The adventure continues! We are writing this from a suburb of Seattle, where Banana Ripper’s cousin, Chris, lives with his wife, Charlotte, and their two sons, Ben and Tim. It’s been a whirlwind of a week, and we’ve found ourselves in some unexpected circumstances. The bad news is that we have made approximately zero progress toward Canada since our last post. The GOOD news is that we are not throwing in the towel yet! Tomorrow, we will head back to Rainy Pass for a second, final attempt at hiking through the snowy North Cascades.
Exhibit A: The snowy North Cascades.
Last Tuesday, we hiked North as planned, following a group of about a dozen hikers who had gotten a slightly earlier start. (We had been slowed down by the Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop, naturally). As we began our hike, we were filled with optimism and excitement about having such a short amount of trail between us and the Canadian border. We climbed up and up, and the snow grew deeper and deeper. Dun dun dun. Once we reached the top of Cutthroat Pass at around 6,700 feet, we were up to our hips in the white fluffy stuff! “No problem,” we said to each other, “this will be totally manageable as long as we can keep following this group of trail-blazers.” We continued merrily on our way, picking our way slowly across the snowy alpine zone and watching the group ahead of us progress toward victory. Or so we thought…
Songbird feeling optimistic while hiking in the tracks of other hikers.
Around 1pm, we caught up with the group when they stopped to take a break and strategize. They had been out there for over five hours, during which time they had managed to hike only six miles. The two who had been leading the pack voiced a strong opinion that it was unwise to continue. They reasoned that we might not be able to get down to a lower elevation by nightfall, and that if the snow continued to be that deep for the next sixty miles, it would take a lot more time, equipment, and food than we all had with us. Banana Ripper and Songbird, who had arrived a little late to this decision making party, were put in a difficult spot. We had been feeling so great about pushing right on through to Canada, but we also had not experienced anything like what the guys in the front of the pack had been facing. We knew for sure that we were not equipped to break trail by ourselves, what with our trail running shoes and limited cold weather clothing. So, after five months of being a self-sufficient team of two people and one penguin, we were forced to admit that we couldn’t keep going without the help of a larger group.
A difficult spot of thinking this was our End of the Thru-Hike Picture.
The scene was quite intense. People were fighting, crying, throwing snowballs, taking photos, and trying to avoid hypothermia. We could barely even talk to each other over the noise of the crowd. We also had the strange dilemma of simultaneously having to experience the heartbreak of ending our hike while also being reunited with some of our old friends from our desert days for the first time since May! This was not at all how we had expected our hike to end. We wanted to sit there for a while experiencing all of the feelings and taking it all in. We couldn’t do that, though, because there were too many people around and because we were losing precious body heat by the second. In the middle of all of this, the sky became dark and we were suddenly immersed in a full-on snow flurry. To avoid getting soaked and even colder, we began our disheartened descent back to the trail head.
The rowdy group at our turn-around point.
On the way down, we did manage to get a lot warmer, but we struggled with just about everything else. Was this really the end? What were we supposed to do next? How could we begin our victory tour without having been victorious? What were we going to do with all of our instant mashed potatoes in the front country? Several people had made a back-up plan to hike on a lower (less snowy) alternate route to cross the Canadian border in a different location, so as to find a sense of closure for their long journeys. We spent several hours weighing the pros and cons of this option and going through several cycles of sadness, anger, peaceful resignation, determination, back to sadness, etc. In the process, we learned that it is very difficult to decide what you want to do when you are in the midst of experiencing the heartbreak of not getting what you really, truly want. If we weren’t going to hike to Canada on the PCT, how could anything else we did be of any consequence?
Things getting warm and beautiful on the way down.
Still undecided at the bottom of the hill, we felt that it would be a good idea to set up our tent for a night of camping at Rainy Pass. We didn’t want to rush into any decisions and we needed to find a way to say goodbye to the trail that did not involve a sea of people and dangerous weather conditions. It was a rough night. Banana Ripper held it together enough to make us one last ramen bomb, while Songbird and Penny spent some time being sad and feeling the weight of a huge, unmet goal. The nice part about being in our tent that night was that it gave us the opportunity to understand that we didn’t need to walk to Canada on an alternate route just to be able to say that we walked to Canada. If we weren’t going to do it all the way on the PCT, we were simply not going to do it. We decided that we would return next year to complete the final sixty miles of the trail and have a delayed celebration in Manning Park. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was something.
What we thought might be our last thru-hiking night on the PCT in the Rainy Pass TH parking lot.
The next morning, we packed up and headed for Winthrop again, after sending some fresh thru-hiking hopefuls out onto the trail with our best wishes. Feeling confident enough about our decision to call it a hike, we began the slow process of reintegrating into normal society and making plans for our next phase of the journey. This process involved throwing away some of our most disgusting gear, coordinating with some friends in Seattle, and embarking on an exhausting shopping trip to the local thrift store to acquire some cotton clothing. We had been excitedly anticipating all of these activities when we thought they would occur after a successful thru-hike, but now they all felt like a bittersweet kind of punishment. The silver lining in all of that was that when we stopped at the bakery for a recovery snack, we ran into our acquaintance, Randi, who had been our server at the pizza place on our first night in town. She immediately invited us to spend the evening at her cabin in the woods! We had a lovely time eating home-cooked dinner and chatting by the fire with Randi and Abby, another local who works at the bakery. They both took excellent care of us and helped to lift our spirits. Randi even went as far as to give us a ride all the way to Leavenworth the next morning!
Banana Bird with Randi and Abby at the Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop. One reason we love this town is the number of Melanzanas we’ve found!
From Leavenworth, we commenced the tour of visiting people we know in the Northwest. Our first stop was near Stevens Pass, where Songbird’s friend Flash lives. Flash took us to her home in Index, by way of the ski area, where we romped in the snow with her dog, Indy,and watched some eager skiers who were starting the season early. We enjoyed a wonderful evening of home-cooked food and conversation with Flash, Dan, and Indy, and were lulled to sleep by the sound of the nearby Skykomish River. In the morning, Flash made us some amazing blueberry muffins and we lounged around for several hours and several games of tug with the dog before moving toward our next destination. Flash brought us here to Woodinville, by way of the Red Hook Brewery, where we were thrilled to discover that the tour involved zero walking.
Banana Bird with Flash in our newly acquired cotton clothing.
In the midst of all of this travel and socializing, we have become aware that all hope may not be lost for our thru-hike. Even before we left Winthrop, we got word that some of the hikers who went up to Cutthroat Pass the day after we did had been able to continue North and were likely to make it all the way to Canada. It started to seem possible that we could just wait a few more days and then follow a nicely established path through the snow. Perhaps if we acquired some more winter appropriate gear, we could give it another shot! This is the part of the blog post where it becomes clear that we are by no means finished riding the emotional roller coaster. If other people were going to make it to Canada on the PCT, why shouldn’t we? We began plotting our return to the trail immediately. In the mean time, we thought it would be prudent to be a little patient and to carry on with our plans so as not to spend too many days waiting around in Winthrop for news and weather reports.
We found this rock that was artfully hidden in a tree at Rainy Pass by our dear friends Karen and Cecilia back in July as they were moving from Seattle to New Hampshire! Wow, that was fun.
In Woodinville, we have been enjoying the company of Banana Ripper’s relatives. Between games and art projects with a three year-old and a four year-old, we have enjoyed some conversations with adults and have continued to rack up our tally of home-cooked meals. Chris and Charlotte have been wonderful hosts in every way, and have been very supportive of our tentative plans to go back and finish this thing. Today, we borrowed a car in order to stock up on necessities at REI and Safeway. Several hundred dollars later, we are feeling confident about being able to tromp through all of the snow with relative ease, comfort, and style. We would have broken the bank even further if it hadn’t been for Chris’s generous donation of a loaner pair of snow shoes and a warmer sleeping bag. Thanks, Chris!
Banana Ripper, Cousin Chris, Songbird in front of the North Cascades Mountain Hostel.
We have mostly solidified our plans to start making our way back to the trail tomorrow. Chris will drive us back to Rainy Pass in the late morning. We’ll also be meeting up with our friend Fun Size, who will be our companion for this final attempt. He was part of the group that turned around last Tuesday, and was reluctant to return to his home in Portland with such an important piece of unfinished business still lingering. The three of us have been collaborating on the plan to give it another shot, so we will have some good company for this leg of the journey. Because we don’t want to start hiking over a high pass tomorrow afternoon, we’ll probably end up spending yet another night in our new favorite town, Winthrop, before hitting the trail once and for all on Tuesday. We’re planning on allowing ourselves five days to complete the 68 mile hike to Manning Park. Normally that distance would take us three days, but we’re expecting to move slowly over what sounds like some pretty challenging terrain. We hope to be in Canada by next weekend! Until then, we will continue to approach this whole thing with cautious optimism and a renewed sense of determination.