Pacific Crest Trail
Section J
Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass
August 18-22, 2006
Day One: Friday August 18 2006
Lisa and the rest of my family dropped me off at Stevens Pass and I was on the trail at 8:40 am.
Much of today was review, as separate day hikes earlier in the summer had covered most of the Pacific Crest Trail from Stevens Pass through Hope Lake.
A quick couple miles up to the top of the ski area, then a swoop under the power lines and I took a break at Lake Susan Jane where I watched trout jump and cruise. Then it was up to Lake Josephine and over to the ridge past Lake Swimming Deer and down to Mig and Hope Lakes.
There I met a Boy Scout troop who mentioned that a segment of the Pacific Coast Trail was temporarily closed.
My day hikes this summer have generally been around ten miles long, so (surprise!) when my Pacific Crest Trail legs were longer than ten miles I could really tell when I hit the ten-mile mark.
I continued upwards and onwards, past Trap Lake and, getting tired legs, over Trap Pass and down to Glacier Lake.
I camped at Glacier Lake after 14.8 miles and 3500 cumulative vertical feet gained.
Day Two: Saturday August 19 2006
I took it easy Saturday morning, making myself a hot breakfast (re-hydrated ham and eggs was a really scrumptious meal!) and a cup of coffee, then leisurely breaking camp.
Woe unto me, though, because I had not studied today's route closely enough. A mile into the hike was an east-facing incline up to Piper Pass, and my civilized morning routine meant that I wasn't climbing until the sun was shining directly on me.
It was dead calm and sunny, and hiking up an exposed incline in those conditions is sort of a worst-case scenario for me. So I took lots of rest breaks and drank lots of water and enjoyed the great views of Surprise Gap and Glacier and Surprise Lakes until I hit the pass and could see Mount Daniel and the enormous Lynch glacier.
An easy hike down to Deception Lakes and a lengthy level traverse over to Deception Pass took a few hours.
Then a couple more upsy-downsy miles (including the infamous "treacherous crossing" of a Mount Daniel drainage stream, which was pretty, I guess, but unremarkable in the danger dept.) to a campsite two miles north of Cathedral Pass, at a junction of two streams. I had sort of pencilled in Deep Lake for tonight, but the morning incline and the day's heat and stillness helped persuade me to stop after only around ten miles.
(Although the stream junction was flowing in the evening, in the morning all the water was underground and if I'd had to water up in the morning I would have needed to traipse upstream a ways to find a place where the water was on the surface.)
In general, due to the warm summer and lateness of my hike, most "seasonal" streams were dry and a few plain old streams didn't have much water either.
So after 9.6 miles and 1900 cumulative vertical feet gained, I camped just before Cathedral Pass.
Day Three: Sunday August 20 2006
Overall, today was detour day. Escondido Ridge was closed due to some trail maintenance or something. But more about that later...
I knew that I had an early ascent over Cathedral Pass so the previous night I had packed as much as I could and drawn water for today's hike. I broke camp quickly and grabbed a Clif bar for breakfast, and was on the trail by 7:10.
Cathedral Rock is a magnificent mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail goes right past its granite base.
Then down to Deep Lake; and past Deep Lake a few miles was the detour. Instead of hiking over Escondido Ridge and through Delate Meadows, the detour took trail 1310A down Spinola Creek past the outlet of Waptus Lake.
Then an excruciating climb up through the heat of the day (on a trail designed mainly for horses, so it was steep!) to Waptus Pass and finally down another (steep!) horse trail to Pete's Lake.
It turns out that the detour shaved four or so miles and 1400 vertical feet from the hike. Of course, the Pacific Crest Trail was designed for great views, and the detour mainly went through boring forests and in large part over icky pack trails.
The detour was my least favorite part of the hike, partly because of the inherent inferiority of the route (both in terms of views and in terms of physical trail conditions) and because I was using Schaffer/Selter's PCT guide book for my maps, and they had no data on the detour; I underestimated the length of the detour by a couple miles and was bonking by the time I got to camp after eleven hours of hiking.
I camped at Pete's Lake next to a pile of horse manure and some nearby horse campers after a 16.5 mile, 2600 cumulative foot day.
I did have the pleasure of meeting some other Stevens-to-Snoqualmie hikers and over their tequila and kahlua and my Scotch whisky we were able to forget our sorrows and look forward to hitting the real PCT on Monday.
Day Four: Monday August 21 2006
Monday I luxuriated in a well-paced, relaxing morning. I made a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs, along with a cup of coffee, before breaking camp. I didn't rush and was on the trail before 9:00.
It was a couple miles to rejoin the Pacific Crest Trail, and soon I started the two thousand foot ascent past Spectacle Lake up into the Three Queens.
Shortly after passing Spectacle Lake the views of the lake with its startlingly granite backdrop opened up, and each set of switchbacks offered a new perspective.
The alpine terrain at the pass was amazing, with the fragility of the heather juxtaposed against the permanence of the granite.
From there it was a short mile, if that, down to the Park Lakes basin; I set up camp near the tarn close to the trail in mid-afternoon for a leisurely evening after hiking 9.2 miles and gaining a cumulative 2500 vertical feet.
Day Five: Tuesday August 22 2006
I broke camp early (by 7:20) and watered up, since the first climb was up a talus slope in morning sunshine.
Climbing up towards Chikamin Pass, I saw a lovely morning over the Park Lakes basin. Popping over the top of the pass I saw the trail for miles ahead under Chikamin Ridge, and around the other side of the valley past Huckleberry Ridge and past Alaska Mountain.
I was really glad to have left early, because the whole stretch under Chikamn Ridge is on a southwest-facing talus slope with no sun protection, and when I hiked the trail it was still in shade. Whew!
It was a fantastic stretch though; today I saw around thirty marmots and heard plenty more. Craning my head back to look at the peaks of Chikamin Ridge was awe-inspiring, and staring across the valley at mountains I'd traverse later was incredible as well.
As I approached Needle Sight Gap I could see Mount Rainier rising ghostily from the south. At Needle Sight Gap I could see Glacier Peak to the north.
A quick few steps down and I was at Huckleberry Saddle. This blueberry-covered pass was a wonderful place for a break and a little grazing.
Then it was down to a saddle above Joe Lake, and more upwards just under the peak of Alaska Mountain to more great views of the Gold Creek valley.
Curving around the side of Alaska Mountain to overlook Alaska Lake and then it was a quick shot over to Ridge Lake (and overlooking Gravel Lake) for another (dare I say well-earned) rest break.
I'd been wavering all day on whether to finish up the Stevens-to-Snoqualmie trek with a couple easy days (Park Lakes to Gravel Lake, then Gravel Lake down to Snoqualmie Pass) or to push on out in one day (from Park Lakes all the way to the pass). On the one hand, leisurely days with relaxing in the afternoon and time for coffee in the morning are a wonderful way to hike in the mountains. On the other hand, I was wondering what a sixth layer of grime would do to the five layers already encrusting me. And I was craving a greasy hamburger pretty badly.
Early in the morning I decided that if I arrived at Ridge Lake any later than 2:00 I definitely wouldn't push on out. I don't like to hike in a rush. But if I arrived by 2:00 I'd entertain the notion of hiking out on Tuesday.
As luck would have it I got to the lake about 1:45. And reflecting on my decision, I couldn't help but realize that I'd been on the leg between I-90 and the Kendall Katwalk six times on earlier day hikes. Since the last five miles were review I decided to push on out.
So up the meadow towards the Katwalk I went. More of that inimitable alpine terrain.
And of course the Kendall Katwalk itself is always worth stopping for a gaze. A last look at the Chikamin Ridge and a first look over at Red Mountain, and I figured I'd roll the dice and see whether I got cell phone coverage.
Much to my surprise I got two bars and Lisa answered and said she could get up to the pass in the three hours I estimated it would take me to get there. My stomach started grumbling in anticipation of something greasy and meaty and cheesy and cholesteroly.
The final miles past Red Mountain and Lundin Peak and Snoqualmie Mountain and Guye Peak went slowly, especially the last three miles when you only lose 800 feet and can hear the I-90 traffic rumbling seemingly a hundred yards away. But it still takes step by step, step by step, as the trail seems to grow in front of you.
But finally I reached the trailhead to see my kids playing with Lisa watching them.
Plugging their noses, my family invited me into the car and Lisa said that she'd already ordered a greasy cheeseburger for me at the Family Pancake House just under the freeway. Ah, love!
Tuesday was a 15.4-mile day with 2600 cumulative vertical feet gained. (And since the final five-mile stretch was dropping down to the pass there was 4600 cumulative vertical feet lost.)
Overall surprises:
Even though I was hiking solo, this section of the Pacific Crest Trail was a way more social experience than I was anticipating. I was expecting (and sort of hoping, before the trip) that it would be mile after mile of nothing but me and the mountains and the critters, with isolated campsites to just sit and "be."
There's a peace of mind one can reach when hiking when one forgets "time" and is filled with "place." I was hoping to find this, but it didn't quite turn out to be the case.
It turns out that I crossed paths with a lot of people; heading the other way we'd usually stop and chat for a few minutes, and there were a lot of people heading my way who'd leapfrog and we'd end up at the same campground.
That was surprising, and it was kind of satisfying in its own way. After you've shared liquor with new friends for a few nights around the old Whisperlite it's a whole nuther kind of satisfaction.
It's not better or, necessarily, worse than a solitary "lose oneself" hike (where you discover experientially that the root of "alone" is "all one" as you are "all one" with nature).
It was just good in a different (and unexpected) way.
Things I'd change:
I'd take a lighter backpack. I started day one with a pack barely over fifty pounds. This was the heaviest pack of anyone I spoke with on trail. I took too much food. I had a bear canister. My two-man tent was extra weight. I still have to figure out what else weighed too much.
I'd use a longer schedule. My two ten-mile days I had the luxury to make a hot breakfast and coffee. It felt civilized. The mornings before my last two fifteen-mile days were rushed and cold breakfast was eaten on the trail. This felt less civilized. I think I would have liked a longer schedule with shorter days. At my pace I was unable to consider side day trips, and one or two days devoted to downtime or day trips would have been fun.
Total about 13000 cumulative feet gained over around 65 miles.
Up Stevens Pass
Power Lines
Lake Susan Jane Rest Stop
Past Hope Lake
Trap Lake
Peeking Back
Towards Glacier Lake
Glacier Lake
Glimpse of Surprise Gap
Looking at Glacier Lake
Glacier Peak
Mt. Daniel From Piper Pass
Deception Lakes
Trudging Towards Deception Pass
Deception Creek Valley
Cathedral Rock
Deep Lake
Temporary Closure
Pete’s Lake
Oh For Pete’s Lake
Spectacle Lake
Again Spectacle Lake
Alpine Terrain
Alpine Terrain
First Glimpse of Chikamin
Chikamin Ridge Trail
Park Lakes Basin Sunset
Towards Chikamin Pass
Park Lakes Basin Morning
Layers of Mountains
Atop Chikamin Pass
Chikamin Ridge
Chikamin Ridge
Back to Chikamin Pass
Young Marmot
Towards Needle Sight Gap
Huckleberry Saddle
Glacier Peak in Distance
At Huckleberry Saddle
Back to Chikamin Pass
Mt. Rainier
Joe Lake
Again Joe Lake
Gold Creek Valley
Alaska Lake
Ridge Lake
Alpine Terrain
Kendall Katwalk
Red Mountain
Ready For a Greasy Burger