PCT Journal: Days 101-115 (Washington Pt. I)

Days 101-102

Seattle, WA

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo

We were excited to finally be flying into Seattle. It was late at night when we arrived, but we made our way to West Seattle where we stayed with my old roommate and good friend, Amanda. It was great to see her!

On our first day in Seattle, we took the water taxi across Elliott Bay toward the city and explored Pike Place Market. We came across The Taproom and decided to try a few local beers before making our way to the Space Needle. After experiencing an amazing view of the city and catching a small glimpse of Mt. Rainier behind the clouds in the distance, we met up with Amanda to grab some dinner.

The three of us walked up to Capitol Hill and bounced around to a few different places before heading over to Pioneer Square. We spent time at Redhook Brewlab, Optimism Brewing Co., and Flatstick Pub. We had a great time downtown and were really glad we had the chance to explore.

Before Amanda dropped us off at our hotel in the Seatac area, she took us to brunch in West Seattle and then over to the REI flagship store downtown. We eventually said our goodbyes and hoped we would see her in the near future off of the trail. The rest of the day included grocery shopping for our first stretch of the trail. After a trip to the Dollar Tree and Target, we made our way back to the hotel and took advantage of the rest of the night to relax.

Day 103

Seattle, WA/Hitch to Harts Pass/19.6 Miles From the Canadian Border

Daily Mileage: 9.7

Total PCT Mileage: NoBo 942.5

It was difficult to get out of our comfortable hotel bed this morning, but we managed to shower, eat, and organize our packs before getting picked up. We were picked up by a few locals heading to Harts Pass. One of them was planning to begin hiking the trail southbound. Since the trailhead is roughly five hours away, we were thankful to have found a ride.

We also wound up traveling with their super cute dogs and another thru-hiker, Choo Choo, who is getting his start on the trail as well. We arrived at the trailhead around 3 pm and began hiking north right away. Our goal was to hike as far north as we could and find a decent camp spot. We ran into Choo Choo when filtering our water and figured we’d see him again further up the trail. We passed by a few backpackers and day hikers heading back to their cars, but very few thru-hikers.

It was around 7 pm when we decided to camp. We found a large tentsite where Choo Choo was setting up and decided to join. A few minutes later, another person who was beginning the trail and now heading southbound also set up camp nearby. We all ate dinner together and chatted about the trail and where we were all coming from. It felt great to be back into the swing of things and meeting like-minded people.

A few more joined us for the night. One guy was ahead of the northbound pack and was already about to finish the trail completely. Another thru-hiker, Weatherman, came back this year to complete the other half of the trail and was now on his way back to the trailhead. It was really neat talking to people with various perspectives.

We completed our night with an absurd amount of food eaten and hung our bags nearby. We weren’t nervous about bears, but did see one curious deer scouting out the perimeter of the tentsite all throughout dinner. It’s pretty cold outside at the moment, but there’s no other place I’d rather be than back on trail.

Day 104

19.6 Miles From the Canadian Border to Mile 3.7

Daily Mileage: 23.3

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 3.7 SoBo

We slept in a little since it was our first day back on trail, but when we woke up we were ready to go. Being less than 20 miles from the border felt a bit odd, especially since we’re not finishing there. I hated knowing that 30 miles would be repeated going southbound (SoBo), but we heard it was going to be quite scenic anyway.

For the first half of the day, I struggled to get used to the weight of a pack again while climbing uphill. We had great views though the entire time and made it over Rock Pass and Woody Pass without too much trouble. I really enjoyed having lunch with a view once again. Where we took a break, we could just begin to see the mountains in Canada in addition to what looked like a small forest fire.

We eventually made it to a tentsite 3.7 miles from the border and decided to set up. We ate dinner and took everything unnecessary out of our packs so that we could hustle downhill to see the monument at the border then return to camp. It came upon us pretty quickly and although it was a little different than I imagined, it was still pretty awesome.

The new monument that was erected two days ago stood in front of us with the American and Canadian flags on each side. It read, Northern Terminus, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail; Canada to Mexico, 2650 Miles, 1988 A.D. We took a bunch of photographs and sat there admiring what it stood for. Even though this wasn’t our finish line, it was still something we both have dreamt about so many times before. I didn’t expect to be there months earlier than planned with the agenda of hiking southbound, but it felt like it was meant to be.

After a snack and a soda meant for this very occasion, we began hiking southbound toward camp. That’s when it felt like we were back on track again to finish what we started. We made it to camp just before dark approached and saw that Choo Choo set up next door. Of course it was after Steel Toe went in the tent that I spotted eyes with my headlamp just a few yards away. It was only a deer, but you could tell this one was curious. We went to bed shortly after, but could hear her wandering around camp.

Day 105

Mile 3.7 to Mile 22.4

Daily Mileage: 18.7

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 18.7 SoBo

We heard the same deer in camp even in the early morning. They must realize that hikers coming through this spot leave crumbs behind. We left camp around 9 am, only because we allowed ourselves to sleep in a little after making more miles than expected yesterday. The mosquitoes were already out, but still not as annoying as they were in the Sierra. It seems from our experience in Washington thus far, flies and wasps are more prevalent than mosquitoes.

We made the climb back up to Woody Pass and had lunch with a view of Rock Pass, which we were about to ascend in the near future. We attempted to eat a bit more than usual to get rid of some of the food we packed since we estimated 15 mile days instead of 20. We thought there would be some leftover snow up here, but so far we’ve barely encountered any. Looks like we can send our ice axes home at the next stop in Stehekin.

The rest of the day included a bunch of rough climbs, but the views were breathtaking. It’s amazing when you have to remind yourself that what you’re looking at is real. The colors in these mountains are simply beautiful. The bright green grass next to the gray hues of all different types of rock, with dark green trees scattered throughout. It reminds me of the Sierra here, but the landscape also has a certain uniqueness to it. I’ve also noticed a flower that I’ve never seen elsewhere. It’s called the Western pasqueflower. It’s soft, fluffy, and malleable, and makes me think of Dr. Suess’s The Lorax.

After we put the toughest climbs behind us, we set up camp just before hitting 20 miles. We were happy with what we accomplished for our second full day out here, so we didn’t mind being just under our daily goal. We ate what was essentially a second dinner and then made it into the tent before dark. It’s time for bed now, but it’s still light out at 9:15 pm.

Day 106

Mile 22.4 to Mile 46

Daily Mileage: 23.6

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 46 SoBo

The day started off early around 7:30 am. It felt great to be hiking in the cool morning. It’s easy to be motivated and I find it’s the time of day in which I have the most energy. The cool air stuck around for a while since we were on the shady side of the mountain for a good portion of the morning.

We approached Harts Pass where we were dropped off just a few days ago. It felt like we were finally making progress now. A half mile further and we encountered a ranger’s cabin and a place to drop off some of our garbage. It might be mental, but leaving behind a few ziploc bags full of trash makes you feel so much lighter.

We then descended into the valley and made our way up through the mountains. The climb was a long one, but the view was simply amazing. The Cascades were right in front of us and you couldn’t miss them. Snowy patches were still on most of the taller mountains in our sight.

After yet another climb, we hiked roughly 6 miles downhill and I could certainly feel it in my feet and left quad. I’ve been stretching and we definitely still have our trail legs, but it seems we can never evade lower body pain.

In the valley, we began hiking through dense, mossy, green forest that truly felt like the Washington I envisioned. Since it was around dusk, I had my eye out for wildlife but failed to see any.

We finally made it to a nice tentsite with wood benches and a fire ring right next to a large creek. We accomplished our goal for the day and hiked about 23 miles. My body can surely feel it, but at least I’ll sleep good tonight.

Day 107

Mile 46 to Mile 63

Daily Mileage: 17

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 63 SoBo

5:30 am came too soon, but I managed to stretch and then get myself out of my warm quilt. We took our time at breakfast because we were tired, but we at least made it out of camp by 7. We started the day with a climb through the dense forest, but soon emerged at the top of Methow Pass. We had a decent view and could easily see where the trail wound around the mountains to the next pass.

It was quite scenic for a while, even all the while up the ascent of Cutthroat Pass. There were tiny patches of snow, but at most just a few and they were easily managed. We didn’t come across any PCT southbounders today that we knew of. The majority of the people we saw were hiking in from nearby trailheads to climb the passes.

We hoped to make it at least 23 miles in order for tomorrow to be a shorter day, but after 17 miles we realized we were about to enter North Cascades National Park and didn’t have a permit to camp within the next 20 miles. We sat and debated for some time, but knew another 18 miles to the ranger station where we would take the shuttle to Stehekin wasn’t feasible at 3 pm. Instead, we set up camp across the road near the trailhead parking lot and opted to get to Stehekin tomorrow.

We washed at the creek nearby and then cooked dinner at the picnic table next to the lot. Soon after, a couple in a van pulled in and sat down with us. We exchanged stories for a bit as we snacked on some freshly picked blackberries. We learned about their adventure of traveling and living out of a van for six months. It was also neat to hear that the guy was friends with the woman who produced Sounds Of The Trail, a podcast similar to the one I’m a part of, Backpacker Radio, where trail correspondents talk and interview others about the thru-hiker lifestyle.

Dark clouds loomed over us as the wind began picking up, so we got ready for bed and fell asleep to the sound of cars passing on the freeway.

Day 108

Mile 63 to Mile 80.7

Daily Mileage: 17.7

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 80.7 SoBo

We broke camp around 6:30 am and began our day going downhill in the park. By 8:30, we realized we were hiking much quicker than we expected. It was then when we came up with the crazy idea to try and make it to the ranger station to get the 12:30 pm shuttle into Stehekin. That meant we had 4 more hours to hike 11.5 miles.

We began our attempt at the challenge and soon realized we couldn’t take breaks any longer than five minutes. My feet and knees were screaming, but I knew the pain was only temporary. The things you do for food. If we made it to the earlier shuttle, we’d have time to stop at the famous bakery everyone raves about, and still pick up our packages from the post office.

We miraculously made it to the station around 12 pm, which meant we hiked at an average pace of 3.2 mph over 5 1/2 hours. We ran into Choo Choo and a few other southbound thru-hikers and then loaded onto the shuttle bus headed toward town. Well, first a ten minute stop at the bakery, then town. We grabbed a sticky bun, cinnamon bun, and two Dr. Peppers to share.

When the shuttle pulled up, we made a bee line to the Visitor’s Center. We were issued a permit to camp for free nearby and then checked out the general store. After setting up camp, we grabbed our resupply boxes that we sent ourselves at the post office and I then sent home my ice axe, down jacket, hat, gloves, and sleeping bag liner.

Our next stop was a building that housed public showers and laundry. We hung around at the picnic table outside as we each cleaned up, washed clothes, used the payphone to call home, and chatted with Choo Choo. You know you’ve been on the trail too long when you clean your current clothes in the shower and wear them as they dry since that’s your only other choice besides rain gear.

Choo Choo, Steel Toe, and I ate dinner at the one restaurant in town, and although the service was terribly slow due to the amount of tourists, we still enjoyed ourselves. We were exhausted afterward, so it wasn’t long before we headed to the campground and went to sleep.

Day 109

Mile 80.7 to Mile 88.8

Daily Mileage: 8.1

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 88.8 SoBo

The alarm was set for 8:30 am, yet we still woke up around 6:30. We hung out at the picnic table and sorted through our food for the next leg as we picked at a sticky bun from the bakery. We gave away a bunch of our extra food to Choo Choo and then completed a few other chores before hanging outside of the lodge to wait for the shuttle.

We binged on a few other snacks before heading toward the ranger station at High Bridge where we were to get back on the trail. During the five minute bakery stop, we actually ran into the couple we met a few days ago that were traveling in their van. We then chatted with a couple on the shuttle that were out here to begin a rafting trip. At that moment, I would’ve loved to trade spots with them for the adventure on the water as it’s super hot and muggy out again. A great idea though to put away for the future!

We began hiking southbound just behind Choo Choo and ended up stopping around 8 miles. No one was at the tentsite so Steel Toe and I chose our spot and starting setting up camp. We were right by a large creek, so we knew we were going to sleep well with the white noise. It began thundering soon after, so we hurried with washing up and cooking dinner, then got in the tent for the night.

Day 110

Mile 88.8 to Mile 112

Daily Mileage: 23.2

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 112 SoBo

Right after Steel Toe got out of the tent this morning, all I heard was him yelling about not having his phone with him. I stepped out to see a buck just staring him down. We attempted to get a picture but failed. It was the first buck we’ve seen though so that was neat. Not too long after, he mentioned he hoped that we wouldn’t encounter any ice rain today. I blankly stared at him, then gave him a secondary trail name (Ice Rain) that he’s been wanting as I explained what he already knew, that our language has a word for that – hail.

We had a decent climb today and ran into Choo Choo on the way up. We were happy to see him, especially since we thought he would consistently be a few miles ahead on this stretch. We passed two marmots before the peak, which of course I’m always ecstatic to see, and traversed a few patches of snow.

The latter half of the day was mostly spent in the forest. It felt magical, with enormous trees every which way, lush green ferns bordering the trail, and moss covering each inch of the ground and taking over anything lying on top. The downside was the amount of spiders spinning their webs across the trail. We became hyper aware of them with every step.

Soon after realizing the dilemma with the spiders, we heard a bird call and saw one come swooping by near us. We figured that was weird, but kept on hiking. A few seconds later, we heard the bird again and looked behind us to see him swooping down once more headed straight toward us. Steel Toe and I looked at each other and started running while flailing our trekking poles in the air. The bird perched itself on a branch directly above and in front of us while he stared us down. We slowly walked under him and kept our eyes peeled for any movement. He seemed to back down, so we assumed it was a territorial thing and laughed about the whole situation afterward. It was likely a hawk and we were on alert for the rest of the day.

We finally made it to a tentsite just before the bridge at the Suiattle River, which was different from the other rivers we’ve seen due to its grayish color from the silt in the water. Choo Choo joined us and we all sat around while we ate dinner and chatted about the territorial bird encounter, that he too experienced.

Day 111

Mile 112 to Mile 131.8

Daily Mileage: 19.8

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 131.8 SoBo

We slept wonderfully next to the river last night. Steel Toe and I headed out of camp before Choo Choo and hoped we would see him at a tentsite about 20 miles ahead. The impending climb was going to be roughly 10 miles, so we put our heads down and marched on. We made good time even with all of the overgrown brush and spider webs on trail.

Near the top we caught a glimpse of Glacier Peak. Our feet were beginning to scream, but we made a pit stop at one of the tentsites because it had an outdoor wooden pit toilet, and little did we realize there was an amazing view. We passed dozens of streams coming from the glacier and rinsed off for a bit before we began the descent.

We must have completed twenty plus switchbacks, most of which involved sloping trail between an absurd amount of overgrown plant life. Steel Toe and I both slipped a few times into the brush and I happened to roll my ankle slightly, twice. Our hoods were up, and I even had my bug headnet on to avoid all of the insects flying and leaping around.

After a 5 mile descent, we started to climb again. We decided to hike until Mica Lake, which was 4 miles ahead. We saw spider webs again, like the night before, but this time was different. Every twenty feet or so, we would have to either knock down a web right in front of us or inch by a large spider clinging to its web right on the side of the trail. We were irked by the experience, and hoped every night wouldn’t be like this.

Just before reaching the lake, we stopped at another wooden pit toilet with an even better view. I didn’t realize these were a thing in Washington, but I’m not complaining one bit. A few switchbacks later and we reached the lake.

We set up camp and washed our bodies and clothes in the below freezing water that was flowing downstream from the partially frozen lake. We could barely stand to touch it, but we surely felt clean afterward. Choo Choo rolled into camp soon after and joined us for dinner. Solo, a Canadian woman section hiking the PCT, also kept us company. It wasn’t long before the air was colder than we’ve experienced yet in Washington, so we crawled into the tent and warmed up in our sleeping bags before falling asleep to the sound of the stream.

Day 112

Mile 131.8 to Mile 150.6

Daily Mileage: 18.8

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 150.6 SoBo

Thankfully last night wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be. It was nice enough for sleep though. We managed to finish the rest of the climb we started yesterday and had an amazing view of Glacier Peak. We passed about five different groups of people headed north. Some were thru-hikers, but most were on shorter backpacking trips.

After a long descent filled with more spiders and webs blocking the trail, we walked into an open area next to Kennedy Creek and could see a large area of erosion. You could tell this state sees a lot of rain and storms with the erosion on the trail. Crossing the creek involved carefully maneuvering over a broken bridge.

The next challenge after taking a lunch break was to climb 7 miles. We hiked through an area full of mud and water, where the trail actually turned into a small stream. We were warned ahead of time so we changed into sandals.

Toward the end of the ascent, we could see Glacier Peak again behind us. We also caught a glimpse of two smoke clouds that must have been from nearby forest fires.

We waited at the top of Reds Pass for Choo Choo since we saw him in the distance. In the meanwhile, we chatted with Tangerine, who recently completed the JMT and is now section hiking the Washington section of the PCT southbound. We would have had a great view of Glacier Peak, but it was covered in clouds the entire time we were resting.

We started up again once Choo Choo made it to the top and descended down the backside of the pass. We traversed the mountain alongside the steep terrain and were glad we weren’t dealing with snow in this section. We took a side trail down to a large tentsite that had the perfect view of the snowy mountains in the distance. The sunset colored the sky in all shades of pink and orange, and we fell asleep to the sound of the wind making its way along the mountainside.

Day 113

Mile 150.6 to Grizzly Peak

Daily Mileage: 23.1

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 173.7 SoBo

It was a cold morning so we started hiking in our midlayers, but it wasn’t long before the sun’s heat was upon us. We ridge walked for the majority of the day until lunch. Luckily, we had a constant breeze on us so we didn’t have to deal with as many horse flies, which by the way, I now dislike more than mosquitos.

The terrain was mostly mild so our goal was to hike about 23 miles to make it to the top of Grizzly Peak. My right knee and ankle weren’t feeling so great, so we stopped for a break at Pear Lake, where we chatted with two women section hiking Washington northbound with their dog. Choo Choo soon joined us and we all ate our first dinner then set off to climb to the peak.

The three of us ended up setting up camp just 0.3 miles short of the very top, but the terrain was flat and we had a great view of Glacier Peak once again. We could see plumes of smoke in the distance, and heard a helicopter, so it was obvious that there was a fire nearby. We recently caught news that there were fires near two of the passes we completed, so it’s clear they’re around.

Day 114

Grizzly Peak to Mile 188.4/Hitch to Leavenworth, WA

Daily Mileage: 14.7

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 188.4 SoBo

Condensation was all over our tents and bags in the morning. The pestering mosquitoes were out early as well. With the weather being so cool, it seemed like 15 miles flew by. Before we knew it, Choo Choo, Steel Toe, and I made it to Stevens Pass at noon.

We attempted to get a hitch into Leavenworth, which took us about an hour. There’s an art to hitchhiking of course, but sometimes the roadways make things more difficult. Stevens Pass is located on a highway turn where pedestrians are not supposed to be standing. We did our best, and even people leaving the ski lodge parking lot didn’t offer us a ride although they clearly saw us attempting to find one. Eventually a local from the area pulled over and said he could see we were hiking so he didn’t have a problem giving us a ride into town.

We booked rooms at the Evergreen Inn since they had a hiker discount. We decided to treat ourselves after the last tough stretch. After doing laundry and showering off the layers of dirt that accumulated over the week, we walked around town and opted to try the Bavarian pretzels and brats at München Haus. This entire town has a Bavarian theme to it, and it’s really fun.

Later on, Steel Toe and I tried out two of Leavenworth’s breweries, Doghaus Brewery and Blewett Brewing Co. They were good, but still didn’t compare to the beer we had at Black Doubt Brewing Co. in Mammoth Lakes, CA. The night ended shortly after and it felt great to be clean and sleeping in a real bed.

Day 115

Zero in Leavenworth, WA

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5 NoBo + 188.4 SoBo

We took advantage of the continental breakfast at the Inn. I carb loaded with a waffle, cereal, and blueberry muffin. To be fair, I didn’t have much of a choice, but knowing we’re going back on trail immediately, I didn’t mind.

Steel Toe and I talked it over and decided to take a zero in town and book another night at the Inn. My right knee and foot were still hurting so we figured it would be beneficial to throw some ice on them. Since my birthday was a day away as well, we used that as an excuse to treat ourselves and explore town a bit more.

We went to Icicle Brewing with Choo Choo for lunch and then sent him off to hitch back to Stevens Pass to get on trail today to hike a few miles. We were sad to see him leave, but we both understand how the trail works, so we know we’ll surely see him again. Afterward, we walked around town and did some window shopping before relaxing again in the room.

Later in the day, we walked to the local outfitter again. Steel Toe bought a pair of climbing shoes on sale to take as a luxury item on the hike. We’ve been passing by great rocks to boulder on, so he figures he’ll take advantage of the opportunities.

I bought a new pair of Altras, the trail runners I’ve been using on this trip, since mine were feeling tight. They last roughly 500 miles and I was on my third pair, but I’ve only used them for 250 miles. I’ve gone a full size up since my original and figured that was the extent of the swelling that my feet would endure, but I was wrong. I sent my current ones home in hopes that my feet will shrink back down after the hike, and for the time being, I bought a size and a half larger than normal!

We tended to the rest of our chores, like picking up our boxes at the post office, grocery shopping, and organizing our food for the next stretch. Our last walk around town included a pit stop at one of the local ice cream shops, then it was time to head back and wind down. We ended our night watching movies while eating chips with guacamole and salsa.

5 thoughts on “PCT Journal: Days 101-115 (Washington Pt. I)

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