Day 154: Hello, Mount Rainier!

After so many days when we couldn’t see a thing because of all the rain, today we got a real treat: Mount Rainier! At 14,411 feet high, Mount Rainier is within a hundred feet of Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental U.S. (and which we climbed a few months ago). But Mt. Whitney is surrounded by scads of other mountains in the 13,000–14,000-foot range, while Mount Rainier is surrounded by mountains that might be 7,000 or 8,000 foot high. It utterly dominates the landscape around it, and is completely breathtaking to see. Not only that, but the recent rains left a broad, fresh coat of pure-white snow on top of Mount Rainier, making it even more beautiful. It’s incredible.

The PCT took us through Mount Rainier National Park for a little while today. Mostly, this just meant

Day 153: Mood: +1,000,000

I am so, so much happier now than I have been in days. Why? Blue skies. We woke up this morning and looked outside — clouds, but they seemed about to clear off. By the time we were ready to go, about 11 AM? Sun! Blue sky! After nine days of rain, it feels incredible to get actual sun, to be able to go outside and hike without getting wet. It’s amazing.

Where do I even begin? Tonight, I didn’t have to climb under the tarp

Day 152: Coming In From the Rain

Guess what we woke up to this morning? Yup: even more rain. While the rain seems to have dwindled over the past few days to what my stereotypes of Washington expect — all-day, on-again-off-again drizzles, rather than absolute downpours — it’s still nearly constant, and keeps everything permanently wet. (Sometimes, I feel like I might mildew if I’m not careful.) We changed clothes under the tarp, again, made breakfast under the tarp, again, packed up our packs under the tarp, again, and put on our rain clothes under the tarp, again, before heading out for the day.

Elevation and temperature around here seemed to be intimately linked, because we’ve been crossing the

Day 151: Snowstorm on the Knife’s Edge

The hail blew against my face so hard it felt like I was getting sandblasted. The wind made a racket blowing the fabric of my clothing, and I tried hard to just put one foot in front of the other, watching carefully to see where rocks stuck out of the snow. On one side of the trail was a thousand-foot dropoff into a valley…and on the other side of the trail was a thousand-foot dropoff into a different valley. When I picked my head up and looked around, all I could see was white — white from the clouds and white from the snow, sometimes blending into each other so well that I literally could not tell where the horizon was.

This is the Knife’s Edge, a long hike across an exposed high ridgeline here in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. But it isn’t supposed to be like this.

Day 150: This is Getting Old

It all started out so well. We woke up to actual blue sky above our tent this morning, which was downright shocking after the week of miserable weather we’ve had. It even held as we got ready and continued walking the road detour around the PCT fire closure — boring, but fast hiking. We even got a chance to see a view of Mount Adams, the spectacular volcano we’re slowly hiking around, in the distance! (We’re supposed to have been getting views of Mount Adams just about nonstop for the past week…but that’s assuming there aren’t rainclouds everywhere blocking your view.)

And it was right around noon that it all completely fell apart.

Day 149: On the Road Again

Road walks suck. It may not immediately be obvious that hiking along a road is so much worse than being on a trail, but it absolutely is. Most obviously, pavement is a lot harder than dirt, and so your feet hurt a whole lot faster. Also, you don’t really get to see much that’s all that cool from roads, because they’re cleared so far to either side. Walking roads is incredibly boring, because you can see what’s coming ahead for ages and ages — even on the twistiest of roads — when going at hiking speed. Traffic can be a concern, although the road we were on today had so little of it that it really wasn’t an issue at all.

We were on a road today because

Day 148: Escape From the Rain

We woke up this morning to yet more rain. In fact, it rained literally all night long last night; I woke up often enough to attest to that. As you might imagine, this gets really, really old soon enough. The fact that it not only makes hiking (and camping) a whole lot less fun, but also prevents us from seeing any of the scenery around here — at least, anything beyond a short distance from where we are — makes it all the more of a bummer.

It didn’t really stop raining for very long more or less the whole time we were hiking today, either, but one big thing made this a lot easier to take:

Day 147: A Reprieve? Well…Only Sort Of

This marks our fifth straight day of rain. I thought, most of the day today, that we might actually get lucky and be coming to the end of the wet spell we’ve been having; it didn’t rain at all during the day today, although everything around us was still really, really wet most of the time. But then, this evening, just after we made camp, it started coming down again…and so I’m typing this, listening to the rain patter down on the tarp above. It’s kind of a neat feeling to be warm and dry while it rains outside, truth be told, except that the knowledge that we’ll have to go outside again tomorrow morning makes it decidedly less fun.

It’s possible we’ve had more rain in the last five days

Day 146: Slightly Drier (Not That That’s Saying Much)

It might be taken as a sign of our attitude towards the rain that waking up this morning to “only” a great deal of water dripping off the trees all around us, rather than actual rain, seemed like a relief. We still had to get ready while being careful not to let any important gear get wet, but it was a whole lot better than yesterday.

As it turns out, the rest of the day held true to that pattern:

Day 145: A Soggy Slog

As I mentioned yesterday, Washington is known as a wet state. As if yesterday afternoon’s rains weren’t enough to prove it to us, last night and today made the point in earnest. Not long after we fell asleep last night, it started absolutely pouring, and continued pouring for hours and hours in the middle of the night. (I know this because every time I’d wake up a little bit to roll over, I could hear the rain coming down on the tarp.) And today it basically never stopped raining, aside from maybe thirty minutes here or an hour there — sometimes a light drizzle, usually a steady rain, sometimes a true downpour.

We have really good raingear with us, but, as anybody who’s hiked in much rain knows, this does not mean you stay completely dry. You know those labels that brag “Waterproof and Breathable”?

Day 144: Washington is…Wet.

I knew Washington was well-known for being a wet state, but I didn’t actually expect the difference to be this dramatic. After literally not feeling a single drop of rain our entire time in Oregon, it started to rain about an hour before we crossed the border into Washington…and kept raining on and off for our entire afternoon’s hiking here. I know it’s just coincidence, but it’s certainly a dramatic introduction to the state. We’ve even heard that we could get as much as two inches of rain overnight tonight, which is a huge amount, so we’re prepared to face whatever comes down. Honestly, as much as it isn’t very fun to hike in rain, it’s more than worth it if it helps put out all the forest fires burning across the state, so I’m just going to try to appreciate it in that context rather than complaining about it or feeling unhappy.

This morning, we hitchhiked from Hood River to Cascade Locks…and got picked up by

Day 143: Heading to Washington!

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

Day 142: Hangin’ Out and Doing Nothing

Ahhhh…it feels so good to be in town on a double zero. This is undoubtedly our last double zero on the whole trip, and likely our second-to-last zero, and somehow this only makes me appreciate it all the more.

Cascade Locks is a pretty small town, and everything you want and need everything they have is within easy walking distance of our hotel. This means both restaurants open for breakfast, all four open for dinner, the post office, grocery store, and so on.

During the day today, we

Day 141: A Precipitous Drop and a Beautiful Canyon

Today, we took one of several alternate trails we’ve done instead of the PCT at times — this one called the Eagle Creek Alternate. Many of these alternates, like this one, are much more popular than the official PCT, to the point where almost nobody actually hikes the official trail in these sections. The Eagle Creek Alternate is so popular because of what you get to see as you descend it: a gorgeous canyon with Eagle Creek tumbling down it…and multiple really incredible waterfalls along the way. (It also doesn’t hurt that the alternate saves you four miles compared to the official PCT.)

Starting off, we immediately recognized one big advantage the PCT often has over these alternates:

Day 140: Last Days in Oregon

Today was our last full day of hiking in Oregon. Tomorrow, we hike into Cascade Locks, where we’re going to take two full zeroes before heading across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington. This transition, as you might expect, leaves me reflecting on what Oregon has been like — and on my hopes for the next, and final, chapter of this massive undertaking.

In the last few days — I really noticed it two mornings ago, as we started our thirty-mile day — there have been more and more sections of trail that have practically screamed

Day 139: Leaving Timberline

Staying at Timberline Lodge last night felt so good, and this morning, as you might imagine, we were in no hurry at all to leave. We woke up in a warm bed in a beautiful room in an incredible lodge, instead of a cold tent on a really windy mountainside outside. Perhaps best of all, we were prepared for what we’d heard many people describe as the “best breakfast on the PCT”, the famous Timberline breakfast buffet.

And…you know what?

Day 138: Amazing

Today, I: hiked twenty miles…before lunch; did my first “thirty”, hiking almost 31 miles in a single day; got spectacular views of Mount Hood, which is absolutely breathtaking in person; saw the strangest, coolest little pond ever; watched a huge, beautiful owl watching me as I hiked down the trail; and ended the day at Timberline Lodge, one of the single coolest buildings I’ve been in in my entire life — and the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Bucket and I had both wanted

Day 137: Back Into the Smoke

There may have been some great views out there today, but, if there were, we certainly didn’t see them. The smoke blew back in last night at about 4:00 AM — I actually woke up and stayed awake for an hour, the smell was so strong — and stayed with us all day long. So, once again, any distant mountains that were out there were completely invisible, and most of what we saw was just blurry outlines of nearby ridges.

I should clarify: the smoke out here is never so bad that

Day 135: Two Thousand!

Mid-morning today, we hit the 2,000 mile mark of the PCT. This is a number that, in many ways, doesn’t even seem real: who hikes two thousand miles? A plane trip of two thousand miles is significant, and doing the same by car is a really major expedition. To hike it…well, that’s just crazy. Apparently the kind of crazy that we suffer from.

This also means, of course, that it’s