Total Miles: 2569.4
The snow of yesterday evening and the cold that came with it lingered all through the night, with an occasional new dusting adding to the blanket of white that now clung to everything. By the small hours of the morning, however, the sky was filled with nothing but stars, setting the stage for a beautiful sunrise.
All the weather sins of the last few days would be forgiven since this was a day into town, and not just any town, but one of if not the most anticipated town stop on the entire trail: Stehekin. Whether owing to its location near the northern terminus of the trail, its stunning setting or its renowned bakery, it occupies a special place in the hearts of thru-hikers.
Taken from the Salish Indian word meaning “the way through”, Stehekin sits on the eastern slope of the North Cascades and at the very northwest corner of Lake Chelan, which at over 50 miles long and 1000 feet deep is the largest and deepest lake in the state of Washington. Barricaded by the Cascades to the west, Stehekin is accessible only by ferry and by float plane, and although there are roads in the tiny town, all cars have to be barged in from the town of Lake Chelan at the opposite end of the lake. The PCT crosses a dirt road that leads 11 miles into town along which operates a bus shuttle that makes several stops along the way at trailheads, the town/ferry landing, and, of course, the bakery.
Just shy of 20 miles separated our snowy camp near 6000 feet from the road into Stehekin, and I packed up all of my now frozen crusted gear for the cold hike down. Having volunteered to race ahead and catch an earlier bus that would allow me to pickup goodies from the bakery for everyone before it closed, I had the trail all to myself in the clear cold morning. The landscape was dusted with the first snow we’d had since the Sierra, and with the crystal clear sky above there was almost an impossible number of things to photograph.
The sun began to drip down the snowy granite peaks that soared above the trail, and the dark shadows receded like a curtain.
Finally, every detail of their upper reaches was visible, every nook and cranny exposed by the bright morning sun.
Once I’d descended below tree line and down to the creek that would lead all the way to the road, the trail was as pleasant and smooth as can be, making for speedy hiking. Only a half mile shy of the road, I crossed the creek and the boundary of North Cascades National Park.
Appropriately named, there is crashing water everywhere here, all of it as clear as can be. Upon closer inspection, what I thought were colorful rocks visible beneath the surface of the water were actually fish: Kokanee salmon, aka landlocked sockeye salmon, that turn bright red and swim upstream to spawn in the river of their birth.
It was only noon by the time I’d arrived at the ranger station where the bus would come to take me into town, and the first stop along the way was the much anticipated bakery. Brimming with all manner of delicious bites, both savory and sweet, the bakery has a reputation that percolates through the trail grapevine for nearly its entire length. The hype was definitely not overstated. I’d have one of their amazing (and amazingly large) cinnamon rolls every day for the rest of my life if I didn’t think it would shave precious years from it.
The final bus stop was the end of the line, at the ferry landing where the Lodge, restaurant and post office constitute the entirety of the town. For a Tuesday in late September, it was oddly busy but it must have been my lucky day because I got the last available room at the Lodge for us.
While I waited for Gazelle, Beardoh and Sweet Pea to arrive on buses later in the day, I watched a float plane take off on the lake below peaks that give Stehekin a fjord-like setting. There was nothing left to do but relax and enjoy the scenery in this final trail stop as I waited for my friends, using every last ounce of willpower not to eat the entire bag of bakery goodies that awaited them.