7/14/17 to 7/18/17
Harts Pass to Canada Border to Rainy Pass
I wake at dawn to birdsong in Premila’s backyard in Bellingham (dawn comes so early in the north!) and a few hours later, twenty or so of us are packed into two large vans, heading for Harts Pass. Premila is an incredibly kind and generous trail angel who has arranged all of this (thank you Premila!!) and I experience waves of gratitude as I watch the thick forest go by outside the van window, the leaves of the trees hazy with that soft pacific northwest sunlight. Gratitude is what I’ve been feeling in general, lately. So much gratitude! Premila’s daughter, Swept Away, is with us- Swept Away southbounded the PCT in 2014 (and I met her that year on the Mt. Whitney trail while doing the L2H!) and is doing this first section again. Her labradoodle is in the van too, and I give it lots of pats. It is good luck to pat a labradoodle before a long journey, as the old saying goes.
It’s hot at 3:30 when we finally reach Harts Pass and I am shaking with excitement and pent-up energy after a week of no exercise travelling ever-northward getting all the things done. Also jittery with sleep deprivation and just sort of high off all of it, the anticipation and the bright yellow sunshine on the green mountains and the wild unknown.
We start walking and my heart is pounding and then my body remembers, I know how to do this. The PCT is gentle and kind, the most glorious single-track on god’s green earth and the mountains in the north cascades are massive and exploding with flowers and dotted with cute snow patches and my god, what a time to be alive.
My heart won’t stop pounding until 8pm when I’ve gone 12.4 miles and I’m plum wore out and I pitch the mosquito net part of my tarp in a dim forest and wriggle into my sleeping bag against the cold. I’m not in shape so I know what’s coming and I laugh darkly to myself as I drift off to sleep…
I dream I have to kill a bear. It’s not too hard, turns out, once I set my mind to it. What? I think when I wake up, then I remember where I am. My shoulders and feet are a bit sore today, but not too bad. Tomorrow, then…
This is my fourth time hiking this stretch of the PCT from Harts Pass to the border, since in 2014 I turned around once reaching Canada and hiked back to Harts Pass (my passport had expired). Once I turn around today it’ll be my fifth… I recount memories as I pass them on the trail. Here’s the long uphill where I felt tired in 2014, here’s where the washouts were, here’s where we took a break to watch the sunrise, here’s where Ramen and I camped our last night in 2013, when it snowed. Here’s the stream I got water when my hands were numb.
Paintbrush, columbine, lupine, Alpine Meadow’s Greatest Hits. All the green things tryin to procreate before winter comes back in two months. A week ago there was snow across the trail in this section, now there’s not and we don’t need our microspikes and ice axes. Some of the people who started with me are already in good trail shape and have packs the size of peas and they fly by me, but I don’t mind. I know the price they pay for packs that light- cold-soaked couscous in a peanut butter jar and a dropper bottle of bleach to treat their water and only deet between themselves and the mosquitoes at night. “Go! Go!” I think when they pass me, and I imagine them turning the mountains beneath their legs. Others have packs like mine with like 6 luxury items and a sleeping bag that’s warm even on the coldest nights. And of course, as at the beginning of any triple crown trail, there are a few people with 60 lb packs who also don’t know how to navigate, even on a trail like the PCT, and on day 2 they’re already crippled by the weight of their packs, sitting on the side of the trail crying and complaining. I feel compassion for them but I also feel kind of irritated because they did literally no research and didn’t know what the trail or conditions would be like or what backcountry skills they would need and there is so much assumption and entitlement in that and it’s such a white person colonizer thing and it really rubs me the wrong way, like Chris McCandless going to that bus in Alaska with a sack of rice and no skills and not knowing the river would be impassible and then dying? Like do your homework maybe and check you arrogance? And then I realize I’m being judgmental and also ranting in my head and I try to stop but it’s hard.
I don’t really feel anything at the canadian border, and there are lots of biting flies. I try to take a good selfie and then turn around and begin the long plod uphill. I’m getting tired but frick this section is beautiful.
I camp at Hopkins lake which is like a pretty jewel set into a bowl in the mountains. 24 miles today.
The cold wind whooped all night and I was awake, although I know I must’ve slept. At 7 a.m. I pull myself up to find that my body is so sore I can barely move.
Ah, there it is.
I stand up and pain zings from my shoulders to my hips to my feet to the backs of my knees. Beginning-of-the-trail-pain. Old friend. I’ve been waiting for you.
Maybe 24 miles yesterday was too much. I’ll stick with 20s now, that should be doable, I hope.
I feel like I’m stuck in a wierd reality where I’ll pinball back and forth between Harts Pass and the border, forever. At last I reach Harts Pass and am then beyond it! And the illusion is broken, and I’m free. It’s cold today with clouds and the trail drags me up and then down again (gently) and I camp in a meadow after 19 miles.
I wake once shaking under the cold stars to pee and then sleep till 8(!!), and in the morning I’m a new person. Everything is grand today, and the mountains are bursting with light. I’m invincible! No, wait, I’m not. Zing! Goes the pain. I want to be strong already! But that takes time. How long? A month? I argue in my head about it.
The world is a painting of craggy peaks and wildflowers and I’ve had the same song stuck in my head for three days. I leapfrog some other hikers and make some smalltalk and that feels good. I accidentally hike 8 miles without water because I forget to check the water sources but it’s chill. I’m hiking the PCT inside out, all the downs are up and the ups are down…
I drop down into the lush lower elevation rainforest where the big trees are and the tangles of plants and I thank the trail crews (bless them!) who miraculously keep these 2,660 miles free of debris so that us ner-do-wells never have to lift our feet more than six inches off the ground. Hiking other trails and routes since the last time I was here has given me a lot of perspective, I realize, as I climb over one very cute and non-offensive blowdown that I’m sure someone will photograph and post to the PCT facebook pages with lots of dire warnings.
Down down down into the rainforest that eats the bright sunshine and exhales the most oxygenated air. Impenetrable understory and towering conifers and fungus and a million interconnected things. It’s a living creature, I can almost hear its heatbeat. I stop for a moment, in awe. Hello forest, I say to my friend.
I could try for 25 miles today but my tendons are telling me that if I do that, I’ll break, so 21.5 will have to do. At any rate, I’m grateful to get to spend a night in this magic low forest. There is so much pleasure in eating hot soup sitting on the ground after soaking my aching feet in the icy stream water. So. Much. Pleasure.
I climb out of the forest and am deposited once again on ribbon trail through alpine wonderland with its riot of flowers and 15 miles later I’m at Rainy Pass, where highway 20 wends its way through the mountains. My next resupply box is in Stehekin, 20 miles further down the trail, but right now I could hitch to Winthrop, where I’ve never been… I sit in the dirt eating warm salami and think about it. My whole body aches and I’m pretty dang ty-ty, and in Winthrop I could wash my buttchafe. Fuck it. A sprinter van at the trailhead is going to Winthrop, they’ll give me a ride. Winthrop is hot and bright and old-timey western. In the hostel bathroom I discover that sunscreen is caked on my face in a wierd patchy way, and probably has been for days. I procure a cute bunk and sit in the yard post-shower, listening sleepily to other hikers talk about their insoles and whether or not we’ll need our microspikes for the next section (no-one knows) while my body furiously sends new cells to my knees ankles feet for repair. It’s good to be here.