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

17 Replies to “Day 2.120-123: Thru!”

  1. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your hike with those of us who aren’t out there yet. It was wonderful to follow your little blue triangle through areas I have hiked, but I have actually followed the entire trip. I followed you last year, understood totally your reasons for aborting, and was thrilled to be able to watch you succeed under much better conditions this year. Well done!


  2. Congratulations John!! What an incredible journey- thanks for sharing it with us through your writing and pictures. Best wishes for your next adventure!


  3. Hearty congratulations, John! I’ve enjoyed traveling with you in the comforts of home. What beauty you captured in your photos and what heart-filled writing that let us accompany you. Thanks!


  4. Congratulations on reaching your goal after exactly 4 months of physical and emotional ups and downs! I cannot begin to imagine the euphoria you experienced upon making it to the end of the road. You have a very colorful writing style and have done an excellent job throughout your journey portraying your mental struggles and how you’ve surmounted them. It has been an absolute joy following your progress both this year and last year, so thank you so much for sharing the experience with those of us without the time or resources to follow in your footsteps yet.


  5. Congrats uncle John! I read your blogs the whole way through. You more inspiring then you know. Look forward to seeing you at the wedding, thanks for pushing to make it in time. 🙂


  6. Congratulations! I just discovered your blog and your journey recently and can’t wait to read the entire story. I live in Bellingham, WA and know of the smoke from the fires in BC. 600 of them according to the news. Glad you made it through safely. Now to read more from the start.


  7. From a fellow MS FTE, congratulations on your accomplishment! I followed yet again from start to finish and hope to be able to hike the PCT some day. This is a great inspiration. Well done!


  8. John, congratulations on your successful completion! I’m Paul McFarlane, attorney in Boise, Idaho. I used to practice maritime law in Seattle, lived in Fremont, Bellevue and Snoqualmie (I had a yacht fire case with a MS muckety-muck, I believe his name was MacDonald). I’m a longtime backpacker that met my first PCT’ers on the Eagle Creek trail in 72, when I was 12 (one had a 75 lb. pack, the other a 80 lb. pack). My partner and I just finished the Sierra High Route two weeks ago, and are planning a SOBO PCT thruhike in 2020 (the 195 mile SHR was our first thru hike, with 3 resupplies). When I began getting seriously interested in the PCT last year, your blog was the first hiker blog I ever followed (or any type of blog, for that matter). It was kind of weird…It was out of the blue and I’d never followed a blog before. I was bummed when you stopped in the Sierra, although the conditions looked extremely difficult. I was really happy when you tackled it again this year, from Campo, no less. Congratulations on a job well done! Thank you for your insights, sharing your thoughts, your love for your family and your Mom, and your story. If you get through Boise I’d love to buy you lunch. Best, Paul (


  9. Hooray! Congrats! You did it! I’m imagining you settling back down in smoky Seattle. No walking in this bad air. May your feet and heart rest and root as needed. Thanks so much for letting me tag along on the walk through your blog. I loved it.


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