What the Trail Taught Me

What the Trail Taught Me

It is difficult to put into words how the trail changed me, or how much it taught me; I just know that I am not the same person I was when my tender feet first stepped out of Blue Moon’s car and into the powdered dirt at the southern terminus.

It isn’t always obvious to me how much I have changed, or how much I learned. It pops up in the smallest ways, and often when, and how, I least expect it. It was not one big lesson; it was hundreds of smaller lessons that now weave their way throughout my daily life.

My mom says I never crawled; I was one of those kids that went right to walking. This is not me bragging about my only other athletic feat before the PCT, it’s an explanation of a common problem I have had throughout my life. I never liked the “curve” in the learning curve. I would rather go right from start to finish. From not knowing to being an expert. From idea to goal. From concept to finished plan. I have no problem omitting the tedious bits in between. We live in a world of instant gratification. We live in a world that promotes success without having to try too hard. The trail taught me to appreciate the curve and that there is beauty in the process.

Since the PCT, I find myself tackling everything the same way we tackled the trail, step by step, section by section. It doesn’t matter if today’s progress is less than I expected, because tomorrow will be easier, and I will be stronger and know more than I did today. It doesn’t matter if I take an unplanned break; all that matters is that I don’t lose forward momentum and that I never give up. You don’t walk from Mexico to Canada in a day; you walk there step by step, day after day. The process works, and I trust that it will, every single time.

I learned that I am strong; stronger than I ever thought possible. It is fascinating to me how far you can push yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally if you want or need to. This knowledge alone has expanded what I view as “possible” for me to accomplish.

There is magic in finding your path and following it; it’s as if your soul connects to the center of the universe. Call me crazy, but I have felt it, seen it. Heaven and Earth will move for you when you follow your destiny.

Well if that’s true, why did we get snowed out in Washington? I wondered that too, for two long years. Why, when everything seemed so perfect, when I felt so connected to something so much bigger than myself, when I wanted it so bad, were we denied our finish?

A lot of what I learned came from being snowed out in Washington. They were lessons I needed, and lessons I would not have learned any other way. Funny how it’s often the worst of times that end up teaching us the best of lessons. Getting snowed out in Washington was a part of the journey I have come to accept as having been necessary.

I grew up in a family where no, meant no. It didn’t mean “maybe later,” or “ask your dad,” or “if you keep asking, I will give in.” No, was just no. I am happy my parents chose this tactic, lord knows “no” is a huge part of adulting. The trail, however, taught me that no doesn’t necessarily mean no. When it comes to your dreams, no simply means: you aren’t ready, not right now, not like this, or try harder.

The end of the trail was that much sweeter because we worked for it. It wasn’t handed to us; we pursued it relentlessly, as we had the time until it was ours. In doing that, I learned to pursue my goals with equal relentlessness. I learned to never give up on myself, or my dreams. Applying this lesson is a work in progress.

On our through hike of the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand (2015), I learned an entirely new set of lessons. The most important of which is to be very specific about what you ask for. That, and that sometimes prayers are answered in a completely different way than you want them to be.

Last summer, Bearclaw asked me if I wanted to thru-hike the Great Divide Trail in Canada. I didn’t and to be honest, I still don’t. Not because I don’t want to spend three months wrapped in the loving arms of Mother Nature; that I do. It was deeper than that, and the answer lies in a lesson I had been taught a long time ago: a lesson, about lessons.

When I was growing up, I had a mentor named Gloria. I cleaned her big beautiful bed & breakfast for eighty pesos a day. Gloria was a saint. A recovering alcoholic, she would have told you differently. She had made plenty of mistakes in her life; mistakes that had cost her dearly. Not wanting me to make those same errors, she took me under her wing.

One of the most important things she taught me was to look for the lessons. She taught me that our entire purpose for being on this earth was to learn and grow. Everything that happens to us, good or bad, happens for a reason – to teach us a lesson. She taught me that I would never be done learning and that if ever I thought I was done, I would be wrong.

“Everyone you meet has something to teach you,” she would tell me, “even if it’s as simple as how not to behave, or how not to treat other people.”

It was my responsibility to seek these lessons out and to learn them. You have no idea how many times I heard the phrase, “And what did you learn from that?”

At sixteen, it could be rather annoying. Sometimes you don’t want to learn a lesson; sometimes you just want to complain that life isn’t fair, damn it.

“If you feel like you are stuck in a rut,” she would tell me, “it is because you aren’t learning the lesson you are supposed to. If you find history repeating itself, it’s because you didn’t learn the lesson the first time.”

I was destined to repeat the same mistakes until whatever it was I was supposed to learn had finally sunk into my thick skull. Gloria did not beat around the bush.

This advice has served me well. Even though Gloria has been gone for many years now, I regularly hear her in my head, “And what did you learn from that?”

Thru-hiking is an easy rut to get into. On the trail, you feel so strong, so connected to everything. You see everything so clearly. Life seems so simple, so pure. The real world makes no sense. Then suddenly, the trail ends, you are broke, and you’re forced right back into that nonsensical “real” world to make money to go back out and hike. There are so many thru-hikers that live for their next hike; there is only hiking. I get that. I can respect that. I’ve been there.

For me, I have chosen to accept the lessons the trails I have hiked have taught me. I choose to get out of the rut. Life is far too short to be stuck in a rut. There are too many other things I want to experience, too many other lessons I need to learn, and too many other ways to learn them. I am grateful for the lessons my thru-hikes have taught me, and am excited to see how I can use them to fulfill my dreams and accomplish my goals.

Bearclaw and I have so much we want to do, and so many places we want to explore. We know, with every fiber of our being, that the lessons we learned on the trail will forever be with us, and will help us in the next adventure life throws our way.

That’s not to say one day we won’t find ourselves on another long trail, but for now, we are working towards other goals, and whatever adventures they bring.

Life truly is a great adventure.

Back to Reality…Nah…

Back to Reality…Nah…

The party was over; Krav and Littlefeet needed to be getting home. Krav had to be back at work, and Littlefeet needed to wrap his brain around life after the trail.

Bearclaw and I still had a few days of vacation left and had decided we would head back to Rainy Pass and hike south to Stehekin. Bearclaw loved ferries. Stehekin and the three-hour ferry ride on Lake Chelan had been on his “must do” list since we had initially started planning our thru. To say he was disappointed we had missed it was an understatement.

The fire closure technically only encompassed the area from the Suittle River Trail where we had exited to get to Sedro Woolley to Stehekin, but the offical detour skipped the entire section because there was no way to get back to the trail anywhere before Rainy Pass. Since our car was parked in Blenheim, which could be accessed by the far side of the lake, it seemed like a great way to prolong the trail while slowly working our way back to the car. The trail had been such a huge part of our lives for the last three years, that we were having a hard time letting it go.

Dad and Marianne still had a few days before they needed to head north for a family reunion, and generously agreed to use that time to make another loop south of the border, to drop us all off where we needed to be.

We left Manning Park midmorning and began the journey west towards Vancouver. Along the way, we made a handful of stops – namely to read roadside signs and to get coffee and breakfast from the Canadian institution that is Tim Horton’s. If you’re at all Canadian, “You’ve always got time for Tim Horton’s.” This was no exception.

Despite having four dirty hikers in the backseat of the van, the border crossing was surprisingly easy. All of us were more than a little disappointed that the border agent barely even glanced at our PCT border crossing permits. After all, three of us had gone to great lengths to make sure we had them, not once, but twice.

We dropped Krav and Littlefeet off at the train station in Bellingham so they could make their way south. Saying goodbye to trail family is never easy, but at least this time it wasn’t saying goodbye in defeat. Together we had persevered, and despite the odds, we had won. This was a happy goodbye. A “screw Washington, we did it” goodbye.

Dad, Marianne, Bearclaw and I continued back towards Rainy Pass, stopping and playing tourist along the way. Eventually, we stopped at the Goodell Campground and set up camp under the giant trees along the banks of the Skagit River. While we admired the trees, we also feared for them and debated how flammable they might be.

Across the Highway, the mountainside was on fire. The campground host was “keeping an eye on it” because there was no one left to fight it. All of Washington was on fire. Entire towns were being evacuated. There just wasn’t any manpower left.

“Should we be worried?” We asked.

He assured us, we would be the first to know if we were going to be evacuated. We were the only people in the park, so we hoped so.

The air was still. Not so much as a whisper of wind was blowing, and so we relaxed and enjoyed the opportunity to spend some more quality time with my dad.

We had a leisurely morning, making it back to Rainey Pass at midday. Saying “good-bye” to dad was hard, I love my dad. We tried to convince them to join us, but they didn’t have any gear, and the four of us were not going to fit in our little three man backpacking tent. One last hug, and then we disappeared into the forest.

Our goal was 14.31 miles to Bridge Creek Camp. This seemed more than doable, seeing that it was a downhill run the entire way.

The trail was pleasant as we wandered in and out of the forest and overgrown avalanche shoots. The views were lovely, the weather was warm and dry, and the trail was smooth and long. More than once it occurred to us that if we just kept walking, we could be in Mexico by winter. If only there were no such thing as work or money.

We passed precisely four people, all thru-hikers, all headed North. The first was a trip. He passed us by, and then stopped and turned as if he knew us. He looked familiar, though maybe it was just because he was lean, dirty, and bearded. A look we had become rather fond of.

“I know you guys!” He said. “Hikertrash!”

I smiled and laughed. Hikertrash for life, yo.

The second man, an older gentleman, came shuffling up the trail a few miles later. A small radio around his neck was playing what sounded like Korean classical music.

Wait. I knew this guy! No way! Every year, I followed the journeys of a handful of through-hikers. Some of them didn’t make it, some of them did. Either way, it was fun for me to get their perspective on the trail. This year, I had been following the story of an older Korean gentleman named “Thermometer.” He never blogged, at least not that I was aware of. I knew of him because his daughter had been keeping track of him on the PCT Facebook page. Her constant concern and pride had piqued my curiosity. Every week I looked for her posts, hoping he was still on the trail, that he was well, and that he was happy. For three weeks, I had not been online and every now and then, I found myself wondering if he was still out there somewhere and whether or not he was okay. I was positive this man had to be Thermometer!

“You’re Thermometer!” I fangirled.

“No English.” He said slowly, moving his hands apologetically.

I pointed at him and tried again, only more slowly, “You’re Thermometer.”

A huge grin spread across his face. He nodded and stuck a hand to his chest.

“Yes, Thermometer!” He laughed.

I had met Thermometer! He was less than a hundred miles from Canada. Baring all unforeseen circumstances, he was going to make it! This made me even happier than being recognized for Hikertrash.

The next thru-hiker was a man in his early twenties. He bragged to us about being one of the only people to have continuous footprints that year. He had said “screw it” to the fire closure and walked through anyway. The trail, he informed us, was not even on fire. The fire was on the other side of the river. Bearclaw asked him what he would have done if the wind had picked up and the fire had jumped the river. He informed us fires did not cross rivers. There was a lot I could have said to this, but you can’t fix stupid, so instead, we wished him luck and continued on up the trail.

The last hiker we met just before camp. She had taken the ferry to Stehekin and was continuing North from there. She had all the confident arrogance of a seasoned thru-hiker and was happy to give me, a lowly section hiker, a little attitude. I couldn’t blame her. I knew that confidence arrogance well; it was hard earned. Truth be told, I kind of missed feeling like a badass.

We had Bridge Creek Camp entirely to ourselves. We were only five miles from Stehekin, so this was understandable. Any thru-hiker leaving town would be miles up the trail before they made camp for the night, and the fires and backcountry closures were keeping away most of the section hikers, day hikers, and weekend warriors.

Eating an early dinner, we lazed around camp, trying hard to get the most out of our last night on the trail.

In the morning, we finished off the five miles to the High Creek Ranger Station just in time to catch the first shuttle bus into town. From High Bridge to Stehekin was eleven miles, and while we could have road walked, a ride only cost seven bucks. At precisely ten o’clock a cherry red l 1930’s tour bus pulled up to the old ranger station. We were the only occupants.

Stehekin was not much of a town and yet it was perfect. Located on the northernmost shore of the fifty-mile-long Lake Chelan, the only way to get there was by boat or plane. Although there were twenty plus miles of road in and around town, none of them led to the outside world. All of the vehicles in town had been brought there on the ferry, and consequently, a lot of them were ancient, and nearly all of their tags had expired decades ago.

The town itself consisted of a handful of hotels and restaurants, a Forest Services Headquarters building, a small store, a tiny post office, an organic farm, a handful of quaint lake houses, the ferry dock, and the most ridiculously perfect bakery in all of North America. If I were looking for a place to survive an Apocalypse or permanently depart from society, Stehekin would be a serious contender.

Usually packed with tourists, the town was nearly dead. We had it almost entirely to ourselves. On the Stehekin end of the lake, the Wolverine fire was raging across the water. From our camp, we could watch the flames crawl up the mountainside. On the south end of the lake, the Chelan Complex fire was raging out of control. 

Bearclaw and I spent the afternoon and the following morning seeing everything. Doing so kept us surprisingly busy, as there was an awful lot packed into such a small area, and no transportation to speak of, other than our feet.

In total, we spent twenty-four hours in Stehekin. As adorable and serene as it was, and as wonderful as the people had been, it was time to return to reality. We wandered over to the docks to purchase two tickets to Chelan. Standing in the small line, a man wandered up behind us.

“You guys need a ticket?” He asked.

“We do,” we responded.

“Here,” he said handing us a ticket. “We thought an extra was coming with us, but they changed their mind at the last minute.”

We offered to buy it, but he insisted we just take it.

The ferry ride was nearly three hours long, making stops at small outlying communities and private residences at it made its way down the lake. The community of Lucerne had been evacuated, and as we drifted by, we watched the smoke pour off the surrounding mountainsides, creeping ever closer to town.

The closer we got to Chelan, the thicker the smoke became, and an infiero engulfed the surrounding hillside. Powerless to do anything, we watched the world burn. Would Chelan even be there when we docked?

The man who had given us the ticket struck up a conversation with Bearclaw. He had once had something to do with forest fire assessment, and he was more than happy to talk fire. When Bearclaw told him we had just finished hiking the PCT and were now working our way back to our car in Blenheim, he offered us a ride.

“Providing my truck is even still there,” he added.

We laughed, but he wasn’t joking. He had heard from a reliable source that the fire had burned all the way into Chelan and that some of the vehicles in the ferry parking lot had been destroyed. There was a distinct possibility that his vehicle was one of them.

Pulling into the dock, the edges of town had indeed been scorched black. His truck, however, was unharmed and before we knew it, we were on the highway, barreling back to reality.

This was not a sad trip back to reality though. There were no tears. We had finally completed the Pacific Crest Trail. It hadn’t been how we’d hoped, or how we’d expected, but it had been exactly the way it was meant to be.

Our story had an ending. I could finally close this last chapter.

That is not to say this adventure would ever be forgotten, or ever even stray that far from my mind. This thin ribbon of dirt that connected Mexico to Canada had spoken directly to my soul, and that is not something you ever forget.

I knew that memories of life the Pacific Crest Trail would forever be tinged with the romantic glow of the summer sun filtered through the pine forest. If I lived to be a hundred, I would still be able to close my eyes and smell the scent of the summer rain hanging in the desert air and feel the wind of the high mountain passes caress my face. Not if I lived to be a thousand, would I ever forget what it felt like to stretch out my wings and fly, as light as a Hummingbird, down the trail.

The trail and my soul were forever interwoven and this knowledge made my heart immensely happy.

Castle Pass to Manning Park, Canada

Castle Pass to Manning Park, Canada

August 16, 2015
Day 16: Castle Pass to Manning Park, Canada
Miles: 12.48
Total Miles: 2,660
Miles to Go: 0

We ate breakfast with Littlefeet, but it was hard to stay present. We were all too excited. Only four short miles stood between us and Canada. Big breath.

It was still foggy, but it was shaping up to be a nice day and truth be told, we didn’t care. It could have been snowing, the forest could have been burning down around us, and we wouldn’t have cared. You could walk through anything for four miles if you had to. We were going to make it to Canada!

Littlefeet was the first one out of camp, but we were not that far behind him. Krav took off and was gone like the wind.

I can’t tell you what the trail looks like between Castle Pass and Canada – a blur of green I suppose. I did see a ptarmigan, but the photo I took was blurry because I didn’t care enough to stop and take a proper photo.

We were half a mile from Canada when we came across Krav. He wanted the three of us to get to the monument together, and so he had been waiting.

Elbows out, we joking raced each other to the finish to see who would “get there first,” pretending to trip each other along the way. Krappypants was in the lead.

And then, just like that, the trees parted, and there it was – the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Five wooden pillars of various heights stood next to a metal pillar in the middle of a twenty foot wide clear-cut that stretch as far as the eye could see in either direction.

On the tallest of the wooden posts, the familiar crest of the Pacific Crest Trail greeted us like an old friend. We had faithfully followed this symbol all the way from Mexico; although it hadn’t always been easy, it had never once led us astray. On the next lower pillar, the U.S. and the Canadian flags waved in the early morning breeze. The sun came out, the birds sang in greeting. All was finally right in our world.

Littlefeet had arrived a few minutes before us, giving him a chance to reflect and to write in the log book about his incredible 2,660-mile thru-hike.

We celebrated together, snapping pictures and pulling out the four mini bottles of champagne we had carried from Rainey Pass. The fourth bottle had been for Bearcat, but now that we were there with Littlefeet, we couldn’t very well cheers without him!

Littlefeet filmed, while we made Bearcat a video, pouring some of our champagne out in honor of our fourth Musketeer. Afterwards, we toasted our success.

The logbook made its rounds, from Krav to Bearclaw, and finally to me. What to write? How do I adequately describe something that has changed me so profoundly? What words of thanks could ever express how deeply grateful I was for this trail and the lessons it had taught me? How could I summarize something that was so profound it was impossible for me to even fully comprehend?

I read Krav and Bearclaw’s entries.

8/16/15 After being snow out in 2013, I am finally done! Here before Hummingfart! Yaas! Now, what to do? – Krav Maga …In memory of Bearcat, who couldn’t be here, “Efficiency is Key!”

8/16/15 I am finally here! This moment that seemed it would never come, actually arrived too quickly. The PCT has ruined me…in the best possible way! So much pain, and so much beauty! Thank you to my amazing wife Hummingbird for sharing this incredible journey with me, I love you! Congratulations to all of you on this amazing accomplishment!!! Bearclaw, Tread Lightly…

Another thru-hiker came through. We congratulated him. He had us snap a photo or two, then he asked for the log book. Not sure what to write anyways, I handed it to him. He had pre-written a beautiful, well thought out piece on a separate piece of paper. Ripping two pieces of duct tape off of his trekking pole, he taped it into the logbook and snapped it shut. And then, he was gone, as if he had some pressing engagement to attend to in Manning Park.

“That would have been us in 2013,” I couldn’t help but think to myself as I watched him disappear. It took being snowed out and having had two years to mourn that loss, to learn from it, and to think about it, for me to fully understand and appreciate what being here truly meant to me. That was my path. Those had been my lessons to learn, and every one of those lessons had led me here, now.

08/16/15 – Snowed out in 2013 less than 400 miles from Canada, I cried. I cried a lot. But I also learned. I learned that some goals, are worth pursuing relentlessly. Washington has thrown everything at us – rain, snow, hail, storms, poor trails, fires, and wind – yet we persisted. I have wondered for two years now how I would feel arriving at this monument. Would I be sad the journey was over? Would I be excited? Would I cry? Now I am here, I feel strong. I feel excited for the next adventure. I feel gratitude for the experience, for the magic, for my trail family. I feel at peace. I love you Bearclaw. There is no one else I would have wanted to do this with. You are my rock. Krav, I love you, bro. Bearcat, wish you were here.


“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time” – T.S. Elliot.


Peace, Hummingbird

The story, of course, does not end here. For I was not at the end of all my exploring, I had simply come to end of another great adventure.

Armed with this knowledge, Krav, Bearclaw, Littlefeet and I left the monument and made our way into Canada.

It was eight miles from the monument to Manning Park. When we arrived, the parking lot was abuzz with tourists. Somewhere in there, dad and Marianne were waiting for us. Bearclaw turned off of the road to go find them.

“I’ll be right behind you,” I told him. “I have to do something first.”

“Have to do what?” Bearclaw asked.

I held up my phone with the Halfmile App.

“I have to finish the trail,” I responded.

Bearclaw followed me up the road. I watched as the Halfmile App counted down the final few steps. Where the road to Manning Park joined the Highway, my app hit all zeros, and I was left standing at the Official end of the trail.

Immensely satisfied, we turned around and headed back to the parking lot. Dad and Marianne were as excited for us as we were; giving us big congratulatory hugs. Together, the six of us got a cabin at the Manning Park resort and spent the afternoon celebrating.

Mile 2,625.28 to Castle Pass

Mile 2,625.28 to Castle Pass

Saturday, August 15, 2015
Day 15: Mile 2,625.28 to Castle Pass
Miles: 21.14
Total Miles: 2,646.42
Miles to Go: 12.48

Washington, I decided, was the gorgeous drama queen of States. It was beautiful to look at, but it was a giant pain in the ass.

We awoke to a dense, low hanging fog and temperatures in the low 40’s. The trees still dripped from last night’s rain.

“It’s like Washington wants us to leave the same way we entered, cold and wet,” Krav said from his tent.

When I went to answer him, I could see my breath. Burr, this was entirely too reminiscent of Washington 2013. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if we saw snow before we hit Canada.

On the bright side, it had stopped raining, our tent was watertight, the rain had to have helped the fires, and we were only thirty-three miles from Canada!

I went to get out of the tent, only to discover I couldn’t stand up straight. I don’t know what I slept on, but my lower back was killing me.

“Bring it on Washington,” I thought. “You’ve already thrown rain, snow, fire, trail closures, and detours at us. Is a little back pain all you have left in your bag of tricks?”

Landslides? Tornados? On second thought, I didn’t want to know what else Washington had up her sleeve. I just wanted to get to Canada alive, and I was prepared to crawl there on my elbows if I had to.

Breakfast was a quick affair; it was far too cold to linger. Hefting my damp backpack on to my aching back, the best I could manage was a hunched over hobble. I downed a handful of Vitamin I and hoped for the best.

The good thing about a cold, misty morning was that—pain or no pain—you wanted to hike fast just to stay warm. That, and there were no spectacular views to distract you from doing anything but hiking.

Foggy Pass, was exactly that. Jim Pass was no better. Then down came the rain. We were we cold, we were wet, but we were happy. We were going to Canada, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop us.

Eventually, around Holman Pass, it stopped raining, and at the next small stream, we took the opportunity to eat lunch and filter water.

This was our last lunch together on the Pacific Crest Trail. From here on out, everything would be a “last.” Our last dinner on the trail, our last campsite, our last day. This was bittersweet. We were all looking forward to finally making it to Canada, and yet none of us wanted the trail to be over. None of us wanted the adventure to end.

“I wish Bearcat was here,” Krav said sadly.

“Yeah, me too,” Bearclaw sighed.

“Me three.” I chimed in.

There was a long silence. We missed Bearcat.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Krav said. “But then again, nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

This was a pure Bearcat!

“Efficiency is key,” I added.

“ACCCHHHILLLLEEESS!!!!!!” Bearclaw roared, and then we burst out laughing.

The only thing that would have made finishing the trail better, we agreed, was if Bearcat had been able to join us so that we could finish as a family.

On and off, the fog lifted, revealing vast valleys and sweeping meadows and then we were cast back into the rain and dense fog.

Ten miles from the U.S. / Canada border we could see blue sky ahead.

“Looks like it’s sunny in B.C. at least,” Bearclaw said.

“Stupid rainy-ass bitch Washington,” I replied.

We unanimously agreed Washington had it in for us.

Near Devil’s Staircase, the fog lifted again, just enough to give us a clear view of Hopkin’s Lake nestled far below. Originally, we had wanted to make this our evening destination, but now we were driven to continue. We wanted to camp as close to Canada as we could.

Passed Hopkin’s Pass, we found a talus pile and sat down to make dinner. This was our last dinner together on the Pacific Crest Trail. The pikas must have sensed this, as they came out in droves and even allowed us to snap a few photos.

It was dusk when we arrived at Castle Pass. Off to the left of the trail was a big open campsite. Already, a tent was set up in the far corner. We were a little bummed to share our last campsite with a stranger, but it would have to do.

Our packs were wet; our tent was still wet. Krav’s down sleeping bag was damp on the side that had been facing the back of his backpack. Still, there was nothing Washington could do to rob us of our joy, of our sense of accomplishment.

Getting ready for bed, I heard a voice from the stranger’s tent.

“I know that voice!” I said to Bearclaw.

“What? Who do we know that it could it be?” Bearclaw said

“Littlefeet?” I called out.

I heard the stranger’s tent unzip.


We were not in the company of a stranger! We were in the company of a friend! We had met Littlefeet while doing trail magic near Bend earlier in the summer; he was hiking with our friend Hot Mess and her crew!

“Where is Hot Mess and everyone else?”

At the fire detour, the crew had split up. Some had obligations back home, some had opted to walk the detour, and others had opted to go to Lake Chelan. Littlefeet had ended up ahead of them all. After having hiked together for month’s he now faced the reality of arriving at the border alone. The trail provided, and no we could arrive together as friends and celebrate each other’s victories. I knew for him, it wouldn’t quite be the same – a trail family is a bond that cannot easily be forgotten – but at least it was something.

We cozied into our sleeping bags, for one last sleep on the PCT. We were only four miles from Canada.

Glacier Pass to Mile 2,625.28

Glacier Pass to Mile 2,625.28

Friday, August 14, 2014
Day 15: Glacier Pass to Mile 2,625.28
Miles: 15.63
Total Miles: 2,625.28
Miles to Go: 33.62

Sometime after dark, I was awoken by the snapping of branches. The air was thick with smoke. For a brief moment, my half-asleep brain thought the branch snapping was the crackling of fire. Eye’s wide open; I fully expected to see the glow of embers burning outside the tent.

But there was no glow, and the twig snapping was just a noisy deer, whose eye’s reflected like headlights in the beam of my headlamp. For the first time, it dawned on me that, in our haste to get to Canada, we had not so much as looked at the fire closure notice at Cutthroat. We hadn’t asked anyone if we would be safe. We had no idea if the fire closure was due to the fires we had seen burning behind us, or fires that lie ahead of us. We had heard from the section hikers we were camped with that there was possibly another fire burning closer to Hart’s Pass. We also didn’t have a map big enough to show our exits.

I wasn’t scared; I just felt stupid. How horrible would it be for my poor parents to get a call that I was missing and presumed dead in a burning forest?

No, I reasoned, the ranger wouldn’t have told us we could continue if the danger had been imminent. They would have flat out said no and sent helicopters to rescue anyone ahead on the trail. The only helicopters we had heard all day were obviously firefighting. Besides, we knew where all the lakes, rivers, and streams were; if the fire was close, we could always go to water.

Feeling better, I went back to sleep.

In the light of day, our situation seemed less dire. The smoke was only as thick as it had been the day before, and our pet deer was still wandering around the campsite. Surely he would be running for his life if he felt he was in danger, animals had good instincts.

Five miles up the trail, we rounded a corner to see the entire ridgeline of Tatie Peak on fire. Standing off to the side of the trail, was a wildland firefighter. He informed us that the fire was currently a half mile squared, and had already burned 160 acres of forest since yesterday. The trail was closed as far as Hart’s Pass.

We asked him if we should turn back, or continue forward. He assured us the trail ahead was safe to travel. Tatie Peak was rocky, and there wasn’t enough fuel to burn, so long as the winds didn’t pick up, the fire was unlikely to breach the mountaintop. Just be quick, and don’t linger, he had added.

Helicopters buzzed low overhead. We did as we were told, covering the five miles to Hart’s Pass without stopping.

Happy to be at Hart’s Pass, and out of danger, we decided it was time for lunch. As we walked through the parking lot, a ranger walked out of the little cabin.

“Were are guys headed?” He asked.

“Canada!” We replied giddily.

“I’m afraid your hike is over for the season. Trail’s closed all the way to Canada.”

Krav looked at Bearclaw, Bearclaw looked at me, I looked at Krav. My heart sunk. We were thirty-five miles from Canada. Just thirty-five miles. We were so close.

I wasn’t going to argue with the man; he was just doing his job. Washington was on fire; it wasn’t his fault.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” I mumbled to Bearclaw, and disappeared in the direction of the outhouse.

Bearclaw and Krav continued to talk to the ranger, while I fought back tears. We had tried so hard, only to be denied again.

“Pull yourself together H. Bird,” I thought. “This isn’t the end of the world.” But somehow, it felt like it was.

“We can go.” The boys smiled when I returned.

“What?” I asked confused. I mean, I’d only been gone like three minutes, and it had been a pretty solid “you’re done” when I’d left.

“He’s going to let us go. He hasn’t posted the signs yet, so he’s going to let us go, as long as we’re fast.”

“What about the fires?” I asked.

“There aren’t any fire’s ahead, there just aren’t any exits between here and Canada, so they’re closing the trail as a precaution, in case the fires to the south get out of control. Get your pack, let’s go!”

I grabbed my backpack, we gave the ranger an excited wave good-bye, and we flew down the trail. A mile later, we stopped for water at a seasonal creek and decided to finally eat lunch.

“How did you guys convince that guy to let us go?” I asked Bearclaw and Krav.

While I had been it the washroom, Bearclaw had told the ranger about our being snowed out in 2013 and that now we were trying to finish, but that he guessed it just wasn’t meant to be. The ranger had asked where we had started from yesterday. Bearclaw and Krav had told him we’d started just before noon at Rainy Pass. He did the math. In twenty-four hours, we had covered thirty-one miles. There were only thirty-five miles left to Canada. If we needed to, we could be in Canada by noon tomorrow. That was what had convinced him to let us go. That, and the technicality that the sign had not yet been posted.

By midafternoon, the entire sky had clouded over, and a cold wind blew. By the time we neared Tamarack Peak, it had started to rain. The rain put our minds at ease about the danger of fire, and the need for speed. We found a semi-sheltered campsite and threw up the tents.

As we scrounged for twigs and branches that would make sturdy enough peg with which to storm pitch his tent, poor Krav wished he had splurged on the tent pegs back in Winthrop. But how were we to know?

It hadn’t rained in months, and now here it was pouring down on the parched earth. Snug in our tents, we weren’t about to complain… We were going to Canada.