We’re out on a thruhike of the 1200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) as part of a group of six experienced hikers. Read our experience getting our collective butts kicked on the rugged and challenging PNT in Section 2.
With properly taped feet, we left Eureka, MT, and continued west on the PNT. Our first 16 miles of the day was road walking, a mix of dirt and pavement. Road became trail after crossing the Kootenai River, and we started a steep 4000 ft climb immediately. It was a steamy afternoon which left us drenched in sweat as we climbed up the appropriately named Thirsty Mountain and approached the lookout tower. We took a quick break to dry off and enjoy the views and continued a few more miles to camp. Just before heading to bed, a black bear walked by near our camp, but thankfully it spooked easily once it heard us.
Glancing at the elevation profile, I thought we were in for a light day. But I was seriously mistaking. We walked the trail winding through the forest following the ridge, a series of climbs and descents. Sean and I lagged behind the group, and I became frustrated at our relatively slow pace closer to 2 miles per hour than 3. We took our lunch at Vernal Falls, a couple of the guys taking a dip in a swimming hole in an attempt to fight the steamy weather.
After lunch, we began a huge climb that started in overgrown bushes and continued up into a burn area with no shade to cover the blazing sun. We climbed while sweat poured down our bodies. It took about 2 hours to climb over the mountain and halfway down the other side until we could find some shade. We were all pretty beat with all the climbing and temps around 90°, but we walked on grateful for the cool forest. Soon, we exited the trail for a road, and began our evening walk on dirt forest service roads. We stopped for a quick swim in another creek and continued to camp on the side of the road, tired from another long hot day.
We had about 12 miles of road walking in the morning, followed by single track in the afternoon and evening. Philly and Gusha started their day a couple miles ahead of the rest of us, and we spent the day on their heels. They’d leave us time stamps at intersections carved into the dirt or small patches of snow which made for a fun game. The day featured more big climbs which actually came with some pretty incredible views and a lovely display of wildflowers. Towards the end of the day, our group spotted two bears that ran away from us quick when they noticed our presence. Just before camp, we crossed into Idaho from Montana, and we went to bed tired and eager to head to town the next day.
Overnight, a little rain fell from the sky. It was mostly dry in the morning, but ominous clouds filled the sky. We started a big descent that lead down into the valley with rain intermittently falling in us. I spotted another black bear as we came down the mountain, again running away from us quickly. We crossed the Moyie River which brought us to our last big climb before town. We started a steep 3500 ft climb up and over a mountain switchback after switchback, a seemingly endless ascent. The sky had cleared by this point, leaving us drenched with sweat instead of rain. Finally, we started heading downhill and just had 1 more obstacle between us and town – a mile of bushwhacking connecting two trails. We spent about 40 minutes climbing over and around down trees, creating a path through the woods. Our final stretch was dirt road walk to a highway where we waited about an hour on the sleepy road for a ride to Bonners Ferry. With an aggressive start to a challenging trail, we all were excited to take our first day off and catch up on sleep.
With painful feet, we arrived in Bonners Ferry eager for a day off to rest and take care of a few errands. The gang was kept busy relaxing, eating, and trying to take care of problems with gear and shoes. We were only able to get one night in a motel room, and the next day we were given permission to loiter in the motel’s outdoor seating area and camp on their property (thanks, Ed!). Not an ideal zero day, but restful nonetheless. It was in Bonners Ferry we read the news that an unprecedented and historic heatwave was approaching as we took off on Section 3.
Whew, this was another tough section of the PNT. We had our first significant distance of road walk which is easy walking but somewhat boring and tough on the feet. Each day we faced steep long climbs while the temps hovered around 90° without any wind. The climbs tended to coincide with burn areas so much of the effort was done without any shade. However, we were rewarded with an amazing display of wildflowers and a nice section of views from a ridgeline. During a couple stretches, we faced 10-12 mile water carries which weighed down our packs and expended more effort. After 10 aggressive first days on trail, we deemed a zero day in Bonners Ferry necessary.