We’re out on a thruhike of the 1200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) westbound as part of a group of six lean, tan superheroes. Read our experience getting our collective butts kicked on the rugged and challenging PNT in Section 6 through the Pasayten Wilderness Area.
Our day began 24 miles west of Oroville as we continued our long stretch of road walking. Our packs were loaded with 4.5 days of food as we began a long day of climbing. Our first 13 miles included over 6000 ft of elevation gain and was mostly done on dirt forest service roads. Sweat poured as the sun beamed down on us. At Cold Springs trailhead, we officially ended Section 5 and started Section 6. We were thrilled to enter the forest on a winding dirt path after hundreds of miles of mostly road walking. Another big vertical push brought us hiking past a PNT trail crew who we were able to say our thank yous to. Shortly after seeing them, we entered the Pasayten Wilderness area, one of the country’s largest wilderness areas spanning over 500,000 acres. Despite our heavy packs and long day of climbing, we were elated to feel like we were back in the mountains.
After an eternity of climbing, it seemed like the dry high desert of Eastern Washington was a world away, and we were surrounded by craggy peaks across open meadows filled with countless colorful wildflowers. We frolicked our way through sunset arriving at a campsite in the pine trees just as it was getting too dark to see.
We had a stunning start to the day walking among tall trees in the quiet and stillness only mornings can bring. The miles and hours ticked by as we wound our way around Cathedral Peak, an aptly named impressive mountain with thousands of feet of exposed vertical rock wall. We took a serene break at Cathedral Pass to take it all in.
As noon approached, we headed down from the pass eventually leaving intact forest and entering a burn area where we spent the majority of the rest of our day. Just before sunset, we walked on a grassy bald with incredible views of the surrounding peaks. To the south, smoke filled the air as a forest fire was currently ablaze. We stopped to camp unable to leave the view which led to an awkward night of sleeping on the side of hill.
After a sleepless night, we resumed walking through a burn area in cool temps. Since the heatwave and low elevations of Eastern Washington, we had forgotten what it was like to feel chilly. We didn’t make it too far before we started battling blow downs. The pace slowed significantly as the blow down shuffle began. We lunged, heaved, crawled – “dodged, ducked, dipped, dived, and dodged.” This went on all morning until about 2 in the afternoon when the blow downs finally decreased, and we joyfully reentered intact forest. As evening approached, we intersected with the world’s nicest made and well kept trail for the next 10 miles as it coincided with the PNT. We all had a moment of reflection as we walked down the Pacific Crest Trail which everyone in the group has traversed from Mexico to Canada. We were in awe of the incredible views, the memories, the impossible lack of obstacles, and wide rock swept single track. We ended our day at a PCT campsite with a handful of aspiring thruhikers just begining their southbound journey to Mexico.
Our short stretch on the PCT was over before we knew it and we, of course, immediately started hopping blow downs. The morning provided the Pacific Northwest mood we had been seeking. Fog draped the towering pine trees and clung to the mountains providing intermittent views as the wind whipped around the surrounding peaks. Around noon we reached the top of Devil’s Dome. Most of the fog had lifted exposing endless ridgelines and views of hanging glaciers on Jack Mountain. After lunch, we descended the mountain into forest leaving the views from the ridge and the Pasayten Wilderness behind and beginning a seemingly endless series of switchbacks down to Ross Lake. We knew we were in for an easy end to the day when we entered Ross Lake National Recreation Area, marking the end of Section 6, as the PNT hugged the lake shore for about 23 miles. We left about 9 easy miles for us to walk in the morning to Ross Lake Resort.
After a couple hundred miles of mostly walking on roads, we were elated to walk a trail into a wilderness area. The Pasayten was definitely a trail highlight with incredible views of the North Cascades, millions of vibrant wildflowers, sparkling alpine lakes, and hanging glaciers. The only real downside was that maybe 30-40% of the stretch was done through a burn area. The burn did provide views of the surrounding mountains that wouldn’t have been seen otherwise, but it also contained hundreds (thousands?) of blow downs to climb over and set an eerie mood. With each gust of wind, the trees swayed precariously, and we all heard crashes in the distance. As was no surprise, the biting flies and mosquitoes were thick through the wilderness area in mid-July.