Day 158

 It was an emotional morning as we woke up and tried to make plans for the last leg of our journey. We are now counting down in the double digits, a 2,650 mile endeavor has now become the 98-mile, four-day stretch in front of us.

The weather is showing a front move in after today, bringing rain, snow, and freezing temperatures with it. We briefly debated staying a couple extra days in Etna but after talking to a local forest ranger we decided leaving today would be the best window of time for us to finish.

Dave, our host at the Hikers Hut in Etna, drove us to the trailhead at 10:00am and off we went into the Russian Wilderness.

Today is the calm before the storm. We hiked with warm weather, no smoke, and clear skies. 

Russian Wilderness

Russian Wilderness

Within the expansive views our end was in sight.

Staring out at Mt. Shasta

Staring out at Mt. Shasta

Russian Wilderness

Russian Wilderness

Russian Wilderness

Russian Wilderness

The evening remained pleasant and the landscape was extraordinary.

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As darkness crept in the temperature began to drop and the winds picked up. We hiked through sunset and set up camp shortly after dark.

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Day 159 

We woke up early and started hiking in the dark just before 7 a.m. We spent the day hiking through the Trinity Alps, a gorgeous Northern California Wilderness with jagged, rocky peaks and grand vistas.

 

Cosmo watching the sunrise

Cosmo watching the sunrise

The rain / snow was supposed to start today and all day long dark clouds loomed around us.

Cosmo at an early road crossing

Cosmo at an early road crossing

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We managed to get 29 miles before the rain came, but once it started it came pouring down. I got to camp first and fought with the wind to get my tent set up. On several occasions I thought I might blow over with the tent. Eventually Cosmo and Jedi arrived and the three of us struggled together to get set up. Once we were in our tents the rain came down harder and the wind continued to knock out our tent stakes. Later in the evening I felt the side of my rain fly collapse in towards the tent. I opened my zipper door to discover that the rain had turned to snow and was accumulating quickly. I punched at the rain fly to get the snow off, but it continued to fall throughout the night. This has turned into quite the epic final section of trail Day 160 We woke up completely snowed in.

We managed to get 29 miles before the rain came, but once it started it came pouring down. I got to camp first and fought with the wind to get my tent set up. On several occasions I thought I might blow over with the tent. Eventually Cosmo and Jedi arrived and the three of us struggled together to get set up.

Once we were in our tents the rain came down harder and the wind continued to knock out our tent stakes. Later in the evening I felt the side of my rain fly collapse in towards the tent. I opened my zipper door to discover that the rain had turned to snow and was accumulating quickly. I punched at the rain fly to get the snow off, but it continued to fall throughout the night. This has turned into quite the epic final section of trail

Day 160

We woke up completely snowed in.

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We refused to get out of bed before the sun arrived - we took  our time and finally started to hike around 9:30 am. On the first climb of the day I ran into Ken, a hiker I haven't seen since the desert. He was in good spirits and was out finishing his last section of trail. It was nice to see another familiar face out in the wilderness.

Chatting with Ken was a nice distraction from my physical discomfort. A foot of snow had fallen last night and as soon as I started hiking my feet froze inside my beat up trail shoes. The pain was overwhelming. The weather conditions didn't appear to be improving and we would be hiking through frozen snow for the next two days. I paused for a moment on trail, tears filled my eyes and I started to panic about how I would finish the trail in these conditions.  It didn't take long before Cosmo showed up behind me and encouraged me onward with his optimism.

In the moments when I was able to step outside of my physical pain I could appreciate the beauty around me. The snow made today's hike exceptionally stunnning.

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We hiked 19 miles before susnet and just when we thought the worst was behind us, we approached the north face of the mountain. Through the darkness, and without footprints to follow, we had no choice but to step into knee-deep snow and posthole for the last three miles. 

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Jedi

Jedi

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Me

Me

We set up camp after hiking just 21 miles and braced ourselves for the cold night ahead. 

Day 161 

Last night was our coldest night on trail, with temperatures in the teens. When I woke up I was in tears thinking about how I would get to town. I couldn't imagine hiking the 30 miles we had left to go. The end felt so close, but so far away. The harshness of this last section is surely helping us to avoid a sappy, nostalgic conclusion to the hike.

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Jedi was determined to get to town before nightfall so she was the first to leave camp. Eventually, I made it out of bed and put on every layer of clothing I had available before packing up. My shoes had turned to ice overnight, and it took quite the effort and a few more tears to squeeze them onto my already frozen feet. 

We hiked through snow and ice and eventually made our way down the mountain. After 20 miles we descended below the clouds and the haze gave way to views of Castle Crags. 

A natural and unforced smile.  

A natural and unforced smile.  

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Darkness fell with 5 miles to go, and Cosmo and I pushed on by the light of our headlamps. It was a surreal feeling to reach our end. Trail Angel Tony was waiting for us at the finish line with hugs, a warm car, and a bottle of champagne. Tony had helped us out our previous time in Shasta, and we were beyond grateful to have a friendly face at the finish line. The champagne was an added bonus.

 

Cosmo, Tony, and Me

Cosmo, Tony, and Me

The next morning we reconnected with Jedi, took our official finishing photo, and the three of us continued our travels together down the coast of California. 

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P.S. stay tuned for a more insightful, reflective post after I sleep, eat, and sit down!

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