To get away from civilization, with only basic essentials for walking the landscape—no smartphone, no music but the sounds of nature, just whatever greets you in the moment—this to me is a gift.
And so some of us hit the trail for a night or two or more when we can. Life on the trail in wilderness landscapes is stripped down and clarifying.
When my friend Lisa (trail name: Cedar) said she was going to thru-hike our home state of Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, I asked to join her for a few days. I chose the relatively easy White Pass to Chinook Pass section of trail, a little over 28 miles and already on my list to hike.
When I hiked sections of the PCT as a teenager many years ago, we'd see hardly anyone else out there during a week on the trail. It's a very different scene today.
|Back in the day, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington|
On a Friday evening in mid-July, my friend Claudia (trail name: Rosario, for her bright pink pants) and I got dropped off at White Pass with backpacks and food for 3 days on the trail. It didn't take us long to find Lisa at the Leech Lake campground, where we snagged a nice campsite beside the lake.
|Leech Lake Campground at White Pass, Washington|
Day 1: White Pass to Snow Lake
With early mornings this time of year, we were up by daylight and on the trail by 8 a.m. For the full-on thru hikers who walk up to 30 miles a day, that's a really late start. For us, just fine.
Soon we entered the William O. Douglas Wilderness adjacent to the east side of Mt. Rainier National Park. Although we climbed a bit, overall our first day on the trail was fairly level, mostly above elevation 5,000 feet+, and we hiked a tad over 9 miles.
This area is characterized by lush subalpine forest, vivid green mountain meadows, and lots of alpine lakes and ponds. Good mosquito breeding territory.
By mid-afternoon we reached Snow Lake and pitched our tents in a nice clearing above the serene lake, where we spied a mama duck and a few ducklings skittering across the surface. Then we read and napped, and later in the afternoon saw more hikers pass.
As we were cooking dinner, a guy in his early 20s wandered up and decided this was the spot to camp after a 30-mile day. Such is the social and friendly way of the PCT. Bear Magnet (trail name) told us he'd thru hiked the Appalachian Trail a year or two ago and lost 40 pounds in the process.
Day 2: Snow Lake to Two Lakes Junction
So this was the day for us, the one with blue skies, not nearly as many mosquitoes, and spectacular gorgeous breakout views after a first day mostly in forest.
Bear Magnet was up and off so early I didn't hear him leave, but we had a lazy morning, not hitting the trail until about 9:30. A splashing in the lake below turned out to be a fly fisherman, who was otherwise so quiet we didn't know he was around.
At the Bumping River crossing, we stopped to chat with Tinsel and Rocket (trail names, of course), two sisters in their 20s from Los Angeles whom Lisa had befriended earlier on her hike. Sadly, they were aborting their thru hike and jetting back to California due to Tinsel's sore knee.
As we continued north, a few other hikers Lisa had met along the way leapfrogged past us. There was a stream crossing too, where we had to take off our boots and roll up our pants to wade across.
After pausing to gaze at a particularly beautiful meadow sprinkled with purple lupine (my version of Heaven), we started our first big climb. Up and up we ascended, first through forest, then along a rocky, talus-strewn ridge, for a few miles.
Nearing the top, we had views back to White Pass, the Goat Rocks, and Mt. Adams beyond. This is what I truly love about hiking: reaching high ridges and peaks with expansive panorama views.
|Goat Rocks, Mt. Adams beyond|
Can I just say, even though we only gained a little over 2,000 feet, I was beat. I've aged past my trail name (Motor Mouse), which I was bequeathed when I was younger, faster, and didn't have a cranky right knee. After a break, another mile on I got muscle cramps in my legs.
But I kept going because I Do Not Quit. And, um, what else would I do out there? (Several days later I found out I'm depleted of a key vitamin, so that explains some my dragginess.)
Thankfully we found a nice level campsite perched above Two Lakes junction at the head of a valley not long after, and witnessed a stunning moonrise. And yes, we were joined later by another solo, twenty-ish guy thru hiker (trail name Juicy Foot) who pitched a tent at our site.
After an almost 10-mile day, we all slipped to our tents not long after. Two days on the trail, feeling somewhat clarified, I was ready for more.
Check back for our third and final day soon...
Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!
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When You Go
Well, go prepared. These days, there are trail runners who do the whole 28 miles in one day, others backpack this stretch in just 2 days, and some take maybe 4 days. It all depends on your conditioning, available time, and inclination. Here's what the Washington Trails Association (WTA) says about this hike along with directions and logistics.