Mountain rose up to our right, the glacier was directly in front of us and a one way slide into oblivion (about a 2,000 ft. drop) was on the left side of the glacier. The glacier was fairly flat and was about 50 ft. wide at the beginning, then tapered down to about 8 ft. wide near the end. I believe the trail was supposed to be on the scree slope to the right (a flank of Old Snowy Mountain), but rock slides had damaged it to the point that it was non-existant. Past the rock slides, we could see where the trail was located up on the scree slope. However, to get to it, it was necessary to walk out onto the glacier past the point where the trail had been obliterated, then make a short, steep ascent up loose rocks to the trail. Unfortunately, this little ascent had to be made right at the narrowest point of the glacier. In other words, one slip, and it’s a one-way wild ride into the valley thousands of feet below. Carol started out onto the ice and I reluctantly followed her, wishing I were just about anywhere else in the world. Of course, my ice ax was hanging on a wall in Clayton, GA, thousands of miles away. Carol quickly got ahead of me. The farther I walked, the narrower the glacier got. Suddenly I heard a crash to my right and looked up. A rockslide! Just like that, I was in the path of about 50 grapefruit to basketball size rocks coming straight for me. I had a few seconds to react; judged the angle of the rocks coming toward me, and quickly moved out of their path. The nearest rocks missed me by about 10 feet. Carol had heard and seen the rockslide and was looking back at me. She was about 150 yards ahead. I yelled and said that I’d had enough, that I was getting off this (bleeping) ice and intended to find an alternate route even if I had to hike back to Mexico to do it. I suggested that she come back, that in my estimation it was too dangerous to continue. I turned and walked back to the relative safety of the rocky trail at the end of the glacier and she followed me. When we got off the ice, we located the side trail that goes up and over Old Snowy. Our alternate route rejoined the PCT on the far side of the mountain.
What followed was one of the most beautiful sections of trail I’ve ever hiked. For the next few miles, the trail was at the top of what had once been a knife-edge ridge. The USFS had, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, blasted (with dynamite) the top off the ridge, to create a flat hiking surface 2 – 3 ft. wide. It created a snow free route because of the sheer dropoffs on both sides of the “trail”. However, it was late in the day and we had to cover several miles of very narrow trail while it was still daylight. Getting caught up here after dark would mean spending the night sitting up, because there was absolutely no place to camp. The trail was actually too narrow to even lie down on. Also, weather was rolling in; we were alternately going from fog to clouds and the wind was really picking up. However, we managed to make it to Elk Pass about 6:30 p.m. We descended to a little tree covered knoll and found a great campsite near some glacier-melt streams. We sort of collapsed into camp without much conversation. Carol was soon asleep in the tent; I stayed outside a while, trying to unwind. Every time I’d close my eyes, I’d see the rocks coming toward me on the Packwood Glacier. From getting stranded in the French Alps by a snowstorm to lying awake all night listening to avalanches in Italy to escaping a rockslide on a glacier in Washington, bad things seem to happen every time I go into the alpine zone. I don't belong up there, and once this hike is over, I have no intention of going back.
Aug 17 - We were determined to get to the town of Packwood this afternoon. After breaking camp, we descended about 2 miles and out of the alpine zone. At one point, I was descending on a very steep, rocky
and loose section of trail that had been ripped to shreds by horses. I knew if one foot or hiking pole slipped, I’d probably tear up a knee and my hike would be over. I escaped one more time. We then met a southbounder named Hobbit. We know each other via e-mail and websites, and it was nice meeting him. However, long-distance hikers always seem to be in a hurry, and we didn’t converse long. When we finally made it to the highway after about 15 miles and a harrowing “descent” (controlled fall?) down a “shortcut” ski-lift slope, there were 4 people in 2 vehicles who had stopped to admire the view. I walked up, said we were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, needed a ride into Packwood and asked if they could take us. They didn’t say anything for a moment, then kind of looked at each other, then one of the men said that they would. About an hour later, we checked into the very hiker-friendly Hotel Packwood after being out 9 days and hiking 121 miles. We got showers, did laundry and had a restaurant meal. Life is good.
Aug 18 - A day of rest and resupply in Packwood, WA.
Aug 19 - Enjoyed the comforts of our hotel room until check-out time. Hitched back up to White Pass and visited the store for a few snacks. Got back on the PCT about 2:00 p.m. and hiked about 6 miles to Busch Lake and camped. As usual, it feels very good to be out of crowded, noisy and hectic towns and be back in the woods. Packwood is a very hiker-friendly town. We were treated well by everyone.
Aug 20 - The weather is turning cloudy and windy. We know from the weather forecast we saw in Packwood that “record rain and record cold” is on its way, and will be with us for a few days at least. Hiked in the beautiful John Douglas Wilderness all day; someone could get lost out here fairly easily. Hit left foot very hard on some rocks. I’m still wearing my Nike sandals, and for a minute I’d thought I’d broken several toes. I couldn’t move any of them, except the big toe. I can move them all now, but the fourth toe is very red and swollen and I’m having to walk on the right side of my foot. I know from experience that if I keep this up, I’m not going to have one problem, I’m going to have two, because not only will my toes be hurting, but so will the right side of my foot. However, for today, I don’t really have a choice. And its 80 trail miles to Snoqualmie Pass; this could get interesting. Also, Carol has been ill, probably from restaurant food in town (a taco salad is suspect), but she is feeling better.
Aug 21 - A bear visited our camp last night, but probably didn’t know humans were around. It probably smelled, heard or saw something out of the ordinary and just came to investigate; they are very inquisitive animals. I was sitting with my back to it when I heard Brawny calmly say, “David, there’s a bear”. It was about 20 feet behind me. When it heard a human voice, it left in a panic, breaking limbs and running over small trees as it ran down the slope. I didn’t think it would come back, and it didn’t. Another bear scared to Jesus by Brawny. Today, the rain started before lunch and continued all day. We hiked into Mt. Rainier National Park and past the highway at Chinook Pass. It was a cold, wet, miserable day concerning the weather. We camped at Sheep Lake after making about 13 miles. The injured toe on my left foot is very swollen and bruised, but I had a broken toe once, and I don’t think this one is broken. It came close, though. However, I think I’ll be able to walk on it (not that I have much choice).
Aug 22 - It rained hard all night. We packed up and hiked about 15 miles in very wet, cold and windy conditions. There’s a shelter with a wood stove about 5 miles from where we camped, but we couldn’t make it. Everyone’s gear is soaked, Brawny and I seem to be the only ones around who have managed to keep our sleeping bags and sleeping clothes dry. This is mainly because our tent hasn’t leaked, and we put liners of heavy duty plastic garbage can bags in our sleeping bag stuff sacks. The 3 coats of seam sealant I put on our Coleman Cobra double-wall tent has really paid off. Those with tarps and down bags are having serious problems.
Aug 23 - It rained all night again, but we awoke to a joyously blue sky; no clouds at all. Birds were even singing as we packed up our soggy gear. We hiked the 5 miles to the shelter at Government Meadows. While we were there, enjoying the company of John and Cyclone The Dog (both thru-hiked the PCT last year), it clouded up and started raining again. Determined to make Snoqualmie Pass in 3 days, and because of scarce water ahead, we packed up and hiked 5 more miles. We found the last spring before a 15 mile waterless stretch, and the campsite close by. We quickly put up the tent in light rain, then went to get water. We were both in the early stages of hypothermia. When I got to the spring, I couldn’t figure out how to get water into my bottles. The water was too shallow for dipping and there seemed to be no place where I could place a bottle where water would flow into it. I had a tent pole repair sleeve, which is often handy for relaying water into bottles, but that didn’t work, either. I had just seen Brawny put water into her bottles, but couldn’t remember how she did it. The longer I fooled around with the cold water, the more I was shivering. Finally, I found a place to use the metal pole sleeve and got my water. Meanwhile, Brawny (who also was going into hypothermia) had put all her things into my side of the tent. Although she realized her mistake, she couldn’t figure out how to correct it. When I walked up to the tent, she was outside the tent, looking at her gear inside and not moving. We got all her things on her side and she went inside. Just then, the skies opened and a very hard rain started. I was still outside the tent and couldn’t open the storm door without the inside of the tent getting soaking wet. I had no choice except to stay outside for about 10 minutes in the rain. Our sleeping bags and sleeping clothes were inside. They had to be kept dry, and so did the inside of the tent. By the time the rain stopped long enough for me to take off my rain clothes, open the storm door and climb inside, I was shivering uncontrollably. I immediately changed into my warm, dry Thermax and climbed into my sleeping bag. Soon, I had some water going for hot coffee (yes, we heated the water OUTSIDE the vestibles) and was munching on some trail mix. Another near disaster averted; we were both okay.
It had been hard leaving the shelter with the warm wood stove, but we got to camp by water, can hike through the 15 mile waterless stretch tomorrow and camp by water again. Also, we can now make it to Snoqualmie Pass in two days, which is about as long as our food is going to last. The things long distance hikers have to go through; and at least no one was around to ask, “Are you having fun on your hike?”
Aug 24 - Packed up all our soggy gear again. We both started shivering again briefly when we put on our cold, wet hiking clothes. However, the weather slowly cleared and it warmed up a bit. We even managed to get most of our gear dried out during our lunch break. We walked for miles through massive clearcuts. Some stumps from old growth were more than 5 ft. in diameter. No matter how many times I see it, it always has an impact. We hiked through the waterless stretch and reached our camp about 4:30 p.m. It feels so good to be dry and warm; we had been in rain and cold for 4 days. We now refer to this as “The Four Day Rain”.
Aug 25 - Warm, beautiful weather continues. So do the miles and miles of clearcuts. There is a 100 mile endurance race this week-end on the PCT and we received some trail magic at one of the aid stations. There was all manner of food and drinks set up on truck tailgates and tables, and the hosts told us to help ourselves, which we did. However, we didn’t make complete pigs of ourselves and left with a measure of our integrity intact. We hiked to Stump Creek (my name for it) and squeezed our tent into the only site available. The runners have been coming past our site and we expect it to continue all night. We can see the Northern Cascade Mountains to our north. They appear to be rocky and beautiful, and some have snow on them. I tried to be polite to all the runners who came by, but I got tired of saying “Hello” and “Hi” and “Fine, how are you?” etc. One runner asked us, “Are you guys hiking the PCT?” I smiled and said that we were, but after he left, I said (to myself and Brawny), “No, we're waiting for the (bleeping) mall to open so we can go shopping.”
After all the rain and cold, we are anxious to get to Snoqualmie Pass tomorrow, where we will resupply and clean up. We plan to stay 2 nights in town. Mt. Rainier is now well to our south, but still visible. Apparently, it got a lot of fresh snow from the recent storm. We got slowed down today by the multitude of ripe, plump huckleberries and raspberries (more “horneyberries”). We have been gorging ourselves like a couple of bears about to hibernate. However, the berry leaves are turning from green to rust, as fall approaches. There is a message there; don’t get delayed by berry picking, get to Canada and get out of here before the bad weather sets in.
Aug 26 - Last night was kind of strange, with 30 – 35 endurance runners jogging past our tent at all hours with headlamps. Our dark purple tent was only about 5 feet from the trail, but I think that very few of them noticed it. Today, hiked about 13 miles to Snoqualmie Pass. We got a very nice room for 2 nights, treating ourselves a bit after the long stretch of “record rain and cold” after we left White Pass. We are both exhausted. Only 260 miles to Canada.
What follows here has to be an example of what Murphy had in mind when he said, “Whatever can go wrong will”. I am a bit banged up. My back is hurting, and is threatening to go out completely. Half my toe nails are dying, my right ankle is hurting, and I still have some swelling and discoloration in the toes I hit on the rocks a while back. Also, I have tendonitis in my right Achilles tendon. So, what better way to treat all the aches and pains but a nice, hot, soaking bath, right? Well, maybe not. When we got settled into the room, I filled the tub with nice, hot water all the way to the top. I soaked, then washed, drained the tub, then stood up and reached for the towel. As soon as I touched the towel, the metal towel holder assembly came off the wall and fell into the tub enclosure. One of the metal bar brackets hit my left foot. It hurt a bit, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I carefully replaced the towel holder assembly on the wall and continued to dry off. When I reached down to dry my feet, I noticed blood all over the bottom of the tub and on my foot. The sharp metal had given me a fairly deep ½ inch long cut across the big toe on my left foot. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe I was safer out on the trail.
Aug 27 - Spent most of the day resting, eating and resupplying, with several trips down the hall to the hot tub. My back is aching badly, and it could be the hot tub that saves my PCT hike. Ben, John (& Cyclone) left today. Blisterfree (Brett) came in; he and I have run into each other on the PCT in each of the 3 years we’ve both been out here.
Aug 28 - Reluctantly left the hot tub and very nice room at the Comfort Inn. Got on the trail about 11:00 a.m. and made a 2,400 ft. ascent back up to the crest. My pack is heavy, but bearable. We entered the North Cascade Range and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The beauty and grandeur is indescribable. My big toe is hurting a bit from the run in with the towel holder, but I can hike with it. We hiked about 7 miles and camped between Ridge Lake and Granite (or Garnet, I’m not sure which) Lake. Town was nice, but it is good to be back in the wilderness, especially since it is only 67 miles to our next resupply point. Our packs aren’t real heavy; it’s not like we’ve resupplied for 100 miles. At our lunch break, I had two Gray Jays eating out of my hand and Carol got some photos. After our lunch break, they followed us about a mile before leaving us. (I know, I know; don’t feed the wildlife. However, I make an exception for birds; they are accustomed to seeing their food supply get scarce in winter and feeding them a bit of gorp doesn’t seem any worse than people putting out bird feeders.)
Aug 29 - The scenery in the Alpine Lake Wilderness is among the best the PCT has to offer, and among the best I’ve ever seen anywhere. However, the trail today was mostly narrow, rocky and loose with traverses over open terrain. There were places where we had trouble getting traction, and a slip could have been fatal. We hoped to see mountain goats, but had to settle for pikas and chipmunks. We hiked without water most of the day, but camped by Lemah Creek after making a 2,000 ft. descent and hiking about 14.5 miles. Tomorrow, we climb about 2,000 more feet, then descend again, ending up at the same elevation as tonight. Welcome to the North Cascades.
Aug 30 - We have climbed about 5,000 ft. in the last 2 days. Unfortunately, we have also descended 5,000 ft., so concerning elevation, we are about where we started. This “up over and down” hiking provides spectacular views, but it is very rough on the knees and feet. I read somewhere that in one 76 mile stretch of trail out here, there is over 13,000 vertical feet of climbing. I have a feeling that this is the stretch of trail I read about. We hiked to the Waptus River and camped. The weather is beautiful, but no matter how warm it gets, I won’t complain about the heat.
Aug 31 - We had a visitor in our tent last night. About midnight, a mouse chewed a hole in our tent and dropped in for a night of festivities and feasting. However, when he realized he couldn’t get out, he started doing speed laps around the tent interior trying to find his escape hole. Eventually, I sat up, turned on my flashlight and began stalking him. Upset over the hole in our tent, I eventually tracked him down and beat him senseless with the bottom of my fist. I then picked him up by the tail and threw him outside. I couldn’t find the mouse body this morning, so I guess there is a possibility that he survived the ordeal. If so, he is a sadder but wiser mouse, probably sorry he ever made the “hiker – food” connection. Today, made our obligatory 2,000 ft. ascent and made a tricky stream crossing past a raging torrent that the guidebook had warned us about. We camped by a small creek. The bugs are about gone, but there are still a few survivors.
Sep 1 - Rain woke us about 2:00 a.m. I was concerned because we had camped in a low spot, and a hard, driving rain could have left our tent in the middle of a small pond. However, no flooding occurred. We packed up and then hiked in hard rain for most of the day. We are trying to keep a positive attitude concerning all the rain we've had. There are many forest fires around and the rain is desperately needed. However, the temperature dropped and we were cold. By lunch time, I had on all my clothes except for the ones I sleep in. Conditions were "challenging", to say the least (in non-politically correct terminology, we were damned miserable), but the rain and fog gave a surreal quality to the forested slopes, craggy peaks and lakes that were a thousand feet below us. We camped by Hope Lake. Town tomorrow!
Sep 2 - Spent a very cool night, slept warm, but just barely. Hiked 8 miles to Stevens Pass. The 13,000 ft. of vertical climbing in the 76 miles of trail we just did has irritated my right Achilles tendon. We hitched into Skykomish and plan to spend 2 nights. We were disappointed at the lack of facilities. All our clothes are wet and dirty and there is no laundromat. There is only 1 motel and we had to pay $73 per night for a small but well equipped room. We have a phone, TV with HBO, small refrigerator, microwave and a coffee maker. Skykomish is a kind of sad, dying little town without much to offer PCT hikers. Luckily, though, we will be able to resupply at the Chevron Mini-Mart. The motel owner gave us a story about his septic tank not being able to handle any additional washing, and he was adamant about not letting us use his washer and dryer. So, we washed out all our clothes in the bathtub and dried them in the room with the central heating unit. Maybe his septic tank can handle the water from the tub better than from a washing machine. He would have been better off to charge us a reasonable fee and let us use his washer and dryer.
Sep 3 - Enjoyed what will probably be our last zero day (no miles hiked) before we finish the PCT at the Canadian border in two weeks. We also enjoyed the comforts and luxuries of our motel room. We are paying about $100 per day for the comforts that we take for granted at home. Carol called Greyhound Bus Lines and found that there is a bus that leaves Manning Park Lodge at 11:10 a.m. each day westbound for Vancouver. We intend to take this bus after we finish the trail, and catch a connecting bus or train in Vancover to Seattle.
Sep 4 - Stayed in our Sky River Inn room until check out at 11:00 a.m. Had an easy hitch back to Stevens Pass, then hiked a surprisingly easy 10 miles to Janus Lake and camped. The end of the trail at the Canadian border is calling us, we are now more anxious to hike each day than we have been. Our wilderness lakeside camp is beautiful and we have the entire lake and surrounding area to ourselves. The weather is cooler, and most bothersome insects are gone.
Sep 5 - The weather forecast we got from a Seattle TV station before leaving our motel room has been drastically wrong. They called for clearing skies and nice weather for the next 5 days, and we’ve back in fog, cold and drizzle. The weather is getting colder with each passing day. We hiked in fairly bleak conditions all day; visibility was down to less than 100 ft. most of the time. We hiked our usual 15 miles and camped at Pass Creek.
Sep 6 - Another day of cold, wind, fog, drizzle and a bit of sun. Picked up water at Reflection Pond and carried it about 6 miles up and over White Pass and Red Pass to a campsite, hiked about 16 miles in all. Views were great when we could see them, but mostly it was foggy. We are exhausted and hurting, and this is getting very old.
Sep 7 - Packed up in rain and fog again but weather cleared in the afternoon. We walked in an old growth forest for a while and I’ll always remember the fresh scent of it after the rain. It was beautiful hiking and I admired all the ferns and nurse logs. Some old, decaying trees lying on the forest floor had hundreds of small trees and plants growing on them. Nothing is wasted out here; not even in death. It is the ultimate in recycling, and mankind should be learning from it. It is sad that we don’t treat our planet like we do our homes (maintaining it, cleaning it, keeping it in good repair and fixing problems when one occurs). Instead, we treat it like a pair of shoes or a shirt; we wear it out, use it up and throw it away. I thought of Chief Seattle’s haunting words, “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth, and everything man does to the earth, he also does to himself”. I believe it was Chief Seattle who also said, “Eventually the white man’s greed will kill him, but before it does, it will kill all of us.”
The climb up to Fire Creek Pass was beautiful and special. Carol and I agreed that it was one of the most beautiful areas on the entire trail. It was warm and sunny and the scenery was mind boggling. We basked in the warm sunshine, stopped to eat more berries and felt very much at peace. It was more than just a pretty day with nice scenery; we felt fortunate to be here together and fortunate to have each other, too. After topping out at the pass and enjoying the incredible view, we descended to beautiful Mica Lake and camped. We were back in the alpine zone once again, but this time I had a feeling that things would be okay.
Sep 8 - Awoke to a beautiful sunrise and clear skies at our Mica Lake campsite, which is one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever had. Made another 2,000 ft. descent to the Milk River, then a similar ascent back to the crest. Glacier Peak was on our right, and we were only about a thousand feet or so below its summit. We made a wide traverse around the peak’s flank across a spectacular cirque (valley carved by glaciers). This was followed by a knee-crunching 2,900 ft. descent to Vista Creek. In the process, we hiked through some of the most impressive old growth forests I’ve ever seen outside of Redwood National Park. Some trees appeared to be in excess of 8 ft. in diameter. Crossed Vista Creek on an old bridge and camped.
Sep 9 - Several hikers came in last night and camped with us. There was John (and his dog Cyclone), Sara, Max and Robin and Spider. All are long distance hikers who are anxious to finish the trail (except for John and Cyclone, who thru-hiked last year). Had another beautiful day of hiking with great views of Glacier Peak. Took an alternate route along Agnes Creek and camped at Hemlock Camp where our route rejoined the PCT. Now less than 100 miles from the Canadian border. This is true wilderness. The beauty, isolation and remoteness is sobering. However, going into 100 mile wilderness sections with a week’s worth of food is becoming routine for Brawny and me. The reality that our PCT adventure is coming to an end is settling in. It has been one heck of a hike; words cannot describe it.
Sep 10 - We finished our hike through this uniquely beautiful section (Skykomish to Stehekin) by hiking 12 miles in a breathtaking river canyon to Stehekin Road. Met Copper Top and the three members (father and two sons) of The Wolfpack. We caught the 3:00 p.m. shuttle bus to the resort community of Stehekin and secured the last campsite at the free campground in town. The postmaster got our much needed packages and mail even though the post office had closed a few minutes before we arrived. We are tired, dirty, banged up and out of food. CARE packages and the food box we mailed to ourselves from Skykomish will tide us over until we can do substantial damage to the Stehekin Lodge breakfast buffet tomorrow morning. John, Sara, Max, Robin, Copper Top, The Wolfpack, Spider and Cyclone are also here. Robin is having severe back pain and is considering getting off the trail and taking the ferry boat into Chelan to see a doctor. It is great to be in town.
Sep 11 - I’m not going to dwell long or devote a lot of text to the awful events that occurred concerning the terrorist attacks. I don’t think those who will be reading this wish to relive that awful day. I will say that we were astounded and disgusted like everyone else, and that our hearts went out to the loved ones of the victims. Stehekin is very remote, the only way to reach it is by hiking, float plane or ferry boat. There aren’t a lot of TV’s around, and we received word of the attacks mainly from those who had radios in their vehicles. Also, there was a radio at the small store, and many people huddled around the radio, listening for the latest news. The scenario reminded me of what it must have been like when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred 60 years ago.
We were told by the folks at the Stehekin Lodge that both the US / Mexican and the US / Canadian borders had been closed because of the attacks, and that all air service had been suspended. Despite this, there was no discussion among the hikers concerning anyone getting off the trail. Everyone knew that we’d come too far to turn back now, that we’d all bent some rules to get here, and that we’d illegally cross into Canada and back to the U.S. again (if necessary) to finish the trail. The suspension of air transportation was actually more on everyone’s mind than the border being closed, but we didn’t think the airports would be closed long.
Not knowing what would happen, we went about the business of resupplying for the last 89 miles between Stehekin and the Canadian border. Thankfully, it gave us something to do, and helped keep our minds off the terrible events that had occurred.
Sep 12 - We took the 11:15 a.m. shuttle bus back to the PCT. A forest fire is burning about 3 miles from the trail, but the USFS people said that they didn’t think it was a threat to us. However, the smell of acrid smoke is a bit overwhelming at times. We hiked about 5 miles and camped with Jack and Paw Bunyon at the primitive campground in North Cascades National Park. Because of bears, we are anxious to leave the national park. There are bear cables here, and we used them. A local in Stehekin told us that hunting season was now open in Washington, and after we left the park that we could forget about bears.
Sep 13 - A rough day of hiking with heavy packs, but at the end of it, we were 16 miles closer to the Canadian border. The reality that our hike is ending is settling in, and “Border Fever” is running rampant. Everyone out here, including Brawny and me, seems to have more energy and wants to hike a few extra miles each day. We crossed Rainy Pass in late afternoon at Highway 20. We hiked a few more miles and camped at Porcupine Creek.
Sep 14 - It is hard to describe the beauty we encountered at Cutthroat Pass and Granite Pass. The weather is holding, and it is so greatly appreciated at these altitudes of 6,000 – 7,000 ft. It is late enough in the season that almost anything could happen. We hiked about 17 miles and camped at Rush Creek. We hope to finish in 3 days; the weather is a constant concern.
Sep 15 - Spent most of the day hiking in mountains that reminded me of the Tehachapi Range. There is very sparse vegetation, and it looks and feels like desert. Some day hikers approached us who had a large German Shepherd dog. The dog kind of ran toward us, stopped, cocked his head and barked at us once. I was in no mood for it. I barked back at him and kept advancing toward him, making direct eye contact. However, my bark was a lot louder and more vicious than his. He promptly ran away, back up the trail to his owners. By the time we reached them, everyone was laughing, including me. However, the dog wanted no part of us. He was being restrained, but it appeared he only wanted to run away. Maybe we’ve been out here too long? Crossed Hart’s Pass and picked up water. Hiked a couple of more miles and camped.
Billy Bean camped near us last night and we all cooked and ate dinner together at our campsite. He told us two funny hiker stories. The first one involved a bear that poked its nose into the wrong tent. A PCT thru-hiker was inside. The hiker awoke to see this bear’s face not far from his own. Without thinking, the guy punched the bear right in the nose. The bear ran away, and the hiker went back to sleep. The second story involved a different hiker who’d finally found a suitable campsite after a long day of hiking. It was a beautiful, flat, rocky ledge just above the trail. Only problem was, it was occupied by a mountain lion. The guy “shooed” it away and put up his tent. However, the cat didn’t go far enough away, so the hiker chased it away by yelling and throwing rocks at it. How are we all going to fit into “normal society” after our hikes are over?
Sep 16 - It is quite a paradox. We both want to finish the PCT, yet don’t want it to end; the long distance hiker’s lament. It is almost like the best scenery on the PCT was saved for last; broad, sweeping panaramas of incredible grandeur. We are now in the Pasayden Wilderness and will be until we enter Canada tomorrow. The border is only 15 miles away. We camped near a spring about 2.5 miles north of Holman Pass. We go up to 7,100 ft. tomorrow, then down to the border. The weather is holding; mostly sunny and warm. It is so beautiful here. My dream of hiking the PCT has almost been fulfilled.
Earlier in the day, we noticed some definitely wild noises in a valley we were descending to via some switchbacks. The closer we got, the more convinced I became that the noises were being made by bears. The noises were almost like they were fighting, but a bit more “mellow”. As we got closer, I realized that there were actually two bears involved. And I mean totally involved. In other words, I think they were mating. As it became apparent that we were going to pass very close to them, I decided to make some noise to alert them of our presence. Technically, we were close enough to Canada to be in grizzly country, and surprising a grizzly under ANY circumstances is risky. When I began singing, the sensuous noises stopped, and we heard two large animals crashing off into the woods.
Sep 17 - This morning, even though many hunters are in the area, we were visited by a large, 4 point (Eastern count, 2 antlers on each side) buck deer. It was just barely light enough to see, and he was about 20 feet behind us, foraging for food scraps, I suppose. By the time it got light enough to see well, he was gone. We passed a total of 4 deer hunters soon after we left camp. All the hunters were glassing the distant slopes without success. None of them asked if we’d seen any deer. They probably thought that us hikers did not have the necessary skills to get close enough to a buck to see it. As interesting as our last two wildlife encounters had been, the most bizarre incident was still a few miles down the trail.
A strange thing happened on the way to Canada. We were attacked by a grouse. I mean, an upset, fearless, in-your-face, unflinching, determined, male grouse with an attitude. Apparently, he had staked out a section of the sandy trail as his domain, to be used for mating and defended at all costs. We encountered this guy about 3 miles south of the border. At first, it was not unusual, we’ve seen grouse on the trail before, though I did notice that this one had brighter coloration than the hens we’d seen. I figured it was a male, but didn’t think much of it at the time. As we approached, this bird did not move off the trail. When we got close enough, I nudged it slightly with one of my hiking poles, and actually had to push it off the trail. I was in the lead, and Brawny was behind me. A few feet after we’d passed the grouse, I heard Brawny yell and partially slip down. I looked back to see her on the side of the trail, getting up, and the grouse going after her ankle with his beak. I took a few quick steps back, and “nudged” the bird off the trail again, this time not so gently. At that point, he went after my left foot, clamping his beak firmly onto one of my shoelaces. Brawny had moved past me, and it was just me and this trail chicken, locked in combat. I tried to shake it away from my shoe, no luck. So, I lifted my foot off the ground and shook it. Finally, I was free, but only momentarily. As soon as I put my foot down, it went after it again. Okay, buster, you are about to get more of this foot than you wanted, I thought. I didn’t really kick him, but “nudged” him off the trail again, this time with my foot. As Brawny as my witness, at this point, he tried to run past me to get to her. I made a swift flanking movement and blocked his path. More Dances With Grouse, with this insane bird grabbing on to my shoelaces. At this point, I started laughing and got out my camera. I took a couple of quick shots, and have no idea how well they’ll turn out. I remember thinking how demeaning, being chased over the border into Canada by a grouse. We finally managed to get away from him, though he did "chase” us down the trail a bit. He finally gave up the chase and went back to where we’d first encountered him. The last time I saw him, he was defiantly standing in the middle of his trail, looking at us. His body language seemed to be saying, “Come on back if you want some more, I’ll kick your butt”. We heard from several more hikers that they had shared a similar fate, attacked by the Killer Grouse.
Later, we went down the final few switchbacks, and we saw the border. It was a rather emotionally intense moment. As we got closer, we also saw Monument 78, and the monument that the PCTA has erected. I savored the last few steps. Brawny and I walked up to the PCTA monument and completed the Pacific Crest Trail together. We shared a hug and a kiss and relished the moment. We had done it!
In the hearts and minds of everyone I’ve spoken with who has hiked the PCT, the trail ends here. However, the Canadians have extended the trail 7 miles to the road near Manning Park Lodge. To make matters more confusing, the old guidebook says the trail ends one place, the new guidebook states it ends somewhere else, and a map on a sign just north of Monument 78 shows it ending at still another location. And there’s also a sign at the border that says “Northern Terminus, Pacific Crest Trail”. However, we had to hike out to the road near Manning Park Lodge to catch the bus anyway, so it didn’t matter much. Still, it is confusing.
We decided to stay on the “official” Canadian PCT route and went up Old Windy Joe Mountain and camped at a primitive campsite. There were also about 20 teenagers there with two adults, all on a field trip of some kind. They were good kids, but loud. While we were setting up camp, they kept walking right through our site. As I was wondering how to deal with the situation, I heard Brawny say good-naturedly but firmly, “Okay, we need some borders here; next person who walks through our camp is going to get shot”. I laughed to myself. She is a far different person now than she was when she started the PCT with me last year. After that, we got along well with the teenagers, but they respected our campsite “boundary”.
We slept pretty well, but visions of a good breakfast at Manning Park Lodge and a comfortable seat on a bus headed toward Vancouver were in our thoughts and dreams.
Sep 18 - We were up at 4:30 a.m. We wanted coffee, and we also wanted to be on the trail as soon as it got light at 6:30. Using our Photon lights, we had our coffee and ate the last of our food, using Brawny’s bread and my peanut butter to make 2 sandwiches. We packed up, took down our trusted and trail proven, 3½ pound, $65 Coleman Cobra tent for the last time, and got on the trail at 6:30 as planned. A few hours later, we reached the road and trail sign near Manning Park Lodge. Soon, we were having a real breakfast at the restaurant. We later caught the 11:10 a.m. bus to Vancouver and began the long journey home.
The PCT is done; it is over. It is an odd sensation. It was a long time in coming, it took so much effort, cost so much money, but the rewards were so great.
I’m just now beginning to realize how much I would have missed, how much I would have cheated myself out of, if I hadn’t hiked it. Words cannot describe the adventure, the spiritual enlightenment, the scenery, the friendships made, the hardships endured, the joy, the pain, the frustration, the happiness or the overall experience any more than a small camera can capture the complete image of the Grand Canyon.
I am so fortunate that Brawny and I had the opportunity to hike over half of the trail together. It was such a joy to share the experience with someone who is cared about deeply, and who deeply cares about me. This hike was a new experience for her, and it was so special seeing the trail through her eyes, and watching her gain new skills and confidence. I hope that everyone can someday have the experience of placing it all on the line, bucking the odds and completing a seemingly insurmountable task with someone they care about. There is a bond between us now, a feeling of mutual trust and accomplishment, that will be with us always. We depended on each other out there, and when the need arose, we came through for each other on numerous occasions.
I’ve thought a lot about the PCT experience, of hiking from Mexico to Canada. The highs were higher than I expected, and the lows were lower. However, the trail repaid the effort and sacrifice that was required to hike it. One can’t reach out and grab the PCT experience like an ice cream cone. Let it come to you and wash over you like a fog or a gentle rain; open the pores of the mind and let it permeate the soul. I think that the PCT is the most adventure that a person of average means and abilities can experience and reasonably expect to survive.
Many people have asked me to compare the Appalachian Trail with the Pacific Crest Trail. Someone asked me about this while I was on the PCT. Off the top of my head I said, “Well, the AT is like sipping fine wine; the PCT is like a straight shot of bourbon whiskey". I’ve thought a lot about it since then, and I haven’t been able to come up with anything better.
I’ve noticed three things about my PCT hike. First, it has reinforced what I already knew; that we humans are spiritually grounded in the natural world. The natural world is where we have lived for the last million or so years. It is only in the last few hundred years that we’ve moved away. We are genetically programmed to be there, and we lose something very basic and important to our existence if we sever the tie.
Secondly, it has reminded me how few actual possessions we need in order not only to survive, but to achieve a level of happiness not commonly found in the “Real World” (as we hikers like to call civilization). Most of our possessions own us more than we own them, and they can be a direct hindrance to happiness. I just had a grand experience and a life changing adventure, carrying only 20 or so pounds of nearly worn out backpacking gear that has very little monetary value. However, if I’d been in a $60,000 BMW, I’d have missed the whole thing.
Third, I have realized that my life should be lived the same way the trail is hiked; one day at a time.
I have also been reminded that there are still many decent people in the world. And no matter how independent a person is, they have to ask for and accept help on a long hike. The kindness of friends and strangers alike has been awesome to experience and behold. I can never repay all the kindness that I was shown during the 3 summers I spent on the PCT, but I will try.
This may have been my last long hike. I made a commitment to hike the PCT or die trying. It is the only way I can do a border-to-border hike, but I’m not sure I want to make that commitment again. However, if I stay healthy, the Continental Divide Trail is a possibility in a few years, but the Long Trail and Colorado Trail are more appealing right now.
Brawny and I did what we set out to do, and I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I remember being at Sonora Pass in July 1999, barely able to walk. Even though it was the emotional low point of my hike, I made a vow to return the next year and continue my journey north. I got to kiss that sign in Canada after all, and it is an experience that will be with me the rest of my life. Hang on to your dreams, and don't ever give up. You aren't defeated until you quit trying.
Mexico To Canada, 1999 - 2001
September 28, 2001
My 1999 PCT Jornal / My 2000 PCT Journal / Brawny's 2001 PCT Journal / My PCT Video at YouTube