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PCT Section J, Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

My hiking partner “Big Boots” and I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail about 65-70 miles from Stevens Pass on US 2 to Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 in Washington.

I had heard from PCT thru hikers that this was one of the best sections of the Mexico-Canada long trail. We were not at all disappointed.

The wildflower hike from Stevens Pass south on day 1 was our first treat, along with a nice campsite at Deception Lakes.

Cathedral Pass

As we ascended to our day 2 camp at Cathedral Pass, the views kept getting better.

Camping at Cathedral Pass offers 360 degree views including the peaks of the Enchantments

The “dangerous creek crossing” of the Cle Elum River was low enough at 11:00 am to rock-hop the first channels and wade the final one in knee-deep fast water. On the morning of day 3 we had excellent views of Mt. Daniel and Mt. Hinman from the trail near the turnoff for Peggy’s Pond.

It was a heat wave and this was the hottest day. We swam in the Waptus River and skipped Escondido Pass. Hikers were bailing out left and right because of the heat (and heat exhaustion). We heard of four in one day, two of whom had to be helped back to the road.

We found the campsite on Waptus Pass for night 3. We hiked on day 4 past Pete Lake, Lanham Meadows, Delate Creek falls and footbridge, to camp at Spectacle Lake.

Spectacle Lake

Spectacle Lake camp with a red sunset due to weather and wildfire haze moving in

Is it spectacular? Hiking uphill through the burn on a hot day certainly wasn’t. Delate Falls were nice. Spectacle Lake has a great marketing name that attracts crowds, who can be there in a day from the Pete Lake trailhead.

The lake is different, not the usual alpine lake ringed with trees and brush. It’s a big lake, bifurcated by a peninsula where most people camp.

Spectacle Lake is very popular, full on weekends, and nice to swim in. Our one night of rain happened there. We camped 2 nights on the tip of the peninsula, explored the lakeshore and relaxed.

Day 6 we hiked across Chikamin Peak to Ridge Lake and Gravel Lake. Ridge Lake is nice swimming.

Kendall Katwalk

Kendall Katwalk

Day 7 we hiked the horse-friendly, hiker-endless switchbacks from Kendall Katwalk to the PCT North trailhead at Snoqualmie Pass.

We met several nobo thrus on that day. We enjoyed conversations with most of them. Though we didn’t hike from Mexico to Canada ourselves, at least we can be cool by association.

Our rides weren’t there yet, so we walked over to Summit Inn for hot food and beer.

Overall we tried to keep our days to 10 miles plus 4,000 feet, or the equivalent thereof. For PCT trailhead transportation, our spouses dropped us off at Stevens Pass and met us at Snoqualmie Pass.

We carried a Spot X and left instructions for how to pick us up at various bail-out points (Hyas, Waptus, Pete), but that wasn’t necessary for us. We hiked the section, sweated the climbs in the heat, and had a terrific time!

Ancient Lakes from Quincy Lakes Trailhead

An east-central Washington hike where trail conditions allow very early season visits (and the heat discourages anything later).

March and April are a good time to visit Ancient Lake. The vegetation is green, flowers are in bloom and the air is cool. Plus the waterfalls are running strong, making for good photos. In very early spring, water also spills over the cliffs overlooking the lake. By April, they are dry.

Falls feeding Ancient Lake

Two main trailheads access Ancient Lake. The upper trailhead approaches from Quincy Lakes to the east. You’ll pass H Lake, Judith Pool, two waterfalls, and some other potholes. The potholes and Ancient Lake are collectively are known as Ancient Lakes. It’s a short, pretty walk, with a little ascending on the way back.

Reeds above Judith Pool

The other trailhead approaches from the west and reaches Ancient Lake by an even shorter, flatter trail.

We encountered no rattlesnakes, but they are known to live here.

Sage Hills & Horse Lake Mountain

This lowland wildflower garden is a Mecca for those seeking early season dry hikes!

Enchantment Wilderness peaks view from the trail, with balsam and lupine

There are multiple trailheads in Wenatchee, Washington, to access this preserve, but the highest and largest parking area is the Horse Lake Trailhead on Horselake Road. Trail conditions are superb.

An old barn and farm equipment are fun to explore and photograph

The trails are a mix of easy paths and old roads. Both are popular with hikers and mountain bikes. The paths tend to meander through the flowers and sagebrush. If your goal is the top of Horse Lake Mountain (“Twin Peaks” locally) the roads are actually a little steeper and more direct.

Balsam, phlox, lupine, all common here

These trails are closed through the winter and open around April 1. By that time the flowers are starting to bloom and continue to be showy through at least mid May. The days turn very warm by June.

I ran into trails maven and guidebook author Craig Romano at a trail junction!

The trail was busy for a weekday but it’s a big trail system and there’s plenty of room for everybody. Everyone I met was friendly, including the bikers.

There is no source of potable water along the trails. I encountered no rattlesnakes, but they are known to reside here.

North Cascades: Tricouni, Junction, Park Creek Pass, Stehekin

Beautiful alpine scenery!! And easy hiking. The trail was well maintained within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and as far as Tricouni Camp. All water crossings as far as Thunder Basin Camp were bridges or easy rock hops.

Our first night’s camp was Tricouni Camp, a 2-site campground roughed out of the woods. Our site had a tent spot overlooking the river.

Day 2. We stopped by Junction Camp, a scenic 3-site camp exposed to the west.

Looking west from our snack break at Junction Camp we had close-up views of Tricouni Peak, Klawatti Peak and glacier, south toward Forbidden Peak, with a glimpse of Primus Peak behind Tricouni.

The Skagit Queen Mine ruins are an interesting stop. For more on the mine’s history, visit the NPS museum at Marblemount if it’s open.
Thunder Basin Hiker Camp is roughed out of krummholz and stunted spruce on the bank of the now narrow Thunder Creek, with fantastic views of Buckner Mountain and what’s left of the Thunder Glacier.
Views to the west were Buckner and Old Horseshoe. To our east were the peaks of 9087’ Mt. Logan and the ridge of V Peak and Peak 8080. Numerous waterfalls tumble hundreds of feet down that alpine bowl into Thunder Creek.
Day 3. There was lingering snow at Park Creek Pass, but a trail circumvents it to the east.
Looking north, back at the pass from the south side of the pass, 9111’ Buckner rises to the left of the pass. Its ridge continues south to the dominating face of 8120’ Booker Mountain.

We met a solo nobo headed into the far north part of the park. He was the ninth and last backpacker we met on the trail before we reached the Stehekin Valley Road.

The 4000’ descent from the pass to the road is broken up into short steep drops separated by longer gentle descending trail sections. At first, the trail goes mostly through brushy open sun-exposed terrain. Just before Five Mile Camp the trail goes back into trees.

The trail passes through the 2015 Goode Fire burn with 616 acres of standing dead spruce and fireweed. From Five Mile Camp south to the old road, the trail was once again well maintained and free of logs and heavy brush.

At around 3400’ the trail crosses Park Creek. A long, flattened log spans the rushing rapids below. Raspberry bushes were ripe on the right bank.

Park Creek Camp, at the Stehekin Valley Road, was our last night’s camp. We took the last open campsite.

Day 4.  The only way to get from Bridge Creek to High Bridge now  is via the PCT on the “Old Wagon Trail” route. In the interest of time we left the PCT at a cutoff trail at 2000’ and took the gravel road instead of following the PCT up to Coon Lake. The road was faster for us, but Coon Lake would be more scenic if we’d had time.

And we did have time, as it turned out. It was wonderfully cool so early and we were hiking much faster than our usual pace, without trying. We got to High Bridge, the bus stop, at 7:45 am.

In Stehekin we hung out on the deck at an umbrella table. The store, lodge and restaurant were open. The ranger station was closed but rangers had a table set up across from the ferry dock.

We caught an earlier ferry by 3 hours and texted our Chelan ride via satellite. That got my Bellevue-based hiking partner fed and back home at a more reasonable hour, modest consolation for the alpine start that morning.

Overall it was a nice trip. It was hot but the skies were mostly clear. The highlight of the trip is from Junction Camp to just south of Park Creek Pass, the middle of the hike.

Tips for social distancing and the outdoors

Getting some fresh air and exercise is a good way to keep yourself healthy—physically and mentally. But we all need to do so responsibly. If you choose to head outdoors, consider possible effects on vulnerable individuals as well as our healthcare system, taking steps to minimize risk. Make sure to continue practicing social distancing and proper hygiene even while enjoying the outdoors.

Read more at Conservation Northwest’s blog…

Suggestions for preventing the transmission of coronavirus while spending time in nature

Washington’s Trails of Association

Puget Sound is a crowded region and the mountain trails of Washington are equally busy. That’s why our trails are social. Hiking is an opportunity to make acquaintances.

(Not) Washington Trails Association

Associate yourself with some terrific strangers on a Washington trail. Trip reports with photos show you where to hike in Washington.

  • Share kindnesses on the Kendall Katwalk.
  • Make friends among the sword ferns of Foss River.
  • Make acquaintances at Annette Lake.
  • Find a new pal on Pilchuck. Look out!

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