Spring Camp to Northern Terminus – 14.7 miles
Today was my last full day on the Pacific Crest Trail. This afternoon I would reach Canada and would finally see the famous Monument at the northern terminus.
I was woken at daybreak by a couple distant claps of thunder. I hadn’t slept with the tent fly on and could see blue sky above me so I knew the thunder wasn’t nearby. I just hoped the storms weren’t headed my way.
My plan for the day was to reach the PCT Monument at the Canadian border and camp nearby for the night. The next day I’d be meeting my parents in the early afternoon at the trailhead in Manning Provincial Park.
After packing up I said my goodbyes to my hiking friends. They were moving slower and weren’t going to be going as far as me that day. It had been so wonderful to meet them and spend some time together. We exchanged contact details so that we could stay in touch.
Then I was off. My first mile was a gradual climb to nearby Rock Pass. The smoke had cleared overnight and the air was much cooler. I took my time on that first mile, stopping to take lots of photos of the valleys and peaks behind me. Reaching a high pass and seeing what’s on the other side is always a highlight, and Rock Pass was no exception. I crested the ridge and found myself looking down into a steep rocky bowl with a creek about 1,500 feet below me. I could see my next pass, Woody Pass, about a mile to the north. However due to the steepness of the slopes I had to drop 700 feet into the bowl, and then climb up the other side, making the distance between the passes over 2.5 miles. I respect and appreciate the people who build and maintain the PCT but sometimes I have to grumble at the choices they have to make in routing the trail.
It was a really pretty section, though I did have to channel my inner mountain goat on a few spots. I came upon a grouse on the trail as I was climbing the tight switchbacks up to Woody Pass. I didn’t want to upset him so I stayed back a few yards and meandered along behind him, assuming he’d hop off the trail and let me pass. Nope, he was pretty committed to hiking the trail. Even getting closer to him didn’t really work! Eventually he moved off into the heather and I was able to motor along. However, there he was again when I turned and came along the next switchback. He played this switchback trick on me once more before I was finally able to shake him. Sheesh!
As I got closer to Woody Pass I noticed wisps of clouds getting caught on the peaks of Powder Mountain above me. It was mesmerizing to watch them dissipate on the crags. However some clouds were making their way through the pass and so I ended up hiking into the clouds until I could barely see the peaks around me.
Unfortunately from that point onwards I was socked in. The trail stayed high after Woody Pass, travelling along the west slope of Lakeview Ridge. I can only assume that the views are fantastic from the high ridge. A couple miles along the ridge the trail started to climb once again, reaching the top of the ridge and continuing higher still. Three miles from Woody Pass I reached the highest point on the PCT in Washington at 7,126 feet. Thankfully the clouds had lifted somewhat and I could see more than just my immediate surroundings.
I’d taken a short break near the top of the ridge and was ready to press on to my lunch spot at Hopkins Lake, a thousand feet below. To get there I had to descend the “Devil’s Stairway,” a steep series of switchbacks down the rocky northern slope of the ridge. I took my time, once again channelling my inner mountain goat (too bad I never actually saw one!)
I reached Hopkins Lake around noon, having hiked over nine miles in the morning. I had six more to go to reach the border and I had planned to stay for a while at Hopkins Lake, maybe even having a swim. Unfortunately the weather turned on me. It was incredibly cold and windy at the lake and even started to rain lightly. I tucked myself into the trees as well as I could and put on more layers. I quickly ate my lunch and at the same time I boiled water for some coffee. I took my coffee “to go” in my small water bottle (which doubles as my mug) and high-tailed it out of there.
From there it was all downhill to the border, literally. Thankfully barely a mile past Hopkins Lake the weather improved and started to warm up. It seemed the nearby mountains were holding back the worst of the weather. I reached Castle Pass and took a short break to remove layers and have a snack. Three and a half miles to go!
For the rest of the trail I was tucked down in a valley between Mount Winthrop and Castle Peak. The clouds started to clear and blue sky appeared, allowing some glimpses of the surrounding mountains. The trail was more overgrown and less maintained than the previous miles, and it became warm and humid. Such an odd variety of weather that day!
The last mile to the monument seemed to take forever. I saw the border cut in the trees and still had ten more minutes of hiking before I reached the valley bottom. Finally there it was – the Monument.
I was a bit disappointed to find I was there all by myself. It would have been nice to get a high-five from a fellow hiker and have someone there to take my picture. Still, I stayed there for nearly an hour, reading and signing the trail register and setting up my camera for some photos.
Even now it’s hard to say how I really felt sitting there at the Monument. I was excited to be there myself after having seen it in so many photos. But it wasn’t the same sense of accomplishment that I’d been expecting when I’d first planned this adventure two years ago. I’d had to split my hike out over a number of weeks during two summers instead of completing it in one season. Plus I still had one more section to hike – the 65-mile Mount Adams and Goat Rocks Wilderness that I’d skipped the summer before.
There’s a quote from the 2004 movie “Shall We Dance.” In it the character Susan Sarandon plays says “We need a witness to our lives […] Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.”
I had only myself to witness this moment. I was the only one there to be proud of my dreams and accomplishments. Was I enough? Could I be enough for myself? I guess the trail still had more to teach me.