Tuesday, October 6, 2015

There Will Be Tears (Section J of the PCT-Part 4)

In the morning light we could see a lovely campsite right next to the water, but it didn't matter that we had missed it. All imaginations of lake frolicking were long gone. We barely had enough energy to snap a couple photos, and without even making our morning coffee, we were off for another long day.
Passing SO many thru hikers, who would hike twice as many miles that day as us (and have been doing so day in and day out for months) made wanting to bitch and moan a little less enjoyable than it would be normally. But we did it anyway! And I'm going to do it more right now! If your a thru hiker who is reading this, feel free to roll your eyes--you've earned it!
A rare find: a clean shaven thru hiker!
This is Eugene from San Francisco
Rainier in the distance
This day was brutal. One of hardest I've ever had, if not the hardest. Leigh kept asking me for the word "scree" because, "if I'm going to complain about it, I want the right word". There were MILES of it (though mostly of the bigger talus variety) and it really did wear on the feet. But even more so, it wore on the nerves...especially when the trail was very thin or the rock seemed rather unstable.
Will it ever end?
It was at just one of these spots that Leigh turned around and joked, "I don't think this meets the safety code!" As I waited for her to get past the particularly bad spot, we both heard a rock coming down. Not good. It was the most sickening feeling watching helplessly to see if she was going to get picked off, or if this rock was going to trigger a slide.
The bad spot. Hard to even see the trail
My third bout of tears came as soon as I knew she was okay. A local man (who I didn't know personally, but I know people who did) was recently killed by falling rock while hiking; so yeah, the next five or so hours of walking on rocky ridges were a little mentally taxing.
Being so tired and stressed, our map reading went from bad to worse. Our math abilities were shot (not that mine were ever good to start with) and with so many separate sheets with different lakes, we kept getting mixed up. Though the truth be told, we kept looking at the maps trying to will them to tell us we were closer than we were.
After FINALLY getting off what I thought was the last ridge and coming into a forest, it felt like we must be getting close. Then we came upon the above marker made by a thru hiker. (meaning 2400 miles from Mexico) Again, out came the maps, because according to our calculations we were at 2398. Now remember--we are going backwards (which didn't help us with our already bad math at all) meaning this did not put us closer to our destination, but two miles further away. "They must have been stoned" was Leigh's conclusion, but I was pretty sure any thru hiker knows exactly what mile they are on after doing 2400 of them. Plus, the lakes we were headed to were named "Ridge" and "Gravel"...and sure enough, the trail started heading up once again.
Gravel Lake
Looking at that final rocky ridge stretching off into the distance before you get to the lakes (though at the time I half believed we might see yet another stretch of dreaded talus once we got to the top) made we worry if it would get dark on us. I tried to tell myself that lots of people hike at night, but honestly I was terrified. I felt so uneasy on this thin trial, I didn't want to even try to take my pack off to get at my headlamp, much less navigate it in the dark. We needed to get to that lake!
Ridge Lake (next morning)
Our saviors!
On top of the stress of wondering if we'd lose our light, we were both wondering if our friends would be there to meet us as planned. There were so many variables; so many "what if's", and no way to communicate with anyone. The final tears for both of us came when we crested the top, and there they were--packs still on. It's hard to believe we all got there at the exact same time, and it's impossible to convey the emotion. I understood logically it wasn't that big a deal if we somehow missed each other or for some reason they couldn't make it; as long as nobody was hurt, we would have figured it out. But mentally it was HUGE to see their kind faces and warm greetings when we were at our very lowest of spirits. (along with their packs full of fresh, yummy food and wine! Hallelujah!)
Best food ever!
Birds thought so too
It was a real bummer that Julie felt sick all night. We were much relieved she felt better by morning, so we could enjoy together one more beautifully clear sky on this last day out. We couldn't have asked for a better finale than the famous "Kendall Katwalk", though the height thrill had been mightily dampened by all the tight sections and drop offs we had already experienced on our prior days.
Okay, there was one more set of tears at the bottom, but those are not technically "trail tears". The "I made it!" tears are different for everyone; and for me they were very bitter sweet. How can I love and hate something so much at the same time? I couldn't wait to see that parking lot, but I was thinking about what do to next before I even had my shoes off. There is the matter of 6 missing cheater miles to take care of...
I-90...so close!
Done! Cell phone reception at last!


  1. Great job! Fears, and overcoming them.....I feel your stress. I would have shed some tears myself.

  2. Hi it's Denise... the other slowest hiker in the world. Had I been the one with you it would have taken us an extra day! Thank you so much for this awesome report. I want desperately to do a section (as I know this ol arthritic body could never make the entire journey in a season)and your description makes me thing Section J will be the one I talk my husband into doing. I get the tears, and the joy... wow what an accomplishment. And the way you write!!!!! I love it. Keep up the great work!

  3. Well done, ladies. Very impressive!!