Hiking the PCT from Cascade Locks, Oregon to Snoqualmie, Washington
- Being in the wilderness during golden hour is something special. Between 5-7pm depending on the season, the sun lights up the sky, trees, shrubs, and rocks in ways that are so soft, warm, and inviting. In Washington, we found ourselves hiking longer days and relishing the quiet trail and beautiful serenity of the early evening hours.
- Giving ourselves space to change plans. This theme comes up so frequently when backpacking! During this section, we ended up camping at one of the best sites of the PCT because we let ourselves follow our curiosity, turn off trail, and stop early when we saw a camp spot overlooking Mt. Rainer! Then, we ended up taking an unplanned zero day in Snoqualmie after realizing that we needed a day to relax. We had to take time on top of a mountain to make arrangements for an extended hotel stay, but it was worth the effort to listen to our bodies and give ourselves what we needed.
- Town food and trail magic figuratively and literally fills us up. Generally, we’ve had long sections between resupplies without many opportunities for town food and we have felt the consequences! We have really missed whole foods and the nourishment they provide on the PCT. Our backpacking snacks and meals have been insufficient in getting us the nutrients we need. Luckily, in this section we got trail magic twice, were fed a huge meal by a friend, and took a zero to eat as much good stuff as we could. Not only were we physically fueled, but seeing friends and interacting with supportive strangers gave us the emotional lift we needed to get through some big days.
Day 36, 7/28/23: Cascade Locks to Tentsite (mile 2164.5)
14.8 miles, 4,500ft of elevation gain
After lounging around the motel room all morning, we checked out at noon, dropped our last resupply package off at the post office, then grabbed a meal at a restaurant overlooking the Bridge of the Gods. Leaving the comforts of town is always challenging. But with full stomachs, we felt ready to go around 1:30pm. We crossed the Bridge of the Gods, named after what the Indigenous folx of the region called a rockslide bridge that has since been washed away by the river, by walking against the railing towards oncoming traffic. Even though the bridge is the official PCT route, there is no pedestrian walkway! The trek across the bridge was windy and exciting with traffic passing inches from us atop metal grating that let us see right down the bridge supports into the water. Certainly unnerving! About halfway across, we officially entered Washington.
Then, the climb out of Cascade Locks kicked our butts! Unfortunately, the entire 15 miles was a climb—what a welcome to Washington. At one point, Lotus considered donning the trail name metronome and today she lived up to that name—just trucking up the mountain at a steady and unwavering pace. About 5 miles before our campsite, we stopped to fill up water and chatted with No Way and Rabbit, two women from Iowa we met at Shelter Cove over a week ago. We talked about women’s soccer, career trajectories, and finding oneself. Pretty deep stuff for a 10 minute convo! Sometimes you just connect with folx and feel comfortable diving in.
Towards the end of the day, the trees opened up to give us a beautiful view of Mt. Hood, where we had stood just a few days prior. The moon hung in the sky above the mountain’s shoulder and the spectacular scene filled us with awe. It was a nice reward for finishing the climb. Today was a physically challenging day with all the elevation gain in addition to the hot weather. Passing a few campsites that were lackluster and full of hikers, we decided we needed some solitude and it was worth the extra elevation and miles to get to a more secluded campsite on the ridge. We were grateful the little flat spot of ground was unoccupied. It was a nice site tucked into the dense evergreens with partial views of the surrounding volcanoes. We settled in for the night—both relieved the day was over and proud to have done it.
Day 37, 7/29/23: Tentsite (mile 2164.5) to Tentsite (mile 2193.1)
28.6 miles, 6,300ft of elevation gain
It was such a nice day of hiking! We need to remember that we frequently feel sluggish and have low motivation coming out of town but feel really strong on the second day–rested and fueled from the break. We descended for a bit first then did the first sustained climb of the day which took us to an early lunch where we met Turtle Wolf (a veteran who hiked the CDT with Lil Cave, a friend from the AT!) and Postcard. After, the terrain mellowed out and we cruised for miles under a tree canopy protecting us from the midday sun. The forest was gorgeous today, filled with such dense ferns and moss. It felt prehistoric. Unfortunately during this section there was also really loud gunfire nearby, likely from somebody doing target practice in their yard. It was unnerving and definitely interrupted our peace. We took a break at Panther Creek before doing the second big climb of the day, which started out surprisingly steep then leveled out a bit. Throughout the climb, we listened to and finished our book club book, Fahrenheit 451, periodically pausing to discuss book bans in the present day, issues with how all the “classic” books the author referenced were all written by white men, and what power literature has in our lives. Surprisingly, these kinds of chats really invigorate and motivate us. We just felt good moving today and kind of accidentally hiked 28.6 miles. The day ended at a relatively exposed campsite with a gorgeous view of the sun setting over Mt. Hood. Wispy clouds imbued with shades of purple and pink pastels and a rising silver moon made for a magical golden hour.
Day 38, 7/30/23: Tentsite (mile 2193.1) to Tentsite (mile 2222.2)
29.1 miles, 4,100ft of elevation gain
Today was relatively uneventful. With the exception of a few glimpses of Mt. Adams, the trail was mostly wooded. We didn’t climb or descend a lot in one go, but rather followed an undulating path that culminated in about 4,000ft of elevation gain. At lunch, we took a longer break than usual next to Blue Lake—sitting in the sun and closing our eyes. The break felt great, but getting restarted with hiking afterward was tough! We just wanted to pitch our tent and nap. But hike on we did! In the afternoon, some of the trail was surrounded by swaths of pretty Avalanche Lily wildflowers. They dazzled in the sun, growing in as the snow retreated – the last of it in tiny patches off trail.
As Stretch says, we “torched” the last 14 miles, moving quickly and rhythmically. Unfortunately, the tent sites we were aiming for were all full so we had to add on another mile to find a tiny spot on the side of the trail. The mosquitoes came back, with less vengeance than those of Oregon, but made us retreat to our tent fairly quickly after dinner. At least we got a fun game of cribbage in before falling asleep.
Day 39, 7/31/23: Tentsite (mile 2222.2) to Riley Creek (mile 2241.8) with a resupply stop in Trout Lake
19.6 miles, 4,100ft of elevation gain
A hero! A “hero” is when you hike, go into town for chores and resupply, then get back on trail and hike some more. Because we hiked a bit more yesterday, we had a leisurely 9.4 miles to get to the shuttle into town at 12:30pm. We didn’t start hiking until after 8 and when we arrived at the road, there must have been 20 hikers already waiting for the shuttle and congregating around some trail magic! Baby carrots, clementines, seltzers, and tortilla chips perked us right up. We played cribbage until the shuttle came. And by “shuttle,” we actually mean a caravan of pickup trucks driven by locals with hikers and their packs shoved into every available space. Two overflowing trucks pulled up with hikers spilling out of them and we spotted Heat Lightning—an AT thru-hiker we know from hiking in the White Mountains. We exchanged hugs and pleasantries before we traded places. We got lucky to sit inside the truck with real seats!
They dropped us off at the one restaurant in town where we gorged ourselves. Then, we went across the street to the general store to resupply and relax in a yard before getting the “shuttle” back to trail at 4:00pm, which was equally as packed. After lunch, it seemed like Lotus’ indigestion or acid reflux issues returned. Thank goodness she is still carrying all her tummy medicine! By the time we got back to trail, she was feeling much better. We ended up hiking about 10 miles, all uphill. Stretch was not feeling it initially, but once we got above the trees and were surrounded by views of distant volcanoes and Mt. Adams close up, his motivation returned. Plus, we realized how much we love the early evening light when we hike late – the wildflowers really dazzled during golden hour.
Unfortunately, the trail is getting super crowded with the NOBO, SOBO, and “SNOBO” (hikers who have flip flopped because of nearly impassable snow) have all converged and we are right in the middle of it. The first tentsite we got to was completely full and the next one was nearly full, but we managed to squeeze in. Don’t get us wrong, we like people. We just don’t love dealing with big crowds while hiking. At least we got a view of Mt. Adams at sunset! Bracing ourselves for a super cold night after hearing about frost in this location, we slept with our water filters and put on many layers while cooking dinner as quietly as possible so as to not wake other hikers up.
Day 40, 8/1/23: Riley Creek (mile 2241.8) to Walupt Creek (mile 2271.4)
29.6 miles, 3,800ft of elevation gain
Hello August! How is the summer passing so quickly? It was chilly last night, but not as cold as we expected. Luckily, the sun came out and warmed our tent up before we even had to emerge from our sleeping bags. After chatting with some hikers, including Spaceman who shares a mutual college friend with Stretch (small world!), we started hiking around 8:30am. The morning was filled with views of Mt. Adams from multiple angles to our right and views of other massive volcanoes further off to our left. The glacier on Adams shone in the light and we collected water melting directly from it. After that, the day was rather mundane, but not unenjoyable. We got into a really nice hiking rhythm and relished time alone walking together. Lotus started a new book, “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Krakauer and learned more about Mormonism than she ever expected. As per usual, we got to our tent site earlier than expected so decided to push on and hike another 4 miles to camp next to a creek.
Day 41, 8/2/23: Walupt Creek (mile 2271.4) to Ginnette Lake (mile 2295.5)
24.1 miles, 5,900ft of elevation gain
Best day on the PCT so far. We spent most of the day in Goat Rocks Wilderness and were immediately awed by the impressive mountains, valleys, trickling alpine streams, and views of multiple volcanoes including Rainier, Adams, and St. Helen’s. The scenery just got better and better as we climbed higher and higher. We passed through a couple high valleys on the way to Cispus Pass and then through a super lush and green valley with seasonal snowmelt streams pouring down the steep slopes.
There was a lot of elevation gain today, but with each step we got even better views of all of these beautiful mountain ranges and peaks. The PCT splits at one point with a stock trail staying lower and a hiker alternate trail climbing into the moonscape heights. We of course chose to take the hiker route, called the Knife’s Edge, that follows a scree covered ridge line and has much more elevation and unparalleled views. We also opted to ascend to the summit of Old Snowy Mountain, which required some rock scrambling and made for a really fun and short side trip. Already the best day of the PCT hands down. Just wow.
We descended steep switchbacks on the knife edge section, the sound of the rocks playing music under our feet like a xylophone, and then along a gorgeous ridgeline trail we could see stretching for miles toward Rainier. It felt like something out of a Star Wars landscape except instead of 2 blazing suns or an ominous Death Star in the sky, it was a volcano looming large in the distance. We gazed upon a blue lake in a distant valley, the green of the hills, the gray and brown of the rocks, and the shining white of the snow. So many colors in one splendid scene. When the trail finally descended toward the treeline we had lunch by a snowmelt stream still very much in the alpine. Then we just kept walking and walking into the afternoon to complete today’s marathon.
We reached Ginette Lake and pitched our tent next to two separate German hikers camped there also – Felix the Cat and Sherpa. A few others joined us for dinner after finding tent spots in the woods nearby. We all chatted over food and enjoyed the company of fellow hikers. It was the most AT camping vibe so far probably. Everyone agreed that the mosquitoes in Oregon were unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Good validation from other hardened hikers. Sherpa said she knew many people who quit because the bugs broke them. Totally understandable and I’m glad we stayed with it.
Day 42, 8/3/23: Ginnette Lake (mile 2295.5) to Crag Lake Outlet (mile 2313.6) with resupply at White Pass
18.1 miles, 2,250ft of elevation gain
Both of us started stirring earlier than usual this morning. Maybe it was the excitement of a shower, food, and laundry? Regardless, we packed up camp and ate breakfast on the go for the short 2 miles we had to the road and the 0.6 miles along the road’s shoulder to get to the Kracker Barrel. It caters to hikers with an entire area of picnic tables and charging stations for out back and even a place to camp. At their opening time of 8am, we signed up for showers and laundry, then got our resupply package from a storage unit out back. What a production! There were so many hikers. We did chores while periodically returning to the store for more hot food and snacks.
Then, Lotus’ cousin Eric, his wife, coworker, and baby came by! They were coincidentally in the area for a wedding and decided to hike about 3.5 miles of the trail with us. It was super nice to have family share the experience with us. After resting at a lake together and watching the baby pass out in her carrier, we bid them farewell and hiked about 14 more miles to a lovely tentsite on the side of a mountain next to a flowing creek. In the late afternoon we passed some meadows glowing in the slanting light. Streams meander through some of the meadows cutting deep channels that stand out dark against the bright vegetation, often leading to a small pond. We also saw an Elk downhill next to one such pond. It was just grazing peacefully in a meadow, but saw us and made sure we weren’t a threat.
Day 43, 8/4/23: Crag Lake Outlet (mile 2313.6) to Tentsite (mile 2341)
27.4 miles, 5,640ft of elevation gain
900+ miles into our hike, which means we are over ¾ of the way done with this 1,200 mile LASH of the PCT. And, today was another reminder of how beautiful Washington is and why people often say it’s their favorite state of the trail. We sat by multiple blue-green lakes tucked in between mountains for breaks and caught the most majestic views of Mt. Rainier from a variety of angles. Truth be told, greater rewards can come with greater climbs and that was the case today! There were multiple fairly steep sections where we gained a lot of elevation. Our bodies are conditioned for the climbs as our trail legs are here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel it at all. Throughout the day, the PCT meandered in and out of Rainier National Park and we could tell when we were within the park when we saw hoards of day hikers out enjoying some of the highlights, particularly near Chinook Pass. It’s funny when they don’t know anything about the PCT and think we are just overly serious hikers.
As seems to be the norm now, we decided to hike further than we planned and ended up stopping at a gorgeous unmarked tent site with views of Mt. Rainier. A couple of other hikers stopped by and were jealous of the spot saying that the sky was going to light up at sunset. Luckily, they were right. As the sun sank, we sat cozied up in our tent watching the sky turn shades of orange then pink, lighting up the glaciers and layers of ice on the summit of the volcano. We weren’t planning to camp here, but felt like we were in the right place. It’s days like this, with their coupled beauty and challenge, that make long-distance hiking so fulfilling.
Day 44, 8/5/23: Tentsite (mile 2341) to Tentsite (mile 2368.5)
27.5 miles, 4,000ft of elevation gain
Well, we couldn’t spend 2 months outdoors without some rain. This is the first day we’ve had to hike in the rain in 43 days! Around 4am, we heard the rhythmic beat of drops falling on our tent, which would have been quite welcoming and meditative if we didn’t know that meant we’d have to hike in it later. We both kept our spirits up, making bad jokes, and took our time getting out of the tent in the morning. Lotus made one of her famous rain skirts out of a trash bag and we set off down the trail after 8:30am. To our delight, the precipitation stopped within 30 minutes and we were able to shed our rain layers.
Around 11:30, we came to a dirt road with a huge boisterous crowd of ORV folks. When they heard what we were doing, they immediately went into caretaker mode—offering us tons of food, water, Advil, bug spray, beer, you name it! We gladly accepted veggie straws and a homemade turkey sandwich that was bomb, truly. It had a mountain of turkey and cheese with plenty of mayo and spicy mustard! To be able to eat something filling and nutritious when we were both losing weight by the day was an incredible gift. Their energy was infectious and we loved answering all their questions about backpacking.
With a positive mindset and full stomachs, we left them and powered through the next hours of hiking through scattered showers. Although the views were nothing special, we had a surprisingly fun day walking together. The terrain was gentle and the miles flew by until… more trail magic! Becky and Debbie, a mother and daughter pair, set up a large tent with chairs and offered us fresh fruit, drinks, and ice cream. They even had vegan oat milk popsicles that Lotus’ lactose intolerant stomach could have! We waited out more rain chatting with them then hiked the last 4.5 miles to camp as the rain picked back up. Luckily, our tentsite was underneath some large trees that shielded us from the drops so we could eat without getting wet. All in all, even with off and on rain and some dampness, today was a great day.
Day 45, 8/6/23: Tentsite (mile 2368.5) to the Summit Inn in Snoqualmie
26.4 PCT miles + 1 non-PCT mile, 5,750ft of elevation gain
What a commotion this morning! Through our earplugs, we heard a man yelling and making noise, which only meant one thing: a bear. Luckily the bear ran away after the other hiker made noise and threw a stick, but that’s not quite the calm start we like to have to our days. Despite Lotus feeling nervous about a bear in the area, we stuck to our morning routine and started hiking around 7:45am.
Today was a bit monotonous and also surprisingly tough. There were many pointless ups and downs (PUDs) that brought us zero views and a lot of elevation gain. Around midday, we realized we could get to Snoqualmie (the next town) by 6pm, so we opted to book another night at the local hotel and take a true zero day the next day. We tried to keep our spirits up, but we got pretty tired and cranky today. The last few miles included more climbing than we would have liked and we just wanted to get a shower, a meal, and a bed. When we got to the one hotel in town, it was a comedy of errors: our reservation through booking.com wasn’t showing up in their system, and then when we finally got a room it was being renovated or cleaned so we had to switch to another. When all we could think of was dinner, dealing with these typically small issues was not what we wanted. Eventually, without showering, we beelined for the restaurant across the street for dinner and cocktails. Hello martini and paloma. Our priorities are clear.
Day 46, 8/7/23: Zero in Snoqualmie
0 hiking miles
Snoqualmie is a tiny ski town about an hour from Seattle and in 24 hours we went to almost all of their establishments! We picked up tea, quiches, and breakfast sandwiches from Red Cafe, ate lunch at Laconia Market, and stopped in both convenience stores to resupply. Then, Stretch’s college friend Alex drove out from Seattle with three pups and a car full of food to cook us a gourmet dinner at a local park! He grilled up pork chops, steaks, made a fresh watermelon, corn, mint, and feta salad, and brought beverages and pie to boot. Just what we needed to fuel us up on a zero. Thanks friend!