Steven’s Pass to Stehekin

posted in: Pacific Crest Trail | 0

This penultimate (second to last) section was another hard, but absolutely beautiful section.

Day 157 (Continued)

After getting dropped back at the trail by our wonderful, cool driver we started….you guessed it, hiking some more!

Trail is open and ready for us

Shortly after starting down the track, Physio’s tummy began to react to the fried chicken. To occupy herself Cashmere called a few people in the backlog of people she’s been wanting to talk to. To others who remain on the backlog (you won’t know that you are, but this especially includes Boston fam and friends), sorry, Physio’s tummy did come right eventually.

Despite Physio’s earlier stomach problems he got ahead once we were hiking again (he is always energetic at the start of sections). During this time Cashmere came upon a bigger fellow who stepped aside for her to pass. After a little chatting she learned he was a local just out for a day hike. He didn’t seem too perplexed that it would be getting dark soon and had seven or so miles to walk back to his car. Apparently he often walks at night. But the real point worth mentioning is that he offered Cashmere lots of food to take with her. We had just resupplied but the selection of items for lunch hadn’t been great: we had wanted some bread but not in the form of cheap hotdog buns. Yes we are fussy thru-hikers. When this fellow offered her some nice bread, she jumped at it. We could make grilled cheese with it after all. We also scored a few fresh, crisp, tasty apples.

After this nice encounter Cashmere dreamily reflected on all of the nice people she had met along the length of the trail. There are so many amazing individuals that want to help us do this crazy hike, supporting us in diverse ways. People have given us rides, trail magic shoes, discounted motel rates, on-trail surprise food or water, and have sent us resupply packages and treats. We also greatly appreciate you wonderful blog readers, keeping tabs on our adventures and writing us the occasional comment so we know we aren’t just writing in vain. Thank you!

What an awesome adventure we are having and these little bits of moral support really do help keep us going.

Some more wilderness to explore

While Cashmere was enjoying this uplifting encounter, Physio was walking ahead and ran into our old friend Resident Cowboy. Resident Cowboy was in rough shape – he had stress fractures in both feet and he couldn’t hold down food. Despite trying to take a few weeks off the trail to rest his fractured feet in moonboots, as soon as he started walking again the stress fractures were causing him shooting pains through his feet and lower legs. His stomach problems may have been associated with excessive consumption of ibuprofen (trail name “Vitamin I”). Having been in a snowstorm the previous night, and with more bad weather forecast, he had made the wise decision to turn around and go back to Stevens Pass.

While Physio was hearing RC’s tale of woe Cashmere caught up and we decided to push on a few more miles.

Our aim was to make it 9 miles from Stevens Pass to a lake with one of those super sweet outdoor toilets that Physio has been modelling in the blog lately. We had even more motivation to reach the toilet because Cashmere had broken our trowel in a pooping incident. Yep, more poop talk is upon you from our PCT blog.

As we climbed from RC’s campsite we saw our first glimpses of snowy peaks north of Stevens Pass. It soon got dark and we night-hiked for around an hour before finding a cool campsite next to the lake. It was completely covered by the low branches from a stand of trees, meaning there was dry ground and we would stay mostly dry even if it rained.

Maybe you can see the snowy peaks?

The rest of the night was predictable: dinner and water filtering, followed by Cashmere immediately passing out and snoring daintily in Physio’s ear.

Day 158

We awoke to clear skies and were soon embarking on another big climb. Luckily we were rewarded with amazing views of jagged snow capped peaks in all directions. We soon got our first proper view of Glacier Peak, which looked absolutely spectacular. So many glaciers!

This is good but it gets better too!

Glacier peak in the distance

With clouds slowly closing in from the south we stopped for morning tea while we still had great views, some of our favourite on the trail thusfar, and that is saying something. In anticipation of possible bad weather we decided to eat bagels and the bread we were gifted with cream cheese. This food would be more annoying to prepare in the rain.

Physio and the rocking views

We spent the rest of the day following the trail along a fairly long ridge with alternating views of badass mountains to the east and west of us. As usual there was plenty of climbing and descending, but it was served up in lots of fairly small increments. This was a nice change from the huge ups and downs of the previous section.

Forecast: a mix of clouds and badass peaks

What a great time

In the afternoon Cashmere was annoyingly ravenous and we stopped for snacks to chill her out. At times our hiker hunger is a delight offering us a great excuse to annihilate insane quantities of food, but it can also be a bit of a nuisance.

A pretty lake we passed

We camped on an odd campsite on a ridge. It had awesome views of Glacier Peak for the 3 minutes before it was completely dark. Then there were excellent views of stars, but these too were soon lost to clouds as the forecasted rain finally moved in.

Day 159

We awoke to Cashmere pulling her fist fast and aggressively across the tent. Hmm…that was weird. Before bed she had been thinking of how odd it was that we’ve only seen goats in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. How do the goats know to hang out there and what prevents them from inhabiting all of these other mountains? Somehow this thought process resulted in her having a strange dream about an aggressive goat swallowing her arm and holding it tight. To get it out of the crazy goat’s throat she had to pull it real hard and fast. Physio was startled by this seemingly violent behaviour, but once Cashmere explained her dream he was less shocked.

The morning hiking was cold, wet and viewless. It was drizzly and often there was a cold breeze blowing. With essentially nothing to distract us and cold weather keeping us moving to retain body heat, we were moving pretty fast. That is, until we discovered a really nice wild blueberry patch. It was so nice Physio immediately declared we should drop our packs and get properly involved. Cashmere was very impressed…there is nothing worse than standing around harvesting berries with a heavy pack on. Clearly she has met her dream man.

Morning hiking pre-berry fest, just cold & wet

Physio isn’t quite as berry deranged as Cashmere though and as the berries thinned and the cold air set in he started walking again. Cashmere said she would leave soon. Likely story.

When we could see a bit, it looked good

Actually she really did leave soon but then found the absolute motherload patch and proceeded to get way behind. Physio had seen the high density, extra-plump-berry patch though and figured it might be awhile until he saw his wife again. Even then he might only see Cashmere again at her funeral, after she died of hypothermia due to extreme berry derangement. It was a risk they could both handle – she’d be happy to go out that way.

Near the berry zone, little visibility, where Cashmere might have had her last day

Luckily we won’t be needing to shell out for an expensive funeral as Cashmere found the berry picking pretty hard once her hands froze too much to move properly and she was forced to keep walking. To be fair, her berry bag was pretty full by then. Hiker hunger eventually did get Physio and he stopped to wait for Cashmere to have morning tea on a cool pass.

This place looks pretty sweet for some snacks

The drizzle had eased back and we had some glimpses of cool views so decided to make our grilled cheese (courtesy of the donated bread’s former owner). The grilled cheese party was yet again one of the best things that has ever happened to anyone in history. No exaggeration. But then rain and strong gusts of wind came and ruined everything. One of the worst moments in mankind’s history.

Grilled cheese party - ruined

We quickly packed up and began a long descent into a beautiful glaciated canyon.

The start of the walk down into a canyon

It was easy walking for awhile and there were lots of creeks around. Then due to some calls of nature and not wanting to wait about in the cold, Cashmere almost lost Physio. He was behind her but then she tried to wait for him by taking a break to investigate a weird sign she had seen and didn’t understand. This involved going off trail so she put her poles and pack near the sign on the trail.

What does this mean? Turns out it's a toilet!

When she returned Physio still hadn’t arrived. She waited a few more minutes and then thought, “what if he passed me and didn’t see my poles/pack?” So she started walking fast until she reached a strange junction where it wasn’t obvious where to go. “Surely this would have confused Physio and he would have at least stopped here.” So she decided maybe he had developed tummy problems and was behind her. She sat and waited but what really concerned her was that they only had a little over an hour until dark and Physio had the tent. What’s more she had the sleeping bag. They had to find each other. What if he was ahead and thought she was ahead of him? It was scary.

Let's look at this glacial water creek to feel better

This one looks like it has had some problems though

In the end Physio did come by about 10 minutes later and all of a sudden Cashmere had a new best moment on the PCT.

Reunited we crossed this creek together, on a bridge that had had it's own problems

We walked for another hour. Then Cashmere wanted to stop for the night at an established campsite by a creek. She was hungry, tired, and not confident about the prospects of finding a random campsite further along. Physio wanted to keep walking as we had only walked 19 miles (~30km). Somehow Cashmere managed to win the debate and we settled in for the night. Cashmere cooked dinner in the rain, while Physio set up the tent and beds – our new nightly routine. We were soon joined by a nice enough fellow from Boston named Power Thighs who we had been seeing on and off since Northern California.

Power Thighs basically has the exact opposite hiking style to us. He tends to walk really big miles for a few days and then rest lots. For instance to get to Timberline Lodge he walked 52 miles (~83km) to get there but then took two zeros. We are turtles, slow and steady, usually walking around 22 miles (~35km) a day now that we are in Washington. I wouldn’t say that either method is better or worse but it is amusing that we have remained in the same vicinity as each other for so many miles. Anyway he was on a new mission to catch up to people he knew 20 miles ahead of us so we knew he would out-sprint us the next day but we chatted a little as we each cooked in the rain and then went to sleep.

Day 160

The next day was a big one as we tried to make up for our slack from the previous day. It started with a pretty awkward incident.

I swear we don’t mean to talk about poop so much but seriously you’ve got to hear about this incident. Okay so we have really strong feelings about poop edicate on the trail. With the large number of hikers on the PCT we were always worried about people not following the ‘leave no trace’ principles. We had seen evidence of “surface dumpers” but had assumed they were mostly weekenders. This incident provided irrefutable evidence that there are through hikers with bad pooping habits even after over 2400 miles (3,800km) of practice.

Let's look at how great Glacier Peak was looking from our campsite in the morning so you that there was something positive

So we were eating breakfast at camp when Power Thighs came out of his tent looking purposeful. Cashmere assessed the situation quickly and gave him very simple directions to find the campsite toilet. He walked in the direction of the toilet and then stopped inexplicably about 15 feet from the toilet. He was wearing a fluorescent orange hat, so we knew exactly where he was when he squatted behind a tree.

He very quickly came walking back up to camp. Clearly he didn’t take the time to dig a hole. Cashmere asked him “Did you find the toilet?” He said “Yeah thanks, I found it”. We both looked at each other but didn’t say anything.

Physio was optimistic and thought maybe he had just had a quick pee. After Power Thighs rushed off down the trail creepy old Cashmere decided to go and investigate the scene of the crime and discovered a fresh and well formed human turd with two bits of bark on it. Okay so not only was this guy in too much of a hurry to bury his poo, or use the toilet 10 feet away (!!!!!) he was also a liar, a liar who pooped right near a stream. We were enraged. So enraged that we are telling you about it with his real trail name. Take that Power Thighs! Not cool. Not cool at all.

[Poop picture not captured because we aren’t that weird…yet, and for the comfort of our readers]

That day we found much trash along the trail and with every granola bar wrapper we picked up we thought to ourselves, “Power Thighs” and shook our heads. Luckily for us we never did see him again and all of us were spared an awkward conversation that we didn’t want to have and might have been to whimpy to dish out. Power Thighs. Hmf.

Now that we’ve got the worst for the day out of the way, let’s talk about the best. The clouds cleared a bit for awhile in the morning and Glacier Peak, which we were right up against looked absolutely ah-mazing!

You are a sexy sexy mountain Glacier Peak. We love you. Thank you for helping us forget about "the incident"

Some of the mountains and lakes around the area also offered beautiful vistas (particularly when contrasted with the site of Power Thighs taking a surface dump 10 feet from a toilet) but Glacier Peak was the true star. Oh my God. We love glaciers! After some climbing in the morning we had an alpine morning tea complete with glacier views, a glacial lake, and a few fat marmots around.

Morning tea zone

Fat marmot action
Anorher gorgeous lake. Washington you are a great way to finish a hike

We continued hiking, came upon a really fat marmot, a beautiful lake, and looked across the valley toward some relentless switchbacks we would descend below and then climb up.

Can you spot the switchbacks?

During the early stages of the descent we met a Norwegian hiker who was hiking southbound with a big looking pack. We incorrectly assumed he was a section hiker. He informed us he was hoping to hike the whole PCT. What’s more he didn’t even seem to be in a hurry – he talked about his plans to take multiple zeros in Washington towns. Our only hope was his Norwegian heritage might have prepared him for potentially epic amounts of snow and freezing weather in the Sierras.

One last look at one of Glacier Peak's most impressive glaciers

The trouble with sexy glacier covered mountains is they really create their own wet weather. It wasn’t long before our gorgeous glacier views were mostly faded into a sea of clouds. The trail was rugged in this area. We had to negotiate some gnarly terrain and traverse slip prone areas. There were lots of trees down to climb over or duck under, some re-routes, and occasionally slippery mud. It didn’t make for express hiking.

After making a huge descent we did indeed climb those switchbacks we had spotted, plus more, and were soon treated to a whole swath of new incredible vistas. The clouds were definitely blocking some of the action but it was clear that we were in an awesome area. We would love to return to this area again one day with a perfect forecast.

Panorama of awesomeness

Another massive descent ensued, at the end of which we met a bunch of hikers setting up camp by Vista Creek. Even though we had already walked over 20 miles we kept going to make up for our short previous day. We were soon walking in the dark once again. Between the tough terrain, cold unmotivating mornings, and increasingly short days we’ve found ourselves night-walking almost everyday in Washington.

We passed by a junction where we knew most hikers would be turning off the PCT to follow the old PCT route, cutting off five miles. We’re not opposed to such rational behaviour, but had read that the new PCT route goes through a grove of huge old growth trees. We couldn’t resist the allure of hiking through some ancient forest. Maybe we are just too into hiking?

This impressive trunk seemed like a good sign

After 24.74 miles (~39km) of hard walking, including 6,683ft (~2,000m) of climbing and 9,451ft (~2,800m) of descending (OMG), we finally reached a stream we were hoping would have an unlisted campsite nearby. We were in luck. There was an awesome campsite, great water, and we were at the start of the really big tree grove.

We were exhausted. Cashmere cooked dinner while Physio set up camp. We ate and fell onto our beds and into extreme coma sleeps.

Day 161

Perhaps unsurprisingly we slept in a little late. It felt great but was probably a little silly since the weather only cleared for a few hours that morning. The other thing is, we weren’t in for an easy stroll today either. We would likely be taking on another 6,000ft (~1900m) or so of climbing.

Physio’s tummy was acting up again in the morning. His problems don’t seem to be limited to just lactose intolerance. Many of his stomach problems remain unexplained mysteries. Oddly Cashmere’s digestive disease (Ulcerative Colitis) has hardly caused her any problems on the trail. She seems to get flares when her stress is elevated. While hiking from Mexico to Canada may not be everyone’s idea of relaxation, it seems to agree with her.

After our slow start we soon walked into the much-anticipated grove of huuuge trees which we loved. With so many different types of huge trees we were basically in tree hugger heaven. Cashmere even stopped to hug a particularly nice tree.

Physio walks among some giants



The grove of awesome trees soon gave way to less impressive young forest and we reached a long bridge over the Suiattle River. After crossing the bridge we followed the river for several miles gradually climbing. Eventually the gradual climb gave way to a seemingly endless climb up switchbacks. With blue skies first thing in the morning Cashmere got overly optimistic and tried to do some laundry. This soon proved to be a futile effort: she could not dry anything. By the time we stopped for morning tea the clouds had moved in and drizzle had begun to occasionally come through.

The Suiattle River

After morning tea we climbed some more, with increasing precipitation. Thus we decided that for lunch we would investigate a little old miners’ hut that we had read in our guide was only about 100 metres off the trail. As we approached we saw the welcoming site of building materials and Cashmere got excited, however soon she learned that she had totally jumped the gun on that.

Not the party hangout we'd hoped for

With the hut in a state of dilapidation we settled for a dry spot under a tree and had lunch, getting very cold rapidly. Our friend Fun Jumper soon came upon us and was sad to learn that the warm hut we’d promised him was a lie. He went to dump the water he had carried and filtered to make himself a hot chocolate. Oops. It wasn’t just ourselves that we had gotten amped.

The rest of the day involved, you guessed it, walking through more rain, with lots of climbing and descending. Cashmere was naively optimistic that the weather would soon change and we would see the beautiful views discussed in our guide.

Despite the fact that she was wrong you could tell that we were in a cool area. When we weren’t thinking about how cold we were, we enjoyed it thoroughly. There were glaciers, little falls everywhere from the rain, berry bushes turning a vibrant red, overflowing streams and even flood-damaged bridges.

Glaciers and weather

Okay, there seems to be a trend here
There were flooding streams everywhere!

After witnessing the flood-damaged bridges, and descending a bit more, perhaps it was appropriate that we settled into a sketchy campsite with hazardous trees all around. But it was so dry under a tree there.

Should we camp here?

At least we'll be dry when the tree crushes us in our sleep

Perhaps the signs have put off most hikers because we didn’t see anyone else at camp. What’s more, there were lots and lots of ravenous mice about driving us crazy, especially Cashmere who was cooking dinner. Meanwhile Physio rigged up the tent quite creatively to take advantage of the flaatest, driest spot which happened to be on the cusp of a bank which thankfully neither of us rolled down overnight.

Physio doing some hazard tree gymnastics

When we went to bed we tried to make sure everything was packed well away from the pesky mice but overnight they were relentless, albeit stupid. They ate some of the mesh pockets on each of our bags but didn’t get any food.

Day 162

In the morning the weather was better. We only had 12 or so miles out to Stehekin and got started early in order to make a 2pm bus.

For the most part the trail followed along the top of a canyon, with a rushing creek far below. The trail was fairly moderate with lots of short ups and downs.

There was one more big tree for Physio to admire

Other than the canyon the most notable thing about the day’s hiking was the dramatic change in the climate and associated ecology. We had been walking in lush temperate rainforest. The ground was often muddy and much of the trail was overgrown with very wet understory plants. As the morning progressed we suddenly found ourselves hiking in a dry, dusty, and sparsely vegetated landscape. It was like we had moved from New Zealand to Australia in just a few miles. Our wet shoes now had a heavy layer of dust stuck to them.

Dry and dusty Physio enters Northern Cascades National Park

There was also one section where you could smell smoke and see the evidence from the recent fires that had this section of trail closed for some time.

A bit before 2pm we emerged at a road and trailhead. A quick look at a map told us we should cross a bridge to get to the bus pick up. We immediately realised the bus pick up got its name ‘High Bridge’ because the bridge we crossed was high over a deep canyon.

The aptly named 'High Bridge'

About 15 minutes after we arrived at High Bridge we were picked up by a shuttle and taken to the Stehekin Valley Ranch. We had booked a cabin there, and the price included three meals.

Upon arrival at the Ranch we promptly started drying all our wet gear, put a load of laundry on, showered and then went to dinner wearing rain gear.

We had ‘harvested’ a pair of rain pants each from what we were told by other hikers was a hiker box – and we were wearing them to dinner. On the way to dinner our shuttle driver Cliff informed us grumpily that the pants we were wearing belong to the Ranch, and they don’t have a hiker box.

Okay…lucky we didn’t tell Cliff we weren’t wearing underpants! Being hiker trash means you have to wash almost everything you have – so our only undies were still in the washing machine.

Dinner was delicious, including roast chicken, mashed potatoes, roast vegetables, and desert comprised of a choice of lots of different pies.

The Ranch laundry doesn’t include a drier, and guests normally hang their laundry on a line. We thought this was great, except it started raining while our laundry was on. After dinner we collected our laundry and hung it all over the place in our cabin to hopefully dry over night.

Day 163

Our main task for the day, other than hiking, was to collect our resupply packages that had hopefully arrived in Stehekin. We took the Ranch’s bus to Stehekin at 11:30am. On the way we stopped to go see Rainbow Falls and stopped at the local bakery where we stocked up on supplemental food for the trail and Cashmere got an icecream.

Rainbow Falls looking spectacular

In Stehekin we were disappointed to find out the pirate of a post master (he had long grey hair and a black eye patch) did not have our packages. However, the day’s mail would be arriving at around 12:30pm on a boat. All of our hope was now placed on the boat.

Not a bad place to nervously wait for a boat

The bus back to the Ranch was also due to leave at 12:30pm and we were hoping to get back in time to get the lunch we had already paid for. So it was that Physio and Cashmere had to divide and conquer. Cashmere would stay to collect our packages if need be, Physio would head back to the Ranch to secure our food.

We nervously waited for the boat to arrive, knowing that its contents would determine whether we would get back on the trail. It turns out the boat’s arrival is eagerly awaited by many locals, since it brings tourists, and supplies for the Ranch, bakery, and restaurant.

The only thing is all of the mail packages have to get unloaded and brought up to the Post Office for scanning before you can coolect yours. So Cashmere helped the postmaster push the carts of packages up the hill where they were unloaded. We were in luck, our main resupply package had arrived. By some miracle Cashmere’s mum’s homemade granola had also made it all the way from Boston, even though it was sent on a Saturday and we were collecting it on the Monday. Maybe the US Postal Service isn’t so bad afterall.

With packages in hand Cashmere tried her luck hitching back to the Ranch. With negligible traffic this seemed a daunting prospect. After about 15 minutes a car came and didn’t pick her up but the one after did. The driver was nice and has a summer house in the area which he likes to visit to go fishing.

Cashmere arrived to a big meal set aside by Physio, who was talking to an older couple at the table. They proved to be excellent company as Cashmere greedily scarfed down just about all the food. Before we knew it, it was go time and we had to basically run to the shuttle to get back on trail. We actually had to sort our resupplies by the high bridge bus pick up, but soon enough we were on our way, with way too much food in our packs and taking on THE FINAL SECTION…to be documented in our next post.