Sunday, September 18, 2016

"You Are Going To Be So Skinny"


Walking into Manning Park in the rain. Photo by my friend Kwan.  

When we told our friend Kathy a few years ago that we were doing the trail the first words out of her mouth, "You are going to be so skinny!" I've always had trouble keeping the weight off even with regular exercise, especially as I age into senior citizen range, but walking for 10 to 12 hours a day in the mountains will tend to get rid of those extra pounds. I haven't stepped on a scale to know for sure but have to guess I shed about 35 pounds. I can't recommend the PCT as a diet plan but it sure works!


Cue up embarrassing photo 

We are taking the train home tomorrow morning. A bus will get us from Vancouver to Seattle where we get on the Coast Starlight for 36 hours. We've always wanted to do a train trip so this is a great opportunity. We even sprung for a sleeper car so will ride in comfort. 

After a morning of casual birding near Vancouver we had lunch with Kwan and his wife Jessica at a fantastic Chinese Dim Sum restaurant. It's going to be really hard to break the constant eating habit of the last five months, and my body is still screaming for food right now. A bit of tapering off seems in order. We really appreciate Kwan and Jessica's hospitality. I remember asking Kwan in an email a couple years ago, "If we walk from the Mexico border to Manning Park will you come pick us up?" I'm sure at the time he thought I was pulling his leg, or nuts, or both, but he was there when it counted. Kwan, thank you my friend. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016

And So It Ends ... CANADA BABY!

Day 165 - September 17
Mile: 2643.8 to 2650.1 plus 8.1 miles to Manning Park (14.4)
up/down: 1750/4000 feet

All night the wind howled like a freight train, here comes the storm. But by morning it had only sprinkled a few times. At 5:45 I put on my headlamp and started heating water for coffee and tea. Let's get this done. 

I'm proud of our little Hummingbird - coming off her death bed she did 75 miles in three days to get close to the border on the day the storm came. We set out with only rain gear but within 30 minutes we had on our ponchos. How appropriate, finish this thing with wet feet in the rain... From where we camped its downhill all the way to the border. We slogged on through the car wash bushes over growing the trail. And wind blow down trees are back in abundance - oh goody. 

We hit some switchbacks and I notice in the distance the clear cut swath of the border. A couple more switchbacks and we are there. 165 total days, 142 of those walking days, and we find the northern monument. I should be more emotional right now but I'm not. Perhaps it will hit over the next few days but for now I'm happy and proud of the accomplishment. 

There's no bus or magic carpet waiting at the border, so after the photos and a bit of modest celebrating all that's left is to do is walk. It's 8 miles to Manning Provincial Park and the road to get us back to the real world. It's a brutal 1500 foot climb in a steady rain before we finally make the crest and start down for good. 

Our dear friend Kwan drove over this morning to take us back to his house in Vancouver for a few days of rest and visiting. He brought a bottle of sparkling cider to help celebrate. After a big lunch at the lodge we made the two hour drive back to the city. The laundry is nearly done and we've had the first of the many showers that will be required to get actually clean. 

We will have much more to say about the trail, our experiences, birds, and gear reviews in the coming days. And of course for those who remember the quiz, I'll have all the answers soon. Here's a hint: it takes over 7 million steps to do the trail. 

To all of you who followed along, wrote encouraging comments in this blog and on my Facebook page, worried about our health and safety, and generally sent good thoughts our way, we thank you with all our hearts. Wow, what a ride. 

A Run For The Border

Day 164 - September 17
Mile: 2617.3 to 2643.8 (26.5)
up/down: 5400/5600 feet

We were up early with the goal of getting as close to the border as possible. Many climbs and descents and rough footing kept us from getting all the miles we hoped for but we still did pretty good. Hummingbird, who had never done anything marathon distance before, did two in two days.

Some time ago Hummingbird named her backpack "Gollum" after the creature from Lord of the Rings who at the end rode on Frodo's back. While getting her Junior Ranger badge the other day at Stehekin, she had to write a Haiku:

Gollum is heavy
He rides on my back daily 
Canada is close

And that sums it all up. 

A couple miles out of camp we were at Harts Pass, the last trailhead accessible by vehicle. This is where southbound PCT hikers must start from because our paranoid government won't allow crossing an unmanned border from Canada into the U.S.  Hikers have to go 30 miles to the border, touch the monument, and go back. Tomorrow when we get to the monument will continue 8 miles north to Manning Provincial Park. Besides our passports we are carrying permits issued by the Canadian government allowing us to cross at an unmanned border. 

After Harts Pass we climbed up to the ridge and stayed there for the morning crossing a number of named passes. Thankfully Windy and Foggy Passes had neither. Even with the storm coming in tonight we had nice weather all day.  

After lunch we dropped off the ridge into a valley only to climb back up to Rock Pass. Stunning views all around in this area. 

Then it was down and up to Woody Pass, the most Sierra like in all the northern Cascades. We continued to follow the ridge finally peaking out at 7100 feet elevation before dropping down a thousand feet to Hopkins Lake at dusk. Our primary goal today was to put that 7100 foot peak behind us and get down to somewhat lower elevation before the storm hit. We did just that. 

As I lay in the tent typing this the wind is gusting and a few sprinkles of rain have started falling. We have 6.3 downhill miles to the border then a rolling 8 miles into the park and a meet up with our friend Kwan from Vancouver. Hopefully the storm will let us get this done without too much trouble. We'll see. 

Marathon, And More

Day 163 - September 15
Mile: 2588.9 to 2617.3 (28.4)
up/down: 6650/5100 feet

Our longest mileage day in the trail before today was 25.8 going into Mt Hood and the Timberline Lodge. When Hummingbird found out the distance that night in camp she was disappointed at not going marathon distance. Well she got her wish today, her first ever marathon distance hike. With the storm looming on Saturday and numerous passes over 6000 feet in elevation still before us, we pushed hard all day for big miles. With all the up and down thrown in it was a monster effort.

The day started out rough with another wildlife encounter. Shortly after leaving camp we came upon 2 young hikers from Europe (German or Swiss?) who were freaked out and warned us of what was ahead. There was a ground-dwelling hornet nest in the trail and the bugs were fired up. The young men stumbled into the area not understanding the written notes on the ground. By the time we got there the hornets were swarming. With little time to think of an action plan we ran for it - straight through the swarm. Susan was completely covered in the chill morning air and got through unscathed. Me, not so much. I was wearing shorts and two of the bastards got me on the legs. Boy howdy did that hurt. And they still hurt now over 12 hours later. 

Our first ascent got us up to Cutthroat Pass and the crest where we stayed all morning and into the early afternoon passing through Granite and Methow Passes. Beyond, we dropped down several thousand feet to the Methow River then traversed the valley before climbing along Brush Creek to Glacier Pass. With our legs weary from many miles already we were treated to another 1500 foot climb back to the crest. Ouch. We ran out of daylight with two miles to go to our chosen camp so walked in the beautiful full moonlight for most of an hour. So besides doing our biggest day on the trail we also night hiked for the first time. 

We are aiming to repeat our effort tomorrow with another 30 mile day and get over the high passes before the storm hits. If all goes well we will camp at the relatively low Castle Pass, four miles from the border. 


The Race Is On

Day 162 - September 14
Mile: 2569.4 to 2588.9 (19.5)
up/down: 5200/1900 feet

New trip bird: Barred Owl

We grabbed the early shuttle bus out to High Bridge ranger station and were on the trail by 9:30. That's still pretty late to make big miles but we gave it our best. Put a rainy day at elevation four days out in the forecast and you can get Hummingbird fired up for big miles. Saturday looks not so good so we'll put as many miles behind us as possible for three days. At this time of year in the northern Cascades, rain at 6000 feet can turn to snow in the blink of an eye. We are NOT getting snowed out this close.  

From the ranger station the trail climbs to Howard Lake then ascends the Stehekin River canyon for a few miles before turning north and following Bridge Creek to its source at Rainy Pass. The lower part of the canyon was quite open with lodgepole and white pines, something we haven't seen in a long time. After a couple hours of hiking my legs and feet started asking what the hell I was doing. Three days off got them thinking perhaps we were done with this foolishness. Not so legs and feet,!so suck it up for a few more days. 

We climbed all day and made the pass an hour before sunset. We would have gone a couple more miles if camping options were better. This will do. Rainy Pass was anything but, we had spectacular blue sky all day. We are camped next to the trailhead parking lot far enough from the road so it's not too annoying. It's not a super busy highway, especially this time of day. This is our last paved road crossing so there's that.

As we lay here in the tent after dark an owl goes off nearby. It's not one we know instantly and have to listen to a few from the phone apps. It's a Barred Owl and a new trip bird. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One More Incredible Angel

Day 161 - September 13
Mile: zero

With Susan sick and the Northern Cascades Lodge full to the brim, we faced sleeping out in the dirt while Hummingbird tried to recover. When I pleaded my situation when we got in Sunday morning to Mary, the manager of the lodge, she pulled a rabbit out of her hat and found us a room. And then, to extend the magic to miracle, when we returned on the 4pm bus after attempting to hike out yesterday, she again had a room for us in the full lodge. She said she had a feeling and held one back just in case. Tonight it's not so jammed full so we're good for (hopefully) our last evening here. All the staff here at the lodge have been incredibly nice and helpful, but Mary went so far above and beyond that we can't even begin to thank her sufficiently. For now this will have to do - Thank You Mary!


Our little Hummingbird is feeling much better this afternoon. She even went to the ranger station and got a junior ranger badge! We will take the shuttle in the morning and give it another try. If all goes well we will stand at the border monument on Sunday. 


Monday, September 12, 2016

Unintended Zero

Day 160 - September 12
Miles: zero

Well, we tried. Susan has been feeling poorly for a couple days, and when we tried to hike out today it didn't go so well. After a mile we had to turn around. We spent an hour this afternoon with the park service EMT who checked her over thoroughly and didn't feel it was an emergency requiring evacuation to a hospital down lake. The recommendation is rest for a day or two and try again. Thankfully the incredible staff at the lodge managed to squeeze us in a room somehow. There are far worse places to be stuck for a couple days. 

There is no doubt we are worn down to the point of near exhaustion. With only 5 days of hiking left to finish the trail, hopefully a day or two off will do the trick. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Last Stop

Day 159 - September 11
Mile: 2565.3 to 2569.4 (4.1)
up/down: 750/1300 feet

It was pretty easy walking as we headed from camp to the bus stop at the High Bridge ranger station just inside Northern Cascade National Park. During the summer the bus makes 4 trips a day moving hikers to and from the ranger station and the little town of Stehekin. The bus came shortly after we arrived and we are on our way. 


First stop is the world famous Stehekin Bakery two miles from the lodge. Of course we dive in with the rest of the hikers and bought a few thousand calories worth of goodness. 

The final stop was at the landing, the hub of visitor activity inside the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. There is a lodge, cabins, restaurant, small store, park service visitor center, and boat landing. 


Stehekin is an interesting place. There are less than 100 permanent residents spread out through the valley. The only way to get here, at the north end of the 50 mile long Lake Chelan, is by foot, float plane or ferry ride. There are two ferries with the quickest being 2.5 hours. The lake itself is gorgeous set in a deep glacial valley. 

I made a mad dash on arrival to the lodge and luckily secured the last available room. Showers and a soft bed for us tonight. We arrived on Sunday, the only day of the week the post office is closed. So our resupply package will have to wait until 10:00 am tomorrow. Then we'll catch the bus and be on the trail by noon. There are 80.7 tough hiking miles left to the border monument, then 8 more miles to Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia. There my good friend Kwan from Vancouver will whisk us away from the trail for good. 

Adventures With Wildlife

Day 158 - September 10
Mile: 2546.6 to 2565.3 (18.7)
up/down: 2500/4900 feet

What is our most feared animal on the trail? Mountain Lion? Nah, haven't seen one and didn't expect to. Bear? Didn't see one of these either. Marmots, squirrels, pikas? Nope, nope nope. The most feared animal is the mouse, or mice as they usually attack in packs. Last night was a case in point. Shortly after dark, Hummingbird is sitting up and shining her headlamp around. At the foot of our tent - INSIDE - is a mouse scurrying about trying to get in the food bags. We open the doors and shoo him out. He must have come in when one of us went outside to use a tree. We lay back down and after a few minutes we hear crawling around the outside, one somehow makes it over the top of the tent and down the other side, others testing and probing looking for a weakness in our defenses. Sleep comes hard with all the little bastards skittering about.  We had heard parts of Washington on the trail were famous for hiker smart mice, but this is ridiculous. A little after midnight, Hummingbird is up again with her light and there's another one IN THE TENT! Son of a b****. We get this one out too and search all over for a hole in our shelter they could get in. Nothing. We have no clue how the little Houdini did it. We keep them out for the rest of the night but sleep is interrupted regularly. Just what we needed, a short sleep night after so many difficult hiking days...

I am up at dawn so we get a little earlier start. We have a mostly blue sky day and are grateful. Up we go to Suiattle Pass and some nice views. 

We spend the rest of the day descending into a huge glacier carved canyon along the Agnes River that will take us to our final resupply stop at the little community of Stehekin on Lake Chelan. Stehekin is truly away from it all - to get there means hike in, a float plane, or a 50 mile ferry ride.  We are camped 4 miles out from the bus stop at a ranger station where we can catch a shuttle the 11 miles to town from the trail. We will go in first thing in the morning and hopefully get a room at the lodge for the evening. Our stuff is at the post office which is closed on Sunday so we'll have to sit it out until Monday morning. The rest certainly won't hurt as we are tired, really really tired. We are under 100 miles to go now.