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
What a nice day to rest! Josh got to visit with his ultimate team friends while Kelly and I visited old friends in Bellingham. I got to rest my leg most of the day. It's still sore and swollen but it feels a bit better. Tomorrow afternoon we'll be hiking again and see how it goes.
I walked 36288 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 18 miles today.
Kelly dropped us off a bit after noon at the spot where we had left the trail and we started walking west on US20 while she headed to the airport for her journey back home.
Thousands of cars flew past as we hiked but a wide shoulder made the walk bearable if not enjoyable. We did meet a police officer who stopped to check on a disabled RV as we walked by. And we got our first real smell of sea water on the breeze.
I had contacted Rebecca who is a trail angel living on Whidbey Island. Her and her husband, John, have named their home the Happy House and they receive a huge percentage of PNT thru-hikers because the trail funnels them right by their home and camping is a bit tricky in the area. Rebecca said we could stay with them, but it would be about a 42 mile walk to get there today. Being the wonderful people that trail angels are, Rebecca arranged for her friend, Pounce, to pick us up at the end of the day and deliver us to the Happy House where Pounce was also staying. Pounce, as I learned in her car, is completing pieces of the PNT that she was unable to complete last year.
The five of us had a very nice dinner and then it was time for bed since the walking resumes early in the morning.
The roadwalk was so uneventful today that neither of us took any pictures. That's a first.
I walked 51840 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 25 miles today.
When you leave most of your gear at a base camp, get a ride to your starting point, and hike all day with just the bare essentials back to your base camp, that is called slackpacking. Rebecca dropped us on the trail where we ended yesterday on her way to work and we started our daily walk.
The sun was shrouded by smoke yet again. Fortunately, there's no distant views that we're missing today. A short roadwalk brought us to a nice trail that we followed over hills for a few miles, discovering yet another mining tunnel - I think we've seen 6 or 7 of these on our trek now. Before we knew it, we were at Deception Pass which was the highlight of the day. Walking over the bridge high above the outgoing tide was very cool.
We then followed the western alternate so we could walk on the beach of Rosario Strait which looked and smelled like ocean.
More roadwalk to get around NAS Whidbey and all its very loud jet fighters brought us into Oak Harbor for a quick lunch at McDonald's.
More roadwalk over to the beach but high tide convinced us to stay on the quiet road to our endpoint rather than spend lots of time scrambling over rocks between the sea and cliff.
We walked all the way back to the Happy House where we'll depart tomorrow. My leg did well with only sporadic pain and a little swelling. I think a light pack helped today. Encouraging!
Being able to rest here at the Happy House two nights has been a great help. Rebecca and John are wonderful supporters of the PNT.
I walked 48668 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 24 miles today.
We're still on our way out of civilization. Today was a day of roadwalks with a little beach hiking thrown in. We left the Happy House and walked the rocky beach at high tide so there wasn't much room but it was nice watching the birds and big boats go by.
We reached the Coupeville ferry landing and took it across the sound to Port Townsend for our easiest miles of the trip. In PT, we had lunch at McDonald's and then resupplied at Safeway for our week through the Olympic mountains to Forks.
The US20 roadwalk before Discovery Bay was very thin and dangerous - I'm so glad that is over! I believe it is the last of many times we have had to walk that particular road. As a reward, we ate dinner at Fat Smitty's - a very cool place inside. They have decorated dollar bills that customers have contributed tacked all over the walls and ceiling.
We found our way to the last trail angels on the PNT, the Resecks, and set up our tent in their yard. We got to visit with them a little bit when they got home late. Tomorrow, we're off for the mountains and probably no posting for a week.
I walked 51790 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 23 miles today.
Today was much like the day we spent climbing up to the Pasayten Wilderness. We climbed over a mile in total elevation gain, leaving houses and roads behind, but didn't really get to anything nice yet.
We had a challenge finding the right old road to start on, and wound up facing off against two pit bulls and talking to a very nice lady who wondered why so many hikers kept walking up the dead end road to her yard this summer. We were two of them! We told her about the PNT and that the maps make it look like the road to her house is the trail to take - and that we would let the PNT folks know.
Josh was successful in getting our permit to backpack through the Olympic National Park, and reservations at the campsites we'll use. Tonight, we are just camped right on the trail since we're out in the middle of nowhere and there are no established sites.
At one rest break we took at a trailhead, three cyclists stopped by and asked for help in finding their destination. Fortunately, it was on our app and just down the road a few miles so we could help out. Other than that, we saw no one and just hiked and sweated in the higher humidity here on the peninsula. It did sprinkle a bit this evening and we're expecting real rain tomorrow and Saturday.
So, here's our camp for the night - no other pictures today because we just walked through forest.
I walked 48760 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 21 miles today.
Our night was a soggy one with quite a bit of rain and even a couple flashes of lightning, but we were fine in our tent. We woke to drizzle that remained all morning and was replaced by fog and clouds the rest of the day.
We ran into a few groups of backpackers and saw occasional glimpses of views but mostly many miles of fog.
Buckhorn, Marmot, and Constance passes gave us a lot of exercise, climbing over 6000 feet up. Our camp tonight is up at 5500 feet at Sunnybrook Meadows.
I walked 43150 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 16 miles today.
We woke to our first view of the Olympic mountains. It was cold but there was a beautiful sunrise shining on the mountains between high clouds and fog in the valleys. We had high hopes for a great day but it didn't go as planned.
The clouds and fog refused to burn off as we dropped from our Sunnybrook Meadows campsite down into a valley for many miles. The 100% humidity continued and the temperature fell as we climbed over Lost Pass in wind and driving mist. As we continued on to Cameron Pass, the wind picked up and so did the rain, as the temperature turned frigid. High above treeline with no cover at all, we were buffeted relentlessly and gradually got colder. We crested the pass and descended to sparce tree cover where we found a camp spot at Upper Cameron camp and set up. This was about 3pm, cutting our day and miles short, and we were not at our assigned camp.
It took about 6 hours of rest in our snug, warm tent until my feet and hands felt warm again.
Our permit itinerary had us climbing over one more high pass and staying at a different campsite. With the extreme weather, that would have been very dangerous to attempt. Lucky for us, the ranger that stopped by around 5pm agreed with us.
We hit the southern most point of our trek today. Now we just need the western most at the very end. For fun, we had a couple pesky deer entertain us while we rested in our tent. Also, as night fell, the clouds blew out and the moon and stars were bright so there are high hopes again for tomorrow.
I walked 64780 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 27 miles today.
With no cloud cover, it gets cold at night! We had ice in our water and frozen socks from our soggy hike yesterday. A very uncomfortable start to the day but we have extra miles to make up from our weather shortened hike yesterday and we're well rested from our extra time in the tent.
As we hiked, the wet plants crowding the trail would continually soak our legs and shoes. That lasted a few hours.
With the sun out, it seemed the people came out too. We encountered dozens of backpackers and, as we neared Hirricane Ridge, many more day hikers.
We climbed Grand Pass, which we were supposed to do yesterday, to glorious views back to Cameron Pass and the terrain we had struggled through. Then, it was on ahead over an unnamed pass up to Obstruction Point where all the day hikers were parked.
We were hoping to cover 27 miles today to get back on our itinerary but that's a lot in these mountains. At Obstruction Point, we got a pleasant surprise. The next few miles along Hurricane Ridge would be a gravel roadwalk. So, we chewed up the miles quickly as we enjoyed wonderful views of Mt. Olympus and the rest of range.
The last leg of the day's hike was up Hurricane Hill and then a monstrous 5000 foot decent to our camp at the old Altair campground that was flooded and destroyed a couple years ago. The permit folks said we could still tent there if we wanted. My leg is doing well, so I didn't push the downhill very hard and it all went just fine.
I walked 47190 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 20 miles today.
Starting from Altair campsite this morning, nearly the entire day was UP gaining over 7000 feet. We went up 5000, then down 2300, then up 2200. My legs are so happy that our biggest climb for the rest of the trip will be less than 500 feet!
Most of the day was through nice pine and cedar forest but the top of Appleton Pass gave up some nice views. Reaching the High Divide trail at the end of the day was very nice. We have a great view of the Olympic range to the south east and the setting sun over lower mountains to the west. We know the ocean is there too and we may have had a glimpse of it from one high ridge.
Many backpackers crossed our path today. This is a very popular area with nicely maintained trail. One young lady was just starting her first solo trip - 10 days on the PNT.
We are camping at an established site on a ridge for the first time so we have sun much longer and it should hit us early tomorrow. We are right by Bogachiel Peak.
It's amazing how much difference nice weather makes in a day of hiking!
I walked 53855 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 22 miles today.
What a wonderful hike through all the environments on the Olympic Peninsula today.
Our day began way up on Bogachiel Peak with a beautiful sunrise over mountain peaks iced with glaciers. Two deer ran through our campsite to see us off. There was fog rolling up out of the valleys and low clouds pressing down from above which may have brought a misty, humid day - but it burned off after a few hours as we hiked the High Divide trail down to the Low Divide trail and continued on our westward trek.
As we descended down the mountains to the Bogachiel River, forests encroached over our path, blocking the sun but giving us our last chance to sample huckleberries and enjoy the fresh smell of pine warming to the day.
While pushing through overgrown trail vegetation in the afternoon, we came upon three PNT thru hikers - Ozark, Lucky, and SunDown - resting, eating, and waiting for a friend named McFly who was behind us on the trail. These guys are nearing the end of their long walk also. After a nice chat, we continued on.
We made it to our destination camp with lots of time left in the day so we hiked on another few miles to make tomorrow a bit shorter. We figured the group we passed would probably stop at our assigned site and we've seen no one else all day. We're along a river all alone at the Flapjack site - it's been a good day!
I walked 50320 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 20 miles today.
Being in the Bogachiel River valley this morning, we had no big climbs or descents all day! The trail was much nicer on the lower river than yesterday's 15 miles and we made good time through the rain forest. After 10 miles of recently cleared trail, we hit road and had another 10 miles into the town of Forks - maybe you've heard of that town? Along the way, we snacked on blackberries being a bit surprised to see them way out here.
While resting and drinking our fill of water at the Bogachiel state park south of Forks, Bernie, Becky, and Hank drove up and stopped to get water. Becky is driving her van named Bernie on an adventure around the country and her big dog Hank is riding along. I gave her a Hiking Dude sticker that she added to her collection on her van.
Upon reaching Forks, we got right to work. We rented a bear can which is required for camping on the wilderness coast. Then, we bought about 4 days worth of food for our last two days of trekking. Then, we started looking for a place to spend the night.
Completely unaware of some Twilight convention thing going on this week, we found out all the motels are full. The campground shown on our hike app doesn't exist so we were getting a little desperate when we saw a placard on the sidewalk saying the Last Chance campground was now open with an arrow pointing down a side street. A mile later, we met Virginia and Charlie that run the place. It's a very nice open field laid out with clean porta-potty, water and sink, picnic tables, fire rings, and flat spots for tents or vehicles. I forgot to get cash from an ATM in town, but when I opened my ziploc baggie wallet, I had a $20 and a $5 so we had just enough to cover the $25 price - whew! The elk in the field across the street were a free bonus.
I walked 53110 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 25 miles today.
We were up before the sun for a 16 mile roadwalk to Rialto Beach from Forks. It was a very cold morning with fog so we just bundled up and walked. At 8am, we took a break while Josh got a coastal camping permit via his phone. Since we already paid for annual passes for our camping over the Olympics, these two days didn't cost any more.
Close to the ocean, we saw a seal in the river then 6 otters. Then, we got our first real look at the ocean. At Rialto Beach, we took a break to dry the tent, fill up all our water containers, and use the restroom. We couldn't stay long though because along the coast there are many headlands that stick out and are impossible to pass except when the tide is out. So, we had about 4 hours to get around a handful of these before the tide rose and cut us off.
We hiked north on a very nice, very crowded sand beach for a couple miles. It eventually turned into rocks, then slippery rocks, then a variety of surfaces. Our progress wasn't too fast and the tide was coming in. On one beach, I saw a sea lion ahead of us and he dashed for the water when he finally noticed us. He barked at us as we walked past.
Our final headland had seawater crashing up on it when we reached it so we could not walk around. Fortunately, this was one that had an overland option. A rope hanging down a fairly steep path up and over the headland to the beach on the other side. It worked out great.
When we dropped to the beach, I saw a little white seal laying high on the sand not looking very good. After some deliberation, we wound up coaxing him towards the water since he would not let us get too close to him. We left him close to the water with hopes that he makes it, but I don't know.
On one secluded beach, we noticed a tent set up with a couple people so we rambled their direction. It turns out they are Roadrunner and Tinkerbell, two more PNT thru-hikers nearly finished.
We are alone at a remote campsite called Cedar Creek right on the beach with the surf pounding, the sea breeze blowing, and the sun slowly setting. If there is a green flash at sunset, I wouldn't be surprised.
I walked 29626 steps on the trail today.
We traveled about 11 miles today.
We did it! We're camping at the end of the trail tonight at Cape Alava with a huge fog bank rolling in from the ocean.
We've been waking to an alarm every morning so we can hike early in the cooler temps. Today we slept in for the first time on trail because we have to wait for the tide to go out to cross a headland a couple miles north. Feels weird to have time to sit around and not be on the move.
We started hiking around 10am with our first task to take an overland trail above the headland right by our campsite. After that was 3 miles of easy beach before the next headland.
Here, we ran into a couple guys that were camping and drinking beer and tequila so we chatted with them and waited awhile for the tide. Actually, we mostly listened as they rambled on. When we got tired of them, we hiked on and found a quiet place to wait for the tide to recede.
The second day hiking on the coast was much like the first - some rocky, some sandy, some slippery - all of it wonderful. We got to climb a couple overland trails and even squeeze through some holes through the rock cliffs. The weather was perfect and we had no problem finding water from small streams falling down the cliffs along the way.
On one remote beach, we found a full grown seal that could barely move - pretty sad but nothing we could do. At another spot, near the end of our hike, there was a black bear on the beach! So, we saw a bear at the very start of our trek and one at the very end. We were really hoping to get to use our bear spray that we carried all this way but no luck.
The strangest coincidence also happened today. We were hiking along and someone came hiking down the beach toward us. As he got closer, we saw it was a NPS ranger so we waved and said hello. He said "Didn't I see you by Cameron Pass?" It was the same ranger that checked on us when we were recovering from the storm up in the Olympics a week ago. Ranger Dave Turner - a great NPS guy!
This photo is of my lucky quarter. It is a silver quarter minted in 1961, the same year I was born. A friend gave it to me before my first long hike on the Arizona Trail in 2012 and I've carried it with me on every one of my successful thru-hikes.
Tomorrow, we hike 4 miles out to Ozette to get picked up before the rain hits.