Carey Kish’s hiking partner, known as High Five on trail, is shown between Woody Pass and Rock Pass in the Washington Cascades on the Pacific Crest Trail. Carey Kish photo

From atop Lakeview Ridge at 7,100 feet in the North Cascades of Washington state, I can see much of the final northbound segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Devil’s Staircase winds down to pretty silver dollar-shaped Hopkins Lake, and from there it’s a steadily downward route through Hopkins Pass, Castle Pass and Castle Creek Valley to the Canadian border.

The last eight miles pass in a bit of a blur. There’s a brief stop for a tuna packet, cheese, crackers and whatever else my grubby hands latch onto in my disorganized, depleted food bag. I eat as if I hadn’t in days before carrying on, one step at a time like always. I want to get there and be done, but then again, I don’t – it’s the perennial conflict at the end of every long journey.

At 3:20 p.m. on Sept. 8, in the company of my tremendous trail friend of so many miles, High Five, I walked out of the forest into the cleared swath that delineates the international boundary between the United States and Canada. I stopped and stared for a few moments until, urged on by my buddy, I touched the markers at the northern terminus of the PCT.

For this hiker, the unfinished business of the last 188 miles from Stevens Pass to here was finally complete, and with that, so were the 2,654 miles of the entire PCT between Mexico and Canada. In the late afternoon haze, we high-fived each other, signed the register book with our profundities, and took a slew of obligatory photos around Monument 78.

Carey Kish, left, and his hiking companion are shown at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail on the U.S.-Canadian border on Sept. 8. Photo courtesy of Carey Kish

Standing there next to the U.S. and Canadian flags in the deep valley many miles from pretty much anywhere, a scene I’d pictured in my head for more than four decades, I couldn’t help but think about the words from one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs: “Truckin’ like the do-dah man… lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

The PCT journey began – incredibly – nearly two-and-a-half years ago on April 3, 2019, at the dusty outpost of Campo on the Mexican border in southern California 50 miles east of San Diego. From there, I hiked north for 705 miles through the high desert to Kennedy Meadows on the southern fringe of the Sierra Nevada, where I was forced to make a difficult choice.

Because of the unusually enormous snowpack in the High Sierra — as much as 212% of normal that year — I opted to flip up to Fish Lake in southern Oregon, then hiked south for over 1,000 miles back to Kennedy Meadows to connect the dots. At that point, I returned to Oregon and hiked northbound once again across the rest of the Beaver State.

Carey Kish had to cut short his planned thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in October 2019 because of dangerous winter conditions just north of Stevens Pass, Washington. Photo courtesy of Carey Kish

Crossing the Columbia River, I hustled on through Washington as fast as my weary feet and legs could take me, but it wasn’t quite enough. On Oct. 8, 2019, 12 miles past Stevens Pass at mile point 2,466, I turned back in the face of early winter storms that made carrying on any further dangerous and foolhardy. It was too late in the season, and I knew it, and the big snows were underscoring just that in no uncertain terms.

Last year, COVID-19 put the kibosh on any plans to finish my PCT hike, so it was this year or perhaps never. In mid-July, however, wildfires erupted just east of the trail and closed the last highway before the border, and for weeks I agonized along with the local townspeople as firefighters worked the blaze to protect lives and property. Thankfully, by mid-August the Cub Creek fire was contained and the green light was on for tackling the last two weeks of the PCT trek, which were simply amazing through classic Washington Cascades terrain – high, wild, remote, sharp, steep, spectacular and strenuous.

From the PCT terminus, we slipped a quarter-mile into British Columbia to a beauty of a campsite to relax and celebrate with a nip of Fireball. Because the border was still technically closed, we had to backtrack 31 miles to Harts Pass, where High Five’s wife greeted us with real food and cold beer. Winding down the mountain road toward civilization the following morning, the Dead played on in my head: “Truckin’ I’m going home. Whoa baby, back where I belong.” Go figure.

Carey “Beerman” Kish of Mount Desert Island is a veteran of thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail, Florida Trail and now the Pacific Crest Trail. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish


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