The Mountains on Their Own Terms: PCT Part 1

Coming to you from Winthrop, WA:

My introduction to the Pacific Crest Trail has been so much more than I could have ever asked for.  It is so very different from my last hike, and I couldn’t be happier.  I had heard from the start that SOBOs need to be in peak shape right from the get-go, and I now have a much better appreciation for why after completing my first ~60 trail miles.  Starting Sunday morning (6/18), I made it to Rainy Pass and the road last night (6/23) and hitched into town.

The Approach

About to start walking!

Since SOBOs can’t walk from Manning Park in BC across the border, we have a few longer options for accessing the northern terminus.  My approach was about 30 miles beginning on the Robinson Creek Trail, following a series of river valleys up to the Border Route, which then deposited me at Castle Pass on the PCT!  It was a much better option, I found, than attempting to start at the more traditional Hart’s Pass Campground.  But, not without its own set of difficulties.  Here are some pertinent lines from those (almost) two days courtesy of my journal…

6/18/17 “I proudly take a ‘Liberty Step’ to cross a small creek, then laugh maniacally when I step in a  hole up to my thigh. (Note: “Liberty Step” is the step you take that gets your dry feet wet, so future encounters with water don’t make a difference) …Snow is present below & in Robinson Pass.  No safety or navigation problems, but much slower hiking….Things Everything is sore, but overall I feel wonderful.  Contented.  Excited.  I might be able to tag the border tomorrow after all!”

6/19/17 “Lots of water on trail, my feet may never be dry….beautiful traverse to a very snowy Frosty Pass….I opted to drag my sore legs down to the border and back tonight…. First PCT Hiker of the season!”

SOBO on the PCT

I  very quickly graduated to the major leagues. After spending the night in Castle Pass, I headed for the notoriously difficult Woody Pass / Rock Pass traverse. I figured out why everyone says you have to be in excellent shape to attempt a SOBO hike on the PCT: there are no easy miles, especially this time of year. There is snow everywhere. The ability to navigate by map and compass is a requirement. At times it took me over an hour to cover a single mile. 

But that’s what I wanted. I chose not to delay my start, despite the conditions. I chose to meet the mountains on their terms, to see what they had to offer. I chose to start on some of the most rugged and remote mountains of the entire trail.

A relatively dry stretch of trail

I have been so happy to be back on trail. Memories of the thru-hiking life quickly become the daily existence. The more challenging the hiking gets, the more determined I am to see what lies ahead. Some excerpts from my journal:

6/20/17 “Up the devil’s staircase was interesting, with cornices on top…. More mountaineering, this time reversing to get to Woody Pass….Everywhere is snow. No signs, no trail, so map and compass again….descending through more but decreasing snow. Trail and vistas are both stunning.”

Quit it, Washington. You’re too beautiful.

6/21/17 “Happy Solstice! Definitely feeling the effects of the sun today…. Ankles very swollen…. Face is very sunburned….. Finally find road, though higher up than I should have…. Haven’t seen a person since afternoon if 6/18…. Enjoying the time alone.”

Sunset at Hart’s Pass. It was, ya know, alright…

6/22/17 “Woke up covered in frost. Slow morning….Trail is mostly a traverse along Eastern and southern faces of Tatie Peak. 3 rules for snow travel: 1) Don’t look down! 2) Move as fast as safely possible. 3) Maintain 3 points of contact with the snow…. VERY long descent on VERY steep slope. Switchbacks covered with high angle snow and BAD run-outs…. Finally made it out of Glacier Pass and FINALLY off the snow…. Saw lots of scat and heard some rustling, then finally saw a bear sitting in the trail. I started a-whoopin’ and a-yellin’ and raised my arms. Slowly it took off down the trail…. Looks like more snow tomorrow. Hope that bear don’t git me tonight!”

6/23/17 “Snow down low in the woods but no need for spikes or ax yet. Had a fun climb up Methow Pass, where I could see the trail as a bit ribbon of dirt over to Granite Pass!…. Then had to navigate some V sketchy snow-filled runoffs with death drops. Besides that, I was cruising…. Did some cool climbing and traversing to easily visible Cutthroat Pass. As usual, that’s where navigation again got tricky…. Steaming downhill ready for town…. Tried to make myself presentable and stuck the thumb out…. Snagged a bunk at the hostel…. Did some minimal settling, then went in search of beer and food…. Looking forward to a zero!”

If you look really close, you can see where I’m going!

Zero Day

Zeros rule. There’s no other way to put it. I’ve been sticking up on calories (solids AND liquids!), icing my ankles, and generally having a fantastic time here in Winthrop. I highly recommend stopping in this town, especially for SOBOs. Good people, a regular grocery store and a real outfitters, great hostel. Can’t ask for much more.

Back on trail tomorrow. Planning for seven days to Steven’s Pass, including a stretch through the Glacier Peak Wilderness. May every mile be as challenging and rewarding as the last!



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Comments 5

  • Tyler Meyerhoff : Jun 25th

    Hell yeah buddy – blazing the trail for us. I’m starting SOBO with the majority of the crowd in two weeks and look forward to reading your reports of what’s ahead ??

  • Zach : Jun 26th

    You’re a badass, Henry. A big group of PCT SOBOs are eagerly tracking your progress. Thanks for the update.

  • crazyred : Jun 30th

    Was just up last weekend at lake Valhalla, snow is still really deep in and out of there not much PCT trail to be found. Stay safe my friend and have fun. Look forward to reading more of ur trek to come. I’m planning a thru hike for next summer.

  • Bill Whealan : Jul 10th

    Hi, Righteous. I hope this email finds you doing well along the trail. I wanted to take a minute to thank you for stopping to offer assistance to me and a friend of mine (you passed by him just behind me) that were hiking up to Spectacle Lake, WA., to do some alpine fishing. You found me lying along the trail taking a break when you stopped. You asked if I was OK and if I had water. I said yes I had some water, but I made a critical error and forgot to pack any electrolytes. You offered me some of your electrolytes and we talked for a bit about your thru hike southbound. You also told me that your uncle was behind you and he was doing a portion of the trail with you. I met your uncle and told him to thank you again for me.

    We did make it to Spectacle Lake, thanks to you. We tried fishing for a day with no luck and headed home.

    I failed to give you my contact information, sorry… I wanted to let you know I would be glad to try and help out if you need anything along the way on your journey. I have friends starting in Sacramento going all the way down to San Diego who can get to you if needed. You can contact me via email or on my cell 702.277.2124. I am impressed with your dedication to such a huge adventure, and am also a little envious of your journey! I wish you all the best, and hope safe travels for you. I am looking forward to reading all about you on your great adventure.

    Take good care and stay safe.

  • Eric Yuen : May 2nd

    Thanks for the great info, Righteous! Did you posthole much in the Northern Cascades? If so, would bringing ultralight snowshoes (e.g., 20″, 27oz Northern Lite racing snowshoes) have been worth the extra weight?


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