PCT – Chinook Pass to Tacoma Pass

Last weekend, I hiked about forty miles of the PCT (Chinook Pass to Tacoma Pass). My original plan was to hike to Stampede Pass – another ten miles – but the shorter trip made for a better weekend.

I left work early Wednesday to get a jumpstart on the trail. I’m glad I did. Jim dropped me off at Chinook Pass about a quarter after seven. Truth be told, if I’d worked until five on Wednesday I probably wouldn’t have gotten to Chinook Pass until near-dark.

Jim drove east while I walked north

Unlike every other pass I’ve left along the Washington PCT, the trail doesn’t gain elevation rapidly leaving the road. Sheep Lake is two miles from Chinook Pass, and it’s about a 500′ gain. Getting a late start and camping there after a short hike was a good idea; the next water after Sheep Lake is about 8 1/2 miles up the trail. Being so close to the road, Sheep Lake reportedly gets a lot of visitors on weekends, but on the night I was there I think there were just three other camps occupied. It was very quiet. I was camped up the hill from the lake and I didn’t hear a sound.

I misjudged the temperatures — I misread the forecast — and didn’t have gear for the cold nights. I forgot my wool leggings I normally sleep in, and I left my sleeping hood at home because I didn’t think I’d need it. And I made it worse by setting up my hammock so my head was into the wind. Normally this is the most comfortable position, but because I neglected one step in attaching my underquilt, the breeze pushed cold air between the underquilt and my upper body. It was a chilly night!

On our drive to Chinook Pass, I stopped at a Subway and purchased a footlong veggie sandwich. Nothing says ‘hiker trash’ like walking away from civilization with a Subway footlong or a canister of Pringles in the outer pocket of your pack. I figured the sandwich would make for an easy dinner that night. It ended up being both dinner & breakfast as a two-mile hike didn’t give me enough appetite to eat the entire sandwich.

I was up at five a.m. Thursday. I’m not sure how I managed it but I left camp before 6:30 – a record for me. The trail climbs quickly away from the lake, providing views down in to the basin where I camped. The first geographic point I reached was Sourdough Gap. It was a chilly morning, and I hiked wearing my puffy. I figured that once I crossed Sourdough Gap I’d be in the sun, and I’d warm up quickly and need to shed the jacket. NOPE. The sun was accompanied by a cool, stout wind that made me appreciate the jacket.

Sheep Lake Basin. Pahto/Mt Adams still dominates the view here; soon Tahoma will take over

I stopped in a sunny spot to filter some of the water I’d lugged from Sheep Lake. My Sawyer filter wasn’t cooperating, and I didn’t have enough clean water left with which to backflush it. I dug out the iodine tablets I keep in my emergency kit. I wrote the date on them when I purchased them: 07/2000. Twenty-one years ago. I figured I’d try them, as I was only going to be in the backcountry a few days. (Water-borne illnesses frequently take more than a few days to show symptoms. It’s been a week, so *touch wood* maybe the iodine worked.) Iodine needs thirty minutes to work, so I packed up my kit and hiked on. I stopped about forty minutes later to add the iodine neutralizer (ascorbic acid – AKA Vitamin C); that needs a few minutes to work, too. I took a break at this spot. I mixed up some Base Hydro to (slightly) cover the taste of the iodine treatment and started lunch cold soaking. Three NOBOs passed me while I was stopped here, and I believe they were my neighbors at Sheep Lake the night before.

The next geographic point of note is Scout Pass. Norse Peak is next to Scout Pass, and there’s a rough trail to the Norse Peak Viewpoint. The side trip added a few hundred feet of elevation gain & loss and just under a mile of walking, but it was nice to drop the pack and go check out the view. (I have no idea why there’s a hitching post at Scout Pass. There’s no horse camp nearby. There’s no grazing near it. It was a handy place to tie off my food bag while I scrambled up Norse Peak, and I put my feet up on it to let my legs rest a bit. But there doesn’t seem to my much utility for stock.)

There’s not a lot of camping to be had through this area. The Guthooks app lists camping sites, but those are for tents. I try to add comments noting where there are good hammock sites, especially in areas where hammock sites are scarce. One problem is that there are a lot of burned areas through here – no camping, period.

I stopped at Martinson Gap the second night. It was still relatively early, but I’m glad I stopped. It took me three tries to get my hammock hung to my liking. There was a spot that looked like it’d work, but it was a flat spot; I like to leave those open for groundlings so as to be a good trail citizen. (No one else showed up. I could have camped there!) Martinson Gap doesn’t have much going for it other than being a treed oasis surrounded by burned areas. It was really dusty but also really buggy. I’m very grateful for the bug net I brought along! I didn’t get any bites on my neck or head, and I managed to get into my hammock on Thursday & Friday nights with only one mosquito joining me each night. (I squished her. I ain’t sharing.)

I slept better the second night, but still not enough. I woke at five again, and I again managed to get out of camp before 6:30. It makes me feel like a “real” hiker. I took the brief detour to Airplane Meadows. At the shaded trail junction, there’s a flat rock that’d make a fine seat for a weary hiker. My breakfast spot was nicer — there’s even a view of Tahoma — but in hot weather I imagine I’d prefer the shaded rock.

Heck of a place to land a plane.

The highlight of Friday was stopping at Camp Urich. It’s quite the oasis for a weary hiker. It’s at the edge of Government Meadow. There’s a cool stream nearby, a cabin that’s open for public use, and plenty of campsites in the shade for both tents & hammocks. I took a lengthy break here, cleaned the dirt off my legs (the trail is very dusty!), ate, and filtered enough water to get me to my next stop – five miles down the trail. It would have been lovely to stop here, but that would have made for a very short day. I reluctantly loaded up my pack and resumed my trek north. My planned stop for the evening was a spring about five miles north of Camp Urich. There’s nothing remarkable about that spot except that it’s the last water for twelve miles.

Leaving Camp Urich, the hiker starts into an area of the PCT that’s noted for its numerous road crossings. Between here and Snoqualmie Pass there are places where one may cross several forest roads in the space of a mile. Some of these roads have been abandoned and can be used for camping; others are practically thoroughfares. There’s also a section with a large number of trees down over the trail. Some of them would be impassable for stock animals. A few were fairly large put previous hikers had created a trail around them. One I had to crawl under because I couldn’t get over it. A few caused my back some distress. (To get my leg over the log, I had to do a motion that’s a lot like a side high-kick. That hurt.) Blowdowns are always a risk anywhere there’s trees, and especially so relatively early in the season before trail maintenance crews have worked all their magic. I was happy to get past this section.

I arrived at the Last Water for Twelve Miles with plenty of daylight left. There are several good campsites near the spring, and all of them were occupied. I walked a bit more, but quickly decided I’d rather try to make do with a campsite in the area of the spring than risk trying to find a campsite after dark. My campsite was not great, but it wasn’t the worst I’ve had.

By Friday evening I’d already decided to truncate the hike and have Jim pick me up at Tacoma Pass rather than Stampede Pass. This was based on several factors, one of which is the elevation gain in the ten miles between those two passes is 1000′ more than the elevation gain in the sixteen miles I hiked on Friday. I could have done it, but my legs were tired and my feet & ankles were achy. I also wanted a day off at home to get everything cleaned up and to relax.

Relieved of the pressure to get to Stampede Pass as quickly as I could, Saturday became a fairly relaxing day. I woke up at six; the extra sleep felt luxurious. There’d be no water until shortly before Tacoma Pass, but I hiked through two five-mile stretches without water the day before so I had a good gauge of how much water I’d need to get to the next water source. (I always carry an extra half-liter or liter if possible. I’ve run out of water before, and I’d rather carry the extra weight.)

About 2.5 miles past the spring is a campsite that’s noted on Guthooks. At that spot and all along the ridge there are plenty of places for a hammock. If I’d know that, I might have loaded up with water & continued on, but I don’t know if I had it in me to get to those campsites before dark. I passed that tip along to SOBO hikers I encountered, as the campsites at the spring fill up quickly. (Whether one would camp there would depend on how desperate they were for water. But if they know ahead of time they may plan to stop short of the next spring, they may carry more or use the water more judiciously.)

I chatted with a several thru-hikers who stand out in my memory. Yoda is a nurse who’s thru-hiking the PCT to recover from the unrelenting grief of the last year. He proudly noted that while he couldn’t claim his legs no longer hurt, his body was adapting & he was able to cover more miles each day and he now found himself passing people that passed him previously. I chatted with Chirp, another SOBO headed for Mexico, while I was taking a break after climbing a long hill. On the descent, I met up with Chirp’s partner, Jet Pack Jedi. He mentioned that I’d probably talked to Chirp who he described as “really kicking my ass today.” (She looked very fresh & energized; he did not.)

My feet & ankles groused on every climb during the day, no matter how small. Nonetheless, I made it to the water source near Tacoma Pass well before my planned time of 5:00. I loaded up the Cnoc Vecto even though I didn’t really need three liters of water. I still had a liter with me. But if for some reason Jim couldn’t make it to pick me up, I had plenty of water to spend the night.

I used some of my water to clean the grime off my legs. (I was wearing trousers, but the dust from the trail made it all the way up my legs. I cleaned them the day before, but I was still really dirty.) I ate a bit. And then I sat. While I was waiting, a couple of SOBOs came through. The found a really good campsite just off the road. I decided I wasn’t going to need the water, so I offered it to them to save them the walk up to the stream. They accepted. I also took their trash so they wouldn’t have to carry it the forty miles to Chinook Pass.

Standing by the side of a forest road is an odd thing to do, so people asked. I told them I was waiting for The Hubs to pick me up. The folks who were camping there asked, “Is he bringing twenty pizzas?”; I told them no, but I’d suggested that he bring sodas. And he did! My neighbors were settled in to their camp when Jim arrived. He not only had cold soda, he had freshly-made brownies. I called out to them and they came running. The brownies were a HUGE hit. The other two members of their tramily arrived. Jim was quite the hero to those folks. (Jim’s played trail angel by giving thru-hikers rides while he waited for me, but this is the first time he’s fed them. He really enjoyed it. He mentioned to me that this was a really good spot to do trail magic, and he asked about frying up burgers or something. I told him about the trail angels I’d encountered at Stampede Pass several years ago who were cooking up burgers. It’s a great idea. I suggested he come do it during the week as most trail angels do their magic on the weekends.)

This hike was different than my other PCT hikes because in late July the SOBOs are reaching the southern end of Washington and the NOBOs are just arriving in Washington. It made for a delightful mix – the trail-weary veterans hungry for Canada and the fresh, enthusiastic SOBOs just starting out. This year, folks going in both directions expressed concerns for how the weather would impact their hike. Trail closures mean a detour to a different monument at the US/Canada border, and fires in Oregon mean a big detour. But I heard acceptance from both groups: you hike the trail you’re given, not the one you want.

We stopped for dinner at the Sunset Cafe in Cle Elum. I’d been craving a salad and I treated myself to their cobb salad (minus the egg). It was perfect. We got home late, and Trooper was ecstatic. Jim had been gone most of the day, and I’d been gone forever in dog terms.

On Friday, I came to the realization I’ve been selfish. I adopted Trooper with the idea he’d become my running & hiking buddy. Truth be told, I think I was disappointed that he got so big. (He’s kind of big for a hiking dog.) I’ve been telling people that I wasn’t sure he’d be my hiking buddy because I didn’t think he had the personality for that. Wthat’s unfair to him. His trail manners aren’t good, but that’s because I haven’t been teaching him how to be a good trail dog.

I decided I need to shift my focus away from going on big hikes & training for trail races to working with him. He can’t carry any weight until he’s fully grown, but if I spend the rest of the summer & fall hiking with him, by the time spring comes around he’ll be ready for his own pack. He deserves to live his best life, and he’s not going to learn how to be a good trail dog by walking around the neighborhood & going to the dog park. Look forward to more short hikes & more Trooper adventures!

One thing I tried on this hike that is a real game-changer is a backcountry bidet. The advantages are that there’s no toilet paper to worry about and one gets one’s bum much cleaner. I bought a Culo Clean, and it works really well. Using a backcountry bidet does require using one’s hand to clean away the poop, but the Culo Clean did most of the work. And using this meant I washed my hands very well & used hand sanitizer, so I’m confident my hand was very clean.

I have two weeks off in August. Instead of heading out for a long hike, I plan to spending it taking short camping trips with The Hubs & the pup, taking lots of day hikes with the pup, and maybe taking him out for his first overnight hike (depending on how he does camping and hiking). We have a few months left of good weather for hiking, so there’s no rush. I just hope I live up to his expectations.


3 thoughts on “PCT – Chinook Pass to Tacoma Pass

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