If you’re looking for incredible adventure, the PCT Section K in Washington has it all- beautiful forests, grassy ridges, magnificient peaks, sweeping vistas, rushing rivers, and a very challenging trail. People say that Section K of the PCT in Washington is the most difficult section of the PCT except for the John Muir Trail in California. Since I have not hiked the whole trail, I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that this section is one tough but specatcular adventure. The 127 mile Section K officially starts at Stevens Pass and ends at Rainy Pass, but we started at the Smithbrook Trailhead and ended at Stehekin, so our hike was 100 miles done in 9 days.
This year’s adventure included two well seasoned (older) hikers and one youngster in her mid-30’s. This was our second section hike adventure on the PCT. In 2016 we hiked the 88 miles from Stehekin to Manning Park. You can also read about it on Natural Atlas. Our plan is to continue south with a section each summer. It’s difficult to imagine any section with scenery that would surpass this one!
Massive Glacier Peak often dominated the skyline as we wandered up and down lush green ridges and in and out of dense coniferous forest. There were numerous hikers on this section especially in mid-August when we did it. Many of them were thru-hikers who had done some version of flipping the trail because there was so much snow in the Sierras last winter. Some were headed north and then would return to the Sierras after finishing this northern part. Some had started at Hart’s Pass and were hiking south to meet up with the spot where they had left the trail in California. We also met hikers out for a weekend or week long trip. They often had an itinerary that only included a small part of the PCT. Regardless, all that we talked to had a story to tell about life on the trail.
We hiked an average of 11+ miles/day. That was plenty for us, but nearly everyone else doing the PCT was hiking 15-30 miles/day. They started early in the morning and hiked late into the evening. We started early and finished early.
The Northern Cascades are well known for wet, rainy weather, and we were prepared for that. However, nature smiled on us delivering incredible warm sunny weather every day except for one morning of fog and drizzle. Also, the smoke from western fires plagued the area before and after our hike. Again, we were extremely fortunate that we had none.
From Leavenworth, drive west 31 miles on US 2. Turn right (north) on National Forest Road 6700. Travel 2.7 miles up a good gravel road to the trailhead. There is a large parking area.
Notes about hiking
Section K of the PCT in Washington passes through the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Wenatchee National Forest, and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. No special hiking permits are required. A Northwest Forest Pass (available at northwest forest service offices or online) is needed to park at Stevens Pass or the Smithbrook trailhead.
Water was not difficult to find on this section other than between a fork of Milk Creek at about mile 2520 and the top of the ridge above Milk Creek at about mile 2528. It may be possible to get down to Milk Creek at the bridge but we didn’t see a good way to do it, and the water was extremely silty. We were lucky to find a dripping spring just as we started up the ridge after crossing the Milk Creek bridge but don’t count on this place for water. It was very slow and looked like it could dry up at any time.
There were no difficult water crossings at this time of year, but it looked like the White Chuck River, Sitkum Creek, Dolly Vista Creek and Agnes Creek could present some high water challenges earlier in the summer.
Before starting out, be sure to check on fire restrictions. At the time we did the hike there was a total fire ban. No fires of any kind were allowed.
Day 1 Saturday,
August 19, 2017
Smithbrook Trailhead (PCT mile 2469.2) to Pear Lake (PCT mile 2480)
Distance 11 miles, Elevation Gain 3625 ft., Elevation Loss 2576 ft.
We got an early start from Wenatchee arriving at the trailhead about 8:15. Jerry tried to send a message with his Garmin that we were starting the hike, but for some reason, it just wouldn’t send. Must have been something about the terrain and all of the trees. This cost us a little time, and eventually he gave up. There were some mosquitoes here, so we were happy to start up the trail at 8:40.
The trail climbed by switchbacks about 775 feet up in the course of a mile to join the PCT at Union Gap. It was a grind with our heavy packs, but still beat doing the extra 7 miles from Stevens Pass.
Once on the PCT, we were in thick forest and immediately began descending. This became a theme for the trip: up, up, up… down, down, down. Repeat constantly! In the first two miles, we met several people coming the other way- a single woman, several women hiking from Stehekin who told us there would be lots of blueberries and huckleberries to enjoy all along the way, and a thru-hiker who had been off the trail recovering from an infected heel. He was hiking south to meet up with the place he had left the trail in California.
After two miles, we came to lovely Janus Lake where we stopped for our morning break, a water refill, and a snack. There were many nice camping areas around the lake. No one was there except for a day hiker and her dog.
Refreshed from our break, we began the first of many, many climbs. This one was about 1,000 feet up through the forest to a ridgeline dividing Chelan County from Snohomish County and the Wenatchee Natlional Forest from the Mt. Baker Natlional Forest. Once on top, the trail wandered along the ridge top for several miles offering distant views of forested ridges and valleys.
We stopped for lunch at a campsite above Glasses Lake, and I could have stayed forever. It felt great to take the pack off and lounge in the sun enjoying our tortillas with tuna salad. What a great invention- tuna salad already mixed with mayonnaise and other goodies in a foil pouch. No refrigeration needed. And I even had extra mayo. Yum! It was difficult to get moving again. It was a warm day; the packs were heavy, and the climb had tired us out. But, on the pack (named Little Darlin’) went and onward we proceeded. Lunch had restored us somewhat, and the trail was not as difficult as it climbed toward Grizzly Peak.
What beauty! The view across a grassy flowered hillside to the north took our breath away, giving us our first glimpse of Glacier Peak. There was no mistaking it, dominating the landscape with clouds clustered around its apex. It seemed impossible that we would be walking around it, so far in the distance. Looking north, we could see a lake perched precariously on a steep slope. I said to Jerry, “I wonder if that’s Pear Lake?” where we planned to camp that night. He scoffed and said he hoped not. It looked impossible to get to and very far away across a large deep valley and nearly to the top of the far ridge. Well, it was not Pear Lake, but Peach Lake located just below Pear. Pear Lake was hidden in the trees above Peach.
On we marched starting a long switchbacking descent to Wenatchee Pass. My hip flexors began to complain as I went down and were very sore for the next couple of days. Must do more of some kind of exercise to keep that from happening again!
Down at Wenatchee Pass, we took a break before the 600 ft. climb to Pear Lake. It was now late afternoon. There were a few undesirable campsites at Wenatchee Pass- just in the trees and right on the trail.
The last mile and a half to Pear Lake was torture. The trail climbed steeply through the trees and at the end of a long day, the packs seemed extra heavy! Self doubts about doing the rest of the trip crept into my mind. I was hot, tired, and my feet hurt. We eventually reached the lake and chose to pass the large campsite near the outlet and already occupied by several other groups to camp alone further up the lakeshore. A little time to rest and enjoy the beauty of the place restored my confidence and commitment.
We had a lovely campsite very near the lake, but it was also a windy, chilly spot. It would probably have been better to camp in the trees or back at the outlet but too late. After setting up camp, we soaked our aching feet in the icy water, enjoyed our freeze dried dinner, and soon after were asleep. I expected the wind to die down after dark but it whipped the tents all night long. Even so, we were tired enough that it didn’t matter.
Day 2 August 20, 2017
Pear Lake (PCT mile 2480) to Lake Sally Ann (PCT mile 2491)
11 miles, Elevation Gain 2,895 ft., Elevation Loss 2263 ft.
Up at 5:30, we moved our breakfast nook to a small campsite in some trees, where it was much less windy. We enjoyed our coffee and breakfast, packed up camp and headed out at 7:30. My hip flexors were still sore, but otherwise I wasn’t too stiff and sore. Hope glimmered that maybe I could survive another day. One day at a time!
At first the trail climbed gradually through the forest and then wandered across a large boulder field. A huge log blocked the trail. It was difficult to climb over but with some assistance from each other, we all made it.
The trail crossed from the east side of the ridge to the west. There were opportunities to enjoy vistas in many different directions along this section of trail depending on which side of the ridge we were on. Eventually we headed downhill to a nice large campsite at PCT mile 2484 with a small creek.
We stopped here for a longer break and filled up on water. After a good rest, we were back on the trail climbing up a very brushy hillside to Saddle Gap and the headwaters of Pass Creek, which came and went without much notice. We then hiked a series of long switchbacks down to a mosquito filled campsite in the trees at Pass Creek with the creek babbling nearby.
Next up, a big climb (1300 ft.) through dense forest. I had a hard time with this one. It was a warm day, and it was getting close to lunchtime (1:00). My stomach rumbled and I was starting to feel weak. Hunger definitely affected my ability to hike uphill or downhill for that matter! Biting flies harassed us all along the way! I had rolled up my pants and they especially liked my calves. It’s hard to swat something on your calf when carrying a full pack and hiking poles so they mostly had their way with me.
Finally, we plopped ourselves down right on the edge of the trail for lunch. I was more than ready. As we munched, a woman hiker approached and stopped to chat. Her name was Mother Fire and we saw her several times in the future. You never know when you meet another hiker going in your direction whether you will see her again. It’s one of the fun things about hiking the PCT, especially when you see someone several times. It’s like seeing a long, lost friend although you just met and had probably only talked to them for a few minutes. We saw Mother Fire two more times on this day as we leapfrogged several times. She kindly stopped to take a photo of the three of us resting on a boulder, and then we saw her again when she stopped to filter water. She planned to hike on past Lake Sally Ann where we intended to camp, so we thought we would not see her again. Amazingly we met again a week later at the bus stop at High Bridge. We were finishing, and she was headed back out after a few days of rest in Chelan. It was like a big reunion of long lost friends.
After lunch we continued up the interminable hill. I kept looking up toward the top of the ridge and hoping that we wouldn’t have to go all the way up there but that the trail would traverse to the right. Eventually I got my wish; traversing to the right, we broke out on to a steep grassy hillside. The trail leveled out for the next 2 miles to Lake Sally Ann. It was very scenic hiking below the beautifully named Skykomish Peak with views of the Cady Creek Valley to the east.
We arrived at Lake Sally Ann around 4:00 and had a number of campsites to choose from. After setting up camp, we went down by the water to soak our feet and clean up a bit. By evening there were quite a few parties camped around the lake including four women and a large dog camped next to us. One of them came over to visit. Two of them were planning to do the same hike we were doing and taking the same amount of time. We expected to see more of them as we traveled but didn’t see them again until we reached Stehekin. They had been right behind us on the trail but never caught up. And I thought we were the slowest hikers! Not so.
After our delicious freeze-dried dinner, we sat and watched as the light faded on exquisite Lake Sally Ann. Our neighbors across the way, waved; we returned the wave. Went to bed as it was getting dark.
Day 3 August 21, 2017
Lake Sally Ann (PCT mile 2491) to Cinder Cone Camp (PCT mile 2503)
Distance: 12 miles, Elevation gain 2898 ft., Elevation loss 2,997 ft.
My favorite day. There was, of course, the perpetual climb and descent, but the scenery today was spectacular all day. We walked through lush green hillsides and meadows. Jagged snowcapped peaks surrounded us.
First up was Ward’s Pass, a short climb from Lake Sally Ann. The trail continued along a grassy ridgeline through Dishpan Gap where several trails joined the PCT. Great views to the east of big timbered valleys and large green meadows lay below. Marmots and pikas whistled as we passed by. The trail traversed a south facing hillside, and we were able to see snowcapped Mt. Rainier in the distance.
The solar eclipse was on this day. It had begun as we walked along this hillside. There were some people stopped on the trail to check it out. We didn’t realize it had started, so I pulled out my special glasses, and we took a look. It was just beginning with only a sliver of the sun gone. As we entered the Glacier Peak Wilderness and headed downhill to Indian Pass, the light became noticeably dimmer. Entering a forested section, it was difficult to see because I had my sunglasses on, but I didn’t want to stop to dig out my regular glasses so I toughed it out, hoping I wouldn’t trip over any tree roots. A break at Indian Pass allowed us to enjoy the 90% maximum eclipse.
There was a good water refill spot heading down from the Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary to Indian Pass. Water was also available at Indian Pass but was more stagnant than the spring above.
Most of the rest of the day was a 2,000+ ft. climb over 5 miles to Red Pass. It was a constant steady up but through some gorgeous scenery. At White Pass, we stopped for lunch. Some very helpful people heading south told us we weren’t to the hard part yet. Wow, thanks a lot! So far, it had all seemed hard to me.
The hike from White Pass to Red Pass was more difficult. The trail was steeper than what we had hiked so far that day. We trudged up an open south facing hillside, and the afternoon sun was very warm. There was one spring running across the trail that would have provided water if we had needed it. Red Pass couldn’t come soon enough! Once there, we plopped down for a break and enjoyed the views down the boulder strewn headwaters of the White Chuck River where we were headed.
On the way to Red Pass we had passed a “bailout” trail down the North Fork of the Sauk River. The thought flitted through my mind several times in the past couple of days that really this was more difficult than I thought it would be. I had read the claims that this was the most difficult section of the PCT other than the John Muir Trail, and I had some doubts about the ability of this older backpacker to actually do it. The climbs often seemed endless and the downs were so hard on my feet, ankles, and knees. What was I doing here? We still had 6 days to go, and we weren’t to the “hard part” yet. But when we actually arrived at the trail junction, there was no question in my mind about going on. I wasn’t in that much pain; I felt good when I got up each morning; the weather was fabulous, the scenery incomparable, and I had two fantastic companions who would be disappointed to bail. We had made good time each day and were in camp with plenty of time to relax, do camp chores, and eat. Besides, there was another “bailout” at the Suiattle River, two days ahead and in the heart of the “hard part”. Onward!
From Red Pass the trail descended through the alpine headwaters of the White Chuck River. The creek tumbled noisily along beside us. I hoped we would be camping somewhere in this open country, but our camp, Cinder Cone Camp, lay below this area and on the edge of the forest.
It was a small campsite although there were another couple of spots just below us. Still, it was enough room for our two small tents with a pretty little creek nearby. We set up camp, then went down to the water for some foot soaking, cleanup, and water filtering. As we sat enjoying dinner in our camp, a group of three people came by and camped just below us. They had come up the unmaintained White River Trail and were doing a loop around Glacier Peak. The White River Trail had turned out to be a very difficult bushwhack and had cost them an extra day. Shortly after they passed us a lone hiker stopped, looking for them. He had heard about them and was doing a similar trip, so he wanted to talk to them. His pants were in tatters from the bushwhacking. I’ll pass on that hike!
Day 4 August 22, 2017
Cinder Cone Camp (PCT mile 2503) to Pumice Creek (PCT mile 2513)
10 miles, Elevation gain 3366 ft., Elevation loss 3230 ft.
Yesterday was my favorite day. Today was my least. I decided it was the beginning of the "hard part".
I looked forward to the hike down the White Chuck River Valley, but was disappointed by it. It was really the only disappointment of the whole trip. While the river was beautiful, I thought the trail would be open like the upper part that we had hiked through the day before. Instead it was densely timbered with limited views. In addition, we had the biggest elevation drop so far- almost 1100 ft. in 2 miles. The down was becoming less favored than the up in my mind! I was slow going up, but I could recover quicker. It wasn’t so taxing on my knees, feet, and ankles either!
The section just before Kennedy Creek involved walking in and through a mucky creek bed (possibly Sitkum Creek) and pushing our way through dense shoulder high vegetation. I could only see what was immediately in front of me. It was an uncomfortable feeling that fortunately didn’t last too long. Thankfully this section was short. Later in the trip, hiking up out of the Milk Creek drainage, we walked through long sections where trail crews had cleared brush. We all really appreciated their work because otherwise it would have been similar to this.
A couple of short breaks to doctor blisters, filter water, and wash our stinky shirts in a creek were welcome. It was a hot day, so putting on an icy cold wet t-shirt felt great after the initial shock!
From here, the trail descended to Kennedy Creek, and there was a difficult blow-down on a steep hillside to negotiate. We all took our packs off to do it, but some hikers just behind us, didn’t. They had no trouble, but it was sketchy even without my pack, so I was glad I had taken mine off. I had seen many photos of the broken bridge over Kennedy Creek and looked forward to seeing it in person. The creek was a rushing torrent of murky, glacial water, and it’s a good thing the bridge is there! At higher water levels it would have been a challenge because even with the bridge, the water splashed over the center section at the low levels we encountered.
The hike up timbered Kennedy Ridge was hot and seemed endless although it was only 2 miles. Two miles with a gain of 1261 ft. This was the steepest section of trail other than the climb up Vista Ridge that came several days later. The beginning was especially steep. We stopped part way at the trail junction with the Kennedy Hot Springs Trail for lunch where numerous mosquitoes joined us.
On we climbed through the timber with few views. When we finally arrived at the Glacier Creek campsite, I was all in favor of stopping for the day. My companions argued for going on. It was only 3:00, and if we went on to Pumice Creek, another mile, the next day would be easier. I reluctantly agreed, and after another swish of the t-shirts in the creek, we moved on.
The trail continued up and over Glacier Ridge with nice views of Pumice Creek. I kept scanning the far hillside trying to figure out how we would climb up to Fire Creek Pass. There was no obvious route, and that is because the trail travels down the Pumice Creek Valley a ways before crossing a low ridge and climbing a different hillside. It wasn’t visible from here. There was a large tree blocking the trail just before Pumice Creek. It required climbing up the steep hillside and then a very steep but short drop back to the trail. I was glad we hadn’t had many problems like this. We arrived at Pumice Creek and picked out a nice but small campsite perched on a point of land overlooking the Pumice Creek drainage. It was a good decision to come to this campsite. It had much better views and put us closer to the top of Fire Creek Pass.
Everyone was tired, so we all had a nice rest in what shade we could find. It had been a hot afternoon at this elevation (5600 ft.) I wondered about the temperature at lower places like Wenatchee and Stehekin. It must have been a scorcher!
We enjoyed our freeze-dried dinner and watched a number of hikers pass by going in both directions. It seems that most hikers are willing to hike much longer each day than we are. For me, one of the best parts of backpacking is spending some time relaxing in camp. Several groups stopped to camp in this area, but they all headed to a large bench above us on the uphill side of the trail.
A lovely sunset painted the peaks above our camp a subtle rose color. We were in bed just as it became dark.
Day 5 Aug. 23, 2017
Pumice Creek (PCT mile 2513) to PCT mile 2523
10 miles, Elevation gain 2489 ft., Elevation loss 4781 ft.
Second day of "the really hard part". From looking at the topo maps while planning the trip, Fire Creek Pass appears to be a highlight and one of the most difficult parts of Section K. It was one of the few above timberline parts of the trail and in the heart of this wilderness. After a night of little sleep, I was dreading the climb but the morning was cool, and the climb was not bad at all. Because the climb had really started back at Kennedy Creek, we had a good start on it. The top arrived long before expected. Taking a leisurely break, we enjoyed the vistas, had a snack, and snapped some photos. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny, but this was a very exposed place and no doubt very inhospitable during bad weather.
Far below, Mica Lake beckoned us, and reluctantly we began the incredible descent to Milk Creek. The topo map of this next part looks like the scritchity lines of a serious earthquake on a seismograph. The zigzags are so close together that it’s really hard to read the map as the trail falls down off the mountainside. This was definitely the "hard part". Not only were the switchbacks steep, they were littered with various sizes of loose rock from large boulders to tiny pebbles. Marmots dotted the trail offering their encouragement. They were lucky they didn’t have to hike down this steep descent, but I was also glad I didn’t have to walk up it!
Beautiful Mica Lake was visible from far above, and we reached it in about a mile.The blue of the lake was unreal. Surely nothing in nature can be this incredible shade of cobalt blue. The beauty of it required us to stop and admire it for awhile. It was still warm and sunny, and it felt good to relax and take in the exquisiteness of this place. There were a number of campsites here, but it wasn’t even lunch-time, so we eventually moved on down the trail.
On and on we dropped, passing by a very nice large campsite. The trail switchbacked through another dense stand of trees. We stopped for lunch and to filter water at a tributary of Milk Creek. My feet were hurting from the punishing downward hike, so I soaked them in the creek for a bit. We also dipped our shirts in the water to cool us off and clean them up.
Another two miles brought us to the Milk Creek Bridge. We were starting to look for a campsite, but there was nothing that would work. It was also difficult to get down to the water, which was silty with glacial melt anyway. We had read about a campsite .9 mile from the closed Milk Creek Trail and were hoping that it would work for us. There would be no water there, so we had hoped to get more water at Milk Creek, but that just wasn’t feasible.
The trail began to climb out in the open on the south facing side of the Milk Creek Valley. By now, it was after 3:00 and hot. We really didn’t want to hike all the way to the top of the ridge, which would have been another 2,000 ft. Soon we passed a dripping spring so we stopped to fill all of our water containers- two 2 liter Platypus and six water bottles. We wouldn’t have access to water until well into the next day. The water stop took considerable time because it was flowing at a slow drip, but we were grateful to find it. This spring was not on any water report we had seen and probably would not be there much longer.
The trail climbed steeply up the open hillside, and I began to despair of finding the side trail. Attitudes were sinking! It was very warm, and we were all tired. The heat really seemed to take it out of us. Three hikers passed us, and I asked if they knew where the side trail was. They didn’t, but as they passed, the last one pointed and said, “There it is,” and sure enough, there it was with a nice sign pointing to the right that said, “Toilet”. Must be the Toilet Trail. What relief! We could camp in this make-shift place and hike the rest of the ridge tomorrow. We put down our packs and explored the area. Our reference book made it sound like we could hike down this old trail to Milk Creek and camp at some very nice campsites, but the trail was overgrown and in serious disrepair. We gave up trying to get down to Milk Creek. The other thing to explore was the toilet. A brand new backcountry toilet was indeed located down an extremely steep hillside with a very primitive trail leading to it. It was a mystery why it was located there. The only thing we could think of was that the area was going to be improved to become a campsite or that a trail crew used this as a camping area.
Returning to our packs, there was room for our two tents on the widest part of the old trail, so we set up camp. It was quite pleasant to be camped in some giant old trees in this secluded spot. It was obvious that others had done the same. People passing by on the trail above could not even see us.
We returned to the main trail to look around while Jerry sent the daily message about our location. While Robin and I were exploring, a thru-hiker passed by and asked about camping. We told him what we had done, and he joined us in “Toilet Camp”. The site was full up with three small tents.
As I lay in the tent that night, I heard a crack and had the thought that even a falling branch from one of these giant trees could kill us. I was too tired to worry about it too much though, and it didn’t keep me awake.
Day 6 Aug. 24, 2017
"Toilet Camp" (PCT mile 2523) to Suiattle River Bridge (PCT mile 2538)
15 miles, Elevation gain 3424 ft., Elevation loss 4200 ft.
In the heart of the "really hard part", we woke at 5:30 with no fallen branches, but we were enveloped in dense fog. Surprisingly the tent and ground were dry. The trees were beautiful and ghostly in the fog. We were on the trail at our usual 7:30.
We were so happy that we were hiking this today rather than yesterday. The air was cool and the scenery beautiful with a river of fog rising from the Milk Creek Valley and swirling around the far peaks giving occasional glimpses of them before disappearing again into the mist. The brush on the trail had been recently cleared. It was a real gift to be hiking under these conditions. More zigzag lines on the topo map, we climbed switchback after switchback eventually reaching the campsite near the top of the ridge.
The trail continued up the ridge through very cool air and heavy fog. There was a little mist but not enough to require rain gear. Pretty green hillsides covered in fireweed beckoned us on and on. Friendly curious marmots greeted us along the way. We stopped to fill up on water at the East Fork of Milk Creek.
Leaving the East Fork of Milk Creek for the Vista Creek drainage was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. A huge green grassy ridge covered in knee-high vegetation greeted us with incredible views. The clouds had lifted and given us this visual gift. I paused several times just to enjoy the beauty all around me. How lucky am I that I can do a hike like this! This was our reward for doing the "hard part", and I was filled with gratitude.
The trail started a long descent to Vista Creek, at first through an open hillside, but soon dropping into dense forest. Ever downward, I knew this was going to be a long drop, but it really seemed endless. The guidebook had warned us to be prepared for an infinitely long slog through the trees. My companions were out of sight ahead of me, so I put on my headphones and pounded out the miles until our 1:00 lunch stop.
After lunch and a good rest, I felt much better, and we hiked on to our planned campsite on Vista Creek. We stopped to filter water along the way because Vista Creek looked very silty. We arrived at the campsite at a little after 3:00 and had a good long rest. It wasn’t a very appealing campsite and since it was early, we discussed the idea of moving on to another campsite, a mile on.
While we rested and talked, a hiker came into camp. He was also northbound and was hiking with a group of three other men. They also planned to camp here, so that helped us make up our minds to move on. It would have been crowded and less than ideal to stay here.
Fortunately, the next part of the trail was probably the flattest of the entire trip- a welcome change, especially since it was late afternoon. Water crossed the trail just below Vista Camp, so the water we had collected before wasn’t necessary. We crossed paths with two local hikers who stopped to chat. They suggested we hike to the Suiattle Bridge and camp under it, saying it was a great campsite, much better than the one we had decided on. It meant hiking an additional mile, but it was worth it, and the trail continued to be flat. Dolly Creek was crossed easily, and we made very good time.
A section of the trail then passed through an old growth forest. The locals had told us about these trees. They were incredible, and the area had the feeling of a hushed ancient time. Dim light penetrated from above adding to the spiritual feeling of the area. Too soon we left this natural cathedral.
The Suiattle Bridge appeared, and we figured out how to drop down on the near side of the bridge and just to the left of it by the first piling. We then followed a trail to the swanky camp used by the contractor who rebuilt the bridge in 2011. There was a firepit surrounded by board benches and a couple of nice flat spots for our tents. It was the Hilton of the backcountry!
The two locals were the only southbound people we encountered all day. In fact we hadn’t seen any southbounders since early afternoon of the day before. That was very unusual. I began to worry that there was some problem with the trail- a tree that was impossible to bypass or what, I didn’t know. Turns out my fears were unfounded.
We had hiked 15 miles, and while I was tired, I wasn’t exhausted. It was a great feeling to have accomplished my lifetime maximum miles. By the time we ate and all camp chores were complete, it was dusk and three happy hikers gratefully crawled into their nests.
Day 7 August 25, 2017
Suiattle River Bridge (PCT mile 2538) to PCT mile 2550
12 miles, Elevation gain 5088 ft., Elevation loss 1709 ft.
My pants were filthy. My light colored fleece shirt was now gray, and my feet hurt, but I thought I might be able to survive this hike, even the “hard part” because we definitely had done some of that! The Suiattle River Trail was the last bailout , and I didn’t even consider it. Of course, there was only one last climb, but the climb up Miner’s Ridge was the biggest up yet though we were only 31 miles from the end.
The morning was cool and the trail was in thick forest, but we warmed up from the elevation gain and soon shed our long sleeves. Looking at the topo map, I thought we would have a pleasant amble along the Suiattle River, but I have found that hiking in the Cascades often means hiking well above any watercourse through deep dark forest that offers few views of anything but trees. There was a short section near the river just before Miner’s Creek and it was great to have something to look at beside forest!
A nice bridge took us across Miner’s Creek, and then it was up, up, up for mile after mile all on a forested slope. We crossed a number of small creeks but didn’t need water so on we hiked. We encountered a trail crew of four who were taking their lunch break. Their crosscut saw and hatchets lay beside them. We thanked them for their work. It made such a difference- all of the cleared brush and notches cut in fallen trees. Such hard work! I hoped that everyone who passed thanked them!
By 12:30, we had hiked 9 miles and reached our planned campsite on Miner’s Creek. After a leisurely lunch, we realized it was way too early to stop. Apparently we were getting better at making good time probably because our packs were becoming so much lighter. It was also quite cool at this spot, and it didn’t have any good views. It would be a very long afternoon and evening to stay here. So it was decided to move on. It also meant committing to going over Suiattle Pass and camping on the other side, as there were few camping options from here to the pass.
Suddenly we began to see a lot of hikers coming our way. For the most part they were doing a popular loop up to Cloudy Pass, a portion of the PCT, and then hiking to Buck Pass. The trail offered us a few last views of Glacier Peak but was mostly in brush and scattered trees.
At the junction with the Image Lake Trail, we stopped to refill our water supply and then made a last push for the pass. The pass was unremarkable other than we could see northward down the beautiful Agnes Creek drainage. Smiles all around at conquering our last pass, Suiattle Pass.
On the other side, the trail wound down for about a mile to a pretty grassy campsite that was located well off the trail. We gratefully dropped our packs and took a good, long and well deserved rest. Our guidebook said there were only a couple of tent sites here and the water source was likely to dry up in late season. There were actual many very nice campsites spread out in the area and a very suitable trickle of water. There was even a brand new pit toilet by the trail just waiting to be installed. A few biting flies harassed us so we donned our head nets and enjoyed some time basking in the sun.
This site was our favorite of the trip. So many of our campsites had been in powdery dirt that clung to tents, clothing, everything. This one was a large grassy opening with views of the peaks on the east side of the drainage.
The night was colder than the previous ones, but my new sleeping bag kept me comfy and warm. As the sky became dark, we noticed how bright and clear the stars shone. Another moment of gratitude.
Day 8 August 26,2016
PCT mile 2550 to Swamp Creek (PCT mile 2561)
11 miles, Elevation gain 781 ft., Elevation loss 3787 ft.
I could tell as soon as I woke up that it was cold outside, but my sleeping bag was so cozy! It was hard to get up, but I thought maybe the "hard part" was over. That got me going. Stepping out, there was frost on the tent and the grass, but the sky was clear. We bundled up, had our coffee and trail bars, and were on the trail at our usual 7:30.
The rest of the trip would be down, down, down and more down. The trail dropped through the trees but soon entered a big open rocky bowl. We stopped to fill up on water and met a large group of older people headed up the trail. They seemed to be in their 70’s and were headed to Image Lake. Yay… there’s hope for my hiking future!
We passed the next campsite, and I was glad we hadn’t stayed there. It was very open and exposed although it had spectacular views of the mountains. The trail continued through the bowl and then a forested area before passing through one last open rocky area.
The remainder of the hike was a long descent through forest and brush along Agnes Creek. The shade was welcome as the trail descended to a lower elevation and the temps increased.
We easily crossed Agnes Creek at Hemlock Camp. It felt good to get my feet wet and helped cool them off. We stopped for lunch on the far side of the creek. Travel down the east side of Agnes Creek was through some brush but mostly trees. We arrived early at Cedar Camp and decided to move on to Swamp Creek, another mile.
I liked the Swamp Creek Camp better than Cedar Camp. We were alone there until early evening when two southbound guys came in. They had hammocks for sleeping and spent a lot of time looking for a place to hang them. Eventually the perfect trees were located, and they were set for the night.
For our last dinner, we ate up lots of extra food and turned in just at dark. The nearby creek sang a constant lullaby.
Day 9 August 27, 2017
Swamp Creek (PCT mile 2561) to High Bridge Ranger Station (PCT mile 2569)
8 miles, Elevation gain 815 ft., Elevation loss 1962 ft.
Jerry had challenged us to get on the trail before 7:30, and Robin and I rose to the challenge. We enjoy the early morning slow pack, but we did want to get to High Bridge in time for the 12:30 bus. We were on the trail at 6:45.
The last day. I couldn’t believe it was almost over. What an incredible beautiful adventure. The scenery and views had been incomparable. My companions were great. The people on the trail were so friendly and interesting. The hiking had been hard but doable. Up, up, up. Down, down, down. Over and over again, and now it was time for the last 8 miles. I felt so much gratitude for my ability to do this despite the sore knees, ankles, and feet.
We reached High Bridge just after 11:00 where a number of people were already waiting for the bus. More joined us from both north and south. We rested, waited, and visited with a couple from Santa Rosa, California. They had been section hiking for 15 years and had only the last 88 miles to finish after a break in Stehekin. I, for one, was glad my trip was over for the year.
The bus arrived and we happily piled on board for a trip to the Stehekin Pastry Company followed by arrival in Stehekin. The cost to ride the bus was $8 payable on boarding. After purchasing some great pastries, we reboarded the bus and soon after arrived in Stehekin. Gratefully we checked into our rooms at the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, showered, and washed our filthy clothing. Dinners of giant burgers and fries ensued washed down with beer and wine.
After dinner, we walked down to the lake and sat on a bench enjoying the view of the lake. Smoke was drifting in from fires somewhere to the west. We had been so incredibly lucky that there was no smoke for our entire time on the trail.
Happy hikers hit the hay early that night.
Day 10 Stehekin to
Chelan and points beyond
The bed felt great, but it was hard to sleep in a room instead of a tent!
I don’t know what time we got up, but we were ready to ride the bus up to the bakery when it made it’s first run up the valley. Had to take advantage of a chance to eat and relax at such a great restaurant!
We all ordered breakfasts of pastry, quiche, and coffee. Afterward we took a leisurely two-mile stroll down the road back to Stehekin. It was very easy without a pack! Beautiful flowers, interesting homes, and views of the lake greeted us.
There was plenty of time to relax and get organized before we caught the Lady Express for the 2½-hour boat ride to Chelan. As we traveled down the lake, smoke settled all around from a new fire on the north side of the lake and from other fires in British Columbia and Washington.
Our ride was waiting for us at the boat dock in Chelan but we all agreed to continue the adventure with PCT Washington Section J in 2018. Stay tuned!
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