The PCT: Chinook Pass to Trout Lake; the Final Chapter

This final chapter on my PCT adventure started at Chinook Pass and went south 95 miles to FS 23 near Trout Lake. The plan was to share this section with a friend, but he hurt his back the day before he left to join me and had to cancel. The wife dropped me off at the pass mid afternoon on Friday and I hiked a whopping 3 miles to Dewey Lake for the first night. This is apparently a popular destination, although with limited tent sites. I found a small flat spot in the trees, set up camp and then went down to the lake to eat and watch the people.

The pedestrian overpass at Chinook. Time to head on down the trail.
This tiny lake is up near the top of the initial climb out of Chinook Pass. It would have made for an inviting place to stay if it had been later in the day or further down the trail.
Dewey Lake is about 3 miles south of Chinook Pass and was the stop for the first night. This appears to be a popular destination for local folks. There were quite a few groups there for the weekend.

 

I was up and on the trail Saturday by 6:30 and walked up and down through the trees for 19 miles, ending up at Pipe Lake, another popular lake, this time with people coming from White Pass. Early on in the day I heard a crashing in the brush uphill from me and saw a couple of elk running up the hillside. A few minutes later there were 3 more elk crashing through the brush. My first elk of the trail. The trail was pleasant although not particularly scenic. The lake was also a bit stagnant, but not enough to keep a number of us from swimming. Unfortunately, the party across the lake partied until midnight so that made for a somewhat sleepless night.

There were a number of small meadows through here, many of them with drying tarns and nice views.

 

Sunday was planned to be a bit more leisurely, 9 miles to White Pass, brunch and resupply at the Cracker Barrel, and then just a few more miles to camp. The nine miles to White Pass was fairly easy and mostly downhill. When I popped out onto the road I walked up the highway looking for the Cracker Barrel. It was not to be found. So I finally asked someone and was told that it was in the 76 station. So back to the 76 station and into the store. It had a small section of food and drinks to serve as snacks for the cars passing through, and a small eating area with a small hot display case, a small cold display case and half a dozen small tables. And a blackboard on the wall with “Kracker Barrel at White Pass’ scribbled on it, along with some prices. I bought the few snacks I needed, had a warm breakfast sandwich and Dr. Pepper and then headed back out. I was off trail for an hour, including the mile long road walk. To say the least, I was underwhelmed. This store is not related to the Cracker Barrel chain in spite of the similarity in the names.

There is a long climb heading south out of White Pass that ultimately opens up onto a long traverse and into a pass above Shoe Lake. I enjoyed the traverse and the ability to see the surroundings. The campsite I had picked out was early on this traverse and was not too appealing, and it was still early, so I continued on. Shoe Lake would have been a nice place to stop, but I did not want to have to climb back up to the ridge, and it was still early, so on I went. Ultimately I ended up at Lutz Lake. I am uncertain why this small muddy tarn was called a lake, but it was, and it did have camping. Not sure that the ‘lake’ ever exceeded a foot deep, but I was able to crawl out on a log, fill a couple of bottles with water and wash the dirt off my feet and legs without falling in. The camp itself was pleasant enough, and positioned for the big climb onto the big ridge walk the next day.

Looking back from the top of the climb out of White Pass you can see the trail snake along the long traverse. You can also see Mt. Rainier peeking out over the ridge.
Shoe Lake was visible below the pass and along a second shorter traverse before the trail started its descent. There is a trail that runs down to this lake that rejoins the PCT on it’s descent toward Tieton Pass.
It’s hard to get a good picture of Lutz Lake, but as you can tell, it is not much of a lake. But it does have camping and is a water source, at least for now.

 

The long climb out of Lutz Lake opened up onto a large bowl filled with runoff streams and wildflowers. This would have made a much better campsite, if I had only known, and if I had the energy to climb a couple more miles; next time. The trail traverses through this plateau for a couple of miles, slowly ascending until it wraps about a peak and suddenly you are on the infamous knife edge.

There was a lot of snowmelt running through the meadows and they were all a bloom. It was a very beautiful location.
I would guess the trail wonders through this meadow for a mile or so, slowly climbing and giving periodic views of Mt. Rainier.
At the end of the meadow the trail ascends up and to the right of this small hill. There is also a faint way trail going to the left and up to the upper snow fields. The ridge to the left of the hill is the north end of the knife edge.

 

I had seen pictures of the knife edge, and read stories about it, but nothing had really prepared me for the reality. The knife edge is not just a three mile long ridge walk. For a significant amount of its length the trail clings tenuously to the side of steep scree and/or talus slopes with long drop-offs down below. The trail will walk the ridge until it becomes too steep, and then wraps around a tooth in the ridge until it is able to come back out onto the ridge top. Then it descends steeply to a notch, then back up, and then around another tooth. There were a couple of small snow fields at the south end, but they were easy compared to some of the earlier traverses. It is a section I intend to go back and do again, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights.

When you round the small hill in the previous picture you get your first look at the knife edge. It descends to a notch and then part way up the next hill before traversing to the right.
After the second hill the trail repeats its actions, descending to a notch, climbing a bit on the ridge and then traversing up and to the right. This traverse was a bit sketchy, but staying focused on the trail got me through it.
This is someway along the midway point looking back. The small green hill just to the left of center is the first one you wrap around, at least if you are heading south.

 

Midway through the knife edge the bright sunshine faded into gloom, without a cloud in the sky. I had managed to hit the knife edge during a solar eclipse. It didn’t seem as dark as I had thought it was supposed to be, but it was still kind of cool.

I opted to stay on the PCT the whole way, skipping the Old Snowy Alternative. The two small snow fields were on this section of the trail, but they were not bad. The snow was soft enough to kick in with trail runners and there was already a bit of a trail across them. I also managed to see a trio of goats down below me who seemed very interested in my progress; maybe worried about me falling on them. They watched me through that whole section of the trail, with a couple of them laying down in the snow. At the south end of the knife edge is a pass where I stopped for lunch and to admire the views of the Goat Rocks, Mt Rainier in front and Mt St. Helens in the back. I really need to get back to this place. 

The final traverse. The Old Snowy Alternative is above this and I don’t know what it is like. Ahead is one of the two small snow field you have to cross. The trail crosses just above the larger field at right center and the right edge of the picture is about where the trail drops onto the other side and begins its long descent.
They are a bit hard to see, but two of the goats I saw on this section are hanging out in the snow and watching me. Maybe they were afraid I would fall on them.
One last look back along the length of the knife edge. It was slow going, but mostly because I was in no hurry to get through it and was very careful and methodical through through most of the descents and the traverses; footing was a little touchy.
I took the previous picture and this one of Mt Rainier from the pass where I ate lunch. It was quite the view to the north. Mt St Helens was also visible to the south but tough to get a good picture of it.
Goat Lake was just visible to the west as you go over the pass. There is a trail going up to this lake and it looks like it would be worth visiting if you had an extra day.

 

After the knife edge the trail slowly descends through some mostly open country before entering into the forest briefly and then opening back out onto the Cispus River drainage. The traverse around the drainage was nice, allowing visibility for several miles ahead as you round the bowl and ascend toward Cispus Pass. As you head south from Cispus Pass you are in the Yakima Indian Reservation for a few miles before going through another pass and beginning a descent. I stopped for the night at Sheep Lake where I was able to go for a swim and at least rinse off some of the trail stench.

The first view of Mt Adams comes pretty soon after you start your descent. Early on the second day from here I would be up on it.
Someone was really serious about the cairns through here. Some of the biggest ones I had ever seen were along the trail today.
The trail traverses up along the far valley wall, across the Cispus River, up the near side and then over Cispus Pass.
Sheep Lake was stagnant, but the water was fairly clear and I found a small beach with mostly sand that allowed me to get into the lake without stirring up a lot of muck. It was a very pleasant swim.

 

The next 20 miles are almost all in the forest with a minimal amount of view and was mostly a long gradual descent. I spent a lot of this day listening to podcasts and trying to stay motivated. I ended up at Lava Springs, which is right on the edge of a lava field. It was a good camp site with a very large spring flowing out from under the lava. The only downside was that the water was almost too cold to clean up in; almost. But the water was so very good and refreshing, especially compared to lake water.

The trail was mostly in the forest, but occasionally would come out into some pretty meadows.
This is the only picture I managed to take of my tent, set up near the Lava Spring. It was a pleasant stop.

 

Wednesday was another 20 mile day, this time up the north flank of Mt Adams, around the west side and then down the south flank and on to a camp just a mile from FS 23. Mt Adams was pretty special and I enjoyed the changing aspect of the mountain as the trail moves around it. The views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens were fantastic and there was even a glimpse of Mt. Hood before beginning the long descent.  The trail around Mt. Adams alternates between forest and meadow and the meadows were mostly very colorful with late wild flowers. While up there I discovered that there is a trail that completely circles the mountain. I may have to add that to my bucket list; although as I research it there is apparently a stretch along the east side with no actual trail.

The early view of Mt Adams while heading south.
Mt. Rainier with the Goat Rocks to the right.
Heading north around Mt Adams. It was fun to watch the differing aspect of the mountain.
Mt. St. Helens
Mid way around Mt Adams and the glacier between the first two summits is now almost hidden.
To the south of Mt Adams and looking back. Another glacier and summit coming into view. Note also the burned forest. There was quite a bit of this on the south west flank of the mountain.
Mt Adams had a lot of pretty meadows also.
A peak at Mt. Hood just before starting the descent.

 

I had a good last camp and leisurely morning before heading down to FS 23 and my ride home. This was a good stretch of trail with a few very scenic stretches, lots of flowers, some long forest tunnels and mostly good water and camping. It made a fitting end to my eight year journey along the PCT.

4 thoughts on “The PCT: Chinook Pass to Trout Lake; the Final Chapter”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Exit mobile version