mile 2635.2-2656.5 (Castle Pass)
Thunder boomed, lightning flashed for a couple of hours, and the rain fell consistently all night long. Although my sleeping bag was damp, I was happy that no rivers of water had run through my tent. Everything was okay. At 6 in the morning, it was still raining. I had no incentive to get up. There were only 35 miles left for me to hike between here and Manning Park. My only concern was how long it would take me to get through the wash-outs. I figured I needed to add an extra hour’s worth of time for that. I finally sat up around 7, even though the rain continued to come down. I at least had to start getting ready. After eating my breakfast and doing my morning chores, I finally threw my stuff sacks and backpack onto the wet ground and began breaking down my tent. I would have to go through this routine only one more time.
As I walked back up to the PCT, I looked at my watch and saw that it was now 8:40! It was almost my latest start on this entire hike. I looked behind me to see a hiker bent over his pack, taking off some layers, and realized from the color of his shirt that it was Joat. He had obviously gotten up much earlier than I had! I started up the climb in the light rain and fog.
About an hour later, on my first tiny break, Joat caught up and we greeted each other. He seemed relaxed about the number of miles we had left until the border. I reminded him about the 9 additional ones to Manning Park and he told me that he wouldn’t be doing those, as he had discovered in Stehekin that his passport was expired. He would have to hike back to Hart’s Pass. I noticed a little animal moving around next to the trail. Joat thought it was a Pika, but I knew it was not. It looked more like a little prairie dog. Fortunately, it wasn’t at all scared by us and let us take some pictures.
Joat told me I should go on ahead because I hike faster than him. The rain continued to fall.
Several miles later, I found a rock to sit on underneath a tree, which protected me a bit from the rain. I had my hood up and was facing the direction from which I had just come, expecting to see Joat come down the trail. Instead, I was startled by someone coming the opposite way! He apologized several times for scaring me and told me that the same thing had recently happened to him. You can’t see or hear anything with a hood on!
I continued downhill until the terrain leveled out in the woods and started to climb again. Shortly after, I found a nice flat area along the trail to take a break and enjoy some coffee. The sun had finally poked out from the clouds and provided a bit of warmth. Joat came by and commented on my spot and then asked me about my stomach. I was still having problems, but hoped the rest after the hike would allow it to start healing. Again, he said that we were nearly there, but I informed him that we still had a tricky part to get through and told him how long it had taken Nurse Betty. He hadn’t heard anyone else talk about this and seemed surprised.
The climb took us out of the woods and into another open landscape.
I could see Joat’s yellow shirt on the path in front of me. At times, he would stop and look around, and sometimes, I would stop in the same places to see what he was looking at. We passed by a large canvas tent with a propane tank and lots of other items outside of it. No one seemed to be in there at the time. The trail continued to loop and climb. The grey clouds remained heavy and low, obscuring the views and threatening to rain again at any time.
Once I reached the top of the pass, I saw a blocked off trail in front of me and followed the switchbacks down. I could still see Joat, who seemed to be easily making his way along. Every so often, I would come upon a mound of gravel over a rivulet of eroded trail and very carefully make my way over it in order not to slip off the mountainside! I thought these must be the wash-outs and felt like I was managing them quite well.
Near the bottom of these switchbacks, on the trail ahead of me, I saw Joat stopped once again. His body was turned towards the mountain and I wondered what he was doing. When I reached the spot he was in after he had moved away, I saw that he had been talking to a person. This guy said hello and asked me how the washouts I had just crossed were. He was wondering if he needed to go back and check them out. When I said they weren’t too bad, he turned around and started following me back. I told him he should go ahead of me. He had no weight on his back and it was easy to see that he could move a lot more quickly than I could. I learned that he was working with the forest service to assess the damage from the wash-outs on the trail and figure out how best to repair them. He informed me that the bigger ones were coming up. There were about 8 trenches of approximately 10-15 feet across and 8-10 feet deep. My eyes got big. I hadn’t yet come to the real wash-outs! Up ahead, I could see Joat stopped again. “Are you stuck?” I asked.
He said he was fine. He just wanted to make sure I could get through it. I stared at the deep trench in front of me, without a clue of how to get through it. The PCT was not going to let me off easily! It had one more big hurdle to test me. “Follow the tracks down that way,” Joat called out to me. I didn’t see what he was talking about.
The forest service guy leapt down like a nimble mountain goat and scurried back up the other side. Joat took a picture of me as I stood there pondering what to do. Slowly, and unsurely, I made my way down into the trench, following the directions of the forest service guy. I felt so lucky that he was there to help me! “Is your pack secure on your back?” Joat called down to me. “It looks like it’s swinging to your left.” I told him it was fine and that he should go on. I didn’t want to hold him back. I tried to follow the general path that the forest service guy was taking, and once back onto the PCT, started asking him questions. I learned that on the night of the storm that caused these wash-outs, 36,000 bolts of lightning had struck the area. “How do they even know that?” I asked. He said he wasn’t sure, but they measured it somehow. I said it was good that it had rained last night because it made the gravel a bit more sticky. Every time I took a step into a trench, big rocks would careen down the slope below! In terms of repairing the trail, he said that they could either bring 2,000 tons of explosives up here or re-route the trail so it would descend all the way to the valley and climb back up. I thought they would have to do the second method and he agreed. I tried to take some pictures of the trenches, but found them nearly impossible to capture at close range. He said that is why he had to come check them out for himself. As I tried stepping down into one of the wash-outs, I found myself stuck. My entire body weight was pitching forward, but I couldn’t find a place to step! The nice guy reached out his hand for me to grab onto. How wonderful that he was here at the exact same time that I was to help me out!
“Are we all done with those?” I asked after we had walked on solid trail for a few minutes.
“Yup! That was it!”. I made it! We stood and watched a marmot on a rock for a few minutes and he asked me what other animal life I had seen on the PCT.
He told me that he wants to hike the trail someday, as well. I told him that I could tell it would take him about 3 months to do it! He was much more confident and agile than I was, but he understood that my body was extremely tight from everything I had put it through during the last five months and knew that would happen to him, as well. I felt like an old person. We continued to chat as we started to climb and I told him that one of the best parts about these long distance hikes was the realization that whenever you are truly in need of something, help always appears. “How could it be that you were out here at the exact same time that I was starting the wash-outs and was there to help me out?”. He said he was glad that I had experiences like that and I told him that it wasn’t just me that those things happened to- it was all of us. I said that I thought it was necessary to get out of your comfort zone to experience it- to be in a place where you are not so protected. He agreed.
Soon, it was time for him to head off in a different direction and for me to continue climbing on the PCT. I asked him what his name was and he said Morgan. He hoped the end of the journey would go well for me, and I told him I had just under 12 miles to get to the border and that everything should be all right. I thanked him for helping me out and then headed back up into the clouds. It was getting cold! I stopped for a snack break and had to layer up again.
I crested the ridge and followed the open trail. The clouds looked more and more threatening and I hoped the lightning would hold off until I was on the descent. For the last time on the PCT, I had to climb to just over 7,000 feet.
Once I reached the top, I looked out across the mountains as rain started to fall, knowing this would be one of my last views of the trail. My hands were freezing and I had to put on my rain gloves again.
Once I made my way into the woods, I found Joat in his green rain suit huddled underneath a tree, eating a tortilla. He told me that he was planning on reaching the border tonight. “But who is going to take your picture?” I asked. He said he had a mount on one of his hiking poles for his camera. I was planning on camping at Castle Pass tonight and hiking the final 3.5 miles to the border in the morning. As I continued down the mountain, I wondered who would take my picture.
Further ahead, I ran into a man hiking the opposite way. He asked if I was hiking the PCT and congratulated me. I asked him if there was any water on the trail in the next few miles, as I did not want to take the side trip to Hopkins Lake. He said there were several streams, which brought me great relief. He also said that there was plenty of tenting space at Castle Pass. “There’s a party there now”.
“A party?!”. Suddenly, I didn’t want to camp there anymore.
“I mean people- a couple,” he said. I wondered if it was Gumby and Double-It. Joat came along and stopped as well. We learned that the other guy was a grouse hunter and he gave us a lesson on the species and how to tell if one was a male or female. He had no hat or hood, and while it was raining on him the entire time that we stood there talking, he seemed as happy as could be. Joat finally excused himself and headed on and I followed. When we reached a stream across the trail, I stopped to collect water. Joat also stopped and remarked on what an amazing thing we had just done. He said that he had read that fewer hikers hike the PCT than climb Mt. Everest each year. “I heard that too!” I said. Before he turned away, I congratulated him on his finish and told him I might see him in the morning on his way back if I was up by then.
I sat and filtered my water in the cold and dampness and then continued on to Castle Pass. I saw only one tent. “Hi guys!” I said.
“Are you going to keep going to the border?” one of them asked.
“Nope! I’m stopping right here.”
They both exclaimed “Yay” in unison, which I thought was really sweet, especially given the fact that they had met me only for a moment in Stehekin. They asked who the other person was that walked by before me.
They said there was plenty of space to camp here. I walked to the area behind them and found a spot to start setting up. Part of me had been hoping that maybe they could give me a hand, but when I found out they were already ensconced in their tent, warm and dry, I knew I was on my own once again. The dark clouds blocked out the last rays of daylight even more quickly. It started to sprinkle again, so I moved as fast as I could in order to get my stuff sacks inside the tent and out of the rain. Once everything was in, including myself, I zipped up the tent, and as usual, found that it was too tight to close. I really didn’t want to go back outside and re-stake everything again. I pulled the zipper a little harder and suddenly the mesh ripped into a gigantic hole. I almost couldn’t believe it. My tent was now completely blown apart and there was nothing I could do about it. Luckily, it was my last night out here. As long as the rain didn’t come into the gaping holes, I would survive. As I cooked my dinner, Double-It yelled out to me, “Hey Wendy… Congratulations!”. I smiled, thanked him, and congratulated them, as well. “When do you think you guys will get up in the morning?”. They didn’t know. I told them I wasn’t a morning person and wasn’t going to get up early. Gumby said they weren’t either, but tomorrow was an exciting day. I didn’t feel so much excitement, myself.
I tried stuffing an extra shirt and a bandana into the gaping holes, but they fell right out. Oh, well. All I could do now was get inside my sleeping back and try to go to sleep.