PNT Day 13: Circumnavigation

Today’s miles: 21.9

Total miles: 151.2

People take their very loud motorboats out onto the lake at 5:30am, not my favorite way to wake up. I pack up slowly, knowing that I have reasonably flat trail to walk today. I’m deliriously happy to see big patches of blue sky this morning, even if the continued low thick cloud cover prevents me from getting any views at all of Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan, or the glaciers around here.

As I sit at a picnic table brushing my teeth, an older man walks by. “Hiking the PNT?” I turn, surprised — it seems to me that few people are even aware that the PNT exists. “I am,” I tell him. His name is Rex, and he explains that he’s part of the Forest Service trail crew working on some of the trails that make up the PNT. They have a camp set up here while they’re working in the area. “What you’re hiking later today, when you get to a section that looks like a tornado came through, there were hundreds of downed trees that we cleared there.” I thank him sincerely. I ask if there are plans to build a bridge of some kind over Swift Creek. “No,” he says, “but you got it on a bad day.” So true, Rex, you master of understatement. He tells me how much he loves bikepacking, and how amazing it is to see how far you can go. “Well you must know, from hiking — it’s incredible.” I do know. Rex seems a gentle soul and a kindred spirit. I would like to talk more with him, but we both have things to accomplish today.

Off I set, on several miles of roadwalking. Today I will circumnavigate Baker Lake, but this northern portion of it runs along a gravel road until connecting to actual trail on the far eastern edge. There are all kinds of little campsites along here, just barely off the road. Most are occupied (some people came prepared with homemade signs reading “occupied,” left at the edge of the side trails leading down to lakeside camping). I also get some views of the lake, so this roadwalk could definitely be worse.

View of Baker Lake from the road

A trailhead with privy and picnic table marks the transition from road to trail, and I’d planned to stop for a snack here but there are loud, amped up young people clustered around a car, so I just continue onto the trail. It’s a relief for my feet. Soon I cross a large suspension bridge over the Baker River, and then embark on my trip around the southern part of the lake.

Baker River

The trail is well-maintained, relatively easy hiking, which is nice but eventually also a bit monotonous. I have some lovely views of the lake, but completely hidden in the clouds are spectacular mountains and glaciers, apparently. Oh well. I stop for lunch near Noisy Creek and enjoy watching the boaters and kayakers from above.

One of many creeks along the way
Lunch view

After this, I hike on autopilot for a while. I’m doing calculations: should I stop at the last walk-in (hiker/boater) campsite along the lake? Or push on to the RV campground that will cut some miles off my walk to town tomorrow? The lure of town is too great (mostly, let’s be honest, the lure of a shower) and I settle on the latter option. I reach the blowdown section Rex mentioned — it is indeed unmistakeable, and I silently thank him and his colleagues for all this work to clear the trail.

Shortly before I reach the last walk-in site, putting me a mile and a half from the trailhead, I hear an animal breathing heavily behind me and turn with some alarm. Just a dude walking a large dog. Dang, give a hiker some warning, man. After this I pass a whole cluster of day hikers, and am keenly aware of how terrible I smell. At the trailhead it’s a few more miles on road for me, including walking over the Upper Baker Dam. Between all the trail crews I’ve met and all the dams and road walks, thus far the PNT is an interesting tour of natural infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest.

Crossing Upper Baker Dam

The RV campground is a strange place. I chose a small site and drop my fee in the little box. All around me are giant camper vans, elaborate tent systems with generators and full dining set-ups. As I begin to sort my things for the night, a pickup truck stops nearby. “Hey, you want a cold drink?” Yes, I really, really do. The passenger opens a cooler in the back. She hands me a berry-flavored bubbly water and a Limonata. “Thank you so much! I hiked 22 miles today, this is amazing!”

I have weak cell service here and spend an hour just texting Cyn and my Champaign fam, thrilled to be in touch again after so many days. I seem to be the only hiker in a sea of RV set-ups here — everyone’s sitting in their real chairs, making gourmet food from giant coolers, while I shove a dirty piece of Tyvek under my tent and eat cold-soaked spaghetti out of a repurposed Talenti jar. Different strokes. There’s a flush toilet and running water here, a marvel. But it’s also loud, with people still playing music and kids biking around and yelling after 9pm. I try not to mind — this space isn’t really meant for a hiker schedule, and I’ll be the annoying one soon enough, packing up all of my crinkly items at 5:30am.

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