Days 47-56 on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington: Snoqualmie Pass to Canada

Hiking the PCT from Snoqualmie Pass, Washington to Canada!

Big Reflections:

  • We are vastly different hikers in comparison to a year ago. At the end of this PCT experience, we realized just how much we have grown in the last year. Not only were we able to hike more miles than we could have ever imagined, we did so with increasing ease, positivity, and calm. Step by step, day by day, we are becoming improved and unexpected versions of ourselves. 1,200 miles in less than 2 months? And still smiling and laughing (for the most part)? We can’t believe it either. 
  • Making decisions when there are no clear answers is such a big part of thru-hiking, and life, right? The end of this PCT section hike did not go to plan at all. When we reached Stehekin, theoretically our last resupply before Canada, we found out that the next 50 miles of trail was closed due to fires. In order to get to Canada, we had to take a ferry to a bus/hitch to a pass further north, to jump back on trail and walk the last 30 miles to the border. In addition to the complicated logistics, the decision was made amid fear that the fires would close those last 30 miles of trail or directly threaten our safety if we kept hiking. Making this decision together, in ways that took into consideration our varying feelings around safety, risk, comfort, desire, and logistics was beyond difficult. 
  • Hiking our own hike while finding community. Something that we have both become more comfortable with is actually hiking our own hike, but not doing so devoid of community and connection. We are a partnership, a team, our own little tramily if you will. So we make decisions for our hike and our experience together and that often differs from other hikers’ choices. However, we have come to realize that while our hiking priorities may be different from others, they aren’t lesser than. It’s okay that we made the choice to hike on when the majority of hikers chose not to. We needed to feel good about making those decisions independently of others, but were so happy when we found out that others were making that decision also. 
  • Transitioning from hiking to non-hiking life is rough. Toward the end of the hike, we really started kidding ourselves that we would not experience post-trail blues. Predictably, we realized just how much we would miss hiking when it ended. The transition back to non-hiking life was easier this time around, but still quite challenging and emotional.

Day 47, 8/8/23: Snoqualmie to Tentsite (mile 2420.4)

26.4 miles, 7,100ft of elevation gain

1,000 miles of the PCT hiked! Today was pretty impressive for a number of reasons. First, the views were spectacular. We entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and were greeted with outstanding views that got even better as we went. We passed so many alpine lakes, some right along the shores and others high above staying on the ridgeline. Notably, the sparkling waters of Alaska Lake beneath a cliffside section of the PCT were jaw dropping. After climbing successively higher ridges with views down into lake filled basins far below us, the trail traced a giant arc across the mountainsides. This section treated us to sweeping views of the trail traversing cliffs and Mt. Rainier in the distance looking like it was floating above the world. We cannot believe such majestic places are just an hour’s drive from Seattle. 

Second, we gained more elevation today than any other single day this entire trip and our bodies felt surprisingly strong. The trail was rugged and steep all day. In the afternoon, we descended through an old burn section bursting with fire weed. The bright purply pink flowers reached over 6 ft high in places the ones upslope towered over us on the steep terrain. Some of the switchbacks were so tight and long in some places that it felt like we hiked a mile across to gain an inch up or down.

Third, we handled changes in plans super well. Around 7pm, tired from the tough day, we were getting close to our planned campsite at the base of the next big climb. Unfortunately, that campsite didn’t exist. We ended up having to hike a couple more miles with a significant amount of elevation to end the day. Instead of getting frustrated or panicking, we just remained calm and put one foot in front of the other because we knew we would be OK. We are so proud of how much we’ve grown!

Day 48, 8/9/23: Tentsite (mile 2420.4) to Talus Lake Outlet (mile 2447.4)

27 miles, 5,300ft of elevation gain

Waking up in our tent knowing we were already halfway up the first climb of the day, we felt happy to have done the extra work last night! We heard the footsteps of hikers go by us and we knew it was time to get moving. The switchbacks up the climb were super long as usual, which we appreciate but wonder if they could be a tad shorter! When we looked across the valley and to the jagged mountains, thick passing clouds intermingled with the sun and created a beautiful rainbow over the snowy peaks. After descending about 5 miles, we filled water from a creek then hoofed it halfway up the next climb to Deep Lake for a late lunch. It was pretty but the wind came biting across the water in gusts every few minutes and chilled us a bit more than we would have liked.

We didn’t know it, but the towering mountain above the lake was the next climb of the day. Luckily, the climb went quickly and the views were once again breathtaking. When we got to the next trail juncture, we saw a hiker sitting on the trail hunched over. It was abundantly clear that the hiker was in distress and when we asked him if he needed anything he looked up and, with tears, said “I think I need help,” to which we sprung into action. It was his first backpacking trip, he split up with his hiking partner who had the tent, he had no more water, very little food, no map, and no idea how to get to the trailhead with his car. But he wasn’t hurt at all, just lost and scared. Stretch checked our map to give him directions out of the wilderness to the closest trailhead with a road to civilization while Lotus filtered her water into his tiny plastic bottle. We both offered words of encouragement as he berated himself and apologized for needing help. We really hope he ended up okay and were glad to have helped in any way we could. 

We ended the night at a bustling tentsite with a tramily we have been leapfrogging with for a few weeks and two lovely weekend backpackers.

Day 49, 8/10/23: Talus Lake Outlet (mile 2447.4) to Tentsite (mile 2469.3) with a stop at Stevens Pass

21.9 miles and 4,950ft of elevation gain

What a day! This area is named the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and we now know why.  The morning began with mystical and magical clouds forming and dissipating in the wind to reveal steely blue alpine lakes amidst gray boulders and mountains. It felt like the type of moody Washington morning that we expected in the Pacific Northwest. The day consisted of four distinct climbs up and over passes, each revealing another lake in the valleys. Some passes were home to photogenic Pikas, real life Pikachus, living amongst the rocky scree. One Pika sat 3 ft from us nibbling mountain vegetation with quick twitchy movements.

Around 1, Olivia, a friend from BC, intercepted us by Josephine Lake on her trail run! We planned for her to meet us and the timing worked out so great. We hiked the last five miles out together to Stevens Pass, a ski area, then drove to Skykomish, the closest town with a small sandwich shop. We ate and chatted then gathered our Walmart resupply loot from Olivia’s back seat. Having a friend help us in this way was game changing. The day of chores felt stress free and we could relax and catch up on emails and communication with friends and family. After sitting outside the ski resort for another hour, we finally got back on trail and hiked 2.5 miles to the first campsite outside of town.

Day 50, 8/11/23: Tentsite (mile 2469.3) to Lake Sally Ann (mile 2496.2)

26.9 miles and 7,050ft of elevation gain

Today was a big day, but it went by quickly with surprising ease. There were four climbs, each gaining about 1,500 feet of elevation. The first climb culminated with views of Lake Valhalla, looking steely gray and blue because the clouds were still fairly dense in the morning. By the top of the next climb at Grizzly Peak, the sun was out fully and we sat and ate lunch looking at Glacier Peak in the distance. After just a few minutes in the shade, it got surprisingly cold! Washington is much chillier than we expected and we go from sweating on the climbs to shivering on breaks. 

The next section was one of the best of the day, with beautiful above treeline meadows and views of mountains all around us. This wilderness area just felt so so wild. We really felt like we were out there, and we were. It might be the most remote place we’ve ever backpacked. The third climb of the day was by far the hardest as the last mile or so consisted of steep rocky sections that slowed us down a bit. Then, the final climb of the day was fairly gentle and got exciting when we began to skirt a mountainside and see for miles in the distance. We ended at the gorgeous Lake Sally Ann high up in the alpine still. We got a nice spot overlooking the water and had dinner by the shore. There wasn’t necessarily one stand out scene from today, but overall, it was such a pleasant and picturesque hiking day that we enjoyed from beginning to end.

Day 51, 8/12/23: Lake Sally Ann (mile 2496.2) to Micah Lake (mile 2523.5)

27.3 miles and 6,300ft of elevation gain

Today started with quite a privy experience – just a box on a hill with a hole in it. Sweeping views of the mountainous grandeur from the throne, but zero privacy. You could literally wave to hikers on trail in the distance! Then it was a roller coaster of a day—literally and figuratively! We had to go up and down a fair amount and also had some emotional highs and lows. Highs: the landscape was overwhelmingly beautiful. The sky was bright blue and the sun shone all day. The grass and meadows on the mountain slopes were verdant green and Glacier Peak gleamed in the light. We spent the first half of the day traversing undulating terrain high in the mountains. It felt like we were on The Sound of Music set and we laughingly sang “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” while we hiked. Around midday we started hiking back and forth with a tramily we’ve seen a ton and who are really friendly (Wiki, Tall Boy, Possum, and Powerhouse).

The second half of the day was physically and mentally more challenging. We dropped a ton of elevation, then had to reclimb out of it. Unfortunately the trails up were steep with lots of blowdowns, overgrown bushes, and flies! And, Stretch got stung by something in the leg. He’s so unlucky. By the time we got to the last climb of the day, our final 3 miles, we were pretty wiped. But, we made it and were rewarded with sweeping views in the evening light. Around 7:45pm, later than usual, we made it to Micah Lake and set up at the first campsite overlooking the bowl of the lake with views of the sunset. It was a spectacular reward after a trying day on trail. As we got into our tent we realized how much dew collects here – all of our things were just a bit damp. Yet another example of how beautiful backpacking can be and how uncomfortable it can be also.

Day 52, 8/13/23: Micah Lake (mile 2523.5) to Buck Creek Pass Junction (mile 2551.3)

27.8 miles, 5,600ft of elevation gain

Around 5am, Lotus unzipped our tent so that we could watch the sunrise over the lake as we drifted in and out of sleep. Micah Lake might be the best campsite yet. The water was so blue it looked like the Caribbean and not a lake in Washington. It was glassy and mirror-like, almost perfectly reflecting the surrounding mountains. Once hiking, we immediately dropped thousands of feet of elevation and then had to climb up the other side to hike around Glacier Peak. The trail was covered in overgrown brush wet with morning dew. That made some of the miles feel rather unpleasant as itchy branches and leaves scraped our arms and legs. Then, there were countless switchbacks in the trees which made the climb easier than it could have been. When we emerged from the trees, we were just under the other side of glacier peak and enjoyed drinking water melting directly from the glaciers above. The next section was filled with open high meadows on bright green mountainsides that literally made Stretch frolic with joy.

The rest of the day was very hot, a departure from the cool breezy days we’ve had lately. We descended thousands of feet into some old growth forest with gorgeous mother trees. It was beautiful, but we also had to climb over and under countless blow downs, some absolutely gigantic. On the other side, we had a couple thousand feet of elevation to gain to get to our campsite. Going back and forth with the tramily we have been hiking along with, we all made it up to the campsite, but to our dismay, it was not very nice and also almost full. The tramily told us to take the one tentsite left as they hiked onward to find another place where they could all fit.

Day 53, 8/14/23: Buck Creek Pass Junction (mile 2551.3) to Stehekin

23.2 miles, 3,000ft of elevation gain

We made it to the last “town” of our trip! We did the majority of the elevation gain in the morning before it got too hot and sunny. Thank goodness because today was a scorcher. Most of the blow downs had been cleared but the trail was often covered with overgrown bushes we had to navigate through. Even when we dropped below the trees, it was HOT and humid – not all what we expected of Washington weather. We haven’t sweat this much in ages. There was a ton of undulating trail for the last 10 miles and it wasn’t super exciting. Our primary motivation was getting the shuttle into Stehekin, a tiny lakeside town only accessible by ferry, plane, or foot! When we got to the shuttle pickup station in North Cascades National Park, Powerhouse, Wiki, Possum, and Tall Boy were waiting. We were joined by Roadrunner and soon a blue cheese bus that we are calling Gorgonzola (blue cheese bus, get it?) rolled up and took us into town in time for dinner! We spent the evening chatting with the tramily about movies and who knows what else and felt like we got adopted into their group for the night. By 9pm, we had hiked our way to the group campsite and sweating from the still hot evening, we climbed into our tent for a sticky night.

Day 54, 8/15/23: Travel day from Stehekin to Mazama

0 miles hiked

Today was a whirlwind of unexpected events. Smoke filled the air and we geared ourselves up for potential wildfire danger. Energy started high—we ate breakfast, Lotus enjoyed some fresh non-instant coffee (what a luxury), and we started laundry and shower chores along with the tramily. We were buzzing with excitement over getting pastries at the bakery before taking the next few days hiking to Canada. Unfortunately, Wiki showed up and let us know that the trail from Stehekin (where we were) to the next pass was closed due to a new fire burning right next to the PCT. Then, a ranger came by to talk to all of us about the trail closure and informed us we needed to take the ferry out from Stehekin and make other arrangements to bypass the fire. When pressed, he said that he could not recommend hiking further north and that he believed more of the trail would likely close. This news was devastating for many and left a lot of gray area and uncertainty for everyone to deal with. Would the trail be closed all the way to the border or could we bypass the fire closure and get back on trail north of it? Of course the ranger couldn’t recommend hiking to the border, right? We all had to weigh the safety concerns, uncertainty, the fear of fire, the logistics of how to  get back to trail, the smoke, and the changes of plans. The majority of hikers decided not to try for the border. After painstaking deliberation, we, along with 5 others, chose to get a ride to Harts Pass, the first pass open after the fire closures, and hike north to the border. We’d skip about 50 trail miles and hike the last 30 miles quickly to Canada in a day or so, hoping the trail would stay open. 

When we got off the ferry, an employee working at the marina asked a friend to drive us the hour and a half to Mazama. We gladly paid her friend to take us and we reached the Lion’s Den hiker hostel by 6:30pm. We were incredibly overwhelmed by the decision-making process and how quickly we went from one plan to another. 

We were looking forward to a few days to move more slowly, wind down, and process the end of a big accomplishment, but we were suddenly thrust to the end of our experience instead. It was quite abrupt but the reality is that you have to respect fire closures. It is what it is and we are grateful that the border wasn’t closed at least. We went to sleep emotionally exhausted while ash drifted like snowflakes on the breeze.

Day 55, 8/16/23: Hart’s Pass

24.6 miles, 5,100ft of elevation gain

We woke up early, but unfortunately, there was only one car to shuttle hikers up to the pass and we couldn’t fit into the first group. So we spent the morning drinking tea, lounging in a hammock, and anxiously awaiting the return of the car. Around 10:45am, we finally reached Hart’s Pass and started hiking toward the border. The first part was all uphill and the air was incredibly thick with smoke. We were a bit grumpy, but also very relieved that we made it to the trail before any potential further closures. A couple of miles in, we ran into Purple Thunder, a hiker we met back in Northern California! We followed him and a couple of other hikers for a mile or so before we picked up the pace. With views completely obscured by the smoke and feeling a little anxious to get to our campsite before dark, we didn’t really stop hiking all day. In the afternoon, we looked down and saw a hiker walking along a switchback with a green trombone sticking up out of their pack. We caught up to Slider! We hadn’t seen her since White Pass and didn’t expect to catch up again because she is such a fast hiker. What a pleasant surprise to see her again. 

Water was fairly scarce in this section and filling up our bottles took an inordinate amount of patience as we watched water drops slowly trickle into our Smartwater bottles. The second half of the day included a fairly long climb until we got to the top of a pass that would have had beautiful views if we could have seen anything. We ended at a campsite next to a lake and reminisced about our summer on the PCT. Was this really our last night on trail?

Day 56, 8/17/23: CANADA!

6 PCT miles and 8 non-PCT miles, 1,600ft of elevation gain

Both wanting some quiet time at the monument and less time in the smoke-filled wilderness, we woke up earlier than usual so that we could make it to the border around 9am. Luckily, the smoke cleared a lot overnight, which at least gave us a pretty view of the lake we camped at. The trail to the border was all downhill, so we moved quickly along the 6 miles, giddy with excitement. About midway there, we saw Slider hiking toward us. She, as usual, got up earlier than we did – even on a day we got up so early for us! She, like many others, did not have a permit to hike into Canada, so she already celebrated at the border and was hiking back the 30 miles to Hart’s Pass where we had started yesterday. 

As we cruised along, Kevin saw a clear cut in the trees marking the Canadian and American border and knew it meant the monument was coming soon. A hiker in front of us had his camera out to film getting to the end, so we walked behind him slowly as he narrated his excitement of reaching the monument that would end his thru-hike. When we all got there, he hugged us and his excitement was contagious. We had never met him before, but sharing an experience like this brings people together very quickly. Another man was there who we identified quickly as not a current thru-hiker. He had previously hiked the PCT with his wife who had to quit midway through and was there at the monument with champagne and snacks waiting for her to finish her hike this year! Within 30 minutes, we heard another big group and we saw Sherpa, Lost, Griddy, and a few other hikers we had leapfrogged with for the last week or so make their way into the clearing. For the next hour, we shared booze, stories, and lots of laughs. Griddy, a hiker who was named after his son’s favorite football player’s “Griddy” dance, convinced us all to make a Griddy dance video to send to his son. Ending the PCT in this way aligned with how we spent our time on trail—mainly on our own, doing our own thing, but surrounded by community all the while. Neither of us thru-hike to be with people all of the time. Making friends is wonderful and spending time in big groups is often a draw from many hikers. For us, it is meeting incredible people who share a love for hiking and respecting that we are all on our own journeys at the same time.

It was hard to decide to leave the monument where so many people were still celebrating. But in this vein, we knew it was time for us to go. We crossed the border into Canada and hiked the next 8 miles to Manning State Park in a state of disbelief and joy. It was super hot and half of the hike was uphill, but it didn’t phase us too much. We were too happy to have made it despite the fire closure! As usual, we knew we were close to “civilization” when we started to see day hikers on the trail. We rolled up to Manning State Park and immediately plopped at an outdoor table at a restaurant, ordered a massive meal, and cheersed our accomplishment. Still thru-hikers, we bought a bunch of food at the convenience store, put them in our packs, and started walking toward a campsite that we reserved. It was way further away than expected, but we got a hitch to help us part of the way. We spent the next two days at a fancy car camping site with our tiny thru-hiking tent, walking around Manning Park, watching movies from a phone strung up in our tent, and trying to process what we had just done. What a summer!

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