PCT Hiking: Section I – Part 1 (White Pass to Chinook Pass)

Section I of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was one I section hiked in multiple sections, over a number of years. Some sections I have hiked multiple times because I truly enjoyed them – and they were so easy to drive to. I was thinking how the trips run across the seasons. Some were in early summer, when snow held on, others in the height of summer, with the flowers in bloom, and a few trips chasing the miles hoping we’d not get caught in an early snowstorm (and that happened more than once). The photos reflect this, as I hop between trips and seasons. The photos cover up to 10 years time.

Section I goes from White Pass on Highway 12 to I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass. In this I cover from Hwy 12 to Chinook Pass on Hwy 410. It is less than 30 miles long and is doable as an overnight to 2 nighter. The elevation gain isn’t too terrible, only requiring 3 uphill sections, but for the PCT they are all either short or well graded. This is a great area to enjoy the PCT for the first time as water is plentiful, campsites aplenty and the trail is taken care of.

The start is White Pass on Highway 12 in the Cascade Mountains. The trailhead is off the road, through the car campground. It is easy to go by the turn off though, so keep an eye on the signs.

It wasn’t hard to follow the trail in the first snowstorm of fall.

It looks a bit more welcoming in summer. A lot easier to walk, when it isn’t ice covered.

It is easy enough to follow in early snows in late fall. I have had friends who snowshoe this section as avalanche potential is relatively low.

Lupine in bloom in summer.

As one climbs up into the plateau the lakes become more abundant. There is no lack of water, with lake after lake and little streams flowing.

The creeks offer water (and a home to the billion mosquitoes in this section).

In some ways I really enjoyed the feel of early winter on the trail versus summer. While cold, there were no bugs. And that is worth a lot.

Trail 2000.

The miles go fast. The trail is mostly flat for miles, winding around lake after lake.

And the snow quiets the woods. You can hear sounds you don’t in summer.

Same lake, in summer.

I could keep going on about lakes….

But I will stop for a bit.

As the trail pulls away from the lakes, it starts heading downhill a bit. I still don’t know the history of the fence posts left in a wide field.

The first time I crossed the creek, it had two logs left of the bridge, to run over quickly. The next year, in summer, it had one log left. I forded it that time, it was knee deep but a gentle current. There is a horse camp site by the creek.

Me, not so happy, but I did it.

After the stream crossing the trail starts heading down quickly.

The trail goes lower. We made camp at Bumping River, which is the low point of the trail. It is fed by Fish Lake, which sits in a wide valley that is more a wetland than a lake.

Fording the gentle Bumping River in mid October. In summer it is even lower.

Thinking about if I wanted to come outside yet, into a cold mid-October morning.

My friend Steve hanging out in his tent next to mine. We were snow free under the trees. Our camp was on the north side of Bumping River and was more a stock camp. In summer we stayed here as well, a bit farther up the trail, on the water.

Fish Lake. It was snow free here, due to the elevation and open land.

Fall colors as the trail heads back up, heading North.

This section was probably my least favorite. It goes up slowly, leaving the valley, and heads up through a thick forest.

I believe Buck or Crag Lake, in summer.

The push up to the high spot, a wooded pass. As you go around the notch, Mt. Rainier comes into view on a clear day.

In summer.

Looking down on a tiny lake, before you reach the pass.

Heading towards the Three Lakes section.

At a few points you drift into Mt. Rainier National Park, and the metal signs are a sign you might be on their land. Near the turn off for the trail to Cougar Lakes.

As you head North, the trail becomes more forested, but it is low subalpine woods.

Anderson Lake is a great campsite. While the lake is in the National Park, the camp area is just outside of the boundary in the National Forest, so no permits are needed. It is also this way so you can bring your dog while hiking. Look across to see the campsite in the woods.

As you head north and climb out of the lake, look back to see it below.

The section of trail between Anderson and Dewey lakes in summer was for years my favorite place to pick wild blueberries and huckleberries. Some as big as nickels, the picking areas go on for miles. It’s a mostly open hillside with views of the peaks around.

Dewey Lake (the larger lake) is beautiful in the snow.

But alas, even in winter weather the climb up is a lung buster. A good 500 feet of gain, on open trail awaits.

At the top, looking back down at Dewey Lakes (both of them).

Looking down from the top of the climb, in summer, where the PCT connects with the Naches Peak Loop Trail.

The trail climbs a gentle boost to an open area. On the edge is a few trees quaintly named for what lives there: Mosquito Home. Stay out of the trees. You want wind.

Looking back across the way – Dewey is far below. The trail cuts across a flat area and makes the turn.

It is nearly all downhill to Chinook Pass (the highway can be seen just a bit from here, at a notch/pass).

There is one nearly always pretty lake about a mile or so from the trailhead. The crowds pick up here.

It is really a pretty place to take a rest at.

The hillsides in season here have some of the best wildflowers.

So many flowers.

And then the road comes up on you.

The bridge over Hwy 410 at Chinook Pass awaits you. Cross it to continue.

See here for part 2 of Section I.


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