The Pacific Crest Trail is a fickle bitch of a mistress, and the way to Canada (or Mexico) is (un)paved with blood, sweat, and tears (literally). As a result, sometimes (most of the time) things fail to work out as expected.
Nowhere was this more true than in Washington.
Not once, not twice, but thrice denied by the PCT in Washington, my journey became more than a lengthy backpacking expedition. In a matter of days, my carefree adventure quickly became a test of survival.
Hiking through rain and fog, my wolf pack makes its way to the town of Skykomish.
We spend the night and are faced with a difficult decision come morning: stay put and wait out the impending storm, or take our chances pushing through 120 miles of wilderness to the next resupply (a wilderness devoid of roads and places to bail in case of emergency). After careful consideration, we decide to push on into the storm (I know, probably a great idea).
Around ten miles north of Skykomish we encounter our first two hikers – they are heading the wrong direction.
Our stop and chat revealed that after hiking twenty-five miles out and camping in the storm, they decided that they weren’t equipped to handle the weather. It is sad to see them retreating, but we feel strong and well equipped.
We press on.
The weather begins to worsen, and it isn’t long before we run into two more hikers, also heading back to town. They sing a similar tale of ill-preparedness, and wish us luck; I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad concerned at this point. But we are five strong hikers, and I feel that we can deal with a few days of misery if it means getting through this section.
Again, we press on.
Soon our pack is spread out across miles of trail. Mr. Indieand I are ahead of the other three wolves, and since hypothermia threatens anyone daring enough to stop for too long, waiting to regroup is not an option (I hope they catch us at camp).
Night is approaching as we climb above 5,000 ft / 1,500 m and begin to encounter snow. Expecting more precipitation during the night, Indie and I hike until dark to get below the snow line (or so we think).
Nobody is catching up to us tonight.
We make camp, freezing cold and soaking wet, and leave a note on-trail in the unlikely event our mates press on into the night. Dressed in all my clothing and mummified in my sleeping bag, I lay shivering whilst attempting sleep. My slumber is short-lived.
I awake to frigid darkness and an unnerving sound – my tent is being bombarded by heavy snowfall. Shit, there is nothing I can do. I go back to sleep, still absolutely freezing.
The next time I awake it’s morning. I can see that my entire tent is covered in snow. I call out to Indie who refuses to believe my claims about said snow. After emerging from his tent he is quickly convinced.
We sit in our tents deliberating. Do we wait for our friends? Do we continue without them? Do we turn around and go find them? What if we go on and they turn around?
We ultimately decide to hike back a couple of miles to the small campsite we left for them. If we find them, great, if we don’t, we will figure something out then.
Turns out they are camped exactly where we thought they would be, and they are all still in their tents. They are incredibly relieved by our decision to come back and find them. We then make the difficult decision to head twenty miles back to town instead of another hundred through storm ridden wilderness and fresh pow-pow.
On our way back we encounter several batches of brave souls heading north, and like those who advised us, we advise them, and like us, they decide to ignore the warnings (all of these hikers would eventually be turned around back to Skykomish).
After horribly long miles through flooded trail and freezing rain, we make it back to the highway. Near hypothermic we pile into the ski lodge where we attempt to dry our gear and arrange a ride to Seattle.
One car ride and two nights later, my wolf pack attempts to forge a battle plan for the remaining miles.
Following much deliberation, two of us decide that we are going to get to the US/Canada border no matter what it takes (hiking or no hiking); two of us (Mr. Indie and Mr. Moist) declare the hiking season officially closed.
Enlisting the assistance of a trail angel named Carol, Mr. Appa and I manage to make it to the final resupply stop: Stehekin. However, doing so requires taking a ferry across Lake Chelan, bypassing 100 miles of trail – I have officially skipped.
We stay the night in Stehekin, and awake early the next morning planning on a thirty. Twenty miles into our day that plan changes.
We come across a large group of hikers gathered at the base of Cutthroat Pass, and expecting some trail magic, we approach excitedly. It was not trail magic.
They tell us that the pass is covered in waist-deep snow and that after four hours of breaking trail they only managed around six miles. This is not good. We decide to trust them on the conditions.
The decision is made to hitch to Winthrop for the night. While eating dinner we meet two guys who recognize us from the ferry we took the previous day, and they invite us to stay with them for the night. Thanks, guys.
Deciding that the snow at Cutthroat Pass presents too large an obstacle we now decide to give the trail one more shot from Harts Pass.
Harts Pass is the northernmost point on the PCT accessible via road, and it sits a mere 60 miles from the Canadian border. Now equipped with snowshoes we are driven up to the pass and things are looking good – the skies are clear, the ground is free of snow, and spirits are high. But this fantasy is short-lived.
Approaching the top of the pass we begin encountering snowfall. Light at first, but increasingly heavy as we gain altitude. Before long we are in some of the thickest snow I have ever seen, and we can see the snowbanks growing with each passing minute.
Reaching the top we climb out of the car and into a beautiful winter wonderland. A winter wonderland that might very well be the death of me. We put on our packs and head towards the trail. Wait, yes, the trail, where is the trail?
We can’t find it.
Thirty minutes later we are no closer to finding the trail than when we started. The cold causes our electronics to malfunction (GPS included), and we decide that to hike into this would be an incredibly foolish act of stubbornness. Even with snowshoes, we are not prepared for this kind of weather or terrain.
We turn around for the third time and head back to Winthrop.
The Pacific Crest Trail has beaten me. GG, friend.