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Day 131 – August 12, 2022

Mile 2567.8 to 2577.8 (Bridge Creek Campground) through Stehekin, WA

10.0 trail miles | 9.8 tracked miles | 1,827 ft elevation gain | 77.5 F / 25 °C

With a mere five miles separating me from the High Bridge campground, the gateway to Stehekin, WA, I had the luxury to “sleep in” this morning. I woke up at 5:40 am, much later than my usual 5 am rising time, so I could catch the first bus into town.

The mostly downhill five-mile hike was uneventful. Three miles north of Pass Creek, I crossed the boundary with North Cascades National Park, the last national park on my journey. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the elegant marker and the sturdy bridge across Agnes Creek. After walking many miles on a seemingly abandoned trail, and crossing countless broken bridges, it was a bit of a shock to witness my tax dollars at work.

Entering North Cascades National Park

Moments later, the aptly named High Bridge that spans the Stehekin river came into view, and I veered off the Pacific Crest Trail towards the ranger cabin.

The High Bridge area is a remote corner of North Cascades National Park that would hardly see any visitors if it weren’t for the PCT and the primitive road to Stehekin. The site is staffed in the summer, and the park used to operate an hourly shuttle to Stehekin. Unfortunately, as of 2022, the National Park Service has outsourced operations to a private company, and the shuttle schedule has been trimmed significantly.

Stehekin might be the most remote locale in Washington. Situated west of Lake Chelan, it’s a scenic outpost without cell phone service or road links to the rest of the state. The only way to get to Stehekin is on foot, by boat, or for a select few, on a small plane. The only store sells almost exclusively alcohol, and the lodge is routinely fully booked months in advance. There is only one road within Stehekin, a thin strip of asphalt that turns into gravel just north of town.

Lake Chelan aside, the main attraction at Stehekin is probably the bakery, which is located two miles from the “center.” Buses make an obligatory stop on their way from High Bridge, and hikers load up on baked goods like an insatiable swarm.

While in my opinion, the bakery might be slightly overrated, the sights and scent of fresh pastries are nevertheless irresistible after a week in the wilderness. I was flatly denied a latte, though, because supposedly the bus wasn’t going to wait around long enough. (It stops for a whole ten minutes, and the schedule is quite relaxed, but reason wouldn’t prevail.) As revenge, I helped myself to toilet paper from the bathroom for the rest of the journey!

Stehekin bakery

Having visited Stehekin last year, I was familiar with the layout of the tiny town and its quirks. I was able to beat the crowds to the only two laundry machines and the single public shower. I’m not convinced that the washing machine really washed anything—repeated use by hikers will destroy the sturdiest machine—but my attire at least smells fresh, which is always a plus.

Fresh off the shower and laundry room, I picked up my last resupply box at the adjacent post office, a tiny outpost that seems to be crumbling under the weight of unclaimed packages. By 11am, I was done with chores.

Scenic Stehekin, WA

For lunch, I visited the only restaurant, which occupies a stunning location overlooking the Lake Chelan harbor. My burger and salad were horribly overpriced, though I realize that all supplies come by boat, so a price premium is to be expected.

I purchased access to satellite Wi-Fi in an effort to reconnect with the world, though the service was borderline unusable. This must be the universe’s way to tell me to stay disconnected as long as I can—real life is just about to resume.

I rested and chatted with fellow hikers, satellite messaged my mom birthday wishes, then mapped out the next section. It occurred to me that I might be able to compress my schedule slightly and make it home a day early, should I return to the trail tonight and hike a few miles to the next major camp site, in lieu of camping in Stehekin.

And thus, I hopped on a bus back to the trail, and hiked another five miles to Bridge Creek Campground, within North Cascades National Park.

Howard Lake

Camping in North Cascades National Park is highly regulated. PCT long-distance permit holders have access to only a couple campgrounds. On the plus side, reservations aren’t required, and expansive sites are reserved for PCT hikers. Amenities include picnic tables, fire bits, bear boxes, and pit toilets. There’s even and old shelter, a rarity on the PCT (and a sure option to cuddle with mice and other rodents.)

Bridge Creek shelter, North Cascades National Park

I wonder if a ranger will check my permit. That would be the first time in over four months!

Distance to Canada: 75.7 miles

Camping at Bridge Creek, North Cascades National Park

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