Pacific Crest Trail Blog Part 7
Natural Hair Gel
I stink. No, I mean I really stink bad. I smell something like a mix of week old socks, the odour that hits you when you open a rubbish bin after a heatwave, and mouldy cheddar. I didn’t think it was actually possible to smell this bad. The wall of stench that assaults me when I take my boots off in the evening should be illegal.
We get strange looks in restaurants when we get to town. The smell, unkempt hair, dirty clothes and straggly beards gives people the impression we are vagrants, homeless. I am past caring about how people label me now. To be frank, it’s them that smell bad. The odors that waft around my nose make me close my eyes. A cocktail of deodorants, hair products, after shave and perfume makes me gag in a sea of offensive chemicals. It’s everyone else that stinks, not me.
I carry a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap, that’s it. It’s all I need. Deodorant carries a weight penalty and it doesn’t work out here. After two hours hiking it screams ‘Ok, I give up’! Hair products? What’s the point? I don’t use them back home and there is no call for them here either.
That said, after two days hiking, the mix of sweat, dust, grit and filth that accumulates acts as a natural hair gel anywhere. My hair sculpts into all sorts of weird shapes. I scare myself when I see what peers back at me when I reach town and look hesitantly in the mirror.
Current location: Stehekin, the last trail town before Canada.
Miles walked: 2252.8.
Miles left to Canada and the official PCT finish: 81.8
Miles left to complete from Cascade Locks to Crater Lake in Oregon (skipped section): 321.6
Weather: Rain below 4000 feet, snow and freezing conditions above. This final section is all above 5000 feet, a lot of it between 6000 and 7000 feet.
Frame of mind: Good. I have, and will be cold and wet for the next few days but am holding it together. Oregon is at a lower elevation and has a slightly kinder climate.
Next update from Manning Park in Canada around 30th October. Plenty of photos and video coming, have not been able to download because of poor Internet access.
Don’t forget to stay tuned!
31st October 2010 – Video Update No. 16 – Urich Shelter
31st October 2010 – Video Update No. 17 – Canadian Border
31st October 2010 – Video Update No. 18 – The smoking of the Stogie
All the latest
Long time no see huh? I apologise for the lack of blog entries of late, Washington is not exactly generous in either Internet facilities, mobile phone coverage, normal phone coverage or Wi-Fi, hence the little contact.
To say we have been into the back of beyond is an understatement. Anyway, read on and update yourself with one of the most exciting, dangerous, eventful, cold, exhausting and saddest weeks of my life . . .
Trooper and I left Stehekin early on Monday, 25th October after hospitality from some of the locals that completely blew us away. We had arrived at the local restaurant at 7.00am for Monica and Mark to give us a ride back up to the trail head, eight miles up the road. As I entered Monica looked worried and I knew it was about the conditions on the final 90 mile stretch to Canada.
“Have you seen the weather report?” she asked. I knew just from her expression that it was bad. I was also aware that she knew regardless of what she told me, it would have no bearing on our plans. Monica has had nearly a lifetime of meeting thru-hikers and she knows what a single minded, determined bunch of idiots we are.
“I heard there was a storm coming in,” I replied, smiling. I think she detected a little nervousness in my voice.
“There is,” she continued. “Snow down to 4500 feet and up to 4 feet deep.”
I looked at Trooper who shrugged his shoulders. No way, hell or high water was he getting off trail. Two years prior he had been forced off the PCT two weeks before finishing and he had returned to complete his dream.
“The weather will do what it will,” I said. “We have to at least give it a go, we’ve both come too far to back out. I know it could be dangerous up there but there is a couple of roads where we can get out if the going is tough, and a Ranger Station as well. We have more than enough food if we get into trouble. We have to go but thanks for the info.”
She gave a smile of recognition that confirmed what she already knew we would say and we all went out into the rain and squeezed into their car. I wiped the inside of the window on the short journey up a gravel track and peered out at ominous looking clouds as rain trickled down the other side. Trooper was silent and contemplative. If both of us had any idea what lay ahead over those next five days, neither of us would have even left.
A very appropriately named Rainy Pass was the destination for the day, about 20 miles and all up hill. Two hours in my right ankle, which had been aching for a couple of days decided to really let me know how it felt and a shooting pain shot up from it. I almost screamed with pain and came to an abrupt halt. Tentatively I placed it back on the ground but the pain did not abate, I hobbled on one foot for a few yards and slumped down by the trail side.
“Is it bad?” Trooper asked.
“Yeah, it certainly feels that way,” I said, trying to look positive but failing miserably.
We ate a wet lunch as I became more concerned about the pain but amazingly after 30 minutes it subsided a little and we carried on. However, several times during the ensuing miles the pain hit me again. I knew there was a highway at Rainy Pass, the last bail out point for 90 miles and the Canadian border. I decided to get off trail and come back in 2011 and finish the PCT then, I had reached breaking point and could see no way of hiking that far with my ankle the way it was.
I remembered, during my research on the PCT seeing numerous videos of two brothers who set out on the PCT. One of them was plagued with severe blisters for the entire route but he stuck it out. I remember watching in surprise and disbelief when at Rainy Pass, with some 61 miles left to complete the PCT, he made the decision to quit and get off trail. I remember thinking to myself – ‘Surely you can tough it out for a another 61 miles? Surely, you’ve come this far’. But, he didn’t.
Now, I was here in exactly the same situation. I hadn’t said anything about my decision to Trooper for fear he would quit as well, this last section was shaping up to be the toughest of the entire trail. I decided, one more time, to push through and ignore the pain.
The snow worsened the deeper we ventured into the Cascades
And worsened the higher we went
Trooper at camp
Rainy Pass came at 7pm but should have been re-named Snowy Pass as a couple of inches had fallen. Somehow I had fought off my demons and convinced myself to get through. My ankle, I thought, will do whatever the hell it wants.
I woke in the morning at 6am, as usual, and glanced at my watch. -7 Celcius, 7 degrees below freezing.
“You up Trooper?” I called.
“My mind is but my body is still catching up.”
We plodded up to Cutthroat Pass at 6800 feet, the snow getting deeper. As we crested I looked despondently at what lay before me. Everything was white and the trail had disappeared leaving the slightest dip in the surface of the snow at best, most of the time we didn’t even have that. I studied the map, checked we were on the right track and tried to relay what I saw on the map with what panned out in front of me. This would be the pattern for the next four days. The Pacific Crest trail had gone, at least until the thaw. Our course of action was to check the map regularly, take GPS readings when we thought we needed to verify our location, but mainly to try and concentrate on the tiny dip in the ground where the PCT lay beneath.
Somehow it worked. Plenty of times we lost that dip and had to scan ahead. Sure enough, we would spot it again a hundred yards or so ahead, or notice a faint cutting into the side of a ridge. Washington is poorly marked, there were little or no signs to help us out. There were no foot prints either, we were the first, and probably last hikers through the fresh snow.
The temperature did not rise above freezing all day. Our feet got cold when we stopped and took 30 minutes to warm up again. Our hands had to stay cocooned in gloves, becoming painfully cold even after a few seconds in the open. We waded through snow drifts up to our thighs and carefully made our way across slopes and ridges, wondering if it could get any worse. It did . . .
Somehow my ankle made it through that week. I think the snow helped, maybe the cold numbing the pain and keeping the swelling down, it also softened the foot fall. Wind smashed us at times and drove freezing, stinging snow into our faces. It was exhausting, our bodies were screaming for food and using those precious calories and fat to keep our cores warm, energy for our legs was not an important concern.
Pass after pass came and went, another peak passed us, another ascent and another descent. Our legs screamed and our lungs heaved in protest. On Wednesday 27th, at 3pm we stumbled into Harts Pass at 6200 feet. We had managed a meagre nine miles in nine hours. A solitary car with two day hikers inside was parked, the woman peered out at me appearing from nowhere with a look of astonishment on her face. We chatted to them briefly and they gave us apples, bananas and some tea and apologised because they had eaten all their brownies. Libby passed us her email address and pleaded with us to let them know if and when we reached Canada. We agreed that if she had recieved no news by Monday then they would call Mountain Rescue. It was good piece of mind to know at least someone would come looking if we got into trouble.
We called it a day and set about making a fire to warm up and boost morale, scraping away layers of snow to place our tents. We talked about Pockets who we last saw at Snoqualmie Pass. He had recieved news that his illness was confirmed ecoli but was intending to hike out and get to Canada. We knew he was only a day behind and half expected him to turn up at camp that night. He didn’t and we worried about his safety, we were relatively well and struggling, god only knows how he was coping.
On Friday we woke knowing we had 12 miles to Monument 78 which marks the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail and the American / Canadian border. We then had a further eight miles to Manning Park, a remote hotel on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Nothing could stop us now surely, we had battled through for four days. Fighting our demons, our bodies, a strong urge to quit and a hunger that just never left us we rose at 4.30am and set off at 6am in the dark and limited visibility.
Trooper’s last ascent of the PCT was before us, a relatively easy 1500 feet. We were in good spirits until I saw on the map that the trail turned sharply east into Lakeview ridge. The east slopes had taken a hammering during the storms and snow was drifting alarmingly deep. We turned the corner and saw a 1/4 miles stretch, barely visible in the mist. It was sloped from right to left at about 40 degrees but we could just see a faint trail. If this snow had been frozen we would have been in trouble. Neither of us had crampons or ice axes, not having the time to arrange for them to be sent to us. The snow, however, was soft and we carefully made our way along as it held our legs in place. One slip here and we would have ended up about 1500 feet down in the valley.
Down the Devils Staircase and then Trooper stopped abruptly.
“Whats up?” I asked.
“That’s it,” he replied.
“Whats what?” I looked at him waiting for some sort of verification as I tried to decipher the expression on his face.
“Monument 78,″ he said. “Look through the trees there, that’s the Canadian border, that’s where I finish my walk and become a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker.”
I peered through the trees and sure enough, about a hundred yards away the silver obelisk and wooden structure that I had seen so many times in photos and other hikers videos peeked back at me through the foliage. It was a huge moment for me as well but it also reminded me that I was yet to finish, still 330 miles to polish off in Oregon.
Trooper jumped for joy when he reached the international line. A clear cut line of trees stretched away into the distance either side of us marking the border. They cut all those trees down just to mark the bloody border?! I thought to myself.
Monument 78 – The Official end of the PCT (but not for me!)
We took endless photos and video and I then partook of the smoking of the ceremonial stogie. A stogie is a cigar that was kindly left for me at Stehekin in the post by Ceder Elk, an inspirational hiker I had walked with back in California. He had left it for me to smoke at the border as well as a request for me to sign the log book because he couldn’t find it! It is is actually located under the obelisk, the top portion of which lifts off.
We now had a mere eight miles to Manning Park, where a warm hotel waited for us along with a shower and as much food as we could eat. The final blow was a 1000 foot climb though, just to rub it in and we arrived cold, tired and literally glad to be alive, collapsing on our beds exhausted.
I called my parents in the morning to share the good news and could not have anticipated what sadness I was about to recieve in reply. My mother tried to tell me but broke down in tears, passing the phone to my sister Tracy.
“Keith, Nan died this morning. She had a stroke a couple of weeks ago and has been in hospital since. She couldn’t really talk but understood what we were saying and nodded her answers. Bruv, we asked her if she wanted you to finish the walk for her and everyone. You will probably miss the funeral but she nodded that she wants you to complete it, she definitely wants you to complete it. My sister was trying also to hold back the tears and I broke down myself.
My Mum came back on the line. “Keith, you must finish the walk now for Nan, she wanted you to finish. Go and finish it off for her.”
I choked back a few tears trying to come to terms with the news. My high had come down to earth with a thump.
“OK, I will,” I said. “I’ll do it for Nan.”
In all my life time I have never exchanged a bad word or feeling with my lovely Nan. We had never argued, it was only ever good feelings between us. She was one of the most caring people I have been privileged to know, always meeting me with a smile and a kiss and a “Hello Keify”, with an affectionate shrug of her shoulders. She shone with affection that radiated out from her, I could always sense it. Not a bad bone in her body.
To think I have suffered on this hike is nothing compared to what my Nan went through in the early years of her life. Struggling to bring up three children through a world war with little money to buy even the basics she took care of all of them somehow.
This final two weeks is not just for my Nan, my entire Pacific Crest Trail 2010 thru-hike is in her memory and honour.
I will miss her dearly but I feel comforted that I saw her before I went to say good bye.
I’ll see you when I get back,” I had said. Little did I know then then that I would never see her again.
Bye Nan, see you on the other side.
Harriett Ann Charman – 12/1/1916 to 30/10/2010
Known to all as Nancy, my beautiful Nan passed away on the day I reached Canada.
My 2010 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike is in memory of her.
Down, but definitely not out!
After reaching the border with Trooper we got the bus to Vancouver and spent a couple of days resting. Trooper left to go back home and Pockets arrived shortly after, still ill with e-coli and struggling to do anything, especially walking. I had contacted the ’2 Brits’, Nick and Chris who are also thru-hiking. The last time I saw them was way back at Bridport in CA. Amazingly, they had also missed the same section as I in Oregon to get upto Washington and complete that before the snow came. I had recieved news that they had reached Canada a few days before me and Uncle Gary had given me their email address. ‘Are you going back to walk the section you missed in Oregon’ was what I had sent. A few hours later Nick had replied ‘Yep, sure am. Come join us!’ Before I knew it we were travelling back down to Cascade Locks for the final section of my thru- hike.
Oregon has lulled us into a false sense of security. Promises from the locals when I was last down here of milder weather, higher temperatures and snow that doesn’t come to much haven’t, well, come to much.
Chris, Nick and I left Cascade Locks on Tuesday 2nd November confident of polishing of the remaining 330 or so miles and being rewarded with the label of a ‘Thru-hiker’. The first couple of days were hard, some brutal climbs and plunging temperatures made the going harder than we had anticipated, but we soldiered on. The odd section of trail was covered in snow from a fall a couple of weeks previously but we ploughed through.
We stumbled out onto Skyline Road on 7th November late evening around 8pm, cold and hungry. We searched the nearby campsite for the promised shelter we had seen on a map as snow flakes fell past our head torches almost completely obscuring the view. She shelter was basic, a bare dirt floor and picnic table inside with one wall completely open to the elements. We set about making a fire which always lifted our spirits, placing our feet on the stones and waiting for them to warm back into life. Water sources are covered in ice and snow now and we find ourselves digging through to filter out enough to re-hydrate.
We knew the following day would be tough, a 1500 foot ascent in the morning and 2000 feet in the afternoon didn’t concern us too much, it was what the weather was going to throw at us which made our progress uncertain. The following morning that uncertainty was answered a mere three miles into the days walk when we decided unanimously that we would not make it any further on the trail. A hard decision to make but the Brits I am walking with remained level headed and sensible about the limited options we were faced with. Snow had drifted upto our thighs, visibility was poor and we were stopping literally every two minutes to take bearings and GPS readings that were abandoned another two minutes after that.
We returned to the shelter, dried out and took stock of the situation. Is my Pacific Crest Trail through hike over? The hell it is! We may not be able to finish off the section to Crater Lake by trail but we will still make it down there. All three of us are determined to make it through despite what may get in our way. We have not come this far to back out with 190 miles left on the clock. Nick and Chris are as confident as I am of pulling out all the stops and grinding through to the end.
Nick’s foot evaporating the days snow by the fire