The week following my last post played out as if scripted from the pages of an early American adventure novel. Riding the ferry on Sunday morning (now two Sundays ago) from Lake Chelan to Stehekin took 4 hours. Ominously the snow level on the mountains was now thousands of feet lower than when I had ridden the same ferry into Lake Chelan three days prior.
The storm that had a "one in three chance of being long remembered" probably won't be long remembered by most. But undoubtedly, the half dozen PCT hikers I met on the dock, awaiting my arriving ferry, will remember the storm, as they were all electing to skip ahead or go home.
Off the ferry, now the last hiker in Stehekin, I alone borded the last bus of the year to the trailhead. Aboard, Phillip, a retiree most recently from Alaska greeted me. As much of a scenic route that the only road in town would allow, we took. And shortly I learned about the Post Office, Carl's garden, and the desire of the federal government to purchase all remaining private land within this National Recreation Area on which roughly 63 Americans call home year round (under as much as 6 feet of snow).
Stepping off the bus Phillip gave me his card, and asked me to email him when I made it to the border if the thought crossed my mind.
Several months earlier, while hiking, I had listened to the audio book recording of "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer, the true story of a 24 year old college graduate from Atlanta, Chris McCandless, who went off into the Alaskan wilderness alone, where he ultimately died. In the book, the man who dropped Chris off at the trailhead in Alaska at the start of Chris' adventure also asked for a notice when the adventure concluded.
In that moment, knowing I was conciously walking into a dangerous situation, Phillip handing me his card at the point of no return felt eerily similar to that book...
That afternoon I walked five miles before sleeping under the awning of a seasonal use park cabin in the North Cascades National Park. Over the next two days I covered 30 miles as I gradually elevated myself from 2,000 feet to 5,000 feet. With the ascending steps I felt the snow hover over my conciousness.
Upon reaching Rainy Pass, three nights after stepping off the bus from Stehekin, I knew my biggest adventure yet was just a night's sleep away.
That night, sleeping on the floor of the Rainy Pass outhouse to avoid, you guessed it, rain, an officer from the U.S. Border Patrol awoke me. At 2 AM he was puzzled by my presence, sensing that all other hikers had either quit or skipped ahead at this point. But he accepted my explanation, which perhaps was more digestable within a glance of my snow shoes.
Without an alarm, up to face the snow in the morning, I stepped out of the shelter, and into storm of my life.
The last footsteps were at 6,000 feet, the point at which the last hiker turned around, facing knee deep snow. For the first time, I strapped on my snow shoes, and headed north. By Cutthroat Pass, roughly 6,800 feet above sea level, my snowshoes kept me well above the bottom of the waist deep snow pack.
Following the trail blind, so to speak, with no footsteps infront of me was tedious. For the several miles leading up to, over, and past Cutthroat Pass I averaged between 0.25 and 0.5 mph, pinning my location often on my phone's GPS app.
Originally my plan was to traverse 15 miles. But unfamiliar with backcountry snow, I covered half that distance, and was forced to set up camp at Granite Pass, 6,300 feet, ontop of at least a foot of snow.
By morning, the clouds broke to reveal my incredible surroundings, which were veiled by clouds the previous afternoon.
Recognizing the physical challenge before me to walk 45 more miles like this to the border, and sensing the cycle of freezing and melting temperatures that create avalanche conditions on steep slopes like the ones I was hiking, I decided to follow the USGS quadrant maps and the Methow River to lower elevations and safety to regroup after Methow Pass.
With no idea what kind of shape the Methow River trail would be in, I spent a long, wet, perhaps even my toughest day, covering just 7 miles, 4 trail miles of which were overgrown beyond recognition, and more likely should be considered a "route".
Not knowing for sure if I could summon the courage to return in good sense to the conditions I was hiking in, I thought to myself that maybe I was already in the midst of my last stitch effort.
But having come this far, to be this close, I knew I could likely still find a way to reach my ultimate goal.
Before reaching the road where I would hitch a ten mile ride to town, a lyric from the famous Journey song, "Don't Stop Believing" pirouetted across my mind's eye, "paying anything to roll the dice just one more time."