A Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike morphs and delights

By Dan Hane

It is another day of my journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Miserable, miserable day. I should have my head examined for being out here in this kind of weather. I leave camp this morning with all of my rain gear on, my driest pair of wet socks and soaking wet shoes, and it rained almost all day. The trail is overgrown and my shoes constantly are being re-filled with cold water. I have trouble staying warm, even going uphill with a pack on. I camp sooner than planned, but enough is enough. It has been raining for three days and today has been the worst. I’ve missed a lot of good views coming around Mount Adams. And, I have not seen anyone for three days. Seems all are wiser than I. I hope to make White Pass tomorrow, but it is a long hike for me, 24-plus miles with the ever present elevation changes to deal with.

Mount Rainier from Goat Rocks.

Mount Rainier from Goat Rocks, Washington.

This is not the hike I had envisioned, but the one I experienced. Many hours of planning and thought went into my effort to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It all became real on May 5, 2011, as I left Campo with a great deal of enthusiasm and a little trepidation. I am an experienced hiker, but my first day ended only 17 miles into my planned 20-mile day, dealing with dehydration, sore feet and leg cramps. Fortunately, Hauser Creek was flowing and I replenished my dehydrated body and set up camp. I shared the day with Mr. Furious, Turbo, Ducky, and Sean. I soon developed a routine and learned to plan for tomorrow only after setting up camp at the end of the day. Yes, I needed five to seven days food supply, and I needed to reach my resupply before my current resources ran out. Otherwise, the days were longer or shorter depending on water sources, elevation gains and losses, heat, cold, rain, fatigue, mental strength and sometimes trail magic. There’s no end to the thoughtfulness of a trail angel, those wonderful souls who give their time and effort to support and help hikers.

Near the top of Mount Whitney.

Near the top of Mount Whitney, California.

My first encounter with a trail angel made me realize that I would not be making this hike alone.     

The day got colder and windier and it seemed the planned campsite was further than I thought. I finally arrived about 5:30 to an exposed, treeless ridge (Sunrise Trailhead). There was an outhouse and water, but camping looked pretty bleak. I wandered all over looking for a spot with some wind protection – nothing. Then, as I was heading back to the gravel parking lot, I saw that a car had pulled in and an older woman emerged and headed my direction. I had no idea what was about to happen. Turns out she was a trail angel checking her water caches, and looking for hikers in need – and was I ever in need — cold, shivering. I am snug in my room in Pine City and Gerry will take me back to Sunrise trailhead tomorrow – or whenever I choose.

North of Kennedy Meadows.

North of Kennedy Meadows, California.

Additional encounters with trail angels further increased my respect.

Ran into trail angel “Tom” as we reached Chimney Creek. Cold beer and soft drinks lined the creek, and Tom even came up with Subway sandwiches – and it was lunch time! I guess eating is an all-day event for hikers. A much appreciated surprise.

Reached Etna Summit within minutes of four thru-hikers. I walked to the highway and immediately got a ride for all of us. Sometimes it just works out. Couldn’t find a place to stay in Etna. Hotel and hostel (B&B) were full. However, the owner of the B&B called a friend who was happy to put me up in her house. She also let me use the shower and laundry while I was waiting. Only in a small town. Very helpful.

During the 169 days it took me to complete my hike, I experienced the selflessness of a trail angel more than 40 times. This unsolicited help, in a time of need, still leaves me in awe.

On top of Forester Pass.

On top of Forester Pass, California.

Sometimes the rewards were just there.

 At 4:30, the morning air is cold. A bright moon and stars fill the sky. A 1,000-foot elevation gain warms me. Built in a past era, the trail clings to a cliff. Early morning lights in the valley below (Palm Springs), open pine forest, views into the desert, and a few left over winter snow fields. It is a beautiful hike into Idyllwild.

The lava lands near McKenzie Pass, Oregon.

The lava lands near McKenzie Pass, Oregon.

And, sometimes not.

The day started badly when I had to yell at some partiers to shut up – and this was 2 a.m. It was already a sleepless night, but they did shut up. Should have yelled sooner. Started packing around 4 a.m. because I thought it might rain. As it turned out, I was in the middle of a cloud. Foliage was wet, but not soaking.

Mount Jefferson, Oregon.

Mount Jefferson, Oregon.

My sense of direction has always been good, but there were numerous times that the PCT trail and I parted ways. Since I finally reached Canada, I like to think I just took a few scenic side trips. My longest side venture was only a few miles, but still, it ate into the day – and into my mental fortitude.

Traveled 19 miles to gain 16 trail miles today and got lost. Always some doubt about trails near civilization. Thought I was OK and had GPSed my location, but grew suspicious after too much time going in a northerly direction (I was hiking South through the Sierra Mountains). Wasn’t a hard fix, but took time.

An hour or so into my morning the trail suddenly took a turn that shouldn’t have been there – oops, I was on the wrong trail. Well, after some head scratching, map perusing, and GPSing, I found a trail that would take me back to the PCT without retracing my tracks. Probably explored an extra 3 to 4 miles and climbed several hundred extra feet of elevation due to my scenic route. Never did quite figure how I got off track, but was glad to be back on trail. The rest of the day went smoothly though I suppose I spent some extra time checking my position.

Twenty minutes out of camp I missed a junction. Yep – wrong way. I was soon suspicious, but managed to convince myself that I was on track – for about a mile. Climbed back up the hill and there was the turn – with a sign!

The perspective of what I have done dawns on me on June 26, 2011, as The Seeker and I finally reach Kennedy Meadows, 702 miles after leaving Campo so many days ago. Is this real? Will this ever end? This is not an everyday enlightenment, but I will experience these reflective moments throughout my time on the trail. So focused on the moment, when I do think of the past, it is rather surreal.

The Kendall Katwalk in Washington.

The Kendall Katwalk in Washington.

I finally finished up my first season of this fractured thru-hike at White Pass. While I waited for my personal trail angel (my wife) to pick me up, I browsed the trail log – – – –

Surprisingly, I recognize some who have passed through. ‘Triangles’, who was there on the 23rd, was one of the three that Gayle & I had given a ride too on the 20th on our way to Cascade Locks. ‘Forever’ and ‘Ever’ I met in Warner Springs while I was recovering from blister problems. They had made White Pass on Sept. 21. ‘Bugs’ and ‘Bunny’, a couple of guys from Israel, I had met somewhere between Agua Dulce and Walker Pass, passed through on the 16th. On Sept. 12, ‘Rocklocks’ was at White Pass. I had met her on the trail between Scissors Crossing and Warner Springs. ‘Chinchilla’ and ‘Pyrite’ let me tag along with them and their GPS between Sierra City and Belden. They had come through on the 6th. Mr. Furious came through White Pass on Sept. 4. I had set foot on the trail with him at Campo – a lifetime ago. I think most, if not all had made it through the Sierras’. A good hike I think.

In 2012, I hiked only from Dunsmir to Belden, but I connected with Bacon Bits whose blog I had been following before leaving home. In 2013, I finally conquered the Sierra Nevada. I summited Mount Whitney and reconnected with the trail at Kennedy Meadows where I had been two years ago. My fourth season took me across the California-Oregon border and to Santiam Pass in Central Oregon. In 2015, I finally connected all the dots finishing all of Oregon and the short section between Sierra City and Echo Lake, allowing me to check off California as well. In Washington, I moved the forward progress to Stevens Pass before being sidelined by forest fires.

North of Stevens Pass.

North of Stevens Pass, Washignton.

My final season was both pleasant and trying.

I stopped in a high cirque and enjoyed the view and a late lunch. Wild flowers abound. I think they were smiling at me (- or maybe laughing). I need more lunch spots like this. I am tired.

Emerged from my tent to heavy skies and low ceilings. Yet, one must walk, I suppose, so I did. A little climb and I arrived at Cutthroat Pass. I am sure there would have been good views here, but… Did some zig-zagging, up and down, found Methow Pass then fell into the deep, long Methow Valley. Rainfall around noon. Didn’t last long, but now everything was wet. Three miles of fighting thick, wet overgrowth put me at Glacier Pass. Set up my tent, and then it rained again. Tomorrow???

Left Woody Pass as the sun (yes – sun) was just painting the sky with the goal of Manning Park Lodge, 20 miles away. The breeze last night and open skies this morning finally provided me with views of the Pasayten Wilderness – grand and imposing. However, I soon dropped elevation and entered into the trees. Headed downhill, the last five miles went quickly. I knew that there were four switch-backs just prior to reaching the border and at the first switchback, the smile began. Minutes later, there I was at the Northern terminus of the PCT – 10 a.m. I sent out a SPOT ping to let people know. The Japanese couple I had been trading places with for the past week were waiting for me. Took pictures, ate, drank, and was offered a cup of coffee which I gladly accepted. Forty-five minutes later I began the final nine mile hike to civilization.

My effort at a thru-hike failed, and it took me six hiking seasons to complete the PCT. Planning for a thru-hike was an experience in itself and I am glad that was my initial goal. However, having morphed into a section hiker allowed me to approach each segment at a more opportune time. The mental and physical struggle was always there, and while not all days were grand — or even good —the rewards were many and ever-lasting. Initially, I was surprised by the number of family, friends and acquaintances who followed my trek and, equally surprised by the comfort that gave me. Reaching Canada via the PCT was a gratifying accomplishment that would not have occurred without that support.

Near Glacier Pass, Washington.

Near Glacier Pass, Washington.

Dan Hane lives in eastern Washington. An outdoor enthusiast retired from a profession in agriculture, he has ventured into the Everest region of Nepal and viewed the high elevations of Peru. In the past six years, he’s hiked more than 8,000 miles preparing for and hiking the PCT. He spends his spare time walking the banks of the Columbia River exercising dogs for the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter.

At the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.

At the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.