Day 156 (Tuesday, October 12): trailside camp north of Glacier Pass, 2618.6, to a spot south of Woody Pass, 2642.7
Hello to everyone on my second-to-last day! Only 30 miles to go!!!
Nature called at the ungodly hour of 4:15AM. As I opened my eyes, lying on my side, I could see fluffy, white snow that had accumulated onto my emergency blanket. It was a most unusual sight. The drops of condensation that had collected that I feared would drip all over me- they were frozen solid. They were powerless to drip on me. After I finally decided to get out of my sleeping bag and leave my tent, I did a 180 in my sleeping bag, like a train turning around in a depot, and unzipped the tent. Snow flew in. It was only a dusting, but everything was uniformly white, like a delicate Christmas snow. Snow was piled up on my tent and the others’ tents. It was a sight, and a sentiment, to behold.
The snow was nothing more than a pleasant nuisance. In terms of sunrise, the snow reflected the morning alpenglow amazingly. An entire boulder field looked pink. The light was short-lived, ephemeral. The sun tucked itself right back behind the clouds, clouds that would enshroud it all morning. We would have none of the clear skies that had been predicted. Nor would we have any of the snow or rain they hadn’t predicted. Everything was peachy.
I was the last to leave. Like responsible hikers, we had left no trace of where we had spent the night. This was not exactly true in the sense of the outline of five tents that were unmistakable with the surrounding snow.
It seemed like there were tens of mountain passes to cross. Being the last one out, I had empty traverses and ridges in front of me, in scenery dominated by the yellow needles of the tamarack. Looking back I could see ranges upon ranges of mountains I had come over. There was a slight blur- tears had welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t help but get emotional when confronted with the reality of how epic the summer, the trek, had been. A half hour later, the same thing happened. I wondered if this would continue all day, with the regularity of a weather report given twice an hour on the 15s and the 45s.
I had said, stated, and proclaimed that there was no room for nostalgia in the uncertain weather of Washington in October. No room for it. Yet, if there was ever a time for nostalgia, this was it. I had met incredible people, forged new friendships, traversed an entire country, and experienced a lifetime’s-worth of fear, joy, and endurance. Every step was enjoyed in a true sense, even if it was loathed at the time. Or was my perception so boldly colored by the fact that it wasn’t raining or snowing.
It seemed like the day was a big zigzag. North, west, east, and south, every view was afforded by the PCT. Hart’s Pass, a Forest Service road providing the final escape to civilization, had vehicle traffic on it. Maybe this section was not as remote as it was drummed up to be.
Grinder came up the trail from the opposite direction. He was beaming in smiles, like someone who had finished his hike. “You guys have gotta get there.” Indeed, he had finished. He turned around at Monument 78 at the US-Canada border and was expecting a ride at Hart’s Pass. A hug of congratulations and farewell was only fitting.
There was plenty of time for reflection and observing big landscapes. Mostly everyone walked solo. This was a chance to begin to imagine life beyond the trail, which was there before the hike, and most certainly, would be there afterwards. There was a lot of guessing today as well. Which ridge would lead us to the long-awaited border? Was it that one, or the next? The PCT kept me guessing, right until the latter part of the day.
Wide Angle, Flyboxer, Shake’n’Bake, and I reunited at Holcomb Pass, elevation 5050. We had a 1,500 foot climb to Rock Pass. Switchbacks zigzagged back and forth up the hillside, past creeks and streams. A crumbly mountain ridge towered to the west. At the top of the pass was an alternate route we were clearly warned to avoid, which might provide an express ticket to the funeral parlor. Instead, switchbacks with their own big drops, led us down and then back up through a field of sketchy scree. I can’t imagine how terrifying the alternate would have been.
Shake’n’Bake found camp first. Being the good dude he is, he got the campfire going before doing anything else. I brought over a dead tree, which was probably too much wood to handle without an axe. PCT thru-hikers don’t typically carry them. We crowded our tents into the space that was there and got to doing what we did best- sitting around the campfire, talking, and eating. The last night on the PCT, in an alpine bowl under star-studded skies. Perfectly spent.