Section 20. Stevens Pass to Manning Park (Canada)

October 7, 2017

Section 20. Stevens Pass to Manning Park. 26 September – 5 October.  The Mountaineers Lodge at Stevens Pass reminded me of a slightly shabby Alpine hut in the French or Italian Alps, but without their excellent food. There was some food here it was a bit haphazard so I left early to go down to one of the 3 lodges at Stevens Pass where there was a simple cafe. I bought more snacks for the next section, ate ice cream had a coffee and set off at 1030 as the mist disappeared and the skies turned blue.

Initially for the first 5 miles there was a level path and then a slight climb up to Lake Valhalla. A picturesque lake set under the steep crags of Lichtenberg Mountain. The entire north side of the cirque the lake was nestled in was ablaze with crimson huckleberry bushes. I paused here for a break in a meadow. As I ate I noticed large spiders webs were being carried up in the gentle breeze or thermals and just hovered over the meadow before drifting into a tree. I then continued another few miles to a cold, clear creek just before Lake Janus. As I was sitting on a mossy rock beside the creek a Canadian girl called Jen appeared. She had also done continious footsteps but had been in cars to resupply.

I walked with Jen for a few miles past the beautiful Janus Lake and up the hillside towards Grizzly Peak. About half way I had to stop and Jen charged on. I was rushing to get to Grizzly Peak as I could see there would be a nice sunset. However I was astounded with the evening colours both on this mountain and the others. Especially stunning was the view north to Glacier Peak, a glaciated cone of a mountain soaring 20 miles to the north. In the hour the sun set the colours were just incredible and the views in all directions were stunning. It was one of the most memorable hours of hillwalking I have ever had. The camera photos did not do it justice.

01.The imposing Glacier Peak dominated the views to the north for the first 2 days after leaving Stevens Pass. After reaching it the next 2 days were spent skirting round its west and north flanks.

In the dusk I had to push on to Pear Lake as that was the next water. I managed 2 miles in the last of the dusk and two miles with a headtorch. As I descended I disturbed birds who were roosting in the lower branches of the hemlocks. They flew off with great alarm, especially the blackbirds. The next two days were supposed to have great weather and then it would snow again.  I wanted to push past the high exposed sides of Glacier Peak before the rain or snow returned in a few days. I heard Glacier Peak was no place to be in bad weather. I found a campsite in the dark beside the lake and got water from it. I had enjoyed today with the clear weather and crisp views but had 10 days of food in my rucksack slowing me down. I put the tent up in the dark and crawled into my cosy sleeping bag as the temperatures fell to near freezing.

Despite the late finish I managed an early start and was off just before 7, but well into the dawn. I left the pretty Pear Lake, seeing it for the first time, and started up through the hemlocks for a couple of miles to gain a ridge. Here I glanced over my shoulder and got a fantastic view of Mount Rainier in the morning sun. It must have been 70 miles away!.

It was rugged terrain and my legs were pumping hard with yesterday’s efforts and with now 9 days of food. The uphills were taxing me. A hiker from Minnisoata caught up, and we chatted a while. He was trying to do a calendar Triple Crown but still had the north half of the CDT to do, and with winter approaching I did not fancy his chances.

I stopped at a creek for a pause while he carried on. I felt tired today and the uphill bits were taking it out of me. Nonetheless I had to do them and it was up again after the break. Eventually the climb eased and I was at the treeline again and walking through alpine meadows. When the sun hits the berry bushes at a certain angle it makes them iridescent. The huckleberry bushes were taller and the berries had no flower remnants beneath them, while the blueberry bushes were more prostrate and the berries had shrivelled flowes beneath them. The blueberries were ripe now but the huckleberries were already shriveling. To my mind the huckleberries were sweeter.

03. Huckleberry bushes are taller than blueberry bushes and generally found at lower altitudes. There are often the shrivelled remnants of the flowers on the blueberries.

There were birds feasting on the berries, especially the blackbirds. However they were vulnerable here from predators like hawks. I passed a few mountain ash and noticed something had been eating the pips inside but leaving the fleshy skin, which is bitter. I think it was chipmunks and they migh be storing them. In a meadow I saw a kestrel riding a breeze to soar backwards and forwards looking for critters to no avail. I think the Pika’s squeak would have alerted them.

I had another break at Lake Sally Ann, with its crystal clear waters. It was an idyllic spot and basking in the sun. There were small trout rising occasionally in the sun to grab flies. After Lake Sally Ann the hillsides became even brighter with iridescent leaves. The were whole hillsides ablaze in autumnal berry colours,  and mountain  ranges in every direction,  but to the north was Glacier Peak, at nearly 10,000 feer it dominated these Cascade Ranges. I was running out of superlatives to describe the simply awesome views and crimson hillsides. I think this was one of the top 3 days on the hike so far, and rivalled the best of the Sierra.

11. More of the gorgeous hillsides covered on berry bushes which are lit up buy the sun to form a kaleidoscope of colour. The trees here would be either sub alpine firs or mountain hemlock

I noticed a family of 4 falcons playing. I wondered if it was mum or dad and 3 adolescents. They were just playing, but the speed of their dives was terrific. Suddenly they were joined 4 ravens, who were the same size. Now ravens are master acrobats but the falcons were out mastering them with tight turns and quicker reflexes. It looked like the ravens were playing a dangerous game as a falcon could easily have hit a raven.

After more climbs and descents I came to a picturesque pond, Reflection Pond, in a meadow with a great view. It was only 1730 and I had just done 18 miles today so far but I was shattered. There had been 10,000 feet of ascent and descent in the last 36 hours. With campsites and water trickey for the next 4 miles I threw in the towel early. I also wanted to savour the day. It had been one of the best and I did not want to spoil it with another march into the night. I had supper before the sun set behind an array of jagged peaks.

The early finish did me a lot of good and I felt stronger in the morning and managed a 7 o’clock start. It was windy but it was another fantastic day with blue skies and clear air. The path climbed up the hillside to White Pass where a kestrel was hovering over the mountain ash  shrubs hoping to catch a critter eating the bright, red berries.

08. One of a large brood of Ptarmigan who nonchalantly wandered down the track in front of me. I am not sure of the spieces yet or if it changes plumage colours

From here the path made a long traverse on a steep grassy hillside with a couple of small streams and a marvellous view to a glaciated massif just across the valley the south west. Along this traverse I passed the 2500 mile mark. I was  astonished how far I had walked. This 2 mile traverse ended at Red Pass which again had fantastic views both north, and especially south. Near the pass I came across a party of about 10 ptarmigan, which were still in their summer camouflage. They were not easily scared and clucked happily beside the path, before stepping onto it near me.

06.Looking down across alpine meadows in to a valley heading west with perfectly formed interlocking spurs.

Initially from Red Pass northbound I could have been in Scotland on a fine autumn day down a remote glen until I went round a corner and the massive snow covered cone of Glacier Peak appeared. The more I descended down the valley, the more of it appeared until I went into the hemlock forest which swallowed up the view.

The path dropped steeply into the forest  which was initially nice with a mixture of copse and glade, but soon it was all trees. Down and down it went into the depth of the White Chuck Valley until the floor of the valley flattened out. There was a mile of dank overgrown forest with brown stagnant water and thick willow scrub near Chetwood Creek. This was the day’s low point and it was now a massive climb.

The climb was tedious as it was all in the forest with plenty of windblown trees across the trail. It went up Kennedy Creek, crossed it and then climbed up Kennedy Ridge, where the forest thinned out and the views reappeared. A little further it arrived at Pumice Creek,  a crystal clear small creek with mossy banks and sunny meadows nearby. I had my last  break here lying on the warm  grass in a sunny hollow beside the creek. At one stage a dipper appeared and started searching the moss for larvae.

I had a final ridge to get over before my planned campsite at Mica Lake. Once the climb was over it was a lovely walk at the treeline. There were occasional views of Glacier Peak which was right beside me, and it glaciers just a mile from where I was walking. At the crest of the ridge looking north yet another range appeared with its 8000 foot peaks white and glaciated.

I could not linger as the sun just set and I would have half an hour  before I put my headtorch on. The descent to Mica Lake was steep and rocky. I could see why people warned me not to venture here in bad weather. Down and down the path went, going from scree to heather and then to forest by the fantastically beautiful Mica Lake. It was fabled for it clear turquoise water but it was dark when I arrived. This was  very rugged hiking and in the last 3 days I had done 15,000 feet of ascent since Stevens Pass, initially with 10 days of food.

The weather today was supposed to deteriorate culminating in rain, however when  I woke in the morning it was superb.  The forecast, from Norway’s Weather Service, was 4 days old now so  hopefully it would remain nice. I admired the saphire blue colour of Mica Lake before beginning the long 3000 foot descent down to Milk Creek which drained the Ptarmigan Glacier on Glacier Peak.

The descent was full of zig-zags as it plummeted  into the depths of the valley. There were some grand old hemlocks here and one was  the biggest I had seen with a bole 8-9 foot in diameter. As I neared the bottom I noticed the sky had clouded over. The scrub maples were on fire in the valley with oranges and reds on all the bushes. Just as the forecast said it started to drizzle at 1100 and it got heavy enough to put a jacket on. The Norwegian forecast  www.yr.no never fails me.

14. Looking up the valley to the north side of Glacier Peak where the Ptarmigan Glacier terminates in the mist. The yellows are a willow in autumnal splendour

From Milk Creek I started up the 3000 foot ascent which I had already mentally prepared for. My rucksack now only had 7 days food, as opposed to the 10 days at Stevens Pass and it was much more acceptable. Up  and up the zig zags went with the rain soaking the leaves of the vegetation overhanging the trail. In no time my feet were wet from water running down my legs after being dislodged off the leaves  and twigs.

At the top of the climb were acres of blueberry bushes. Their fruit was plump and  the bushes were laden. Suddenly a bear stood up in the berry bushes nearby. I could see his face and the fur each side of his mouth was sodden with berry juice. I think he was putting a branch in his rmouth and then running it through his lips. The bear scat I have seen waa full of huckleberry leaves. After a few seconds it turned and bolted down hill. In a flash it had gone.

I stopped at the top for a break as the rain eased but the mist swirled around the cirque and drifted in the valley. It was atmospheric indeed. I wonder were the other hikers were. Jen I think passed me when I had the early night and Dixie was supposedly a few hours behind. But I had not seen anyone for a day. I was beginning to feel alone which was nice but I could also have chatted with another Thru Hiker; even a  flipper,  skipper or section hiker would do.

From this cold windy cirque with the spirals of mist in the rotors off the ridges I started down to Vista Creek and Suiattle River. It was a steep descent across open mountainside then the Mountain Hemlocks and then into the larger Western Hemlocks. Down and down the path Zig-zagged the steep hillside until at last it reached the milky Vista  Creek 3000 foot below. The rain came and went but the bushes were dripping wet and my legs never got a chance to dry.

At last the path levelled off and followed Vista Creek. There were some grand  trees here. Initially  some old growth Hemlock, but as I reached the fertile silty land each side of Vista Creek the odd  Douglas Fir appeared. By the time I reached the Suiattle River the trees were impressive. However, as I walked beside the river I came across some gigantic trees, especially Douglas Firs but also Western Red Cedars.

Indeed they were the most impressive trees of the trip so  far. One Western Red Cedar put all  the Douglas firs to shame with a bole about 12 foot in diameter. It was the tree of the day. I passed through this avenue of giants and quickly reached the new bridge over the Suiattle River which was large and unfordable.

It was still drizzling a bit but I found a campsite on the northside under trees. It was, I found out later, plagued by the pesky Washington mice and one even got into my tent by chewing a hole in the mesh. I had seen no one today for only the  second time in the entire trip. More bears than humans today!

The day started badly. First big drops on tent indicated it was raining still and dripping off the trees and this cost me a good half hour as I mustered the willl to get up. Secondly a mouse had enlarged the hole in the tent mesh, come in and had chewed through my waterproof cuben food bag and then another bag inside this to get at some granola, while I slept with my head  beside it. It had also had also left a few faeces and urinated on it to rub it in. It took some 15 minutes to clean up, so I did not leave until well after 8.

Initially the path went up the north side of the Suiattle River for a few miles to Miners Creek. It was not that inspiring a forest as I think there had been a fire some 20-30 years ago as all the trees were the same size. Around Miners Creek there were a few venerable survivors but nothing like on the otherside of the river. The path then started a long climb up Miners Creek, crossing it o  a bridge and then climbing more steeply through forest and dripping vegetation to Suiattle Pass at 6000 feet.

It had drizzled or rained lightly the whole way while I climbed these 4000 feet except near the top where the rain turned to sleet. My feet were soaked from the overhanging vegetation brushing against my legs and running down. As I neared the top the hemlocks got smaller and more scattered and I could see peaks around me in the mist and there was snow from 7000 up. Still the colours of the mountain ash, the berry bushes,  and a willow like shrub were all making a riot of colour agaibst the backdrop of the green conifers and the grey mist.

13. Mountain hemlocks and sub alpine firs in a huckleberry field on the way up to Suiattle Pass with the first of the snow showers rolling in

I was feeling miserable with cold feet and a clamy shirt under my waterproof top. My legs were still bare with the shorts on. Still I was walking well and could now just spot light at the end of the tunnel 100 miles away.  However the descent brought more misery as the temperatures fell and the sleet turned to wet snowflakes. This ran down my legs with abundance and soaked into my shoes chilling my toes. The descent was long a took a good few hours during which the snow turned to sleet, then to cold rain, chilling me further.

The colours were magnificent on the way down also despite the grey weather. The shrubs almost conspired to form sunshine on their own. I also noticed a new tree which I had seen more and more of and initially though it was a true fir. Now I could see this tree’s needles were turning bright yellow or even brown and it dawned on me that these must me tamaracks. Some had a bole of 4 foor, but not as big as the Western Hemlocks which were the dominant tree at thas altitude. I later discovered that these were not tamaracks at all but a true fir which had been stressed  by the dry summer

As I descended I decided on an early campsite and got to it at 1800 after wading the icy waters of the Agnes Creek. I had done 20 miles which was a good days walking in these wet conditions and just wanted to get into my tent. As I was setting it up 3 Thru Hikers appeared. They were also going north.  They had heard of me from Dixie who was apparently a few hours back but I had not heard of them, which is very unusual at this stage in the hike. It was good to chat to them but they were more cold and wet than I was and were eager to get into warm clothes. We were  all in our tents by 1930. From the occasional screams from both the other tents it seemed they were under attack from the mice also, sharing what would have been my burden alone, for which I was grateful.

The drips off the hemlock I was camped under continued all night and it was a struggle to start getting up in the morning, but the other 3 were packing up and it forced me to confront my cold wet socks. I eventually left camp around 0830.  It was a pleasant walk down the east bank of the Agnes Creek, which I had to follow for 11-12 miles.

The tamaracks I noticed yesterday were absent here, perhaps they preferred the higher elevations.  The main trees here on this walk were the ubiquitous Western Hemlock, some large Douglas Firs and some enormous Western Red Cedars. Where the latter were growing near a creek or moist ground they reached colossal proportions and out muscled even the Douglas Firs. As I walked through this forest the drizzle came and went and occasionally I could see the mountains were snowy from 6000 feet upwards.

About half way down this hike I met a Southbound Hiker who had flipped. He wore no socks, his trousers were rolled up the knee, he was bare topped save for a blanket wrapped round his shoulders and kept in place with the smallest rucksack on the trail. With his longish curly hair and head band he looked like his trail name which was Savage. Indeed I can picture a ink drawing of him on the cover of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s 16 century masterpiece.  He was in his early 20’s and new to hiking, he had a down bag but also a hammock! He was heading to Stevens Pass over Glacier Peak and I hoped he would not get any poor weather.  He was very affable and we chatted for 15 minutes.

As I reached High Bridge ranger station I passed over high bridge and looked down into the pool below the bridge. There were hundreds of fish in it. Each one about 2-3 pounds. I thought they were salmon but a passer by said they were neither salmon or trout, but Kokanee.

I had now entered The North Cascades National Park and there were special rules on camping in it and a permit system was in operation. However to get one I would have to go to Stehekin 11 miles away. I was sorry not to be going to Stehekin as I heard it was a special place with access only by boat, sea-plane, or foot and bus. But I was not going to ruin my carless to Canada record and take the bus. Besides the Ranger Station at High Bridge was closed and it was now October and I doubt there would be anyone else camping at their designated campsites.

As I was packing up Dixie appeared. She had been hiking with Percolator who had a Rasputin type beard. She was 2-4 hours behind me apparently for the last 4 days. She camped in 6 inches of snow at the top Suiattle Pass last night. She had taken loads of video footage with her drone for her Youtube channel. She was heading down to Stehekin on the last bus to dry off and resupply so we said our goodbyes as I would be half a day ahead of her again.

There were a few people milling around and everyone was of the opinion that the weather forecast was saying it would clear up and get cold. This was music to my ears as I had just 4 days left to Canada! Hopefully the snow falling on the mountains yesterday and this morning would not thaw and freeze to much, as I had no microspikes.

I was told there was a great campsite just 5 miles up the trail at Bridge Creek with picnic tables, bear locker and a lean-to. I bounded up the flattish trail towards it and got there at dusk. The lean-to was perfect and looked like the sort of thing a scout group would build over a weekend. It was covered in wooden shingles and had a picnic table inside it. There was also a sleeping platform so I would not have to put the tent up.

15. The lean-to at Bridge Creek Campground was a simple affair but made life much easier as my tent was still damp from the previous night

Furthermore the bear boxes for food were also mice proof so I could put all my food in one and forget about the mice chewing through things. As the evening drew on though I could feel the temperature plummet to around freezing and I was just at 2000 feet, the next nights I would be camping around 6000 feet!

I got an early start and was away by 0700 as it was getting light. The sunrises were really starting to eat into ones day now. I left the camp and followed the Bridge Creek up in a north east direction.it was a fine morning but it was overcast with just the odd glimmer of blue sky. Down at this altitude of 2000 feet there were virtually no autumn colours yet, just the maple vines which were reddening and the sycamores which were yellowing. It was only a few miles up to the next camp at North Fork and in that small climb of around 500 feet the colours were equally mute.

The  patches of blue sky grew larger and larger until the whole sky was blue save a fifth of it which were isolated clouds blowing in from the north east. It was decidedly colder but the air was clear. It looked like a high pressure system was just rolling in from the north. In the sun it was almost hot and after 6 miles I stopped for a break and dress down. I also hung up my tent, sleeping bag and down jacket to dry a bit. The tent was wet but the footbox of the the sleeping bag was quite sodden. I took my shoes and socks off and put them on bushes in the sun too. While I snacked my items dried and after an hour I was ready to move on.

Pretty soon I ran into Chris; a fly fishing expert. I quizzed him a bit about the nature and fishing in particular. He was very knowledgeable about the salmoniod genus and was going to the Stehekin River to make a video. He said the salmon I saw yesterday in the Stehekin River were Kokanee, probably originally a Sockeye who path to the sea had beeen blocked and they now remained in the Stehekin River and Lake Chelan further down. I asked him about the weather and his reply was music to my ears. It was to remain dry and clear for the rest of the week but it would get cold. I had just 4 days left to Canada and it seemed I would do it in a bit of an Indian Summer rather than in the rain, or worse still deep snow.

I left Chris in a buoyant mood,almost euphoric with the weather news he had given me. It was another couple of hours up to the highway at Rainy Pass. I just walked through hemlocks and a true fir spieces and some Douglas Firs most of the time. The mountains on each side of Bridge Creek were about 6000 feet and were rugged. Snow lay just on their upper slopes.

At Rainy Pass I lingered in the parking lot ar the trail head. A few people came over to chat to me. Washington has more than its fair share of friendly people; hikers, foresters, firefighters, and the genreal public have been more friendly here than anywhere else on the trail. One man Iwas chatting with had a PHD in forestry from Harvard so I quized him about a few things. It aeems what I thought were tamaracks 2 day ago were sub alpine firs yellowing due to a dry summer. He pointed some tamaracks out to me and they were the highest trees on the mountainside and made the treeline. Tamaracks were in the larch genus.

I also chatted sith another couple who  were going to the same campsite as me this evening. As they packed we chatted and they gave me a few snacks. It was only 4 miles to this camp but the path continued to climb through the fir and hemlock trees. As I approached the 6000 foot mark snow which had fallen over the last couple of days was starting to accrue on the ground. The trees were now the thin pointed Subalpine firs near the campsite were the unmistakable tamaracks.

17. As I neared my campsite just before Cutthroat Pass the setting sun lit up the underside of the clouds in a manner I have not seen before

But the camp I turned to see the most sensational sunset of the trip. The bottoms of all the clouds were crimson and the snowy mountains below them looked very dramatic, especially when seen through gaps in the snow-clad pointed firs. It was both colour and drama. The couple  who gave me the snacks were already at the camp. But I could not find a flat spot near them, but found one just above, and it was covered in an inch of snow. I had the tent up in the late dusk as the temperatures plummeted to below freezing – but it was dry. All my equipment was also dry which was a godsend. I had just 67 miles to go now and with this forecast hoped I could do it in 3 days, which is also when my food would run out.

It was a bitterly cold night which had all the signs a high pressure weather system was arriving; crystal clear, no wind and a massive drop in night time temperatures. I would say it got down to -10 centigrade. Even with all my clothes on I could feel the cold and the tent was soon covered  in frost.

However a 0530 I suddenly realised I had to go to the toilet  at once. I scrabbled around and found the torch and then my shoes. They were partially frozen. I slipped them on and without doing the laces dashed up the trail in the dark clutching my water bottle. Once far enough away from camp I charged into the bushes like a fleeing bear, and got just a few yards in. There was no time to dig a hole, this was blind panic, and I made it just i time. I then discovered at least half the water in the bottle was frozen. They say you are not a  true Thru Hiker until you have shat yourself. I haven’t so far, and that was as close as I would would like to come.

I did not go back to bed but packed up and set off at 0630 in the early dawn. There was a sprinkling of snow on the mountains from 3 days ago and even before the sun came up the colours of the fading larch and the deep nracing green of the sub alpine firs stood out against the pale mountainside. I got to the top of the first pass, Cutthroat Pass as the first rays were hitting the peaks and then spreading down their alpine sides.

19. Tamaracks and blueberry bushes in the morning sun on Cutthroat Pass

The views were tremendous and by the time I reached the second pass, Granite Pass,  most of the mountains were lit up and also some of the valley sides. It seemed whenever I went over a pass an even more  spectacular scene would suddenly unfold of jagged peaks and forested U-shaped valleys. From Granite Pass the path contoured round the south side of a valley near the treeline of 6500 feet to Melthew Pass. The trees here were small, struggling in the alpine conditions.They were mainly the now golden Tamaracks, the tough Subalpine Fir, the Mountain Hemlock and occasionally a 5 needle pine – white barked pine I think.

21. Looking west down Swamp Creek from Granite Pass towads Mount Goode and Storm King, two 8000 foot mountains in the North Cascades National Park

From Melthew Pass the path cut over the ridge through a notch and then entered the Melthew Valley at its head. It descended speeply in zig-zags down into this cold valley which was still in the shade. The zig-zags took me past the 2600 mile mark and down into a valley full of hemlocks and firs. They were all the same size and about 30 years old so I imagine a fire destroyed the old growth forest here.

I followed the valley for 5 miles through the cold forest passing the occasional glade of mountain ash in its bright autumnal colours. At one I stopped for lunch and hung up the tent and groundsheet, which were even now covered in ice. They dried quickly and I moved on to Bush Creek where I would climb again. Just at the junction of the 2 valleys I met Mayor. He was the only person I saw all day.

Mayor was doing the CDT southbound and had got as far as central Colorado when early snows had blocked his path, probably permanently for the season. So he came over to the PCT to surprise his girlfriend Dixie who was just half a day behind.  Dixie had already told me a lot about Mayor and I felt I half knew him so I stopped for half an hours chat. He was very affable and knowledgeable and it was a pleasant break. We then parted, me north to Harts Pass where Mayor had come from and him south up the Melthew valley to meet Dixie, and walk with her to the finish.

The trail up Bush Creek was like all the trails so far in Washington, well made and well maintained. It climbed to Glacier Pass and then climbed again up the east flank of the pass ascending 3000 feet in total from valley forest to just above the treeline dominated by the yellowing tamaracks. It look a couple of hours to reach the top and I was in the shade just below a shadow line,  which rose just faster than me as the sun was settiing.

Mayor told me the weather was to be superb for the next two days so I took my foot off the accelerator and opted to camp in a south facing cirque rather than walk through darkness for 3 hours to Harts Pass. The campsite was nearby and I got there in the dusk as the temperatures plummeted again. The near full moon shone through the tamaracks as I put up the tent, hopefully for the penultimate time. It was  a nice campspot and I was soon cosy in my bag, outside the snow on the ground started to sparkle as frost settled on it, and the stars shone brightly through the very pointed firs and tamarack trees. I had the end in sight with just 45 miles to go.

I woke late and when I looked out of the tent the sun was just starting to make the larches in the cirque I was camped in glow. Behind them the snowy mountainside highlighted their delicate colour. I packed up and wrapped up the frozen tent with my fingers burning in the cold. I finally shouldered my pack at 0730 and set off to Harts Pass.

24. The very first ray of morning sun hitting the tamaracks by my campsite on the south side of Tatie Peak sone 5 miles south of Harts Pass

The path builders in Washington, probably during the Roosevelt era after the great depression, did a fantastic job here. The paths contoured round the hillsides keeping level on ridges for miles before they had to cross from one ridge system to another. The route to Harts Pass was one of these trails contouring the mountainside, in this case for about 5 miles. En route there were some tremendous views to the south from the area I had just walked through.

25. Looking back south to the mountains I came through yesterday just before I descend down to Harts Pass

Harts Pass was served by a dirt road from Manzama and there is an old guard station and trail register here. It had a Forestry Service campground nearby but there was no water. I spent ages looking through all the names in the register of hikers I knew who had passed through en routd to Canada just 35 miles away now.

The trail north climbed a gentle hill where I saw 2 adult bald eagles keeping an eye on this years juvenile as it learnt how to soar in themals. I could see the yellow beak and white tail quite clearly. Once the trail reached the ridge it wove along other ridges for nearly 10 miles keeping around 6000 feet. It cut from one side to another through notches between knolls and small mountains.  Each of these notches had names and in order they were Buffalo Pass, Windy Pass, Foggy Pass and Jim Pass. It was a lovely  beautiful walk with stunning views to distant glaciated peaks vibrant under a blue sky, and neaby meadows with the golden Tamaracks scattered about them. I passed a few groups of day hikers and they all congratulated me and shook hands.

They path then took a dive into the woods as it descended down to Holman Pass deep in the forests of the valley. It was dark and lonely down here with no sun and a cold chill in the air. The trail was crossing from one ridge system to another. The climb up the far side was quite easy but dusk was falling fast. A mile before my chosen campsite was a clear creek where I filled my water bottles  before carrying on in the dark for another mile to a campsite. I wanted to get here as it made it much more plausible to get to Manning Park tomorrow with just 23 miles left. The temperatures plummeted again and i expect it was around – 10 centigrade again, but that was a small price to pay for the beautiful weather.

I set the alarm for 0530 as I wanted to do the 24 miles to Manning Park by dusk. Camping under the trees sheltered me from the freezing dew and my tent was not so wet. I had the headtorch on for just 15 minutes before I could see the rest of the route up to Rock Pass. It was going to be a glourious day with no clouds again. It was going to be a glourious day to finish my hike.

The path traversed up the east side of a cirque with extensive grassy slopes encircling a meadow. After a short hour I reached Rock Pass as the sun was starting to brighten up the peaks. From Rock Pass the trail dropped down a huge scree slope, crossed it at the bottom and then climbed back up the north side to Woody Pass. As I neared the top  of Woody Pass I came across a confident Pika. It let out a squeak to warn others and then stood its ground watching me.

27. The confident Pika watches me as I approach. He had already made the warning squeak to alert the others who scurried for their holes with mouthfuls of leaves. This one is for you Oscar and Felix

Once up on Woody Pass the trail had regained the 6-7000 ridgeline again and contoured north across the mountainside. There were great views to the west across the valley and to ridge after ridge beyond each one getting progressively higher until they culminated in a rampart of glaciated peaks which were perhaps the watershed of the Northern Cascades. As the trail contoured it inevitably went across some north facing slopes. Some of these were steep and covered in snow, having never seen the sun for the last month.

The trail got to a small saddle and then climbed gently up to a small knoll, which was 7200 feet and the highest point on this stretch. It had  a fantastic view on all sides and was now basking in the sun. I lay on the grass here and had a snack and a study of the map. This was the last high point and from now it was virtually all downhill to the end. I rolled over to look south and gaze back over the peaks and ridges of the Cascades which I had just come over. Then I realised it was perhaps the last look and what had been home for the last 5 months. Content with my extraordinary summer I left myself have a snooze for half an hour in the warm sun. I was woken by the Canadian medic and his dog, a very alert Border Collie, who I in turn disturbed when I arrived at his campsite late last night.

28. Hopkins Lake from the last highpoint. From here it was all down hill to the notder with Canada in about 5 miles

We chatted and set off together but I soon got distracted by the fantastic view down to Hopkins Lake, a clear lake with a greenish hue in a deep cirque. We zig-zagged down to Hopkins Pass and then I turned north for the final descent down to Canada. The sub alpine firs and tamaracks were soon replaced by hemlocks and true firs and the understorey got richer with berry bushes, vine maples and mountain ash.

There was a brief  lull in the descent as I passed Castle Pass where the Pacific Northwest Trail, an epic route which runs parallel to the Canadian Border from Montana  to Washington’s coast. After Castle Pass the trail continued down through the warming forest to a couple of small switchbacks. My feelings were mixed as I knew these switchbacks heralded the Northern Terminus of the PCT.  And then there it was. The monument and just me in the forest.

I stood looking at it and then had a snack on a log. I then dragged a log and stood it upright so I could get some photos. I wanted one in the same pose as I had from the Southern Terminus 5 months ago. The selfie shots were just completed when the Medic and his collie arrived and there were handshakes and high fives. He also took a few more photos of me on the monument.

30. ‘Look Mum No Cars’. On top of the Northern Terminus after 2650 miles since the Southern Terminus – with No Planes, Trains, or Automobiles!

One reason my joy was a bit muted was that although this was the official end of the PCT there was still another 9  miles to go before the end of the trail. Initially the path for these 9 miles was rough and slow, but as it rose and then fell over a ridge it gradually improved until it was virtually a dirt road. It took longer than I expected but as it was getting dark I reached Manning Park and it’s lodge.

I went into the foyer and let out a bellow of fist clenched joy, like Andy Dufresne emerging from the pipe into the rainstorm after escaping from Shawshank. Now it felt like the end, 2670 miles, 490,000 feet of ascent and descent over 159 days, 9 of which were zero, or rest, days. I got a nice twin bedded room and went over to resturant and had 2 meals. I had been chronically hungry over the last 10 days and this gluttony was a treat. I then went back and washed myself and boots in the bath. It felt luxurious crawling into the Egyptian cotton sheets but I did not sleep well as it was to stuffy. The comfort was quite wasted on me.

31. Manning Park Lodge; the real end of the PCT is 9 miles north of the Northern Terminus and 9 miles into Canada. This is where readjustment back to the real world begins after 5 months of hiking heaven

The next morning I washed my clothes and then looked at flights. There was one that evening with good timings for 400 Canadian Dollars, but then as it was Canadian Thanksgiving the price went up to 1200 for the next 4 days. The trouble was I could not get to the airport in time. Unless, yes unless I took a taxi. It was 400 Canadian Dollars but it made sense so I ordered one. It delivered me to the airport with hours to spare.  Less than 24 hours after finishing the PCT I was airborne. It might seem a shame not to linger a bit, at least meet some of today’s finishers like Dixie, but I had done what I wanted.

It had been a tremendous summer, of my 58  so far this would be in the top 3, together with the one on my 8 month www.SkiPaddleNorway.com trip. The PCT hike was certainly much easier. It was a delight really to be able to wander through fantastic scenery and nature with just fellow hikers, chipmunks and conifers as my companions. I did it vehicle-less not to make it more difficult,  but just to avoid the banal trivia of urban encounters to muddle my quest. My Campo to Canada Carless bid became a bit dogmatic round the fire closures, and it would have been so easy to skip these sections. I am glad I didn’t both for the satisfaction of continuity and the fact that they had their own rewards, like seeing the Metolius River at Camp Sherman, and meeting the characterful firefighting foresters at Bumping Lake. Above all the PCT rekindled my passion for nature and my  understanding of the connectedness of everything in nature; and what it can teach us is boundless.

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Comments 20

  1. James, what a breathtaking trip, blog and photos. Utterly engrossing and compelling (glad it was you and not me though). Look forward to hearing more.
    Elise

  2. as I said earlier, the End of a Well loved Book (by a well loved Author !), but the knowledge gained of people and places puts America back on “My Map” Thank You. XX

  3. James, what a wonderful journey, beautifully recorded and with marvellous photographs. Many congratulations.

  4. James, I’m happy to hear you’ve completed the hike. Glad the weather held out for most of your Washington sections. It’s truly a remarkable place.

    1. Thanks Jonathon. Yes Washington was a real highlight. I am sure the weather is wintery now but it was great when I passed through. I am still grateful for the forestry boy around the Norse fire. All the best James

  5. We met Savage on the trail near Lake Valhalla(10/5 I believe) Hiked to the Smithbrook TH then drove to Stevens Pass and I wanted to see where the PCT came out to the highway. As we were standing there who should appear but Savage. He was down to small package of seeds and a little soy sauce. We took him to Skykomish and bought him dinner– half of a chicken and fries. When he was done there was just a pile of polished bones left. He enthralled us with stories and his views on ultra lite hiking. A two ounce hammock to sleep in and a tyvek cover to keep rain off. I hope he is doing well in the snow and rain.

    1. Hi John. Yes Savage was quiet a character. I hope he made it out of Washington and is enjoying Oregon now. All the best James

  6. James, that’s an awesome journey … 30km a day plus 1000m of ascent for 150 days is a staggering effort. I never appreciated the potential beauty of the walk till I read your account. I enjoyed reading about the eclectic mix of characters that you met and your descriptions of landscape, fauna and flora. Well done!

    1. Hi Stanley. I was a nice walk. A saunter by your standards but nice none the less. The distances of 25 miles a day become quite easy when you get used to it and there are no distractions. Hope you are still Ship shape for your Fiordland epics. All the best james

  7. Reading about your journey here is remarkable! Having completed the whole trail in the year of fire and ice is a tremendous accomplishment. You’re a cut above the rest James! Hope to run into you again, maybe somewhere further down the trail 😉
    -Happy

    1. Hi Happy. Thanks for the comment. I am trying to picture you. Are you from Minnesota, in which case I know exactly which Happy it is. All the best james

  8. James, I’m the friendly South African you met in desolation wilderness. Thank you so much for your engaging blog….I have followed you all the way from Tahoe to Canada. Inspirational stuff!

    1. Hi Rowan. Yes I remember well. You were quietly camped with your two daughters before all the hikers arrived and surrounded you. I hope you had a good time there and it was nice to meet you. if you are in edinburgh sometime my email is james (at) scandinavianmountains.com. All the best James

  9. Hi James, December now and it occurred to me that I had not seen any confirmation of your completion on Facebook. Anytime, must have been wonderful. Would be very interested in hearing the full tale / slideshow. Cheers, Alan

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      Hi Alan. Yes finished 2 months ago now. The last post Section 20 was the last one and it had some finishing pics and blurb. I will drop in 5o Dunbar some time. Are you still at the same house. Best James. Just boarding at KL en route to Edinburgh

  10. Hello James, I met you briefly in Nepal while paragliding a few years back. I’m astounded by your tenacity and all round toughness, as well as by the beauty of the trip. It’s little too much nature for me but I am so impressed by your (and others) willingness to undertake such dangerous endeavours. Hope to meet and buy you a drink or two someday.

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