Type of HikeMulti-night backpack
Trail ConditionsObstacles on trail:
Trees down across trail,
Overgrown in places.
RoadRoad suitable for all vehicles
BugsBugs were not too bad
This was a great weeklong backpack-by-bus through the Glacier Peak Wilderness, demanding but spectacular. I caught the Trailways bus (www.northwesterntrailways.com , $26) from Seattle, which dropped me off at Stevens Pass - be sure to remind the driver! Typically, it was an hour late due to Seattle traffic. Once you reach High Bridge, catch one of 4 daily buses (www.lodgeatstehekin.com/shuttle-schedule.pdf, $7) to Stehekin. From there take the once daily (http://ladyofthelake.com/schedule-high-season_319.html ) Lady of the Lake II ($24) or Lady Express ($37) scenic passenger ferry to Chelan. Once in Chelan, plan to stay overnight, then take the Chelan County bus # 20 or #21 (www.linktransit.com/routes-maps , $2.50) the next morning to Columbia Station in Wenatchee. From there the nice 4 hour ride back to Seattle is $37. My campsites were at Janus Lake (10 miles), Lake Sally Ann (18 miles), Sitkum Creek (18 miles), ridge north of Milk Creek (15 miles), Buck Creek Pass trail junction (20 miles), and a sunny site above the S Fork Agnes Creek gorge (15 miles), with 7 miles the last day. This totals 103 miles, including the extra 5 ½ miles to detour to the new Suiattle River bridge. Hint: If you’re using an older guidebook, such as the Wilderness Press PCT guidebook or PCT Data Book based on it, expect it to be out of date from the Suiattle River area to High Bridge. I greeted a good 2 to 3 dozen thru hikers, mostly southbound, but one group 3 had left the Mexican border in late March due to the very low snowpack in California. This year should easily break all records for thru hikers due to the movie “Wild”, plus the low snow pack. But the Glacier Peak Wilderness lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest parts of the PCT, and not just for big elevation gains and losses. It also needs substantial trail maintenance from a few miles north of Red Pass to Vista Creek, especially large blowdowns and brush, but also tread work in places. Fortunately it was passable, if slow, and the key bridges were all in place. I did wade one creek where the rock hopping looked too risky. The Suiattle River was a powerful torrent, muddy with glacial silt, so the new bridge was worth it. This bridge is about 3 miles downstream from the old one, with new trail on the south side of the river that is more like a woods road – very wide and smooth and a very fast walk. The old Suiattle River trail is used on the north side – newly maintained but still much slower, especially since I suffered it in 90 degree weather, much appreciating its frequent stream crossings. The initial section from Stevens Pass to Red Pass is classic PCT – well maintained and graded, with only modest ups and downs, and great views from high points. Unfortunately I had 45 degree rain and fog over Grizzly Peak, missing some of the scenic vistas from my 2007 backpack from Stevens to Stehekin which did the detour around the east side of Glacier Peak with its breathtaking views of Clark Mountain and the remote Napeequa Valley from Little Giant Pass. As I explained to one thru hiker, if the weather is going to hit hard anywhere on the PCT in Washington, it is most likely to be here. Some thru hikers never even see Glacier Peak. But from Kodak Peak to Red Pass (6500’) the scenery was restored to its full glory. Then I hit a few miles of a heather and rock basin that resembles arctic tundra, evidence of historically recent glaciation. At the bottom of this basin is a rock cairn crafted to look like a duck, perhaps a sly commentary on the use of the word “duck” in the Sierras to denote rock cairns. Then the trail goes through old growth forest, not rising high again until legendary Fire Creek Pass (6350’): First vistas of the spectacular spires and glacier of the North Cascades, with Dome Peak being the centerpiece, the south end of the famous Ptarmigan Traverse. In another mile reach deep blue Mica Lake and the best swimming on this section of the PCT. Then it’s a long drop to Milk Creek, with some trail damage, and a very brushy, waterless climb back up the other side, hot for me even at 7 in the evening. The following ridge top has more scenic views, then good water in a rock garden basin before dropping a long ways down to the Suiattle. The trail north from Suiattle Pass is more locally scenic, brushy in some places, but with plenty of water rewarding an unexpected uphill grind. Then at a rest stop at Hemlock Camp I smelled wood smoke, and a half mile north I looked across the creek and saw several columns of smoke on the ridge 1000’ above, evidently from an old lightning strike that would smolder, the flare up on a hot and windy afternoon. Later the fire crew at Stehekin told me that they had been monitoring this fire and did not expect that it would affect the PCT, but if so, PCT hikers would be rerouted through Holden and Lucerne. Only one time had I seen a forest fire closer than this – a couple of trees in full flame at Hawkins Mountain in the Teanaway area a few hours after a lightning strike, only a hundred yards off the trail. By this point the long miles had taken their toll on my feet, and I was just hobbling along. But another young hiker who’d started out from Stevens Pass was in much worse pain, trying to suppress it just through hard hiking adrenaline. My last day I got up very early and after a while realized I had a chance to make the 9:15 am shuttle bus. A couple of ibuprofen and instead of hobbling down the trail I was jogging and made it with 15 minutes to spare.