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Day 135 – August 16, 2022

Mile 2647.2 (Hopkins Lake) to SoBo mile 14.7 through 2653.6 (Canadian border)

21.1 trail miles | 20.9 tracked miles | 4,154 ft elevation gain | 77 F / 25 °C

I woke up this morning feeling both elated and a bit overwhelmed at the thought of finally reaching the elusive northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. After hiking for 134 days, success awaited a mere two hours away.

Given the ongoing border closure, my only option was to turn around at the terminus, then retrace my steps and hike 30 miles back to Harts Pass, the northernmost access point to the PCT on the US side. With this in mind, I decided to slackpack to the border: I packed up just the essentials for the quick dash to Canada, and left my tent and other heavy gear at Hopkins Lake.

The mountains were glowing when I set foot on the trail at 6am, and I reveled in the sunrise with a hint of nostalgia.

I miss glowing sunrises in the wilderness already

For the first time, I turned on live tracking on my Garmin inReach satellite messenger so my family and friends could follow my victory lap. I could picture a little dot dancing on their computer screens, getting ever so close to this arbitrary horizontal line that separates the United States from Canada. I wonder how it felt: a joy, surely, a relief, perhaps.

I climbed up the short Hopkins Lake trail back to the PCT, then turned right towards Hopkins Pass. This would be the only ascent prior to reaching the border.

Two miles north of Hopkins Lake, I reached the northernmost trail junction on the PCT. Spanning over 1,200 miles, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT) links the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic Coast to the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, Montana—which incidentally, is the northern terminus of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). It felt amusing to ponder the possibilities while on the verge of completing my first major long trail. The PNT also leads to Ross Lake, and serves an alternate exit point for the PCT.

An auspicious sign, and the intersection with the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT)

As the PCT lost elevation north of the junction, it quickly became more overgrown, in sharp contrast with the segment from North Cascades National Park to Hopkins Lake. A little bit of bushwhacking wasn’t going to slow me down; I plowed ahead with eagerness and anticipation.

The next few miles were uneventful. Nestled deep inside thick forest, the final stretch of the PCT is somewhat unremarkable.

I had heard rumors of cameras and heat-sensing devices in the area, but didn’t notice any. While monitoring devices may be hidden, suffice to say that the contrast between the northern and southern border areas is painfully acute.

Suddenly, after a series of twists and turns, a clearing appeared out of nowhere. Standing eerily, seemingly defying time, was the PCT northern terminus monument, the incarnation of a dream come true. The Pacific Crest Trail, this stubborn ribbon of dirt, abruptly ended there.

The Pacific Crest Trail monument and border marker at the US/Canada border, mile 2653.6

And thus, on August 16th, 2022, at 8:15 am, on day 135, I reached the Canadian border and completed my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I felt immensely proud. This is a reminder, if I ever needed one, that I can succeed at anything I set out to achieve.

I celebrated the momentous occasion with a few other hikers, took the obligatory victory pictures, browsed the log book, and left a note for posterity.

Then, I sat down, satellite messaged family and friends, and waited in silence. I couldn’t quite leave this magical place yet.

The border area is delineated by a 20-foot-wide clearing in the forest. Officially called the “Canada-United States international border vista” but commonly referred to as “the Slash”, the cut-through looked much better maintained than the PCT!

The northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail is on the US side, marked by a large wooden monument identical in design to its southern counterpart at the Mexican border.

A few feet away from the PCT monument, on the exact border line, is an official border marker embossed with a “Treaty of 1846” marking. The border was surveyed and marked between 1903 and 1907, with markers placed all along the 5,525 mi boundary.

When standing by the border marker, you’re in two countries at once!

By the virtue of standing at this sign, I can officially say that I’ve crossed the border illegally.

Just north of the border was a tantalizing “Welcome to Canada” sign, but sadly, Canada hasn’t actually welcomed anybody at the PCT crossing since the onset of the COVID pandemic. As for a Welcome to the US side, there is none: the US government prohibits entering the US through the PCT.

I took a few illegal steps into Canada, primarily to tend to nature’s call, and for the cheap thrill. Should there indeed be cameras and sensors, I could picture immigration officers rolling their eyes at thru-hikers who pour in daily, then timidly turn back.

Borders are such odd, arbitrary places. As someone who’s visited some disputed, problematic, and otherwise bizarre border crossings around the world, I found it quite fascinating to sit behind this invisible yet impassable line.

“Thou shall not pass” is what this sign meant to say

There is no vehicular access of any kind at the northern terminus of the PCT. Short of crossing into Canada and hiking 8 miles to Manning Park, BC, the only way out is to turn back and return to one of the various access points on the US side.

With this in mind, there I was, back at mile zero, about to become a SoBo for a day and a half on my way back to Harts Pass.

With a feeling of joy and melancholy, I started walking back to Hopkins Lake. The 2,000 foot climb was uneventful, especially with a mostly-empty back.

Last glimpse of beautiful Hopkins Lake

Once at the lake, I picked up my gear, climbed back up to the PCT one final time, and then started the long southbound ascent. A few miles further, I realized that I had left my wading/camp shoes at my campsite. I felt bad, but I have to confess that I didn’t have the stamina to turn around and fetch them. Hopefully, they’ll be useful to another hiker. I found it amusing that I had finally left an item behind on my second-to-last day, after hardly losing or damaging any gear in 4.5 months. This must be a sign that my brain is already disengaging.

The scenery was stunning—and surely more exciting than the forest walk up Manning Park! I felt privileged for the opportunity to walk this spectacular stretch once again. As an added bonus, I was able to bid farewell to a few fellow hikers with whom I have had the pleasure to hike on and off, and who were a day behind me.

Enjoying the glorious North Cascades scenery one last time.

For my last night on the PCT, I chose to camp at SoBo mile 14.7. Views aside, the site is unremarkable—there is no large body of water, just a marshy, trickling stream that was barely flowing enough for me to freshen up. But the location, mid-way between the border and Harts Pass, is convenient, and there were no other options with water in the vicinity.

I arrived early in the afternoon, setup camp, and avoided the gaze of another camper who had brought the kitchen sink and definitely wasn’t a thru-hiker. I will still be a thru-hiker for the next 18 hours, so the trail hierarchy still applies 😉

I lay down in my tent, gazed at the scenery, relaxed, and tried to process my emotions. Then, I indulged in a gargantuan dinner, having way too many snacks left.

It occurred to me that I had absolutely nothing to do, for once in my life, which was a truly liberating feeling. I rested and enjoyed the peace. Still, I caught myself glancing at my hiking app several times, ready to map out the next day. Old habits die hard.

Tonight is my last night in the wilderness. I’m excited to be home soon, but there are many aspects of the trail that I will miss. I’ve become used to falling asleep to a breeze and the sound of water. I love the luxury of silence, punctuated by the occasional gentle sounds of nature. I’ve become accustomed to living with the sun. I am constantly surrounded by beauty. I don’t have to endure a toxic 24-hour news cycle and useless distractions. I can understand why so many hikers experience challenges re-adjusting to real life.

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