5 soul-boosting reasons to hike the PCT

Die-hard “thru-hiker” or aspirational backpacker (like myself), a trip along America’s infamous Pacific Crest Trail has much to offer. Here we explore 5 reasons why hitting the trail is a no-brainer. Could a call to the wild be just the life-altering experience you need?

1. Fresh air anyone?

With 2,650 miles of primitive trail snaking all the way from Mexico to Canada, one thing the PCT has in abundance is space. In epic proportions. Rarely will you find yourself crossing a road or treading tarmac of any kind. How refreshing it is to walk a path absent of crowds and wafts of other people’s cigarette smoke. Whilst you’re enjoying this new-found clean air, expect to repetitively utter the word ‘awesome’ to describe the surrounding scenery, in a totally non-ironic way. Take for example, Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. Home to the oft-photographed “Knife’s Edge”, where you will inhale lungfuls of frigid mountain air as you scale across its perilous ridge. The remnants of an eroded stratovolcano, these sharp, serrated peaks resemble a Stegosaurus’ spine, perfectly sandwiched between deep valley drainages – vertigo-sufferers be warned!

2. The opportunity to finally disconnect

Unsurprisingly, the wilderness isn’t known for its high-speed data connectivity – in fact, good luck if you find any mobile signal out there at all! When was the last time you didn’t sneak a peek at your phone’s captivating screen for more than a couple of hours? Yet, being forced to switch off those swiping reflexes and tap-out of the bombarding online world is invigorating. It may take a few days to adjust, but once you do it’s incredible just how far your other senses are heightened. You will begin to appreciate your surroundings in a whole new light, the small things we otherwise miss, such as the vibrating tones of circling hummingbirds, or the fragrance of evergreen pines so indicative of Christmas. Call it mindfulness, a digital detox, or whatever you like, but clearing your headspace of over-stimulation to get in touch with your more intrinsic-self should be on everybody’s To-Do list.

3. Trail Magic

I probably shouldn’t even list it here, because the whole point of “trail magic” is the unexpected element associated with receiving a gift of unsolicited kindness. Yet, the PCT is renowned for attracting just this. Total strangers – with no hidden agenda – time and time again aid hikers by providing free rides into town, food donations, and even sometimes hosting them in their homes. At my lowest point on the entire trail, having hiked through rain for three days solid, a chance encounter with an American-Irish family reunion saved me. Welcomed into the fold, within 24-hours of being fed, laundered, and provided an actual bed, I hiked out not only stronger, but with a restored faith in humanity. You will undoubtedly meet a plethora of genuine people from all walks of life on the PCT. Often known solely by a playful trail meme, many a colourful character will become a life-long friend.

4. Appreciating simple things

There’s nothing like an extended trip along the PCT for highlighting the simple things we often take for granted. With an average of five days living in the wild standing between any facilities or food resupply, you will begin to appreciate things like never before. Take for instance, being able to drink clean water straight from a tap – without the need to source and filter it first. Simply mind-blowing. Not to mention how good it feels to remove days of sweat and grime with a steamy shower, or the pleasure derived from a hot meal that wasn’t once dehydrated. The modern world has desensitised us from the wonder of such utilities. Reaching them becomes an exciting, tangible goal. One that holds with it an unparalleled sense of achievement because let’s face it, it requires sheer grit and determination in the face of mental and physical hardship to make. After all, there’s no Amazon on call when you’re days away from the nearest extraction point.

5. Freedom

It’s human nature to lust after a sense of freedom. We didn’t always live crammed into cities after all. So where better than the vast American wilderness to embrace your liberty? Nowhere else have I ever experienced the thrilling delight of marching to the beat of my own drum. Gone were the days of bus timetables, clocking-in, and struggling to figure out my tax obligations. Life sure is liberating when the usual mix of daily worries are dissolved into a simple but variable rhythm: Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. What’s more, no two days are ever the same. Each morning I would awake – slightly sore from sleeping on the ground – to pumping of adrenalin supplied purely from the exhilarating anticipation of facing the unknown. Who knew if I would be mauled by a bear or fall into a ravine? I can’t say that ever happens to me in London.

If the above sounds tempting, but you find yourself short of the circa five months required to attempt hiking the entire PCT, just pick a section. Whatever section you choose to discover, one thing’s for sure: the trail will embed in your soul a vivid collection of images and memories that will last a life-time. So, why not try it for yourself? I am living proof that even the unlikeliest of backpackers can not only survive, but be completely moved by the wild.



For more information on hiking the PCT see: https://www.pcta.org
Free trail maps can be downloaded from: https://www.pctmap.net

Lessons from the PCT: Why People Quit

Mauled by bears.  Eaten by mountain lions.  Shot by poachers.  Murdered by a rogue driver whilst hitch-hiking.  These were some of the many fears that accompanied me onto the PCT in 2016.  But you know what?  During my travels through Oregon and Washington I never met a single person who departed the trail for any of the above reasons.

A wealth of information already exists regarding why thru-hikers quit.  I shall not attempt to cover the same ground.  If you want to read more about the PCT specifically, I recommend Halfway Anywhere’s annual thru-hiker survey.  The latest survey for 2017 showed a 52% drop-out rate* – based on 556 thru-hiking hopefuls who responded to the survey.  Of these, the top 3 reasons for an early trail exit were: Injury (29%); Snow (14%), Fires (14%).

*It’s worth noting that the number of people who actually quit is far greater.  Based on the number of thru-hiker permits the PCTA issued in 2017 (3934) versus the number of people reported to have completed the trail (461), the drop-out rate is closer to 88%!  But as a lot of people never report back after receiving their permits and there is no turnstile at the end of the trail, we can’t say for sure what the true success rate really is.  Most guess-timates average between 50-60%. 

Hard times

Year-after-year the stats identify obvious trends, but from my own trail experience the personal stories of those who didn’t make it to Canada were sometimes surprising.  A lot of this boils down to the diverse range of people hiking the PCT to begin with.  The vast majority of trail stories and images seen on social media are posted by young, fit, thru-hiking hopefuls which makes for a misleading representation.  Not everyone on the trail are thru-hikers.  And many are older, with different backgrounds and motivations for being out walking.  Let’s face it, your average 30-50 year-old with kids can rarely quit their job to go hiking for months on end!  There is also a wide variety in skill levels.  From your TOTAL amateur – such as yours truly – all the way to 80-year olds who have been backpacking and camping in the woods their entire lives.

I only set out to complete a 900-mile section of the northern route, so I mostly met long-distance section hikers on my travels, but there were some encounters with thru hikers who had endured everything that California had to throw at them only to call it a day once conditioned.  Some stories highlight human error or poor preparation, but others prove that not every obstacle can be mitigated against.  I’m a big advocate for believing that while completing a full thru-hike is a highly impressive feat, it’s more about the journey than the destination.  Meaning perhaps the rationale behind a persons decision to join the trail doesn’t actually require the completion of 2650 miles for the experience to be deemed ‘successful’.  Here are a few tales from the people I met who decided to head home short of their original goal.  I have changed or omitted people’s names to protect their dignity…

Our most challenging day: Leaving Crater Lake with a huge water haul and still having to sit besides the road melting snow to get enough hydration. I wanted to go home so bad.

Larry – was a veteran hiker and PCT advocate who spends a large amount of his retirement in the mountains.  Over the years Larry has been gradually completing the PCT in sections – a great idea I thought – and was very close to completing the entire trail when we met one afternoon in central Oregon.  Larry reminded me of a full-grown Boy Scout.  He had all the gear and knew how to use everything, which I found both entertaining and highly informative.  I learnt a lot from Larry from just a single shared camp, and I was sure he was about to smash the few hundred miles he had remaining.  But not everything is a dead-cert.  Within three days of saying our goodbyes I received an email from him confirming he had given up.  He described the ‘negative fun’ of his experience brought on entirely due to those pesky little fuckers: mosquitos.  Yes, their blood-crazed persistent attacks had transformed his solitude into a constant battle, one which he simply wasn’t happy to endure.

Zoning out from the mozzies

GI Joe was an 18-year old adrenaline junkie hoping to join the marines after completing the PCT.  We met him in Fish Lake Oregon, as he stumbled into the resort with a bleeding head and cut up legs.  Within minutes of his arrival the resort’s owner was on the deck with Joe’s mother on the phone in a frantic state wanting to report her son had an accident nearby and couldn’t be reached on his cell.  After being patched up from the blow to the head he sustained whilst climbing over a fallen tree in a lava field, Joe decided to quit.  Strangely he didn’t attribute his decision to the accident.  Instead he declared he was simply ‘bored’.  I was shocked at the time – his adventure had included ice-climbing summits on the side just for the fun of it, and he was still far ahead of most thru-hikers so he obviously possessed exceptional fitness, but conversely he had underestimated the mental grind.  Maybe Joe’s hike didn’t came with high stakes.  Maybe giving up made no material difference to his life.  Maybe he got a better offer for spending his summer.

‘Ultra-lite’ Lucy was a lady from Alaska with years of hiking under her belt – in fact she had previously hiked the entire trail when I met her travelling south-bound through Washington.  She presumably therefore knew what she was doing.  But after meeting her in 2016 another hiker told me about what happened the year before.  In 2015 Lucy set off her emergency beacon after getting lost in a snow field and had to be airlifted off the mountain.  You see in going ‘ultra-lite’ she had made the mistake of not being adequately prepared for cold temperatures: remember what the Boy Scouts say about being prepared?  She also elected to not carry a GPS which could have been used to navigate her way out of such pickle.  Maybe she was over-confident in her abilities, but hyperthermia actually happens in the wild so it’s best to do whatever you can to protect yourself and carry the necessary provisions.

Photocredit: Marc Fendel

The Drifters.  Trail life seems to attract some transient-types.  Not every person who sets foot on the trail does so for the physical challenge.  Some individuals who are perhaps a bit lost in life turn to the trail for solitude or companionship, uniting with strangers through the common hiking path.  We met one such guy on our second day in Oregon who certainly didn’t resemble your typical hiker.  He stood perhaps 3 stone over-weight – not that I’m judging – and never seemed to be in a rush.  The verbal trail grapevine later reported how the big guy had made it as far as Fish Lake before getting talking to an elderly couple in an RV.  They offered him some casual yard work at their home so he left with them just like that.  Another drifter made it to Crater Lake (where he started from I was always unclear), before getting so smashed on $1 cans of beer that no reports showed he ever re-joined the trail.  We left him in a drunken stupor in the middle of the free PCT campground ranting away incoherently, totally oblivious to the mosquitos.

Nature boy was out section-hiking through Oregon when he stood on a piece of glass in camp and had to hitch-hike out to hospital.  Shame he hadn’t thought to put some shoes on.

Stevo was off to college in the fall.  Beforehand, he and a group of buddies decided to hike through Oregon and Washington, inspired so it seemed by the legalisation of recreational pot in these two states.  But his buddies were not committed.  For them it was one big party which had lost its appeal by the time they reached Timberline Lodge.  They waited until Cascade Locks though to inform Stevo they were not going any further.  Stevo found himself in a dilemma because he, unlike them, was relying on the hiking experience for material inspiration for the college submission essay he still needed to write.  When the others departed for Portland Stevo persevered, crossing the Bridge of Gods into Washington alone.  This was it, he would show them.  But in less than 100 miles he realised camping alone was not for him.  It wasn’t what he had signed up for, in fact it made him very anxious, so he shared camp with us for a few nights before getting a ride back to Seattle.  I hope he managed to write that essay.

We had to get over Devils Peak somehow…

Snow. Those set to hike the full PCT will expect to inevitably encounter snow somewhere along the way, but those on shorter hikes may not.  Surely by late June one can enjoy a hike on the PCT without snow – right?  Well this wasn’t the case in Oregon when we started on 20th June.  An ‘exceptional’ snow year, meant that areas typically snow-free by then were still buried.  This caught a few people out, and not prepared for the white stuff they decided enough was enough.  These included an older otherwise care-free couple, who drew the line when it came to the possibility of loosing their tracking on Devil’s Peak, but also a young and highly experienced hiker.  He lived in Oregon and was familiar with the mountains, but his ‘downfall’ if I can call it that, was over-ambition.  You see, not anticipating how much the snow and tree blow-downs would slow him down, he overestimated his daily mileage and therefore hadn’t packed enough supplies.  This motivated him to walk a 14-hour day to reach the next resupply stop at Crater Lake, which by the time he made it his legs had seized up and he was walking like a robotic Bruce Wayne.  He admitted defeat and called his parents to pick him up.


Finally – and especially for any thru-hiking hopefuls out there – completing a long-distance hike often requires a large degree of luck.  Take this last hiking year for example.  In August, wild fires began blazing near Mount Rainer National Park closing a 70-mile section of the Washington PCT.  These closures lasted long into winter.  By March 2018 the PCTA still couldn’t comment on the resulting damage or say whether detours would be required in the months to come.  So following miles of pain, sweat, and blisters, one may have to accept the heartbreaking reality: it can all suddenly end thanks to Mother Nature.

Image credit: tokkoro.com

Day 69: Canada

Saturday 27th August

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2635

End: Manning Park, Canada, off mile 2659

Miles: 23.5

We enjoyed our last trail coffee and oatmeal sat in the dark.  Both of us were contemplative.  I am aware that during this trip we have both complained incessantly, but it still felt bittersweet.  We agreed that we will miss being out here.  The sense of freedom, and daily exhilaration cannot be matched.  We have craved amenities like a bed so often, but stripped of modern choices does make life simple.


As we left camp with Mark the sun had yet to rise and it felt cold in the wind.  For the first time I was hiking in the thermal bottoms I sleep in.  We winded up to Rock Pass with pink hues above us.  After descending down a scree slope we had another longer climb up the valley wall to Woody Pass.  Once we mounted it we stopped and looked out at the new range of mountains ahead.  They must be Canadian!  Our first sight of Canada.  Also visible was an increasing number of clouds; surely it wasn’t going to rain on our last day?!



We hiked on through a path of noble fir trees, which made me think of Christmas.  A ranger (the only person we had seen on the whole hike), passed and asked to see our wilderness permits.  Luckily Mark had bothered to fill one in!

Conrad, Mark, and Ranger Ian

Woody Pass – Canada is now visible!

From being on a pinnacle with 360 views at Hopkins Pass, we began to descend and enter forest cover.  The next miles felt slow as I was eagerly awaiting arriving at the border.  The closer we got, the more excited I felt.  I thought the forest was rather unremarkable, but Mark pointed out how rare it is to see pine, Douglas Fir, cedar, and blue spruce all growing together.  So I will take his word that it was amazing.  Instead I was caught up dealing with around a dozen blow-downs, one of which scrapped up my knee.  A parting gift from the US.

It’s real windy on Hopkins Pass

Hopkins Lake

Getting even closer
Oh come on guys!!!

Finally, after some switchbacks down, we could hear voices, and as the monument came into sight a small group of hikers were gathered there.  The border was not what I was expecting – where were the Mounties to greet us, or a fence or something?  Instead, a PCT monument stood next to a silver American-Canadian goodwill obelisk called Monument 78.  Probably the most striking part was the impact of a missing row of trees running up the hillside in both directions, enabling the physical border to be seen by air.

No way! KBCN hiked how far?!
The border can be seen in the line of missing trees

We took some photos whilst being awkwardly observed by the other hikers.  They told us that we looked far too clean to have walked all the way from Oregon!  I just smiled, inwardly acknowledging some pride over having personal hygiene standards.  They eventually left, having to turn around and walk back the same way they’d come – I didn’t get the full story, but for whatever reason they didn’t have permission to enter Canada.  If I had to guess, it was probably something to do with the pound of pot in their bags!

I didn’t even have to show my passport!

Reaching the monument – the effective end of the PCT – soon felt anti-climatic.  We had nearly 9 miles further to hike just to get back into the world.  Why couldn’t there be an air-lift service at this point?  We sat and had some food at a nearby river.  It was a beautiful spot.  From there we were on a mission to Manning Park, and didn’t really stop.  The sky had cleared and it now felt hot and humid.  Conrad was popping painkillers for his feet like they were going out of fashion.  I was stumbling a lot due to tree roots, crumbling trail, and mostly because I was tired.  The last 4 miles led us down a stony jeep road.

Two last cookies from the Stehekin bakery to mark the occasion

At around 5:30pm we resurfaced back into civilisation.  Well, it was a paved road at least.  We started walking along the road towards the lodge when a car pulled up with a smiling lady in it.  It took us a few seconds to recognise Roberta sat in the driver’s seat – I think we were all just zoned out.  I have never felt so happy to see someone!  As we piled into the car and finally took a seat it dawned on me that we were done.  The hike was officially over.

Over dinner in the lodge it still hadn’t fully sunk in.  I was grateful for Mark’s company in this last section, it was amazing how our little chance reunion happened.  I also felt a little sad at Dan’s absence from the group.  I had been half expecting to see him sat at the monument waiting for us, our hiking buddy from Kentucky.  Would we ever see him again?  He had kept us entertained with his stories and road-walking escapades since southern Oregon.

Look who we found in the bar! This is Dan smiling
Yay! Poutine!

Tonight we will get a bed and a shower.  I think I need some time to decompress and to let it all sink in.  I do feel a sense of achievement and triumph, but mostly right now I feel loss.  The trail had become our daily routine, and I will miss the wonderful people out there who enhanced the experience so much.  I am so thankful to the many who supported our efforts along the way.  Oh, and I should probably now think about monitoring what I eat!

Day 68: Nearly there

Friday 26th August

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2613.8

End: Rock Pass bushcamp, mile 2635

Miles: 21.7

As I go to bed tonight I am overwhelmed by the huge day we have had.  We are close to Canada and the end of our journey.  We are exhausted, but exhilarated, and camping-aside I think I will miss being in the wild.

Dan’s tent and Mark’s body-bag/ bivy!

In our meadow camp this morning we woke to a perfectly pink sunrise.  It warmed me and made me think that today would be a good day.  I was happy to finally capture a picture of a pika.  We had completed the hardest part of the climb to Harts Pass yesterday, so the initial miles were largely skimming along a ridge with views of the sun slowly hitting the mountains.

A pika

At Harts Pass Conrad and I took a wrong turn and hiked the wrong way for 10 minutes (uphill) before realising.  Thanks goes out to the GPS for that mishap.  This meant that we were separated from Mark, who probably thought that we had ditched him.  It took us a long time to catch up with him, but the trail on that section was incredible – skirting along and over a number of passes, and a section called the Devils Backbone.  We could see for miles, wide valleys below and changing foliage with the elevations.

For most of the afternoon we have been inside the Pasayten Wilderness area.  Each time we went over another pass I half expected to ‘see Canada’.  Will it have a giant maple leaf flag to welcome us?  The hike got tougher in the afternoon due to tiredness and another late climb to camp.  This one was only about 2.5 miles long from Holman Pass, but felt much steeper than yesterday.  Mark has been suffering with his back, and Conrad with his toe blisters.  I popped some ibuprofen to feel part of their gang – that and because my feet were cramping up.

Because of the miles we have made today and yesterday, it should be possible to finish tomorrow, half a day ahead of schedule.  And more importantly with one less night in a tent!  I am trying to keep cautiously optimistic though, as to achieve this will mean a near-record day.

Our (hopefully) last camp is situated near a small spring surrounded by a large open meadow.  We are sandwiched by Holman Peak and Powder Mountain towering above us.  I am disappointed that Dan didn’t join us here for a final campfire, instead deciding to hike on.  Mark lit the fire which had a mesmerizing effect on all around.  He then generously proceeded to give away his camp stove to a couple of [not entirely friendly] south-bound hikers.

It’s surreal that this would be our last night out here.  I was emotional as the sky illuminated into an epic rose light show.  Looking around at the expansive grandeur of nature surrounding us all I could think was: How does one come back to real life from this?

Miles to Canada: 14.7

Miles to Finish: 23.5

Day 67: Baked Goods Thursday

Thursday 25th August

Start: Rainy Pass, mile 2589

End: Tatie Peak Bushcamp, mile 2613.8

Miles: 24.85

This morning I was sitting on a wall in the trailhead car park cooking oatmeal when a white car pulled up.  I felt conscious as I probably resembled a hobo trying to keep warm in front of a stove.  It was only 6am.  The car window went down and our old friend Mark who we’d last seen in Trout Lake appeared!  I do love a trail reunion.

First light

Mark was dropped off by his friend Roberta to join us for this section.  He came bearing the gift of raspberry pie, so he was instantly in!  It was good to have some fresh blood with us today, even if Mark was carrying a new ridiculous ultra lightweight kit – his bag is only 15 pounds with food and water.  My bag must currently be at least double that.

Cutthroat Pass

We timed it well because the early morning hours took us up to Cutthroat Pass.  The views were expansive and incredible, with dramatic sculpted peak surrounding us.  I love mounting a pass, because not only does it mean it’s finally time for some down-hill action, but once at the top a whole new set of mountains and vistas appear.  On the other side we descended down briefly through Granite Pass, then was on a steady climb once again to Methow Pass.  The trail was visible for a long way in front of us as we could trace it skirting up and around the mountain.

Not long before we stopped in a shaded forested area for lunch we passed a 2600 PCT sign.  OK, so we haven’t personally completed 2600 miles from Mexico, but it reminded me that we are on the final countdown.  The lunch of cinnamon rolls (ridiculously heavy but impossible to resist) was one of my trail favourites.  Less than a mile after we continued on and a frightened-looking French guy hurried past us.  He said a bear had caught him by surprise right next to the trail a few minutes ago.  I wonder if it was the cinnamon rolls that attracted it?!

I kept my eyes peeled but was glad not to see any bears.  By early afternoon some clouds had come over, providing the perfect hiking weather – warm but overcast.  Unfortunately, and what we in England would call ‘sod’s law’, by the time we started our long afternoon ascent the sun was beaming.  At already 18 miles in, we commenced a big 13-mile climb up towards Harts Pass.

Harts Pass is the last road that we will cross before Canada.  It is unpaved, but for many PCT hikers unable to cross the border, it is the exit point from the trail. We made it 7 miles up the mountain in the strong afternoon sun.  I don’t know how I made it, because with the exposure and the constant uphill I was really struggling.  It felt like it took an eternity to reach camp.  It was particularly tough because we had been told conflicting information about the reliability of the stream there, so was hauling litres of extra water.  It turned out the stream was flowing fine.



Tonight Conrad and I are camped in a meadow at 6500 feet, with imposing cliffs above us.  Both Dan and Mark are nearby.  We are surrounded by a landscape of scree and rocks, so the stream and small meadow is a little oasis.  The local deer are rather put out by our presence here, as they nervously watched us whilst trying to graze.  There is also a flurry of noisy critters in the rocks right behind us.  I saw a number of pika, which are a rare tiny mammal with round ears and no tail.  For the first time on the trail we rewarded a massive days hiking effort with 2 dinners – mac’n’cheese followed by chocolate oatmeal.  Well why not?!

Miles to Canada: 36.3

Miles to Finish: 45

Day 66: Let’s finish this

Wednesday 24th August

Start: Stehekin, off mile 2569

End: Rainy Pass trailhead, mile 2589

Miles: 19.5

Although Stehekin is a wonderfully charming place we were ready to get back onto the trail today.  This is our last section, and we want to finish it.  Canada is nearly within reach – something that I’m not sure I ever really imagined I would ever be saying!

Setting off near High Bridge with Dan

The bus made one final stop at the bakery where we piled out and stocked up.  Maybe we should have left the oatmeal and dehydrated food out of the bag completely and just brought cakes for this last stretch.  I was so happy for the last espresso.  Joining us on the bus was Dan, and our new friends from Portland Leslie and Denis (aka Cartwheel and Neander-Tall).  There was a really feeling of camaraderie as we all have the same goal in sight.

Pastries secured. With Denis & Leslie

Due to the bus schedule it was a relatively late start, so I think nearly 20 miles was not too shabby.  The day took us mostly through The Northern Cascades National Park, and predominately uphill.  The climb was not too steep, but relentless in the sun.  We wound up and through a valley on the verge of Fall, traversing around the base of Frisco Mountain.  The views were not very far-reaching, mostly looking down into a valley, or surrounded in trees.  Sadly, those pesky black flies were out in mass!

The leaves are changing

At Maple Creek we enjoyed a delicious lunch of turkey hoagie, crisps and cookies (all from the bakery of course).  Whilst sat virtually on the trail for lack of shade, we met the first two park rangers we have seen on the entire trail.  They asked where we intended on camping (the Park runs on a permit system), and seemed disappointed when we said we would be out of the boundary in time for bed.  They are on a 4-day ‘foot patrol’, out hiking and getting paid for it.  Seems like a sweet gig to me…

Lunchtime water filter

Upon reaching Rainy Pass trailhead I was sad to think how we had turned down probably the best offer of trail magic we had received.  Yesterday Loren, who we had met on the trail back in Oregon, had offered to meet us here and take us back to his house for a meal, shower and a bed.  It would have been amazing.  Sadly, we have just gotten back on the trail so couldn’t lose another day, as Loren and his wife Becky live over an hour away.  I hope we are able to see them again one day.

The side of the road that probably had picnic benches!
What a state.

Our camp for tonight is not a glamorous one – our tent is sitting behind the Highway 20 trailhead toilet block.  We did intend to hike on for a few miles.  But after we had cooked dinner we had lost momentum.  Dan is also camped next to us, so we had to keep him company.  I just hope we don’t have a load of trucks driving up and down with their air brakes on all night…

Miles to Canada: 61.2

Miles to Finish: 70

Day 65: Stehekin Zero

Tuesday 23rd August

Start & End: Stehekin

Miles: 0

It’s been a leisurely day.  There are lots of hikers around who we seem to know, so a lot of the day has been spent chatting on the hotel’s deck overlooking the lake.  We checked out the National Park’s visitor centre right next door to get an update on the weather – it’s looking good.  Only a small chance of rain on Saturday, but hopefully it will hold out for us one more day!

Enjoying the interactive exhibits in the visitor centre

Later we rented bikes and cycled 2 miles to the bakery for lunch – well we wasn’t going to walk it!  I love that place.  We both enjoyed mixed berry pie and ice cream for dessert.

Inside the bakery
Blueberry pie!

The bike ride itself was a very scenic jaunt along the banks of the lake. There are odd little log cabins dotted around that look like they belong in a fairytale.

Door anyone?

Lakeside church

Personal admin and resupply tasks completed, we then finalised our return journey from Vancouver to California for next week.  I can’t believe that we are only days away from completing this mammoth expedition!  It’s just starting to sink in.  Only 4 camps left…

Day 64: Best Cinnamon Rolls EVER!

Monday 22nd August

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2564

End: Stehekin, off mile 2569

Miles: 5

I barely slept last night.  At one point I looked at the clock hoping the alarm was about to go and it was 23:30!  Maybe it was the anxious excitement of finally getting to ‘town’.  We woke at 5am especially early in order to cook oatmeal.  The stove issue we thought had been resolved was in fact a gas canister issue that has made boiling water very difficult for days.  After 40 minutes of trying Conrad went and borrowed a canister from another hiker named Tower.  I was so thankful for the coffee and hot food to get us going.

Bushcamp chores
It’s not quite light yet and we are hiking

A team of other hikers were dotted around nearby at the creek 5 miles from the Stehekin bus stop.  We all had the same plan in mind – get the first bus at 9am, and get to the famous bakery en route for breakfast.  There was an almost tangible buzz in the air as one by one people left all heading towards High Bridge.  It felt like a race mentality had taken hold of everyone even though they had plenty of time to make the bus.

It was the fastest 5 miles we have ever hiked.  The valley continued to undulate along the river.  The first hint of Autumn seemed to be creeping in, with leaves of orange, yellow and red in same places.  There was a lot of morning wildlife activity to be heard.  Woodpeckers were working away, squirrels were darting around hauling their nuts, and chipmunks were squeaking.  I bet it is truly stunning here in the Fall.

Looking down on High Bridge
The Stehekin River

We reached the stop outside the historic ranger station building an hour before the bus was due to leave.  We were probably the sixth people to arrive.  Most of them were familiar faces.  We all sat around chatting, and the time passed quickly.  When the big red vintage-looking bus appeared just before 9am, more than a dozen hikers were waiting.  We got near the front with Dan, eager to get into the bakery first when we made a quick stop there.

The historic ranger station, now unmanned
Our transport into town
Trashing the useless gas canister – so glad I carried it for 6 days!

The Stehekin bakery is a PCT institution.  Everyone we have met on the trail mentions it when Stehekin is discussed.  I now know why.  We grabbed coffees, 2 massive cinnamon rolls, 2 cookies, and a carrot cake.  And I am regretting now getting more.  We must somehow go back there to try out their pies and ice cream.  It’s only 2 miles or a bus ride from town.  The cinnamon rolls were delicious – I would go as far as the say the best I have ever had.  And I have had quite a few!

Stehekin isn’t so much a town, as a community.  70 people live here.  There is no cell phone reception.  We are lucky for the hotel wi-fi.  Conrad was sad there are no TVs in the rooms.  It is situated on the north-eastern shore of Lake Chelan in the Northern Cascades.  And despite being on the US mainland, it is only reachable by foot, sea plane, or by ferry.  This isolation gives it an old-world charm.

The bus followed the raging Stehekin River, before touching the northern tip of Lake Chelan.  The lake is over 50 miles long, but narrow in shape, and as we drove down its eastern side huge mountains towered over us on the opposite shore.  We were dropped off right outside our hotel, North Cascades Lodge, opposite the boat landing. All the buildings are wooden and rustic-looking, in keeping with their surroundings.

Lake Chelan from Stehekin

It struck me today on our short stroll to the post office how many people we had met along the way.  In the 200 yards, we were reunited with Zelda and Tarzan, who were about to board the ferry with their dog.  Next up was Aussie Sam, then Canadian  Sarah, both about to board the bus heading back to the final leg of the trail.  Then the M&Ms, who had busted a gutt and just about made the 6pm bus here last night.  It was great to see so many familiar faces.  We finally picked up our last resupply box from the world’s slowest USPS – thank you to the Marshmeiers for getting them all out on time.  Laundry, lunch, then a brief nap followed.

With Sarah before she boarded the bus
Last box secured!
A note of encouragement found in our box!

We decided to visit the only other real hotel here for dinner tonight.  The Ranch is on the bus route back to the trail, probably 15 minutes ride away.  It is billed as a ‘cookout’, with a different special each night.  Tonight was flank steak.  Not good for me, but they also had chicken a la carte.  A full bus arrived at the ranch.  It was a self-serve line, with ‘deconstructed’ pad thai and salad accompaniments.  The cinnamon raisin bread was my downfall.  I went a little crazy, drunk on the ‘real’ and wholesome food.  The desert options were a slice of pie or cake, with so many to choose from.  I had the largest chocolate cake, and Conrad the blueberry pie.  Let’s just say I didn’t feel well getting back on the bus; gluttonous fool!

In the ranch, sawdust floor and everything
Look at all those plates!
Eyes bigger than my stomach

Day 63: The 100 mile countdown

Sunday 21st August

Start: Miners Creek Bushcamp, mile 2542

End: Bushcamp, mile 2564

Miles: 22.4

I have enjoyed today’s hike.  Following a gradual, but long climb up to Suiattle Pass first-thing, the hike became far less physically challenging.  I was able to admire and soak in my surroundings without focusing on my own pain!  Conrad on the other hand was in pure misery.  His feet are causing him to stop frequently and pop painkillers.  I think he is now low on supplies.  There really is very little we can do to find a solution.

Going up

A few miles from camp this morning I spotted a bright fire closure sign pinned to a tree ahead.  For a few moments I think my heart stopped.  On further study it was the connecting trail to Buck Creek that was closed due to fire.  The fire zone map showed that we were camped last night about 2.5 miles north-west of the impacted area.  Lucky for us Fortress Mountain shielded the PCT from the blaze – if it still is burning?

We are starting to see more north-bound thru-hikers from Mexico now.  I would guess a handful a day.  After over 2500 miles they must be able to almost taste Canada.  They overwhelmingly have a distinctive look about them.  It says, ‘I am malnourished and haven’t washed or groomed my hair in months’.  A lot of them take pride in this ‘authentic’ hiker look.  I was observing a very tanned thru-hiker earlier and noticed that he just scooped up water from the creek and drunk it straightaway.  What a time-saving not filtering our water would be!  I’m not going to risk it though.  I cannot think of a worse situation than to be out here with the trots!

At Suiattle Pass

From the top of Suiattle Pass the sky was vividly blue and the rock formations striking.  We have been so fortunate with the weather in Washington.  It is a state usually associated with rain.  We started weaving down into a deep lush valley, whilst gazing out at the Northern Cascade peaks in the distance.  From time to time we would stop to pick blueberries, a habit we have been doing the last few days.  I told Conrad he needed the fructose for energy.  I couldn’t help but wish the berries were soaked in sugar and baked in a pie though!

By the afternoon clouds had begun to form above us.  It was a welcome relief from the sun, as long as it didn’t bring rain!  Following lunch and an awkward foot soak in a bug-infested creek, we crossed the South Fork Agnes Creek over a series of fallen-trees.  I was so happy I didn’t have to take my shoes off.

Bridge needing some repairs
Crossing South Fork Agnes Creek

The rest of the hike took us through the valley floor, over undulating terrain of ferns and berries.  At one over-grown point I noticed on the GPS that we were exactly 100 miles from Manning Park, our final destination!  Hurrah!  We made camp right next to a loud creek under tree cover incase the grey clouds turned into a storm.  We are only 5 miles from tomorrow’s Stehekin bus!

Our own personal mile-marker
Reading from the Halfmile GPS
Where did they come from?!