Do you ever look back on a trip and realize it really changed your life? In the summer of 2006 I finally had a trip come together I had wanted to do for 3 years. To hike from Stevens Pass (Hwy 2) to Snoqualmie Pass (I-90), a roughly 75 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I wanted to go Southbound, so I could spend more time in alpine at the end. 6 others joined me and we set off. Oh, and I had the lightest pack I had carried. I went crazy light (for me). It was the start of a few crazy years of UL hiking.
Once you pass the first ridge from the Stevens Pass ski area, you drop into what is to me ideal PCT hiking – alpine, trees and tons of views. This barely stops for the next 70’ish miles. There is a real reason this section can be popular (OK, and by “popular” you might see a few more people than average…) If memory holds right this was the first tarn that feeds Mill Creek.
Winding along ridges, down to subalpine lakes, and back up to meadows. It just keeps going. Sure, lots of mosquitoes in summer, but so worth it. And yet, another easy on the eyes tarn. We met a lady training her pack animals here.
We had a crazy schedule that none of us kept to – we had to be done in “x” days, but kept pushing it, going farther each day.
This lake is Trap Lake, a beautiful but cold lake, that is shadowed by afternoon. It was to be camp #1, but we pressed on. A joke came out of that… “what was wrong with Trap Lake?!?” after we crossed another ridge and found ourselves in the dark…still hiking.
We found, in the dark, a place to call home for the night. Up early, looking over and wondering how we never saw this pretty tarn in the dark….we also had walked by Glacier Lake in the dark as well.
The old Cascade Crest Trail (CCT) went up this notch at Surprise Lake and down to Deception Lakes.
Deception Lakes was to be night 2…but being it was like well before noon when we got there…..
The PCT though was quite pretty, as it winded around Surprise Mountain.
Deception Lakes we got water at and then ran. The bugs were there worst there of all lakes. I was glad we didn’t camp there. Although so very pretty.
Instead, we kept going at a crazy pace. We passed Deception Pass (where dayhikers come up, from a very long drive in from Eastern Washington on a long FS road) We walked a bit more, crossing all 3 creeks, including the well-known nasty twins that source off of Mt. Daniel (these were not a favorite of mine but looking back were not so bad as fording the Sandy River a year later in Oregon), and camping in a copse of trees where we found a water source not far away. Nowhere as pretty as Deception Lakes, but few bugs…. This is at the pass, looking down at Hyass Lakes and Cle Elum River.
Day 3 came early. The trail was uphill from the first step, and we headed towards Cathedral Pass (which was originally supposed to be night 3 camp…but it wasn’t even 11 am as we crossed the pass – and it was dried up – and I didn’t feel like going and looking). I somewhat regret I didn’t take the chance to go out to Peggy’s Pond, but the “trail” is so exposed, I am sure I wouldn’t have made it.
So we kept going, down to Deep Lake, which had an easy, very shallow, ford to cross as you come to the lake. We had lunch there. It was a very pretty place. But we kept going. That theme kept going on. Hike early, blow past campsite, keep going another 5 or more miles….
Leaving Deep Lake was hard. It was so relaxing. But the trail was all downhill to Waptus Lake, and the day was hot. We eventually made it there. We left the PCT here, and crossed the bridge over the outlet of Waptus, which the bridge is now long gone (it was nice), and found an empty campsite on the far side of the lake, an area popular with horse packers. When we came in, we found a fire still burning (sigh) but also foil wrapped potatoes and sausages said horrid campers had left behind. We ate well 😉
Day 4 came early (it always seemed to). Staying off the PCT, we left camp and climbed the old CCT to Waptus Pass, a pleasant enough hike in the early dawn. We passed more horse packers, where the smell of frying bacon made me want to run into camp to beg. The trail down though, towards Pete Lake, it wasn’t pleasant. It was very steep, few switchbacks and was like walking on ball bearings made of stones. I was glad when we hit the trail to Pete and it leveled out. Pete Lake is pleasant, and coming in from Eastern Washington is an easy backpack, with lots of great campsites and swimming. But oh, our day was just starting. No being lazy. Up next was the ford of Lemah Creek, to reconnect with the PCT. It wasn’t a bad ford, straight across. It was though, freezing cold and on me, nearly crotch deep. But it was a wide crossing with little current. So relatively safe. And it was hot, so it felt good. Free cold bath really.
We crossed Delate Creek on a wooden bridge, and not long after came to the turn off for Spectacle Lake, where we decided to camp for the night.
Of all our sites, Spectacle Lake was amazing. This was before it burned a few years ago. It was a simply awesome place to camp. It was very windy, which kept the bugs down. And we got there with light, so we could kick back and enjoy it. My little tent…we called it the escape pod – I had the 2 person also at one point, it was the mother ship 😉
Dani had set my pace this trip, and I had started following her wake up times. As day 5 came up, we rose before dawn. She’d wake me by thunking my Ursack against my tent. We set off as the first light came over the Cascades…..
Coming up from Spectacle Lake is a long hike, all uphill, never-ending switchbacks. But those views, they make it worth it. And early morning meant it wasn’t in the heat. Spectacle Lake from above is beautiful. We camped on the first section, to the right in the photo. It is a very big lake.
As we reached the top, and entered into Parks Lake Basin, the sun was up and high and I was feeling it. These lakes in fall are a pretty campsite, subalpine splendor. Good for water, but buggy in summer. I’d love someday to return there, even if it is from Eastern Washington and hiking up.
The hike up from Parks Lakes is fast, and you cross the low point of Chikamin Ridge, and enter a whole different world. The traverse along Chikamin Ridge is kind of butt pinching and very ball bearing trail. It isn’t a long section, but I wasn’t dawdling. I don’t like exposure like this. Never have. It ends though soon enough and the trail is wide once again, and from here to Kendall Katwalk, the trail walks along hillsides with plenty of wide spots to sit and have breaks on. The views are 360 – from Glacier Peak above, framed by the peaks, to the other side Mount Rainier in full view.
Day 5 was a hard one on me. I was lonely, I was done with the trip mentally, my feet were shredded (this was an issue I had for many years, until I found toed socks, that long trips were painful, due to 10 or more blisters on my feet). The group had stopped for a break at a grassy spot at the end of the traverse, I kept going. Then I looked down and in this wide spot, I found mountain goats.
With views looking West, campsites, water….well, maybe if I had been in a much better mood I’d have called it a day.
The other problem, besides my sour attitude, was that I had almost no food. I had been hiking since 5 am on a few hundred calories. I had 2 tiny meals left. I ate one here. We were supposed to camp for one more night and have an easy walk out on day 6. Instead I sat there, with those mountain goats, cried my eyes out, ate 300 calories, and called my husband – since I could see I-90 many miles away, I was able to grab onto a cell tower barely (back in the old days, when analog towers existed). I apparently left him a long voice mail about how miserable I was. Add in that my Mom had passed away a week before this trip, I was feeling very, very low.
Feeling like life was better (and I am sure the tiny bit of food I ate helped…) I said goodbye to the goats and kept hiking. The goats just did something to my mind, like I got a message clearly that life goes on. I watched them for quite awhile, they didn’t care I was there.
The hiking here is heavenly. As I passed around Huckleberry Mountain, I called my husband again, and got him this time. He said he’d drive up to Snoqualmie Pass and get me, a day early. With that….I became an obsessed hiking machine.
As we reached what would have been campsite #5, I got water at Ridge Lake and said to my partners that I was heading home. If they wanted to come, great. If not, I got it. (We had cars at the pass, I hadn’t driven).
And the putziest hiker took off. Apparently I had rockets on me. The hike to Kendall Katwalk went fast. I encountered 2 ladies who seemed suspicious of me, I am guessing because I was alone, with a very small pack, and how could I have come from so far away? I still had 5.5 miles, and I was so hungry.
About halfway down from Kendall Katwalk, the first two of the group finally caught up with me. It seemed everyone had decided to bail and join me. My promises of pizza and going home were too good to pass up. Every time I come down from this section I remember just how bad it is, and how long the trail is. The oddity was a few miles from the end, I passed a man heading uphill. He was wearing an even more ultralight pack than I. And he was cruising. And it was really late in the day. Only later did I realize I had passed Scott Williamson as he was doing his second yo-yo of the PCT.
But as I came out of the woods, finally, Kirk was there, waiting for me. He had stopped at the farmers market even, and brought me a huge pastry and a massive ice-cold tea. That was so good. I lost 10 pounds in 5 days. I ate an entire pizza that night (something I have never done since!). That night it rained.
That trip taught me a lot. It was also the first time I had done a 19 mile day. I found that after 4 days out, I became miserable. Thru-hiking for me isn’t something I want to do. I like section hiking. Yet, in our group, one of us went on in the summer of 2009 to thru-hike the PCT (though they ran out of time and had to stop at Snoqualmie Pass that year). Each person is different.
The trip ended up kicking off a lot of section hikes of the PCT for me, some backpacking, others very long dayhikes. Still have so much to do, but I am OK with it. Someday my boys will join me, and we can do these sections together and I will see them through new eyes. And I might just take a few days longer that time…..with a whole lot more food.