From Glacier Pass to below Tamarack Peak
I peak outside the tarp – nothing but gray fog. Any excuse to turn over and go back to sleep… but J is soon shaking me awake. The fog is just a tease, burning off quickly, and behind it there is blue sky. Blue skies! Here it is, October in the North Cascades, and we have blue skies. We eat our candy bars and instant coffee and follow it up with a side of switchbacks. Mountains for breakfast today!
We climb out of Glacier Pass by going up a neat zigzag of trail that I find aesthetically pleasing. It’s on a south-facing slope covered with tawny grass and ruddy blueberry bushes. The blueberries just a few days ago were firm, plump, and heartbreakingly delicious. The blueberries here are reminiscent of that… but slightly past. If the blueberries are over, it must be just about time to finish this trail. Less than 50 miles now.
The valley below us is still shrouded and mysterious in a morning inversion, but the larches seem to actually glow in the full sun. I had been hoping to see them with blue skies behind them – all my dreams are coming true. J and I cruise the ridges above the deep green valley floors – we’re so good at walking these days – in a cloud of euphoria that is exactly how I imagined hiking the PCT would be, before I actually started hiking it. I was right after all.
There is pretty good road access to the trails in this area, and it’s Sunday, and we run into more day-hikers than we seen since anywhere. I’m so glad they’re here. I’m so glad the people in the cities and the towns around here woke up this morning and saw this day for what it was: a gift. “Congratulations!” I effuse to the hikers we stop to chat with. “Congratulations! You are living your life! You could be anywhere, doing anything, but you are here! You made the right choice!”
They think I’m nuts. My happiness is untouchable.
Biscuit catches up with us at a snack break. “If one more old lady says ‘really??’ when I tell them I’m a PCT hiker, I swear…” she sputters, frustrated.
“Again?” I laugh.
“Always!” she exclaims. “What do they expect a PCT hiker to look like anyway!”
With rosy cheeks and warm brown eyes and hair that, cut off thousands of miles ago, has grown back into a little lion’s mane, Biscuit does not fit most many people’s preconceived idea of what a long-distance hiker should look like. Mostly, it’s that she looks healthy and fit and strong, not emaciated, dirty, and gaunt. Personally, I think it makes people uncomfortable because it challenges their ideas about what is possible for themselves. If this young woman, by herself, can walk from Mexico to Canada, and can do it while being healthy and happy and self-sufficient, what’s really stopping them? (I don’t really get this question myself. J’s beard lends us instant legitimacy – which is kind of funny, because he looks exactly the same as when he is NOT hiking the PCT.)
Once Biscuit is done grumbling about condescending old lady day hikers, we all grumble about being thirsty. Somehow we all missed the last water source. I’m sure there is a lot of water to be found around here, but none of it is above treeline on the talus slopes, where we are hiking. I haven’t been this thirsty since Pacman was nearly passed out with heat exhaustion on the side of the road in central California, back in our bicycling days. Our water finding skills have gotten soft.
Coming up to Hart’s Pass, we walk through a burn area. Between the grass and the sunshine and the blackened trees and being so damn thirsty, it is weirdly similar to Southern CA. As if the trail was a loop, bringing us all the way around. Around lunchtime we make it in to Hart’s Pass, the last road crossing of the whole PCT, and a cardboard sign with an arrow says: Trail magic.
Three guys have come out from Seattle for the day, just to give us sodas and cook us these abominations called Hot Mamas involving grilled sausages, chilis, cream cheese, and more cheese. Just looking at them flips my stomach, which hasn’t been quite the same since the stomach flu. I’m really just grateful that they have water.
We hang out for a long time. Hornsbee is there, a hiker we last saw at PCT days in Cascade Locks. He finished the trail a couple days ago and hiked back to Hart’s Pass for a hitch out (no passport = no entry to Canada). A hiker we have never met before today, Tailor, is here as well. He hiked the first seven hundred miles of the trail with Tintin, who is one day ahead of us, and he’s trying to catch up to finish the trail with her now too, come hell or high water. He grabs a soda and hits it. Seahawk and Bumblebee catch up with us again as well.
It’s nice to just sit at a picnic table in the sun surrounded by my friends.
A couple hours off in the middle of day downgrades our mileage goal. We’re sort of hoping that Switch will catch up with us before the end. We end up all walking into a little camping area surrounded by larches in the golden hour of the afternoon, where we set up camp with Biscuit, Seahawk, and Bumblebee. It’s a good campsite. I can’t believe this is almost over.