In the summer of 2021, I was driving thru the North Cascades and picked up a hitchhiker who had just finished hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail. This is an amazing feat and he was not much younger than me! I asked him what were the best sections and he replied “The Sierras, Goat Rocks and the North Cascades”. I was blown away, two of the three areas he mentioned were in my adopted home (Wa state). I didn’t even know where the Goat Rocks were! While I was not interested in doing the whole thing, after thinking about it for a bit, I made a plan to hike the Washington portion of the PCT. While I am pretty satisified with how I did (and I’m not done yet!), what I didn’t plan for, was the impact that climate change would have on my hike…..Here are some notes and a few pics from the trail.
August 6th notes:
For those who dont know, I am trying to hike the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer (ca 500 miles) I started on July 30th, south of Trout Lake, WA about 50 miles north of the Columbia River. I was dropped off by my friend MaryEllen. I skipped the Columbia gorge due to extreme heat there that we had in late July (105F !). It was still hot when I started south of Trout lake WA and the combination of bugs and heat made the first few days really miserable. Thank God for DEET! BETTER LIVING THRU CHEMISTY! But even DEET wasn’t enough on some days. On those days I had to wear my long pants and hoodie, which was pretty miserable in the heat! But fortunately conditions got a lot better the last 4 days.
I met Lena, my daughter, at Walupt Lake campground as she was going to hike the Goat Rocks section with me. We had a wonderful time. This section is truly spectacular hiking and for the first time, there was some clouds and weather, which was a welcome relief from the heat! Still got great views of Mt. Adams and peekaboo views of Mt. Rainier.
Lena and I arrived at White Pass on 8/5, where we met Barbara (my wife) and some friends in Packwood, WA. I got to sleep on a bed! On 8/6, I pushed on alone from White Pass headed north! There are other thru hikers on the PCT, but most of them are a lot younger and can do much longer distances than I, so sometimes its lonely. My longest day so far is 15 miles with a ~30-35 lb pack. I am hoping to get up to 17 and maybe even 20 miles per day. We’ll see! So far, the body is holding up! I am using a Spot GPS tracker that I turn on oncer per day to check in at camp. You can see my route here.
August 11th notes:
I made it to Snoqualmie Pass and am now taking a couple of days R+R at home. While hiking this section you get to look at the BIG R nearly the whole time!
The last week the bugs and heat were better, but still pretty warm! I dont think I used any bug spray in about 4 days (yay!). My body is mostly holding up, although I did get some ankle/calf issues in the last few days, hopefully that will heal up before I restart. But I also managed to do my longest hiking day at 23.5 miles with 3500 feet of elevation gain. I was tired! I have decided to skip the next section (Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass), since I have already done that section with Barbara in 2016, and head right to the North Cascades. So I am planning to restart around 8/16 from Stevens Pass, possibly with Mac and Barbara for a day or two. So far I have hiked about 150 miles in 11 hiking days.
I am starting to really enjoy walking across Washington state. I have gotten to see sections of the state that I never saw before and so its very interesting for me in that respect.
August 23rd notes:
I made it to Rainy Pass in the North Cascades! This was a tough section and kind of intimidating for me. It’s a long section of 110 miles of true wilderness and with huge ups and downs (average of 4500 feet of vertical gain every day). I started on 8/16 took 7 days on this section, averaging about 16 miles a day. The first day was short, as Mac and Barbara hiked in and camped with me, but it was wonderful to have them see me off. Our first camp at Pass Creek doesn’t show up on the map above.
Here is a cool video I took while hiking this section:
Hiking this last week was again hot on many days. And unfortunately the bugs also like it when its warm, a double whammy! There was also some smoke from the Little Wenatchee fire, but it wasn’t too bad. Based on visibility, I estimate that I hiked in modest PM2.5 (roughly 20 ug/m3) for about 3-4 hours. Now that I am home for a week or so, I wanted to see if my PCT hike is being impacted by global warming. In short, yes, climate change is warming things up and making hikes like this much more challenging.
Here is some data from three sites in Washington: SeaTac airport, Stampede Pass (mid-state, near Snoqualmie Pass) and Hart’s Pass in the North Cascades (data from NOAA CDO). The plot shows the average daytime max temp for July 15-August 15.
SeaTac Airport is probably the most reliable site and the data are pretty clear. The 2022 temps were the 7th highest since 1950, 4.5 degrees F warmer than the 1950-2022 average and part of a pretty clear long term trend. There is definitely an urban heat island effects that contribute to this strong trend, but still…At Hart’s Pass and Stampede Pass in the Cascades, the 2022 max temps were well above average, by 3.3 and 1.9 degrees F, respectively. Also, 2022 was the 7th and 13th warmest year in the data record for Hart’s and Stampede Passes, respectively.
The trend in nighttime/daily minimum temp are even more striking. No surprise there, since this is basic physics due to global warming.
So the message is pretty clear, if you want to tackle a long term hike like the PCT, go now! In another decade or so, temperatures are just gonna be too damn hot to be out there for a month at a time. And there is the fire and smoke issue. More on that in a little bit…
The last section of the WA PCT goes from Rainy Pass to the Canadian border. I plan to will tackle this section in the next week or so. I want to wait til it cools off a bit, so the hiking will be more pleasant. There are also some issues from a mudslide near Hart’s Pass and a couple of small fires near the border that I want to keep an eye on.
I plan to send two more updates. One right before I start the last section and one after I finish with my final thoughts.
And while I was on the trail, the NYT did a story on climate change and hiking the PCT. Here is a link:
September 6th update:
Its stayed pretty damn hot for the last 10 days and the fires near the Canadian border have just gotten worse. These fires are now only a mile or two from the PCT and because of that, the USFS closed the Northern section of the PCT, from Holman Pass to the Canadian border. There are a lot of disappointed thru hikers. But we can’t blame the USFS. It would be crazy to continue hiking through this area as there are now 4 fires burning within just a mile or two of the trail. These are burning in remote wilderness and difficult to contain. Its very likely that these fires will burn until the fall rains come….
So for me, I am not too disappoointed. I live here. I will be back next year to finish up the trail to the border. I am really sorry for the dozens (hundeds?) of thru hikers that can’t finish this year. Please come back and finish! We have a wonderful state and I am sure there are other places you can visit when you are here next year!
But the sad truth is that climate change is impacting not only the PCT, but all of our world.
Here are more pics from the trail this summer: