Day 120: Time for the final push north…

Monday, 26th September 2016

Miles: 2461.6 – 2480.0 (18.5)

Stevens Pass 2461.6 – Pear Lake 2480.0

Just one more helping of salsa soaked scrambled eggs. And maybe another pancake. Or two. You can never be too careful as regards breakfast. In my case I wanted to enjoy this final Pacific Crest Trail pre-trail breakfast as much as I could, so I certainly made the most of the buffet. My cousin Pat (as commander in chief for more than a few group physical excursions in the past), was very rightly trying to ensure I was back on trail early, and so we hit the road promptly with time for a quick resupply en-route. I was pretty ecstatic to see that Mt.Rainier had finally decided to reveal itself, and was sitting there in all its glory, if a little annoyed it had not bother to do so when I was literally walking alongside it!

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I picked up some supplies for myself at the grocery store, and a few items requested by S’rocket and Blue who were about to arrive in Stevens Pass (some celebratory drinks for the final hurdle and some Dr.Scholls foot inserts). It was around 10:30AM when we finally got to the Stevens Pass trailhead, and after some initial packing and introducing my family to the hikertrash crew who were just getting into town, we went down to the trailhead to start off the day. The visitors had a plan to venture south to Mt.Rainier National Park after dropping me off, so we did a quick half mile of the trail together before saying our goodbyes. It was great to have some extra supporters for my spirits, and it was a melancholy feeling to say goodbye, but look ahead to a solo victory march of sorts – the final week of hiking to the border!

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On trail with my uncle. He flew from Ireland to hike a few miles with me!

As I departed, around 11:30AM, I was really very happy with the sunny but cool weather for the initial ascent back up to the ridgeline north of Stevens Pass. As the cell coverage came and went, I realized this may be the last coverage I will have until Canada, and grabbed a screenshot of the weather forecast at one of the final ridges with a view south. What previously showed as intermittent rain all week was now entirely clear through to Saturday at Cutthroat Pass, just before Canada! Washington you beauty!

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I’ll take this weather forecast. My last week, clear and moderate temps.

I had the entire trail to myself, and it was quite a few miles before I met the first humans on the trail, unexpectedly in this case a crew on horseback. In the golden hues of the Autumn landscape, it certainly was a nice afternoon for a ride.

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Finally reaching the top of the ridge, and the trail meandered gently northwards, before revealing an incredible view ahead to Glacier Peak, my first time seeing this beautiful mountain from the trail, and our focus for the next few days as the trail circumnavigates its west and northern flanks.

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Glacier Peak, our final major peak on the PCT

Hiking further, and I noticed how the sun was really having an incredible effect on the color palette ahead. Its been a few days of clouds for me, and given the blue skies I was now noticing the unique way that the huckleberries and some other vegetation turned into a radiant red when backlit by the sun. The colors ahead and the snow clad peaks to the Northwest were incredible. Once again the terrain had completely changed, now we were walking a ridge top, almost like a catwalk, parading between giant snowcaps to the far west and north.

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Hiking onwards, and I was eager to make camp around the 20 mile mark, however I had been moving a little slower than hoped given my full pack, late start and the incredible views. The sun was dropping in the sky, giving a magnificent sunset, but I was also cognizant that FlyBy and Breakaway were going to rejoin the trail at Stevens Pass sometime in the afternoon, and if I wanted to camp with them, it would probably be best to hold short, as they were less interested in night hiking. As the sun began to set, it was quite noticeably colder up here than I expected. The ridge-top hike was exposed to the west for the first time in many days, and subjected to a cool breeze, but there was also some clouds to the west that suggested it may cloud in overnight. I was eager not to camp too high as a result. Looking to the map, I picked out the pleasant sounding Pear Lake as my target, that would make it around 18 miles for the day, and the potential for being joined by my long lost compadres if they made it this far!

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At some points today, Glacier was feeling closer and farther with every bend!

I arrived at Pear Lake a little after sunset. It was dark and as I haphazardly fetched water from the lake down a steep drop into the waters, I could make out ghostly shadows of trees in the dark. It was a solitary place, and lonely at that point. Only a breeze in the trees broke the silence. I made my dinner and enjoyed the moment, for all its creepiness, it was beautiful and maybe provided even more of a moment to enjoy, given the realization that I wont have many more moments like this on the trail. Every one needs to be enjoyed, to be savored. In the distance at one point I could hear noise, barely perceptible and possibly miles away. I listened intently, hoping it might be some other hikers joining me for the night, but sadly it gently blended into the wind. I had placed a crudely marked arrow on the trail, pointing in the direction of Pear Lake, with the words “SHEPHERD” marked in the dirt.

Around 9pm and once again I heard a noise, then another, and then light, and realized that I was indeed being joined by company! At least my little marker on the trail was seen! Breakaway, FlyBy and Corndoggie then arrived into my little outpost and set up camp. It was really great to see them all, to share stories of the last few days, and beta on the week ahead. Everyone was in great spirits. Ready for the final push north! To Canada!

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