Attitude & Layers

88 miles to go.  We leave Stehekin with our pockets loaded with cinnamon rolls and sticky buns from the bakery that’s been closed since mid October. (it’s good to have connections in high places.)  It’s hard to leave a warm house one more time.  We each have about ten days worth of food.  6 days of good stuff.  4 days of boring stuff.  Lots of layers.  Lots of attitude (Positive Mental Attitude, with a little bit of the other kind).  A whole village is now sending good thoughts our way, as well as the whole PCT community.  We aren’t just two people out for a walk to see what we can do anymore.  We’re being watched.  Bets are being made. People are being inspired.

Never thought we’d actually be the last two striving for the goal.  Running joke this whole season.  The last to Canada wins.

Leaving Stehekin. Brr finally weighed his pack for the first time the whole trip. 80 lbs. Probably always weighed that much.

‘Ready to go for a walk, Dances?’

‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’

We’re walking into a snowstorm, and we know it.  It’s going to be cold, but we want to try to get as far as we can while the hiking is easy.  Of course, with loaded down packs, I only make it a quarter mile before I break down and eat a sticky bun.

As promised, it starts to snow by late afternoon.  We make it partway up and out of the valley, cross creeks that are starting to freeze over, and make camp at a place called Hideaway.

74 miles to go.

Middle of the night. Wake up to a tent that’s too warm.  Realize we’re in a snowcave.  Nothing is venting anymore, and it’s all dripping on Brr’s poor down sleeping bag.  He eventually musters to go outside and uses a snowshoe to clear off the tent.  There’s at least 8 inches on the ground.  So much for the promised 3-5 inches.

While all this excitement is happening, I see a cinnamon roll sticking out of my jacket pocket.  We’ve recently had problems with mice, and the only thought in my sleepy head is: I don’t want the mouse to eat my cinnamon roll! Brr jumps back into the tent to find me mawing down on the sticky treat without a care for snow or anything else.

64.5 miles to go.  It’s a slow day to get up to Rainy Pass and beyond.  We make burritos and a hiker mocha at the pass, and consider how easy it would be just to hitch out to Bellingham and be warm and watch the movie Brave.  Instead, we march on.  Past civilization.  On to camp above 6,000 ft and tuck in for another snowy night.

Surprised in the morning to hear voices as we’re packing up camp.  Flatlander and Bouncer arrive on scene.  Snowshoes on, GPS in hand.  Making one more attempt at the goal.

I have to admit there was some trepidation on our part at meeting them.  We had heard that Flatlander was going to try to meet up with us, we were glad he arrived with a hiking partner.

At this point in the game, joining up to hike with someone is no casual contract.  That’s for summer business.  Silent D and I have been practicing in this kind of weather for the last month.  We’ve got a system down that works for us.  We know each other’s skills well.  As Silent D puts it “She doesn’t freak out. Ever.”  On an expedition like this, the last week out is not the time to meet someone new and try to fit them into your system.  We were happy to say hello.  Short conversation.  Have to move to keep warm.

They continued.  We finished packing and followed their tracks up to the top of Cutthroat Pass (scary name, easy pass), where we sat down to have second breakfast and watched as two figures traversed the ridge and rounded the corner.  Then we watched in surprise as one figure, and then another, were coming speedily back across the ridge.

Huh?  We wondered with mild curiosity as we slowly packed up and continued on our way.  We chatted again as they passed us.  The ridge got steep and the snow was a bit icy around the corner.  Too much for them.  The fun stopped.

I have the utmost respect for Bouncer and Flatlander that they recognized when something was too much.  They knew when to call it.  That is an important skill.  One most people ignore.  I also respect that they didn’t try to turn us around.  In our heads we were wondering if they would be saying ‘these kids can’t make it, it’s dangerous… etc…’  But they didn’t.  They simply said it was too much for them, and wished us well. Thank you.

We continued on.

Ridge on the traverse to Granite Pass

Traversed the ridge and made the steep descent in a couple feet of snow to Granite Pass.  Then across the next ridge.  The going was slow.  We didn’t have snowshoes on yet.  The snow was at the point where it really wouldn’t be any easier in snowshoes.  We’d posthole one way or another.  The trail following the contour on the ridge had perhaps six inches of snow.  In most places.  Passable enough.

 

 

55 miles to go.  Setting up the tent. Exhausted.  Bummed that we couldn’t make it any further.  At this rate, we might not make our rendevous.

There’s a crack.  We pause.  Stock still.  Assess the damage.  One of the tent poles broke.  Shattered on one end due to cold.  Nothing to do but wrap it with Tenacious tape, and hope it holds.

48 miles to go.  Get to the top of Glacier Pass.  Another steep ascent just ahead of us.  Time for another hiker  mocha as the sun sets.  Bodies are complaining.  Nothing to do but tape what hurts, hope it holds, and don’t look again.  Pep talk to the body.  Come on, just need you to get me thru a few more days.

We begin the next ascent.  Switchbacks across a meadow.  Why couldn’t they put them in the trees?!  Wading across snow drifts at each turn.  Silent D gets fed up.  We’re about four switchbacks from the top.  Pull out the GPS to double check our location.  We can just go straight up.  The trail stays on top of the mountain for a while.  We’ll hit it.

Switch to the microspikes.  Glorious microspikes.  Time for some mountain climbing.  Silent D pulls out his ice axe, I put my trekking poles in my pack and use his very sturdy hiking sticks.  Up we go.

I climbed up a mountain on a starry night with microspikes and broomsticks.

I didn’t exactly like where I was.  It was icy, extremely steep, the alternative was no easier.  At that point, the only way to get out of a sketchy spot is to move.  One way or another, you have to move.  I chose to move up.

Up the mountain.

It was worth it.

Hit the top.  Absolutely stunning.

Make another hot drink.

We are the only people out in this wilderness.  Two small people on top of a snow covered mountain gazing at the stars.  One of those nights where I felt like the stars were watching us.

I get this feeling that Mother Nature has finally decided we are worthy to pass.  That all the gods have us in their favor.  And they are watching.  It won’t be easy.  She will never let us off the hook, but she will let us pass.

All the stars gazing down at us.  Watching our progress as we finally donned our snowshoes and crossed the ridge to Grasshopper Pass and continued to traverse the next ridge.  Our slogan becomes ‘When in doubt, follow kitty.’  We know the right direction to go, can’t see the trail, but there are lynx or bobcat prints that seem to know where the trail goes. We follow.

 

No matter what else happens,  I have this moment.  This moment in time.  This moment on top of a starry snow covered mountaintop.  Everything that has happened before, is worth it. Anything that happens after, doesn’t matter.

I have this.

This one’s for the memory books.

44 miles to go.

Wake up to fog.  White on white.  Takes us most of the day to go four miles.  Pulling out the GPS often.  Having to trust technology.  Trust that it really does know where we are.  Crossing meadows or open areas with no sign of a trail.  The usual dip is covered by a drift.  When it gets too slick and steep, we know we’re above it.  We don’t like to descend because gaining any elevation is such hard work.  Maps, compass, check the GPS, look for blazes, look for the line through the mist.

We get to a low point where the trail hits a jeep road.  2 miles to Hart’s Pass.  The next section of trail looks just as, if not more, steep and sketchy as what we just came through.  We take the road.  One of the only times I actually opt for road rather than trail.  Even though it’s easier, walking a road has never been fun, and is still not fun.

38 miles out.  Hart’s Pass.  Our last exit point.  My biggest mental struggle. Getting this far today was brutal. If there had been a warm car, with warm people in it,  I don’t think I would’ve had the fortitude to continue.  As luck would have it,  there is just a bleak campsite.  Ranger cabin boarded up for the winter.  An outhouse and a couple picnic tables all covered in snow.

Not much discussion.  Make a hot drink.  Cook some food.  All Silent D has to say is: ‘If we don’t continue, I’ll regret it.”

Final push.  This is our moment.

We continue.

34 miles out.  On top of another snow covered mountain.  I open up the tent in the morning (for the difficult process of putting trash bags on my feet so I can struggle outside into the cold to pee) and the first words out of my mouth are ‘Oh my God.’

‘What is it?’

‘Look outside!’  The world is stunning.  Bright sun.  Blue sky.  In a small tent on the mountaintops. Surrounded by stoic snow covered ridges and peaks. This is why we’re still out here.

We’ve got this.

22 miles out.  We actually made 12 miles today!  There’s a celebration.  I have to do a mental shift from we’ll get as far as we can to  We’re going to make it! I can finally let myself believe that I’ll get there.

Canada is now our nearest out.

We are going to make it.

16 miles out.

6 miles today.

I worked for every inch of these six miles.  All day and most of the night.  For six miles.

Up to Rock Pass, down the other side, up to Woody Pass.  We keep switching who breaks trail throughout the day.

We took a break at what we thought was the last switchback up.  False summit.  Got dark.  Fog rolled in again.  Took a turn down a wrong trail that was unsigned.  We knew we were on a trail.  We could see the line. The going was easy, but the ridge was on the wrong side.  Kept waiting for a switchback to turn us the right way.  GPS again.  Turn around.

Wind whipping up.  Can’t tell if it’s snowing more or just blowing everything around.  Finally at the top of the real pass.  Round the corner.  Ridge is on the right side.  Snow drifts are deep.  Postholing up to knees or hips with snowshoes on.  Brr’s foot has a bruise from the snowshoes.  He switches to spikes and we keep rolling.

Work for every step.

Send a prayer to Mother Nature.  Please give us a break. 

The wind dies.

No more ice blowing in my eyes.  I can see the line of the trail.  We slowly follow it across huge drifts. Exhausted.  Getting frustrated with everything.  Stop for a break, but don’t want to deal with the wind chill, so we don’t cook, and just keep moving.

Finally to the top of Lakeview Ridge.  Above 7,000 ft.  Everything is downhill from here.  But I can’t go on.  We cook and try to see if we can get some more energy.  But we’re done for the night.  We’re supposed to get out tomorrow.  We’ve already pushed the rendezvous back one day.  But 16 miles might be impossible.

Must sleep.  Hope that tomorrow is a better day.

14 miles out.  We hit the valley.  Took all morning to traverse the ridge, descend the Devil’s Staircase and  get down to Hopkin’s Pass.

We can do this.  It’s just 6 more miles to the border.  Make spam burritos one last time (my favorite trail food: spam, Idaho potato mix, corn chowder, and cheez-its!), out of tortillas for this one.  Ready to go.  The snow is light on this stretch of trail, but I keep the snowshoes on to keep from slipping.

3.5 miles to the border.  Castle Pass.  The world is black and white today.  Cloud covered sky, trees a dark green they look black.  Snow covered world.  A raven flies overhead.  We take that as a good omen.  We’re flying today.  Nothing can stop us now.  The only question is if we can get to the border with a little daylight left?

November 18.  5:30 pm.  PCT mile 2660.  We hit the border. 

Suddenly there’s a switchback, and we know we’re almost there.  The graylight thru the clouds is gone.  Two turns down and we’re there.

This monument that I’ve been waiting to see for seven months is right before me.

Not a dream anymore.

I’ve had this image in my head of arriving at the monument.  What I would do. What my end picture might be like.

How we imagine it, is never how it turns out.

It turns out the way it was going to happen all along.

It turns out better than I imagine.

Dark.  Victory yells.  Running and jumping around like crazy.  Disbelief.

I pop open a bottle of champagne that I’ve carried for 80 miles.  I can now admit to carrying it.  (Otherwise that would have been a bottle quietly drunk in a corner). After all that long journey, I absolutely brought a bottle of champagne along for the last lap.

One more hiker mocha with the last of our coffee and instant breakfast mix.  Sitting staring at the monument.  This is really the end.

We got each other to the end.

Everything is going to happen fast after this.

8 miles to get out.

We have people waiting for us.  And we don’t want to camp in the broken tent on cold snow another night.

It starts to snow giant flakes.

Haul it.

8 miles to let it settle in that we’re getting out.  That we’ve actually accomplished the goal.  That I have to go do something other than walk now.

8 miles to laugh about all the moments.  Favorite, worst, most epic, hardest, weirdest, most random.

4 miles out.  We just made it up one more pass.  To the end it is not easy.  Mother Nature never lets it be easy.

Just a little further to our waiting family.

Snowing harder.

11:30 pm.  Manning Park.

Anticipation as we arrive at the road.  Then the parking lot.  Then the resort.  Door is locked.  A security guard pulls up right as we’re taking off our packs.  ‘They were just looking for you.  Weren’t sure if you were gonna make it out tonight.’

This is it.

In to warmth.  In to waiting arms.  In to a shower and a bed.

In to whatever happens next.

Final 88

About Natalie

Natalie Fisher is a dancer, teacher, silk aerialist, and choreographer. She is inspired by the wilderness. Her work involves finding the seam where her worlds of dance, aerials and the wilderness meet.

12 thoughts on “Attitude & Layers

  1. Thanks for sharing. I thought of you and Stephen-Silent D-Brr!-Sticks (he’s got more names than your cat Raoul) every day I wasn’t hiking with you. What an epic end to an epic journey. Not walking north anymore.

  2. Congratulations!! What a great accomplishment! Thank you for all the great photos and stories. Oh, and I loved the snowshoes picture! 🙂 What a dance!

  3. Great job. I knew you guys would make it! Not sure why it was stated that the conditions were over my skill and experience level. I have extensive mountaineering experience including winter ascents in the NW Cascades.

    Having a partner that was able to keep up was my reason for turning back. Even when I was breaking trail, he fell way behind. When I was asked to go on ahead and take the weight that we had split, I decided to throw in the towel. After 1/2 a day it was evident we would not be compatible.

  4. Absolutely Inspirational!

    Congratulations to both of you! Thanks for going to the effort to let us know the story of you journey!

    Coastal

  5. Congrats!
    I (sobo thru-hiker) met the two of you (and Backtrack) separately back in early September in the Russian Wilderness/a little south of there. I was wondering about you guys and wasn’t surprised to hear you were making the final push. (Same with Wonderer; met him the next day and got great beta about fire detours.) During hot desert days in November, I was kind of wishing I was slogging through the snow up north instead. I think the most interesting conversations I had with northbounders were with some of you cool folks behind the herd.

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