Pacific Crest Trail hike for charity ends, but the journey continues
Snow! September in the mountains, the weather can do whatever it wants to do. You could be walking in the warm sunshine and enjoying fantastic vistas that seem to expand beyond the Earth and into the stratosphere, or you can be stuck in a rain/snow storm doing everything you can just to keep from freezing and not being able to see beyond ten feet. We had the latter.
Less than half way through Washington we had encountered rain. The average temperature had dropped from the 80s during the day and 50s at night, down to the 50s during the day and low 30s after sunset. It was cold! My hands would no longer function. The fingers would curl down towards my palms and lock themselves there, the only way to move them was to pry them up. A simple task such as unbuttoning my shirt in the evening became a near 10 minute ordeal. Cooking was nearly impossible – trying to use a lighter or matches with fingers that no longer have any strength in them is a difficult task, indeed.
The worst part of walking in the rain all day, everyday is that, no matter how good your rain gear is, you are going to get wet. You will be wet the first day. You will make it to camp, put on the clothing that you keep stuffed in trash bags inside your pack, and hope it’s dry. Then you crawl into your tent, wrap up in a hopefully dry sleeping bag and settle in for the night. The next morning your wet clothes are still wet, only now they are also about 35 degrees and you have to put them back on because you must keep your dry clothes dry. You must do all that you can to prevent hypothermia.
I wish that I could tell you that we pushed through, that we climbed over snowcapped peaks and walked over icy trails, reaching our goal in a fit of glory; that we had looked Mother Nature and Death in the eyes and said “come get us, if you can”. I can not.
Leaving out of Stevens Pass, having only 200 miles to the border, our spirits were high. If the weather continued with only rain, we would finish the trail in about nine days. We would reach Canada, find a room in some cheap motel, buy copious amounts of beer, drink said copious amounts of beer and pretty much be all around pleased with ourselves. As we walked, the fog lifted some and we were graced with a few views of glacier capped mountains far off in the distance. Snow that had fallen and been packed into giant patches of ice thousands of years ago still clung to the rocky crags. Below, a dense forest with thick, low lying clouds swirling around the tree tops as the sun tried to push its way through the fog. Amazing!
The following morning the rain began to change into snow. At first we didn’t think much of it, I remember laughing at the sight. Nonetheless, the realization of what it meant soon hit. Being at less than 5,000 feet that morning and knowing that we were still to spend some time close to 7,000 feet, we started to talk about the possibility of walking out of the woods. It was no easy decision. As we walked back, our boots became covered in snow and ice. The world had changed from a green forest into a land painted white in only a few hours. We made it back to civilization and began our journey home.
Do we feel defeated? No. My brother and I walked 2,500 miles and were able to see places that most people will never have the chance to. Will I go back and finish what I started? You better believe it!
Over the past several months, Aaron and Andy Agnew have hiked the PCT to raise awareness of the efforts of the Faith in Action Food Pantry of Keyser. Find out more at www.pct4hunger.com.