On Pacific Crest Trail, hikers stumble near end of long journey

THE WENATCHEE WORLDOctober 9, 2013 

STEVENS PASS - If the snow doesn't stop them, the government shutdown just might.

The last of this year's Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers are facing tough challenges as they try to finish their 2,600-mile journey from Mexico to Canada.

Most were forced off the trail after a snow storm dumped several feet of snow in higher elevations of the Cascades last week. Some are now walking to the Canadian border along highways in North Central Washington.

A few hardy hikers are still hoping to tackle the last section of trail to the border. About two dozen or so people were hanging out in the Winthrop area on Monday waiting for the snow to melt enough to continue.

Trail angels -- people who live near the trail and offer support to hikers -- estimate there are probably about 100 hikers still in the region either hoping to finish or trying to decide whether to finish their hike before winter sets in for good.

"They're a pretty determined bunch," said Andrea Dinsmore, a trail angel who lives west of Stevens Pass in Snohomish County.

After a storm early last week dumped several feet of snow in the Cascades, at least four through-hikers became lost and had to be found by search-and-rescue teams.

By late last week, Dinsmore had nearly two dozen PCT hikers staying at her home. Several of them had made attempts to get back on the trail but were turned back by deep snow.

Chelan County sheriff's deputy Paul Rohrbach made a trip to Dinsmore's to try and reason with the holed-up hikers. As a coordinator for the county's search and rescue teams, Rohrbach said he wanted to convince hikers who wanted to push on to take the highway instead of the trail.

"I was trying to prevent another search and rescue," he said.

Rohrbach told the hikers that it's easy to become disoriented and lose your way when the trail is covered in snow. A Japanese hiker who was rescued in Snohomish County was being followed by a large bear.

He said that after coming so far, and investing so much time and money into the hike, it's hard for the hikers to stray from the course this close to Canada.

But he said he told them that the highway walk to the border is about equal to the trail miles.

Four of the hikers at Dinsmore's house took his advice and decided to walk Highway 2 and then Highway 97 and 97A.

Another half dozen hikers who were stopped by weather in Oregon decided to walk by road from Portland. They crossed Blewett Pass on Sunday on their way north.

But snowy conditions aren't all that's stopping hikers this month. Some who were lucky or hardy enough to make it through the snow to Stehekin were stopped by park rangers barring them from continuing down the trail where it enters the National Park Service.

The trail section that crossing through North Cascades National Park is closed -- along with all national park lands -- because of the government shut down.

Wisconsin hiker Robin Grapa was stopped first by snow and then by park rangers. She and her hiking partner initially made it through the snow-covered trail beyond Stevens Pass and the park rangers at Stehekin. But by the time they reached the Winthrop area last week, the storm had covered the trail with three feet of snow. Six miles beyond Rainy Pass, they and a group of other hikers turned back after encountering a snow drift that was chest deep.

"Some of the ridge lines dropped straight down and the trail was slippery," she said Monday, speaking by phone from a hotel room in Oregon. "If one of us lost our footing, there would be nothing to stop us from falling a long way."

They were just 50 miles from the end of trail.

Not to be deterred from reaching Canada, they decided on an alternate route. They walked along Highway 20 to the less snowy Ross Lake Trail, which would also take them to Canada.

But at the trailhead they were met by a park ranger who turned them away.

"It was heartbreaking," she said.

While some are still hoping to resume their hike from Winthrop if the snow melts, Grapa said she's done. She plans to come back next summer to finish the route.

"I'm exhausted," she said, adding that she's been hiking since April 22. "I didn't expect there to be this much snow on the trail the first week of October."

Reach Michelle McNiel at 509-664-7152 or mcniel@wenatcheeworld.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MichelMcNielWW.

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