SKYKOMISH, Wash. —Three weeks and 325 miles into the Evergreen State, I must admit that the Pacific Crest Trail through here is wilder, more remote and much tougher than I’d imagined. More so, perhaps, than even California’s High Sierra.

The steep, strenuous terrain aside, the weather has become a serious concern, with plenty of cold rain and now measurable snow accumulation. The season’s first blizzard walloped the North Cascades, depositing over a foot from Snoqualmie Pass to the Canadian border.

The snowstorm grabbed the attention of every PCT hiker out here, most of whom, if they could, got off trail and into somewhere warm and dry for a few days. Transported by my trail angel wife, Fran, hiking buddies Bubblewrap and No Name, and I retreated to the lower elevations to wait out the blow.

Snow flew as we climbed out of Chinook Pass two days later, but the worst was, we figured, behind us. A cabin at Government Meadows 24 miles in, complete with a wood stove and sleeping loft, offered a reprieve from the harsh elements.

The halcyon days of summer are over, seemingly in a hurry. The long daylight hours, walking in shorts and T-shirts, pitching the tent without the rainfly—they’re just memories now. Suddenly, detailed National Weather Service reports matter big time. So does the pack’s inventory of extra clothing, food and hot drink packets.

Weather I can deal with, but not persistent attacks by brazen deer mice, which have left a trail of destruction almost nightly since Delate Falls, where a nasty bugger gnawed a ragged two-inch gash in my tent door. I awoke in the night to find Peromyscus maniculatus perched on my food bag staring at me with beady eyes. Then out the hole it went, quickly escaping my wrath.

My wet rain jacket left outside under the tent flap got chewed through, a ghastly 5-inch wound was opened up on No Name’s tent, and a 3-inch round was nibbled out of Bubblewrap’s shelter. Each time, we patched things up with tape and carried on, grumbling about mousetraps laden with peanut butter.

The damp environs of Washington’s Cascades in autumn have exploded with an amazing variety of fungi. From tiny puffs to dinner plate-sized caps resembling thick pancakes, the wild mushrooms splash the trailside with a kaleidoscope of color.

In Trout Lake, Fran bought some white chanterelles from a stand and cooked them for dinner with pasta and sauce. The mushrooms were yummy, but alas, my severe gastric reaction the next morning warranted Imodium tablets and a day off.

Since the Columbia River, I’ve traversed the vast Gifford Pinchot and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie national forests. Amid these great tracts are the spectacular designated wilderness areas of Indian Heaven, Mount Adams, Goat Rocks, William O. Douglas and Alpine Lakes.

Even while pushing hard for big miles in these last weeks of the hike (my best day was 27 miles through Goat Rocks), I’ve continued to focus on the important things, trying never to forget why I’m out here in the first place.

I have gorged on blueberries and huckleberries, paused in awe at pristine lakes, listened to elk bugling in the thick mist, watched a bear scramble across a high meadow, gazed longingly at countless snow-capped peaks and enjoyed the company of some of the finest people I may ever know.

Just south of Highway 12 at White Pass, I crested an open ridge for a magnificent view of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, Washington’s high point. Sitting atop my pack, I relaxed for a long while in the warm sun of the windless morning, fixated on the great mountain and pondering the familiar words of prolific writer and conservation advocate Sigurd Olson:

“As I sat there on the rock I realized that, in spite of the closeness of civilization and the changes that hemmed it in, this remnant of the old wilderness would speak to me of silence and solitude, of belonging and wonder and beauty.”

Loaded with a week’s supplies, my hiking companions and I will depart the welcoming community of Skykomish, bound for Canada 187 miles ahead. After 2,476 incredible miles, the end of the trail is finally within reach.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1977 and 2015, and completed the 1,100-mile Florida Trail in 2017. Follow Carey’s PCT adventures on Facebook @Carey Kish.

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