August 28, 2015: Day 3
6 am rolled around and I aroused from my slumber. I extricated myself from my burrito bag and shook the stiffness out of my muscles. The morning was grey and overcast and evidence of the previous night’s rain was splattered everywhere. It sprinkled off and on as I packed up camp. I had seen the forecast before I began my trip and knew that light rain was due that morning and some real weather would be moving in by Saturday. Pouring over my map, I realized that with the epic march from the day before, I was about halfway between Stevens and Snoqualmie. With the weather turning, I made the decision to cut the trip short by a day and make it out on Saturday. Since I made it 22 miles the previous day, the 17-odd miles to Spectacle Lake seemed totally doable!
I hoisted my pack onto my shoulders and was about to set off when I noticed a drippy dampness on the bottom side. Well $#¡+, my camelback must be leaking. And it’s leaking all over my down sleeping bag! Having dealt with a sopping wet down bag before, I quickly dropped my pack and pulled my sleeping bag out of it. Upon inspection, it hadn’t gotten too wet – just a spot near the head. I then pulled my water bladder out and took a look. Apparently, the little connector that holds the bladder upright in the pack sleeve – the connector I never connect – had gotten pinched between the bladder and the pack. The result, of course, was a hole. So annoying.
Proper planning prodded me to install a few strips of duct tape to my trekking poles for those just-in-case situations. This was one of them. I slapped a square of duct tape over the hole and only filled my water reservoir half-way. Before shoving it back into my pack, I wrapped my sleeping bag in an extra plastic bag and called it good.
I was on the trail at 7:30 am and began the climb out of the Waptus Lake basin. The trail is super brushy going up the ridge and, with the addition of the last night’s rain, my legs were soaked within a matter of minutes.
I made it about a third of the way up the ridge before I finally caught a view that had eluded me the previous afternoon: Waptus Lake. I was less than impressed. That damned lake will forever be stenciled in my mind as “Not Worth It Lake”.
I made the ridge and put the whole Waptus valley experience behind me. I took a break at the top but didn’t stay too long as it was a bit chilly at 52°F. Continuing along the ridge, the views to the southwest opened up. It was well before noon when I reached the area above Escondido Lake; I had originally planned to camp here my third night. It’s a good thing my plans changed since the area is marked as fragile and camping is discouraged.
Leaving the basin, I rounded to the other side of the ridge and entered another jaw-droppingly awesome portion of the trail. The PCT enters an old burn and the view is astounding. I was all smiles as I walked along the top of the ridge above Lemah Meadow. Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain to the west are rugged and craggy and still clung on to their snow despite the mild winter. Summit Chief Mountain provided a great backdrop as well. I snapped a bunch of pictures before starting the descent to the valley below.
Lemah Meadows lay 2400 vertical feet below me and the trail gradually makes its way down from the ridge I stood atop. And by gradually, I mean 5 miles. 5 long, switchbacking miles. Again, I was frustrated that where I was going to end up looked so close and knowing it was a long way off via the trail. Those five miles seemed like an eternity and I felt I had been descending from the ridge for eons. Down, down, down I went with no respite. With the exception of the upper part, the majority of the way was in a viewless forest.
Three years later, I finally reached the valley floor. The trail enters another brushy section, but it was a short stint and not so bad. The sun also made an appearance and everything seemed to lighten up. I took a break at a campsite along one of the tributaries of Lemah Creek and filtered some water. I’d depleted my half-full camelback at this point so I just filled my Nalgene, downed the full bottle, and then filled it again for the trail.
From my break site, it was only 4 miles to Spectacle Lake. The trail heads through the valley a bit before crossing Lemah Creek. The bridge here is out and out in a big way! The creek crossing wasn’t bad though, and I quickly hopped across. From Lemah Creek, the route enters the old Lemah Creek burn from 2009 in Delate Meadow before meeting up with the pack trail from Pete Lake. I made my way though the burn and soon met up with a trio of saddlemen with their pack-horses coming down the trail. They had wanted to head to Spectacle Lake but were turned around at a boulder-y section of the trail and didn’t want to risk taking their horses through. It’s just as well since pack animals aren’t allowed at Spectacle Lake!
From Delate Meadow, the trail begins a series of switchbacks, climbing up to Spectacle Lake. At this point, I was wearing down again and began checking my GPS for progress reports. Ah, nice, the lake is only a 1/2 mile away! As the crow flies. The trail, unfortunately, switches back and forth for another 1 1/2 miles before reaching the cutoff to Spectacle. Of course.
I crossed Delate Creek and took a moment to snap a few pics of the waterfall from the bridge. There were a couple of older gentlemen getting water here and planning on where to make camp that night. They were headed toward Snoqualmie as well and were the only people I met on the trail that were traveling the same direction as me. We chatted for a bit before I continued on up toward the lake.
I finally reached the cutoff to Spectacle Lake and made my way down into the basin. What an awesome place! From atop the ridge, I could see a few campsites with tenants on the peninsula. I could also see a bunch of unoccupied places to set up camp.
Skirting the lake, I hopped up the rocky outcropping and onto the peninsula. At this point, I was reinvigorated by my fantastic surroundings and soon picked a choice spot to make camp for the night. Distance for the day: ~17.5 miles. Total distance: 56ish miles.
Rain was in the forecast, but the skies held back and the cloud cover kept the temps up. I began my evening routine and was soon visited by a couple of little furry friends. The local chipmunks were curious as to who had invaded their territory and looked at me quizzically as I moved around camp. One particularly adventurous chipmunk decided to explore my pack and actually crawled inside. I had to shake him out and he eventually skitted off into the brush.
The Spectacle Lake basin is absolutely gorgeous and a destination on its own. After eating dinner and cleaning up, I spent some time just relaxing and enjoying my surroundings. Bedtime came early and I was out by 9pm.
August 29, 2015: Day 4
Morning broke early with the threat of rain lingering above. I packed up camp and ate a quick breakfast, keeping a close eye on the sky. A sprinkle or two peppered my head as I stuffed the last bits into my pack and I was on the trail by 7:30. As I climbed out of the Spectacle Lake basin, the skies opened up and the low clouds began to deliver their payload. Out came the rain gear and I figured I’d be hiking in the rain for the rest of the day. I didn’t care at that point – good rain gear and the knowledge I’d have a hot shower later in the day was enough to keep my spirits up.
Nevertheless, I still had about 17 miles to go before reaching the end of my trail.
The rain kept steadily falling as I climbed the ridge to Park Lakes and then it began to subside. The Park Lakes basin was fogged in when I arrived and provided a pretty sweet looking, if not a bit eerie, setting. I quickly bounced through the basin, excitedly anticipating the next section of the trail.
For those in the know, I was about to make the Chikamin Traverse. I’d read reports about this portion of the PCT. Some warned of its exposure and loose rock. Some lauded its sheer awesomeness. I figured I’d lean toward the latter.
The rain had completely stopped by the time I reached the pass and got my first glimpse of the whole Chikamin Traverse. The PCT skirts along the talus slope underneath the 4 Brothers and Chikamin Peak in a 4 mile long, loose and scrambley path. I paused at the ridge and took it all in. I could see Alta Mountain to the south as well as Huckleberry, Alaska, and Thomson Mountains to the west. Better yet, I espied the Kendall Katwalk in the distance across the valley, and although it was still many miles away, I knew when I reached it I would only have 5 miles left on my journey.
I bounced across the traverse and slowly watched Huckleberry Mountain inch closer. The clouds rolled in and out over the next couple of hours but the rain held off. Views through the valley were fantastic and the occasional sunbreaks provided a nice lift in spirits.
Once I made the Traverse, I found myself in the shadow of Huckleberry Mountain and took a moment to look back from where I came. The Chikamin Traverse is my kind of path – perched high above the valley and exposed to massive views; the mountain goat in me loved hopping along the talus.
The clouds began to gather again as I made my way around Joe Lake and over toward Alaska Mountain. With the sunbreaks gone and the breeze picking up, a chill settled on the trail. I looked down on Joe Lake and wondered why the PCT passes above so many alpine lakes and doesn’t go near the shores.
Once around Joe, I climbed the switchbacks under Alaska Mountain and gained the ridge where I met a couple sheltering from the winds in a small stand of trees. The winds were quite brisk and I was a bit surprised to see them sitting there in shorts. To each their own I suppose.
I said hello as I passed over the ridge and headed toward Alaska Lake. The wind whipped at my make-shift pack cover and the rain began to come in sideways as I arrived at Ridge Lake. I didn’t really mind at this point since I still had all my rain gear on.
Once around Ridge Lake, I was met by a trailrunner coming in from Snoqualmie. He flitted over the trail past me carrying nothing but his waterbottle. I chuckled a little as he floated by, and I stomped on.
From Ridge Lake to the Kendall Katwalk traffic increased on the trail despite the stormy conditions. Weekend trippers were heading north along the PCT to their various adventures while I was excited at the prospect of finishing mine. Finally, the Kendall Katwalk came into view. Or rather, out of view. A storm had moved in and with it a slew of low clouds that socked in the Katwalk. It was actually pretty awesome to cross the semi-narrow path with the fog obscuring the sheer drop. Since I had been here before in prime blue-sky conditions, seeing the Katwalk like this was a treat. I was all smiles as I crossed.
The winds howled as I made my way across the blasted out trail and threatened to blow me and my pack clean off the mountain. I held tight and made it to the shelter of the woods on the other side. At this point, it was about 1:45 pm on Saturday and I finally got cell phone reception. I called home and let Tiff know of my early finish, her voice triggering a slew of emotion. Yelling over the gusts of wind, I told her I was still a few hours from completion and I’d call her when I was off the trail. I was elated when I hung up and, finding a reserve of strength, I took off down the hill.
I flew down the trail, running most of the way as I pushed myself closer to the end. Despite my increased pace, the trail kept on and on. I passed the cutoff for the Commonwealth Basin trail and could have turned that-a-way, shaving a mile off my trip but I wasn’t going to start taking short-cuts at this point!
Down and down I hustled, visions of cheeseburgers and beer swirling around my sweat-soaked head. On and on that last leg of the journey went. About a mile from the trailhead, the sun broke through the clouds again and smiled down as if to cheer me on.
Legs burning, feet aching, and back-straining, I kept reassuring myself that my trek was nearing completion. Finally, I rounded the last corner and saw a picnic table and a cooler.
Some kind soul had left a cooler full of Rainiers at the trailhead as “Trail Magic” for PCT hikers. It was a very welcomed sight and I helped myself to a cold beer, savoring it as I relished in my accomplishment. I had just finished 75 miles of trail in 4 days solo. I got to see so many awesome places. I got to revisit some familiar spots, some from new perspectives. I carried all I needed on my back and pushed myself pretty hard. And I survived.
Thinking about the journey I had just undertaken, the miles I travelled, the distance I pushed myself, waves of joy and pride washed over me. I felt light as a cloud. Probably because I finally dropped my pack.
Thank you so much for finally posting this, Jason. It was worth waiting for. This is a trek I’ll never be able to make, and I enjoyed every mile with you. As for your question about why the PCT seems to pass above so many lakes, rather than reaching their shores, I have an idea. For someone who has been walking since Mexico and trying to hit Canada before the snow flies, every lake shore means one more descent and then ascent, and that may not appeal by then. Again, thanks, Jason!
How amazing and such a brave adventure. Too many beautiful scenes to remember them all. Therefore, your bandaged feet will always remain the strongest in my mind….and that last 5 miles. Congratulations! Jane
Nice trip………I hope to do it some day, just not in 4 days, maybe 7 or 8 days. Hey I noticed your Garmin mounted on your pack strap, is that something you made or is that a Garmin accessory?
It’s a Garmin accessory that came with my 60CSx. I’ve gotten them aftermarket as well (they’ll break after a few years of heavy use/getting caught on things). Couldn’t find it on REI.com but here’s a link to the clip on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FGXDOXG?psc=1 The 60CSx has a button on the back that slides and snaps into the clip. Not sure if it can be rigged up to work with their other GPSs.
Very much enjoyed reading your post. Have been researching the hike from Snoqualmie to Stevens and plan to do it next summer. Really beautiful pictures and site you have and appreciate the advice and suggestions.
I have hiked that section twice, but only from north from Snoqualmie to Stevens. This was a fun read to see it from the side over.
Thanks for the right up.
Very nice blog, as my wife and i are planning the trip south to north, thanks for sharing your experience and beautiful pictures. this will help us to make new mistakes and to avoid a few.
Love the post! I’m doing this with my baby sister this summer.
Quick question – I see the “overnight permits sign” in your pictures – I couldn’t find any information on this anywhere. Are the permits available at the trail head? And do they cost anything?
The only permit I needed was the standard self-issued Alpine Lakes Wilderness permit which you can obtain for free at the trailhead. Other than that, you should be good to go. Enjoy your trip, it is such an epic journey!
Fantastic!!!! I stumbled upon your blog while looking for information on hiking Snoqualmie Pass to the Katwalk. I live in California and have only done the N. Cali portions of the PCT. I’m dying to get up into Washington!! I’m just a day hiker these days. 🙂
Thanks! When you do hike to the Katwalk, I suggest taking the Commonwealth Basin bypass as it’s a much more interesting trail and skirts along the creek for a ways. It also eliminates about a mile of the PCT that’s a long, somewhat boring switchback. If you haven’t read already, I wrote about an earlier trip here: http://mycrookedpath.com/blog/kendall-katwalk-kendall-peak
Hey, I’ve been researching that part of the PCT and entirely enjoyed your account.. And I’ll be damn sure (if I go) to memorize your lessons. I figure I’ll make my own mistakes as well..
Jason, thanks for your story. I did this portion as a Boy Scout in 68, Then I’ve taken my family in 87, 96, 2002 and my wife and I plan on doing it again this summer 2018. I live at Lake Cushman so I’ve spent many a summer doing the Olympics but want to get back to the Cascades a few more times before I/we get too old to make those trips and have fun doing them. BTW I always go N to South too, everyone knows going south means you’re going down hill… 🙂
Jason, thank you for the great recap of your adventure! Such a fantastic write up, I felt like I was on the journey with you! I am doing this section NoBo this summer and planning on doing it in 1 day. Your experience was helpful as I continued my planning and prep. Cheers, Nathan.
Hey dude, thanks for publishing such a detailed, documented, and well pictured story of your trip! I am about to embark on the same South Bound adventure, but shaving off 8ish miles and starting at Tunnel Creek TH. Your advice and lessons have certainly helped! We are trying to do it in 3 days (who knows if that will happen).
Great write-up and advice! I’m planning right now, will do it late August just like you.
Thanks for sharing your trip. I enjoyed reading, amd looking at the pictures.
such a great and entertaining read. thank you so much.
question: my 11yo son and I are pct section hikers doing section j next summer. what is your recommendation (sobo like you or nobo)?
What a great hike – and what a great writer you are. I sure am glad I ran across this!
I’m 63 and looking forward to my first PCT Stevens to Snoqualmie next summer after years spent crawling around the Alpine Lakes. Your blog is a great intro to the trek. Thanks.
Heading out on same trip end of this month. Great intel on the experience. thanks
Planning to hike the PCT in August of 2021! Your blog has helped a ton, so thank you very much! Cant wait to have this experience!!
How many lakes are actually accessible from the trail?
There are quite a few lakes accessible directly on the trail or via a short side spur (1/2 mile or less).
Off the top of my head, from north to south:
Waptus (via the alternate shore trail that I missed)
Spectacle (short side spur but we’ll worth it)
I’m actually planning on doing this section again in a couple of weeks!
Dear Jason: Together with a friend we hiked the section from Rainy Pass to Mount Hood in 1977. Unfortunately I destroyed my notes as from Stevens Pass to Mount Hood; which I regret. However, reading your description and seeing the photos is something that will share with my grandchildren. Some parts of the trail I remember – like walking through new seeded trees in old clear cut regions; also walking a knife edge ridge path the whereabouts I cannot remember. There was a stone cabin in memory of someone who had died due to hypothermia. Can you fill me in on any of these details? Anyhow I’d love to hear from you if this is possible? The section from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass I’d written up many years ago. K. Mavis Wright
Planning to to exactly this July 28 to 31 with my 2 teens. Reading this was very helpful, and hoping snow is now gone!