PCT SOBO Journal: Stehekin, The Glacier Peak Wilderness & Stevens Pass

In this 107 mile section, we part ways with the beloved Stehekin Bakery and head into the challenging and gorgeous Glacier Peak Wilderness. After some tough miles, I finally get some rest at my home near Stevens Pass.

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Day 7: Stehekin to Soggy Meadow, 20 miles

Lauren, our new friend Chance, 7 and a few other hikers catch the first bus out of Stehekin, and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief when it makes its routine stop at the bakery. I buy another bacon and cheese pastry and a Gatorade, then hurry back onto the bus. I eat half of my pastry on the way back to High Bridge, and then tuck the rest inside of the outer pocket for a treat later.

By the time we all get back to High Bridge, the day has become intensely hot; it’s just the beginning of a long stretch of a 90 plus degree heat wave. Regardless of how uncomfortably warm it is, the three of us take off up the trail, determined to get at least 20 miles in for the day despite the late start.

We leave behind the North Cascades National Park and enter the Glacier Peak Wilderness not long after we start hiking, and immediately begin climbing through fragrant pine forest. We Ford our first major creek, which is icy-numb on my feet and feels amazing on my overheated skin. Further on, we stop again at another creek with a lovely waterfall, and cool our rosy faces and tired legs.

We continue climbing, until we’re above tree line and totally exposed to the harshness of the sun’s midday heat. The trail is rocky and overgrown with bracken, making the day far more difficult than we had anticipated. Near the top of the climb, we catch our first views of Glacier Peak, brilliant and snow capped against an azure sky.

The trail takes us down into a lush valley, running with clear snowmelt creeks, wildflowers and completely surrounded by dramatic peaks. Our lower elevation is only a tease, however, and we begin a tedious last push through the snow and towards camp. We hit the official ‘from Canada’ 100 mile mark, which doesn’t count the first 31 miles from Harts Pass to the border for whatever reason.

We arrive in the evening to find our meadow campsite soggy, with only half of it habitable for the night. There’s already two other hikers there, and Lauren, Chance and I struggle to find ground that is level and somewhat dry. I settle in beneath a tree, and Lauren squeezes her tent into a bivy spot. Chance continues to scout for a decent spot, but eventually settles in near the creek behind my tent.

Day 8: Soggy Meadow to Hummingbird Point, 21 miles

We descend for several miles in the morning, winding our way through dense forest and along the silty Suiattle River. The trail is overgrown again, and the hiking is slow. During a rather thick bushwack through some bracken, I hear voices just above us. I gaze up to see two men standing in the trees above us.

“What are they doing out here in the woods, in the middle of nowhere?”

Their tone isn’t friendly, and Lauren and I decide to get the heel out of there as fast as possible. We stop to wait for Chance to catch up, and he suspects they might be poachers. We don’t hang around to find out, and make our way quickly up the trail.

We meander through forest for the better part of the day, crossing over the river via a nice wooden bridge and stopping during the hottest part of the day to soak our feet in a creek.

Late in the afternoon, we climb up exposed switchbacks into sub alpine meadow, still covered in patches of late season snow. The wildflowers are pushing their way through the saturated soil and lingering snow, and opening their petals in salutations to the sun.

We find a small campsite near the top of a ridge and settle in for the night. I stay up a bit longer, watching the sunset from inside my tent. A hummingbird stops by for a visit briefly, buzzing just outside my vestibule and peering in as if to say hello. It’s the perfect ending to another great day.

Day 9: Hummingbird Point to Damp Meadow, via Fire Creek Pass, 24 miles

The greater part of the morning is spent going down tedious switchbacks, overgrown with tall weeds, grass and the occasional patch of wildflowers. I can barely make out the actual trail at times, and stumble over large rocks protruding from the ground.

We cross Milk Creek, which I assume is named for how silty it is, on a new wooden bridge, and then begin a climb back up through the woods and to the still snow covered Mica Lake. Fire Creek Pass stands before us, glimmering in the sun and looking rather intimidating.

The day is already ridiculously warm, and by the time we begin our approach to the pass, it has turned the snow into a wet slog. We watch as several other hikers before us cross a treacherous looking snow field just below the saddle, and we wonder if we’re prepared enough. Just the trudge across a snowy plain is strenuous enough, and I’m worried about the stability of the narrow steps leading to the top.

The climb is slow going while we try to find solid footing and kick steps into the dangerously slushy snow. After some white knuckle moments, we finally make it to the top, safe and sound. We all breathe a collective sigh of relief, and cross our fingers that we can glissade down the other side.

We skate down on our heels through the slush, and do a small glissade when the opportunity arises. The area is so scenic and lovely, with lush meadows filled with Indian Paintbrush and Lupine, slender alpine trees, and magnificent Glacier Peak towering above us. It’s hard not to be happy, and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves on the descent. We stop late afternoon creekside, for an extended rest and an enormous lunch.

We enter thick forest again, this time joined by hiker Tien from China. After crossing some precarious creeks, we walk through mucky flooded out trail and finally make it to camp. At 24 miles and a snowy pass traverse, it’s been our longest and most difficult day yet. We make camp in a damp meadow near a creek, with our old friend 7 nearby.

Day 10: Damp Meadow to Creekside Camp, 20 miles

We spend the morning battling mosquitoes and trying to shake the condensation from our tents, and then begin a climb through the forest and to above tree line. We have another snow covered pass to over today, but after the success of the previous day, Red Pass should be a cake walk.

It takes some route finding through the snow to get to the approach, and Chance leads us up to the top, kicking steps into the snow as he goes. The other side of the pass is fairly snow free, and we hug the mountainside on narrow trail through colorful meadows alive with honey bees and chubby marmots. After a pretty epic ridgewalk, we take a short break near a pond to eat chocolate and filter some water.

We find snow again, covering the trail in long stretches which require more route finding. We’re temporarily turned around when we mindlessly follow another thru-hiker who’s a bit off course, but thankfully find the PCT again on the other side of a saddle just half mile off.

We descend into the evening, finding camp in a clearing near a lovely creek. 7 joins the three of us, as does another hiker called Twist. Lauren and I do a full body soak in the creek, and despite its icy temperature, I feel refreshed, soothed and cleaner than I have in days. I eat a batch of cold soaked hummus with veggie chips, then crawl into my tent to escape the aggressive mosquito and black fly swarms.

Day 11: Creekside Camp to Stevens Pass, 22 miles

We have 7 do an early morning wake up call around 4 a.m. Today we’re going into town, and we want to make the most of it by getting there early in the afternoon. After all, there is copious amounts of food to consume, beer to drink, and showers to be had.

We head down through the woods before being pushed back up into flooded out meadow and to the top of Grizzly Peak. The air is thick with blood thirsty, biting and nasty bugs, making things a bit miserable as we hurry along. There’s no escaping them, not even for a moment to drink some water or have a pee. We try not to stop.

The day is downright hot and sticky, and I can feel my skin burning under the harsh sun. I’d give anything for a cool breeze to relieve this sweaty bug infested hell that is my life.

We pass by Lake Valhalla, and it’s deep blue and so inviting, but so far below us from the trail. When we reach the junction for the path that leads down to lake, we have to make a hard decision: keep going to Stevens Pass and get in somewhat early, or have a blissful and cool dip in the lake a full half mile one-way off the main trail. We choose to keep going, dipping our heads instead into a creek to save ourselves from the heat.

The last two miles into the pass are on flat, wide trail, but are the most brutal miles ever to be covered. Our feet seem as though they’re moving quickly, but it takes an eternity of muscle pain and near heart stroke to actually get there. We finally roll in around 3 p.m. and beeline it to the bathrooms in the ski lodge. Oh indoor plumbing, how I’ve underappreciated you! The next line of business is a cold soda from the fountain in the cafeteria, and for the potato obsessed Chance, an order of curly fries.

We’ve made it finally, and my family picks us up and takes us into town for burgers and milkshakes, and I couldn’t be happier.

Day 12: Zero Day

Lauren stays with my family and I at our cabin, while Chance stays at the Inn in Skykomish with his sweetheart. We decide to take a zero day, and get some much needed rest while shoving as much food as possible into our faces. Lauren’s legs are in pain, and she’s developed a heat rash on the inside of her thighs. I’m happy to be home and relaxing, and utilize my time soaking in the tub with Epsom salts, cuddling my dog, eating ice cream and cheetos, ordering pizza and drinking beer.

Gear Update

Since I went home when I got off the trail at Stevens Pass, I was finally able to ditch my ice axe and do a shakedown on the rest of my pack.

I know this may be controversial, but I decided to go the cold soaking route and left my MSR Pocket Rocket and cook pot behind. My biggest hang up with cold soaking has always been my morning coffee, which I simply can’t live without. However, it’s been hot outside; as in 90 plus degrees and quite warm early on. I cold soaked my instant Maxim Gold (Korean coffee found on Amazon) and it turned out just fine. For now, I’m going stove-less. I will likely go back to using my cooking set up once I reach the Sierra and the weather cools off. Until then, I’m going to save a bit of weight and bulk and leave it behind.

I also traded in my thick REI wool sleep socks for a pair of lighter Darn Tough merino hiking socks. As I mentioned before, it’s been hot and the thick socks are simply unnecessary at this time.

For a full gear list of my PCT SOBO thru-hike, click here.

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4 Comments

  1. Leslie Hatling

    Loving the memories…You are living my dream of the trail…I so admire you.and loving hiking along with you in your journal…you rock

    Like

  2. Edward Anderson

    Some of the prettiest country – great PICS. Hoping the heat in Oregon gets cooler than Washington. That was some nasty heat – hard to imagine actually hiking 20+ miles a day in it.

    Like

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