It sometimes seems hard to believe that we’re about to start Washington, the final state on our hike. I think it’s that, most of the time, I’ve mentally treated the PCT as if it were infinitely long — I mean, obviously I knew there is an end to it, but it’s so far that trying to actually think about getting there will just frustrate you. And yet suddenly here we are, poised on our last state border with only (“only”) a little over five hundred miles to go. It still seems a bit unreal.
Having said that, Washington is decidedly not for the faint of heart. The terrain is much steeper, the days much harder, and the weather quite a bit more serious. We didn’t get rained on for a single moment in all of Oregon, but I don’t expect that to continue in Washington whatsoever. It’s a famously wet state, of course, and so we’re prepared for rain; there’s also a chance we’ll have to contend with snow, too, particularly as we make our way close to the Canadian border and it gets later and later in the season.
There is, however, a beautiful tradeoff for all of that: Washington is also supposed to have some of the most spectacular scenery on the entire trip, along with the High Sierra. I’ve never backpacked, sightseen, or really even been, in any serious way, to Washington. I’m looking forward a great deal to seeing what everyone says is so beautiful, and so different, from all of the hiking we’ve done so far.
This year, it seems like half of Washington is on fire. There are fires burning all over the place, and I’ve heard that the state will hire anybody with any kind of previous firefighting experience whatsoever, they’re so strapped for firefighting talent. For us, the question is whether we’re going to be able to make it all the way to Canada while walking (maintaining our continuous footpath from the Mexican border all the way), or whether things will be so bad that there are sections you have no choice but to hitchhike around. We both really, really want to walk the entire distance from Mexico to Canada — but we’re not about to do anything stupid or dangerous, either.
At the moment, there are two sections of the PCT closed in Washington. The more southern one, which we’ll encounter in a week or so, shouldn’t be a serious problem unless things change significantly: there’s a fire on Mount Adams, but there’s a straightforward detour along forest roads that’s about the same length as the PCT, and seems pretty easy. Road walks aren’t very fun, but they’re not very hard, either, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Farther north, however, just south of Stehekin, our last resupply stop, there’s a gigantic set of fires burning that have not only closed a section of the PCT, but have also forced the closure of every possible detour or alternate, too. As of right now, hikers’ only choice is to hitchhike around the closed section, continuing their hike to Canada from farther north — and even then hiking through lots of smoke. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that conditions change significantly before we get up there, but, if they don’t, we’ll just do the very best we can. The trail is whatever it is in a given year, and we’re determined to hike the most of it we possibly can safely…and no more.
We had a treat this evening. We moved from Cascade Locks to Hood River today, both because our friends Treeman and Hedgehog stayed there (because of the bigger grocery stores) and because Cascade Locks is completely full because of Trail Days, a PCT festival. Well, Bucket has several friends from her stint in the Peace Corps, in Senegal, who live in Portland, which is only an hour or so away from Hood River. They came out to visit tonight, and we all went to the Full Sail brewery for drinks and dinner. (I didn’t make the connection that this was, well, the same Full Sail whose beer I’d drunk many times before until we actually arrived there. Ha!) It can be really nice to get a chance to visit with non-hikers for a while, and it was great to see everybody. (I particularly enjoyed having the two little kids of one of the couples around…it’s so rare to see children while through-hiking, for obvious reasons.)