Editor’s note: This is an edited excerpt from Joshua M. Powell’s book “The Pacific Crest Trail: A Visual Compendium.” As a “thru-hiker” (anyone who hikes the entire length of a long-distance trail, end to end, in one attempt), Powell hiked from Mexico to Canada, covering 2,653 miles in 132 days, from April 24 through Sept. 2, 2014. His favorite part of the trail was in Washington, 104 miles from Stevens Pass to Stehekin. This story is excerpted from that section, and his epilogue.
IN 2003, JERRY Dinsmore invited three thru-hikers back to his home, thinking they were homeless and in need of help. He soon learned they were hiking the PCT, and Hiker Haven was born. Jerry and his wife, Andrea, hosted hikers every year after that and became particularly adept at helping northbound hikers make wise decisions regarding the potentially dangerous weather north of Stevens Pass.
When I visited in 2014, plastic pink flamingos adorned the yard. Andrea’s license plate read, “PCT MOM,” and next to it was a bumper sticker that stated, “Hug a logger. You’ll never go back to trees.” Hikers did their laundry and wandered about in borrowed clothing. One woman wore a tiny dress, revealing a smattering of tattoos. A male hiker donned a dress as well, the hair on his shoulders and back sticking out in large patches. A German hiker joked in his thick accent, “You look silly … but sexy.”
Jerry Dinsmore, clad in suspenders and a vintage Kenworth Trucks shirt, pulled up a chair alongside me, and we sat and watched as a train rolled past, loaded down with airplanes en route to the Boeing facility near Seattle. They were only fuselages, devoid of their wings.
“There’s a tunnel a few miles back with a pile of wings next to the entrance,” he joked.
Another thru-hiker, fresh from Stevens Pass, was dropped off in the driveway. Andrea greeted him, reaching out her arm to shake hands. He instinctively stuck out his closed hand, offering the customary thru-hiker fist bump.
“Oh, that’s not gonna go over well,” Jerry said, laughing.
The PCT community lost a very special member with the passing of Andrea in 2017. Jerry still welcomes hikers to his home in Baring.
Glacier Peak Wilderness
THE SURROUNDING RIDGES are carpeted in luminous green meadows lit up by the morning sun. The sky is free of haze, and the surrounding mountains are crystal clear as far as the eye can see. Rainier still reveals itself from time to time, peeking over southern ridges. Marmots whistle from the berry bushes, their heads protruding from the leaves like periscopes as they scan their surroundings. The trail at times crosses over snowfields and then past small Mica Lake, which still harbors floating ice. With September drawing near, the ice is unlikely to melt before the snow once again begins to fall — it has been victorious in its resistance to summer.
Glacier Peak seems to be Washington’s forgotten volcano — due in part to its location within a large, roadless wilderness area. From surrounding areas, there are fewer dramatic views of the mountain than there are of Adams, Rainier or Baker. It tends to blend in with the tall, jagged peaks surrounding it. The thru-hiker, however, gets to know the volcano intimately as the PCT skirts along its base and crosses the creeks draining its slopes, gaining and losing thousands of feet of elevation in the process.
FROM SUIATTLE PASS, the landscape seems to gradually tilt downward toward the horizon, and hikers can look forward to a descent all the way to Stehekin, the final trail town of the PCT — famous in thru-hiker lore for its bakery. It sits secluded at the northern tip of Lake Chelan, accessible only by boat, plane or hiking trail. To say that it’s remote is an understatement.
The PCT brings hikers to the end of the single road that leads into town. From there they can get on the National Park Service shuttle or perhaps catch a ride with a local fisherman. Stehekin is small and compact, with an idyllic location amid the lake and mountains. All the vehicles parked at the ferry landing seem at least four or five decades old, only adding to the feeling that time stands still in this lakeside town.
Hikers can set up for the night in a tiny campground perched on a miniature bluff above the water, watching brightly colored float planes land upon the lake’s surface and skim to a halt. When night falls, the view of the Milky Way is breathtaking. Stehekin translates to “the way through,” an appropriate name for a trail town on a thru-hike.
Stehekin’s main road curves around the marshy northernmost tip of Lake Chelan, where the Little Boulder Creek empties into the lake. It is the extreme end of a 50-mile body of water that narrowly snakes through the mountains down to the dry and sun-baked wine country of Central Washington, so drastically different from the often-overcast and rainy North Cascades.
An old Chevy pickup passes by on the road. Owned by the Stehekin Pastry Company, it is on its way down to the boat landing. A girl and dog sit atop the wooden flatbed of the truck. Farther down the road is a beautiful garden full of cabbage, kale and other produce. A row of dahlias lines a pathway, the intricately geometrical puffs of each flower leading the way toward an apiary buzzing with honey bees. On a bench rests a pile of rainbow chard, the leaves bright green and glossy and the stems neatly arranged in shifting hues of orange, yellow and purple.
The bakery truck passes again, headed back in the other direction. This time, the girl sits in the passenger seat, and the flatbed is piled high with boxes and goods that have been boated in. The little dog is positioned atop the huge pile with his chest puffed out, standing guard over his precious cargo.
AS YOU HIKE mile after mile across three states, you imagine that final moment of reaching the border to be an overwhelming experience, assuming the gravity of it will hit you like a ton of bricks. In reality, however, when you’ve lived out every month and week and day and hour and minute and second that transpires between Mexico and Canada, it’s not quite as dramatic as you might expect.
There was no surprise in the end, but the sense of accomplishment was hardly diminished. And with it came the realization that it was all over, and I was headed back to real life, full of its own unique joys and difficulties. I couldn’t stay on the trail forever, nor did I wish to. I simply hoped to find the next big thing to work toward, the next passion that would consume me from waking until bedtime.
While the PCT had officially ended, I still had more than 8 miles of trail leading me to Manning Provincial Park and its lodge. The morning felt dark and dreary, and it was easy to believe summer was finished. Fall was quickly approaching, with the dark and wet Pacific Northwest winter fast on its heels.
I reached the end of the trail as it met a paved road, and that was that. After 2,659 miles and more than four months of walking, the trail simply ended. There was nothing else to do but dump the rocks from my shoes and begin the short road walk to the lodge.
I rounded the last corner and came to an abrupt stop as a Greyhound bus pulled out in front of me. I looked up at its tinted windows, wondering whether anyone I knew was inside. I squinted, focusing my eyes, and I could just make out the shapes of people behind the glass. They began to wave their arms at me and bang on the windows, yet the tinted glass continued to obscure their identities.
It was a large group of hikers that had remained only a day ahead of me ever since Snoqualmie Pass. I had finally caught up to them. On that bus were hikers I had gotten to know over the course of hundreds and hundreds of miles. I was sad not to be able to see their faces, but I raised my arms up in the air triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear and tickled by the timing of it all. The bus turned the corner, pulled out onto Highway 3 and continued on toward Vancouver.
Washington is a joy to hike …
• Unless it rains a lot.
• Oh, and there is 111,125 feet of elevation gain.
• And 107,422 feet of elevation loss.
• But, otherwise, it’s more than 500 miles of glorious hiking.
• Unless you get snowed on.
• Oh, and the rodents.
Thru-hikers met in Washington
Generally, thru-hikers don’t use their real names, but trail names. These are the thru-hikers I met in Washington:
• Big Sauce
• Bird Food
• Buddy Backpacker
• Charlie Daypacker
• Nobody’s Friend
• Snail Trainer
• Why Not