Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Nocona Makes It To Canada

From Nocona's journal ... again, I spent my blogging time transcribing it, so I'm going to post it here as well as on her Trailjournals pages. It's really making me anxious to get started on another long-distance hiking adventure!!



Manning Park, British Columbia

Miles Hiked Today: 21

I woke in the darkness of the tent to the sound of snow falling hard on the fly. A stab of fear hit me, and I poked Eagle. "Hey, it's snowing! Wake up!"

"So? What do you want me to do about it?"

Good question.

He went back to sleep. I tapped on the fly. The sound of snow sliding off the roof encouraged me to rise and check it out. It was 3 a.m.

The wind had calmed completely. I stepped outside, hearing both K-Too and Dirty snoring loudly a few feet away, and found that there was only a dusting of snow. I brushed it off the tent and crawled back inside to the safety of my down bag.

I lay awake for another half hour, listening to the snow falling. If it weren't for our two companions, I would've been really scared. But knowing we weren't alone helped immensely.

I put myself to sleep by planning out escape routes off the mountain ... just in case. It made me feel better.

When we woke at dawn and stepped into the muffled world where the firs all wore nice thick white coats, you couldn't tell that a new inch of snow had fallen except by looking at our tent's roof.

As often happens when a new day dawns, I felt fresh and keen for the day's adventure.

Was this our border day?

My boots and water tube had both frozen solid INSIDE the tent. We think it was near 20* F outside and 30* inside last night. I wore three layers--even on my hands--this morning. Would be finally make it to Canada?

Funny. Here we are, a day's jaunt from the end, and yet we STILL have no guarantees.

The day's adventure began when the sunrise alpenglow lit up the gigantic 2000-foot rock wall behind our camp. This was El Capitan's more rough-hewn cousin. Snow graced the thousand ledges on the wall and the glow turned it a soft pink color. AMAZING!

I forced my battery-weakened frozen camera to life. These were special scenes to get on film. How lucky we were to see this!

When we began hiking I felt much calmer. The sky looked grey, but a line of clear sky sat on the far western horizon. Now, the productivity of each step was noted. Even though we often waded through deep drifts, I knew we only had a few more miles. Each step was, literally, a step closer to Canada.

Looming ahead of us was the 7100-foot high stretch of trail--the highest PCT in all of Washington that we'd worried about for months. It was our big obstacle. Surmount that ridge and Canada is yours!

I trudged carefully, but quickly, through the powder. There were austere, wicked-looking mountains behind us. Some of the drifts in front of us were knee- and thigh-deep. Most of K-Too's steps had disappeared in drifting snow during the 30 minutes that he preceded us. Yet, the PCT was still easy to follow ahead of us, leading us onward.

Just another few miles now ...

Around a bend, I paused. Before me was the high ridge, the last obstacle. K-Too and Dirty were both ahead of us now and hadn't turned back ... yet.

The ridge didn't look any different than the one we'd just passed. Just a bit higher. Blue sky was appearing overhead. A brisk wind blew in my face, but I couldn't help but feel a smile forming. We were going to make it!

Still, we had at least another hour of hard work in front of us before we were "home free." I'm very impressed with how strong we've been. Hiking 20 miles through snow is no easy feat, but we all seemed unfazed. Tired, but strong. Our endurance and strength is so important to have now.

The ridge was a hand climb, and the snow was deep and crusty. We broke through with each step, or we carefully watched the ground and stepped in the others' footholes. I'd been dreading this section for weeks. Its moniker on the map is "The Devil Backbone." But it turned out to offer only two small steep and exposed sections about 10 feet across. Our footing remained good and soon the silence was broken as we realized, "it's all down from here, baby!" Yippee!

The adrenaline could be turned off now. The risk-taker part of me could go back to sleep for awhile.

Eagle and I chatted happily all the way down off the ridge. We stopped just before Hopkins Pass to eat a quick lunch in the sun. My bite valve was still frozen solid.

The snow petered out. It had collected on the trees in a very pretty fasion, but the trail reverted back to dirt and stone.

Soon we passed by Castle Pass and knew that only 4 more miles of PCT remained. Chatting happily, we covered this distance in just over one hour.

Both of us kept straining ahead at very viewpoint, looking for a sign of the border. You can actually see the US-Canada border, because it is demarked by a 50-foot wide clearcut. I must say, it's the first clearcut that I've ever been happy to see.

We walked out on a switchback and saw several avalanche chutes on the mountainside across the shallow valley. Is that is? No. Is that?


An unmistakable line of treeless land cut a straight line (at the "invisible" 49th parallel) up the mountain. It was unmistakeable.

Eagle let out a loud WOOP, which was answered from below by K-Too. NOW we knew we'd make it!

A few minutes walk led us to the famous Monument 78 and the PCT marker denoting the northern terminus of this 2,650-mile trail.

We were a very happy lot of hikers. Very happy. I think all the bad weather we'd gone through and all the worrying made reaching the border all that more sweet for us.

It really is a very cool moment and something best shared with other thru-hikers. It's especially neat that K-Too is here, since I met him at Hauser Creek on our first full day. Debbie and I were taking a break under the big oaks while Weathercarrot and Bald Eagle played AT Shelter Tennis. Of all those people we met on the first day, only K-Too is here with us at the border.

We took a bunch of photos, including one of the chicken smoking a celebratory cigar and sipping on a Budweiser. I broke out the Crown Royal and the Border Rock.

The Border Rock came from the US-Mexico fenceline at the southern terminus, and I've carried it all this way. I have two rocks, which I may have mentioned. One I picked up in 2000 and the other I picked up this year. Now, one of them rests on the ground in front of the northern terminus. The other I will carry until I complete the entire PCT. Funny how it worked out that way ... two years, two rocks, two "finishes."

When we had gawked and laughed and enjoyed the border to our fill, we turned north again. Only 8 miles stood between us and Manning Park Lodge, where we planned to get a hot meal and a warm, dry room.

I stole glances backward at every chance. I still can't believe we're in Canada and about to run out of trail so that we cannot go northward any longer. Ahead are lower forested hills. We've left the high ridges. One more climb of a thousand feet and then we drop down, down, down to Manning.

The forest was peaceful and bedecked in a coat of snow. I went back to studying animal tracks, in particular, a set of canine prints that might have belonged to a wolf.

We chatted giddily for an hour. Then, we both began to feel the deep fatigue of the last two days settling in on us. We were running out of steam and adrenaline. So tired.

At dark, we broke out of the woods and were immediately aware that the road we had to walk for a half mile to the lodge was not a road in the US. We were indeed in a different country, as indicated by the 50 km speed limit and different striping.

The lodge was a beautiful sight. We walked directly up to the restaurant where K-Too and Dirty had already been seated at a table next to a fireplace. The waitstaff gave us a big cheerful welcome and congratulations. Our waitress was super excited and told me she was seriously planning to thru-hike the PCT next year, and I was the first woman thru-hiker she'd met. Another lady, who was just a diner, came up to tell me that "I've never met such important people" in a very serious demeanor.

All the attention, which I'd normally hate, was welcome tonight. This one time it was nice to have a pat on the back. We were all a bit in shock, for as I've said, we didn't take it for granted that we'd make it. I know I didn't! There is so much that can go wrong. We estimate that only 60-70 thru-hikers made it all the way, and I'd venture to guess that only a dozen or so legs walked every step of the PCT from Mexico to Canada.

Which leads me to our only remaining concerns. One, we are worried about the 5 hikers behind us: Nellie Bly, Captain Bly, Scrambler, Movie, and ChacoMan. I hope and pray they are safe and able to make the border. The weather has settled into the ongoing rain/snow pattern again, and I fear that the locals were wrong in telling us that the snow will melt off this year.

Secondly, Eagle and I have over 300 miles of PCT remaining to hike. We plan to begin tackling it in the next few days. I don't know if the weather will hold for even that. We can only give it our best shot, like everything else.

So here we are, in this posh and beautiful lodge. All of us are in shock--feeling relieved, elated and yes, even a bit sad that it's coming to a close.

I'm glad that I don't have to worry about the weather or get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow.


Congratulations, Nocona and Bald Eagle!

No comments:

Blogging Elsewhere

Hi, Strangers! I've been blogging with my friend Anh over at Then a Gentle Whisper . Check it out!