Tenting at Hopkins Lake (PCT mi 2653.8), walked 23.7 miles today
Woke up at 7 to every hiker's favorite weather--35 degrees and wintry mix! Fortunately none of it had drifted onto or puddled underneath my sleeping area, so I packed up dry and put on enough clothes to keep warm for the breakfast/standing around period. Serpent Slayer was already up and busting his ass in some really really awful weather to make pancakes and sausage and coffee for everybody ... Watching people labor at food prep always impresses me, because personally it's possibly my least favorite task in the world, but watching him do it in 35-degree rain I could barely believe it. Everyone, not least me, was eternally grateful for having fresh, hot, high-calorie food on such a wretched morning. Filled up on pancakes and sausage, then stood around the fire to keep warm, not enthusiastic about being the first one to leave. Around ten the crew started to trickle out, so I followed suit ... We climbed a little at first to get the blood warm, and after that it was gentle up and down for long stretches. Never had any thermoregulation issues today, thanks to my rather unconventional, but standard for the past week, layering system of fleece-windshirt-raincoat on top and thermals-hiking pants on the bottom.
We had all been wondering aloud if there were something like 10 horses on the trail in front of us, because we were stepping in fresh horse poop unusually often right off the bat, but I don't think anyone actually expected 10 horses. We were more right than we knew: a 12-horse train passed by right during the worst part of the rain, in the lower-elevation forest in the middle of the afternoon. No idea what you need a huge pack train for in the middle of the northern mountains during a fall storm, but I didn't ask any of the riders, who were all men, because I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. After that very wet stretch in the forest, the trail climbed up to the exposed area near Rock Creek Pass and Woody Pass, around 7,000 feet, and it started to snow on Hermes, Lotus and me for real this time. Between those two passes, we knew there was some serious damage to the trail from washouts, but I didn't really know what to expect because I couldn't picture a washout in my mind. Now I know--imagine a 10-15' wide, 10-15' deep canyon that suddenly gets carved into a hillside in one catastrophic slide. There were 7 of them in one half-mile stretch, varying in size, all requiring some scrambling to get through. After Hermes, Lotus, Spark, Instigate and I made it past the obstacle course, we made our last real climb of the whole PCT up to Woody Pass and then to the unnamed high point two miles beyond that. All the way up to Woody, it was snowing but not enough to really stick, and it was freaking spectacular all around in every direction ... I had to stop and have a 5-minute take-it-all-in break close to the top. And then in the high stretch afterward, there was real live snow on the ground, on all the trees, all around us for over a mile. We talked about how we were so happy that we'd timed the finish just right, where we got to see a little winter, a little snow, but didn't have to slog through the cold and wet for weeks just to make the border.
The trail started its gradual descent down to the monument and the winter wonderland ceased after just a few hundred feet of elevation loss ... After a mile and a half we made it to this lake, our home for the night. Lots of good sheltered campsites scattered amongst the trees; Blur and Goodall were already here set up. Pitched camp for the last time myself, and Carrot's tarp-door thing is working to good effect again because I accidentally left the open side facing the wind (2650 miles and I still don't have this stupid tent figured out). Ice is falling on the tent and there's probably going to be a freeze tonight. Tomorrow it's 6.2 miles to the border, then 9 miles to Manning Park, then Kristin's picking me and Hermes and Lotus and Robin Hood up at 5, and literally every single thing after that point, from the very short term (where are we spending the night? where are we dropping them off?) to the long term (what am I going to do with the next several years of my life?) is a complete and utter mystery for me. I'm going from a world where I have established very good control of the very small number of variables--what's in my pack, what I'm eating, how far I'm walking today--to a world where I don't know if I have control of anything.