Shutdown might end hikers’ long journey

The Wenatchee WorldOctober 10, 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 storm dumped several feet of snow in higher elevations of the Cascades last week. Some are walking to the Canadian border along highways in North Central Washington.

A few hardy hikers still are hoping to tackle the last section of trail to the border. About two dozen or so people were hanging out in the Winthrop area 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 almost 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.

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 crosses through North Cascades National Park is closed -- along with all national park lands -- because of the government shutdown.

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," Grapa 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 the 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," Grapa said.

While some still are 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.

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