After having decided to quit the trail for good, and finding the closest random road on my maps to try to head home from, I found myself walking down said road, hoping that it would lead to some civilisation. I walked for a mile or two towards some buildings I could see in the distance, sticking my thumb out to a couple of hunters driving by who just ignored me. I made it to the buildings, which turned out to be a forest service building that was closed, and looked around for someone to ask for some directions or a ride. There were houses and other buildings around, but no sign of any people.
Feeling lost and ever so slightly desperate, I stuck my thumb out for a lone car driving past. It was two ladies holding a bag outside their window, who acknowledged me, but drove round the corner, presumably to get rid of whatever was in that bag that was too smelly to keep it inside the car! They drove back round, and asked me what I was doing wandering round the road looking dischevelled and lost. I asked them if they could take me to the nearest town that had some food and a bed to sleep in. They looked at me, looked at eachother, asked if I was a serial killer, and offered for me to stay in their cabin that night, just around the corner.
This couple, Chantal and Susan, turned out to be some of the most generous, and caring people I met on the trail. They brought me back to their cabin, (not before asking if I was a serial killer a few more times) fed me a delicious home-made hot meal, with beer, did my laundry, let me shower, and we exchanged stories. I could not have wished for more. It was a much-needed relax, and gave me time to assess my situation. They then told me how they have a house in Portland, and I was welcome to stay with them there, as it would be a convenient place to travel back to England from, should I decide to. I humbly accepted, and the next morning we headed for the city.
Still unconvinced of my decision to quit the trail at that point, I happened to receive a call from Sledd-Dogg, who was hiking with Dupont and Llama, a little ahead of me on the trail at a place called White’s Pass. After a brief chat, Sledd suggested that I head up where they were, and hike the rest of the trail with them. In contrast to my misery the day before, the thought of meeting up with old hiker friends and finishing the trail with them was instantly uplifting. Feeling like this would have been a premature end to my adventure, it seemed like a perfect plan. I worked out it would take me longer to get to White’s Pass than they would be there for, and not wanting to play any more catch-up, I decided to take my time and meet them at their next stop- Snoqualmie Pass.
The next few days, I spent getting spoiled by Chantal and Susan. They introduced me to their lovely son Parker, took me out to meals, and introduced me to some of the Portland gay-scene. It was quite the experience. One evening I impressed them with my excellent salsa recipe, and we swapped some other cooking tips. It was eventually time to head up towards Seattle, where I could get to Snoqualmie. I was planning on hitching, or getting a cheap coach, but Susan and Chantal insisted that I took the scenic train ride and so bought me a ticket to Seattle, along the Puget Sound. It seemed there was no end to their generocity.
The train was absolutely worth it, the last part of the journey we were going right up along the Sound, with views of Olympia National Park. There was a nice Austrailian chap on the train called Mim, who was also in Seattle for only a day, so we grabbed a beer together at a local Brewery straight off the train. We ended up meeting up again after he checked into his hotel, and went round seeing the sights together- Pike’s Place Market, the Space Needle, Bruce Lee’s grave, and a few others. There is an alleyway downtown in Seattle, where it seems it is a tradition for people to put their chewed chewing gum on the wall, a place called Gum-Alley. I know thru-hikers arent exactly well known for their hygiene, but this place seemed disgusting to me. I wondered how many strains of herpes were lurking around that alley.
Walking around Seattle, looking like a homeless person was an interesting experience. For months, I wore my homeless look like a badge of honour- people would recognise me as a PCT hiker and treat me like a celebrity. In the city, it was different. I just became another nobody, another down and out. For a day I got to see what it was like to be an urban homeless person. People gave me dirty looks or avoided eye contact all together and shielded their pockets as I walked by. I remember approaching one gentleman for directions, but before I had finished saying “excuse me”, he was patting his pockets and shrugging in a gesture saying “I dont have any money for you”. I proceeded to ask for directions with a smile on my face, and after hearing my accent, I think he was slightly embarrassed. Although he couldnt help me, he got out his phone and was trying to find out the way I needed to go, in what felt like overcompensation for his mistake.
Some family friends had offered me to stay at their house on Bainbridge Island for a couple of days whilst I waited for Sledd, Dupont and Llama to arrive at Snoqualmie. The day before I was anticipating the guys to arrive, I headed off towards the trailhead. The bus system in Seattle only took me as far as a place called North Bend, from where I planned on hitching. It was an exhausting bus ride, where I met the loudest girl I have ever encountered- she literally would not stop talking, saying every little thing that came to her mind for about an hour straight at the top of her voice. Friendly, but seemingly insane. Everyone else on the bus seemed like they knew eachother, as if they all take the same bus every day, so although annoyed by the cacophony, they seemed used to it.
Unfortunately, North Bend did not turn out to be the quaint, friendly little town I was hoping for. I arrived just after dark, and for the first time, I didnt feel like stealth-camping was a viable option. The place was full of shady looking characters and tweakers (a word I learned that refers to somebody who takes crystal meth), so I decided getting a hotel room for the night was the best option. The next morning, I stocked up on burgers from the McDonalds dollar menu to bring to my friends when they got off trail, and stuck my thumb out again to get to Snoqualmie. The weather was getting really bad, but I stood under an underpass for over an hour before somebody gave me a ride. When the others finally did arrive in Snoqualmie, I greeted them with a bag full of dollar-menu burgers, some candy and a bottle of whiskey. Since the weather was terrible, and they arrived after dark, we stayed in the lodge there that night, as there was nowhere to really camp either. The rain only got worse the next day, coming down in buckets, so we studied the weather forecast, and decided it was best to leave the day after.
Some people say that some years you can hike the whole PCT and get rained on only a handful of times. This was definitely not one of those years. When we finally did get back on trail, it was still raining a little bit, but it felt great to be back with friends, and back on the trail again after quite a bit of time off. For the first time, I was hiking in Washington and was actually able to see how gorgeous it is.
The magnificent Mt Rainier in the distance
The next day, I went the wrong way on trail for the first time. Occasionally if there is a junction, someone will have placed a stick over the wrong way, and sometimes leave an arrow pointing the way the PCT goes. I was hiking in the front with Llama and Sledd just behind me, with Dupont a little further back, out of sight. We came up to a fork, and like many, many times before, somebody had left a stick over one of the paths, and an arrow pointing down the other. There was a wooden sign with more information on it, but I took no notice and followed the arrow down the right fork. Llama and Sledd did the same.
After about a mile and a half, we hit a little river that we couldn’t cross without wading through a couple of feet of water- a little unusual for the trail, so checking the GPS, it turned out we had taken the wrong turn. The arrow had lied! We walked back to the junction, pissed off at having to walk an extra 3 miles, but there was no sign of Dupont. He must have done the sensible thing and read the actual sign, which told us that the PCT went to the left. This left us in a little dilema. It was late in the day and Dupont still thought we were ahead of him, probably trying to catch us up. In reality, we were about an hour behind him, trying to catch him up! We kept on walking into the night, and started up a 2,000 foot climb. It started to rain and sleet on us, but because we were keeping a good pace uphill, we didnt feel the cold. It was light precipitation, and our body heat was keeping us mostly dry. Hiking with our headlamps, I kept up with Llama, but by the time we eventually caught up with Dupont a few hours later, there was no sign of Sledd. We found the first campsite and set up camp, but still no sign of Sledd. We figured he had camped early, as he wasn’t a fan of hiking in the rain.
Just before we got into our tents, Dupont spotted a pair of emerald eyes watching us. He called me over, and sure enough, there was a cougar staring at us from about 30 feet away. In contrast to the cougar that harassed Dupont and Llama all night back in Northern California, this one seemed curious instead of malicious. Still, I was excited to see my first cougar! Not wanting to face the reality that there was a killing machine not far from where we were sleeping that night, and utterly exhausted from chasing Dupont (and him chasing us), we put all thoughts of getting eaten far from our mind. With only the walls of our tents to protect us, we got into our tents and went to sleep. We heard nothing more of the cougar that night and the next morning we laid our stuff out to dry whilst we waited for Sledd. Sure enough, he leisurely turned up at about 2 in the afternoon, unaware we would be waiting for him, but glad we were. The rest of the trail on the way to Stevens Pass and the town of Skykomish, our next stop, was equally gorgeous, and we found ourselves following several sets of cougar prints!
One of the nights however, we were brutally reminded of how late in the season it was getting. At the end of the day, we ended up at a campsite at the edge of a shelf in a deep valley. It had gorgeous views, but being at the bottom of the valley and exposed, there was a constant below-freezing cold wind. This was by far the coldest night we had experienced on trail, more due to the wind chill than anything else. Everything was frozen solid when we woke up, shoes, clothes and tent. It was one of those mornings when you get moving as quickly as possible, because once you are out of your sleeping bag, you start getting more and more numb without hiking.
Sledd Dogg’s tent, battered from the freezing wind
As we rolled into Steven’s Pass, Dupont was starting to get sick. We were apprehensive about going to the trail angel’s house there, as there was word on the trail that they were fairly strict. We decided to go anyway to save money on a hotel room, so that Dupont could rest a little, and so that we could avoid the weather coming in. It turned out to be a great decision, and that the Dinsmores were absolutely lovely. A group of hikers had stayed at their place earlier in the season and been extremely disrespectful and badly behaved (fuelled by alcohol). As a result, the Dinsmores had decided to ban alcohol at their Hiker Haven all together. Being late in the season however, and realising that we were pleasant well-behaved hikers, they allowed us to drink whilst we were there.
More bad weather was rolling in and we found ourselves having another debate whether to wait out the storms, or hike through them. The more we waited out storms, the more likely we were to be hit by bigger- and colder storms later on. We relaxed in the comfort of their hiker dorm with one other hiker called Whistler, watching movies and some confusing sport they call football, except they only kick the ball a couple of times per game. We were also visited by a veteran hiker called Stacey, who was in the area and popped by to say hello to some thru hikers. She has over 15,000 miles under her belt on long distance trails, so naturally we had hundreds of questions for her. It was pretty inspiring listening to her words of wisdom and advice.
One day Jerry Dinsmore drove us to the McDonalds down the road, to take advantage of their dollar menu. Between the 4 of us, we ordered 40 burgers, to the shock of the employees and other customers there. We demolished our stacks of sandwiches like starved wild animals.
Left to right: Me, Whistler, Llama, Sledd Dogg and Dupont, with Jerry in the front.
Although the rain had not stopped, the worst of the weather had passed, and Dupont was feeling better, so we decided to hike out in the rain. Our next stop would be a little town called Steheken. Standing between us and Steheken however, was 110 miles of one of the most remote and wild stretches of trail, as well as one of the most gorgeous.
It really did feel like the winter was coming- in contrast to the long days in the desert where you could spread a 20 mile day over 16 hours, we were barely getting 8 hours of daylight to hike. When it wasn’t raining it was snowing, or at best, overcast. Warming up in the sun were days of the past. Now it was just about keeping dry, and managing the cold. Breaks had to be limited to 10 minutes or less, for risk of getting too cold. In the evenings once we got to camp, either we made a campfire, or got straight into our sleeping bags. It was too cold to sit around in the dark and relax. This regularly meant that we would be going to bed as early as 7pm and stay in our tents through till sunrise the next day. I say “stay in our tents”, because as anyone who has camped in washington will know, they have serious rodent problems at pretty much every campsite, so very often there was not much sleeping going on. All night, almost every night we would be terrorised by mice, rats, or chipmunks. They would crawl on, or if they can get there, inside our tents. They would chew any trace of food left in reach, and crap all over our stuff regardless of whether it smelled of food or not. Rodents were probably the worst thing about Washington- but that’s not saying much!
Crossing a stream
Taking a lunch break
The elevation also started to feel like the High Sierras again. Every day we would be climbing up to a high pass at about 6-7,000 feet, and back down again to 4-5,000 feet. We had to make sure that we were down at lower elevations to camp, but also that we weren’t at the bottom of any valleys, otherwise it would get too cold at night.
A couple of days before we reached Steheken, we approached an area that was said to have some of the oldest and largest trees on the whole trail. An area between mountain ranges, without any road access (hence the lack of logging) and the final deep valley we would walk through before Steheken. As we walked over a ridge and got our first glimpse of the epic valley, a magnificent bald eagle left its perch in a nearby tree and soared, majestically into the air. Within a few seconds and barely moving its wings, the eagle was thousands of feet above the valley floor. It was a magical moment, and one I will remember for a very long time.
As we walked down into the valley, I started to feel like we were in Middle Earth. There was very little trail maintenance in this section due to the difficult access, we were regularly climbing over fallen trees across the trail. We really felt a long way away from anybody or anything civilised. The trees got bigger and bigger, with some of the trunks as wide as 10 feet in diameter.
Dupont in front of a rather large tree
At the bottom of the valley the trail crosses the Suiattle River. on the approach They recently build a bridge that crosses the river, but that means a 5 mile detour to reach it. Instead, we decided to cross the river where the old trail originally went, over the river on a fallen tree.
The town of Steheken has a population of only a couple of hundred people, most of whom do not stay for the winter months. It is only accessible by foot on the PCT, or a 55 mile boat ride along lake Chelan. When we showed up, the whole town was closing down for the winter. The ranch was closed and the shop and restaurant only opened for an hour when the daily ferry arrived. Luckily because of the lack of people, we got a large discount on a room for the night, as there was another bout of heavy rain.
I was the only one of the 4 of us that still was wearing trail runners and not boots. One major advantage of wearing trail runners is that they dry out very quickly compared to boots. This is great in hot weather when you can dry out your shoes in an hour in the sun, however in Washington in October, there was no chance to dry out my feet and they just got wetter and wetter. I started suffering from really bad athlete’s foot, and unfortunately there was nowhere in Steheken that I could get ahold of foot powder to solve the problem. I tried some DIY waterproofing on my shoes using some old ziplock bags and superglue in an attempt to keep my feet dry for the next stretch.
Watching the weather forecast was not very encouraging. As more time passed, more and more storms were forecast, with the temperatures drastically falling. In about 5 days from when we were at Steheken, a huge storm was supposed to cover the whole of washington with deep snow. The kind of snow that would start the winter ski-season. We had to get our skates on. After we got our packages from the post office the next day, we headed out as quickly as possible and made for Rainy pass, the last proper road before the Canadian Border. We hiked into the night and made it to rainy pass just after 11pm. Turns out there is a reason they call it Rainy pass! Soaked and cold, we threw our thumbs out in the hope of a miracle lift to a trail angel’s nearby place called Ravensong’s Roost. Incredibly, despite a lack of anybody on the road, a car came past and a chap picked us up who was heading the same direction. He was friendly, and said he had never even picked up any hitch-hikers before.
We arrived at Ravensong’s Roost in the middle of the night, not even knowing if we were in the right place. We walked around aimlessly for a couple of minutes, not wanting to disturb any neighbours before Ravensong herself came out of the darkness and welcomed us into the warmth of her hiker-hut. My feet were getting torn apart from being soaked constantly, and the athlete’s foot was only getting worse. The DIY waterproofing on my shoes was almost completely useless. They collected all the consensation from my feet, and made them even more wet. There was a hiker box there, as there is usually at stops on the trail, but it was almost completely empty. Only a few citronella candles and bags of unidentified food powders. Underneath some used insoles however, I spotted a almost full bottle of athlete’s foot powder. The trail definitely provided.
We didnt stay long, we were on a mission to beat the storm. The next morning, we stocked up on booze for the border celebration, and prepared ourselves for a 30-mile day. We decided to do a 30-miler firstly to make up time and miles, but also because It was going to be our last day without rain before the storms hit so it would be a good idea to get as far as we could whilst still being relatively dry. Dupont and Llama’s current longest day was about 25 miles, so there were also bragging rights involved in the decision.
Setting off at about 2 in the afternoon, We hiked through the night again, arriving at Hart’s Pass at about 4 in the morning. It was a full moon that night, so although we did miss some of the gorgeous views, we also saw some spectacular views illuminated by the soft moonlight.
Llama and Dupont crossing the 2,600 mile mark
The next morning, sore and knackered from the previous night, we woke up to full on snow. All of our tents were covered with about an inch. Freezing cold, we wasted no time in setting off and getting hiking. For the next 2 days we were pelted with rain, sleet and snow. Barely taking any breaks, we walked until we got fed up, leaving about 15 miles to get to the border the next day. I had no time to worry about the state of my feet, which were still getting worse. We went up and over several passes that were covered with about a foot of snow, including the highest point on the trail in Washington. The freezing elevation was around 5,000 feet still, so above that, it was snow, and below it, rain. There were some points on the trail that were so scary, I actually feared for my life. All it would take was stepping an inch or two out of place, one little stumble and I would fall thousands of feet down to my death.
The morning before we hit the border
As we came up and over the final pass before Canada, the last major climb we would have to do on the whole trail, there was a break in the clouds, and we had a break from the precipitation for the first time in a day and a half. We even got a little bit of sun. What a reception!
Coming back down over the pass, with only about 6 miles to go until we reached the Canadian border, we felt invincible. Despite the naysayers, the weather, all the obstacles: physical, mental, emotional and also literal obstacles in the trail, Canada was only a couple of hours away. Everything we had done over the last 200 days had been leading up to this moment. Through all the pain, suffering and harships, but also excitement, utter joy and some of the absolute best times of our lives, our journey was almost complete. We had finally made it.
Having hiked 80 miles from Steheken in a little over 72 hours, we really did race to the finish to outrun the weather and I doubt we could have timed it any more perfectly. Although we were hit with some bad weather, it could have been a lot worse. Although we were certain that there was nobody behind us on the trail, we later heard word that there was a couple just behind us, who got stopped at Harts pass by a ranger and taken off trail due to the snow levels getting too high. I am pretty sure we were the last people to reach the Canadian border this year.
We reached the border in the early afternoon on 29th of October. We were absolutely ecstatic. The rain seemed to still be at bay, so we spent the whole afternoon celebrating, drinking and reminiscing about the trail, right at the monument. I would like to mention that Sledd Dogg hiked over 2,650 miles of the trail, and Dupont and Llama are one of the very few that kept up continuous footsteps from the Mexico to Canada. They did not miss a single step of trail. When we got rides back to the trail, they would ask to be dropped off, or walk back to the exact spot they left.
My feet at the border, luckily the athlete’s foot had almost cleared up
Although we were completely elated at finally reaching Canada, the feeling was definitely bittersweet. Our journey was over. We would all head back to our regular lives back home. For all the comforts and amenities we used to enjoy, we would not have the same connection to nature. The trail is magical that way. The peace, the exhilaration, the danger. The trail has definitely changed me. I didn’t wake up one day and have a sudden moment of enlightenment, but over the course of the last 7 months, I have met hundreds of people, seen so many places, it felt awakening. I have learned so many things; about myself, the land, the people I met and about nature. Things I will carry with me back to humble England, and with me for the rest of my life.
Llama, Sled, Me and Dupont just before we parted ways in Vancouver
It is important to remember that I could not have done this trail by myself. There are so many amazing people that made this experience not only possible, but the trip of a lifetime. Firstly my parents and sister for helping out financially, with the initial logistics and planning of the trip, and also giving me emotional support. I definitely could not have done any of this without them. I would like to thank Peter, a family friend that helped me out financially and with necessary equipment (I was not the best at planning, or sticking to a budget). Also to David, in Berkeley who handled and sent out my resupply packages to me. Eric, Deana, Sabrina and Lucas, who put up Possum and I at their place in Sacramento for a week, and Ira and Kimberly, who’s place in Seattle I stayed at. Susan and Chantal in Portland, and also Nancy in Ashland who helped me out and really cared when I needed it the most. There are countless random people I met who were extremely generous to host me, and other hikers, who at the time were strangers to them, but brought us into their homes. All the amazing trail angels that gave us rides, left us food in the trail, and generally went long ways out of their way to make our hiking experience a little better.
Last but by no means least, I have to mention all the incredible characters that I met along the trail, in the form of other hikers. They are some of the most amazing people on this planet, and their personalities are like beacons of light. Especially the likes of Burgundy, Nailz, Foxtrot, Possum God, Dupont, Llama, Motown, Juicy Lumber, Jangles, Blackpaw, Lupin and Sledd Dogg, who had the biggest impact on my hike, but also many many others who aren’t any less important. Apologies If i didn’t mention anybody I should have!
Having still got about 20% of the trail to hike, the PCT and I have unfinished business. I was planning on visiting the west coast of the US again anyway, but this gives me the perfect excuse to go back! Thank you so much for reading this everybody, and I hoped you enjoyed it as much as I did.