Pacific Northwest Trail Thru-Hike 2017 Journal
I hiked with my son, Josh, along the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail from July 13 to September 15, 2017 walking from the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park to the westernmost point in the lower 48 states at Cape Alava on the Washington coast of the Pacific ocean. This took 57 days plus a 10 day break in Idaho to do some volunteer work.
This journal is composed from my daily writings and supplemented with more pictures and thoughts.
You can click any picture to view a larger version of it, if you want.
To get an idea of where we were each day, you might open my Trail Map page.
I would be happy to answer questions you may have about our trip, or planning your trek. Your adventure will be different from ours, but our experience may help you enjoy yours more.
Pacific Northwest Trail hike - Day 01 to 14 - Glacier to Coeur d'Alene
Pacific Northwest Trail hike - Day 15 to 30 - Coeur d'Alene to Oroville
Pacific Northwest Trail hike - Day 31 to 44 - Oroville to Burlington
Pacific Northwest Trail hike - Day 45 to 57 - Burlington to Cape Alava
I walked 21480 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 10 miles today.
Tomorrow, we will walk on towards those high mountains way out there, but our goal for today is a short rest and resupply.
We hiked down the mountain side and along a busy paved road with a wide shoulder into Oroville. Got a room at the Camaray hotel, showers, laundry, lunch, and then food for our week through the Pasayten Wilderness to Ross Lake. The food is soooo heavy! I got new socks since all mine had worn through, and I pick up my shoes at the post office in the morning to break them in on yet another long road walk.
The Camaray is a great hotel with a hiker box, wifi, lobby pc, pool, laundry, trail registry, and nice staff.
As we were sitting in the shade of an awning on a mexican restaurant before checking in to the hotel, we saw our trail friend, Thumbalina (Analeise), just leaving to continue her journey. Her friend was giving her a ride to the next trailhead. We'll probably see her again somewhere out on the trail.
We heard of another hiker behind us, named Gerry, and hoped he might find us tonight but that didn't happen. I sent him a text, but have heard no reply. Maybe we'll see him in the days to come. (We never did see or hear any more about Gerry)
Looking in the trail registry at the Camaray hotel, it appears there are a handful of hikers a week or less ahead of us. It's always a hope to run into new people.
This area is more like Arizona than the Pacific Northwest. I knew eastern Washington was arid, but we're only 4 miles from Canada so I wasn't expecting quite so much dust, brush, and tan color. The valley itself here is full of apple and pear orchards, irrigated with water pumped from the river, so it's green and cooler.
I walked 40280 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 17 miles today.
Before our hike started, we had some key chores to attend to. I went to the Oroville post office to pick up my shoes, but Wal-Mart sent them via FedEx so the post office sent them back. So, a 2 mile round trip walk to the country store and I've got a cheap pair that will hopefully last 250 miles at least.
To backpack through the Northern Cascades National Park, we are supposed to have a permit, so Josh spent a lot of time and a handful of phone calls trying to get our magic 5-digit permit number. In the end, they have all our info but did not get back to Josh with the code number. Oh well, we might be able to contact them in 155 miles to straighten it out.
For the great eclipse of 2017 we noticed our shadows got a little blurry on the pavement. Then it just got hot again. We both feel this may have been the hottest hike of our trip and we both got a little burned. We just hiked mile after mile through the desert, passing a dam on the river, a few camping areas, and some deer.
The road followed the Similkameen River in a long northwest arch, coming within a mile of Canada, but it was still desert. In the river, we saw many people prospecting for gold with dredges. We stopped for lunch at a BLM campground by the river and talked a bit with a lady prospector there. It might be a fun way to spend a hot day - sitting in the water, using a machine to suck up gravel and sort out flakes of gold. At least it would be cooler than the road.
Seventeen miles of very hot paved road got us to Palmer Lake campground. There are car campers all around. We are sleeping out with no tent again, pretty certain there will be no rain and few bugs.
At about 10pm, a car drove in and set up camp right by us. It took him almost 30 minutes of idling car with headlights shining in our tent and him pounding stakes into the ground and talking.
I tend to worry about upcoming parts of the hike. Josh just forges ahead. For example, we have a huge climb tomorrow after we walk 13 miles. I'm concerned about the heat and water. But, it all tends to work out.
I walked 41300 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 18 miles today.
We were quiet as mice at 5:30am when we got up and hit the road, letting our late night neighbor sleep peacefully - grrr.
Today, the PNT route had us go right through 4 tiny bits of private property far away from civilization, but not far enough. Two atvs stopped by Josh after we had passed through the last gated area and a guy talked to him. I was farther up the hill and wasn't about to walk way back down to see what was up. I waited for Josh to catch up to me after his conversation. The rancher (I guess) was upset that a lot of people had been going through his land and leaving garbage. But we were on public land so he just vented his frustration. Josh said we would let the PNT association know about his concern.
The rest of the day was hiking and eating and drinking water. Starting with another paved roadwalk along Palmer Lake and across the Sinlahekin Valley, then gravel roadwalk up the steep and dry Chopaka Grade, then ATV trail, then cattle trail, and back to gravel to end the day.
We have plenty of food with us on this stretch - it's heavy but nice to feel satisfied.
We passed some interesting old cabins and a mine, found a great cattle trough full of spring water, and basically went uphill all day.
Near the end of the day, two guys in a pickup stopped on a gravel road way up in the mountains. They had seen us earlier in the morning way down in the valley so they asked what we were doing. It was a nice chat and break from walking. They were looking for a lake to fly fish in. I got rid of another Hiking Dude sticker!
So, we're now Up in the mountains with the Pasayten Wilderness coming up tomorrow. Getting Up here was work but we should have a few days of high mountain ridges and great views of the wilds. Maybe even some interesting wildlife.
Tonight, we are all alone at a great Cold Springs Campground over 5000 feet higher than last night. There's a great toilet, picnic tables, and wonderful water source. The Backcountry Horsemen organization does a lot of work on their trails and camps in this area.
Now that we're up in a pine forest, I'm hoping we've left the sage brush and dry grass behind us for good! It was a very long hot trek up into the mountains, but we found water as needed and it's much cooler now. We also encountered the usual cows along the way - again hoping this will be the last of them.
I walked 54190 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 23 miles today.
Good bye, cows! After climbing a few hundred more feet, chasing cows out of the way, and bush whacking when the trail disappeared, we finally entered the Pasayten Wilderness and an entirely new experience. The trail is no longer 2 or 3 inches deep of dust and cow manure but is now a beautiful, cared for tread that carries us through wonderful scenery. We are only 15 miles in but it has been super. We've even been able to see tracks from hikers days ahead of us, not trampled away by cow hoofs, so it's a fun game to wonder where they are now and if we might be getting closer to them.
Mountain views have been constant today and the arid desert terrain has given way to high mountain meadows and forest. I think we're done with sagebrush and stickery things! We are on the Boundary Trail which runs just south of the Canadian border. This is the best cared for trail that we've been on so far. The tread is great, brush is gone, no log hazards, scenery is awesome, and water sources are good.
At one point, we noticed a large smoke plume far to the south. We know the Diamond Creek fire is ahead of us and threatening to shut down the PNT, but this looks like a new fire much farther south.
We hiked through a large burned out area with just black snags and purple fireweed. It was pretty in a strange way, but no place you'd want to camp since the dead trees could fall at any time.
We met 4 people on trail today - We can't remember the last time we met other hikers but it might have been Pyramid Lake. Two guys were on a week long trip and another couple were doing a 5 day loop. Both of them had met Thumbalina last night so we know she's just a day ahead of us.
We are getting plenty of water and food. I was actually stuffed after my dinner of sausage, tuna, and tortillas tonight! We are set up at the Tungsten Mine camp at about 6800 feet and at the 633 mile mark of the PNT even though we've hiked farther than that. Tomorrow morning, we cross Cathedral Pass which is the highest point on the PNT.
I walked 58470 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 24 miles today.
It was cold when we got up and cold when we went to bed and cold all day. Josh wore his down jacket all day. I enjoyed the cooler temp since I hardly sweated on the uphill climbs.
Our day started with a nice hike up and over Cathedral Pass with amazing views out across the mountain ranges. We reached the highest point on the PNT! After that, we had super views all day as we climbed more ridges and passes. No wildfire smoke to obscure the distant mountains and nice sun to brighten the day.
We met a couple out on a 10-day trip this afternoon, and a man and his dog out working in the woods for a week. Shawn and Bandit are doing data gathering for the forest service and we had a nice chat for awhile.
Toward the end of the day, I went ahead of Josh since he has no problem catching up. At an intersection, I went the wrong way (towards Quartz Lake) but figured it out after about 5 minutes as the trail descended instead of climbing. My concern was that Josh would take the correct trail and be far away by the time I got back on course. Luckily, he saw my footprint in the dust going the wrong way and we met as I was heading back. So it all worked out.
On our last ridge walk of the day, we could clearly see the Diamond Creek fire burning just a couple miles south of the trail. We could see orange flames consuming trees, and smoke fortunately being blown east while we were north. This fire had been threatening to closethe PNT for the past couple weeks so we're very glad to be past it.
We reached camp at Dean Creek just as the sun was sinking and just had time to set up, eat, and bundle up to try and stay warm all night. I'll let you know how that goes.
The hours of daylight are gradually diminishing. We've been having plenty of daylight left at the end of our hiking, but it's a noticeably less now than back in Montana.
I walked 45650 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 18 miles today.
I made two lightweight camping quilts for my long hikes. One has half the insulation as the other. Josh has been using the lighter one but last night we swapped because it was cold and I stay warmer sleeping. I didn't sleep well. It got cold. We had ice in our water bottles this morning! So, we broke camp quickly and started hiking even before eating.
A vigorous climb up Bunker Hill warmed us up and gave us wonderful views in all directions. There was frost all over the ground and we were above some snow fields on the top of the hill.
Down the other side, we entered another large burn area of nothing but dead snags and down trees. The trees seemed to do their best to land on the trail when they fell. I counted 158 that we had to climb over in 1/2 mile and then stopped counting. But, future PNT hikers don't need to worry because we met a trail crew working their way from the Pasayten River up Bunker Hill clearing out logs from the trail. The four of them each got a free Hiking Dude sticker!
We passed Thumbalina this morning coming off Bunker Hill. We had another nice but short chat and may see her again down the trail. She had hiked through some wild areas all on her own.
After crossing the Pasayten River on a convenient log, we stopped for a nice lunch break and then hiked through the burned forest another 6 miles until the trail headed up a new draw to the west. This living forest was green, fresh, cool, and very pleasant to travel through on our way up to our campsite at Chuchuwanteen Creek. We're much lower tonight so I hope to stay warmer. I'm looking forward to the wonders that come our way tomorrow.
We did see one beautiful deer with velvet antlers today. The wildlife has been scarce along the entire trail, except for squirrels and grouse.
I walked 47670 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 20 miles today.
Brrrr - Another cold night for sleeping and morning for hiking. Three layers of clothes and socks on my hands kept me warm enough. And, we crossed the 700 mile mark today.
Through the woods, up, up, up and over Frosty Pass to our intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail at Castle Pass. Immediately, three hikers went by. Less than five minutes later, we passed a couple more. All in all, we ran into over 30 people on the 14 miles of shared trail - more than we will see on the entire rest of the PNT.
The PNT is kind of the poor step-cousin of the PCT. Everyone knows about the PCT. They know it runs from Mexico to Canada. They know it's a big deal to hike it. ALmost no one knows about the PNT.
When you tell someone that you're hiking the PNT, they say one of three things:
- "Wow, did you walk all the way from Mexico?"
- "You mean the PCT?"
- "The What?"
The PCT was amazing - smooth, level, wide, and well maintained. It was like walking through our neighborhood. I got spoiled!
We stopped for a beautiful lunch break on a bare, sunny summit after climbing the Devil's Stairway. The view was just incredible and the weather was perfect!
You can see the trail crossing the far hillside in this photo, if you look closely.
At Holman Pass, the PNT turned west again, leaving the PCT freeway behind and immediately turning back into a rough, brushy path with blown down trees across it and no people hiking it. Aaaah, back to our familiar trail!
At the end of the day, we set our tent right on the trail at Canyon Creek because that's where the flattest spot was found. As we were settling in, three young hikers came by heading east to the PCT and we had a nice chat.
Nick and Matt will be hiking the Washington section of the PCT after doing a shorter hike with Naomi. They had started at Ross Lake that morning and looked to be doing just great.
I walked 52120 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 21 miles today.
All morning was hiking up to Devil's Dome crossing over three passes on the way - Sky Pilot, Deception, and Devil's. Great views of Jack Mountain with glaciers and a pinnacle peak made the climb enjoyable. The top of the dome was a wonderful rest point with even more distant mountain views. This will be the last time we're over 5000 feet until we reach the Olympic Peninsula.
Being off the manicured PCT and back on the PNT was a rude awakening for me, but it's our hike.
We plunged 5000 feet down from Devil's Dome to Ross Lake in less than 6 miles, changing from alpine to pine forest to humid, hot dense woods. There were some crazy old boardwalks, probably built in the 1940s, over some wet areas.
Near Dry Creek Pass, on the way down, we found two backpacks by the spur trail to the Bear Skull Camp. We thought it would be fun to meet their owners, so we took the short trail to the shelter but found no one. When we returned, we snapped their waistbelts together - a little harmless prank that we hoped might make them think "Did I leave it that way?" - and then continued on downhill.
We walked a trail 4 miles along the lake to our camp spot at Rainbow Point. The trail construction was amazing in spots when it got closer to the lake, with log and rock walls holding it in place and some nice bridges. We had a cliff rising beside us, the lake right below us, and the sun beating down on all of it. It was beautiful but hot.
When we got to the campsite we hoped to use, it was full with 8 kayakers but one moved her tent to make room for us. We went swimming off a dock for our first bath in a week. After that, we chatted with our new friends. They had a ton of food and invited us to eat with them.
So, we're now completely full and trying to fall asleep on top of our quilts since it is still stifling hot. Such a huge change from the last few nights when we had to wear all our clothes to stay warm.
I walked 47034 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 22 miles today.
Long hike around the lake to reach our campsite on the other side which was just about 1 mile away by a straight line, but we had no boat.
Some beautiful rivers, falls, and bays all along the way. The forest at this low elevation is so much different than up high. Big cedars, lots of moss, ferns, and decaying logs make it like what we expect as we approach the coast.
Ross Lake Resort had food packages for us so we can hike the next 5 days through the forest and mountains. The resort is very cool. It is a collection of cabins floating on the lake. It was originally the housing for the workers that built the dam that created the lake.
Since it was over 95 degrees, we rested there for 3 hours and charged electronics. They even let us use their WiFi. We chatted with a very nice lady that had two huge Swiss dogs. In the evening, we completed our hike to the Pumpkin Mountain campsite where we have the place to ourselves. The big toes on both feet are getting abused a bit from these shoes but nothing serious yet. My left leg has taken some hits and twists the last few days but still works fine while hiking. The long, steep downhill yesterday and fast pace today has probably caused some fatigue which I'll need to address.
I walked 43340 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 18 miles today.
We hiked from the lake up the Big Beaver Creek valley, over Beaver Pass, and down into Little Beaver Creek valley. Then, we walked up this valley to our campsite. All of this was in shaded, damp old growth cedar and pine forest. Some of the trees were massive and much of our walk felt like dinosaurs should be roaming around. All we saw were some toads and tons of flies and mosquitoes. We wore our bug pants all day.
We did cross paths with two big groups of backpackers but they didn't stop to talk. And, we woke a couple in their tent at 2:30 when we walked past. They thought we were a bear.
Since we were in forest all day, there were no mountain views to be had but the smoke in the air would have prevented them anyway. We look forward to the next wind change to blow the smoke someplace else.
Today was pretty rough for my body. My left shin started aching and just got worse through the day. I wrapped it while hiking in the afternoon, put it in the icy creek tonight, have it elevated, and took some pain relief. It is quite swollen in one spot so I'm a bit worried. Nothing to do but forge ahead at this point.
Also, at the campsite, a sharp stick poked the inside of my left foot above the heel and blood started pouring out - more than I'd expect from a little stick. This was on the way to the creek to soak our legs so that helped stop the bleeding. When I looked closer, the prick was right into a blood vessel there which is probably why it bled so much.
Well, at least we have way too much food! Two big passes to cross tomorrow so that's lots of up and down.
I walked 52440 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 20 miles today.
We climbed over both Whatcom Pass and Hannegan Pass today for over a mile of elevation gain again. Terrific mountains and glaciers kept our attention much of the day since the smoke had cleared out again. We've seen more glaciers here than in Glacier National Park. The climb up Whatcom Pass was steep but many switchbacks made it much easier. The entire area was beautiful and rugged.My leg continues to give me pain but wrapping it helps.
A highlight of the day was riding across a roaring gorge over the Chilliwack River on a self-propelled cable car. We each had to pull it across, climb in, then pull ourself across. Lots of fun but lots of work.
We left the North Cascades National Park and are the only tent at the Hannegan Pass trailhead parking lot with about two dozen cars of backpackers on the local trails. It's a nice spot with toilet, cold water source, and flat space.
I walked 58370 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 25 miles today.
While set up at Hannegan campground, we got our first rain in such a long time! It just got our tent wet during the early morning so a perfect time for it.
From the campground, it was all roadwalk up to the Mt. Baker ski area which took all morning. There was a bit of cell service up there so we wasted a little time and I posted a couple blog entries while we snacked and rested.
We were also surprised when one of the couple hundred cars that zoomed past on their way up the winding mountain road slowed and stopped. It was Rebecca from the Happy House on Whidbey Island where we hope to stay in a few days. She and a friend named Pounce were on their way to hike the Swift Creek segment - the same place we hoped to reach by the end of the day.
At the top of Austin Pass, after 15 long, grueling miles of road walk, we hooked into the very popular Lake Anne trail which would lead us to the Swift Creek trail. We signed a trail registry here and were very excited to see that six other PNT hikers had signed it this same day - Wren, Goat, Dust Bunny, Tickled Pink, Jet Fighter, and Caveman. Those same names were on the trail registry way back in Montana and were five days ahead of us before we took our 10 day break in Idaho. We might actually get to meet them on trail soon.
Through this area, there are beautiful mountain views everywhere. We had heard of this infamous Swift Creek for a long time - It can be very deep and tough.
After a very long, rough downhill on trail that had recently been well brushed out, we caught up to Rebecca and Pounce and then the creek ford. It was only knee high and pretty fun.
Getting towards the end of day, we needed to find a camp spot. Baker Hot Springs looked interesting and right off the trail so we walked there. It was pretty gross - sulphur, dirt, beer bottles, and junk. So, we skipped it and kept walking along our route which was a gravel road until we found a wide spot. We were low on water so, when Rebecca and Pounce drove by having finished their day hike, we bummed some from them. We set up our tent and laid some logs in the road to keep cars from getting too close. And that's another day done.
I walked 48230 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 23 miles today.
We started the day with no water having stopped at the first spot we found last night. Less than a quarter mile down the road after we began our hike, there was a nice clear stream so we filled our bottles. As soon as we rounded the next corner, there were two hikers sitting by the road in a very nice camping spot. They were Jet Fighter and Caveman whose names we had seen earlier in trail registries.
We leapfrogged a couple times walking down the road as they stopped and then we stopped until we reached the Boulder Creek campground. There, we noticed two more people that looked like thru-hikers so we stopped. Sure enough, it was Tickled Pink and Dust Bunny who we were hoping to run into one day soon.
Jet Fighter and Caveman showed up a couple minutes later, so there were 6 PNT Hikers all together - huge from our point of view. We chatted a bit then continued our long roadwalk down from the mountains to civilization.
Along the way, the trees became ever more covered in moss. This area receives lots of rain but none this summer.
We later saw Jet Fighter and Caveman speeding down the road in the back of a pickup and we assume TP and DB also got a ride. We just kept walking all day until we reached US20 and the KOA campground. Along the way, we enjoyed frequent stops to pick wonderful blackberries.
We spent a noisy night at the KOA but got showers and laundry done. We're now in the flatlands until we tackle the Olympic peninsula.
I walked 55430 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 22 miles today.
Also, we snacked on more awesome blackberries along the way and had internet all day. There was a distinct lack of water sources and I should have carried more. Lunch at McDonald's was a bonus.
We walked an extra 3 miles south of the trail to Mount Vernon because Josh's friends happen to be here this weekend playing an Ultimate tournament. My wife flew out today on the spur of the moment, so we're taking a day off which will hopefully give my leg a chance to rest and heal. Then, it's on to the ocean.
Continue with: Pacific Northwest Trail hike - Day 45 to 57 - Burlington to Cape Alava