Day: Monday, 3rd October 2016
Miles: 2630.5 – 2650 + 8 to Manning Park
Remote Site 2630.5 – Pacific Crest Trail Northern Terminus – Manning Park, BC
I guess its a reflection of the excitement and trepidation of the day, that I kept some really horrible journal notes of my final day on the PCT. Thankfully, for what I lacked in written words, I more than made up for with photographs, and these have been a great memory trigger for details that I have forgotten over the past year. This final post in my PCT blog is long overdue, and for those still following along, thank you for your patience. Some invisible force has held me from completing this post. I guess in some way I have believed that finishing the blog, means that I’m finally complete with this journey. That I must let go of the experience and move on. That I finally need to allocate the experiences into memory, grow up, and leave it behind. Upon mature reflection, I now realize however, thats not the case. The trail, will always be there. A place of pilgrimage and a place of joy. A place to seek refuge and to share with those dearest. This blog, however difficult it was to maintain, will similarly always be here for me, for those days when the trail feels a little further away. These words will help trigger those memories that I hold deep in the silence of my heart.
The final day of a lengthy journal is a strange thing. Undoubtedly the magic of the Pacific Crest Trail is in the people, the places, the process, of progressing through this elongated journey where the destination itself is of little significance. It turns the conceptual model of travel on its head, for the destination is certainly not the high-point of the experience, not withstanding some relief and satisfaction that you’ve beaten the weather, the blisters and the pressures of modern life to get here.
Awaking to a dark, bitterly cold and slightly foggy Washington morning was bittersweet. As you know, I’m not a lover of cold mornings, but the realization that my final day was here, and it was not actually raining, can not be overemphasized in terms of its emotional and motivational effects! I ate a quick breakfast as the others decamped and moved on out about 7AM. Its just under 20miles to the border and I was hoping to make it there for about 3PM. Since a few of the group camped in this spot were already finished with the trail and completing their victory lap, they started southbound back to Harts Pass, as I ventured northwards on my own, just as the sun began to rise and burn off some of the fog. I was wearing all of my clothes this morning, as pretty much every piece of gear I have, is on its last-legs.
A little after camp and I found a small game hen wandering the trail ahead of me. I slowly wandered up to it, as it chucked about on the trail, a little put out given that I was intruding on its morning stroll. These little moments will be missed after today. When you wander through a pristine wilderness, its not just the enormous landscapes that put a human into their rightful tiny place, its the tiniest of creatures who nonchalantly ignore you and on some level belittle the status humans have self-appointed to themselves. I had a very similar experience with a Pika a little further on, who peeped out and stared at me with a sidewards eye, just as the sun emerged.
Once the sun established itself in the sky, the turbulent swirling of wind and fog added a dramatic character to the mountains. In one minute it was crystal clear, only to be enveloped in a thick fog and cloud as an invisible fight for supremacy of the skies played out overhead. When the sun did shine, the Washington color spectacle was in full abundance, with oranges, yellows, deep reds and browns framing the evergreen trees.
At one point during a long and steady uphill climb towards Rock Pass, an enormous cloud covered myself and FlyBy for a period, creeping up behind us like something from a Stephen King novel. Turning a corner, and I walked out of Rock Pass and into pristine sunshine. Rock Pass was a beautifully remote spot, and signs of the old trail route continuing straight ahead towards Woody Pass at the apex of the pass were temping me to follow, especially when I spied the switchbacks dropping down the hillside on the new routing. Pondering one last adventure, I read some comments on my mapping app warning of treacherous rockfall and cliff conditions on the abandoned trail routing, and so I decided that my last day probably was not the best moment to get gutsy about alternatives. The variety of terrain and hazards on this section has really been quite incredible. At times I feel that I could walk this entire state again, and enjoy an entirely different experience and views (even staying on the trail!).
Rising towards Woody Pass, and I could see exactly why the trail was re-routed. The former trail spliced a series of cliffs that were still covered in snow, and during the time I passed by the area, distant sounds of falling rocks echo’d across the valley.
Ascending towards the high point of the day, just beyond Woody Pass, and I appreciated a wide sweeping valley to the east. Looking to the hills in the distance, it was impossible not to ponder whether one of the peaks might be in Canada!
Woody Pass itself, was mentionable given the distinct lack of woody-ness. It did provide an amazing view back to the south, with an enormous cloud laying siege to the ridge containing Rock Pass.
Arriving to the high point of the day around mile 2642, and the entire gang were camped out enjoying the sun. Lunch on high point was a fitting place to catch up. Its literally all down hill to Canada from here, and the mood of the group was victorious if serendipitous. We all wanted to finish so desperately, yet never wanted the moment to end. We all shared food and memories for a long time, enjoying the group, the sun on our faces and the sense of accomplishment that we now felt more confident to enjoy.
As the trail entered a number of switchbacks, we were treated to an amazing view of turquoise colored Lake Hopkins, surrounded by golden larches, its water so clear you could see the rocks shimmering in the lake bed below. Washington has never ceased to treat us to these ever-amazing views.
At one point, looking at my map, and it appeared that the switchback I descending on placed us on a direct line to the border just a few miles distant. It was now certainly true that I was looking into Canada ahead!
Passing a few more switchbacks and irregular signs for the border might have quickened my pulse a little, not long to go now! One sign was situated where the Pacific Northwest Trail joins the PCT for a short distance. This trail runs from the Pacific Ocean to Glacier National Park, and is certainly a trail I might be interested in trying sometime! It is also often used for positioning by Southbound PCT hikers accessing the Northern Terminus and for Northbounders who have finished, in order to return towards civilization to the south. It routes towards Ross Lake to the west, where a boat shuttles hikers to the nearest trailhead.
Just 2.4 miles! Its all downhill and includes water sources! This is too easy!
But maybe things were a little too easy. And I soon found that it was. The trail in this part of Washington is only accessible from the south, since you cannot enter from Canada. This also means that its very inaccessible for trail-crews to clear logs. As a result, the next 2 miles was strewn with debris and blowdowns. I guess on some level this was a more appropriate way to end the Pacific Crest Trail, a little tired, a few splinters in your hands, and a sudden memory of that miserable day in Southern Oregon when every tree was a blowdown.
A little before the border, at one of the last water sources around mile 2649.5 and I met Budd and Fret who shared a celebratory sip of whiskey they had hauled in. A nice ceremony for the final water-fill! It seemed that every person I met had a quickened step and a smile on their faces. I was still holding out a little, as I peered to the west, to see if I could spot the much-fabled border tree clearing.
With just a few more blowdowns to hop over, the end was near!
As if to play with your emotions, right at the every end, the PCT virtually kisses the border, before a series of switchbacks pull the trail away from where you want to go, just one last time! Finally I spotted a sliver of a clearcut through the mountains diagonally running along a ridge – the border!
Approaching a clearing ahead, and I immediately felt that aching emotional overload. A feeling that something you never really thought was possible, was just ahead. I slowed down my pace a little, and for the last few moments cant help but feel like the entire PCT flashed through my head. The people, the places, the smells, sights, sounds, the emotions and the misery. And then I was there. And I was done. It was done.
I was so thankful that Breakaway and FlyBy, my trail brothers, along with some of the greatest people I met on the trail were with me right there at that moment. Its a cliche, but we had all started this journey solo, and were all finishing together, and that felt great. I cant think of anything better that sums up the human experience of the PCT. The excitement was amazing, as we all shared the moment together.
Of course many photographs were required, and everyone had their moment with the terminus monument.
Once the revelry was complete, a depressing realization set-in, not just were we finished, FlyBy and myself still had 8 miles to hike to Manning Park! Breakaway had set-off early, in order to beat the mass of rain clouds forming overhead, but FlyBy and myself idled a while, loving the moment.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a US trail, and as such ends on the border, to little fanfare on the Canadian side. There is no official border crossing guards, although we had secured our Canada entry permits in advance. It is an 8 mile hike from the PCT terminus to the nearest road, at Manning Park, British Columbia, a summer and winter resort about 2 hours east of Vancouver. At this time of year during shoulder season, Manning Park is a ghost town and what few hikers make it there, have just a single bus each night at 2AM to Vancouver in order to escape. I was lucky and had secured a ride with Breakaway’s friend to Vancouver tomorrow, but FlyBy needed to catch an early flight, and would be grabbing the bus. With the celebrations complete, we said our farewells to the gang who would camp at the border, and we hit the trail.
The trail to Manning Park was in very bad condition, with some interesting bridge crossings, many trail washouts and blowdowns, along with a persistent cold and heavy rain that started almost as soon as we entered Canada. It was clear, the Pacific Crest Trail honeymoon was over.
After about 2.5hrs of hiking, we arrived to the lonely and deserted frontier outpost and wandered through empty parking lots to the one source of neon light in the distance. Our trusted partner in crime, Breakaway had ordered us a burger and beer when he realized we would not make kitchen-closing, and what a fitting end to our adventure, than racing in to grab food before closing time! An unceremonious location to end such a momentous journey! The job is done. Now I just need to mentally process the achievement of finishing the last 2650 miles intact!