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.
Within the expansive views our end was in sight.
The evening remained pleasant and the landscape was extraordinary.
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.
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.
The rain / snow was supposed to start today and all day long dark clouds loomed around us.
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.
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.
We set up camp after hiking just 21 miles and braced ourselves for the cold night ahead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S. stay tuned for a more insightful, reflective post after I sleep, eat, and sit down!