The Mighty, Magnificent and Remote Pasayten Wilderness

A crack of thunder and a bolt of lightning is how we started our section in the Pasayten Wilderness. Minutes after arriving at the Cold Springs campground the sky opened up and hail started dropping at a fevered pace. Five of us thru-hikers huddled under the shelter of the campground’s privy, each muttering a silent prayer that our tents would hold up to the onslaught.

To get to Cold Springs we had a daunting, treeless 25 miles of paved road to walk. Luckily, it was cloudy for most of those miles. But almost as if on cue the sun came out for our 5,000-foot ascent on the barren Chopka Grade Road. So a few hours later when the temps dropped 20 degrees and hail started falling I wasn’t even mad. In fact it felt awesome; we had finally entered the Pasayten.

The next day the temps hovered in the low 50s. A few miles from camp the views started to open and the vastness of the wilderness in front of us became clear. I particularly enjoyed the slow build of the geography in this section. At first the mountains are smaller and tree lined. By the end they are glacier capped giants.

Unfortunately, a large section of this wilderness has been burned by wildfires in the last few years, but luckily the PNT trail crews have been hard at work clearing many of those blowdowns.

That’s not to say the trail is clear by any means (this is the PNT). One section of trail had an epic “jungle gym” of blowdowns. I had quite a bit of fun crawling, hurtling, and falling over and under them. Honestly, this kind of stuff is why I love this trail. River crossings, route finding, and cross-country traversing are my favorite things about backcountry travel.

The worst blowdown section came a few miles before the PNT briefly overlaps with the PCT. We joked as we hopped over fallen trees and tried to find whatever was left of the trail that the PCT would have the best tread, the flattest campsites and James Beard nominated chefs as trail angels. Turns out the first two are true (sadly the chefs must only donate their time on the weekends).

It was a bit of a culture shock to be on such a busy trail. There were other hikers in our camp! Outrageous. In the 45 days we’ve been on the PNT we’ve met 19 other thru-hikers. In the half day we were on the PCT we met 32 PCTers. The giddy excitement in their eyes being only a few miles from the Canadian border both pumped us up and made us realize we still have a long way to go in our journey.

We said goodbye to the PCT and resumed our trek jumping blowdowns, searching for trail, and taking in jaw-dropping views all by ourselves.

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