Note: all the short videos I’m making on this hike are posted on my YouTube channel PCT playlist (videos 5-14 new with this post).

I’m sitting in the little public library in Skykomish, Washington, an excellent mountain town a few hours drive from home in Liberty Lake. I’m now about 200 miles into this PCT hike and the two primary forces thus far have been the snow and sun, the latter trying its best to enable smoother hiking by speed-melting the piled snow from a heavier-than-normal winter.

The parents of the hiker to my right in the photo gave all of us a ride to the Harts Pass trail head. Note my under-developed, post-surgery left leg
Slip and (if you’re lucky you’ll live to) regret it
Immediate objective: traverse to the bare patch near the top center of this photo
You just don’t know when to stop taking pictures up here
Idyllic mountainside trail
The trail going up the mountain pass from right to left

With two other long trails behind me to compare, I’m confident this past couple of weeks have been the hardest hiking I’ve ever attempted. On the Appalachian Trail (AT), I never entertained the idea of quitting- it never crossed my mind. On the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), I thought of quitting often during the first few weeks of hiking in New Mexico, before finally adjusting to and eventually embracing the unique beauty of desert hiking. However, since starting this PCT hike there have been several times I really doubted I have the skills and conditioning to make it. While some of the snow crossings have scared me to my core, the larger issue has been the increased workload and irregular wear patterns on my feet from spending so much time walking on snow with microspikes (traction devices you wear on your shoes). On the CDT, I carried spikes for a brief period and used them occasionally for 5-10 minutes at a time while crossing snow fields in Glacier National Park and around a couple of the higher peaks near the southern Colorado border. By contrast, there have been several days in the past week where I hiked with spikes for 4-5 hours continuously, resulting in significant soreness and blistering in atypical spots on my feet and toes. And out of all the gear hikers may carry, the ice axe is the one I’ve balked at the most, having never felt comfortable in its uses and only carrying it out of a sense of obligation. That sentiment is now firmly in my past as I ended up having to self-arrest (bring oneself to a stop while mid-slide down steep, icy terrain) with my axe more than once. So while I’ll never question the value of mountaineering gear on a thru-hike again, my strong preference is still that I’d never need it.

Cross me carefully
The latest in outdoor pooping technology…lift the lid, sit and go.
Lower right: broken remnant of the washed out bridge north of Stehekin. Upper left: two-day-old replacement suspension bridge
PCT signage

On that note, as I resume tomorrow morning moving southward and as the days continue to be hot and sunny, I’m expecting to walk my way out of the worst of the snow within the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I have a new and deep appreciation for walking on steep mountain trails covered in ice and snow. And despite all the snow, mosquitos have been a force majeure too. Two nights ago I camped at an idyllic spot near a lake but had to beat a hasty retreat to my tent immediately as the mosquitos and gnats there seemed impervious to deet- a first for me.

One might read the above and ask, “If it’s that challenging, why bother?” A reasonable question for which- unfortunately- I don’t have a coherent, elevator-pitch type explanation. My reasons for being out here are deeply personal and you’d have to hike with me a while to understand them in detail, but perhaps its enough to say I feel compelled.

One of the many raging torrents of new snow melt
The Highbridge near Stehekin
My tent wedged between trees on a dry patch surrounded by snow
Can’t you just hear Van Morrison? “…We were born before the wind…”
Gnarly avalanche to scramble over
Me on another sunny morning
A trail to somewhere
Glacial lake near Fireweed pass
Everywhere you turn you want a picture to remember it
Broken bridge but luckily still crossable, albeit carefully

And because I’m loathe to end my whiny post on a down note, let me close with saying that as I hope these various pictures and the new videos on my YouTube channel portray (videos 5-14 are the new ones for this post), the Northern Cascades do not disappoint in terms of incredible beauty and serenity. If I hadn’t been so engrossed in my crash course on staying alive while traversing snow, I’m sure I would have exhausted my phone battery snapping pictures at every turn of the trail. There is something in the mist here that strangely reminds me of that deep magic that envelops the Smoky Mountains. The mountains and terrain don’t resemble each other in the least, but they share a common sense of the mystical that makes me feel as though it would be perfectly normal to see a faerie step out from the next turn of the trail. If one does, I’m going to ask her to hold my hand on the next steep traverse. I hope you enjoy and I’ll chime again at the next opportunity! All the best, Max.

Hard to see from the photo, but the snow melting on the right of this bridge was 4-6 feet deep…walking across such is usually fine, but occasionally the hollow underside gives way and you drop into whatever is beneath
Lake Valhalla (I think?) just north of Stevens Pass

2 Replies to “Sun and Snow”

  1. Brother, you never cease to amaze us! The videos and pictures are truly beautiful and really capture the beauty of everything you are seeing. We are definitely seeing this through your eyes. Hope your foot is feeling good…mine is dong great. Be careful and stay focused and your eyes on the prize! We all love you and hope to see you soon!

    Melissa

    1. Thanks Melissa! I’ve got a lot more to share- nearly through with Washington and hope to cross into Oregon in a week or so! All the best to you, Paul and the kiddos! Love you all!

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