Thursday, December 26, 2013

Can you hear my heart breaking?

Hiking from Snoqualmie to Stevens Pass was not what we would call a piece of cake. It was tough! Every day, we hiked in rain or snow. The precipitation never stopped. The terrain, although incredibly beautiful, tested not only our physical endurance but also our will power. Day one, we hiked over Kendall Catwalk, a part of the trail with a razor edge on one side. Snow fell as we traversed the ledge. Day two of four offered moments of clear windows to some of the most magnificent snow-capped black granite beauties that we have ever seen. Ex, however, was having an off day. She wasn't feeling at the top of her game. It took her 13 hours to hike 21 miles. We all have those days. Day three of four, we hiked 31 miles through massive elevation gains and losses. The skies opened up on us midday and persisted into our night hike. Day four, we woke up to an inch of snow weighing down our tent. Nearly all headspace was gone. As we broke down the tent with painfully icy fingers, the relentless snow created a fresh layer before we could finish wiping off the old layer. Golden gave up, packed, and carried the snow covered tent and all its extra weight as it was. The trail was flooded and muddy. Any attempts at keeping our feet dry only ended in a butt print in the mud. To top it off, Ex got very little sleep each night, her wet sleeping bag preventing anything but cold convulsions.

We were happy to arrive at the Dinsmores, dry off, do laundry, and enjoy the company of the other hikers. Soon, however, we were greeted with sad news.

Many hikers that we have gotten to know well, and some that we like to think of as close friends, decided to call a close to their journey. One of the things we had learned is that everyone is out there for their own reasons and each person determines and interprets the outcomes of their goals differently. Some people decided that they weren't out there to hike from monument to monument but thru hike for the experience. Some felt as if they had gotten everything they sought from this trip and didn't think hiking in those treacherous conditions would gain them anything else. Some were willing and looked forward to coming back next year when the weather is calm and the views clear. Still, others were planning alternative options for continuing their journey. Regardless, it was difficult to say goodbye to our new friends. Rub-a-dub decided to head back to Bend, OR and finish his trip by hiking through the Three Sisters Wilderness again with his brother. Chops left for home in Chico. We lost Sierra Bum, Leaky, Moonshine, Safari, Apache, and Girly Girl among many others. Moral was low.

The attempts to reconcile everyone's thwarted plans in the days that followed only exacerbated our broken spirits. Emotions ran high and tempers flared as we all passionately discussed, argued our options, and defended our individual decisions to attempt to continue on. Our good friend, Rustic, wanted us to skip ahead with him to Rainy Pass to complete the last section. He argued that it was better to ensure that we make it to the monument than risk waiting around for the weather to break or waste the limited weather window we had before the real winter season began. Unfortunately, we did not see eye to eye. He and Manchurian left our sides. We refused to surrender to winter before making an attempt at something, anything; suggesting otherwise was deemed as a personal attack on everything that we had worked toward for the last five months. The thought of having to get off trail with less than 200 miles left to go made us sick to our stomachs.

We faced constant bombardment from the Dinsmores, locals, family, and hikers alike telling us "You're never gonna make it" and "Don't hike out". The Dinsmores, while generously providing hikers with shelter from the rain and snow, facilities, entertainment, and opportunities for rides into surrounding towns, attempted, several times a day, to instill in us fear and a sense of danger in order to prevent us from hiking out. New Orleans, upon the instant she stepped through the door into Hiker Haven, was brought to tears when Dad Dinsmore inflexibly told her that her hike was over and that she had no other option but to return home. We understand that their persistence was out of genuine concern for not only our health and safety, but the safety of the search and rescue teams who were already called out for a number of fellow hikers. Mom Dinsmore has years of experience with the weather conditions in the mountains and those hikers who choose to attempt the 104 mile stretch. We appreciated their advice and took it at high value, no matter how frustrating and heart wrenching it was to hear. While we weren't ready to fly home to all of your gorgeous faces, we did understand the importance of waiting for the weather to break long enough to provide safe passage through the mountains. We had heard what it was like and had seen pictures from hikers who left during the storm only to turn back shortly after and even from those who were too far to turn back. Wet clothes and wet gear can be life threatening in those conditions. Navigation along the trail becomes extremely difficult. Hiking itself becomes more physically exhausting with each step. Hypothermia, frostbite, mudslides, avalanches, and death are evermore probable during a storm.

When the first storm finally broke, many hikers attempted the stretch from Stevens to Stehekin. All were turned back. The farthest they were able to make it, with all the appropriate winter weather gear, was 30 miles and they were forced to southbound back to safety. We were presented with video, pictures, and accounts of waist-deep snow at elevations around 4000 feet. We knew we would have to climb to 7000 feet more than once if we were to make it to Stehekin. Furthermore, it was taking the hikers we spoke with an hour to walk one mile--which means we would have needed at least 10 days of food without considering a safety net in case we had to hunker down as so many who were caught in the storm had. The forecast showed another storm coming within our ten day frame, which threatened additional feet of snow and freezing temperatures. After 8 days of sitting at the Dinsmore's, we were coming to the sad realization that our hike was about to change drastically.

Golden Boy decided that he could not accept skipping ahead to Stehekin; unable to take the trail into the mountains, he made the compromise to road walk around the section to Winthrop, which would take him to Rainy Pass. He felt that he should give the road walk a shot, wanting to maintain a relatively unbroken line from Mexico to Canada. Lady Ex, however, decided that road walking was not the type of experience she had initially set out for or desired, and was not how she wanted to end her trip. She made the decision to spend time with trail friends during the days that Golden was away.

Golden set out from Stevens Pass with Hippie Long Stockings, New Orleans, and Busted to hike north along Highway 97. Day one, he quickly learned that road walking was not all it was cracked up to be (not that anyone claimed it would be anything but miserable). The constant flow of traffic and the blasts of air from cars zooming by gave him a massive headache. The exhaust fumes backed up his sinuses. The views sucked. The asphalt was brutal on the feet. The sun was relentless. He realized pretty quickly that he had made a stupid decision.

Meanwhile, Ex was having a blast! She caught three awesome hitches, two of which gave her free stuff. She attended Oktoberfest in the Bavarian town of Leavenworth with Cookie, Steamer, and her sweet Solsti.

After receiving a phone call from home and hearing that the government furlough had closed all national parks and their trails, he realized that another challenge was put in place. How were we going to finish the hike with the trails closed? Furthermore, we still had to pick up our passports from the post office in Stehekin, a town only accessible by a once daily ferry trip that costs $50 round trip. Golden made the decision to skip forward to Chelan to deal with the passport issue. He said his goodbyes to Hippie, New Orleans, and Busted and wished them luck on the rest of the road walk to Canada. Once in Chelan, Golden sent a letter to the Stehekin postmaster to have our package forwarded to Winthrop. He caught a ride from a nut bag to Winthrop and stealth camped in a field where he would meet Ex.