I knew this hike was going to be tough and I knew that there was going to be a lot of snow, but I didn't expect this. Upon arriving at Harts Pass, 30 miles south of the Canadian Border, I was encouraged by what I saw. There was snow but it was compact and very manageable. The snow increased as we made our way north to the border and pretty soon navigation was a challenge. Rob, a very kind man from PA, who I hiked that first day with had brought along a GPS. I was rolling with just maps and a compass. I got a little off course at one point but was able correct and re-find the trail. Things were looking pretty good after that first day.
The second day, the size of the task at hand became more apparent. I had hiked ahead of Rob in the morning and when I arrived at Rock Pass I was greeted by a giant cliff of snow. The trail stopped right at the top of a nearly vertical, approximately 1,000 ft. snow bank. I thought my trip was over. I checked my maps and guides, and sure enough, there was supposed to be some switchbacks here that would bring me down into the valley. I tested the snow wall and after a few steps of descent I took a slide. Day two and I was already self-arresting. I swung onto my stomach, set my ice axe into the snow and and came to a skidding stop on some scree, which took some flesh out of my knuckles.
Slowly, I climbed my way back up the slope and took a seat atop the bank. "That was scary", I thought and took a deep breath. Then I noticed, next to my self-arresting slide were a series of bear tracks. The bear had just clawed it's way right up this vertical slope. The day before I had seen cougar tracks going down a similarly precipitous route.
It was time to regroup, slow down and tap into some patience. My enthusiasm and thirst for speed had nearly cost me dearly. I got out some lunch and just looked at the pass for the next three hours; inspecting various angles and options.
After a long deliberation I decided that I didn't have to turn back. There was an option. I just had to do something I had never done before.
I had read up, visioned and acted out many basic mountaineering skills before my hike but I had never put them to the test on snow before. I knew that glissading ( a controlled snow slide) was part of traversing the PCT but I didn't imagine that my first one would be over 500 ft.
I broke the glissade into pieces. 4-5 slides into self arrests so I wouldn't pick up too much speed. It was a success, but only the beginning. Afterwards, I had to traverse half a mile in a very slow axe, step, axe, step, manner across some very steep side hill with another 500 ft. drop below me. If you are my mother, I hope you aren't reading this.
It was a tiring afternoon, but all in all it went quite well. I made it to the border, saw a beautiful black bear who was unaware of my approach as it was deafened by two creeks, and signed at Monument 78 on the Canadian-US Border. Now the hike could officially begin.
To summarize my trip through Washington, it was the most challenging and rewarding hiking I have done. I can't wait to post some of the photos I took. That will have to wait until I return. I've learned the power of patience and teamwork at such a deep level. In the Glacier Peak Wilderness I waited by the gorgeous glacial summit for nearly a day after not being able to locate the route of the trail for nearly a day before that. I got myself into some steep, dicey situations and ultimately I had to show some humility. Once again, the lesson was patience. At this wouldn't be the last time. Patience is needed to wait for the soft snow of the afternoon and the lower flow of water in the morning when fording the larger swollen ice melt creeks. Patience is needed when waiting in the blazing sun for someone to pick you up and take you to town for resupply. Patience is need to hike over 2,650 miles.
While I sat next to that glacier I knew that Nat and Jane were behind me; two great folks from Alaska. I knew that my map and compass weren't getting me through this section, at least not alone. I needed friends to feel safe and no one could have been more helpful in that moment than Nat and Jane. The three of us along with their GPS-PCT linked iphone apps allowed us to navigate trail-less trail for the next 6 days. We worked so well together, spotting glimpses of trail and gaps in the trees. Sometimes it was just a sawed off log that gave us piece of mind that we were still on track. Nat truly is a snow whisperer and Jane is one of the kindest, most positive, gifted conversationalist I have met. It was a joy to hike with them and I definitely miss their company. They're going to take some time off to go to a family gathering once they reach Cascade Locks.
Since Stevens Pass, about 200 miles from the border and the end of the North Cascades, the snow has been significantly less abundant. I'm happy to not have to deal with icy side-hill traverses everyday but this comes with mixed blessings as the clear-cuts and mosquitoes have become more abundant. Up in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, it was just us, the whistling marmots, thumping spruce grouse, bears and cougars. The only signs of humans we saw for five days were two F-18 jets which flew very close to our heads. But southern Washington has had immense beauty as well. There have been some giant herds of elk that rumble on in front of you like an earthquake for miles. Without exaggeration, I walked behind one herd for about 2 miles.
And of course, little compares to the beauty of the Knife's Edge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness or the brilliantly designed Cat Walk north of Snoqualmie. The beauty of this trail is boundless and I'm less than 1/5 of the way. Oregon awaits, but before that I need to go eat some barbeque at Shrek's Swamp, a fantastic trail angel's place who lives here in Cascade Locks. The generosity of kindness of trail angels and town folk have been astounding. Up in Baring, WA the Dinsmores have put together an idyllic Hiker Haven and I can only hope that throughout my life I can "pay it forward" as often as possible; living with intention, kindness and joy.