Day 30: Uninspiring Hiking Conditions and the Last Day

October 10th; 24 miles

Unfortunately, the weather was just as bad when we woke up as when we went to sleep. The rain had kept up full strength through the whole night. There was so much water that it had soaked through my tent so everything that was in contact with the floor or side of the tent was wet, which was in addition to my therma-rest only staying partially inflated, and since the rain never stopped, I had been holding in a pee for about 6 hours.

No one else had a really good night either and no one was in a mood to hike 24. I actually have a tendency to, when conditions are really miserable and close to rock bottom, start to get in a really good mood, in this situation figuring, “hey, I can’t possibly get any more wet!” and it was in this spirit that I started to shoot the idea around of just hiking the full 38 mile day to the end! I was feeling like hiking and it would be my last chance to beat my personal record. Even though it would have meant a few hours of night hiking, hey, it’s the last day anyway so who cares!

Unfortunately, Steiner was the only one even close to as enthusiastic as I was, so 24 it was.

It wasn’t that bad of a day in fact. It didn’t rain the whole time and there were even some good views for the second half of the day. It did get very cold though, and the rain eventually turned to snow. This was actually preferable though because, aside from the fact that it was a little too cold to take any kind of break, snow does t get you wet like rain. I also think it makes the landscape look fantastic.

We made camp by an alpine lake and the temperature kept dropping. It was manageable but we all got in our sleeping bags as soon as possible and tried no to leave. The next morning, there was a layer of frost over everything and all of our boots were completely frozen, so anyone who didn’t loosen their shoelaces the night before couldn’t get their feet in. Swiss miss had the most trouble with her double knotted shoelaces. It was so bad that I ended up boiling some water and pouring it on to loosen them up.

Swiss, who seemed to be having a particularly rough time with the cold and wet, developed a new motto for the group: just survive. It was the last 24 hours after all so all we had to do was make it! Just close your eyes and think of the party in Seattle!

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Days 28-29: The Last Stretch

October 8-9; 29+16 miles

This was the first full day of our last push to the end, 82 miles to the Canadian border and 90 to the end. The forecast didn’t look great however with rain starting later in the first day or at least by the night. So we figured it would be best to push some extra miles while the weather was still good. And it’s a good thing we did. The rain held off and the clouds even parted when we reaches a pass at the top of a climb to get some of our best views yet (pictures on their way!). We managed to finish only 30 minutes after dark too with enough time to relax and have a fire.

It’s really good we did push the 29 for that first day because in the middle of the night, the rain started and by morning it didn’t show any signs of letting off. After going over the miles before heading to sleep the night before, we worked out that we could do just a 16 mile day next, which, with our bodies in the condition they’re in now, is a very relaxing day.

So with the rain pounding down on our tents in the morning, we app lounged around cross talking between tents over breakfast before getting out on the trail by 10:30. BR, Grinder, and I managed to do the stretch with only one break (it was too cold and wet to do much more anyway) and the time passes quickly as we debated the semantics of the phrase, “a step in the right direction,” the feasibility of a large scale high speed rail system in the US, old school hip hop, and affirmative action.

We got into camp by 430, so plenty of time to set up and relax, but the rain started to really come down as we pitched camp, so it wasn’t long before we were all hunkered down in our tents. I managed to fill my time mainly by reading and eating (2 full meals back to back for me since I didn’t really have a full lunch, 1500-2000 calories in one sitting).

Tomorrow will be our last full day of hiking, 24 miles then only 17 to the end. Unfortunately though the rain is supposed to keep going, and I’m running out of dry things. We’ve all come this far though, and at this point, the only way out is forward!

Day 27: Picture Perfect Town with Amazing Food

October 7th Stahekin, WA; 10 miles

Town day today! These are always great especially after a tough stretch. Aside from the opportunity for laundry, resupply, and rest they can also be great chances to mentally reset, and that’s what happened in Stahekin.

We left camp at 7 o’clock to hike the 5 miles to the trailhead before 9 when a shuttle would stop by headed for town. Probably one of the best parts or the day was the local bakery, and the shuttle made a stop there first on the way to town. As thru-hikers, we’re burning something around 6,000 calories a day, so we eat a lot, and after 4 days on the frail, food is foremost on the mind. There were 9 of us that walks in through the door, nearly stumbling over each other to get in, and as soon as we caught a whiff of all the freshly baked goods, there was an actual audible moan that came from our group. So we liked up and took the store by storm. I placed my order second and got a sticky bun as big as my face as well as a chocolate crumb coffee cake and am amazing bacon and cheese croissant washed down with a 20 oz latte. This on it’s own was enough to help me forget my mouse problems from the night before.

The consuming pretty much went on the rest of the day, with beer sodas and snacks, as we set about doing laundry, airing out gear, and resupplying food. The town was absolutely gorgeous too. It was completely remote with no cell reception and the only way to make calls was with a public satellite phone. He town itself was on a lake surrounded by massive cliffs and mountains, and all around the leaves were changing colors. It even had its own puddle jumper sitting at the dock!

The eating really hit a climax when the restaurant in town opened for lunch. Still full from all the pastries and various items we’d consumed since getting off the trail, the 5 of us guys tackled “the PCT thru hiker special,” a massive burger with 2 paddies, ham, bacon, egg, and cheese. Gotta stock up on those calories when you can!

The shuttle left back to the trail at 3, so after 1 more stop at the bakery, we hiked out 5 miles to a great campsite where we had a fire pit, bear box for food (take that mice!), and a privy. It was nice to have a nice day capped off with a relaxing night, and after all that eating, most of us didn’t even need dinner that night.

Days 22-26: Tough Hiking and Epic Mice Battles

October 2nd-6th; Skykomish to Stahekin, WA

This was a very difficult stretch between town stops. As usual we weren’t able to get a good start of town. We were on the trail by 11:30 and had 18 miles planned to do. Part of the difficulty was also the Esther. We had checked the forecast and it loomed like we had some rain for at least the first night but it was very cold, foggy, and rainy for most of those two days.

The other thing was the elevation gain and loss. Everyday we had at least one 3,000 foot ascent and descent and often two. These can be very draining and rough on the body over extended periods (especially the down), so even on 23 mile days we’d be getting in at or after dark.

All that said, we were luck enough that rain, for the most part, held off, amd when the clouds cleared, we had some really spectacular views. Every time we’d crest a ridge and see snow topped mountains and craggy ridge lines covered with he autumn colors od he huckleberry bushes, it really made it feel worth it. You also realize how lucky you are to be out there thinking how there are probably no more than 10 people around within 20 miles in every direction.

One of the hardest days was probably the last before hitting town. There was only one big climb but the first 3 miles had a lot of blowdown of some massive trees (someone had counted the rings ok one and it was over 600 years old) and also a couple hair river crossing across logs. So by 10 o’clock when we’d finally gone across the last crossing, we still had 23 miles to do including a big up and about 10 miles of down.

This stretch in Washington also presented a whole new problem to deal with: mice. The establishes campsites we were setting up at had major rodent problems, and the last two nights, one managed to get in my tent in the middle of the night. The first time resulted in a pretty epic battle as I attempts to get it out. The first time I woke up and heard it was at 2am after jumping out and shaking the tent, I thought it was out. But then, an hour and a half later, it woke me up again. So this time I chased it around trying to scare it out the screen door flap until finally, when it didn’t seem able to to figure out where the door was, I put on mu left glove and reached out and was able to actually grab it and then throw it out of the tent. It wasn’t until the next night, when the same exact thing happened, that I was able to find the whole it had chewed in the mesh of my tent to get in.

After finally getting the mouse our and patching the hole with duct tape, I thought I’d finally get some sleep. It wasn’t until about 1 or 2 hours later though that I woke up and realized with a sigh that during all the commotion, it seemed that there was a small puncture in my therma rest air mattress. Luckily it was small enough that it took a long time to deflate, so I blew it back up and get try to a least get at least a couple hours of sleep before heading to town in the morning, but this was only a temporary solution…

Despite how tough it was, the views in this are, Glacier Mt National Wilderness, really made it worth it, and according to the rest of the group that had hikes from Mexico, they’ve been some of the best on the trail. I was also lucky because I had new shoes for this part since the Merrells I’d been using had been giving me so much trouble. The Vasque Velocities that I ordered from Snoqualmie have really been treating me well and saving me some blister and foot pain issues.

Day 21: Going for a Swim, in October… In an Alpine Lake

October 1st; 22 miles

Today was a lot like yesterday, except that we probably milked the leisure time a little too much, taking plenty of long breaks. Even though we got into camp after dark, it was definitely worth it to enjoy the weather. It was so nice in fact that after a hot climb right after lunch, we all went for a swim in a lake. The water was freezing, and no one lasted much mire than a few seconds, but it was worth it, we felt clean (even if we really weren’t that much cleaner) and the sun dried us off in no time. It’s the unexpected breaks like these that can make you fall behind but they can also be the best because there’s usually a good reason for them, and what better one then for a quick dip in an alpine lake on the first day of October!

Day 20: A Perfect Hiking Day

September 30th; 22 miles

Today was an absolutely perfect day of hiking, and it really reminded me, and I think everyone else, why we love doing this so much.

We had about the same amount of miles but 2 hours more to do them as yesterday and we’d try more carefully not to get lost. I took off first in the morning, around 8, til I got to the top of the 1st big climb, another 3,000 footer covered in about 6 miles. The weather was perfect and the views continued to be amazing. It was so nice in fact that after the climb, I took about an hour long break, relaxing at the top.

With so much extra time, we got to enjoy our breaks and never stress about miles. Bigfoot, Grinder, BR, Swiss, and I had lunch by a creek, and afterwards, at 3 o’clock, we only has 7 miles til camp, which meant… no night hiking!

Day 19: Making up Those Miles

September 29th; Approximately 22 miles

It’s always hard ringer a food stat or or town. We weren’t hiking until about 10:30 when normal it’s closer to 8. But we had soke miles to make up so we had to see what we could do.

There was a big 3,000 foot climb out of Snoqualmie Pass during which time we entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This was another area, like Goat Rocks which I completely missed in the rain, that. Had heard a lot if great things about. So I was very thankful for the perfectly blue skies we had as well as die the fact thar we hadn’t hiked out he da before, when the cloud cover would have completely obscured the views. He terrain was spectacular. Once the trail had climbed on tip if the ridge we could see other ridges topped with craggy, sometimes snow covered peaks. Also, as the name of the area indicates, these ridges border huge valleys with crystal blue lakes in the centers of them. In addition to all this, as it’s now fall, much of the higher portions of the ridges were beginning to be covered in bright red, orange, and yellow shrubbery.

This made for some great hiking, but unfortunately the terrain was not easy. The ups were long and draining, and the downs were really rough on the joints particularly when it got rocky which started to re-aggravate my feet. With these two things, t didn’t seek like we’d get to camp before dark. So eventually we had to get out our headlamps. Grinder had actually gotten far ahead while Gangles was having her own foot problems which had caused her to fall behind so Steiner stopped at around 7 to wait for her. T-bone, not wanting to night hike, set up camp at the first place he could.

While hiking in the dark, Bigfoot, BR, Swiss, and I began to get the feeling were ok the wrong trail. Bigfoot’s GPS confirmed the suspicion, and so at the end of this long day, after some backtracking to find the trail again, we ended up adding about 1.6 miles to the day. Not the best, but we made it. Good news was that we had about the same mileage to cover tomorrow but with an earlier start, about 2 hours more to do them, and hopefully without he getting lost part.