July 17, 2017

126-mile section from Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass

By Tami Asars

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The weather had been typical for late August in the Northwest as I sloshed along the trail, grateful for my waterproof Altra trail-running shoes. Each plunk of rain came faster than the next and despite my head-to-toe waterproofing, I found myself ducking under the sturdy limbs of a Western red cedar to wait for the deluge to pass.

I was on day six of a trip from Stevens Pass, to the appropriately named Rainy Pass on what would soon be Section 6 of my upcoming guidebook, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington.

No stranger to the rain, I felt my heart sink a little when fog shrouded panoramic views. After all, this area is a vision of grandeur, and although I had seen it before, I longed to see
it again.

Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass is one of those stretches of the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that invokes a convivial solitude where placid lakes, high subalpine wildflower meadows and magenta sunset over jagged peaks meet dark, moss-laden evergreens and rushing water through hidden river valleys. It is the kind of scenery that both haunts and soothes as you pass through the untamed wilderness that wakes your inner being from its very core.

The section kicks into high gear roughly two miles from Stevens Pass off State Route 2 when it enters the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, a gentle, wild landscape containing subalpine lakes such as Valhalla, Janus, Pear and Sally Ann.

Huckleberry-rich meadows hold hands with evergreen thickets as you make your way north traversing grassy, view-laden ridgelines. Hoary marmots pop up from their burrows and scurry about the wildflowers, stopping to dine on the delectable greens before winter sends them back into hibernation.

Glacier Peak Wilderness

As you continue north, the trail guides you into the beating heart of the rugged countryside, Glacier Peak Wilderness, where Glacier Peak itself, one of Washington’s most mysterious volcanoes, summons you to walk the shoulders of her ever-changing ridges.

Next up, the trail drops into mystifying woods where native flora such as Devil’s Club, pipsissewa and evergreen saplings throw elbows for the slightest bit of sunlight on the forest floor.

Chartreuse lichen resembling the hair of cackling witches hangs from boughs, while cushioned pine needles of singletrack lead you deeper into its shadows.

Rushing creeks get your heart pounding as you see the power of their deafening water chisels. You’ll appreciate the hard work of trail crews who placed secure bridges in all the right spots.

Up, up, up you go now, out of the forest valley and into the majestic high country again.

Authentic alpine landscapes appear as you cross over the lofty Fire Creek Pass and enjoy the stone-carved, and extremely icy, Mica Lake Basin.

Suiattle River Reroute

More ups and downs follow until at last, you find yourself on a relatively new stretch of the PCT built to accommodate the robust bridge crossing the Suiattle River.

The reroute in this area cruises past some of the most behemoth Western red cedars in the state, if not the country. Standing next to the towering titans which can sky to 200 feet, you realize just how minuscule you are in the wild world.

Before long, you’ve crossed through Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, entered North Cascades National Park and popped out at the Stehekin Valley Road.

The PCT Basics

Making sure you obtain all the proper permits is an important part of planning so you can enjoy your hike. Photo by Tami Asars

With some basic know-how about permits, water availability and necessities, planning your adventure on the PCT in Washington can be a walk in the park, or in this case, a stroll on a trail.

For starters, you’ll need to secure a permit from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) if you plan to hike 500 consecutive miles or more in one single trip. Should you intend to cross the border into Canada, the Canadian Government requires paperwork that you’ll need to arrange in advance and have in your possession as you head northbound.

Thankfully the PCTA has you covered with links for that as well.

Next, if you plan to camp in North Cascades National Park, located roughly 15 miles north of the Stehekin River Road on the PCT, you’ll need a camping permit. Permits may be secured in the Wilderness Information Centers in either Stehekin or the town of Marblemount on Highway 20, the day before or the day of your intended stay.

That means should you be hiking northbound on the PCT, you’ll need to take the shuttle bus from the Stehekin Valley Road to the town of Stehekin and get your permit before continuing north on your journey.

Additionally, as you roam, be sure to stop at each wooden wilderness permit box you see along the trail and fill out the free, self-issued permit. Doing so helps the Forest Service in its grant planning and knowing how many hikers are in its jurisdiction should something unforeseen happen.

Lastly, the majority of the trailheads in Washington State require you to have a Northwest Forest Pass displayed in the window of your vehicle. These can be obtained from various outdoor retailers, hardware stores and ranger stations, as well as the Forest Service’s website.

Once you have your permits and passes ready to roll, you’ll want to arm yourself with plenty of tools for planning.

The PCTA publishes a downloadable water report that can be useful during dry summers along the trail. Trail guidebooks are helpful tools in knowing what to expect, understanding food caching locations and having a
solid plan.

Smartphone apps, such as Guthook’s Pacific Crest Trail Guide and Halfmile’s PCT Maps are useful tools for finding your way out of a paper bag, but for safety, never rely on technology; always bring physical maps and a compass. Green Trails Maps, a local Seattle company, also offers detailed maps of the PCT.

If you have more questions, the PCTA has you covered with wonderful information on its website.

When you do find yourself waiting for a shower to pass, I recommend waiting out the squalls under the sturdy, dry limbs of the Western red cedar and cherishing every foggy moment. After all, these are spikes on life’s timeline that elevate our souls.

Tami Asars is an outdoor-focused writer and nature photographer living in the Cascade foothills of Washington State. She is a PCT thru-hiker (Class of 2016), and author of the recently released book focused on section hiking, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington (Mountaineers Books).