We backpacked section K of the PCT from Stevens to Rainy Pass from 8/16 thru 8/28. After hiking the JMT last year, we had chosen this because of the WTA description of "torturous" and the great views. We had planned the route to accommodate some low mileage days when going around Glacier Peak and enjoy the views. This turned out a bit different due to the weather.
Overall, bugs minimal, many berries including blueberry, blue and red huckleberry, thimbleberry, salmonberry depending on elevation. Same for wildflowers. WTA's description ("torturous") is about right, mostly related to the many large tree crossings, narrow paths and the up/downhill. Used a bear canister with 10 days of food up to Stehekin.
To prepare physically, perhaps use the same rule of thumb that scrambling and climbing groups require, i.e. hiking up Mount Si (6k RT, 3200') with a 30 lbs pack in 2 hours. Be comfortable with the narrow trails on the steep mountains, very large tree crossings, up, over and under (some 50+?), log crossings, including a smaller log over a fast flowing milky creek, and walking through lots of, often wet, brush (mostly salmonberry, fireweed, blackberry, etc.). There are also many very pleasant and easy to walk trails in the wood that are well maintained and that allow for getting some miles in. There was a trail crew on the trails for 5 weeks doing some great work and in other areas (near exit routes) and in the NC NPS there was evidence of recent trail work. Thank you.
In the spring, we applied for permits for 2 nights in the North Cascades NP, efficient and easy process. Also, we learned that coming in as a thru hiker, one gets one free night of camping in the Stehekin Lakeview Group Camp and, if the reserved sites are open, additional nights in the open sites.
8/16 to Janus Lake - this is a relative easy and flat hike with about 2000 ft gain (up and down). Perfect for a fully loaded pack. Stopped at beautiful Lake Valhalla. Water was not too cold. Plenty of water along the way. Some say Janus Lake is more like a swamp but we did not perceive it that way and it has beautiful campsites and places to view the lake.
8/17 to Pear Lake - After rain in the night at Janus Lake, it was foggy and cloudy in the morning and raingear was helpful to make it through the brush. Grizzly Peak is a good spot for lunch. Pear Lake has good spots immediately off the trail and there are other spots further down and at the end of the lake as well.
8/18 to Lake Sally Ann - beautiful hike from Pear Lake to Lake Sally Ann. It was more clear and were able to see mountain ranges to the South and West and then back in to the forest and eventually Cady Pass and then Lake Sally Ann. It was quite windy for a while at Lake Sally Ann blowing up a lot of dust.
8/19 to campsite North of White Chuck/Cinder Cone - beautiful sunrise at Lake Sally Ann but then clouds came in pretty fast. We ascended to Indian Pass and then up to White Pass and we had clouds and sunshine allowing for views of Glacier Peak and some of the glaciers. Not knowing the water on the route to Red Pass, we stopped for lunch and water on the side trail from White Pass called Foam Creek Trail. However, there were several good water "trickles" on the trail to Red Pass as well. The trail to Red Pass is a good and tough hike especially when it is hot. On Red Pass, one can get a bit higher (side trail to the right) for even better views. Unfortunately, the next few days Glacier Peak was covered in clouds and fog. Because of the weather, we did not stay near White Chuck/Cinder Cone but descended to a nice campsite along the trail near a creek and footbridge.
8/20 to Mica Creek - because of the weather, this was another longer day as it seemed better to "hike on" than to sit in fog/clouds. Initially we descended through beautiful forest and during this day the continuous obstacles of log crossings started. Up, over, under, big and small. A jungle gym and as we got the hang of it, quite a bit of fun. Thanks to those who went before us, it is most of the time easy to see what the best place to cross is. Probably most intimidating was the log crossing over the fast flowing creek. The log was not as wide as usual crossings. We did look for other options. Two PCT-ers appeared who made it over and so did we. Thank you for hanging around to keep an eye on us until we crossed. By the time we came to Mica Lake, visibility was not great and we could barely see the emerald green lake below. We ended up camping near Mica Creek, about .5m further. Some rain and fog that night.
8/21 to Vista Creek - another long day of hiking in the drizzle and fog as it beat the alternative of sitting in camp. Went through lots of brush including salmon, thimbleberry etc. Down, up and eventually at 6000'. We had lunch at Milk Creek, impressive rocks and creeks but no views of mountains. Beautiful meadows on the way to Vista Creek. Vista Creek is off the trail and instead of hiking down to get water from the milky creek, walk a few feet further where you will find a small creek crossing the path.
8/22 to Miners Creek/footbridge - another long day. Some more rain during the night. We descended and then ascended and eventually crossed the Suiattle river via an impressive footbridge. Sun started to come out. Overall, very good trails but still many log crossings.
8/23 to Cedar Camp. We ended up one day ahead of our planned schedule because of the weather. The weather was much better after a surprisingly cold night in the high 30s. Hiked up Suiattle Pass and we passed by some pretty cool campsites (one tent) which likely would have awesome views. Right away, multiple tree crossings (just follow the path others have taken), Marmots, pikas and many signs and markers along the way. We had lunch at Sitting Bull and we checked out the campsite (there is a sign) below. Quite a cool spot (see a 2020 WTA report as well) on a good day. The weather was improving and we saw mountain tops and glaciers here and there.
8/24-25 to Stehekin. We arrived at 1 pm at the trailhead and waited for the shuttle. Camped at Lakeview group camp and next day moved to an open spot (see above). Weather was beautiful while there.
8/26 to Bridge Creek. Short, 2 hour hike to Bridge Creek where there are beautiful camp sites for PCT-ers and permit holders near a babbling creek. That night it rained again.
8/27 to Fireweed Camp. Cloudy and sunny and another fairly short day to Fireweed Camp which has few camp spots near a fast flowing creek and also it has many fallen logs and trees. There are two hanging bridge crossings, one as a result of a storm that wiped out the existing bridge. Many great tasting huckleberries. It's about .5 mile from the PCT.
8/28 to Rainy Pass. Beautiful sunny day. Great, easy hike, many markers, the temporary bridge and some fun log crossings over creeks.
Overall, section K is a special adventure. Even without the sublime views of the many glaciers and the mountain, the area flora and fauna is wild and beautiful. Each day we saw about 5 to 7 people most of them PCT hikers going North. We will have to come back some day via a loop hike or trail work to see the sublime views and the glaciers.
Sources used: National Geographic map, Hiking the PCT Washington (Tami Asars, 2016 but mostly still relevant)
Tools: Gaia for planning route; Garmin in reach
Pack weight: ~20lbs base weight; ~10-12 lbs for food (10 days) in canister; most of the time we carried just 1 liter of water; going south to north may be the better option as the pack weight might be a bit lighter by the time the "jungle gym" work starts.