As we navigated our way through the last mud covered switchbacks of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), we caught a glimpse of Monument 78 standing proudly on the border between the United States of America and Canada. This monument had been in our sights for more than five months. Even in the initial planning phase of the 2650 mile (4286km) journey, this was always – without ‘ifs or buts’ – our ultimate goal.
For PCT thru-hikers, reaching the end of the trail can be an overwhelming and emotional finish to living trail life which can deliver many hardships. Some kneel down and cry while at their journey’s end – apparently a common sight at either the Northern or Southern terminus. For ourselves, we savoured the last few days on trail. Hiking north we recalled the tough times as well as the small pockets of joy which lead us through to our final destination – Monument 78, CANADA!
For four consecutive years prior to 2016 the PCT experienced lower levels of snow which meant hikers could simply hike straight through the Sierras uninterrupted. 2016 was a snow year. Sure, the snow always makes for great photos but we both really had to work hard to push through this part of the trail safely. By the time we had finished hiking the snowy Sierras we were 200 miles behind where we would otherwise have been.
Most hikers this year sped up through Washington due to the early onset of cold weather which brought along with it the much dreaded snow. Snow can ultimately jeopardise ones thru-hike should the trail become covered. For us, the snow was our main concern as both our hands and feet have suffered sub-zero temperatures from past adventures. While the human body can only withstand so much, we both found that during our most demanding hours on trail, the body, if treated well, is always capable of so much more.
Initially Kenyon and I lost a lot of weight on trail which was part of our plan to reduce our combined body and pack weight. We then turned to maintaining our weight by consuming calorie-dense foods which prevented our bodies from burning into fat reserves. Even with this in mind we each lost more than ten percent of our body weight. We rarely felt hungry for extended periods of time and almost always had food left over before resupplying. As the miles ticked over we simply had to keep eating.
For any thru-hike to be successful, certain sacrifices have to be made and they are best made early. On reaching Mojave (mile 566) we dropped a little weight and gained a little more time in our days by going stove-less. With just under 2100 trail miles remaining, foregoing hot meals enabled us to move further and faster by relieving us from the burden of cooking and timely wash-ups. We never once looked back on our decision although there were a number of nights in California’s High Sierras and Washington’s North Cascades where a hot meal would have been deeply appreciated.
Things we will miss from this adventure will be; glissading down snow covered slopes, having tubs of Häagen-Dazs for breakfast (one of the luxuries in resupply towns), seeing new sights and wildlife every day, meeting all the wonderful friendly dogs on trail, keeping dry through stormy nights in each of our tents, hot trail magic hamburgers and great sleep – the by-product of daily physical exertion.
Thru-hiking as twins we’ve been told makes for quite a striking sight. Hikers on trail, as well as those who spotted us hiking into towns for resupply, would just stop and stare as our almost mirror image passed them by. We’re as strong together as we are apart and seldom do we rely on the other for assistance. The trust we have shared for life has never once been questioned – we simply back the other up 100% when the moment is called for. One such moment was while descending the 31 miles down Mt. San Jacinto where we both became dehydrated, out situation fast becoming uncomfortable as the afternoon heat intensified. With very little shade to take advantage of and with 8 long miles remaining, we sat side by side in the shadow of an isolated rock as I carefully shared my remaining water which was greater than Kenyon’s. We emerged from the shade watching every sip as we closed in on a very distant spigot relied upon by all hikers.
Later on in the trail, while hauling a full pack, l rolled my right ankle on a sharp rock. Days and many miles later the torn tissue lead to further weakness of the joint. Our pace slowed down and our miles per day halved. Running low on food we had to halve our rations. Kenyon took considerable weight off my pack for two days as we slowly closed in on the next available town where I was able to seek out assistance in the form of a three way ankle brace.
While hiking the Sierras we reluctantly found ourselves having to cross swollen, turbid rivers in the cold dark of night due to limited camping options while descending the damp steep gradient of Seldon Pass. River crossing at night on a higher than average snow year was not something we would ever consider doing alone. We were by no means comfortable with our situation but equally we felt a strong urge to ford through our daunting ordeal. Each additional river crossing chilled our lower limbs further. The thawing pain was incredible and momentarily disabled us from hiking onwards to yet another cold raging river.
The coldest we have ever been was experienced at our camp beneath Forester Pass (Forester Pass being the highest point of the PCT at mile 779.7). In the early hours of morning the freezing level dropped well into the valley below us – leaving us and our gear frozen. We woke to unspeakable cold. Shoes frozen and unpliable we gradually warmed them up by placing our feet on top of them, then inserting our feet into our shoes to further thaw them out – a painful process which neither of us would ever like to experience again. This was one of the more memorable moments of our thru-hike.
“Sometimes nature shows you something undeniably magical, and in that moment it changes you, just a little bit.” – Dave Mossop
Out of all the miles we covered, both Kenyon and I agree on one single solitary moment which clearly stands out amongst all we shared. It was the huge cinnamon bear we witnessed effortlessly ambling its way up a snow covered hill upon Sawmill Pass. We were in a remote region of the Sierras, far from where other hikers roamed and the moment was ours alone to appreciate. “Sometimes nature shows you something undeniably magical, and in that moment it changes you, just a little bit.” – Dave Mossop
As we stood at the Northern Terminus we felt retired from the tenacity it took from each of us to find our way through this incredible challenge. Looking back on how our journey unfolded, we both feel we were constantly trying to make up for lost time. Four days in from the start of our thruhike we both had to exit the trail due to a nasty virus which had us both severely dehydrated. This cost us seven full days. 660 miles later, we hiked in to Kennedy Meadows on 29th May 2016 – on schedule. From this point on, whenever we gained time, time would inevitably be taken from us.
Born with a heightened sense of visual awareness, our thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail was seen by each of us as a photographic adventure which we both enjoyed and at times endured – for photography can be hard work. We often envied most others who so easily hiked head-down without even noticing the majestic views surrounding them. This luxury of having the ability to hike through miles without pausing to capture the incredible scenery was only on offer to us on bad weather days where the scenery had been blotted out.
It’s been wonderful having our parents support us at various points in Washington and at the finish of our hike in Canada. They go the extra mile which kind of fits in with hiking long distances. A huge thanks to you both Mom and Dad! You both know how to create unique memorable moments.
So, for now, after a busy time in Manning Park we are recovering in Vancouver. We are in the great company of others who have completed the same journey which for ourselves is not quite over. The “Lake Fire Closure” (south of Big Bear Lake) was officially reopened by the PCTA in August this year. The PCTA closed this section last year (2015) after fires swept through 55 miles of the San Bernardino National Forest. We look forward to filling in this remaining section over two days which will complete our thru-hike.
We’re spending the next three weeks travelling down the west coast of the US before returning to Australia. I’ll be posting more about our thru-hike a year to the day from when we initially started our adventure.