DAY 11 & 12
Stehekin to Cutthroat Pass – 22 miles
For two days I hiked almost exclusively uphill. I’d ascended over 5000 feet from the trailhead just north of Stehekin through Bridge Creek Valley, up into Rainy Pass and then a big climb to the top of Cutthroat Pass.
The PCT trailhead out of Stehekin is about 12 miles northwest of the ferry dock. A shuttle bus, known as the “Red Bus,” helps get thru-hikers to and from the trailhead. In order to be on trail by a decent time, I had to be packed up and ready to catch the bus at 8 am. My husband Dan decided to ride along for the first 10 minutes and get off at the bakery stop. He’d then get to enjoy a leisurely coffee, walk back to camp and catch the mid-day ferry back down Lake Chelan.
As for me, I had about 10 minutes at the bakery to load up on goodies to take on trail with me. I grabbed some sweet and savoury pastries, though none would equal the fresh sticky bun I’d had a couple days earlier. Once ready to go, I gave Dan a big hug and he wished me happy trails. I loaded back onto the bus and waved goodbye. No worries, I’d be seeing him in less than a week!
Also on the bus with me were the group of hikers whom I’d met earlier on the trail. They’d caught up to me in Stehekin and had stayed a couple of nights as well. While in Stehekin we’d decided to camp together for our first night back on trail.
The bus dropped us off at the trailhead around 9 am. We got ourselves sorted out and started walking but we didn’t make it very far because there was a doe and her fawn at the trailhead! They sauntered along the trail just ahead of us. The fawn was quite curious but her mom didn’t seem phased at all. Eventually they stepped off and we could move past them.
I was now hiking in North Cascades National Park. It is the only time along the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington that the trail travels through a National Park.
It didn’t take too long before I settled into a comfortable pace and pulled ahead of my new friends. I took a few good breaks as I made my way steadily uphill. The trail wasn’t terribly exciting, travelling through forest and among rocks. One foot in front of the other.
A little after noon I reached a large bridge across Bridge Creek. There was a campsite on the other side where I took a nice long break and was able to soak my feet. My hiking friends showed up just as I was about ready to get going again. I stayed to chat for a few minutes and then set off.
I had four miles to go. I was now on the north side of the valley which meant more sun exposure. And of course I had a bit of a steep climb to do right away, on a full stomach. At least I now had Bridge Creek off my right side, and I could see more of the peaks around me and further up the valley.
After a couple slow and sweaty miles I reached a little suspension bridge over Maple Creek. The creek was running pretty low so the bridge wasn’t entirely necessary, but I can see how it would be helpful in different seasons. The creek was tucked into its own valley and had some shade and a cool breeze. I took a much needed break and enjoyed a crop of some delicious wild raspberries.
After two more miles of hot brushy uphill I reached the side trail to our camp for the night. I wasn’t there too long before my friends rolled in. We staked out our spots for the night and settled in to enjoy a nice evening together.
The next morning I was eager to hit the trail. A few miles into the trail yesterday I’d realize that I’d left my new set of contacts with my husband in a bag back in Stehekin. Thanks to the wonders of satellite technology I’d been able to communicate with my husband and my dad. It was decided that my dad would meet me at a trailhead on SR20, the North Cascades Highway, about a 2 hour drive from home.
I had 6 miles of gradual uphill to get me there. The trail followed Bridge Creek the entire time, first through brushy bushes and then through cool shady forest.
My dad rolled in about 30 minutes after I arrived at the Bridge Creek trailhead. It was so nice to see him! He had fresh water and a homemade muffin from my mom. It was even better than the Stehekin bakery.
The next mile and a half of trail paralleled the highway before reaching another trailhead. My dad offered to drive my pack ahead. I absolutely said yes! I rocked that section, gaining a bit more elevation and feeling so free to hike without a pack. I met my dad about half an hour later at the Rainy Pass trailhead. By then it was early afternoon and my dad needed to drive the two hours back home. It was a tough and oddly strange goodbye.
A short distance up the trail, I took a break to have some lunch. I had five miles more of uphill hiking. My destination for the night was Cutthroat Pass, a very popular day hike in the park. The climb was moderate enough to begin but soon got steeper and hotter. The switchbacks up the last slope seemed endless, and the pass was set back further than it looked.
I was relieved to make it. I was also met with an astounding view – a smoke column from a large fire in the nearby Twisp Valley. It was almost apocalyptic, filling the horizon above the peaks. I couldn’t help but sit and watch the smoke churn upwards and the large clouds extend outwards to cover more and more of the sky. At sunset the smoke clouds and peaks took on a very red glow. It was an eerie and phenomenal sight.
Going to bed that night I thought a fair bit about the many forest fires that have affected so many people over the past couple seasons. The fact that we hadn’t had rain in weeks was omnipresent, not just in the nearby fires but in the stress on the vegetation I was hiking through. I could only hope for cooler temperatures, light winds, and a lightning-free rain shower to help out the brave men & women fighting the fires.