PNT Prep: To Washington

Finally, it’s time for a long hike in a beautiful place again. Soon I’m leaving to hike roughly half of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which runs westward from Glacier National Park all the way to the Olympic Coast. The PNT is one of the newest trails to be designated a National Scenic Trail (there are eleven in total), and it’s not nearly as traveled as the AT or PCT. It’s still somewhat in progress, with some segments entailing more route-finding and bushwhacking than actual trail tread, and other segments consisting of long road walks to link wilderness areas together. Because it runs east-west rather than north-south, it also goes against the grain of mountain ranges, taking hikers up and over, up and over, the whole way through.

I had intended to start my hike at the trail’s halfway point, in Oroville, WA, with the remote and beautiful Pasayten Wilderness as my first leg. However, in the past two weeks, wildfires have erupted across much of eastern Washington. Between land and road closures, smoke predictions, air quality reports, and my desire to avoid additionally straining firefighting/safety resources, I had to revise. I buried myself in maps and trail reports to plan a new route: I’ll start in Stehekin, at the southern boundary of North Cascades National Park, and stitch together trails through the park as I hike north to Ross Lake, where I can hop on the PNT and continue west. This way, I’ll be further from the wildfires and will be hiking away from them instead of parallel to them. I regret missing the Pasayten Wilderness, but I’ll get to travel through a huge part of North Cascades NP instead, and I’ll be far safer along the way. (The sole hitch in this plan? It’s dependent on getting the walk-up permit I need to hike through the park. Fingers crossed.)

I took up running during the pandemic, and have been very consistent with it, even through the winter months and the intense summer humidity. I was able to run the length of a half-marathon a few weeks ago, which I’d previously never thought possible. I can tell that my cardiovascular capacity is much improved, and hope all the running has prepped my legs and feet reasonably well — it remains to be seen how road running in the flat Midwest will translate to hiking in the mountains, but I felt strong on my recent shakedown hike in Dolly Sods with Cyn.

I feel pretty prepared for most of the PNT’s challenges. It’s only the eastern half of the trail that runs through grizzly country, though I do expect to see black bears, especially in the Cascades and in Olympic NP. There’s only one river ford that I’m worried about. Some sections will be quite remote (e.g., no town stops, no roads) for long stretches of more than a week. Other times, I’ll be bouncing between small towns every day in the Puget Sound region…but there I’ll have to contend with the danger posed by cars on long road walks. Along the coast, I will have to time my hike with the tides. What an adventure! Honestly, I think I’m most anxious about navigating the travel from home to trailhead, between needing to board a train in the wee hours of the morning and worrying about the delta variant’s transmissibility.

I’m taking some new gear this time: a double-walled tent (I know August is usually drier in the PNW, but I’m preparing for the rainforest section of Olympic NP and probable wet days along the coast), and a new pack (I was dismayed after Dolly Sods to find that my beloved pack is starting to show holes — still usable on shorter trips, but I don’t want to chance it on a multi-week hike that will definitely include bushwhacking). I’ve used both of these crucial items briefly–taking the loaded pack for neighborhood walks, sleeping in the tent in my backyard–and just have to trust that they’ll treat me well in the long term. Otherwise no major gear changes.

I am fundraising again to support social justice work in the region where I’m hiking — this time, for Na’ah Illahee Fund (NIF), an organization led by Indigenous women that works to facilitate ongoing regeneration of Indigenous communities in Washington and across the Pacific Northwest. The fact that their programs explicitly encompass urban, rural, island, and reservation-based communities feels aligned with my hike, which will take me through all of these areas. There are more details at my fundraising page — I hope that if you’re able to, you’ll join me in supporting their important work. As always, I will be happy to send a postcard from the trail to anyone who donates $25 or more.

I’ll post blog updates from the trail as often as I have cell service (sometimes that will not be very often). It’s been so long! I’m so ready!

Most of this kit has to do with expected foot/toenail issues. Also, it’s actually 0.5oz Dr Bronner’s, and I hate that there’s a typo in here but I couldn’t bring myself to fiddle with remaking the entire thing.
Safety first.
Thought I’d also include a few pictures from our Dolly Sods trip, in all of its muddy beauty! This is a photo of the actual trail we’d just hiked.
And the trail we were turning off onto.
Cyn on a sunnier day of the trip.
This part of Red Creek, in the forks area, was shallow enough to wade out and sit on the rocks in the middle. I spent an absolutely perfect half hour here.

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