PCT Update 12: Countdown

Posted on Categories Pacific Crest Trail

I vividly remember my first moments on trail like they were yesterday. Dennis, his dad, and I sat in the back seat. Dennis’s brother Tom sat in the passenger seat and Tom’s partner Ken was driving. His car looked brand new, fresh from a wash. It wouldn’t stay that way as we turned onto the dusty dirt roads that lead to the Mexican border.

The journey that would take us to the start of the journey.

We passed a sign for Lake Morena, the place we would be hiking to the next day, and a place I had only read about up until then. As we got closer and closer we saw the trail itself where it crossed the road. We would be there in another hour. It was my first time seeing the PCT and I was filled with excitement, nervousness, and wonder.

The good old days back before the trail became incredibly steep.

We reached the monument, the southern terminus of the PCT. It stood atop a hill like a beacon. Ken parked the car and we all made the walk to the top. I called my girlfriend. I called my mom. We took pictures. Tears, laughter, hugs. Dennis’s family shuffled back into the car and drove off. The excitement was over and we stood there silently with only the wind to keep us company now. We walked over to the wall that separated us from Mexico and put our fingers through a hole, a PCT tradition so we could say we had “been to Mexico”, and with that we started our trek.

Mexico, within walking distance of Canada.

That was five months ago and we’ve been hiking ever since. I remember the excitement when we hit our first 500 miles, and now we have last than that left. We’ve begun the countdown, 417 miles to go.

I remember standing at the Southern Terminus so vividly yet it feels so long ago.

Goats in the Clouds

When I first got news that the end of the PCT was closed due to fires it felt like a gut punch. Then I crossed the Bridge of the Gods and the air was filled with the worst smoke we had had the entire trip. It left me feeling depressed, that after all that we weren’t going to be able to hike to the official end, and everything in between would be smokey and obscured. But I was wrong, Washington so far had been incredible. The scenery and sense of adventure had not disappointed as we made our way through the final leg of the trek.

Some of the views are arguably cooler with clouds.

We awoke to another chilly and cloudy day. It was the perfect hiking weather as we trekked through the beautiful Washington forests. The dense clouds had replaced the smoke, if I wasn’t going to get my views then it’s a swap I would take any day. But we hoped it would clear for us as we were in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, considered to be one of the most scenic sections of the trail.

No longer the endless sunshine of California.

As luck would have it the clouds cleared right as we reached the alpine zone. Mountains that had been hiding in the fog began to appear all around us. It was so cool. Awestruck we kept climbing.

That wasn’t there before.

But then we came over the saddle of the ridge and peered out to the world on the otherside. The views leading up to that point were beautiful, but this took our breath away. Towering thousands of feet above us was a massive, spikey range of multicolored mountains. Below was a huge valley filled with green that went on forever. It was a view so intense, and one that we hadn’t seen anything like since the Sierra.

Monkey needed a picture in front of the mountains.

We enjoyed hiking through these dramatic peaks for a few hours before the clouds moved back in and covered them up. That evening we hiked up into the clouds and setup our tents in a cold, rainy fog. 376 miles to go.

Here comes the clouds again.

Slip and Slide

The next morning Dennis was on the trail before I had even started making my breakfast. Everything outside was cold and wet, and for Dennis his tent had offered little protection. Everything he had was completely soaked, it was a good thing we would be in a town that afternoon.

I don’t want to go outside

While the previous day had been a day of scenery, this one ended up as the day of adventure. The fog from the night before had only thickened, leaving but 20 feet of visibility. We hiked over glaciers where one could only tell the ground from the sky due to the dirt that had accumulated on the snow.

White out!

We made our way over the Knife’s Edge, a section narrow with steep drop offs like the edge of a knife. It was cold but exciting. As we descended further down the mountain the fun began to change to misery.

Other hikers or GHOSTS?!

Due to a fire in the area we took a detour on some other trails so as to keep a safe distance away. These trails were not the nicely graded PCT that we were used too and instead subjected us to a roller coaster of steep ups and downs that went on for miles.

Good thing they laminated the map.

As we dropped in elevation we eventually got out of the clouds. But that meant we instead got cold rain and fog. For hours we slogged on. My fingers were so cold and wet I was unable to use my phone as the screen didn’t recognize the touch. Yet at the same time my body was drenched with sweat from the steep uphill climbs while wearing layers of rain gear.

Cold, wet, steep AND a burn zone. What more fun could we ask for?

All this fun ended with a three mile road walk on a terrifying highway. Cars flew by at 50mph while we hiked as close to the edge as possible. Finally we made it to ‘town’ where there was an inn and a gas station with a store. We got a room and dried ourselves and our gear. 357 miles to go.

There were tons of cars and tents, and the hotel was nearly booked. All of this was not hikers but rather National Guard and Firefighters who were dealing with the nearby fire.

Emotional Cocktail

Over the next couple of days we would hike through incredible scenery and wildlife. I saw a small elk family walk across a meadow, marmots chase each other through the rocks, and pikas squeak and scurry about with branches of blueberries in held tightly their mouths.

This was the meadow, unfortunately the elk walked faster than I could pull out my phone.

I would be blown away by my first view of Mount Rainier. I had seen some incredible sights on this trip but the shear size of this mountain caused me to make an audible ‘woah’ when I first saw it. The top of it was in the clouds, but the base was so massive I could only imagine how high it must be. Then I realized I didn’t have to, the top was actually above the clouds, towering even higher than what I had envisioned in my head. I wasn’t ready to end this trip. Only 302 miles left of these experiences.

It almost looks like part of the sky.

But then we would wake up in the morning in a cold fog. Things inside the tent would be damp from the night. Motivating myself to get out of my warm, dry sleeping bag and put on cold, wet, sticky, stinky clothes became a chore every morning. Every night my legs would throb so much it was hard to fall asleep. Previously the pain would be gone by sunrise, but now the throbbing would last well after I woke up.

Still beautiful, just with a little bit of realism sprinkled in.

One of the days I thought I might’ve had a fever. I had nausea all day, fatigue beyond the usual, chills, and a loss of appetite. I still had to push myself through 28 miles of hiking, there is no calling out sick on the PCT. Another morning I woke up to the realization that I had set up my tent a foot away from a human turd. I had come in after dark the night before and by some miracle had avoided stepping on it or setting up my tent in it. I am ready to be home again, only 261 miles to go.

Here’s a dramatic evening sky to get that last image out of your head.

Never a Dull Moment

We made it into the next town, Snoqualmie Pass. In addition to some nice rest, we also had some good old internet access where we learned a bit of good news. Thanks to the cold and wet weather we had been having, the northern fires had shrunk in size. This meant the end of the trail was open again! I was ecstatic, the sadness I had about not getting an official finish was gone. We were going to be able to end at the true terminus.

Hard to burn when there’s literally a cloud of moisture filing the land.

The next morning continued to be cold and rainy. After a slow start we were all packed up and ready to go before we made what Dennis called a “record breaking u-turn”. As soon as we stepped foot outside and felt the weather we decided to go back to the inn and get another night of rest instead.

It makes sense why it often feels like we’re in a rainforest.

Boy were we glad we waited. The scenery turned out to be absolutely breathtaking. Had we hiked out the day before we would’ve been in a fog and missed this whole section.

Dennis takes it all in as we cross the Kendell Katwalk.

Instead we walked through some clouds, under others, and above the rest. With huge, jagged peaks, the mountains were as dramatic as that of the Sierra. Yet the forests were thicker, lusher, and greener. The scenery of that day was perhaps the best of the trip thus far.

Mountains and valleys and clouds, oh my.

My blissful wandering was interrupted by the loud buzz of a nearby helicopter. It skirted out of the clouds above me and I watched it start making loops in the area. A few minutes later I turned a corner and saw a couple hikers waving in the air. It was a search and rescue.

I heard the helicopter well before I saw it as it was hidden amongst the clouds.

Their friend had fallen 75 feet of off the edge of a cliff after losing balance while going to sit down. He had been down there for 3 hours while awaiting search and rescue. Possible broken ankle and possible shoulder injury, but otherwise okay. I joined in with the other hikers to wave down the helicopter and point to where the injured member was.

The helicopter comes in closer.

I was amazed by the precision of the helicopter pilot and the efficiency of the team doing the extraction. The pilot kept the massive vehicle hovering as close as possible, nestled right between several trees, a foot in either direction would’ve lead to a collision. Then the team dropped down and the whole operation was done in 15 minutes.

It’s amazing how much wind is generated by a helicopter. It makes the situation feel ten times more intense.

The helicopter passed and the excitement died down. We were back to the quiet serenity of nature. 234 miles to go.

Seven fingered Jack.

Yin and Yang

For the next couple of days we hiked through scenery that felt like the best hits album of the PCT. Rolling hills and giant, jagged peaks. Pristine alpine lakes and lush forests. Piercing blue skies alternating with huge dramatic clouds.

And epic campsites.

For those same couple of days we were subject to all the hardest parts of the trail rolled into one. Killer climbs followed by knee breaking downhills. Hot, exposed sections followed by freezing cold nights. Burn zones, rain, river crossings.

Cold, wet fogs while sweating profusely on steep uphill climbs was always a favorite pastime.

Washington was all the parts that I would miss the most on the trail. It was also all the parts I was most ready to be done with. Each step forward now felt like a very tangible step towards the finish line. It has been an incredible journey, one that I am sad to see end but am very ready to reach the conclusion of. When my next update comes out, this trek will be over. 188 miles to go.


8 thoughts on “PCT Update 12: Countdown”

  1. Amazing photographs! Simply spectacular! I can’t believe you are almost finished and so happy the end of the trail has reopened!

  2. OH KYLE!!! This is the BEST entry YET!!! Your description gave me GOOSEBUMPS as you recapped when you first laid eyes on the PCT, your excitement! The good ‘Ol flat trail days! I don’t know, I hung on every word! You have such a knack of bringing us into your world and love your sharing of your feelings and marvelous sense of humor! Especially loved the “human turd” story and then the lovely trail/landscape photo to help clear our minds! HAHAHA!! PERFECT!!! So glad I got my chores done before reading this cause i’m gonna read it again now! My goodness but your photos are INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL!!! I know the landscape is, but you really are capturing it for us with such SKILL! Thank-you! Ok, gonna share this one of course! So great talking to you and Dennis after your “world’s fastest U turn”. Dennis’s “two nights off the trail” giggles cracked us all up! Big hugs to you both!! Happy trail!

  3. Kyle this is one of my favorite entries because each and every photo is amazing! And your descriptions equally so. So glad you are that much closer to home. Your dad is so excited to meet you at the end! Love you!

  4. Another entertaining window into this amazing trip you guys are on, Kyle. I am humbled by what you experience in your days on the PCT! As I view the map for my trip out there next week, I feel overwhelmed by the vast wilderness of which you are a part and through which I must drive
    to find you. The thought of being surrounded by nothing but trees for hours of driving is daunting. And then I once again remind myself of how you guys have been walking amongst mostly nameless and then some famous mountains for 5 months! There is no comparison between the bird’s eye view (my perspective while on the computer looking at your path and the geography of the land) and being there as you are, entrenched in every aspect of the experience – which you describe so well. Your blog has brought your adventure into our warm homes and I have appreciated every update. I cannot wait to see you guys next week! As in July, when Emilia and I visited you in the mountains of CA, I look
    forward to driving past the mountains in which you have walked and imagining your experience with AWE from the comforts of my rental car! Carry on in these last days with safety in mind and a well deserved feeling of unbelievable accomplishment!!!!!!

  5. Amazing photos and entry Kyle. The pictures are sureal and then to see those photos of you and Dennis really taking on this experience brings the reality back. Love Monkey and your sense of humor throughout! My blood pressure rises and falls as I read. Your blogs and gifted story telling has allowed us readers to experience a very tiny glimpse of your journey. So grateful I am to have read your blogs several times over and to have looked at such beauty in your photos. Take your time in these less than 200 miles using the accuracy, precision, and common sense that you have had with you all along. We need Kyle and Dennis back in our lives safe and sound and cannot wait to hug you and hear all about this truly amazing adventure. So proud of you both and Monkey of course. Please be careful as the end is near but still must be safe!

  6. “Experience the world on your feet, not on your phone!” Thanks to your burning desire to hike the PCT, your courage, stamina, adventurous spirit, endurance, perseverance, amazing descriptions of this adventure and beautiful photos, you have allowed us to do the opposite! We hiked that trail from our phones and computers! I have enjoyed every blog and am sad to see them end! However, if it means having you and Dennis back home safe, I can deal with it! 🙂 Cannot wait to hug you and hear all about your trek. Hope the weather is kind to u as u head toward the finish line. Be safe and we shall see u guys soon!!! Love u! Gambatte!!!

  7. Kyle you look so different in your recent selfies compared to the beginning picture. Do you feel different or changed in any way? I think your journey and blogs have affected so many people in various ways. For myself, one of the ways is admiring how much you two simply walk each day. When I go for a walk and negative thoughts come into my mind about being tired or that my feet hurt- I just think about all the miles you both have covered and it pushes me to do more as well! Once again your photos are absolutely amazing, you are a great photographer and story teller. I wish I could have seen you in person this week but I can’t wait to have you home again, love you!!

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