A main reason I had originally planned on doing a northbound hike was that you often hear southbounding the PCT is harder. One of the things that makes it harder: you can't even drive up to the northern terminus. Most SOBOs drive up to Hart's Pass about 30 miles from the Canadian border, then hike those 30 miles just to start their southbound hike.
Signing the trail register at Hart's Pass
2019 was the final year where there was no daily SOBO permit quota, meaning you could be relatively flexible with your start date. I had plans to start July 3, but early in the dark morning hours of that day, my partner Jawad started feeling nauseous and began throwing up. We suspect he got food poisoning. Not only was he supposed to be my ride to Hart's Pass, but he was going to hike the 60-mile border tag with me, so we decided to drive up later in the day, then camp near Hart's Pass before starting to hike the next day, July 4.
The drive from Seattle to Hart's Pass is over 4 hours long, and the last part is a very long, winding uphill dirt road with steep drops on one side. By the time we got to Hart's Pass, we were exhausted. There was a really great trail angel there named Broken Toe, a previous thru-hiker who regularly sets up for a few weeks at Hart's Pass during the SOBO start season with food and a nice campfire. I'm very grateful to him, because he made me feel like a part of the SOBO community right away.
Our first-ever camp on the PCT at Rock Pass
I had made a friend in Seattle through one of the PCT Facebook pages. For a while, Katie was the only person I knew personally who was also hiking the trail. She was going NOBO, though, and had moved out of state a few months before starting the trail. I had no idea where she was, and had hoped our paths would cross. Of course, the trail is a crazy small world, and she happened to be one of the first people I ran into on the trail! She had flipped up to Hart's Pass because of the Sierra snow, and I was so excited to see a familiar face that early on in my hike.
The first day, we hiked 17 miles. Our bodies were not prepared for this, and I was very proud. Starting in the North Cascades without having acquired trail legs yet is no joke! We camped at a great campsite at the top of Rock Pass, where we were alone in the fog.
Descending Rock Pass, looking toward Woody Pass
The next day was mind-blowingly beautiful, and although the constant ascending and descending was wreaking havoc on my legs, those views were really quite distracting.
We walked very slowly on sections like these
Some of these sections were a little sketchy, with a lot of loose rock and scree, and steep drops on one side, so I definitely had to slow down on some sections for fear of ending my hike far too early.
View from the south of Hopkins Lake
We were optimistic and thought we could reach the border by the end of the second day, but talking to other hikers we passed, there weren't any good camping spots there. We reached Hopkins Lake 7 miles later and set up camp. We wanted to slackpack to the border with just water and some snacks since it was still early, but naturally, as soon as we set up our tent, it began to rain. We bailed on our slackpack plan and hid from mosquitoes in the tent that day. They were horrendous.
Jawad was relying on painkillers during this section because of pain in his knee and some headaches, and when we were in our tent, we discovered they had fallen out of his pocket at some point, and I didn't have any either. In some desperation, he reached out to the guy at the tent near us, and in an incredibly kind gesture, he passed on a bunch of ibuprofen to Jawad. Thanks, Dan (a.k.a. Legs)! You really saved Jawad's hike. Always remember to pack your ibuprofen, kids.
We also got to meet some more of his crew, a larger group than us, including Timber, someone who I didn't get to speak to much, but whom I would cross paths with again much
further along the trail.
The next day, we did the 12-mile round trip slackpack to the border. At the border, we met a nice couple who had just finished hiking the PCT over a decade of section hikes. It was very cool to see them at such a special time!
We made it to the Northern Terminus monument!
There was still plenty of daylight left when we got back to Hopkins Lake from the border, so we kept hiking. We decided to take a break between Woody and Rock Pass, as we knew we had a climb up Rock Pass soon and the views here were truly spectacular. Unobstructed views for miles. We sat down and had a few snacks.
Then I dropped my water bottle.
Now, if you've ever seen a thru-hiker, you've probably seen them with plastic Smartwater or Lifewater bottles. This is because they're easy to find at most stores, cheap, and relatively durable. Oh, and they are compatible with one of the most commonly-used water filters on the trail, the Sawyer Squeeze.
Great place for a break, but not for my water bottle
Well, the bottles are definitely durable, but less so when a spiky pebble ends up lodging itself into it.
So, day 4, and I already had a hole in my water bottle, which was both annoying and concerning, especially since it was the only bottle I had that would fit in my shoulder strap.
A few minutes later, Jawad remembered that he actually often kept Smartwater bottles in the car exactly like the one I pierced. He saves the day!
That night, he camped in the exact same spot as night 1, on Rock Pass, although there was another tent there this time. We got to know the occupants when we all got back to Hart's Pass, around Broken Toe's lovely campfire. They were a nice couple from Germany named Dani and Dave, and although I wouldn't see them again for a while after Hart's Pass, it wasn't our last time meeting. I also met another couple who went by Ctrl+Z and Katie, and a nice guy named DOCK, all of whom I wouldn't see for a while very soon, and with whom our paths would cross much later on.
Relaxing at Hart's Pass after the border tag
Our goal was to complete the border tag in 4 days, and we did just that! Saying goodbye to Jawad was difficult, and watching him drive off the mountain from Hart's Pass was sad. But I had a long walk ahead of me, so it was time to start hiking.
Solo, this time.