Day 2.120-123: Thru!

Stehekin to Manning Park, BC
Mile 2569 – Mile 2650

Smoke on the water at Stehekin Landing

I awoke before dawn with the realization that I had miscalculated par for PCT trail golf. For those of you scoring at home, par should really be 46,640 (5x the number of par 5’s, 9328). As I reflected on the oddities of brain function, I recalled the sticky bun I had secreted away for my breakfast. I have lived in Washington for for 48 years but for whatever reason, had never been to Stehekin, a small resort town accessible only by boat or airplane on the north end of Lake Chelan. Let me just say, the transcendent experience I had eating that sticky bun all but guaranteed a return visit to further explore the astonishingly delectable delights of its bakery. I can’t recommend it more highly but check the wildfire/smoke report beforehand.

Double beautiful

I spent most of one day walking through spectacular North Cascades National Park. I encountered several rangers all eager to tell me where to camp and ensure I had a permit. It was the only time I had been asked to show a permit the entire trip but I suppose it made sense given I passed through at the height of their season.

Campsite at Cutthroat Pass

In any case, I camped outside the park at a place called Cutthroat Pass. At ~7000 feet I found myself above the tree line, surrounded by mountains and rocky escarpments. I bet an entire year yields only a handful of days when camping in such an exposed place can be deemed pleasant. My good fortune continued the next morning as the rising sun illuminated the peaks in sharp relief. I enjoyed a magical morning wandering the high places.

Morning glow on the mountains

Mind the gap

Soaking it up

As the remaining miles ticked down, I found myself anxious to ‘get while the getting was good’. Smoke in the air, wildfires on the horizon, and loose rock underfoot all conspired to make me a touch paranoid about something happening that would render me unable to finish.

Pasayten Wilderness

Monster fire in the distance

I crossed over Harts Pass, the last road crossing in the U.S. and felt a little better about having a clear run to the border. However, sure enough, on the day I meant to reach Canada, smoke began to thicken and hang heavy in the forest. I ran into SpaceJam who was returning southbound after having reached the border. He advised me that a fire was burning close to the trail ahead with the wind blowing its smoke unfavorably. The fire had apparently started the night before and had yet to be assessed by officials. I thanked him for the heads up and made my wary way forward. I encountered a couple miles of smoke thick enough to irritate eyes and sinuses but no visible flame. I imagined that left unchecked, another trail closure lay in store soon.

Looking back at the fire

We’re getting close now Momma

As if I needed any more spring in my step, the border drew near and emotion swelled. After many years dreaming, two years actively striving, some 3500 miles walking, the proverbial last mile had finally come. Tears streamed from my eyes as I emerged at a small clearing and beheld the brand new monument at the northern terminus. Installed just weeks earlier, I was one of the first lucky enough to view the new wooden structure, a northern echo of its sister monument situated 2650 miles south on the Mexican border. I had done it. I had thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail!


With me every step of the way

I camped for the last time just north of the border. I had another 8 miles to Manning Park Resort where, at long last, I would be complete. On my way the next morning I learned from other hikers that the PCT indeed closed right on my heels due to fires creating a horrible situation for my fellow hikers just behind. As it stands, the last ~60 miles are now closed and I ache for those caught out with no way to finish. Momma must have been looking out for me yet again.

Oh Canada!

“Time comes to us all… we each have a finite amount of it… to do our jobs, raise our families, and do something good” -Bruce Springsteen, The River Tour 2016

Thanks for coming along on my adventure! I hope that sharing my story of the PCT counts as a small ‘something good’.

No matter the circumstance, whether entirely contrived or utterly unavoidable, may you find the grace to bear what must be borne and the satisfaction of achievement in choosing to endure.

Blessings on your journey,
John Betz

Day 2.114-119: End Game

Stevens Pass to Stehekin
Mile 2461 – Mile 2569

Fueled by friendship

If BooBooBoy or Indie had told me that the mysterious stranger looking for me down by Chinook Pass had been using a golf club as a walking stick, I would have known it was my buddy Chris straight away. A pillar of good cheer and support from the outset, Chris cleared his schedule midweek to meet me for lunch in Skykomish and give me a lift back up to the trail. He also agreed to hike a few miles with me north from Stevens Pass. True to form, he brought his 3 wood along with fresh fruit and a little something to toast the last leg of my journey. I reveled in the most relaxed, companionable miles of the entire trail. Of course Chris also brought a golf whiffle ball and proceeded to launch one down the trail perhaps inventing a whole new sport- trail golf! I have since done the math and making some conservative assumptions, par for the PCT would be around 9,328. Knowing Chris’ game, I’d bet the under.

Dyslexic good cheer

Chris in classic trail form

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue the matters”…W.Churchill

Chris had also shared the above words that returned to me over the next several days. I had imagined that I would float through the last miles on the trail but the end game proved far more challenging than anticipated.

Lake Sally Ann

Glacier Peak Wilderness

Things started on a high note. After saying goodbye to Chris, I made good miles and enjoyed a warm evening under the stars. Although the air was a bit smoky, the next day found me entering the alpine wonderland of Glacier Peak Wilderness. I passed a trail crew that had been doing some blasting in the area in an effort to improve the way along a steep ridge. I navigated the aftermath of their day’s work and camped at a high pass. From that point on, my trials began.

You never know what’s just ahead

Wild flowers of the Cascades

I descended the next day into damp clouds that delivered light rain on and off all day. I was soon soaked and with no way to get dry, I determined to just keep going in an effort to stay warm until it was time to camp. A brief break in the showers gave me enough time to pitch my tent before stuffing it full of my wet self and everything else.

Wet cloud cover

Water day

If you have never had to don wet, cold clothing in the early morning, you have been missing out on a special kind of misery. At least the rain had stopped and I told myself that generating body heat by hiking would eventually make me more comfortable. I had not considered the low brush along the trail, each plant holding a few tablespoons of ice cold water, just waiting to be touched so as to release said water into my shoes. With no way to avoid it, I pushed through. My shoes were soon sloshing and my feet were losing the battle for thermal supremacy, overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught.

Fire ahead!

Smoke filled valley

“It will all be over soon” came my mantra and sure enough, by the time I had finished with the day’s challenging elevation changes, feeling had been restored to my feet.
I had also arrived at another trail closure due to wildfire. The suggested detour looked benign on paper though it added an additional 15 miles to the 20 needed to reach Stehekin. Again, things started great and I camped atop Cloudy Pass that despite its name, relinquished glorious views.

Epic tent spot redux

Red sunrise on a smoky morning

Walk around

The next morning I walked down into a smoky valley, past Lyman and Hart Lakes and through the curious Holden Village. Nothing was open when I passed through but residents were up and about doing various chores. Near as I could tell, Holden Village is an isolated, intentional community of sorts attached to an active copper(?) mine. Filing it away for future research, I sought the ’10 Mile Creek’ trail designated as part of the official PCT detour. Purportedly 17 miles in length, the trail climbed steeply up a burned out canyon choked with smoke haze. The unimproved trail had not seen much use but there were signs that efforts had been made to clear and mark the way. What went undisclosed on the alternate map was the ~5000 feet of elevation gain and commensurate loss going down the other side. Near the top the trail became a sketchy goat track with dire consequences for any slip or misstep. “That’s not even really a trail”, confided a local I spoke with after eventually emerging on Stehekin Road. “Most folks are taking the boat up the lake (Chelan) from outside of Holden” he continued. Despite the harrowing ordeal, I had nothing but mad props for the folks who opened the way and made a walkable alternate possible.

Monster tree

PCT detour trail

Monster earthworm?

I reconnected with the PCT at High Bridge where bus service runs hungry hikers down to the famous bakery near Stehekin. I had been dreaming about the place and its fabled cinnamon rolls for months. The experience did not disappoint though I did hedge my bet by adding on a sticky bun and ginger cookie. Heaven!

While visiting at Snoqualmie Pass, Gary asked me what being on the trail was ‘really like.’ In the moment I struggled with a coherent answer. Upon reflection I’d characterize my experience as a contest of will. I have shared the highlights here and hopefully have provided some sense but of course most of the time has been spent in the between moments. I have been a human doing, ever poised to continue forward while observing and managing my inner life. Sadness, joy, despair, elation, tedium, and excitement have visited me in turn but I have never been bored. The low grade state of tension underlying every trail day will soon be over and I’ve started to wonder about life afterward. Regardless of what comes, I am confident my time on the PCT will forever fuel my ability to face forward with optimism.

80 miles left to go!

Day 2.107-113: Hang On Little Tomato

White Pass to Stevens Pass
Mile 2292 – Mile 2461

William O Douglas Wilderness

Somewhere just north of White Pass I made the mistake of allowing myself to contemplate ‘what’s left’ versus ‘what’s next’. I had just about 350 miles remaining to reach Canada and considering all the miles that lay behind, the finish line appeared deceptively close. Faced with hundreds of miles through the mountains of Washington however, reality intruded and mental fatigue threatened to undermine my forward progress.

Lakes abound

Dewey Lake

Rain the first night out of White Pass reminded me of where I was and did little to lighten my mood. The next morning I stuffed my sodden tent into my pack and spent the first few miles warming numb fingers. Moist clouds boiled over Chinook Pass as I made my way through wet underbrush that seemed to ensure that I would not dry out any time soon. Lucky for me, the sun made a partial appearance around lunchtime and I hastily decorated a meadow with all my soaked belongings.

Trail crossing at Chinook Pass

Norse Peak Fire walk

Gray overcast reasserted its dominance for the remainder of the day as I walked through the devastation of last year’s Norse Peak Fire. Many downed trees created a gloomy obstacle course through blackened forest and I had to surrender to an ashy slog. “Just do the next thing” I coached myself through the long afternoon until I arrived at the Mike Urich cabin.

Wet clouds and beautiful country

A sylvan oasis

Built and maintained by a snowmobile club, the well appointed cabin is open to public use. When I arrived, two other northbound hikers, BooBooBoy and Indie, informed me that they had met someone down by Chinook Pass asking about me. I could not imagine who that might have been but have since discovered my friend Chris tried to surprise me on trail. We must have missed each other by minutes and he surely walked past my hidden camp. Too stealthy for my own good, I had pitched my tent over a rise less than 25 yards off trail.


An unexpected party- Denise, Jeff, Karen, Gary, Lisa, and Cliff

Keeping my thoughts trained on just the day ahead, I continued my way north toward Snoqualmie Pass. I had told my sister and resupply angel extraordinaire, Lisa, that I expected to be there around noon on Sunday. She ran with that information and instigated a surprise welcome party for me in the trailhead parking lot. Joined by her friend Gary, my sister Karen, her husband Jeff, my cousin Denise and her husband Cliff, I soaked up all the goodness of the unexpected gathering. Fresh cherries, blueberries, doughnuts, beer, burger, fries, and fellowship renewed me.

Fortitude check

High Cascade ridge

Step carefully

Always too soon, I said my goodbyes and headed back into the woods though this time I knew what the next 70 miles held in store. If the PCT were a cinnamon roll and I could only recommend one bite, the delicious, perfect center would be Washington Section J between Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass. I hiked this section for the first time last August with my brother Dave and three of his sons. By no means an easy trek, consistent effort reaped the extraordinary rewards of abundant jagged peaks, crystalline lakes, alpine meadows, and sparkling creeks.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Cathedral Rock

My swimming hole

I enjoyed returning to the places I discovered last year especially a small unnamed lake that became my favorite swimming hole. After a long arduous climb, this seemingly undiscovered gem hides off the end of a switchback.I suspect most folks just walk on by oblivious of the magical tarn waiting just off the trail. I took full advantage.

Deep Lake

Sunrise below Trap Pass

After conquering some of the steepest grades encountered anywhere on the PCT, I coasted down into Stevens Pass ski resort mid morning. I waved to my brother who had been tracking my progress and was watching the resort’s webcam wishing he could share a celebratory pint with me. Here again, my sister Lisa showed up but this time she brought extra special guests!

The best trail angels ever

Easton and Anne, my niece and nephew who formed the core of my resupply crew encouraging me from the outset, ran onto the patio and gave me big hugs despite my grubby appearance. They brought more fresh cherries that disappeared quickly and we drove down the hill together to lunch in Skykomish. It was milkshakes around for Team BearPaw along with other tasty treats. I could not have done the trail without them and promised to come visit them soon in their new Colorado home place.

To go far, go together

In contrast to the outpouring of love and support I have received, only one discouraging word have I heard. All the way back on Day 2, soon after I had proclaimed my intention to again attempt a northbound thru hike, I awoke to a new comment awaiting approval on my blog. Courageous in his anonymity, an aptly named troll offered this: “You will be remembered as the person who failed twice.” I neither responded nor published the comment but have tapped it for motivation on occasion ever since. To that person I now offer this bit of insight gleaned from my trail experience:

Declare yourself in the world and live into the power of your word.

As for me, I am ripe, ready, and clinging tenaciously to the long vine connecting me back to the Mexican border. Hang on little tomato!

Day 2.101-106: Home State of Mine

Cascade Locks to White Pass
Mile 2144 – Mile 2292

Home state advantage

At just above sea level, crossing the Bridge of the Gods marks the lowest point of the PCT but it hardly felt that way. At the risk of melodrama, I reached for the finale of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung as my musical accompaniment but I should explain…

Seattle Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Like most kids(?!), when Kayla graduated from high school her wish was to see The Ring Cycle, a four opera epic of gods and heroes that culminates in Götterdämmerung. Seattle Opera’s renowned rendition was dubbed the ‘Green Ring’ for its use of Pacific Northwest forest as the motif for its production design. The first opera, Das Rheingold, opens on a idyllic forest glade amid towering fir trees and mossy undergrowth. Fast forward to the final sequence of the last opera, as Valhalla burns and the gods are cast down, breathtaking stagecraft returns to the opening scene but now with a large nurse log, lit by a shaft of sunlight, giving life to new saplings. After some 17 hours of Wagner’s stirring, dramatic score, at the end of the last movement of Götterdämmerung, a single chord finally resolves creating the most sublime moment of theater I have ever experienced.

Who knew Bifröst used steel grating?

Okay, so it was all a bit much for my 6am walk across the Columbia River into Washington but I allowed myself a moment of triumph nonetheless. After a good day’s walk through forest that felt like home, I happened to camp in a spot that I imagined could have been transferred directly from the opera’s stage creating a strange echo of my morning’s reverie.

Just beyond my tent flaps

Walking the hills up and out of the Columbia Gorge I began to encounter ripe patches of wild berries. Blueberries, salmon berries, and tiny mountain blackberries, encouraged me to ‘stop and eat the berries’. Less exciting, I also began noticing more unsightly blooms of white toilet paper littering the sides of the trail. I had thought Washingtonians would be far more trail savvy about leaving no trace and packing out all trash. Entering high season, I encountered many more hikers than I’d seen in either Oregon or California so perhaps more traffic explains part of the problem but certainly provides no excuse.

Sighting a wild Keegan

In any case, getting closer to home also allowed for more rendezvous opportunities with loved ones! A family camping trip near Mt St Helens brought back Kayla and Chuck, my youngest son Keegan along with his brother Cole and Beth their mom. We met at a crossing where the PCT intersects with a forest service road. A closure apparently made for quite an adventure in creative navigation to reach me. While I lounged by the roadside munching wild blueberries, I was struck by the realization that after 100+ days on the trail, I have experienced almost a complete absence of waiting. Town days aside, I just do the next thing when the time seems right and trail life falls into place. At the same time, I felt no impatience and was perfectly at peace when the crew arrived bearing food, beverage, and best of all, the comfort of family. We caught up on life’s happenings and talked about what’s next.

Beth, Cole, Keegan, Kayla, and Chuck

Immediately ahead for me, Mt Adams Wilderness beckoned. Hot weather had created a heat haze that almost looked like smoke in all directions. The stagnant air unfortunately hampered my attempts to capture the scenic beauty of the place. Glaciers tumbled down the western face of Adams to meet slopes of shale and lava that eventually gave way to serene alpine meadows. High temperatures contributed to impressive run off and created one interesting, if unexpected, creek crossing flooded with glacial melt. Since I had kept my boots dry all the way north from Tahoe, I stubbornly hiked upstream until I found a somewhat dubious rock hop to avoid fording the silty torrent. A literal leap of faith turned out well for all of involved and I enjoyed the satisfaction of crossing dry.

Mt Adams in haze

Alpine cascade

The atypical muggy weather persisted and I had a fitful night trying to sleep. Regardless I was on the trail again by 6am to fulfill an astounding bit of orchestration and planning by my brother Dave. Weeks before he had mapped out a summer backpacking trip for himself and a few of his boys and timed it such that we would meet up. They planned to hike the PCT southbound from White Pass and meet me as I hiked northbound on the same section. When he first told me his plan I was over 200 miles away and skeptical of the distance. “If Train A leaves Mt Hood traveling north at 3mph and Train B leaves Seattle a week later traveling south… when will they meet?” Dave assured me the answer was noonish on Tuesday July 31st and incredibly, he was spot on. Never question the guy with the spreadsheet.

Dave and Joe hiking the PCT

Mountain gold

LittleBeast, ExtraCredit, PorkChop, TrailNuts, and Chloe

“AppleJack!” came the cry of William(aka TrailNuts) who was flying down the trail with his friend Chloe(trail name TBD). The vanguard was soon followed by Warren(LittleBeast), Dave(ExtraCredit), and Joe who was on just his third ever backpacking trip. Joe’s a strong kid, built like a tank, who looks like he could heft his own body weight up the hill so I dubbed him ‘PorkChop’ and he accepted. In an extravagant display of generosity and enthusiasm, not to mention a strong, young back, William carried in a six pack of beer and as many Costco muffins for 25+ miles to fuel our on trail celebration. The beer was even ice cold having been packed in snow. William had also made creative use of bug spray and a lighter to convert a towel into a sign just in case I walked past their camp spot. I paused once again in profound gratitude as counted the many blessings such supportive family and friends. Y’all are the best!

My all time favorite south bounders

As my brother’s merry band continued south, I traveled north through Goat Rocks where they had just been. Stunning alpine vistas opened before me with many crystal clear streams cascading down steep escarpments of loose shale amid hardy trees and other tenacious plant life. After crossing several enduring snowfields, I encountered the famous Knife’s Edge where the trail follows an unlikely and tortured path along a rocky ridge line with steep drops to either side. I pitched camp high on a ridge just after the precarious catwalk and wondered about the smoke plume ahead.

Goat Rocks Wilderness

Headwaters of the Cispus River

Walking the Knife’s Edge

Dave had told me that lightning had started a wildfire in the vicinity of White Pass and warned I might have trouble. Sure enough the last 10 miles or so leading to White Pass were closed when I arrived requiring a detour to a lower trail followed by a walk along the highway. Everything ended up okay. I claimed my resupply box at White Pass and spent the afternoon sorting food and completing chores.

Good morning my friend, Mt Rainier