It’s so cold in the morning that I have a hard time moving, joints screeching in protest against the temperature. It doesn’t help that my alarm keeps malfunctioning – it goes off, then I move my phone to check the screen, and the alarm turns itself off. I feel like I should have to try harder to sleep in. But everyone else is rustling around, and it serves the purpose of an alarm – I get to rustling, too.
I think about the coming day as I pack: assuming everything goes well today, there’s only one more night ahead of me on trail. If I do well today and tomorrow, my prize will be sleeping inside whenever I want. It’s a weird phrasing for a weird sentiment. I pack as quick as I can, but everyone gets out before me – oh god why am I so sloooow – but I manage to get out by 7:15, the time I pulled out of camp yesterday. I’m nothing if not consistent, I suppose.
So it’s out and up, immediately up, a bunch of switchbacks to warm my puffy from the inside in the freezing morning.
I time myself – an hour later, and I’m only two miles into the three-mile climb, huffing and puffing, still cold despite the sun slowly finding its way into my valley. I’m glad I kept my puffy on – I shiver to think what would’ve happened to my muscles had I tried to tough it out.
By the time we finish, I’m told – though I take it with a grain of salt – that we will’ve climbed the equivalent of Everest 14 times over the course of our journey. That sounds crazy to me. And after all that, we’ve only got about 5-6000 feet of ups left to do. I’m not sure I can fathom either of those data points.
Finally, it’s up and over the ridge, winding around and down, kept company by the views.
That it’s a nice day out shows – there are lots of dayhikers out and about today. There are section hikers out, four older ladies come up from Harts Pass who are really excited to talk to me about the trail. They give me their congratulations, try to give me food, which I politely decline – no pls pls no – but it’s rad to talk to them about their trip and experiences as well.
On the way down, I also pass a bunch of dayhikers – a couple with older doggos, another couple who are very concerned about my well-being all the way out here, and a gentleman who just smiles as he passes. He knows what’s up.
There’s a lovely little bit of ridge walking – my favorite:
And then it’s down and around to first the trailhead, where I find I’ve settled into a nice pace, followed by two miles of “down” later, to Harts Pass proper.
I read the register – everyone who piled off the bus when I was headed into Stehekin is in here, a day ahead of me. Signing it myself feels like a momentous occasion. As does using the privy, again, for some reason. Not like I won’t have a lot of that soon enough.
Saber catches me as I’m trying to find the trail again, and passes me with ease. From here, I’m headed upwards, onwards, into a rolly polly day.
Up and over I go, towards Buffalo Pass.
Down to Buffalo pass, down towards Windy Pass:
The miles, the moments, are sifting through my fingers, and I can’t stop won’t stop mustn’t stop. I’m so close I can taste it, and my entire being is just hungry for the finish.
I take a lot of breaks this afternoon, but by the time I hit Foggy Pass, I know I have the potential to make a 30 mile day today – which feels phenomenal this late in the game. On the other hand, it’d only save me 4 miles in the morning, and I don’t know that there’ll be people up there. After the last few days, I’ve come to learn, to feel, to know, that this trail, to me, is not only about me, it’s about people. Community. I love being out here, love the challenge, love pushing myself, but people – here and in the frontcountry – are what make my world both heaven and hell. I’m a lot less of an introvert than I thought I was, I guess.
Down, down, down to Holman Pass, where a hiker is coming southbound – holy shit, that’s Sprinkler, coming back from finishing yesterday. I congratulate her heartily; it’s really cool to see the light in her face, the weightlessness in her step, to know I have that ahead of me. She’s super happy, and Neilbob is somewhere behind her. She’s trying to make Harts tonight, so I let her go, wish her the best post-hike.
I hit another thru coming south – who looks more incredulous when I congratulate him, more shell-shocked, than anything – before I run into Neilbob, who’s also lit up just like Sprinkler. It’s so cool to see people you know having done it, to get to congratulate them in person, especially if the 2:1 odds against finishing are to be believed.
From here, it’s one last climb, to just below Rock Pass, to where I’ll sleep tonight.
Up, up, past Squirrel and Clockwork; up to the campsite, huge and wooded, and the sun only just thinking about setting. It’s 6pm, and I’m unconvinced that this isn’t the earliest I’ve ever stopped on this hike. But it’s either stop here to camp with people or stop in 4-odd miles, which would require hiking in the dark, to camp probably alone. Nah. Home is where the heart is.
Saber’s already setting up by the time I decide to stay; Clockwork and Squirrel set up a little closer to the trail, and I leave off being choosy for the last time to go and talk to them, sit for a little while. It’s early yet. Undercover and A Game roll in and that’s my cue to start setting up, in case others roll in as well. Sure enough, Sugar comes in – which leads to pretty awesome conversation, or so I assume; Sugar’s first language is Japanese, and both A Game and Undercover are fluent. It’s pretty cool to hear clips and phrases from my brief flirtations with anime as a child, even if I have no idea what’s going on or being said.
I sit down to cook, think I’m going to have trouble eating this entire pack of Idahoan Potatoes mixed with olive oil and parmesean cheese. Once it’s fired up, I’m pouty about having to finish it, but between the conversation and the howls of coyotes butting in, I look down and it’s almost gone. Well that’s rad, and so’s the company.
The camp thrums with barely-contained excitement: tomorrow. We finish tomorrow.
When it gets cold, I retreat into my tent, figuring I’ve got about a 50/50 shot as to whether or not I’ll sleep tonight, particularly since my only sleep aid is earplugs, to stopper any errant thoughts of
face-eating coyotes. I click my spot, picture it pinging out my location to loved ones, and try not to speculate too much on what tomorrow will bring.
Date: September 28 • Start: 2609.6 • End: 2635.4 • Day: 25.8
Notable Accomplishments: Closed the gap to one more day • Figured out my priorities • Last night on trail, barring unforseen circumstances