Stevens Pass to Stehekin
I had completed my warm up treks and was ready for a new Adventure. I had not done Stevens Pass north on the PCT, but I had done Suiattle River access to Rainy Pass, so that first portion of the PCT Section K was at the top of my list. It is a long stretch of 107 miles and lots of vertical, oh well, no problem other then carrying enough food. I planned for 10ish days knowing that I don’t have an appetite on the trail which would allow me to stretch my provisions if needed. Weather was going to be excellent except that it was warmer than usual. My travel logistics were easy starting with spending a night in Chelan Lake State Park, leaving my car at Lady of the Lake long term parking, catching the free metro link bus to Wenatchee and then taking a Trailways bus to Stevens Pass. I was on the PCT going north by 3:00 pm on July 27th. However, this trek seemed more daunting then usual. I had not been solo for a number of treks and the distance was 30% longer then I had even taken on. My mind was telling me how nice it would be to be sitting on my deck drinking a beer and my legs were already telling me they were tired. This is always the challenge, to force yourself to just do it and after a few days you know it was the right call, because getting out there is what it is all about. Unfortunately key comfort factors were not in my favor. Temperatures were flirting with 80 degrees and the bugs must have just hatched. The positive was that water was not an issue and the wild flowers were good. So I was “On the Trail Again”.
My goal for the first night was Lake Valhalla which push me a bit. I chose a campsite in a meadow where I discovered just how aggressive the mosquitoes and flies were going to be. But I was generally so tired at my campsites that I was content with escaping the bugs and getting to sleep. My goal for the second day would be Grizzly Peak thinking that the bugs would be better up high. This was only about 9 miles and not that much vertical, but it was hot.
My campsite plans for Grizzly Pass were fine except that the bugs were worse up high, so I did not hang out side much to enjoy the view.
The third day took me past Pear Lake which appears to be very popular due to alternative trail access options. I decided not to climb to Lake Sally Ann and opted for a night at Pass Creek which turned out to be much better with respect to the bugs. The goal for the next day was Indian Pass.
I was told about a great campsite by taking a trail from the Indian Pass sign. Yep, it was primo complete with a toilet, campsites in a thicket of trees next to a large meadow. However, the bugs were the worst yet. That night was kinda weird because a herd of deer bedded down around my tent. The next day would be about Red Pass.
Campsite plans were to deal with the ford of White Chuck Creek and camp on the north side. This ford complete with a buckled bridge and getting your feet wet was rather refreshing with a nice campsite reward.
The next climb would be Fire Creek Pass but I was wearing down so I opted to camp somewhere around Fire Creek. This section was a low milage day for enjoyment, bugs were not bad and the views were awesome. My body was wearing down since I had burned all of my easy fat and I needed to start eating more.
Fire Creek Pass was another beautiful event with plenty of snow, probably the most difficult of the trek.
On the way down I got the word that Milk Creek was an overgrown mess and that I could get water on either side. So my plan was to cross Milk Creek get water and find a campsite somewhere up the other side. The problem though was that for a mile before Milk Creek the overgrowth was so bad it was essentially bushwacking and the same was true on the north side. It was getting late in the afternoon, it was hot and the bugs were horrible as I tried to fight my way up from Milk Creek.
I was really getting tired so I was beginning to consider camping on the trail if I had to. It did not look good for finding flat ground for a campsite, but then I see a sign that says “Toilet”. Thank you God, I really needed to stop, there was no toilet but there were a couple of campsites. Now I needed to recover for the climb over Grassy Point the next day.
This was a tough day, the body was dead but I think the gorgeous scenery carried me over Grassy Point knowing that it was then down to the Suiattle River with one more huge climb to go. It was around this part of the trek where I decided that I needed to finally put in a Hot Tub at our house. Thoughts of how I would install this tub provided a needed distraction for many days. I opted to camp next to Vista Creek and take on the Suiattle River crossing and climb the next day. Turned out to be a great campsite where I had my first fire.
At the major bridge over the Suiattle River I took a long break to recharge my body and iPhone. I had about a 3500′ climb ahead of me so I just wanted to knock off as many miles as I could before camping.
I ended up at the Skyline camping area where there was a large Forest Service work crew just setting up.
Now the climb up and at least a little over Suiattle Pass. I was dragging but I made it to a nice campsite just over the pass complete with the most bugs of the trip.
It was Thursday August 6th and I had about 18 miles to go but it was mostly all downhill. I wanted to get close enough to High Bridge that I could catch the shuttle at noon on Friday. The hike down did have some more small climbs and the weather was changing to a light rain, plus I was running into more overgrown trail so I felt that camping at Swamp Creek 8 miles out from High Bridge would be fine. Plus I was soaked from the waist down due to the moisture off the overgrowth.
It was a nice last night on the trail even though it did rain off and on all night. But it was dry when I packed up for my final 8 “easy” miles to go. Not so easy as in some more up and downs with plenty of overgrown trail. The sight of High Bridge was so welcomed.
The normal Stehekin shuttle is not running this year, however, the Stehekin Valley Ranch is providing the service which gives you a hour layover at lunchtime to at the Ranch, just right for fueling up on a burger. I then stopped at the Stehekin Pastry Company where I had the best piece of Cherry Pie I think I have ever had.
I then set up camp in the National Park Lakeview Campground and proceeded to down a few brews from the store before it closed at 4:00 pm. The next morning I went back to the Bakery for breakfast and had a nice 2 mile walk back to get ready for my ferry ride back to Chelan.
Overall a great trip, but it was also the most difficult trek I have ever completed and now 4 days later I am just starting to feel recovered.
Suiattle River Trail
April 15-16, 2017, camped at Canyon Creek.
Finally a fairly nice weekend in 2017 for a backpacking trip with my Australian Shepard, Brook. She is about 17 months old with some backpacking experience, however, this would be her first with the responsibility to carry her own pack. All of this is in preparation for more extended trips as soon as I retire again at the end of June. I decided to take on the Suiattle River Trail because of the relatively low elevation which I assumed would bode well for snow level. Turns out there was no snow all the way to PCT mile mark 2540. The trail was actually fairy dry and the stream crossings were all easy.
The 23 mile drive in on FR 26 turned out to be uneventful as well. There are enough potholes on the second half gravel portion to force you to keep your speed down, but overall the road was in good shape. Only a couple of cars at the trailhead and I only saw 10 people all weekend. River trails tend to be fairly level with occasional views of the river but rarely any scenic vistas. That would hold true for this Trail, however, the lush green vegetation with many beautiful stream crossings offers its own unique charm.
The real goal for this trip was to test Brook’s interest and ability to be my backpacking buddy. I put a full 32 oz Nalgene in each side of her Ruffwear Palisades Pack. She was not thrilled by this requirement to carry her own pack, but she was committed to pleasing me. She figured out what her cadence would be and soon she was in total work mode never straying more than a few feet from my heels. Actually, I am very proud of how she handled this. You don’t train an Aussie as much as you provide opportunities for them to learn. She totally understands the purpose of the backpack now and I believe is honored to have the responsibility.
The hike into Canyon Creek was relatively easy, which I am extremely grateful for considering I am still just a (old) weekend warrior right now. Considering 7 miles in and then an extra 3 miles up the PCT and 7 miles out on Sunday, my slightly sore muscles are not bad at all. The stream crossings we both beautiful and relatively easy.
The campsite was primo with an excellent fire pit, unfortunately, I did not plan for a fire and failed in trying to start one with only a bit of toilet paper and a few matches. Brook managed the campsite with great dedication and thankfully did not find anything with sweet dog aroma to roll in. Temps got down to about 35 but Brook did not get cold and I love my new REI Magma 10 sleeping bag. Brook did enjoy snuggling next to me but was very well behaved inside the tent. It was a great weekend trip on a very beautiful wilderness trail. I am all the more motivated for retirement now.