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