The final 500 miles of my trip stretched from the Columbia River to the Canadian
Border, and without a doubt were the highlight of my trip. It had taken me nearly three months, but I had hiked home. And hiking in Washington in August is ideal. The first few days from the Columbia were pleasant hiking but nothing special - though the flowers all throughout Washington were nice (especially near Chinook Pass), but as I approached Mt. Adams and hiked through the Goat Rocks toward Mt. Rainier, things became truly amazing...
I was thrilled to be back hiking in Washington -- it had been about five years since I had done any hiking at all in Washington. And everything combined to make my time in Washington almost perfect. Anyone who has hiked in Washington much knows how amazing it is. And for those of you who haven't, you should - well only some of you should because I would rather the trails and parks in Washington didn't become as crowded as Yosemite. In southern Washington the amazing views of Mt. Adams and its very distinctive glacier and farther north, of Mt. Rainier , which the PCT doesn't actually get within 10 miles of, dominate the views. Particularly impressive is the stretch of trail through the Goat Rocks Wilderness, where in places the trail has been blasted into the top of a ridge that drops away more than a thousand feet on either side.
I had beautiful weather for the first half of my hike in Washington. But approaching Snoqualmie Pass I had my first rain in Washington, and cloudy, damp, foggy weather dogged me most of the stretch of the PCT around Glacier Peak - which in other circumstances would have had some of the most amazing views of the entire trail. While back in Bellingham, August was entirely dry, that was because whatever moisture came in from the ocean blew on past and collected in the mountains. But truth be told I rather enjoyed the rain and clouds - other than occasional thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevadas and in Northern California around Etna I had very little weather that was reminiscent of much of the wet hiking that I remembered growing up in the Pacific Northwest. And I will take damp and wet over hot and dry for pleasant hiking any day. There's nothing like getting soaked by dew early in the morning as you hike to help wake you up.
Most people I grew up with would be rather surprised that I managed without a tent through a number of rain storms - my only shelter was a half poncho/tarp that doubled as my rain gear as well. But the properly pitched tarp served to keep me much drier than I often was in standard tents - the increased ventilation prevents condensation on the inside, the bane of many tents. While there certainly are circumstances I'd use a tent, I was ultimately quite satisfied with the performance of my tarp.
From White Pass for the first time I was hiking on stretches of the PCT that I had previously hiked, and serious cases of nostalgia for my Scouting days struck. The nostalgia kicked in even stronger as I came to places I hiked and camped even more frequently as a Scout - Kennedy Hot Springs was a favorite winter weekend camping trip, we hiked trails by Lake Chelan into Stehekin in the late spring several years. And for me the final stretch of the PCT perhaps had the strongest memories. I had hiked from Rainy Pass to Manning Park twice, the first time was only my second hike ever, and I did the hike again several years later with a group of younger Scouts.
The differences a dozen years makes... A dozen years and several thousand miles. While we spent a week hiking the roughly seventy mile section of the trail, this time I hiked it in three days, and that was slowing down to enjoy the scenery. I had first hiked the trail as an eleven year old with weak ankles, struggling to hike ten to fifteen miles a day, whereas now I was in incredible shape, and could put in fifteen miles before lunch without raising a sweat.
But oddly, it wasn't the differences that were most striking to me. The similarities were there as well. Despite the pain of my first long hike (I remember hobbling for weeks after the hike), I had enjoyed myself. I had fallen for the for hiking and camping, for just being out in the wilderness. The natural community that arises among people in the outdoors, even among people who don't know eachother at all, and how the bonds with those you do, friends and family, deepen just by spending time outdoors together. It's amazing how you learn to trust in yourself and your abilities, and how you learn to accept and even enjoy the fact that there are many things not in your control, how you come to accept them with a smile. Maybe I didn't plan it that way, but things will still work out.
My last few nights on the trail were in many ways a trip down memory lane, and a time for reflecting not only on the trip but on my life in general. I stayed in Stehekin, then near Rainy Pass, then Harts Pass, and then Hopkins Lake - all places I had spent time more than a dozen years earlier. The scenery those final few days was impressive, Hopkins Lake as beautiful as I remember it, and I can imagine no better way to have ended the trail than meeting my father (with whom I had hiked that final stretch before) at Monument 78 on the Canadian Border on August 31.
The PCT in Washington doesn't start out very impressively - the highlights along the first fifty or sixty miles from the border are occasional views of distant mountains - Hood to the south, St. Helens to the west, Adams to the northeast and (rarely) Mt. Rainier even farther north. But the stretch of the trail that goes through the Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks Wilderness Areas up through White Pass is great. The trail then continues north through Chinook Pass, a pleasant stretch as well. But the fifty miles or so immediately south of Snoqualmie Pass can be rather depressing because the terrain includes clear cuts in the distinct checkerboard pattern of railroad land grant property. The stretch north of Snoqualmie Pass through the border is my favorite of the entire trail. Although this time through I had almost no views of Glacier Peak through the fog and clouds, from Stehekin north the weather was perfect and from Rainy Pass to Manning Park was as incredible as it was a dozen years ago when I first hiked it.