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Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass

There's no two ways about it: Section K is tough. In fact, only California's infamous John Muir Trail section is considered more challenging. But for those with the skills and desire, the hike from Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass is also one of the PCTs most rewarding. Wild, rugged and stunning, this section passes through two wilderness areas and a National Park, allowing hikers to experience the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest untarnished by civilization.

Steven's Pass offers day-hikers and backpackers a good starting point, and through-hikers can stop here for supplies. From here, you're on your own as the PCT heads deep into the North Cascades. Expect a lot a climbing, and a lot of descending (26,351' of gain, as well as 25,552' of elevation loss) as the trail winds northward up and down the mountains, valleys and canyons of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Be sure to take plenty of breaks, both to catch your breath and to take in the glorious surroundings, which include views of dozens of peaks, glaciers, mountain lakes and alpine meadows.

Summer and early fall are the best times to hike this section, as thick snow-pack, treacherous river crossings and high avalanche danger often make it impassable through mid-summer. No matter when you hike it, be sure to check current conditions before heading out so you're abreast of any bridge outings or hazardous conditions.

In particular, check on the status of the 50-mile reroute around a heavily flood-damaged 45-mile stretch of Section K. Though the trail is expected to re-open with newly built bridges for the 2011 season, check the Forest Service Website (http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee/conditions/pct/) for up-to-date information about the detour and new route.

Water is plentiful on this section, but through hikers and backpackers should be sure to pack everything they need for the journey, as the only available supply stop is through a National Park Service shuttle at the Stehekin River around the 100-mile mark. Bears are common here, so either hang your food or bring bearproof canisters for storing food overnight.
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There are 54 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Copper Pass, Twisp Pass, Twisp River, South Creek, McAlester Trail, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass — Aug 10, 2012 — BlueCanoe
Multi-night backpack
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown | Bugs
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The two of us began around noon at the Bridge Creek Trailhead on Highway 20, heading south on the PC...
The two of us began around noon at the Bridge Creek Trailhead on Highway 20, heading south on the PCT. At the first junction we turned east on the Copper Pass Trail #426, which as other trip reports state has not been maintained in some years. Someone earlier this season counted 106 downed trees on this trail, so we thought we'd recount and came up with 116, which is within the margin of error considering the difficulty we had defining what the cutoff was for a "downed tree". However, most of those were step-overs, with only 10-12 big, bad trees that required serious detours. The trail was brushy, although despite the lack of maintenance still easily followed. Still a functional trail for many people. The trail ascends through forest and soon breaks out into impressive meadows, which were a bit past prime down lower but in full glory at the upper end of the trail. Great views, great flowers, and the bugs didn't get bad until the upper elevations.

There was a buggy campsite in the last patch of forest (~6100'), but more exposed, rockier, breezier campsites with better views up around the headwaters of Copper Creek at ~6600'. We camped high. Patches of snow started at about 6000' but no snow on the trail. Mosquitoes were moderately bad in the upper Copper Creek basin. Not pull-out-your-hair bad, but pretty bad. Lots of goat tracks around Copper Pass. We saw three ptarmigans on the Copper Pass Trail. Saw no other people between the PCT and the Twisp Pass Trail.

Entering the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, it looked like there was the potential for camping and water on the east side of Copper Pass around 6200'. The east side descent started off steep and rocky, but soon mellowed into deep spruce forest. Connecting with the Twisp Pass Trail #432, it was warm and dusty but otherwise fine down to the Road End Campground at the Twisp River Road. Here we tried to follow the Twisp River Trail #440 down valley to the South Creek Trailhead, but the Twisp River Trail is a horse trail, and as such has fords rather than bridges. It was also not well signed. Rather than get our boots wet in North Creek, we retreated to the road and walked it down to the South Creek Trail #401. Very little vehicular traffic on the road; we could almost imagine it as a 20'-wide trail.

Ascending South Creek was a bit dusty but fine. We camped at a small site next to the creek near the junction with the Louis Lake Trail #428. Very few bugs relative to the night before. The trails around the Twisp River seem to be quite popular with equestrians; we saw five horses in two groups. Saw many berries, few of them ripe.

The third day we continued up the South Creek Trail. There was a single large tree down on the trail, closer to the pass. We saw a good campsite at about 5000', near the crossing of the creek that drains South Lake. Not having a National Park Complex permit, we dry-camped on the ridge just north of South Pass, at about 6500'. Nearly 360° views of Abernathy Ridge, McAlester Mountain and unnamed but impressive peaks to its east, Dome Peak & co. in the distance, Rainbow Ridge, McGregor Mtn, Mt. Logan, Black Peak, and South Creek Butte & co., as best we could figure. Bugs again moderately bad at pass elevations, even on a breezy, dry ridge. No snow.

On day four we got up early, hiking by 7am. We saw a black bear as we descended to McAlester Pass. We continued down the McAlester Creek Trail to "Fireweed" camp and then joined the PCT, returning to Bridge Creek by 1:45pm. All trails in the North Cascades Complex were in fine shape with no downed trees and minimal brush. A large bridge on the PCT across Bridge Creek near the confluence with Copper Creek is broken and unusable, but a detour has been constructed to a new single-log crossing.

This was a great loop trip with a variety of environments and two of the three nights spent above 6000'. If done from the Twisp side with a bike shuttle, the road hiking segment could be eliminated. We were coming from the west on Highway 20, so Bridge Creek Trailhead made sense for us in order to reduce the drive time and increase the trail time. Fun to link up multiple trail segments into a continuous loop, including infrequently traveled sections like Copper Pass!
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Lake Valhalla, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass — Aug 04, 2012 — McChelsea
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail | Bugs
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We started our hike about 10am and spent the entire time being attacked by thousands of flies, and ...
We started our hike about 10am and spent the entire time being attacked by thousands of flies, and THEY BITE. It was very uncomfortable! Bug repellent didn't seem to bother them much.

As for the trail, it was very clear and easy to follow. There were a couple of patches of snow as we got closer to Lake Valhalla, but only one covered the trail and was slippery. I was surprised considering it was 80 degrees out, but somehow it hasn't all melted yet. The lake was crystal clear with no snow whatsoever. It was a great spot to stop and have lunch before heading back. There were less flies by the lake, and even some fish and a brave chipmunk who hoped for some of our lunch. The water was cold, but people were swimming in it.
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West Cady Ridge, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass, Bald Eagle Mountain, Quartz Creek, Pass Creek, Blue Lake High — Jul 21, 2012 — Cascade Liberation Organization
Overnight
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail | Bugs
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West Cady Ridge > Dishpan Gap > Curry Gap loop. 31 mi., much more snow than usual, few blowdowns,...
West Cady Ridge > Dishpan Gap > Curry Gap loop.

31 mi., much more snow than usual, few blowdowns, seasonal debris removed. Navigation and trail-finding skill required to follow snowed-in trail in many places; could be a challenge in bad visibility, bad weather, or a hurry. This is the 4th year I’ve been here at about this date, and I’ve never seen this much snow. Camped at Dishpan Gap. Ice ax recommended between Dishpan Gap & Curry Gap on Bald Eagle Ridge Tr; handy elsewhere, too. Flowers just getting started. A horse obstacle ~2 mi. above Curry Gap (see below). About 12 trail hours each day, but I was not hurrying.

Roads are fine: US2 > Skykomish > Beckler R Rd > Jack’s Pass > descend to N Fk Skykomish > turn right after bridge > ~4 mi. to trailhead.

North Fork Skykomish Trailhead:
Mosquitoes are always ferocious here, but they mostly stay near the road. Be prepared to leave this place quickly; you won’t want to linger.

West Cady Ridge Tr #1054 > Benchmark Mt:
Plenty of snow but little running water. Fill up at the last stream in the forest, about 3500’. Snow starts about 4500’, there is still a lot left, and will be for at least two weeks. The pond is completely snowed-in. Flowers beginning to show. Try early Aug. for flowers; I think they’ll be late this year. Where the trail is dry, it looked like some of the old rutted/braided sections are recovering.

Pass Creek Tr #1053:
I did not hike this but encountered a party who did. They said they found a log crossing over the N Fork Skykomish (high water, I’ll bet), and the ford across Pass Creek was more difficult.

PCT Tr #2000:
Benchmark Mt. > Cady Pass > Dishpan Gap
Much snow travel, but it was firm, no postholing. You’ll want a good map, compass, and trail sense to find the trail emerging from the snow. Fortunately, the big switchbacks west of Pass Creek are mostly dry. On E side of Skykomish Pk, it’s easy to follow but largely snow. Lake Sally Ann is frozen, all snow. I found 1 dry tent site at Dishpan Gap. Ice ax handy.

Blue Lake High Route Tr #652.1:
I did not hike this but got a good look. The upper part is dry. There are some steep snow tongues to cross lower down, possibly dangerous esp. if frozen hard. The north side of Blue Lake High / Pt. 6562 is almost certainly ice ax terrain right now. There was some steep snow between Dishpan Gap and Blue Lake High jct. Ice ax recommended.
Blue Lake High is really worth it. The trail nearly summits Pt. 6562 (unnamed; higher than Skykomish Pk). It is the south twin of Johnson, has a fantastic view, and has perennial summit snow for water, a fine bivouac in good (very good) weather. I've bivvied there several times.

Bald Eagle Ridge Tr #650:
Dishpan Gap > Curry Gap
This charming, highly scenic, little-traveled trail is maybe not for beginners, at least not now. Long stretches covered by snow. Recommend 7.5’ map if you’ve not been here before. The traverse on N side of Bald Eagle Mt is ice-ax terrain right now, esp. if the snow freezes hard. I’d guess 2 weeks at least before it melts, maybe more.
Curiously, the trail was thoroughly brushed (2011, I think) between the first pass and the pond camp (the stretch on the N side of Bald Eagle Mt), and nowhere else. Thanks! The pond meadow is all deep snow. Between the pond and June Mt., you’ll be using your map & compass a lot, and looking for logouts and old blazes (the USFS blaze is like a lowercase "i"). This would have taken me much longer had I not known the route. The big meadows by the spring S of Long John are all deep snow. The trail is fainter and more difficult to follow in the intermittent snow/forest along the ridge crest between Long John and June. Long stretches of snow on the S slopes between June Mt and Blue Lake High.
I found a clutch of 6 Blue Grouse eggs, seemingly disturbed. Two of them had rolled right into the middle of the path. I guessed what they were, looked them up later. They looked abandoned, not in a tight clutch. Saw pine grosbeaks and crossbills, too.
Many memorable vistas.

ATTN. HORSES: The washout in the switchbacks above Curry Gap has been nicely cribbed and seems to be holding up (a tough job, from the looks of it). At roughly 2 miles, before the first pass, there is a windfall that I think will stop a horse: not huge, maybe 7-10”, but hanging upside-down from its broken stump at a steep angle on a steep slope, can't get around it, the top suspended in trees. Whoever takes this out will need to know what they’re doing. I think you’ll need to climb uphill and cut the stump. It will slide when it’s cut. Not a job for a pruning saw. Sorry, I should have photographed it. Be careful.
Besides that, no obvious problems for stock once the steep N side of Bald Eagle melts out (but I’m not a horseman).


Quartz Creek Tr#1050:
Curry Gap > N Fk Skykomish TH
Clear, but patches of snow obscure trail in places beyond approx. mile 3, especially the last 1/2 mi. The stream crossing at the jacuzzi pool is a wet-boot ford 6” deep in current on smooth rock at the lip of a small waterfall, no place to slip, you’ll want a good stick; I made 2 trips and carried the dog. At ~2 mi., somebody, perhaps the WTA crew I met at the trailhead, had just logged-out a 2’ blowdown, just for me. Thanks! Fine trail, a few drainage issues.

Between Benchmark summit and the Quartz Creek TH, the only footprints I saw were the party that came up Pass Creek to Lake Sally Ann, and the logout crew on Quartz Ck at ~2 mi.

Got back to car 8:30 PM. The only rain of the trip, heavy showers lasting all the way home, began just as I started driving -- a welcome reversal of custom.

"East of the Divide", Chester Marler, has an interesting chapter on this area; Cady Pass was the main traditional Native route across the Cascades.

Just walking the dog.
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Cady Creek, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass — Oct 01, 2011 — mcm
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown | Mudholes | Water on trail
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Thought we'd go to Lake Wenatchee to escape the incoming rain, but it was raining at the TH when we ...
Thought we'd go to Lake Wenatchee to escape the incoming rain, but it was raining at the TH when we started. Cady Creek is quite brushy at times. Not hard to walk but will soak you through on a day like today. Thinking the clouds would lift as the day went on we pushed on up to 5,200 feet stopping for lunch in steady rain, sitting at the top of a meadow, looking out where there would have been views had the weather been clear. The one other hiker we saw, a through-hiker on his way to Canada, shared the humor in our situation and said he was impressed to see us out hiking in this weather, but I think we were more impressed by his super positive attitude. He was also soaked and heading even higher into the clouds. We decided to attempt the loop out Cady Ridge in future in better weather and with more daylight. Still, we enjoyed the beautiful forest hike despite the rain. I'd give the fall colors another couple of weeks to develop.
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Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass — Sep 27, 2011 — jason
Multi-night backpack
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First of all, the new bridge is in place over the Suiattle River, and the new trail segment approach...
First of all, the new bridge is in place over the Suiattle River, and the new trail segment approaching the bridge is complete. This was the final repair for this storm-ravaged segment of the PCT; there is no longer any need to detour around the east side of Glacier Peak.
   The new Suiattle bridge is located several miles downstream from the old crossing, adding 5.5 miles (and 500ft elevation gain) to the total milage for this section. Many people will say, “well, I’m not afraid of the log crossing, so I’ll just take the old shorter route.” This is a tragedy, because the new trail segment passes through one of the most magnificent stands of old-growth forest I have ever seen (and I have seen many). Seriously, this forest is magical--- easily comparable to the Hoh, Queets, Big Beaver, etc. It is an oustanding new element for the PCT, which so often stays high on the crest. When I approached this segment, my feet were cold and soaking wet (boot failure), and my left knee was screaming at me with every step; even so, as soon as I reached the end of the old-growth, I turned around without hesitation just so I could walk through it again. Coming after the harsh beauty of Fire Creek Pass and Vista Ridge, and the wild brush of Milk Creek, I was literally moved to tears by this place. I regard it as one of the great enchanted moments of the entire PCT. If you’re thinking of skipping it, stop and remind yourself why you’re out there.

   Okay, trip report: I took the NW trailways bus to Stevens Pass and set out into the rain. The forest is most beautiful when it’s raining, and I saw lots of shadowy mountainsides cloaked in swirling mists (people who only hike in “good” weather are really missing out). Camped at the top of Grizzly Peak.
   At dawn, I looked out from under my tarp to see that the rain had turned to snow during the night, coating the meadows. The clouds were breaking. In the distance I could see mists billowing off Glacier Peak, lit up by the first rays of light.
   It turned into a sunny day of wandering along the crest: lakes, meadows, forest, views of Glacier Peak and the Monte Cristo peaks, and Rainier and everything else to the south. I camped in howling winds on a ridge north of Skykomish Peak.
    The next day was still sunny. Somewhere around Indian Pass, the character of the landscape begins to change. The mountains become snowier and more formidable, looming above you. At Red Pass, looking down into the storm-ravaged White Chuck Valley, there’s a feeling of heading into a truly remote, wild realm. And in fact, this next segment is presently one of the most remote places in the lower-48. The west-side approaches to Glacier Peak (White Chuck, Milk Creek) are totally impassable; there is no way in or out of here that doesn’t involve a very long trek over at least one high pass. And you shouldn’t count on running into anyone else here; I encountered exactly one hiker between Indian Pass and Cloudy Pass (50+ miles). So, this is a place to be careful with your footing, especially if you’re alone--- a casual misstep could turn into a tragedy. But the feeling of wildness here is an incredible experience.
     Descending into the White Chuck Valley, you begin to see the carnage from the cataclysmic floods of the past eight years. It may not be pretty, but it is beautiful in a terrifying kind of way: whole segments of forests wiped out by flood waters; raw bluffs where the river carved chunks out of the landscape; bridges tossed aside like matchsticks, etc. What you’re seeing here is a privileged glimpse of the raw forces that shape our universe.
       Also amazing is the massive amount of work that has been done to restore this segment of trail, which had been virtually obliterated. In the history of trail maintenance, this must have been the Battle of Stalingrad. I cannot express my gratitude strongly enough to those involved in this epic undertaking. The trail is now in excellent shape: clear and easy to follow, and all the new bridges are in place.
    I camped on Kennedy Ridge. The next day, clouds moved in as I began the ascending traverse towards Fire Creek Pass. As the trail makes its way around Glacier Ridge, you can scramble a few hundred feet to the ridge crest for a great view (not hard, but be careful--- you’re a long, long way from help here). I reached Fire Creek Pass just in time to see the amazing views north to Dome Peak and the rest of the Ptarmigan Traverse, gradually enveloped by dramatic clouds. From points near the pass, I watched clouds and mist closing in on Glacier Peak, constantly shifting to reveal glimpses of ice and rock.
     There was still a brief stretch of icy snow covering the trail descending from Fire Creek Pass, but it was easy to get around by climbing over rocks. Mica Lake was still mostly-frozen, and spectacularly beautiful. As I descended from here, the rain moved in--- just in time for the land-of-infinite-brush, the Milk Creek Valley. This is very clearly the kingdom of the avalanche. Naturally, the trail is brushy--- I expect it would take a large permanent crew working round-the-clock to keep it brush-free in these environs--- but it’s easy to follow. If it has rained in the past few days, you will get thoroughly drenched here. The brush continues up the other side of the creek. There’s a brief respite of forest, and then you switchback up a brushy avalanche slope towards Vista Ridge. The brush isn’t much fun, but it is an important part of the mountain realm, and I don’t regret the experience--- and it is pretty cool to imagine the avalanches and mountains of snow that must pile up here in winter. It’s worth noting that there is no good place to camp in or around Milk Creek Valley. I camped here anyway, wedged between a big tree and a steep slope.
   In the morning I climbed to Vista Ridge. Rain/snow, clouds, and wind---- and yes, vistas too. Not wide-open sweeping postcard-vistas, but the kind I really love: mysterious glimpses of jagged rock and ice shrouded in shifting clouds.
    It was too cold to linger on the ridge, so I desended into the beautiful forests above Vista Creek. Then I reached the new trail segment towards the Suiattle bridge, and the truly enchanted forest I’ve already described. Even aside from the old-growth, this new segment is a really nice stretch of trail, generally within sound and often sight of the wild Suiattle River--- one of the great rivers of the Northwest. The new bridge is fantastic: visually striking, and it appears very well-situated and secure. Maybe, just maybe, this one will be around awhile. On the other side, you hook up with the old Suiattle trail. Something to consider: the new Suiattle crossing means that you now pass the lower junction with the Miner’s Ridge trail, presenting an attractive alternative via Image Lake that reconnects with the PCT just before Suiattle Pass (this would only add 2 miles/800ft elevation gain). I stayed on the PCT, ascending gradually through forest, and camped near Miner’s Creek.
    The next day (day six) I climbed to Suiattle Pass, then headed east to Cloudy Pass. Yes, it was cloudy, but the clouds were high enough so that I could see a lot of the surrounding glacier-clad peaks. Descended to Lyman Lakes, where I caught a rare sighting of two humans--- nice humans, fortunately. The upper Railroad Creek Valley is an avalanche deposit zone (like Milk Creek), so it’s mostly brush with some intermittent forest. Nice views up the impressive mountain walls on both sides. The trail itself was somewhat brushy in places, but later I saw a WTA crew at Holden, so maybe they’ve already taken care of this. Anyway, the trail is easy to follow, and the brush wasn’t nearly as ferocious as Milk Creek.
    Finally I reached the end of the trail, and came out onto the road. Passed some stone walls and foundations of old mining homes, and then the graceful wooden structures of Holden Village. The village is a perfect place to end a trek. I spent two days there, eating good food and letting my feet dry out. The people are really nice and welcoming and generous, and no one tries to push their beliefs on you in any way. It’s a perfect place to gather your thoughts and let your mind work through all the ideas and experiences that developed during the journey, before heading back into the entrenched thought-patterns of urban life. Reservations are a good idea; I hadn’t made any, but I was lucky. A massive clean-up of the old mines and tailing piles is getting underway--- great news, but at some point (maybe 2013-2014) there will be hundreds of workers staying in the village, and there won’t be much room for visitors.
     My plan from there was to head down the lake and catch the Link Transit bus from Chelan to Wenatchee, then the train back to Seattle (I did that last year in reverse to get to Stehekin; it works out well, but in either direction you have to stay overnight in Wenatchee. You can camp at the mouth of the Wenatchee River. The train ride is fantastic). But when I mentioned my plan over lunch at Holden, a kind soul who was also heading out offered me a ride from Fields Point to Seattle.
    And so I made it home, feeling privileged to have traveled through such a wild, extraordinary realm. Sorry this report is so long, but it seems like this area hasn’t been covered much by other recent reports, so I wanted to be thorough.
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PCTK_climber729.jpeg
Glacier Peak as seen from Red Pass on the PCT. Photo by climber729.
Location
Pacific Crest Trail Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass (#2000)
North Cascades
Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest
Statistics
Roundtrip 117.5 miles
Elevation Gain 26351 ft
Highest Point 6600 ft
Features
Rivers
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Summits
Wildlife
Ridges/passes
Established campsites
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Pacific Crest Trail Oregon & Washington (Jeffrey Schaffer and Andy Selters) - Wilderness Press
Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, Cascade Series - Northern Washington
www.pctmap.net/iphone/wa_section_k_map.pdf

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