Saturday, September 11, 2021

PNT Sections

 PNT Sections:

7/8-8/17, 41 days, ~1248m

Chief Mountain to Eureka:

7/8-7/12, ~135 miles

I started the PNT at around 1145am and had to slug out 32 miles to my first campsite in Glacier National Park. I had to show up in person at a Ranger Station to obtain my permit, in which I hoped to revise my itinerary. Getting a permit at GNP is a real pain in the ass, straight up. While they say they cater to thru-hikers of the PNT and CDT, getting an itinerary in advance is hard to do. Going through a third-party to book a reservation seems pointless when you may not know your itinerary when planning months in advance for a GNP ending, or the system limits the amount of mileage per day a hiker could do, or recreation hikers do not cancel their reservations, or a thru-hiker upon arrival does not have a car, among myriad of reasons. The third party reservation system feels like I am booking through Expedia, which is mind boggling to me in regards to the Park Service letting such a third party manage bookings in a wilderness they are so very much responsible to care for. 

So, I went to a Ranger Station to honor my permit and, if fortunate enough, to change my campsite and mileage on my permit. The backcountry ranger did both. However, not only did he change it, he granted me a 32 mile day in grizzly country knowing I would start around noon and would be hiking into the night. He basically winked at me and granted me access to break the rules. Do not walk in the dark, camp in designated campsites only, etc. I was totally down for the feat, no doubt. Nevertheless, I ended up walking past a slew of unoccupied camp sites at a few backcountry campgrounds. I walked into the night with a feeling of unease trying to honor the permit, but finally said 'fuck it' when I found another empty campground, which he had assured me would be full. 

Why even get a permit anymore in this park, or any other park, save for the potential fines, when the system seems to deter the ones who REALLY want to be there? Trust me, I ultimately know the answers. I really do. 

Enough griping... let's get to the beauty.

I set off into the grizzly bear filled and glacially carved mountains of the Central Rockies of Glacier National Park. The PNT coincides for 20-some odd miles of the Continental Divide Trail (2 National Scenic Trails) and, at one point, has a unifying point where the PNT, CDT, and Great Divide Trail intersect. This would be my 5th time entering and traversing GNP, including the route I would be on. Everything felt familiar to me, but not in a 'same way' that I did not understand the value of such a wild ecosphere. The backcountry scenery in GNP is absolutely stellar and worth one's time to venture back there. While the scenery is probably up on the docket of one's trip to GNP, the importance of this backcountry with an open and wild space for wildlife habitat is crucial. Walking across GNP feels wild. No matter how many times I have walked across GNP, I am on guard, alert, piqued on the aspect of a wild feeling that I am clearly not in control out here, that I am not in charge. So exhilarating!

After a 2 day backcountry stint across GNP empty of tourists, I encountered hordes of tourists from Bowman Lake to Polebridge. That morning I woke up with a sore throat and decided to get into the tiny hamlet of Polebridge and stay the rest of the afternoon and sleep everything off. I hung out with Oliver, owner of the North Fork hostel, whom I had met before. Chill times before I went to sleep in an empty bunk room around 7pm.

The next day I set off early into the smoky Whitefish Divide. A heavy pall of smoke sunk into the North Fork of the Flathead River valley nd stayed with me all the way to Eureka. The trail more or less meanders across the Whitefish Divide that would normally hold distant views. This smoky hindrance did not diminish my spirits, however. The cold and clogged head that had now enveloped me forced me to focus on something else other than obstructed views. Along the way, I met some PNT hikers, which felt good and reminded me that I am on a trail with other hikers. So, different than what I have been used to in recent years.

I got to Eureka in the morning and checked into a motel to sleep and medicate the rest of the day. Despite the head cold, I still managed 32 miles per day.

Eureka to Feist Creek Resort:

7/13-7/15, ~96 miles

I left Eureka feeling a lot better and left early in the morning to beat the heat in low lands on a mix of urban trail, dirt roads, and highway. Not the most scenic section, to say the least. At the end of the long flatland walk, I ascended 5,000ft up to Webb Lookout and into the Purcell Mountains. Up there, I met a family from Bonners Ferry, who I chatted up a bit while I rested. They knew of the PNT and I began to piece together a pattern out here: folks know about this trail. I found that interaction with those folks so peaceful and nice, real easy to just have a moment with folks from other walks of life. camped that night at Boulder Lakes, where things became eerie. 

Arriving at the lake, I quickly set up a bear hang and tarp, for the mosquitoes were out in full force. Under my mosquito netting in my tarp, I tried to shut my eyes as the lingering twilight dissipated. This far north in July the days are incredibly long. Around 10pm I began to somewhat fall asleep. Shortly after 11pm, my eyes popped open to sudden darkness surrounding me. The night sunk in pitch black. but, I had heard something. Since the established camp had limited space, my tarp felt too close to the fire pit and to the lake shore, but no other established space was nearby. Luckily I was considerable distance away from my food hang, however. I think you know what I am getting at...

I heard splashing in the lake, like lumbering footsteps splashing in the shallows. I could tell the sloshing was of a bear---grizzly or black I could not be sure. I yelled out, 'Hey bear!' and the sloshing stopped. One more assertive yell and the steps splashed about as the bear ran away. I had pulled the safety tab on my bear spray and nestled the canister close into me. That bear was that close. I laid my head down with one eye open and both ears alert. 

Another short time later, one eye sprang open and I heard steps quietly walking through the outlet of the lake. The wet steps dripped with water and the bear was sneaking its way towards me. I figured out by this time that the bear probably took this pathway every night, probably to check on the food it smelled. This moment felt ritual, habitual. I deduced from this behavior that the bear out there was a grizzly bear---territorial behavior versus the predatorial behavior of a black bear. Again, I yelled out assertively to let that bear know I was there. With my bear spray ready to go, I took deep breaths and tried to remain calm. This was unnerving, to say the least. After seemingly forever, but probably a minute, I yelled again and whistled this time, my whistle reverberating throughout the dead basin air. The bear turned and sprinted away even faster this time causing a louder ruckus with the splashing of the water.

I stayed alert for some time now. At some point, though, I drearily fell back asleep and woke up with my bear spray canister nestled into the crook of my arm. I drifted in and out of sleep until I was again woken by the soft movements of a large animal in the shallows of the lake. This time, however, I caught the sounds later than I had before, for the bear now seemed super close. I grabbed my empty water bottle liter and smacked the bottle onto the ground excessively which made a raucous noise which I hoped would be unfamiliar to the bear, The bear stopped. In deafening silence I could pinpoint each water droplet falling from its stringy, wet fur onto the surface of the lake. I took out my headlamp and unzipped my tarp. I needed this bear to see me. I shined my light into the blackness of the lake and saw two eyes beaming back at me, glaring in an intense reflection. I zipped back up my tarp making a cluttering noise of what I hoped would be another unfamiliar noise. This whole time my bear spray remained cocked. I was ready, regardless of what was going to happen.

Suddenly, in a split second after I had smacked my tarp, the bear bolted off making an even louder escape in the water. My heart raced but I control my fear with deep breaths. I was not going any where until dawn glowed about.

An hour or so after that third encounter, I heard the bear again. I doubt I had fallen back to sleep. Regardless, I heard the same stealthy approach of the bear lumbering in the lake shallows. 

Finally, frustrated, I yelled out, 'Just give me goddam 30 minutes!' 

I was not going to leave my shelter, my entrenchment of safety, until a sliver of light existed. This fourth and last encounter lasted about 20 minutes. The bear now seemed to be pacing back and forth in the water. I unzipped my tarp and in the dark purple twilight I could fathom a shape, even a color! I saw a blonde bear, huge in stature. I could see the tremendous snout of a grizzly bear. The enormous bear glared at me and glided around like a phantasm hovering over the water. Dawn slowly emerged over the basin. Dark plum purple became the color of a deep bruise, the sky ominous in injured light, the premonition of a fear past yet soaked through a bruised spirit. Once bright enough I incredibly quickly broke down my tarp, my bear spray clipped onto my collar of my button up shirt. After packing my pack with my gear I alertly and briskly walked over to the bear hang and untied the knot. My food bags slid down easily and I crammed the bags into my pack. I walked cautiously through the overgrown forest making noise, talking loudly, with my bear spray on my sternum strapped with the safety tab unclipped. 

I walked in the small town of Yaak the next day and went to get some grub, to attain some type of feeling of a safe haven. After some relief and respite of my nerves, I walked out feeling at ease. Shit, I held my ground against a grizzly. 

Up next on the PNT is the Northwest Peak area of the Yaak Mountains, more intensely filled grizzly country. Alas, nothing to brag about in this area with any more bear encounters, but I did finally have some scenery despite even the smoke-filled skies. Each day I moved swiftly and I walked into Feist Creek Resort after 32 miles and just in time for dinner. The resort is important for an efficient resupply point in between a very long stretch which eliminates the need for a hitch into the town of Bonners Ferry. The owner and workers of the resort are super-hiker friendly. They held a package for me, cooked me up dinner and breakfast even when they were supposedly closed, and let me crash in the pool area. I did not linger long, just the night and early morning. Enough to get a full belly, a full charge on my phone, and a full head of calm nerves enough to let me have a decent night of sleep without a bear pfaffing about.

Feist Creek Resort to Metaline Falls:

7/16-7/20, ~121 miles

The temps remained sweltering across the Kootenai Valley, as they had the whole trek thus far. Enjoyable? Didn't really care one way or another. These paved road walks were just a means to connecting the route from the crown to the coast. However, I knew that the Selkirk Range, one I have wanted to hike in for some time now, remained adjacently ahead, just a meager 6,000ft ascent. 

Recent trail work made for swift travel climbing up Parker Ridge. Before I realized, I was up high on the ridge and even under smoky skies I had a panoramic view far and wide. The Selkirks had an infamous alternate dubbed the Lions Head Ridge. Notably, this ridge alternate avoided an overgrown and more or less trail-less drainage and provided the hiker with incredible views of the surrounding granite basins and granite domes. The Lions Head Ridge route is the idea of my buddy Li, who thru-hiked and mapped the PNT in '09 (I may be off on this, but my memory is ringing with this year). He was a go-getter and route-blazer back in the day and most of the popular routes hiked today, Li was one of the first in most of the routes. He is a very skilled map maker too, probably one of the best in my opinion. I know he had an incredible PNT map set a while ago before the PNT took over the map set. I have seen that old Li map set----killer, just so much more thoughtful and incredibly helpful. Along these lines, I do wish his name was out on some of these alternates he created because all the young hikers have no clue who he is and I believe he is an important part of our long distance hiking community's history. From the Hayduke, to the ICT, to the GDT, and to the PNT, among others, he has left an impact far unheard of than what is actually common hiker mainstream knowledge nowadays.

Lions Head Ridge is not to be missed. The astounding views are reminiscent of northern Yosemite and a world of granite gleaming in a granite globe is visible everywhere you turn. Up on the ridge proper, you will be challenged navigationally and, for an extended period of time, boulder hopping will become one's method of travel. But, this challenging alternate is not all too bad. Really, it is very hard with rewarding and unlimited views. I finally had a chance to cowboy camp up on the granite-slabbed ridge. The smoke sunk as the chill of the night came on and I finally got to see the moon, which had been so hidden in this forested route so far.

Overall, the ridge did not consume too much time, 6 hours in all for approximately 10 miles. At Lookout Mountain, I eyed the 4,000ft descent and the blue waters of Priest Lake. All the views above and expansive were choked with heavy smoke. But, that blue of the water pulled me in. I scampered along the trail zipping on towards the lake in excitement. At a proper shaded beach spot, I indulged in the turquoise blue waters of Upper Priest Lake and my skin began to feel comfortable, soothed with the cool water of the deep lake. 

Wonderful walking in a rain forest ensured along pretty trail. Ferns lined the forest floor, a deep red soil compacted the trail, and giant cedars stood incredibly tall above me. Light refracted through the tall canopy and I hiked in an arboreal trance only brought on by a thick northwest forest. Later that evening, I camped in a giant cedar grove and felt the darkness sink to depth rivaling the bottom of a deep lake. I could hear the wind wave up on the pointed crowns of the giant cedars some 200ft above. I was swaying in the hull of a ship, the trunks of the cedars the masts keeping this whole ship afloat.

Metaline Falls to Oroville:

7/21-7/27, ~250 miles

I am a better storyteller than an explainer of thought. I describe scenes better than getting my thoughts out clear. So, I will just get into the scene over this ~250 mile stretch, as I blabbed  off the cuff a little too much earlier on stuff. I will just describe what we did.

By this point, my head cold had finally subsided and I only had a nagging cough. Thankfully, the cough would not last much longer, not more than a couple days from Metaline Falls. From Metaline Falls to Northport, the PNT is uneventful except for the high point of Abercrombie Mountain. But, the news of Washington State Land closures within the next week had me concerned as I left Metaline Falls. I decided to just get to Northport to gather as much information as possible to develop a plan on moving forward.

Two brief days of walking and not trying to work shit up in my head proved to be a necessity. After a 21 or so mile paved road walk, I ambled into town early afternoon. I headed straight over to the bar restaurant, but not having not put out a message to Eric at the PNTA. After a big lunch, I spoke with Eric. The state lands of all of eastern Washington were to be soon closing because of the threat and dryness of extreme drought and fire conditions. At that moment, the Forest Service, a government run agency that manages public lands, had not made a decision to follow suit with the State Land Agencies. This left the eastern trailheads of the Pasayten Wilderness open that would require a planned detour around the closed state land around Chopeka Mountain. This also meant that the PNT from Northport to Oroville would be open as well since that long section consists of road easements and BLM and FS lands. My plan was to stay the night at the trail angels' place in town with some other hikers, then take 6.5 days to hike ~200 miles to get to Oroville. I wanted to get the long paved road sections out of the way besides the roads making for easy travel. At this point, I decided if I am going to come back up here to hike a section I missed it would be for something pretty and cool and not for something not worthwhile like all these paved roads. 

We had a mini-hiker party at the trail angels' pad. I had a good time with everybody. We all camped on the grass in the backyard. I met Oracle here, as well. Up early in the morning, I saw Nik take off with his tiny MLD pack. I left about an hour afterwards. I thought maybe we were potentially in sync with these closure plans. I booked it along the long road walk and that evening I camped with Oracle. 

We got along right away. He has lived in Los Angeles for the past 6 or 7 years and being that I am from LA, we had plenty to talk about. I truly enjoyed this budding friendship and I felt so invigorated to talk with a young person who loves living in LA, who trains in my old stomping grounds of the Angeles Crest and the High Sierra. These conversations brought back cherished memories. We hiked on in sync without any one of with the ability to out-walk one another. He had such a cool demeanor and I could tell he had a great passion for his first endeavor in the long distance world. He had studied experienced hikers, dialed in his gear, practiced his style, trained hard, and pushed himself. He did not act like, look like, or behave like a first time thru-hiker. He acted like a professional, a seasoned veteran of the trail. I bonded with him immediately. I valued his questions and so appreciated falling in to kind of a mentor role. After 35 miles per day, seeing him struggle yet persevere through with a mild stomach issue, and get stronger all the way to Oroville, we were no longer in mentee/mentor relationship. We were peers and a friendship had formed.

I really enjoyed the Kettle Crest, despite the super-thick smoke that had enveloped the surrounding skies. We pushed harder to get through knowing that a potential window would be closing. We were game for the challenge, however. At times, I could feel myself figuratively foaming at the mouth to get what we were after. Up early at or before sunset, cowboy camping almost every night, streamlining our itinerary, and hiking until dark, we managed to get into Oroville in 6 days. We encountered around 5 bears in this section. One waking me up in camp and 2 cubs around 70ft up in a tall pine squealing like pigs being the highlights. We even had an evening and a morning in Republic, a pretty dope little town with an awesome brewery in eastern Washington. 

During this stretch, we had heard or saw that hikers had begun to flip, skip, and hitch their way around potential closures. Nothing had really occurred yet, just the potentiality of closures existed. I was flummoxed at the ease in such decision making. I understand I was being subjective, but I also knew what I wanted. And, there was nothing to really make a hasty decision yet. 'Keep walking' should have been the mantra. So it goes, I guess.

In Oroville, we ate so much to fatten up the reserves we lost walking that hard in the heat. We, also, ate a ton to fatten our reserves for the next very long wilderness stretch. We developed a plan for the next stretch into the Pasayten Wilderness. We were not out of the closure area yet, or the threat of wildfire due to extreme heat and drought for that matter. No time to dilly-dally, especially with a thru-hike at stake. We had ahead of us a ~44 mile road walk with a detour from Oroville that would put us at the Boundary Trail trailhead and into the Pasayten. We could not let up yet. We still felt the urge to push.

Oroville to Baker Lake (Concrete):

7/28-8/5, ~255 miles

The Pasayten Wilderness stretch is my favorite part of the whole PNT. This vast wilderness stretches for nearly 120 miles before dumping out into Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Combine the two and a huge wilderness swath is available for the most hardy of hikers. The PNT utilizes the PCT for nearly 14 miles, arguably the prettiest little stretch of the whole trail. Once out of the fire closure threat of eastern Washington state land agencies, we entered the vast tract of wilderness. We could see the huge cumulonimbus fire cloud of the Cub Creek fire to the southwest. The sky smothered in a haze of thick smoke, but now, being up so high, we could see where the smoke was coming from, unlike before. Before the smoke oozed its way across the sky and surrounding hillsides, like a smoky sphere encapsulated my enveloped my own personal globe. We also had an incredible pathway of trail! The feeling of flowing with nature on its own groove-way, streamlining a zooming connection with the slow twirl of the globe puts one in the transfixed zone and headspace. We moved onward in glee, an utter tick of a natural pace that tapped into our nomadic roots.

High pointy peaks surrounded Cathedral Pass, the high point of the PNT. Sweeping views afforded us widespread views of not only the route ahead of us but of other wildfires seemingly close to our pathway. Atop Bunker Hill, we spied the close fire across the Canadian border, the billowing towers of smoke a living and moving entity, like a warping cocoon with a monster inside. We camped before the infamous remnants of hundreds upon hundreds of downed logs from a 2007 wildfire that ravaged this wild landscape. Our aerie put us in between three wildfires, the third now due west of us. Either way, we felt the worst parts behind us, like we were now officially out of the closure barrier and pressure we had in our heads. Regardless, hard work still laid ahead of us.

The downed log stretch, evidently nearly 600 logs across the trail, did not take us too long. But, this stretch was still a pain in the ass. Since our passage through the Pasayten River burn area, from Bunker Hill to Frosty Pass, the PNTA had a backcountry trail crew that cleared the mazework of downed logs making this stretch so much more enjoyable and less taxing to the hikers hiking in after us. One thing I can say, despite the nitpicking of the road walks, is that this PNT has an incredible support system and a great network of community. The PNT trail crews are really out there busting their humps in making this trail so less overgrown than in years prior. A huge thanks is in order....thank you very much!

Below Frosty Pass, near Castle Pass, we intercepted the PCT. Smoke smothered the skyline and the normal views I had been accustomed to up here this far north were gone. Nonetheless, this portion of trail tantalized our feet with well-trodden tread. I am sure Oracle had some visions of hiking the PCT, as I had visions of my past treks and even future treks of the PCT.

That night, we camped below Rock Pass. Around 3am, a storm rumbled through and continued to rain until late morning. Under my tarp at 6am, I saw Oracle packed up and ready to go. This old man grumbled in a tired and allergic-to-water tone. I saw him amble down trail and I loathed myself for being wise. Sometimes confused for being smart, I see wise at times as being a nice word for fear. I do not necessarily want to get wise especially when I am not really being present in the moment. Oracle's zeal and enthusiasm squelched any tiny particle of fear. He was precocious and I was worn with experience. But, seeing him spring along trail in the morning rain, feeling that feeling of when I was 'new,' I leapt up and ran after him prancing along the trail. Later that morning, I felt giddy as the rain kept pelting me. I became entranced by the constant stream of drops and, for a moment, I yelled out with the fire of adventure, of living in and embracing the moment. Oracle was inspiring me.

We got up to Devils Ridge that normally would afford us views of glacier laden peaks. Clouds smothered the hillsides and forests. Thick cotton like puffs of clouds rollingly moved over ridgelines and in and out of drainages. You could envision the body of wind pushing and pulling the clouds that plowed through the landscape, the wind the yoke of an ox-cart driving a team of oxen. We began to enter a dreamscape. The smoke from the day before had sunk and we knew we were among giant and craggy peaks, but we would only see slivers of point peaks and, at times in brief moments, I would confuse the glaciers clinging to the peaks for a distant white cloud that stood out in contrast to the lolling grayish cotton ball clouds in the foreground. 

After a tremendous descent down to Ross Lake and a long and hard push through the Pasayten Wilderness we entered an illusory world of smoke and mirrors. The cold and moist air had sunk the billowy smoke witnessed in the west the day before. Suddenly, from being in wet, foggy, and misty conditions, we were now in a globe of silver smoke that transported us to another dreamscape, this time, now, we were in some dark fairy tale that glassed over the reflective murkiness of Ross Lake. Maybe, one day, I will awake from this smoky dream with a tremendous tumult in the reality of concrete and highways where myths die.

We had stayed the course, determined we strove. We pushed hard and persevered through the unknown only controlling the thing we could control: our feet. We became immersed in a massive wilderness with unknown conditions and came out the other side safe and sound, connected and continuous.

At the western side of Baker Lake, we hitched into the tiny town of Concrete to eat our first real meal in 8 days and nearly 250 miles. We were also waiting for Oracle's parents who had planned to trail magic Oracle. They lived in Anacortes, about an hour jaunt west and in the Puget Sound. Oracle is from there. In a sense, he was almost home. With our silence of wilderness broken, we got a ride from a dude who was hungover and going to town for the cure of coffee. I had forgotten how normal people lived because I had been so enrapt by the Pasayten and the North Cascades. 

Baker Lake (Concrete) to Port Townsend:

8/6-8/11, ~187 miles

Out of the North Cascades and into big timber and rainier country, out of the smoke and into the mist, the Puget Sound came into sight. Although only a glimpse, I raised my arms up in excitement while the skies opened up on us and poured down rain. The first two days of this stretch mostly rained. We did not see the upper flanks of Mt. Baker. But up on Mt. Josephine, a miniscule mount compared to Mt. Baker, we saw the large Skagit Valley. The forecast of rain looked ominous, in particular the second day. Need not to matter to us, we thought, because we were so close to the urban area around the Skagit Valley and the Puget Sound, as well as the sanctity of Anacortes and Oracle's parents' house.

At 4am, a couple huge solitary drops pattered my tarp. I thought something was walking through the forest towards our camp. Then, I realized the rain had started. At around 6am, I looked at the world from under my tarp in earnest. Again, I saw Oracle ready to go. Fuck, I wanted to sleep the rain off. Hell, this young buck is tough and enthusiastic. I got up with a belly full of piss, packed quickly and trudged on. A series of dirt roads on state lands with logging operations, the rainy day quickly became a slog. I started humming the mantra of the day pretty damn quick: warm and clammy...warm and clammy.

We trundled on in a wet misery. I realistically knew what today was going to be. I am not sure if Oracle knew, though. I grumpily continued on. I can hammer it out with the best of them, but there are times to throw in the towel and just go to town. I was not sure the suffering was worth it only to be cold and wet in the evening and to wake up cold and wet in the morning. I knew we would be thoroughly drenched, our gear even worse for wear. At a highway crossing, we hid under the coverage of a church's porch. I could have stayed right there. But, but we got right up and planned on continuing another 7 miles before camp.

Not everyday on trail is glorious. No two rains are the same. One has to be cognizant of the environment they are walking, the time of year, what your gear is capable of, what you are capable of, what your overall goals are, and most importantly, one has to be willing to adapt and be flexible when shit hits the fan. 

At the top of the climb, the sun peeked out from the low stratus clouds. I could see the Puget Sound. The sea laid just ahead and at that moment the sun had greeted us. But, Mother Nature had different plans and just poured something fierce out of the heavens. Just to keep us humble, albeit a grumpy and uncomfortable humility, I knew our day was far from over even though it was early in the evening. We got to our hoped for campsite and saw it flooded. We began to get cold. And we were wet. It would be a monumental task to stay warm and clammy at this point. I waited up for Oracle...because when it is raining, one does not stop, one just fucking walks. 

We looked at the campsite in disgust. Only one thing to do: keep moving. After another half hour, we entered the front side of the range that overlooked the rolling hills to the south of Bellingham, a fairly large city. 

'At this point, I might as well call my parents,' Oracle said. Although I had searched for motels on my phone, I knew I could not call the day. I could only reinforce the idea if Oracle brought it up. He finally did at about mile 35, at about the time we were the coldest and a decent campsite seemed indefensible. He called his parents to ask for a ride. We would swap our 'zero day.' So, rather than walking into Anacortes for a zero day, we would ask for one now, when we were absolutely wet, cold, and miserable. This was not the most idealistic day for hiking, and many folks were in town or made their way into town. We did too, nonetheless, just after 40 miles of slugging it out.

...Aaaaah, the zero day of my dreams. Just perfect. We got to James and Lezlie's house the evening before at around 10pm. We got hot showers and dried off. We even got fresh and piping hot chicken tortilla soup! Our gear was demolished from the rain, everything soaked through from a couple days of non-stop rain. We spent the next day lingering around the breakfast table and counter, feasted for lunch in Bellingham, and had a great dinner and drinks over looking the Puget Sound from the patio of the house. We laughed so hard and told stories. New friends, to say the least. A time to remember, no doubt.

We knew that the next objective was to get across the urban Skagit Valley and Puget Sound area in an efficient and stealthy manner. There was a ton of road walking in urban areas, tiny pieces of trail here and there, and a small bit of beach walking. But, in order to keep our pace and mileage, we would have to find clandestine camping locations unknown and hidden to the public. Luckily, I was hiking with a local. It was so cool to hike with Oracle in this area. He knew all the spots. I got to know him even further as we delved into his childhood years and teenage romps. 

After walking through the city forest of Anacortes Island, we crossed Deception Pass on a bridge and landed onto Whidbey Island. From here, I got a case of the blahs. I was not excited about this urban road walking any more. After a cool stealthy spot camped near the Air Force Base fence line, we got to the west side of Whidbey Island. The beach walking was secluded enough to not feel any imposition from the human world until we hit Eby State Park. Back into the hordes of people, I just wanted out of the Puget Sound area. Again, with other road walking parts of this trail, shit just felt forced. On the ferry ride over from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend the Olympic Mountains held a deep and moody blue over the skyline fa├žade. I could not wait to get back into the mountain. But first, we had to walk another highway with a very narrow shoulder to get to the foothills.

Port Townsend to Cape Alava:

8/12-8/17, ~180 miles

Finally, up into the Olympics. Finally, a more wild place. Of course, entering a National Park one can expect tourists, recreationists, and backpackers. Of course, we encountered all three. But, the views and the experience through Olympic National Park did not disappoint.

To our sudden surprise, we ascended into some very thick smoke, such a contrast to the deep and crystal blue we saw the day before while on the ferry road. Evidently, smoke blew in from the Vancouver, BC area and just smothered the entire Olympic Peninsula. With our views obstructed, we simply put our heads down and climbed, really climbed up some 6,000ft. Atop the climb, we ran into a campground full of campers, RVs, and 'walk-ins' with vehicles. We hurried through and aimed for the peaks just a few miles ahead out of everyone's hair. The evening hurried into a purple haze and sunset only became blazingly bolstered by the smoke. As night approached quickly, the smoke languorously melted into the palate of dusky hues. We could see a stream of wind bisect the smoky air, splitting the dusky purple in half. The calving of the smoke appeared violent, or repentant, like pure water ridding the sky of its sins. We found our camp on a mountaintop, an altar to worship the sliver of moon, praying for an exhaustive exit of this hazy pollution to our human-caused arsonist ways, hoping for a change.

Throughout the night, we obliged visitor in our small and exposed camp. A healthy buck nibbled on small patches of alpine grass all around us and in between us. One of us would waken and throw rocks at the buck to fetch him out of our area. I thought we had finally had a peaceful camp without any disruptions: no mosquitoes, no wind, no vagrants, no cars, no jet fighters, no grizzly bears, and no sign of rain. In the morning, we laughed off the buck's presence, just another little tidbit in a bigger story. 

The end became palpably nearer, so much so I swear I could smell the salt of the coast in the air. We hiked on briskly, even descending another 6,000ft only to go back up another 5,000ft. The PNT ringed the Seven Lakes Basin and we ambulated along a crest that gave us front row seats to the spectacular sight of Mount Olympus. Truly incredible indeed, I could have gazed at that massive mount a full day if I had my choice. But...the coast beckoned.

After spilling off the ridgecrest, we tumbled into the Bogachiel River drainage, a proper rainforest that had recently seen some trail maintenance. This drainage had been notorious in its shagginess and massively downed logs across the trail. Giant hemlock, humungous cedars, and colossal Douglas firs populated the drainage all hung thickly and ubiquitously with moss. This whole rainforest cradled with bogs and bottoms had a red and punchy trail speed-bumped with large roots, enough to trip a whole herd of hikers. Pristine cold water flowed down gashed out drainages with slippery as an eel rock. Lastly, tall ferns came up to our shoulders, both us at least 6'4'' in stature. Nonetheless, this rain forest, even with its monumental shadows and its wet appearance, the sweltering heat made the sphere akin to a sauna. At camp that night, I tried to cowboy camp above the banks of the Bogachiel River. River rocks tumbled out of the tall banks and into the river, the banks in constant erosion. I could not sleep with the cascading noise, mainly thinking a bear was wandering into a camp through the brush. I grumpily set up my tarp, Oracle laughing at my ridiculousness.

The tides of the Olympic Coast became our most proximate concern. I had no idea what to expect in this rugged coastal area. I had no idea what would pass as a warning or be good to go with us. I really did not know what to expect--I will say that again. After walking into Forks, we sat in a pizza place, charged our phones, and began to research the high and low tides. We both knew how important this research and familiarity would be to us, even with Oracle being almost a local, as this research would guide our pace through this area. After a few hours of eating, food shopping, and forming a plan...

… the van turned around and honked at us, exactly the same van I had said I would not want a hitch from. The driver looked too sketch. I nearly turned down the hitch and figured to just walk back the 5 miles, but I knew our timing almost depended on this hitch. Oracle looked game for it all. The front window rolled down, a huge bull mastiff sat in the shotgun seat, and the tweaker asked if we needed a ride. I reluctantly said we did. The sliding door opened and another dude, all tatted up, sat on an ice chest. Two other big dogs sat on the rear bench seat. Oracle hopped in the back and I in the shotgun seat. Off we were to Bogachiel State Park. Little did we know at the time that this ride would prove pivotal for our tidal timing.

Along the way, I noticed a bag of booze under the driver seat. His arms were pockmarked with burn scars and needle marks. His index finger and thumb of his left hand kept rubbing together. Something inside that hand he cupped like a wadded up Kleenex. He swerved along the curvy road, even going slower than normal traffic. At the turn off he pulled over. We said our niceties to each other. I do not know if I would have made that ride if it lasted more than 10 minutes.

We stalled our steps leading our way out of the state park. We did not want them to know which way we were going. After they disappeared from our sight, we walked down the highway a mile or so to our turn off point. We needed 6 miles that night. The plan was to get up early in the morning, a 430am wake up call, and walk forested roads to another state park and the start of our beach walk at the mouth of the Hoh River. We needed to get those 16 miles by noon, as the high tide peaked around 850am. At around mile 18, we would have our most crucial high tide water mark at the Diamond Head. If we timed this wrong, we would have to wait until conditions favored us. Fortunately, we attained those first 16 miles by 1030am. We were trying to split the gap between the high tide and low tide marks.

A steady stream of rain began to fall as we hit the state park. Thankfully, the air was not too cold. Evidently, this area of the Olympic Peninsula has more cloudy days than anywhere in the U.S. and is the only place other than Hawaii that has a rainforest. We expected the gloom and drizzle. 

We entered the coast line. The roar of the waves crashing on the beach was deafening, a pure bombardment of chaos that left tombstones of driftwood and ravaged chiseled rock beneath the bluffs. A wide and long beach extended for a couple miles. Huge root wads sprang up from the compacted sand. Ocean water ran up the slopes of the beach after the waves had crashed and, with ease, angled back down through the pebbles and rocks that rang out in a shrill of metallic pings. The 'platinumsphere' (a word described to me by Oracle, a descriptive word of the Pacific Northwest coast in which the atmosphere is a smear of silvers, grays, and whites that create a platinum light reflecting all around you in the coastal atmosphere) enveloped the coast and the open water. The only real stark contrast was the dark green forest clinging to the banks above the beaches. The open sea rolled in waves that crested and crashed, the spindrift blowing in the sea breeze that formed a low mist layer that scintillated the crystals of water vapor floating in the air. Shrouded in another dreamscape, I could feel the gray, the sinking of the clouds, the the wind and power of the waves pushing the water vapor through a thin level of marine layer that formed a tier in the spectrum of mist. This misty layer had to reach land. It was inevitable. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the coast we sauntered onward setting our aim towards the headland of Diamond Head.

Everything felt wet. Our footing compacted the damp sand, not sinking in but tamping down further the dampness of the coast. I kept looking back at my footprints, the long zagging path of my existence that would live on until the tide rose high once again and would sweep my marks away. The contrail of thought held in a realm of gray and wet light, the wind would not brush me away like in the desert. Here on the coast, my time stood still, my footprints frozen in time as my beaten heart was led by the rising and setting of the moon.

At Diamond Head, we scooted around the promontory with the seawater receding at the perfect mark. We scrambled over the slippery rocks covered in barnacle and other bits and pieces of sea life. Around each bend and contour of the coastline we went, methodical, hypnotized by the roar of the waves crashing, by the flushing of the spindrift misting our face, the rain still pelting our hoods. At a headland crossing, we climbed up some slippery ladders and ambled through a thick and dense forest. We finally became soaked to our skin as the ferns and other leafy branches coated us with a sticky water. This 3 mile overland stretch proved to be the most difficult and, at one point, I smashed my head into a low lying log overhead that I could not see with my drenched hood sagging too low over my brow. I plopped in a mud pit and a ringing in my ears persisted through my head. I sat there for a second and breathed. I struggled to get a full sentence out to Oracle, who stood by chuckling. As water dripped off the tip of my nose, I could only mutter: watch your head.

Some hours passed by and we were hitting our tidal marks in a most beneficial way. I actually lost track of time being so enraptured by the coast-- the noises, views, the colors of rock, the lack of color of the air, the giant driftwood trees, the craggy rocks and turrets out in the coastal waters-- the uniqueness of it all surrounded me in a curiosity unfulfilled. Oracle looked at me and said, 'We are getting to La Push tonight in time for dinner.' I could not fathom that notion at the time. I still did not know what to expect when the tide would get higher and how the terrain would look like. Around jumbled and rocky headlands further up the coast, the sun split the gray clouds and mist. I could feel the warmth dry up any trickle still wriggling on my skin. A few stretches of long beaches at low tide sped us across a few coves at an easy trot. Not much easier walking than that of compacted beach walking at low tide. That day we covered 35 miles and hiked into La Push in time for some fish and chips and clam chowder. We nailed our timing with the tides. We had a couple beers feeling celebratory, as if this was our finishing point. We had such a high as we reminisced about the entirety of the PNT and our time together. We knew we had one more day left, but today was an epic day, one that would be hard to beat.

That night we stealthed camp at a beach tucked in between some large driftwood logs. At one point, some dude came over towards us. He did not see us, but proceeded to take a shit right there on the beach. I have seen plenty of people taking a shit, but I had never seen anyone's behaviors leading up to taking a shit. He looked all around, posing as if he was out for a walk at night. He dropped his trousers as he squatted and moments later pulled them right back up. We were covered by the darkness of the night, so he could not see us. I could not hear anything, even though he was like 30 feet from us, for the tide squelched out any grunts. A strange, yet funny, moment indeed.

We woke up early the next morning, not only to avoid the 'ghost-pooper' but to get out of our camp before any one saw us. We had to wait until around 9am anyways to avoid the high tides. We were to have some breakfast before trying to find a ferry hitch across the mouth of the Quillayute River, which is a huge coastal inlet. The ride came easy enough. Gene, who runs the marina in La Push, approached us and asked if we were PNT hikers. I recognized him from the store earlier that morning. I saw him giving us a scowl. Little did I know that he was the marina manager. And little did I know that the size of our packs confused him. He just was not sure if we were hiking the PNT with backpacks so small. Once across the river channel, we began the same sea song as yesterday. 

After our floating high from yesterday, this day proved more taxing. We only had 23 or so miles to the end, Cape Alava. Cape Alava is the western most point of the lower 48. Some of the day had some easy beach walking, while most of the day felt to be walking on slippery and precarious rock, boulder hopping over tidal pools. When we were not boulder-hopping we limboed under driftwood nestled up on the high, rocky shores of inland coves. We slowed down at times to gaze into the tidal pools filled with tiny sea life. We walked over shores laden with seaweed. We even came across some carcasses, a couple seals, a porpoise, and a whale. 

This part of the coast is more rugged. Huge islands sprout up out of the shallow waters. Turrets and spires point skyward being sashed by the crashing waves. Sea gulls hover over the larger of the islands where the gulls have nests, an inaccessible space from predators and humans. Walking along the coast in this section, when you did not have your head down, one could see the spires passing by and changing shape as one slid up the beach. The miles felt slow and the coast felt long, but looking south and west the feeling of time and space felt infinite, barrier-less, no ending other than what man has created. Where land and sea meet, head to head, something has got to give. Yet, in 4 cycles a day one can feel in charge of things or one can feel helpless. Regardless, just looking out into the ocean gives one a perplexity into existence, maybe akin to space. I do not know much about the sea. The sea is intimidating to me. Nevertheless, I could look out into the frothy expanse and have that same undying and curious feeling I get looking up into the stars, or sitting atop a peak in Nevada, and feel emptiness, that life is trivial and mundane, insignificant, yet mid-blowingly beautiful and precious. I can gaze out into the ocean and see the infinite and understand I will never get on that ride. I am better off eroding, pondering, relishing the tender moments of the actuality of my existence. Like those footprints in the coastal sand, a Utah canyon, or a Nevada salt flat---everything is impermanent except the force of nature.

At a tiny spit of rock, we climb up individually to signify the arbitrary end of something. The moment felt good, accomplished. Seals barked from a nearby island and pierced the air with a hoarse cacophony. A oblong island backdropped the spit behind us. This was perfectly nice, unique and different. I was happy to share this moment with Oracle, most of all. I guess I could give two shits about my own personal thing. I mean, I accomplished my goal, but to see someone put everything in to something, like Oracle did, and stand there with a smile on his face, an infinite enthusiasm---yea, that's what it's all about.

PNT Overview

 Pacific Northwest Trail:

The PNT weaves for nearly 1250 miles from the crown of the continent in Glacier National Park in Montana to the coast at the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The PNT is one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S. and is the brainchild of trail visionary Ron Strickland who, nearly 40 years ago, conceived the notion of having a diverse and unique trail span and highlight the Pacific Northwest region from the 'crown to the coast.' The PNT is a most recent addition to the National Scenic Trails system and the PNT adorned the title in 2009. 

The PNT is no easy trail. Because the PNT meanders just underneath the Canadian border and spans east to west, a narrow weather window is present in almost every hiking season. Timing the seasons and beating the snow, or waiting for the snow to melt, can pose a difficult task in completing such a lengthy journey in one fell swoop. Wildfire, bushwhacking, navigation, mosquitoes, inclement weather, high water crossings, wildlife (such as grizzly bears and moose), and remote country are all concerns and make the hiking season feel even tighter. All this aside, the infamous overgrown sections of trail of times past have seen some TLC in recent years. From friends who have hiked the PNT prior to me, I noticed a considerable amount of ease in bushwhacking and log-crawling. This, to be honest, made the hiking feel easier than what I expected.

The trail is still in a young state, meaning that a continuous trail tread is a work in progress, where long road stretches tie together large areas of scenic public lands. These road stretches curve around any private land areas that pose a continuity hindrance. That being said, the route has multiple opportunities for extended jaunts into the wilderness. The primary route and alternate routes can make your journey longer or shorter, more physically demanding or less taxing, and lends to a sense of ownership in one's thru-hike. 

The PNTA, the organization that advocates access of resources for all, organizes trail maintenance, and works in cooperation with land agencies to promote, maintain, and support this National Scenic Trail, has done a stellar job in promoting the meaningfulness of a long distance hiking trail in a region and place. The PNT goes through small and rural towns in western Montana and eastern Washington which provide the long distance hiker with a sense of community. With this in mind, and to my surprise, folks along the trail really know about the PNT. I had not uncommon experiences where folks would roll on up to me on a road and ask if I was on the PNT. In towns, residents knew what you were doing. Trail angels and other resources in and around towns provide the hiker with comfort, community, and inclusiveness. For full information on the PNT, including preparation, resupply info, permit info, wildlife prep and awareness, trail support, trail conditions and closures, maps, detailed sections info, and shuttles and transportation to either termini, among a ton more of info, follow the link to the PNTA website here

Here's the basic stats:

Termini: Chief Mountain Portal/Belly River trailhead in Glacier National Park in Montana in the east; Cape Alava on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

States: Montana (close to 300 miles), Idaho (close to 50 miles), and Washington (close to 900 miles).

Season: mid-June (depending on snow levels) to mid-September (depending on when the cold and snowy weather returns).

Length: ~1248 miles (depending on the year the overall mileage may change depending on closures and with the potential of refining the trail with partners and land management agencies).

Elevation loss/gain: 230,440ft gain, 235,729ft loss

Average duration: 68 days for an average time, according to the PNTA website.                     (I completed my '21 thru hike in 41 days)

Direction: Most seem to go east to west, although a small number of folks go the opposite direction)

# of hikers per year: Anywhere between 65-80 potential thru-hikers. 

Now that I have the most basic info out of the way, below will be a summarized account of my overall thoughts and feelings of my 2021 thru-hike of the PNT. Afterwards, in a separate post, I will describe my experience in sections based on my town resupply and itinerary. In that sense, I can pick the highlights in a more streamlined version while aspiring hikers can follow my itinerary loosely. 


I finally arranged some time to tackle the PNT after initially planning to hike this route in 2014. I think I kept pushing it off because more attractable and more challenging routes were available for me to hike, as the impending lingering thought of major road walking hindered any really true advances in planning the route after 2014. Lo and behold, after hiking the Great Basin Trail again this past Spring of '21, I had an ample space of time to arrange a long hike on a popular long distance trail. I had not been on any real popular long distance trail in a thru-hiking fashion since '16, some 5 years back when I completed both the PCT and CDT back to back. Towards the end of the GBT loop in early June, while having so much fun just walking and feeling all the feels one gets from a long hike, I wanted something more socially connected in a hike. I mulled over a couple long trails but ultimately came up with the PNT as my next adventure revolving around 3 reasons: something new, something popular, and something I could hike in an efficient and expedient manner. All that in mind, after the GBT I dialed in an itinerary that would put me close to 30 miles per day, shipped out a couple of packages for resupply, arranged my travel, and set loose on the trail on July 8th.

The biggest reason I enjoyed the PNT was hiking 2/3 of the trail with Oracle (Nik Massey). Nik was on his first long distance thru-hike of some considerable length. However, despite not having a long resume, he was so far advanced in his training, his hiking philosophy, and his gear than most experienced backpackers. This dude really prepared and practiced his hiking style and method beforehand that he essentially hit the trail at full steam. I'll be honest, I was thoroughly impressed. I enjoyed his gentle character, his forethought and thoughtfulness, his willingness to push himself and test his systems while still being grounded, and his overall zeal for long distance hiking. He asked questions galore and we spent hours on end talking about ultralight topics, thru-hiking strategies, training, diet, gear, resupply, other long hikes... you name it. I felt honored to hike along the PNT with someone with so much enthusiasm and humility. 

Overall, the PNT is fun. Really cool towns, some incredible wilderness sections, and an incredible way to end a long trail at the coast. To actually sum up the trail personally to me, I describe the PNT as a string of pearls--- incredible pearls tied together with a cruddy string. Where the trail is good it is great; where it is a road slog it is shitty. I put a positive spin on these road slogs---easy miles, even though some of the road connections felt forced, like, in a way, just to make a vision connect. I would pop in some podcast and hike 3.5-4mph. But really, the road slogs went quicker than expected because of the threat of fire closures around Oroville and eastern Washington.  I'll get to that later.

I understood why the route would be routed on roads to connect wilder places. Private land and urban areas in some areas are hard to avoid. However, because of this forced-connected feeling I often wondered why the theme of the 'crown-to-coast' motto was so important when ultimately the PNT, in my opinion, highlighted the state of Washington. I believe I am nitpicking here. I understand that. Glacier does not feel like the Pacific Northwest to me. It is the crown of the continent. Now, one could argue I am nitpicking a name, let alone a place, but I would counter that the theme of a trail matters. In the end, the PNT felt like a trail highlighting the state of Washington (which is awesome, by the way!). I am probably too harsh in my sentiments and that is probably because I am now a gatekeeper and route creator of the Great Basin Trail where I had a certain vision in creating that route, namely a thematic route and one that would and should be worth hiking twice.  

I absolutely loved the Selkirks, the Kettle Crest, the Pasayten and North Cascades, and the whole Olympic Peninsula. Usually two reasons revolve around why I hike a route: connection and immersion. The places noted above had both characteristics intensely with the Pasayten and the North Cascades having the longest stretch of an immersed time in the wilderness and in between towns. The length of the Boundary Trail proved to be an incredible stint in the wilderness meandering just underneath the border of Canada. Other than about 15 miles of trail that had around 600 downed logs across the trail the conditions were so much better than I expected and that section became so enjoyable to string some high mileage days together.

Two of my least favorite included the paved road walking sections of eastern Washington all the way to Oroville, over 100 miles in all, and the urban areas around the Puget Sound. For the long paved road sections of eastern Washington, the expediency through this area was catapulted by the threat of closures and potential wildfire. Heavy smoke smothered the views, the excessive heat suffocated the air, and one was left to just let the feet rip their way through the area. For the Puget Sound, at first the urban areas and walking along the inland coast felt so novel and cool. Then, that novel feeling wore off as the ever-presence of cars, jet fighters, lack of camping, houses and roads just wore thin. There was some cool spots and and some fun times like stealth camping in the communities like a coyote to the network of trails on Anacortes Island to the Whidbey Island coast. Would I walk those sections again? Easy answer: no.

The threat of wildfire and closures loomed for most of the length of the trail. State agencies began looking at closures to preempt any human-caused fires and more losses to communities. Smoke was constant from day 2 of my hike and lingered incessantly for nearly a month. It became normal for me to expect smoke and to be okay with it. Overall, the smoke was mostly a visual eye sore than anything physically afflicting. But, the threat and presence of fire goaded me along, pushed Nik and I forward. I have dealt with similar issues before on other long hikes---from going through areas illegally, to halting a thru-hike, to hiking faster, to flipping--- I feel like I seen it all. 

Albeit the presence of fires remained omnipresent this season, the nerves of agencies, the public, and hikers tingled at a seemingly all time high. I felt this tingling of nerves, too. No doubt the nerves were valid and legit. Nevertheless, rather than flip or skip sections, I chose not to panic and push miles until I could not. As with other times in my hiking career, I chose to gather as much information for myself from the appropriate agencies rather than from the hiking herd. I would see things for myself rather than react from what the group or whole was doing. Nik had a similar mindset, which I think lends to him being grounded and independent. We hiked from Northport onward as word of impending closures loomed ahead. Rather than 'go around' we would strive for 32-35 miles per day. We would respect closures, especially the imminent threat of a fire closure if they occurred. But as long as detours existed around an area we would continue in connected steps. 

My theory in the threat of these closures: if I am going to come back to hike a section of this trail it will be to come back to something worthy. So, those eastern Washington high desert road sections I would quickly get through. These sections are not worthy enough to come back to, while the Pasayten would be, in my opinion.

In the end, we got through connected and continuous. All the effort made the trip pretty rewarding. Like I said, the PNT is a pretty fun trail. Good trail community, great trail where the trail is great, variety in scenery and diversity in landscape, this PNT is well worth the long hike.