>> The views won’t quit.
In his guidebook, The Pacific Northwest Trail Guide, Strickland notes his 10 favorite views, and four are along our route. This section is such a visual treat that he even jokingly recommends a half-mile sidehike to prosaic Quartz Lake at mile 46.2 for “a good respite from overloads of scenery.” Just Strickland hyperbole, I thought. Then we reached the head of the long sylvan meadows of Horseshoe Basin at mile 10. This is a sprawling tundra field beneath a distant shark-fin Cascade skyline and a close-by array of red-rust avalanche chutes trickling with water. JanSport’s founder Skip Yowell once told BACKPACKER this was his favorite spot on Earth for it’s “Zen-like quiet.” Yet Horseshoe Basin doesn’t even crack Strickland’s top 10. What does it take?
We make a game of looking for Strickland’s top spots. Imagine an Albert Bierstadt painting: Bierstadt was a 19th-century artist known for his sweeping landscapes of the American West—mist-laced peaks glowing from within that look just born into the world. Our first Strickland-ranked spot, Bauerman Ridge at mile 18, looks like it was ripped from the Bierstadt archives. Our track lingers on Bauerman’s south flank, offering vistas of spiky peaks to the west, an HD close-up of 7,608-foot Teapot Dome, and to the south a sweeping view of 8,334-foot Windy Peak. In our 30-minute traverse, the view is highlighted by interplaying sun and virga—rain that evaporates before touching the ground. Can I find a flaw? Well, no rainbow.
On day four, we reach Bunker Hill, our second Strickland-ranked view. It’s a grandstand to the western Cascade crests. The sun highlights five layers of ridgelines, two glacier-capped.
The third Strickland-ranked view isn’t a specific place, but a 14-mile stretch of trail snaking above and below treeline through prime mountain goat habitat. Starting at Castle Pass (mile 75.1), the PNT joins its older sibling, the Pacific Crest Trail. My wife Sandy and I thru-hiked the PCT in 2007 and we’ve seen these picture-postcard vistas up-close-and-personal—but not in late August. The myriad greens of fir and larch interplay with steep, grassy tundra slopes. The best of these 14 miles? The views of Blizzard Peak and Mt. Winthrop from the top landing of Devil’s Stairway. This exposed knuckle on Lakeview Ridge is the highest point on the PCT in Washington. Leave camp at Castle Pass by 8 a.m., and you’ll easily reach this view before early-afternoon clouds move in.
Our final full day brings us to Strickland’s fourth highlight. Like a hoarded box of chocolates, this PNT trek ends with the tastiest treat: the view from 6,982-foot Devil’s Dome. Many-glaciered Jack Mountain and 9,066-foot Pasayten King rise from the Grand Canyon-deep gash separating us.
After lingering for nearly an hour, we start packing up for our descent to Ross Lake. A quick flurry of snow whips by, then the curtain opens to bright sun and mist. And finally, a rainbow.