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Backpacker Magazine – March 2012

America's Newest Long Trail

Don't have time to hike all 1,200 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail? No worries: Our scout pinpointed the finest two-week stretch.

by: Barney Scout Mann

Campsite near Cathedral Peak (Andy Porter)
Campsite near Cathedral Peak (Andy Porter)
Goodenough Peak (Andy Porter)
Goodenough Peak (Andy Porter)
Cathedral Peak (Andy Porter)
Cathedral Peak (Andy Porter)

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>> The camping is tops.
The bone-chilling rain is easy to ignore at our first night’s camp at the broad saddle of 7,000-foot Horseshoe Pass. There’s a natural windbreak, pine needle-padded duff, and plenty of water for cocoa. We nestle in the bosom of Arnold and Rock Peaks. The snow chutes on Horseshoe Mountain seem close enough to touch under a full moon’s silver light breaking through the clouds. In the west, a quarter-horizon brims full of jagged peaks. We wake to clear skies above ankle-high grasses sprinkled with tiny yellow and red flowers. The sprawling, trailless terrain begs for roaming. But we can’t layover at mile 11! Every PNT campsite has a similar magnetic pull, but save the rest day for mile 40 or beyond.

Our second night’s site at Upper Cathedral Lake at mile 29.1 is dominated by the Cathedral Peak massif, and to the south, overhanging the lake, is an arc of the 1,000-foot ramparts of Amphitheater Mountain. Snap photos wildly here: All of them will look professional.

Three of our other five nights are so good it would take a panel of Olympic judges to sort out the champ. The saddle before Peeve Pass (mile 43.7), the Pasayten River at mile 59.5 (next page) and the spring-fed bowl near Rock Pass at mile 87 (next page) all score a 10 in my book. The Pasayten River site abounds with swimming holes for splashing or cleaning up and the site near Rock Pass holds an expansive view of the distant Majestic Mountains with 7,830-foot Shull Mountain visible in the foreground from our tent door. But my personal favorite is the saddle before Peeve Pass, where we camp beneath the stars in broad, open, Von Trapp Family high country.

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Laurelle Walsh
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The start of your trip would have been ever-so-much easier had you begun at the Iron Gate trailhead and entered the Horshoe Basin via Sunny Pass. No route finding necessary. We hiked 26 miles of the Boundary Trail (52 miles out and back: Iron Gate to Remmel Lake and back) last August and had a glorious time.


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