Living the High Life

Glacier Peak Wilderness
Glacier Peak Wilderness Practicalities
The route: The PCT heads north through the Glacier Peaks Wilderness from Stevens Pass on Route 2 to Stehekin River Road near Stehekin on Lake Chelan.

Distance: 98 miles.

Weather: Snow usually clogs the mountains well into July, and winter storms start sometime in September or October, leaving August as the best month for this traverse. The high peaks are weather-makers, so expect weather to be made. It can snow any month of the year.

Information: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail., Volume 2: Oregon and Washington ($24.95, Wilderness Press, 1-800-443-7227) describes the route and contains adequate maps. The Glacier Peaks Wilderness Map ($4) is available from Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, Wenatchee National Forest 22976 Hgwy 207, Leavenworth, WA 98826, (509)763-3103.

Getting there: Stevens Pass is on Route 2 about 60 miles east of Everett, Washington, and a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. To get to Stehekin, take Highway 97 to Chelan where you board the Lady of the Lake Ferry (509-682-2224) for a 50-mile ride up Lake Chelan to the town of Stehekin. From there, a shuttle bus operated by North Cascades National Park (360-856-5700) takes you the final 10 miles to the trailhead.

Aldo Leopold defined wilderness as a place where you could take a two-week trip and not cross your own tracks. Mix that with a love of the high country, and where do you go? Is there a place where you can get high and stay wild for 100 miles?

Follow the Pacific Crest Trail as it winds its way through the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington's North Cascades. This 98-mile stretch of trail features some of the wildest, craggiest terrain on the 2,600-mile-long route. But you have to work for the views. To avoid avalanche chutes, glaciers, and permanent snowfields, the trail descends into valleys and climbs back up to passes, so expect a lot of ups and downs.

The character of this hike is unadulteratedly high country. Even when the trail descends, you are constantly aware that it is the powerful forces of the high country — volcanoes, avalanches, storms, glaciers — that have scoured and shaped the land. Sure, there are panoramic views (highlights include the views from Red Pass, elevation 6,500 feet, and from Fire Creek Pass, elevation 6,350 feet). But you can also expect to be awed by hundreds of glaciers, intimidating ice-slopes, swirling cirques, thrusting outcroppings, and the towering volcanic cones that dominate the other peaks like giants among people. Rangers sometimes sound frankly gleeful on the subject of things like bridges taken out by avalanches, campsites under snow in the middle of August, and man-eating mosquitoes. These are remote, high mountains in a northcountry wilderness, so take their warnings seriously: Go in with plenty of warm clothing and a healthy respect for the elements.


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