Washington PCT

I spent a good portion of the summer section-hiking the PCT through (thru?) Washington, from Panther Creek Campground, a bit north of Bridge of the Gods, to the North Cascades Highway. With side trips and wandering, the whole thing came out to just shy of 500 miles, and took 26 days.

It’s taken me a while to start writing about it here because life kept getting in the way, and I guess also because it’s still a lot to digest. It’s been months, but the whole thing just recently started making sense to me.

The next few dozen posts will be daily journals from the trip, and I’ll post links here as they’re finished.

Preliminary 

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Section H: Bridge of the Gods to White Pass (PCT 2144.2 – 2292.4, 148.2 miles)

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Section H is the longest section in Washington, and the most varied. The first fifty or so miles pass through nondescript second and third growth forest, through clear cuts and along old roads. But then there’s a series of successively more serene wildernesses: Indian Heaven, full of craggy peaks, subalpine ponds, and pesky mosquitoes; Mt. Adams, where the trail cuts a nearly flat path along the west side, past enumerable lava flows, snowmelt streams, flowered meadows, and endless views; and finally, Goat Rocks, which is rightly regarded as perhaps the prettiest section of trail in Washington, full of snowy basins, bright meadows, and rocky ridges stretching to infinity.

Section I: White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass (PCT 2292.4 – 2390.6, 98.2 miles)

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Section I has a split personality. For the first fifty miles, it passes through wonderfully varied wilderness: subalpine lakes through the William O. Douglas Wilderness; steep, rocky ridges on the eastern tip of Mt. Rainier National Park and southern half of the Norse Peak Wilderness; and deep, old forest as it descends through the northern half of Norse Peak. But then, between the Norse Peak Wilderness boundary and Snoqualmie Pass, it enters a checkerboard of public and private land, all touched by a long history of logging: clear cut scars to the horizon; charred trees from a fire started by loggers; dozens of hastily built roads; and water made scarce by impoverished soil.

Section J: Snoqualmie Pass / I90 to Stevens Pass / US2 (2390.6 – 2461.6, 71 miles)

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Section J is just magnificent. It spends nearly its entire 70 miles in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, traversing endless ridges, meeting deep blue pools and rushing rivers, and just generally being more consistently pleasant than I thought a trail of this length capable of being. Even in foul weather—I walked out in a storm—there are still the nearby pleasures of deep woods and complex granite walls. Most full thru-hikers do the whole thing in two or three nights. I took four, including a couple halfdays, but could easily have stayed for twice that, exploring the many, many possible side trips. If one were looking for an easily manageable section to hike, this would be a very good place to start.

Section K: Stevens Pass / US2 to Rainy Pass / SR20 (2461.6 – 2588.9, 127.3 miles)

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Before starting this section, northern Washington had always been sort of mythic to me: I’d driven through the North Cascades, and maybe been to Lake Chelan when I was a kid, but never spent any concerted time up there beside that. Holy hell! It’s… it’s just difficult to describe. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it, save perhaps the Sierras, but even there, it’s often just granite. (Okay, “just,” but you know what I mean.) In northern Washington, it’s granite and glaciers and deep deep river valleys and sun and storms always ready to cross some distant pass and take over the skies. It’s wild in a way different, and deeper, than any other place I’ve ever been. It’s also, unless you’re thru-hiking, kind of a pain to get to. Some of these areas are twenty or thirty miles from the nearest trailhead. It made passing through sort of tragic–when am I ever going to get here again?–but it also meant that I spent most days and nights alone, surrounded by mountains and glaciers and trees and sky.

Afterward

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