The Pacific Northwest Trail

A version of this article appears on The Trek, which you can read here

I remember as a kid seeing a North Country Trail sign while hiking on Lake Superior. I asked my uncle where the trail went and when he said “New York to North Dakota” the idea of hiking that far both baffled and enticed me.

Since then thru-hiking a long trail has always been in the back of my mind as “something to do someday” but I never really had a plan (or time) on how to do it. Then 3 years ago when I was laid up with a broken ankle I stumbled across the book “Grizzly Bears and Razor Claims” by Chris Townsend. I devoured it. The Pacific Northwest Trail resonated with me: rugged, rough, remote. I became somewhat (ok, totally) obsessed with the idea of hiking it.

And just over a month from now I’ll be starting the PNT. Hell. Yes.

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Why the PNT?

The PNT has all the things I love about backpacking: navigation challenges, undeveloped sections, bushwacking and solitude. The length is perfect for my 3 month timeframe, the trail typically takes 2-3 months. These are the reasons why I’m choosing the PNT over some of the more popular trails like the AT or PCT. Plus, I love the scenery and the vibe of the Pacific Northwest and am excited to spend the summer walking across it.  

Having a lot of experience backpacking I’m confident in my backcountry skills, but that’s not to sound naive. According the PNTA less than 300 people have completed the trail since its inception in 1977. It’s going to be tough. Really tough. It will test me. It might even break me. All part of the adventure. Let’s do this.

To the Coast!

Time for a major switch. It seems like we’re getting stuck with every turn. The Jasper debacle was a few days ago and section C of the GDT is still on fire, we aren’t going there anymore. Smoke is everywhere and it’s hard to see anything let alone hike in it, so we’re bugging out of the Canadian Rockies.

Jasper to Seattle isn’t really close but it is doable in a (long) day’s drive. We have lots of friends in Seattle and magically, in the middle of summer, they are all in town. Seattle is also close to the Olympic Peninsula, so for our last week-ish we will be spending part in Seattle and part exploring Olympic.

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The weather in the Olympics is gorgeous. Sunny, warm and best of all no smoke! We end up spending most of our time on the coast (we’re moving to Colorado, the way we see it coast time will be precious, mountains less so). Backpacking on the coast poses some new challenges: dealing with tides, slippery rocks and sand. Cool!

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From Rialto Beach we walk about 1.5 miles to just before the “hole in the wall” (a giant hole in the rocks) and manage to find a campsite directly overlooking two large sea stacks. We set up for the night on a surprising flat spot and build a fire (it feels so weird to have a fire after seeing all the fires in Canada). In the night we are awoken by rustling and a pair of little raccoon paws slowing dragging away one of our packs (we are following the rules, there is no food in there). We shoo it away. Minutes later the paws are back and we see the pack begin the slide away. Ok everything into the tent then.

The next day we decide that our spot is too good to give up (even with the raccoons) and we leave our gear set up and wander up the coast playing in tide pools and enjoying the beach. We make it back to our site for another beautiful sunset.

Maybe it was meant to be. The seed for this journey started with a book on the Pacific Northwest Trail and here we are sitting on a beach, spending our last few days backpacking on the PNT itself.

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