Everyone talks about the “Wonderland Trail” as being the best trail in Washington – people come from around the world to do it. (93 miles around Mt Rainier, in case you’ve never heard of it.) I know I shouldn’t compare, since I didn’t even finish the Wonderland, but I really think mile for mile you get a bigger bang for your buck on the second half of Section H on the PCT.
I didn’t start hiking sections of Washington’s PCT with any thoughts that I needed to someday finish it. Looking for trails where I could be out for several days at a time where I didn’t need permits, I found the PCT was often my best bet. Then, after a few years, I discovered I had actually finished half of the 512 miles of Washington – how could I not want to make it a goal to say I did all of it?
So, I needed to start where I left off last time…which is a HELLA long drive. If you have to be in a car six hours to get on a trail, you want to get as much done as you possibly can. The plan for my 15 days is kinda convoluted and arduous and I don’t want to bore you, so I’m going to focus on the seven days that I consider the gem, the cream, the crux and prime portion of the entire PCT in Washington. (Okay, I still have about 80 miles I haven’t done, but I am confident they are not going to beat out this section.)
I have to concede I may be a little bias about this portion because I got to share it with my gals…the ladies I met online and hiked Section K with last year. (Plus one…Dani, you were a GREAT addition!) We are now officially bonded for life. (With plans for next year already! I’ll keep you posted.) If you have lost hope in the ability of women to be together for any significant amount of time without having drama and cattiness (watching Real Housewives will do that to you) I assure you they can. Women are strong and amazing and can do anything…I saw SO MANY out there. (Maybe even more than men on average? Things are changing, for sure!) My favorite was a woman in her late 60’s going southbound solo to complete half of Washington because she had already hiked all of Oregon. HELL YES!!! I’m just sad I won’t come across her when I decide I need to finish Oregon too.
So, without further ado, here is the itinerary for the seven days you really have to experience of the PCT. (Oh heck, I’ll go ahead and add my other days – take from it what you will – but the best part is highlighted.) I promise you, if the slowest hiker can do it, you can do it too. Happy Trails!!!
DAY 1: Starting at Crest Camp (Around 50 miles of trail from Bridge of the Gods. I picked it because even though the road to get here is long, it is easily drive-able with any car) and hiking 10.3 miles to Bear Lake.
DAY 2: 10.5 miles to Mosquito Creek. (The nice camp right on the creek was unfortunately full when I got there. There is a field less than a mile further that works fine.)
————–START OF SEVEN DAY “MOUNT ADAMS WONDERLAND”————-
DAY 3: (OR DAY 1) 11.2 miles to Swampy Creek. Don’t let the name fool you; it’s a great camp. This is where I met the girls, who only had to hike a mile from the Forest Road 23 trailhead. So, if you want to do the awesome seven day trip, you would do the same. I think you’ll find an easy mile a relief after probably driving all day to get there. Forest Road 23 comes in at Trout Lake and is drive-able in any car and has a great lot to park and leave it.
DAY 4: (OR DAY 2) 10.1 miles to a great spot on a “milky stream.” (Mutton Creek officially) Don’t get sucked into stopping at the sandy clearing you first come to in the direct sun. Go a little further – it’s a dream spot. Also, I HIGHLY recommend bringing a hiking umbrella. A LOT of direct sun because of burned out sections, and I really think my umbrella made a huge difference in my not laying down in a heap and crying.
DAY 5: (OR DAY 3) 14 miles to Midway Creek. Usually 14 miles would make me feel destroyed, but this is such pleasant trail you hardly feel it. A couple of “challenging” water crossings make it exciting (not very difficult if you hit it early, which is another reason to stay at Mutton Creek) and all the views of Mt. Adams keep you enthralled. This camp was one of the least beautiful, but the intimacy of our off trail spot made it fun. You’ll find the path to a small clearing just before crossing the small creek – otherwise, there is a bigger more populated area just past it.
DAY 6: (OR DAY 4) 15 miles to Walupt Stream. Ugh, I know, 15 miles is not something I usually shoot for, but again, these are fairly easy miles. (I swear! If I can do it, anyone can) and then you are set up for an AWESOME next day. Thanks to the Guthooks App (a MUST have…SO helpful) we knew there was more than just the one camp mentioned in our Half Mile Maps. (Don’t try and look up Half Mile now, because it’s gone. So sad. But we printed ours up while they were still available.) Walupt Stream is actually a very pretty camp (you have to climb the hill above the one camp you come to that is directly on the trail) though it was FREEZING that night! In August!!! (Literally ice on the tent in the morning.) Thankfully we all knew that hiking in Washington requires you ALWAYS bring some warm stuff. You just never know.
DAY 7: (OR DAY 5) 11-ish miles to the first spot you come to after going over “The Knife’s Edge.” The younger gals added a mile or more by going up “Old Snowy” and back while us old timers caught up. (Ranger J may be the most “mature” of us, but she is still way faster than me. I’m thankful she stayed with me to make sure we got over the snowfields safely.) This day is in my top five hiking experiences EVER. The views don’t stop ALL DAY. Cispus Pass, McCall Basin, Snow Grass Flats and then the finale, the famous Knife’s Edge. (Not scary at all, IMO. In fact, I kept waiting to get to the scary part until I was informed we already passed it.) The only thing I didn’t like were the snow crossings. After crossing the first one, and I was feeling pretty bad ass, we got to the next one and it looked really sketchy. I was pretty nervous…until I saw a family with three small children and a dog go across like it was just another snow day. Bass ass hiker? Ha ha…leave it to kids to take you down a couple notches. Oh, and though all the spots to camp in this area are STUNNING, I thought ours was the best.
DAY 8: (OR DAY 6) Around 7 miles to a large camp a little off trail called “Hidden Springs.” Splitting the miles for the last two days worked really well, as they are what I would consider the toughest days. Less views, and more elevation gain and loss make for not as much fun, so having fewer miles is really nice.
DAY 9: (OR DAY 7) Last 8 miles to get to your waiting car or ride at White Pass. You’ll make it before lunch if you start early, and then you’ll want to drive into Packwood where there are many culinary options. After gorging out, you’ll still have lots of time to drive back home – or in my case, get a ride to Chinook Pass. I decided to skip ahead for reasons too complicated to explain (though don’t worry – I’ll be back to get those miles in!) but a stay at Crystal Lodge where I sent my resupply was much needed. If you decide to go too, ask for the hiker’s bunk room. It’s overpriced for what you get, but the other rooms are WAY overpriced and probably sold out. And at least you get a shower…even if it’s downstairs and shared…it’s better than nothing. I will add that I have never felt more desperate to get clean – and that is saying something. As great as this section of trail is, it is DUSTY AS HELL. (If you go in August, which you should. Wildflowers GALORE…and very few bugs. I’ll take dust any day for that.) So anyway, be prepared to feel like a nasty, stinky, feral cat who has nobody to love it.
———-END OF AMAZING SEVEN DAYS AND BACK TO JUST GETTING ER DONE—-
DAY 10: About 10 miles to Martinson Gap. I had to take a connector trail from the Crystal Lodge parking lot, so I am unsure of the exact miles. The “Bear Gap” trail was about two and half miles, and I hated every step. (Actually, maybe it’s called Silver Creek Trail? It’s a little confusing. Oh, and I found a decent campsite along the trail close to Henskin Lake, which may be helpful info for someone.) This was my hardest day – way too hot and exposed; plus I felt lonely without my friends. I think the temps were in the 90’s and by the time I reached camp I really felt like I might have heat exhaustion. Thank God for the umbrella, or it might have been heat stroke! Oh, and a European couple hiking the entire PCT camped there with me, and I remembered seeing them at the Walupt Stream camp. Of course they would catch me, even though I skipped about 30 miles. I am so jealous of thru-hikers!!!
DAY 11: Another near 15 mile day. It would have been nice to stay at the “Urich Cabin” (the PCT is not known for it’s shelters, so it would have been a rare treat) but because of 11.8 miles with no water sources coming up the next day, I wanted to push to get to camp at the stream at mile 2351. It was a good call. Oh yeah, I had a herd of Elk cross the trail just 50 feet in front of me on this day. SUPER cool.
DAY 12: Exactly the 11.8 miles to the next stream. I do not like to carry extra water, so I knew I had to make it or forget having water to make dinner. Neither Guthooks or Halfmile mention a campsite at the stream, but I had a feeling there would be, and I was right. Thank God, because I didn’t feel like taking another step.
DAY 13: I think I did another 15 miles this day. Not my favorite. The “camp” I planned on stopping at turned out to be on an abandoned forest road – which is always a big fat no for me – so I just kept going. I finally found an okay place just past a stream…maybe mile 2379? (The PCT refers to all things on the trail by the number of miles starting at the Mexican border, in case you were wondering. All the maps and apps are labeled this way.)
DAY 14: If I am right about where I stopped on day 13, I hiked 8.7 to a very nice spot that is three miles past Mirror Lake. I of course had originally planned on staying at Mirror Lake (it was hard to pass on, though I did take a nice long break there) but being that I was further in than expected, it made the most sense to push on so I would only have 5.5 miles on my last day. I’m really glad I did, because those extra three miles were much harder than I anticipated and would have made my last day feel like an eternity.
DAY 15: Just 5.5 miles to Snoqualmie Pass. Finishing a long hike before noon will be my goal henceforth. (Though I highly advise not buying the supersize soda with your lunch just because you can. That is a decision you will regret. A digestive system that has gone without sugar for that amount of time is not prepared for such a butt load of it, I promise you.) BTW, my daughter dropped a car at Snoqualmie for me, which I had painstakingly got permission and a printout “pass” for so it wouldn’t get towed, but now I know there is an awesome trailhead parking lot right there that you simply need a Forest Pass for. Doh.