Washington PCT Section L: Days 1-3

Hello again! Long time, no see. Sorry for the long absence; when we returned from our travels, Taylor and I dove headfirst into finding an apartment, securing jobs and getting re-settled into everyday life. The last few months have been hectic, as usual, but have brought us great joy as we learn how to cohabitate together and continue merging our lives. Unfortunately, Taylor suffered a severe knee injury last month, resulting in upcoming surgery and a long break from most outdoor activities (except biking, that girl bikes like crazy!). Please enjoy the series of posts that will chronicle my PCT adventure this year, and I hope to be more consistent with posts and updates for the rest of the year  🙂

A beautiful August in the PNW brought with it our plans to backpack over 70 miles towards the Great White North. Gracie and Nikki would continue into BC and spend a week in Canada, while I would diverge west before the border, making a giant loop on the PCT’s little cousin, the PNT, and make my way back to Highway 20 and civilization.

After completing three long distance treks last year (Section K, Wonderland Trail, 3 Passes in Nepal), I was feeling fairly confident in my backpacking setup, skills and gear. I was ecstatic to unplug, unwind and spend a week out in the wilderness with some of my best friends. Although we were all very bummed that Taylor couldn’t make it with us as planned, knowing I had my inReach with me and could contact her made it a little better!

 

Day 1: Rainy Pass Trailhead to Snowy Lakes-10.8 miles

The alarm buzzed at 5:30am, an epic backpacking trip usually the only thing that can make me jump out of bed that early in the morning. I gathered my things and said a sad goodbye to Taylor; due to a nasty ACL tear in our rec-league basketball game, the trip we had been planning together for over a year was no longer in the cards for her. I promised to check in on my InReach with her, and then we were off.

My mom greeted us with homemade muffins and hardboiled eggs for breakfast, and even brought our adorable little Maltiepoo, Lucy, along for the ride! Nervous energy filled the car as we chatted and planned for the week ahead: Do we need a permit? Should we stop and get snacks? Did I forget anything? Many questions were asked and answered as we made our way deep into the mountains. After almost 3 hours in the car, we arrived at the trailhead at 10am, pretty late for what I knew was an exposed hike.

Yes, the girl who swears she would never repeat a hike in Washington (we have too many good ones and not enough time) was repeating a hike! Snowy Lakes had been only my 2nd backpack all the way back in 2016, and had almost singlehandedly ignited my immense passion for the hobby. I was in awe of the giant glacial valleys carved out of stone, the image of the sun setting behind the giants of the north Cascades, with oranges and reds dancing over the alpine lake, something that changed my life for good. I was excited to return to this magical location, and couldn’t wait to show my friends!

After a brief goodbye and a frantic search for sunglasses, we started off on the trail, cruising through easy, shady forest as we made our way to the valley.

Lucy, the star of the show (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

Starting out fresh and clean from the Rainy Pass Trailhead

From what I remembered, I knew this valley had epic views once the trees cleared, and my memory proved to be accurate. The trees became sparse, and we got our first few glimpses of the auburn-tinted landscape, with views up to Cutthroat Pass beyond, and mountain ranges behind.

Ascending up to our first pass

Top of Cutthroat Pass

Top of Cutthroat Pass

 

We took a lunch break at the top of the pass, hardly containing our smiles with the 360 degree views.

Nikki’s love for Cheez-Its is well-documented

First PCT sign

After lunch, it was time to complete the majority of our miles for the day. Heading around the bend, we began hugging a precipitous ridge, and for the next 4 miles, we made our way toward the lakes, baking in the hot, unrelenting sun.

Heading into the valley and away from the day hike crowds

One of my favorite glacial valleys

Finally, after a brief brush with heat exhaustion, we pulled off the PCT and made the steep, 0.8 mile scramble up to the lakes. I knew the girls’ patience was wearing thin with me and my detour plan, but I just knew once we got to the lakes that they would agree that it was worth it.

Reveling in our arrival at Snowy Lakes

Nikki and I swimming in the chilly water (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

Relaxing in my new ultralight tent for the first time

Epic night, epic campsite

View of Lower Snowy Lake as the sun sets

Sunset over Upper Snowy Lake

Sun setting over Nikki’s tent and the North Cascades

We enjoyed a fun evening cleaning off in the lake, taking pictures while the sun set over the mountains, and reveling in the beauty of the area. We also enjoyed witnessing Nikki display her marketing skills, as she pawned off a full fuel canister to our neighbors so she wouldn’t have to carry it for the next week.

It was wonderful to be back and to make some new memories in a place that had inspired so much for me.

Day 2: Snowy Lakes to Methow River-8.8 miles

The next morning, we awoke a little sore, our bodies jolted by the sudden and demanding activity we had put them through the day before. But we were all eager to get back on the trail, so we set out around 8:30 to continue our journey north.

Heading back down to Lower Snowy Lake the next morning

We started off the day with slight, exposed elevation gain until we reached the top of Methow Pass. After a brief dance party at the top, which may or may not have been documented, we started back down through old growth forest along the valley floor, brief glimpses of giant rock faces coming in and out of view.

Crossing the valley floor

The trail was quiet and easy as we made our way to our lunch spot, a large campsite situated right by the river. We savored our lunch and dipped our sore feet in the icy water, the numbness replacing aches and pains.

Big trees above our lunch spot

Lunch in the river (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

After our leisurely meal, we continued on, the forest eventually giving way to hot, dusty meadows filled with wildflowers and buzzing bees, busy with their afternoon tasks.

The afternoon brought hot, dusty, wildflower-filled meadows

 

Continuing along the ridge as we approach our campsite

Significant old wildfire further up the valley

For some reason I was starving for most of this trip-making my dehydrated meal was always a part of the day that I looked forward to! (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

We made it to camp in the early afternoon, hot, dusty and tired.  After setting up camp, we took snacks down to the river and put our feet in yet again, the cold water an antidote to overuse. That night, all of us learned a valuable lesson with our camp food-don’t make too much, because you’ll either have to carry it or gag your way through it!

Group stretching sessions are necessary as we enter this period of old age

Day 3: Methow River to Spring Creek camp-6.5 miles

Our alarms went off very early on Day 3, the prospect of 3,000 feet of switchbacks and another hot day scaring us into leaving in the early morning hours. We started out of camp at 6:30, light already hitting the other side of the valley and slowly make its way towards us. We followed the creek through thick brush, expecting to see a bear eating berries at any point. Pika calls echoed as we headed towards our switchbacks.

Bridge over the Methow right after our campsite

 

 

No one tells you how brushy the trail is-hiker memory is selective

 

Thank goodness for starting early and missing the sunshine

 

Happiness=outside (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

 

Making our way up the switchbacks

More switchbacks

We made it to the top of the pass at 10am, surprising a group of backpackers at the top with our (wonderful) rendition of 500 Miles. All of us were shocked at how quickly and easily we had completed this section, knowing we only had a couple of miles to go until our planned campsite and reveling in the fact that we had rocked what was supposed to be the hardest part of our trip! We took a leisurely hour-long snack break at the top, enjoying the epic views.

The top of Granite Pass: elevation ~6882 feet

Looking back on our route to the top

“Let’s take a picture pretending to push Kendall off the cliff to send to her mom!” (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

Thriving at the top of the pass (Photo cred: Nikki’s phone)

After our snack break, we set out down the other side of the pass, taking a slower pace since we didn’t have many miles to do before camp. We immediately noted how much drier it was on this side, and it was already getting hot during mid-morning.

A bit drier on the other side of the pass

Exposed ridges that Gracie and I suffered through

Around noon, we spotted our campsite down by a spring, the only water source for miles. The campsite was surrounded by a beautiful meadow, and provided us with hours of leisure time, albeit hot and buggy. We set up camp, relaxed, napped, stretched and just hung out, enjoying a long, lazy afternoon. We even had goat friends visit us to get water!

Image may contain: 1 person, tree, outdoor and nature

“There are horned animals at the spring!!”-Nikki, upon seeing domesticated goats (Photo cred: Gracie’s phone)

The spring of life

We headed to bed as the sun went down, eager to continue on the trail and see what was around the next bend.

Stay tuned for Days 4-5 on a future post!

2 Comments

  1. Kendall, What an amazing adventure on the PCT for the first 3 days. Loved the descriptions and photos. The goats at the end with the spring was an awesome surprise, I’m sure. Always enjoy reading this. -Troy

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