Total Miles: 2125.1
Just when I thought they were beginning to dwindle, there they were: the juiciest, most plump berries we’ve had on the entire trail. Blue and purple-hued huckleberries, bright red thimbleberries, and golden salmonberries with their equal mix of bitter and sweet. It was all we could do not to stop every few feet and continue picking until our fingertips were stained with their juices, a temptation we only occasionally succeeded in avoiding.
Between the gold mine of berries and yet another gourmet resupply courtesy of my beautiful wife, today was about as good as on-trail eating gets. I considered it a small feast of celebration in recognition that tomorrow, the last day with my Mom on the trail, is also our final day in the state of Oregon.
If we’d forgotten that Washington was right around the corner, we were quickly reminded with our first views of the three major volcanoes that lie beyond the mighty Columbia River: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams. Seeing the peaks of my home state that I’d seen so many times before was hard to put into words. It’s taken so many miles to reach the first view of these familiar mountains, and I found my excitement growing at the prospect of traversing them over the final few hundred miles before Canada.
The real story today, though, is of my Mom. Twelve years ago, she joined me for a week during my thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, her first long backpacking trip. Blister upon blister, she persevered through the sweltering heat and humidity over difficult terrain and came out with an appreciation for the hardship and reward of backpacking. No one I’ve ever known has better personified the “little engine that could” than my Mom. After a lifetime of enjoying the outdoors almost entirely with my Dad, whose health had gradually prevented him from being able to hike, it was now my Mom who’d taken up the torch.
Following her return home from the adventure on the Appalachian Trail, she turned an eye towards a new challenge that might satisfy her newfound desire to keep hiking: climbing the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondack Park. For anyone who is unfamiliar with them, the 46 peaks above 4000 feet in elevation, known collectively as the 46ers, are a rough bunch. Many of them have only a faint “herd path”, as opposed to a typical maintained trail, and despite the modest elevation of their summits the climbs can be vastly rougher and more difficult than the far loftier peaks of the Pacific Crest Trail. Progress often slows to 1 mile per hour, and hiking stretches from dawn to well after dusk under headlamp.
Having started climbing the 46ers 25 years ago myself, it has been an unrivaled adventure to experience the triumphs and hardships alongside my Mom, as we’ve worked to climb them all. With only two peaks left to summit, Emily and I will fly out soon after I finish the PCT to join her in climbing our 45th and 46th peaks together. I don’t know what that moment will feel like, standing on the 46th and final summit of what, for me, has been a 25-year project, any more than I know what it will feel like to reach the Canadian border and complete the PCT. What I do know is that I will have done so alongside an impressive and inspirational woman, a great hiking partner, and one of the finest role models any person could wish to have: my Mom, Mountain Mom.