Day 126 – August 7, 2022
Mile 2447.2 (Deception Lakes) to 2469.2 through Stevens Pass
22.0 trail miles | 22.2 tracked miles | 4,706 ft elevation gain | 77 F / 25 °C
I left my spartan camp site at Deception Lakes at 6:15 am with the aim of reaching Stevens Pass in time for lunch. I always get a kick out of my evolving perception of distances. At this point, an 18-mile stretch is merely a morning jaunt.
Nature, of course, reminded me who’s the boss: this segment was more challenging and strenuous that I remembered from my previous section hike. Ultimately, it’s a mind game: I was in a rush and had no tolerance for rocky terrain and unexpected obstacles!
Minor frustrations aside, I enjoyed climbing Piper Pass. Topping out at just 5,936 feet of elevation, Piper Pass is merely a footnote on the way to Canada, but the northern face looks particularly imposing. I have fond memories of my first ascent two years ago, which felt quite challenging. Crushing miles at thru-hiker’s speed was elating.
From the top of Piper Pass I caught a glimpse of Glacier Lake, before embarking on a dizzying series of switchbacks down to the valley.
Scenery wise, the major highlights of Section J are behind me, but I enjoyed the lush valleys and many lakes.
Eventually, power lines, ski resort signage, and other unmistakable signs of civilization appeared, signaling my arrival at Stevens Pass.
The final descent under the ski lifts was somewhat tedious, as the trail was rough due to overuse, though once again I realize that my emotions were mostly a factor of my mental state. I was just eager to reach my destination.
Finally the Stevens Pass ski resort and bike park came into view, and I made a beeline for the lodge.
Arriving at Stevens Pass feels like yet another major milestone: Canada is just a bit over a week away, even though some of Washington’s most challenging (and stunning) terrain stands between me and victory.
I made the trek from Snoqualmie Pass in 2.5 days, and I’m quite happy with my performance.
The Stevens Pass ski resort is open for mountain biking Thursdays through Sundays which was a major incentive to hustle on Section J. By the virtue of arriving on a Sunday, I knew I would be able to stuff myself silly at the lodge. Food is always one of the most powerful motivators on trail.
I picked up my penultimate resupply box, which the ski resort kindly held at no cost.
While hanging out in the lobby, I bumped into Joe Alonso (@joehikes_ ), a soon-to-be double triple crowner. Joe’s hiking pedigree is a page out of a record book. This year, he’s yo-yoing the PCT, which means he’s walking to Canada and then straight back to Mexico—a truly astounding feat. I last saw Joe at Donner Pass, where we had dinner together and shared a dorm room. Joe is (obviously) faster than me—he tagged the Canadian border a few days ago and is now on the first leg of his southbound journey. As much as I am enjoying my experience, I can’t imagine hiking another 2,600+ miles, especially that late in the season.
Then, I ordered lunch. It cost an arm and a leg, but three entrees and dessert were just what the doctor had ordered.
I fought the temptation to succumb to a food coma and instead organized my resupply and packed up for the next section.
There is no lodging at Stevens Pass. Many hikers take a zero in Leavenworth, a Bavarian-themed town where beer flows freely, while others hitchhike to the Skykomish, a quiet rural community with basic resupply options. Having visited Leavenworth many times, I opted to skip time-consuming detours and forge ahead.
As soon as my devices were fully charged, I left the warm confines of the Stevens Pass lodge and took my first steps on Washington Section K of the Pacific Crest Trail, which links Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass through the quaint village of Stehekin, WA.
While leaving the resort, I became acquainted with another hiker and we hiked the next few miles together and enjoyed good conversation. He was fast, and I always enjoy having a “locomotive” who sets the pace. It helped that the terrain was easy: the first 10 miles or so of the PCT north of Stevens Pass follow a former railroad, with a gentle 2% grade.
We parted ways near Lake Valhalla, where I setup camp for the night. This isn’t exactly the most exciting campsite ever, but I’d rather sleep in the backcountry than under a ski lift, and these few evening miles will give me a nice head start ahead of a demanding section.