13.0 miles (Miles 2599.3 – 2605.8 + 6.5 miles to turn around and go back)
Rainy Pass – Just past Cutthroat Pass
It felt just like a race day this morning. My gear was all lined up in order, I was up dark and early, and my stomach felt nervous. This is a first for me on the PCT! There were a lot of unknowns. How much snow is there? How cold will it be? What will it feel like to actually get to Canada?
Well, the whole day turned out to be not how I’d planned or even hoped. It was exhausting, beautiful, emotional, hard, and disappointing. We got six miles out on the trail and had to turn around. I feel like we definitely made the right decision, I don’t feel like a failure, I will go to plan b and become a PCT thru hiker, and I’m okay with it all. The disappointment is purely simple. I just really wanted to hike the PCT to the border and the weather just didn’t allow it. The way I’m looking at it is as a detour. I’m just going to take a detour to get to Canada and I’m still gonna’ give that monument the kiss I owe it. It’s just unfortunate that the one detour we had to take was here, on the last stretch. But it’s time to move on.
We got going strongly this morning. Our group of seven (me, Tears, Cuddles, Fun Size, Atlas, Delightful, and Lighthouse) got to Rainy Pass and started climbing. There wasn’t much snow at all in the beginning. The sun was shining, but taking lots of breaks behind quickly-moving ominous clouds. I thought to myself that we had it. We could actually pull this off. The group was in high spirits overall.
The snow got deeper and deeper as we approached Cutthroat Pass, about five miles into our day. We saw Midnight Rider and her horse, Valantino, up ahead, stopped. They were just as close to the border as we were, and with finishing would be the first horse and rider to ever thru hike the whole trail in one year. When we got to where they were, Midnight Rider was wiping tears from her eyes. The snow was getting too deep and she felt it was unsafe so they were turning around. It was heartbreaking. We talked with her a while and pet Valantino (Delightful even shared her crackers with him) before continuing on over the pass. The snow was over our knees at this point and we had to zigzag a bit to find our trail.
During the next mile the snow got even deeper. Fun Size and Lighthouse were taking turns breaking trail (our Mexican Snowplow, as we called them), along with Cuddles. It was completely tiring walking behind them in the already placed foot holes in the snow – I know it had to be much tougher for them. Every step we took slid our foot one way or the next and we had to lift high for each step. We were also on a slope, so we had to be careful not to fall. It was slower and slower going as we worked our way along the ridgeline.
Then we hit a wall of snow. There was a turn in the trail around a giant rock that had drifted. We stopped for a break and started the discussion of turning back. We were now standing in three full feet of snow (seriously… up to our waist), the snow was falling pretty hard again, and we just weren’t able to go fast enough trying to break a trail through the fresh, heavy snow. Reality hit when we realized we’d made it one mile in over an hour. We wouldn’t even get low to camp before dark at that pace. We had to turn around. There were eyes welling with tears, but I think we all knew it was for the best. We all wanted this so badly… to finish this stretch of trail, but it just wasn’t in the cards today.
So… well, I said I wanted to hike the PCT north and give it a shot in these conditions – and until I hit a wall of snow that made me turn back, I wouldn’t be satisfied. I hit that wall of snow today. Deep down I wanted to crash over it and just keep going, but I knew this just wasn’t the time to let my stubborness take over. Bummer.
I took a tearful video when I had some time alone shortly after turning around. I wanted to remind myself later of how I was feeling after we started back, south on the trail. Okay, I might have been straight-up bawling with snot running down my face and everything, but it was actually making me feel warmer! Bonus! In that video I mentioned how I prayed for strength this morning… I thought I was going to need it for getting through the snow, but when I was given strength was when that decision was made to turn back. I felt way better about it than I thought I would. My prayer worked in a much different way than I thought it would. It’s cool how that can work out.
After a hitchhike by an awesome, friendly local, we came back to Winthrop and started talking about tomorrow. I was burned out on planning and logistics while in Skykomish already, and this whole evening overwhelmed me. Plans flew, dates, numbers, carpools, slackpacks, routes, roads… aaaah! A plan was settled on and I was still a little confused about some of the small details, but I got the jist of it. It involved me and Tears splitting off until we reach the border, which I’m still not sure we’re entirely satisfied with. I came back to my hotel room early and I broke. I cried and cried. I was just so overtired that I couldn’t think, let alone make a decision. I wavered. I’m still wavering. My final decision was to start out on the road walk with the group tomorrow and try to decide from there… our alternate/detour is a road walk for about 20 miles, then trail for about 32 to the border. It’s been a crazy day. I’m just totally burned out right now, but I will get up early and hike, because I’m not giving up yet. Even if this finish gets broken into chunks, I’ll do it. I’m almost there… so close.
Tonight I love the snow. It may have been what caused us to turn around, but it sure is pretty. And fun. And challenging.
Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!