Upon leaving Harts Pass in a southbound direction, I had the urge to join other thru-hikers. Unlike the northbound herd that saw over 1,500 people leave from Campo, California, the southbound herd is much smaller. Fewer than 100 SOBOs will aim to make it to Mexico this year.
After a much-needed nighttime shower, I hiked south through a burned area towards Azurite Peak. As I gained the ridge line the expansive views were stellar. I looked down at all of the switchbacks descending to Glacier Pass, but I didn't see any other hikers. I hiked all the way into the Methow River Valley and up to Methow Pass, a 20-mile day, and still didn't see anyone! The only sign of other hikers was an accidentally dropped wool buff that someone was using as a headband. I picked it up hoping to surprise a future friend. As the sun was setting atop Methow Pass, I realized that I'd have this campsite to myself. The mountain shadows crept up other ranges to greet the sky, and I was thoroughly enjoying this cowboy camping experience (no tent, sleeping under the stars).
Morning came I hiked quickly towards Cutthroat Pass. There was only one difficult snow chute to navigate that day, and I felt extremely fortunate that it was a light snow year for Washington. Although the region is desperate for precipitation, the light snow year means that this was the year to attempt a southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. As I made my way down towards Rainy Pass, I encountered my first southbounder! His name was Matt, and he had indeed dropped his wool buff the day before. We became instant friends and hiked towards North Cascades National Park together.
I learned a lot about the trail from Matt. He had attempted a southbound hike two years ago, but was turned back by weather and mounting injuries. I learned about "trail magic," when individuals go out of their way to do nice things for thru-hikers along the trail. Matt reciprocated my trail magic to him of finding his wool buff by giving me a pair of sunglasses (I lost mine within the first 5 minutes of leaving Harts Pass). I also learned about "trail names," where thru-hikers earn an new alias through some sort of memorable moment that happens on trail. It typically takes southbounders a longer time to get a trail name due to the fact that there are fewer hikers and much more solitude.
When Matt and I arrived at Stehekin, a remote trail town and a thru-hiker haven, we were lucky to encounter a fantastic group of individuals who had hiked in the day before. We swam and kayaked Lake Chelan together, enjoyed pastries at the famous Stehekin Bakery, and enjoyed the moonlit sky on a dock during our midnight conversations. Stehekin was magical. Matt shared his ambitions of providing trail magic for other thru-hikers. He wants to offer to wash the feet of anyone interested. We now call Matt, "Half Jesus." It was there that Matt introduced me to Wildfire, a fiery girl with ambitions to finish all of the PCT through Washington and Oregon this summer. Wildfire and I teamed up an enjoyed the Glacier Peak Wilderness and the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness together. It took us four long days to traverse this stunning 100-mile section of trail, and it was great to have Wildfire with me!
We climbed up to Suiattle Pass, met up with two new hiking friends who I named "Darkside" and "Talent Boy." Talent Boy even bestowed me with a trail name: Future Dad! They think I have what it takes... We'll see!
When Wildfire and I emerged from the wilderness, our friend Half Jesus was waiting for us. Spoiler Alert: Wildfire, Half Jesus, and Future Dad are still together after 500+ miles of hiking. I guess I've officially found my hiker family!