Forest Road 23 to Riley Creek – 10 miles
65 miles to go. When I reach the end of this section I’ll have hiked all 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington.
I had originally hoped to hike this section immediately after crossing the northern terminus. Unfortunately there was wildfire smoke across all of Washington, making it both unsafe and uninspiring to hike.
I ended up waiting until early September. Labour Day weekend brought a change in the weather, including some much-needed rain. September is actually my favourite month to hike in the Pacific Northwest. Lower daytime temperatures, fewer bugs, quieter trails, and gorgeous fall colour are some of the reasons I love it.
For this final Washington section my dad was my support crew and my cheerleader. He wanted to help me complete my miles and offered to drive me the five hours to the trailhead, and pick me up at the other end! My husband would’ve loved to help out, but he was busy coaching the local high school football team.
We hit the road a couple days after Labour Day. The drive south was long and included a one-hour section of gravel road through the north-eastern corner of Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. The drive was thankfully uneventful and we reached the trailhead around 1:00 pm. My dad took a photo of me at the trailhead, gave me a big hug and off I went.
I had ten miles to hike and a little over 2,000 feet of elevation to climb. There were a few thru-hikers at the trailhead and we started out together. I chatted with them a bit about their past months on the PCT as we hiked the first meandering miles through the forest.
After a particularly steep half-mile I entered a huge area of burnt forest. The worst fire in the area was the Cougar Creek Fire in 2015 when over 50,000 acres burned. The burnt forest was surprisingly beautiful. It was bright and there were lots of shrubs and flowers carpeting the space between the snags.
A little over halfway through my afternoon I stopped for a snack break and to refill my water. A few more thru-hikers joined me at the water source. I met about a dozen thru-hikers that day, all in good spirits and looking forward to completing their adventure from Mexico to Canada.
The trail continued through burnt forest for another mile. One advantage of the thin forest was the occasional glimpse of Mount Adams. The trail leveled out a bit near a large meadow with a grand view of Mt Adams.
The last few miles of my day were much flatter. The trail meandered up and down along the western slope of the mountain. Of course the peak was mostly hidden by large volcanic rock formations above the trail but the views west were nice. I could even vaguely see Mount Rainier through the smoke and haze.
I had a few options of sites near Riley Creek, my camp for the night. I set up on a sandy bench between the creek and a meadow with an incredible view of Mt Adams. The summit was only a few miles east of me but towered 7,000 feet higher. I set up my tent, had my dinner and then watched as the sunset colours shifted on the western face of the mountain.
It had been a really good afternoon. The 10-mile hike had been incredibly rewarding, plus I was feeling strong even though I hadn’t hiked for a few weeks. I’d quickly fallen back into the rhythms of the trail and was confident that I’d enjoy this section.