Hiking PCT from Hwy20 to Cutthroat pass - Part 1
The Cutthroat pass trailhead is along Washington state highway 20 past North Cascades National Park heading east, and about 17 miles past the last glimpse of Ross Lake heading east, and about 25 miles before you reach Winthrop. There's quite a bit of parking, but there's also quite a bit of demand for parking, especially on weekends.
There are pit toilets there also at the trailhead, which is on the north side of Highway 20, although there is also parking on the south side of highway 20. This side of highway 20 is labeled the Rainy lakes trailhead, right across the street.
From the trailhead you proceed North- Northwest on the trail through lush pine forests with plenty of mountain streams. If you need to camp in this area, there are probably 4 creeks that mostly will have water most of the year, all within 2 miles of the trailhead. It might be harder to find a flat campsite, although there are some potential sites.
This trail is last stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail heading north to the Canadian border to the (Canadian park) E.C. Manning provential park just over the border. This section of trail is about 60 miles long, and can be hiked in a week by almost anybody in good shape, although there is a substantial amount of elevation gain. This is a very pretty section of trail where you can see lots of snowy mountain tops from the peaks and passes along the trail.
When I hiked this section of trail, I hiked the first two miles with a 20-something PCT thru-hiker who was on his 103rd day of hiking since the Mexican border. He thought he could finish the remaining 60 miles in 3 days. His trail handle was "Impala", like the african deer (that can run very fast when danger is near).
He shared stories about 5 miserable days of slogging through deep snow in northern California, and encountering 2 rattlesnakes and about 3 bears and a whole slug of other wildlife along the way, and about trail magic, and people he had met along the way, and how wonderful he felt while he was hiking. He said he dreaded the trail ending in the near future, and how it was so addictive to do this hike and see all the beautiful scenery, and meet the interesting people, and breathe all the fresh air, and how going over a pass is like opening up a package on christmas morning. Each new valley between mountain passes is like a whole new adventure.
He said he was averaging about 25 miles of hiking per day. He would get up at dawn which was about 5AM, and hike until typically dusk, which in that season was about 9PM. Which is 16 hours, of which about 13 of which is hiking, and 3 hours of everything else giving him an average of about 2 miles per hour. He said his best day was about 41 miles, and his worst was about 15 where he had a lot of elevation and/or adverse weather.
The hike that I took, due to a lack of time available, and nobody to coordinate with who had a car to get a ride on a one way hike was just an out and back hike a little more than 5 miles one way up to Cutthroat pass, gaining a little more than 2,000 feet elevation.
After you exit the lush pine forest in the first 2.5 miles or so of the hike, the views get better, and there aren't any trees to block the mountain tops in the distance. The other side of getting better views as you approach the pass is that there aren't many trees on this section of the trail to shade you on a hot sunny day.
So hiking this trail earlier in the morning might be a good idea. Most through highers will continue around the mountain, and then down the other side heading west, and then north down into a valley.
It's a rocky trail that is at times a little steep, but overall really not too bad. One should bring their trekking poles on this hike or most any hike in the mountians generally speaking.
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Last Update: August 16, 2015
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