PCT Day 163 – Saturday, September 23
Mike 881.1 to Cascade Valley Trail Mile 7.8
PCT Miles Hiked Today: 7.3
Non-PCT Miles Hiked Today: 7.8 Miles
Total PCT Miles Hiked: 1758.7
Feet Ascended Today: 2400
Feet Descended Today: 3600
Current Elevation: 7206
I awoke to a thin layer new snow on the ground. Snow had fallen overnight in small white pellets the size of BB’s. The ground was frozen and crunched underfoot.
It was hard to get out of bed on such a cold day. I huddled in my sleeping quilt, putting off the inevitable. I was finally on the trail shortly before 7:00 am.
The first couple of hours I hiked uphill towards Silver Pass with Heather and Brian. Initially the snow was simply a light dusting, but it got deeper as we ascended. A layer of ice had developed on the trail under the new snow and made for slippery walking. Ice formed around the edges of creeks and ponds. Footsteps were clearly visible in the snow and made it relatively easy to navigate, which was a relief as the trail was not visible under the snow.
We reached the top of the pass in mid-morning. The snow was about 8″ to 10″ deep at the top. Other hikers said it was 1-2 feet deep so either some of the snow had melted or they had exaggerated (I suspect a little bit of both).
It was a beautiful sunny day with no dark clouds on the horizon. It was warm in the sunshine and I could feel the snow melting. Snow dripped off of branches overhead and I had to constantly be on the lookout for snowbombs from above.
I put on my microspikes for the descent and they did help me maintain my balance. It was slippery! Eventually I took off my spikes because I kept coming to large patches of trail with no snow or ice which were awkward to navigate with spikes on my feet. After that we turned a corner and walked on a shadier side of the hill which was still completely frozen. I slipped and slid on my butt a few times before the path cleared again.
Once over the pass, we decided to turn off of the PCT and take the Cascade Valley trail alternate along Fish Creek. This trail has a lower elevation and so we’d be out of the snow. It also goes by a hot spring which Brian and Heather – who are on an obscure long distance trail called the “Hot Springs Trail” – wanted to check out. I thought that sounded like an excellent plan and the alternate also ends up at Red’s Meadow so I came along too.
The Cascade Valley trail followed the course of Fish Creek and decreased gradually in elevation to 7200 feet. It was a nice change from the snow. The trail was not as well maintained as the PCT and we had to scramble over several blowdowns but it wasn’t too bad. The biggest drawback of the trail was that we had to cross Fish Creek a couple of times which was just as big of a water crossing as Evolution Creek or Bear Creek, so I wouldn’t recommend this alternate in early season when water levels are high. At the second water crossing, a blowdown tree was blocking trail on the other side of the creek and I had to spend extra time in the water walking around it. My feet were wet and cold all day long as a result.
But it was all worth it as we got to soak in hot springs at the end of the day!