Cutthroat Pass to Glacier Pass – 15.8 miles
Camping overnight in a high mountain pass can be risky. It can be very windy and very cold. Therefore I was incredibly surprised to wake up to calm, warm air. Stepping out of my tent I saw that the smoke column of the day before had dissipated and settled down into the valleys. It made for an interesting sunrise but would mean hazier views. Thankfully I’d be staying high for most of my day and moving away from the fire.
The other challenge of camping in a pass is lack of water. I’d rationed about a litre of water for my morning and I had four miles to hike before I reached my first water source.
Leaving my camp at Cutthroat Pass the trail continued to climb. I looped around the east face of a ridge and then through a gap before dropping a couple hundred feet to Granite Pass. It seemed somewhat strange to be dropping down to a pass instead of climbing up to it! The trail then skirted the west flank of Tower Mountain. From this vantage point I had pretty nice views down the valley towards SR20 and the peaks on the other side. I was also mostly shaded from the hot morning sun.
Within about an hour and a half I’d reached my water source – a good-flowing stream in the Snowy Lakes basin. I drank plenty of water there and reloaded for my next five miles.
Next I had a few hundred foot climb to reach Methow Pass. This pass was dominated by the sharp crags of Mt Hardy. I took a short break in some shade to have a snack and enjoy the view of the valley below.
I finally had some downhill travelling ahead as I dropped down to the Methow River. I found it interesting to be at the starting point of the Methow River, which heads out of the mountains to the town of Winthrop and the Methow Valley before continuing on another 50 miles to join the mighty Columbia River.
I hiked about five miles along the valley to reach a nice campsite where the trail crosses the Methow River. This was my destination for a lunch break. There were some wide wooden benches to stretch out on while I made my lunch. I actually cooked my dinner meal knowing that my camp for the night would once again be waterless. While I was relaxing a trio of guys rolled in and joined me. They had nicknamed themselves the “Suffer Squad” and were pushing themselves to hike over 30 miles a day. They’d reach the Canadian border within a day or so, instead of the 5 it would take me! They pulled out their stoves, boiled some water and cooked some ramen noodles. Then (incredulously!) they put the noodles into tortillas and devoured that. Talk about carb loading! They didn’t stay long and once they were gone it felt to me as though a whirlwind had blown through.
I had 5.5 miles to hike the rest of the afternoon. I was glad I’d hiked most of my miles in the morning because the afternoon was hot and humid, with the temperature easily reaching into the 90s.
The trail continued to follow the Methow River, alternating between meadows and forest with some gentle ups and downs. A couple miles ahead I caught sight of a large swath of burnt forest. This section of trail had been closed for about a week while I was hiking around Glacier Peak. Thankfully the fire had been contained before it reached the PCT.
I reached a small creek and took a break in the shade. There were some large smooth logs that I could lie down on and stretch out. It’s important to stay limber on trail! This was my last chance to get water until the next morning. I drank a hydration tablet and refilled my water containers, carrying a bit extra in my water bladder.
The rest of my afternoon was a slow and hot climb to reach Glacier Pass. The trail followed the creek though just enough above it for the water to be out of reach. I really took my time through that section stopping whenever there was a little bit of shade from the hot sun. The last mile was a steep switchbacking climb. At least then I was back under the trees. Needless to say I was really grateful to reach the camp for the night.
I set up my tent and collapsed into it for a nap. I only stirred when someone else came into the campsite, followed by another couple of guys. I got myself up to have some dinner and ended up socializing with the group that joined me at the campsite. They were a varied group of guys working to complete the trail. They were a lot more relaxed than the “Suffer Squad” I’d met earlier in the day. It was nice to have a group to chat with after my very quiet day. I went to sleep feeling really glad for the community of the trail.