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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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!”
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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