My first journal entry for my Southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail; Harts pass to tag the Northern Terminus at the Canadian border, and then south to the semi off grid trail town of Stehekin.
Day 1: Harts Pass to “The Meadow,” 16 miles
After quite the long drive into the North Cascades, including a rather white knuckle haul up a single car dirt road- myself, Leni from Munich and Kiwi Pete all pile out of the car at Harts Pass. We all nervously sign the trail register and hand over our food caches to the volunteer rangers that inhabit the guard station. They inform us that our fearless driver, Pedro, can drop us off up the road a whole mile further on because, in their words, “you have to walk enough of this trail.” They also tell us to be back before Tuesday, or our food bags will be put in the retired outhouse. Hmm, yuck.
My gut churns at how terribly real all of this is: saying goodbye to my family again, racking my brain over if I packed everything I need or if anything I didn’t need made it in my pack, and trying to make positive first impressions with the other hikers.
We all crawl back into the Jeep that got us here, with the addition of another hiker, Lauren, whose father has just dropped her off after roadtripping all the way from Minnesota. Pedro takes us the literal extra mile and we are finally on our way: first, north to the Canadian border where we’ll tag Monument 78 (the PCT Northern Terminus). Afterwards, our southbound thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail will officially begin.
Lauren and I take off in the lead. It’s a beautiful, bright day, with clear views in all directions. In the distance, snow capped peaks beckon us. We pass through alpine meadows, lush and green and bursting with wildflowers.
For getting a late start, the two of us make fairly good time, despite hitting some snow at the top of Jim Pass. We don’t mind, though, as we happily glissade down, skipping several switchbacks. By the 11 mile mark, we hit a campsite and decide that we’re feeling pretty spry yet and push forward.
By early evening, we reach a campsite only known as “The Meadow,” near 15 miles. Lauren and I settle into a couple of spots there and, as we’re cooking dinner, Kiwi Pete rolls in.
With a full belly and heart, I bury myself into my sleeping bag and doze off as the daylight fades.
Day 2: The Meadow to Monument 78, to Hopkins Lake, 21 miles
The wind picked up overnight, keeping me in and out of sleep. The loud crinkles of a new Tyvek ground sheet in the gusts left me feeling groggy in the morning. Nevertheless, I get an early start with Lauren and we leave camp by 6:30.
We hit Rock Pass early on, before even reaching two miles for the day. There’s a bit of snow lingering on the pin turn of the switchback heading down, but it’s perfectly maneuverable. We race down the trail, admiring the beauty of the mountains and valley spread out before us.
We have a quick break and a bite to eat on the way up to Woody Pass, where we meet another thru-hiker called “7”. He’s a nice fellow around the age of 70, and has a NOBO thru-hike of the PCT under his belt much like myself. We all hike together for a few miles, navigating our way down from the pass in the snow and scree. He stops off at the junction for Hopkins Lake, and Lauren and I make our way closer to tagging the border.
The last few miles to the terminus are overgrown and a bit hard going. The several downed trees make hiking tedious, and we’re growing more tired and frustrated with every step. Finally, the clear cut line through the forest that makes up the border between the U.S. and Canada comes into view, and we pick up our pace. We enter the clearing, and Lauren gives the terminus a welcoming hug. It’s emotional to see it again, to be here in a place that has so much meaning to me; not only was the northern terminus an end to the most spectacular journey of my life, but now it’s going to be the beginning to another amazing adventure.
We take our time at the border, eating lunch and stretching, and then having fun with some of the other hikers that came along, including 7 and Kiwi Pete. The weather is good for us, a drastic change from my last visit in 2016 when I finished my hike in the snow.
We start our backtrack during the heat of the day, and all we can think about is jumping into Hopkins Lake as we’re traipsing through the overgrown mess on our way out from the border. We decide to camp there for the night, and hurry our way over Hopkins Pass.
By the time we reach the lake in the evening, a frigid wind is whipping over the mountains and down into the lake basin. We decide to skip out on the dip, and instead opt for an icy foot bath in the lake’s outlet to help relieve some of the swelling.
While cooking dinner, Leni arrives and makes camp near us. The wind brings in some more weather, and pelts us with rain as we’re eating. We down our meals quickly and make a hasty retreat to our shelters for the remainder of the evening.
Day 3: Hopkins Lake to Small Nameless Campsite, 21 miles
It’s still storming by the time morning comes, and a small pool of water has formed beneath my ground sheet and tent. I painstakingly try to keep the rest of my gear dry as I pack it away into my trash bag liner, and then stuff my drenched and thoroughly weighted tent on top.
Lauren and I bid farewell to Leni, who is tagging the border today while we head back towards Harts Pass.
The weather is relentless for most of the morning as we climb over the passes once again, hindering the views that had excited us the day before.
By the time we pass by the campsites at “The Meadow,” the sun is finally making an appearance and brightening our day. We strip out of our rain gear and push towards Harts Pass, encountering several day hikers and thru-hikers as we go.
Late in the afternoon we decide to stop just a few miles short of Harts Pass, mostly due to the fact we didn’t want to pay the fee to stay there. The sun warms us up and dries out our gear as we lounge in the dirt, and we both cook two dinners each since we have surplus food and hiker hunger has decided to grace us early on in our journey.
We head to bed rather early, just as the sun disappears behind the mountains and a chill fills the air. It’s going to be a cold night, so I layer up and cinch up my bag around my face before fading into sleep.
Day 4: Nameless Campsite to Harts Pass, to Brush Creek Bridge, 20 miles
When I wake in the morning, daylight is just beginning to fill the sky and my tent is covered in a layer of frost. I bundle up into my puffy and make my way outside to go wee, and discover that my shoe has a small pile of rodent shit in it. Something, perhaps a cheeky marmot or ground squirrel, has used my shoe as a toilet. Do my shoes already smell like an outhouse this early on, making the rodent think that this was an acceptable place to ‘go?’ I dump the hardened pellets out and slip my shoes on; there’s no time to ponder or care about these things when you have to pee in the morning.
After some coffee, Lauren and I hike the 3 miles to Harts Pass. The guard station is quiet with still drawn curtains, so we head over to a van that’s camped in an adjacent site. There’s a large banner on the side of the van, welcoming SOBO hikers to indulge in some trail magic. A former thru-hiker, Broken Toe, pops his head out and we offers us some hot tea and food. It’s only been a couple of days on the trail for us, but we can’t pass up his offers of baguettes with butter and sliced tomatoes, English breakfast tea with honey, and crepes filled with Nutella and banana slices.
After an hour or so of being thoroughly spoiled and letting our tents dry in the sunshine, we collect our food caches from the volunteer rangers and head out again for the day. The day is downright hot, and much of the trail is exposed on switchbacks going up and over Glacier Pass.
The descent from the pass is slow going for us, as we’re already totally knackered from climbing through slushy snow and eating rich foods. The trail is rocky and painful on our feet, so by the time we reach the bottom in the Methow River Valley, we’re ready to make camp. We hustle through tall bracken that’s crowding into the path and sticking to our sweaty skin as we pass. We reach a small foot bridge with clear running water beneath it, and find 7 pitching his tent nearby. Having squeezed our two shelters into the last remaining site, we then head down to the cool rushing waters of Brush Creek to soothe our aching feet and legs for a bit before retiring for the evening.
Day 5: Brush Creek Bridge to Bridge Creek Campsite, 21 miles
The morning is bright and sunny again, and Lauren and I hike through a dewy meadow busy with colorful wildflowers. We’re on a mild and slow ascent towards Granite Pass, following alongside a creek. It’s a peaceful and somewhat relaxed morning, and I take my time to admire the flora and fauna.
The trail enters the forest on the last push to the top of the pass, traveling via dull switchbacks before giving way to an exposed and snow patched saddle. We stop only briefly to rest and ice our tired knees in the snow, then continue our climb towards the infamous Cuttroat Pass.
The sun continues to beat down on us and melt out the kicked steps in the snow towards Cutthroat, but we manage to get to the top hassle free. There’s several day hikers about, and they ask us various questions about the terrain, our gear, and what exactly we’re up to. We take the opportunity to glissade down the other side, and then hurry our way down through the Larch trees, beneath the thick canopy of the forest and towards the coveted pit toilet at the trailhead at Rainy Pass.
At Rainy Pass, there’s somewhat annoyingly a queue for the toilets. After we do our business, we sign the register and cross the highway, entering the woods again and nearing the boundary for the North Cascades National Park.
Once again, we run into 7 at camp. We decide to stay just a mile outside the park, since none of us have permits to camp within its boundaries. It’s a lovely little site nestled in the woods and on the edge of glacial flow of Bridge Creek. After dinner, I give some of my clothes a freshening up in the creek, do a bit of stretching to relieve my muscles, and then crawl into my tent for the night.
Day 6: Bridge Creek Campsite to Stehekin, 16 miles
Lauren and I wake up ridiculously early, just before daylight had creeped into the forest and just as 7 is turning the bend out of sight. Today we head into Stehekin for a much needed half day off, to pick up resupply and shove bakery foods into our faces. We’re incredibly excited, especially about the bakery, and take off like a shot up the trail. We catch up to 7 and pass him, entering the North Cascades National Park and quickly making our way towards High Bridge.
It’s a drizzly morning, and the foliage lining the trail has us soaked through. Thankfully, by the time we reach the ranger station and bus stop for town at High Bridge, the rain has cleared and it’s warmed up a bit. We sit at a picnic table with a few other hikers, including 7 and our new friend Chance, waiting in great anticipation for the bus to arrive and take us to the bakery.
The little red bus arrives just in time and takes us to our pastries, and I buy the most deliciously buttery bacon and cheese pastry, in addition to a personal size Key Lime pie.
When we arrive in the bustling city center of Stehekin (Haha), I grab a free camping permit for Lauren, Chance and I from the ranger station, and then we get about our business in town: pick up resupply from the post office, drink beer, and additional food consumption. After getting our massive resupply inventory in order and discarding some unwanted Clif Bars and ramen in the hiker box, we treat ourselves to hearty dinners at the restaurant, and then more beer back in camp. Stehekin has been a wonderfully relaxing and fun time, with so much laughter and good food, but I’m looking forward to what’s ahead on the trail in the upcoming Glacier Peak Wilderness.
I sent a few gear choices packing once I got to Stehekin, mostly snow gear and a few other bits and bobs: my microspikes, rain mitts, and an extra stuff sack that I had used to store my food cache at the guard station at Harts Pass. When I spoke to the rangers at the Stehekin ranger station, they didn’t think that I would need my ice axe for the section through Glacier Peak Wilderness. However, I couldn’t find a box to ship it home in, so I continued on with it strapped to my pack.
I also decided against my Sea to Summit screw top collapsible bowl and instead went with the tried and true Talenti Gelato container. It works perfectly, weighs less, and I got to eat some ice cream before the trip.
For a complete gear list of my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, click here.