By Michael Lanza

Within minutes of starting our hike north on the Pacific Crest Trail from Harts Pass in Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness, one truth quickly crystallizes: This northernmost section of the PCT stays true to its middle name—Crest. A well-maintained footpath, it traces a long ridgeline for miles, gently rising and dipping with the contours of the land but never falling off the mountains. Luckily for us, the PCT’s excellent condition probably saves us from injuring ourselves tripping and falling as we keep panning our eyes over classic North Cascades panoramas of endless, jagged ridges stretching to far horizons.

Having arrived here in the first week of September—a glorious time to walk through the Cascade Range—by our first afternoon, we lose count of the number of PCT thru-hikers we pass (or rather: who pass us). Easy to spot for their ultralight packs, blazing pace, and outward appearance of living estranged from civilization for a very long time, they’re blasting through the final miles of a months-long journey from Mexico to Canada. After tagging the border, they must backtrack more than 30 “bonus” miles to the trailhead and road at Harts Pass and hitch a ride to the nearest town—where they’ll undoubtedly draw more than the average person’s joy from a long, hot shower, perhaps an entire pizza or similar caloric feast, and a bed.

Nearly all are friendly—though, to a person, they all make clear they are done with the trail and ready to be off it. As we all filter water from the one flowing creek we’ll see along roughly 10 miles of the PCT this entire day, one fit, young thru-hiking couple says to us, laughingly repeating words they have obviously recited together many times already: “Just say ‘no’ to thru-hiking.”

A backpacker hiking the Pacific Crest Trail north of Harts Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.
” data-image-caption=”Jeff Wilhelm backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail north of Harts Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”600″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker hiking the Pacific Crest Trail north of Harts Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.” class=”wp-image-53282″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?resize=150%2C100&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Pasay1-007-Jeff-Wilhelm-on-the-PCT-north-of-Harts-Pass-in-the-Pasayten-Wilderness..jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Jeff Wilhelm backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail north of Harts Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.

My wife, Penny, our friend Jeff Wilhelm, and I are on a much shorter and very different journey: a five-day, 44.3-mile loop from Harts Pass, following the PCT on a long, high walk north for about 20 miles, then looping back to Harts Pass via much less-traveled trails that descend into a river valley and ascend a long, rugged ridge on an often-steep trail with taxing ups and downs.

Despite the number of thru-hikers we will run into on our first two days out here, it never feels too busy: For most of our time walking the PCT, we’re quite alone, even in what must be one of this section’s busiest weeks of the year. Once we turn off the PCT, our route will gift us with a sampling of the remoteness and solitude we expect in the Pasayten—plus an almost continuous stream of those classic North Cascades vistas.

And rather than testing our resolve to finish this hike—the apparent challenge facing several thru-hikers we meet—these five days will only whet our appetites to explore more of the Pasayten Wilderness.

https://www.mansbrand.com/gaze-into-the-heart-of-a-grand-spiral-galaxy/

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