To go Southbound from Canada, we had to go a bit Northbound first. It is against United States law to enter the country from Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and we’d be damned if we were going to hike up to the border and then turn around and backtrack to the first available exit point. (Sadly, if you have a DUI on your record, Canada will not allow you into the country, so backtracking is how you’ll have to end your PCT thruhike).
After reaching Seattle, we headed east to Snoqualmie, visiting family briefly before hitting the trail at Snoqualmie Pass and working our way up to Canada. Once we reached the border, our trail friend and Vancouverite Border Patrol picked us up from Manning Park and treated us to a fun, jam-packed 24 hours in Vancouver, which included all-you-can-eat sushi (hikers know what hikers want!). From there it was back down to Seattle and Snoqualmie again (sorry, cousin!) where we officially began heading south.
Reunion at Snoqualmie Pass
Once we reached Snoqualmie Pass, a tiny town with minimal local commerce serving the winter time ski resort, we headed straight for The Aardvark, a food truck with a reputation for being hiker friendly. Who else did we see sitting at the picnic table outside the truck and having a jolly good time, than Paint Your Wagon, the infamously gregarious and wild 60 year old who has attempted the PCT like 16 times or something. We’d run into Paint exactly twice before, the first on our second day at the Lake Morena Campground, the other just a week and a half prior in Skykomish.
He sat with two other hikers I didn’t recognize, making his way through a six pack, telling stories and stroking his long, white, ZZ-Top-esque beard.
“What are you doing here?!” I shouted at him accusingly. He was a bit toasty and laughed like a happy, grungy Santa.
We sat down next to them with my cousin in tow, a bit reticent around this strange new crowd, and began to share stories of how we got there. The longer we sat there, the more I thought that underneath the enormous, thick beard, one of the hikers looked familiar. He had very recognizable gaiters, they were Dirty Girl Gaiters in “What Does the Fox Say” print, (hikers pay attention to these types of things). Once he’d told us his start date, the day after us, I knew it was him.
“I think you passed us on the trail,” I said. “Do remember going up Hauser Canyon? When it was like brutally hot at 3 pm? I think you passed us while we were sitting on a rock on the switchbacks.”
“I actually vaguely remember that,” he said. I’m unsure if he was just being polite and obliging, but I appreciated it.
We then proceeded to talk about his trek from Campo to Snoqualmie, and congratulate him on being such a superfast, badass hiker. He was the only person we’d met up in Washington so far that had started the trail around the same time as we had, without skipping around. The only person, yet.
I then asked him an important question, “What’s your trail name, man?”
“St. John the Baptist.”
“Are you serious, that’s your trail name? How’d you get that?”
“When I walked into Drakesbad I was dirty and my shirt was torn to pieces and I guess I have this big beard, and a lady sitting by the pool said I looked like St. John the Baptist.”
“Wait, so these are what you guys actually call each other? Trail names are a real thing?” asked my cousin.
“Yeah, everybody has one.”
“What are yours?”
“I’m Chunks. Nikita is Indiana,” and we preceded to tell him how we earned the names.
My cousin laughed at this and eased into the conversation a bit more. But before long, it was time for him to get home to his kids, so we said our goodbyes and he drove back to civilization, leaving us camped out next to a food truck and a gas station with a bunch of dirty, bearded men.
We had a good time that night though, stoked by Paint Your Wagon and his stories from a life of adventure. When it was time to go to sleep, we pitched our tent on a short stretch of gravel next to the food truck and pavilion. Because the food truck was directly across the lot from a gas station, cars and trucks kept coming and going. While we set up the tent, an old guy in the passenger seat of a truck rolled down his window and cackled at us for a good minute. He probably thought we were homeless and reduced to sleeping in a tent outside of a gas station, and that was somehow funny.
The next morning we awoke and waited for The Aardvark to open for breakfast. Low hanging clouds now obscured the mountains on either side of us and rain would be breaking in the next couple of hours. I’m all for hiking through some showers, but all day rain is pure misery, and I actually recommend staying in town to wait it out if you’re in the position to.
We decided to stay at the local, over-priced Snoqualmie Inn and waited out the rain until the next day. Every hiker from the night before, as well as the newcomers that day decided to do the same. In their defense, they were almost done and could afford such luxuries with their time.
While we waited to check in, we congregated under the covered pavilion next to the food truck, going in and out to chat with the employees and to snack on whatever was available. All of a sudden, Paint Your Wagon came running over, coffee in hand and ready to tell a story- you didn’t have to hang out with him long enough to know when one was coming.
“You know one time a few years back I was camping out near Mount Whitney, at one of the campgrounds. One day I was just hanging around my site when I hear a car honking, honking a lot. I look over and there’s a car coming up the mountain road, driving like a maniac and honking non-stop,” he made the appropriate non-stop car horn sound effects. I stood around with St. John the Baptiste and another hiker listening. “When the car gets up to the campsite this older woman gets out and starts shouting, ‘Help! Help! My husband just collapsed! Someone help!’ I used to be a firefighter and EMT, so I jump in the car and ride with her down to her campsite. She was so distraught, she was driving crazy and I had to tell her to slow down so she wouldn’t drive us off the side of a cliff. So when we finally got there I could see a man lying on the ground and as I got closer to him I realized he was a gonner. He’d been dead since she’d driven up to get help and you could tell. He was all purple, and you just know these things when you work as an EMT. But his wife was so scared and losing it so I began to give him CPR just to make her feel better. After about twenty minutes of trying and after the firefighters showed up I stopped and told her, “There’s nothing I can do. He’s gone.” Then the firefighters tried and they said the same thing and then the EMT tried and when the EMT told her the same thing she just started screaming.”
He paused. And then said nothing else, that was the end of his story. The three of us remained silent, uncomfortably stunned by his story and unsure of what reaction to give.
“What made you tell that story, right now?” I asked.
“Well you know you say I always tell the best stories.”
Going Down South
The next morning, the rain was officially cleared and we headed up the pass and onto the trail again. About 3 miles in, I realized I hated hiking and threw a tantrum. I made Indiana walk ahead while I huffed and puffed my way along the trail in solitude until I was tired enough and burned out. Basically, exactly like a toddler. When I caught up we snacked and made up and I decided that I didn’t really hate hiking so we hiked on.
That’s when the wave started.
It’s strange going southbound, because instead of running into other people on breaks, at campsites and in town, you literally run right into them on the trail. At about 7 miles into our hike that day, it seemed like we ran into one thruhiker after another. Seeing so many of them in sequential like that struck quite the profile: they were all bearded, wet, and hungry-looking.
“I remember you guys,” someone said on the trail just ahead of us. I looked up and recognized coming toward us was the face of a hiker we’d met at Cajon Pass, about mile 340. “Chunks and Tennessee.”
I laughed. It was the first time someone had missed Nikita’s trail name instead of mine. “Indiana,” we both corrected. “What was your name again?”
“Haymaker,” he said. Bells went off in my head. I kept hearing about Haymaker on the trail, and thought I hadn’t met him, but just wasn’t able put the face to the name. Back at Cajon Pass, Haymaker had lurked around the McDonald’s for hours that afternoon, trying to convince someone from the incoming stream of hikers to split a room with him at the Best Western. Indiana had nearly caved, but I was insistent on camping out that night, and maintained a quiet refusal while I worked my way through a Super Size French Fry.
“We haven’t seen you since the McDonald’s at Cajon Pass! You’re moving fast!”
Though we only met him that one time, we spent about 10 minutes catching up, sharing the details ahead of the trail for each of us, and listening to Haymaker as he described the heard that was following his wake. He also showed off his tiny pack, which looked like a day pack and allowed him to keep his base weight down to 6.5 lbs. Crazy hikers.
“I’m going to stop in Snoqualmie to dry everything out and sleep in a bed. That’ll be nice- I haven’t slept in a bed since Ashland. Then Canada is only about 260 miles away with the closure, so I can do it in nine days. I calculated it and it’ll take nine 29 mile days.”
We were shocked at such a feat, but if anyone could do it, Haymaker could.
We said goodbye and good luck and hiked out a few more miles before setting up camp next to a nearly dry creek on the word of an older hiker, that there was no water for the next 5 miles. There turned out to be great water multiple times over the next 4 miles, and that was the last time I took any information from old man hikers without a grain of salt.
The next few days treated us to scenery that was both majestic and disappointing, alternating between dry and unnatural replanted forests and expansive views of Mount Rainier. We were also mostly alone, encountering mainly section hikers up until White Pass, where we met the front of the big herd Haymaker told us about. Hiking out of White Pass one morning, leading into the fabulous Goat Rocks (our favorite part of the Washington trail), a hoard of fast moving hikers streamed past us, no doubt planning to get in and out of White Pass as fast as possible that day. Hairy, thin and muscular and moving fast, we got out of their way as they stormed the trail out of Goat Rocks.
Goat Rocks Wilderness
This short and sweet piece of trail can be done in half a day, but it makes up for it with grand views and unusual scenery. At the peak of the Goat Rocks section on the PCT, three volcanoes can be distinctly seen in the distance. For 10 miles we were transported out of Washington and back into the Sierras. Rocky, multi-colored mountains and lush valleys, but no goats. The past few days before the Goat Rocks, smoke had again wafted into the air, but that day, we were extremely lucky. The wind changed direction and was blowing the smoke in the opposite direction with force. We got nothing but crisp air, blue skies and breathtaking views.
We were enthralled.
We highly recommend the Goat Rocks to both long distance and casual hikers. Especially if you live nearby, the Goat Rocks is an amazing, unique wilderness right in your own backyard. It can be experienced in just a weekend and who knows, maybe you’ll see the goats!
Mount Adams Fire
Southern Washington was rocked by the Mount Adams fire. It was a massive fire with an enormous smoke cloud and blazes that could be seen from a few miles away. From before White Pass and into Trout Lake, a distance of 66 miles, smoke hazed the trail and ash rained onto us in large white flakes.
The day after going through the Goat Rocks we came upon a group of 4 women, one of whom hurried up to us and asked, extremely concerned, “Did you see the fire?!”
“There’s a huge fire! You can see it from the top of the hill!” They looked very concerned.
“Well we’ve been walking south for quite a while and there’s no fire closure until Northern Washington.”
“The trail is closed?!”
“Yeah but not for a while. There’s fires all over Washington right now.”
She didn’t say much to this, and I wondered how they could come into this section of the trail without knowing of the nearby fire, which was one of the biggest in the state. I talked to her more and gradually calmed her down before we set off again, up the hill.
Once at the top we turned around to see what they had seen:
I could definitely see how it would be alarming, especially since the trail seems to be walking you straight towards it. But I wondered how they had missed that this was the Mount Adams fire- the snow-capped volcano was right next to it.
Over the next couple of days we crossed several roads with information kiosks. Before I hiked the PCT, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to these, they seemed to just state things I already knew, leave no trace, pack out trash, bears are active in the area, etc. After hiking the PCT I head straight for them to check what’s going on in the area. In the Mount Adams Wilderness, I found that rangers had posted maps of the fire, updates on trail closures and other helpful information about the trail ahead, if only the four women had stopped to look.
When you go for a hike in a National Park or Forest, stop and check the kiosks, you’d be surprised what’s going on the wilderness that you might need to know about.