Our hike is over for the season. We reached this sad conclusion last night among many tears, but at least we were in good company – the hostel where we were staying was packed with hikers in the same situation. After arriving in town we bought a map of the North Cascades and searched for any possible alternate routes to the border. Many side trails stayed mostly at lower elevations, but all climbed up to at least 6500 feet to join the PCT. They wouldn’t avoid the snow and would likely be in much worse condition than the main trail. We considered catching a ride up to Hart’s Pass and slogging slowly through the remaining 30 miles to Canada, but a picture of the trailhead taken by another hiker convinced us that this would be a foolish attempt. The trail was invisible in the snowy landscape. Even if we were able to find our way, we’d still have to negotiate the two washouts north of the pass. 50+ Minnesota winters between the two of us had made us hopeful that we could push on where warmer-climate hikers wouldn’t. They didn’t, but they DID give us the good judgment to know when the conditions were too much for us. Our final backup plan was to hike to the border along Ross Lake, another long, narrow mountain valley lake about 30 miles west of the trail. This trail stayed below 2000 feet and seemed like a safe option. From the border we’d hike east through Manning Park to meet the PCT at the northern monument. This sounded great, like a last-minute reprieve, but once again the federal shutdown reared its head: the Ross Lake trail ran through a national recreational area. Other hikers with the same idea had been stopped at the highway by rangers. After taking down their ID info, the rangers warned them that it was a felony to be on federal lands during the closure. We were determined to reach the border but we weren’t stupid. We didn’t want to become a drain on the local volunteer search and rescue crews just because we’d invested 5 ½ months into our hike, and we certainly didn’t want to tangle with rangers or border control. Still in shock, we hung our thumbs out on the highway. A nice man on his way to the northern burbs of Seattle took pity on us and drove us all the way west back over the crest. We’ve been plunged back into civilization for good and are on the first steps to reintegration with normal life.
We’ll be back next summer to get that picture at the border…and to actually see the beauty of the North Cascades.