Just about anyone with even a passing interest in backpacking got an itch to explore the Pacific Crest Trail following the release of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 bestselling memoir “Wild” and the corresponding blockbuster movie in 2014.
However, those of us grounded in reality generally realize we’re simply not prepared to face the challenges and serious dangers that accompany the life-changing journey. Plus, it takes three to five months with some not-insignificant costs, and who has that kind of free time or money?
Fortunately, there’s a way to satisfy your hunger to explore the PCT over a summer weekend while barely leaving Yakima County.
A 28.6-mile hike between White Pass and Chinook Pass provides an excellent primer for the trail’s difficult mountain climbs and beautiful views of Washington’s forests, meadows and lakes.
“It’s a really beautiful section and it sort of has two phases of it and that makes it a really diverse hike,” PCT trail information specialist Jack Haskel says.
Making the trip in two days won’t be easy for inexperienced hikers, especially those who decide to take the more difficult, preferred route north to end near Naches Peak and on the shoulder of Mount Rainier. Alternatively, starting in those meadows and walking along the ridges with Rainier in sight means a net loss of about 2,000 feet and a long, steep descent from the ridge near Crag Lake down toward the forested and lake-filled areas surrounding White Pass — perfect for swimming and fishing.
Haskel recommends checking out Pipe Lake and camping either there or at Dewey Lake, but just be aware all the water means plenty of mosquitoes on the trail in the summer. Snow might last into July, so take plenty of warm clothes and be sure to check the forecast for storms before heading out to either pass.
If this long weekend backpacking trip leaves you wanting more, don’t worry, there’s still more than 2,600 miles of the PCT left to traverse.
Know before you go
■ PARKING: At White Pass, park for free along the highway at White Pass Ski Area, then follow the dirt road leading north to White Pass Campground a half mile away. At Chinook Pass, you’ll need to pay $5 per day or take a recreation pass to park on the north side of the highway in the Tipsoo Lake parking area.
■ PERMITS: Don’t forget to pick up a free, self-issuing wilderness permit before you start your hike.
■ WATER: Numerous campsites along the way provide places to refill, and if you bring a filter you’ll never go more than four miles without hiking past a water source.
■ MAPS: Go to the Pacific Crest Trail’s website for detailed half-mile maps, and the route can also be found on Green Trails maps #271 and 303.
■ CONDITIONS: Snow could last into July on some sections, so check out the PCT’s trail conditions as well as an interactive map with snow depth before heading to the trail and make sure to bring warm clothes.
■ FOREST SERVICE: The nearest ranger station to White Pass is more than a 70-mile drive away at the Naches Ranger Station and for Chinook Pass, it’s the Paradise Ranger Station at Mount Rainier National Park about 35 miles away.
■ SIGHTS: Mount Rainier is visible for several miles along the ridge closer to Chinook Pass; also in that area, 50-acre Dewey Lake is the largest of the many bodies of water you’ll see along the way; on the south end, Pipe Lake is worth exploring.