WENATCHEE — If the snow doesn’t stop them, the government shutdown just might.
The last of this year’s Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers face tough challenges as they try to finish their 2,600-mile trek from Mexico to Canada.
Most were forced off the trail after several feet of snow fell in higher elevations of the Cascades last week. Some are now walking to the Canadian border along highways.
A few hardy hikers are still hoping to tackle the last section of trail to the border. Two dozen or so people were hanging out in the area around Winthrop, Okanogan County, on Monday waiting for snow to melt enough to continue.
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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.
Late last week, Dinsmore had nearly two dozen hikers at her home. Several tried 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 reason with the holed-up hikers. As a coordinator for the county’s search-and-rescue teams, Rohrbach said he wanted to persuade 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 and that
the highway walk to the border is about equal to the trail miles.
Four of the hikers at Dinsmore’s house decided to walk Highway 2 and then Highway 97 and 97A. Another six who were stopped by weather in Oregon walked by road from Portland. They crossed Blewett Pass on Sunday.
But snowy conditions aren’t all that’s stopping hikers this month. Some lucky or hardy enough to make it through the snow to Stehekin, Chelan County, were stopped by park rangers barring them from continuing down the trail where it enters the National Park Service.
The trail section 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 3 feet of snow. Six miles beyond Rainy Pass, they and a group of other hikers turned back after encountering a chest-deep snow drift.
“Some of the ridgelines 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 also would take them to Canada.
But at the trailhead they were met by a park ranger who turned them away.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said.