Escape from Shangri-La: Stehekin to Stevens Pass

I am writing this post with my thumbs, so it may be brief.


We headed south from Sehekin, and camped with Sadie for the first night out. The first 10 to 20 miles were easy, although we were going through overgrown trail. On our second day out, we start going up Suiattle Pass, and hit snow and started following footprints and eventually got lost. We heard a voice shouting down to us “hello!! Where are you headed?!”  It turns out that the footprints we were following belonged to Katie, another lost southbound hiker. The four of us joined forces and tackled the snow together. With the help of a GPS, map and compass, crampons and ice axes, we made our way. Dirt Stew and I had all the equipment, but Sadie lacked an ice axe and Katie lacked any traction devices. For the next several days we were mostly in snow. The terrain got more and more difficult as we made our way around Glacier Peak. We had to cross many very steep traverses buried in snow, and we slowly learned to trust our ice axes, our crampons, our poles and our feet. The scenery around us was stunning. Huge rugged mountains covered in snow stretched as far as the eye could see.  One particular day the terrain and the snow was so treacherous that it took us 14 or 15 hours to cover 11 miles. We began to worry about running out of food if progress didn’t speed up. We woke up at 4:30am to try to make better progress the next day. Despite using tons of sun screen, we all became very sun burnt. The snow burnt under our chins and our lips.  Katie suffered the most with blistering lips and nose. We proceeded to cover up every bit of bare skin with all the clothing we had, including our faces. We all had moments where we slipped and were able to self arrest. Dirt Stew had a few impressive saves with the ice axe. Our hands became sore from gripping our ice axes so much. On some of the less steep sections we were able to slide down on our butts which was a lots of fun. On the last night we camped on top of Grizzly Peak, which was a mosquito hell hole. The whole section was do beautiful yet very demanding, we felt like we were attempting to escape from one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  I would describe this section as a stunningly beautiful “hike” punctuated by moments of terror. Finally after 6 or 7  very long days we made it to Steven’s Pass and got a ride to Hiker Haven, which is where I am writing from now.

Day 6: Stehekin to Cedar Camp, 10 miles

July 7: After camping at Purple Camp in Stehekin, we got our mail drop, talked to the rangers at the ranger station, and took the bus back to the trail head.  We of course stopped at the bakery to pick up some delicious treats on the way.  We met Sadie another SOBO thru-hiker while we were at the Post Office.  She had done the whole section north of Harts Pass, but told us it was very treacherous and we were probably smart for having avoided it.  It felt good to meet our first other thru-hiker.  We weren’t sure if we would ever meet another southbounder.  We didn’t start hiking until about 3 or 3:30pm, but go in 10 miles of easy hiking.

Day 7: Cedar Camp to the new bridge over the Suiattle River, 20.9 miles

July 8: We got quite lost following foot prints in the snow on our way up to Suiattle Pass, and as we were pouring over our maps and GPS units, we heard a voice calling down to us “Hello!! Where are you headed?!”  It turns out that the footprints we were following belonged to Katie, another lost southbound hiker.  Katie started hiking a couple days ago from Rainy Pass.  All four of us joined forces to tackle the snow together.  We learned that Katie had gotten swept away at the last creek crossing and narrowly avoided drowning under some logs by planting her trekking pole with all the force she could muster into the rocky bottom.  In the process, she lost her other trekking pole, and some other gear.  We decided to name her Swept Away.  We were very proud to have made it over 20 miles over Suiattle Pass.

Day 8: new bridge over Suiattle River to mile 2533.5, 16.5 miles

We hiked uphill until we hit snow, and then spent most of the day in the snow.  Some steep sections were scary.  We used our ice axes and crampons, and they were very helpful.  The scenery was beautiful, and took our breath away each time we stopped to pause.

Where are we?  I don't know, somewhere beautiful though!

Where are we? I don’t know, somewhere beautiful though!

The sun was very intense and it was very hot out.  We often would lay in the snow to cool off.  Once out of the snow again we went through very dense “jungle” up to where we decided to camp, right before we hit snow again.

Day 9: mile 2533.5 to mile 2522.5, 11 miles

We spent the whole day in snow.  There were sections that were very scary, especially for someone who was afraid of heights.  I could barely look at anything besides my feet and the steps I had to take without freezing up at some points.  We went over Fire Creek Pass, which was intense enough, but the bowls that proceeded it were each very difficult to traverse.  Trail finding was difficult, and we spent a lot of time searching for the trail, or bushwhacking through steep trees or rocks to find it.   It was a long, long day, maybe 15 hours of hiking for only 11 miles, and we were all exhausted by the end.  We didn’t get to bed until 10PM or later.  The scenery continued to be absolutely gorgeous and we were very lucky to have perfect weather.  Only trouble was that it was so sunny that we all got completely fried by the sun.  Even with applying and reapplying SPF 50 sunscreen, we still wound up cooked lobsters, especially our faces.  All of our lips were swollen, since the snow reflects sun back at you while you hike on it, and we spent a good deal of time with our faces pointed towards our feet.  After only having gone 11miles, and noting that the next 30 miles or more would be above snow level, we went through our food to see how long we could last with what we had, and made plans to get up very early the next day to push as many miles as possible.  We spent all day on one map, Section K page 8, and we vowed to burn it after we finished the section.

IMG_1135 IMG_1131 IMG_1106

Day 10: mile 2522.5 to 2506, 16.5 miles

We spent another day totally in the snow, but today was much less scary than yesterday.  We got up at 4:30AM in order to make more miles today.  Since we were all sunburnt, we decided to cover every inch of our bodies to avoid more burning.

Ninja Hikers (sun protection)

Ninja Hikers (sun protection)

I was so exhausted all day from too little sleep that I became irritated and unmotivated at times, but I was so happy that the terrain was less crazy that yesterday.  Dirt Stew made an impressive self arrest at Red Pass right at the very top where there was a cornice, and only a few more feet to go to the top.  He caught himself with his ice axe, but was unable to stand back up on the snow due to the incline, but was able to drag his body up, then make some foot holds and plant the ice axe further up to pull himself up further.  We decide to name Sadie “Frog” since her feet do not seem to mind the wet, and she also has a lot of self confidence on the snow (doesn’t look before she leaps).

Dirt Stew's feet.  Our feet didn't like being wet all day, unlike "Frog's"

Dirt Stew’s feet. Our feet didn’t like being wet all day, unlike “Frog’s”

Day 11: mile 2506 to Grizzly Peak, 16 miles

I woke up with swollen lips due to the sunburn, but felt a lot better having gotten some sleep.  In and out of snow all day, and gaining confidence in my abilities to walk on snow and trust my ice axe and crampons.  Swept Away’s face looks really bad.  Blistering from the sunburn.  We divided our remaining food amongst us since some of us were low on food.  Powered uphill to Grizzly Peak where we were accosted by mosquitoes.  There were thousands.  I have never seen mosquitoes so bad.

Day 12: Grizzly Peak to Skykomish, 14 miles

We hiked into town, and the snow petered out.  Sadie ran ahead to meet her dad, and we got a ride from him up to the Dinsmores where we got showers, did laundry, and had went out for dinner.

At the Dinsmores

At the Dinsmores

3 thoughts on “Escape from Shangri-La: Stehekin to Stevens Pass

  1. Pingback: PCT-Navigation | southboundhiker

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