Views and Bugs: Northern Washington in a Nutshell

Here we are nearly two weeks into this grand adventure, and it already feels like too much has happened to recap! I’m currently taking my first zero day (day off the trail) in Leavenworth, Washington. It’s a weird but neat Bavarian themed town a few miles east of Stevens Pass. Morale is high and over the last 13 days I’ve hiked 218 miles and am currently at trail mile 188 (because of the 30 mile border tag to start the trip). We’ve been hiking about 20-22 miles a day so far, and the specific breakdown by day is below. Currently I feel pretty great, nothing hurts too much beyond the aches, pains, and blisters that one would expect during this initial breaking in period. Now that we’ve gotten pretty used to low-20 mile days we’ll ramp it up to mid-20’s for the next stretch.

After many months of planning it has been so nice to get out here and start actually doing the trail. Almost immediately after starting we were in the midst of huge mountains and majestic views, I couldn’t believe the effort to payoff ratio. Right away I could feel all the anxiety and stress around getting here just melt off and give way to the pure joy of being outside in the mountains; I just knew I was where I needed to be.

Cheesin’ on day 1!

I’ve been hiking primarily with Dabbles, the person I mentioned in my previous post, and Jordan, a guy who we met at our hostel the evening before we started and shared the shuttle up to Hart’s Pass with. He has also hiked the Appalachian Trail and two years ago he hiked the first 1000 miles of the PCT southbound so he’s been able to give advanced knowledge of hard sections and good views.

As I said in my last post, to start the trail most southbounders start at Hart’s Pass and hike 30 miles north to get to the Canadian border and then turn around and rehike those same miles south. While this sounds like a bummer, I swear that section was so beautiful that I could just hike it back and forth for four months and call it good. Luckily, we started late enough in the year that all the snow was gone from the section, but it was immediately clear how treacherous the trail could be if it were covered in ice and snow. I have immense respect for all those hikers who start before it’s melted off.  We reached the Canadian border around lunchtime on our second day, I remember feeling slightly concerned that it felt like an accomplishment just to get to mile 0.

Evening view from our campsite on night 2

Dabbles, Jordan, and I at the border!

We made it back to where we started at Hart’s Pass at the end of day 3, and after hearing from northbounders and our satellite phones that the fires weren’t close enough to the trail to cause too much concern, we continued south. Jordan’s knee was hurting him after only a couple miles on day 4 and he decided to head back to Hart’s Pass and hitch down to town to rest for a few days. I was incredibly sad that he was leaving already, and I had only known the guy for less than a week! It’s surprising how quickly friendships are made on the trail. We took a picture together and wished each other a nice life, unsure if our paths would cross again.

bye forever maybe?!

The section south of Hart’s Pass through the Glacier Peak wilderness was tough, not only were we still getting used to hiking 10-12 hours a day, but it is very remote and the trail is strewn with downed trees and overgrown vegetation that slows you down and scrapes you up. Add the intense heat and incessant buzzing of flies, horseflies, bees, and mosquitos and even the most avid thru-hiker starts to question their choice of “vacation.” Now, I am not complaining, but, I will say that if I was ever in charge of devising a way to torture my worst enemy, I would think that having them stopped and standing in direct sunlight as they are swarmed by horseflies and mosquitos and have both hands occupied filtering water so they can’t swat them away would be pretty effective. I swear, the bugs have gotten to me to the point where even when they aren’t swarming me I’m hearing phantom buzzes and swatting at nothing. I am very much looking forward to the point a few weeks from now when the intensity of the bugs will start to die out. Of course, when the bugs die out the water will also likely dry up, so perhaps it’ll just be trading one headache for another, but I’m ready for it!

Dabbles hopping over some of the downed trees

Dabbles and I got into Stehekin, a little town that’s only accessible by hiking or ferry, on day 6.  We met a few other hikers – Cara, Scott, and Katie – the night before and spent most of the day with them. There was a bus that picked us up at the trailhead for cheap and stopped at a delicious bakery on the way into town. Seriously, the cinnamon rolls were as big as our heads! For such a tiny town they really know how to cater to hikers perfectly – they have public showers and laundry, a small wifi area, free camping, and a restaurant – what more could we want?! As we sat in the sun waiting on laundry, guess who we see walking up to greet us? Jordan! The team was back together! We had a really pleasant day doing trail chores and getting ready for the next section. In the morning we caught the earliest bus back to the trail and began the next 108 mile section.

BIG cinnamon roll 🙂

Jumping in to a glacial lake after a long hot climb

On our way out of the Glacier Peak Wilderness

That first day back on trail was a tough one, it was all uphill and our packs were heavy having just resupplied our food. Jordan and I stopped after about 21 miles, Dabbles who we hadn’t seen since that morning had gone further. Jordan and I spent the next few days cursing at bugs and leapfrogging with another group of five southbounders. My headphones broke while trying to navigate over a downed tree early on, so I’ve gone mostly without music or podcasts during the days. At some point during this section I started narrating the mundane parts of my day with a David Attenborough voice as if I was some odd bug in a Discovery Channel special. For example:

“As we check in on our Pacific Crest Trail southbound hiker, the daylight is dwindling, as is her patience and capacity to balance. She approaches a downed tree, she looks under, nope, too low. She assesses whether to go around or over top and settles on the longer route with less potential for injury for she knows that in a journey of over 10 million steps it only takes one ill-placed foot to end the trip. And now, with this challenge to her north she’ll continue on this day and for all days to come on her journey south to Mexico”  

We got to Steven’s Pass early yesterday and hitched into Leavenworth without too much issue, and boy were we READY to eat all the foods. We inhaled McDonalds upon arrival, had pizza for dinner, and then Mexican for second dinner. Once we got into an area with cell service we heard from Dabbles, he got into Leavenworth the afternoon before and we talked him into staying an extra day, and now here we all are back together again! We’re hitting the trail early tomorrow, all fresh and clean with full bellies.

While the bugs and trees have definitely tested my sanity, I am really truly so happy to be out here. Every morning I wake up and am filled with so much gratitude as I look out on these grand landscapes and recognize that what I’m doing is a very special.


Day 1: 19 miles

Day 2:  19 miles

Day 3: 22 miles

Day 4:  22 miles

Day 5: 24 miles

Day 6: 5 miles – into Stehekin

Day 7: 20 miles

Day 8: 21 miles

Day 9: 21 miles

Day 10: 21.5 miles

Day 11: 21.5 miles

Day 12: 3.5 miles – into Leavenworth

Day 13: 0 day in Leavenworth

Total miles hiked: 218 miles

Trail Mile Marker: 188 miles

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Comments 2

  • Harmony Palmer : Jul 31st

    Yay Ellie, keep it up! That cinnamon bun looks amazing.

  • Gretchen A. : Jul 31st

    Ellie- bugs suck. Keep your head up- and breathe through your nose- less chance of them getting in your mouth that way! Glad to hear about your adventures as you roam…


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