Fires and mudslides keep closing the western access routes to Section K.† NF Skykomish is one of the few access routes that was still open at the end of the 2022 season. Also, nearby Blanca Lake is a very popular day hike in Washington so we should get early season intel on the road to the NFS Trailhead. Furthermore, this route has two other early bail-out options that end at the NFS Trailhead, giving you some last-minute options.
Another logical exit route is North Fork Sauk River which takes you to a trailhead that is accessed by an entirely different road system.† That route would involve continuing another 8.44 miles (and 2,930 ft) past Dishpan Gap to Red Pass (because itís cool), then back-track 1.29 miles to the intersection with North Fork Sauk Trail, which is 8.73 miles and drops 5,071 ft. The NF Skykomish route is 8.5 miles and drops 3,744 ft.† I will include an addendum for people who want to continue to Red Pass before exiting the PCT.
On this section of the PCT the total elevation gain is higher northbound than southbound *but* when you factor in any of the entry/exit routes you will save yourself at least 1,542 ft of elevation gain by going northbound. Total northbound elevation gain will be 9,852 ft over 30 miles to Dishpan Gap.
See the Resupply Guide on PCTWashington.com for info about what might be open at the pass.† And see the Public Transit page for info on catching a bus here.† At the pass, please use the pedestrian overpass to cross the highway.
There is strong mobile phone service at the pass.† Northbound on the trail you should assume you will lose mobile phone service 1.6 miles north of the trail head, where you begin the left turn to the west.† There is some small chance that later you can get a signal from the towers on Round Mountain 13.5 miles to the east.† But there is really no good line-of-sight to there, so do not plan on it. And that small chance becomes zero chance after Union Gap. Heading south from Stevens Pass mobile service will last longer.
This section includes four pretty equally sized rises and falls with pretty equal distances between them. So I will talk about four high points, and four low points.
[0 miles] At Stevens Pass start at parking lot D. You will walk north between an A-frame building with a turquoise roof and the power station behind it which has a brown chain-link fence around it.† You do not need to begin with any water if you donít want to, but I like to chug some at the trailhead just to get started.
[3.4 miles] If you did not start with much water, you can fill up here at Nason Creek, or you may have already gotten water at the 2.3 mile mark. The inlet to Lake Valhalla is unreliable and getting water from the lake requires getting off the trail for a bit and descending to the lake.† The next reliable water is the last stream before Lake Janus so get water for 6 miles. From the source of Nason Creek to where you can see Lake Valhala is a fairly steep climb, 926 ft over 1.74 miles (532 fpm).
[5.1 miles] you will see Lake Valhalla, then walk 180 degrees around it.
[5.77 miles] The 3rd highest point in this section is the pass to the NE of Lake Valhalla 5,091 ft where you will lose sight of the lake.
[7.17 miles] Union Gap and the intersection with the Smithbrook Trail (a quick bail-out option).† You might have mobile phone signal there but not reliable. No more phone service until just north of Caddy Pass (maybe).
[8.15 miles] you will cross a creek.† A short distance beyond that is a low point (4,053)
[8.88 miles] another creek with year-round water.
[9.14 miles] Intersection to Lake Janus, which is just a few steps away and has many campsites and two RRs.
[9.25 miles] When you continue past Lake Janus, the trail will cross the outflow of the lake so you can get water there. Get water for 7 miles. Or check FarOut to see if the spring 760 ft higher is flowing 47.87311, -121.15624
Northbound from Janus outlet the first 1.48 miles is steep gaining 1,024 ft (691 fpm).†
After you climb up out of the Lake Janus valley the forest will thin out and stay thin all the way to Dishpan Gap, with the exception of the Pass Creek valley, Cady Pass, and the the climb up from Caddy Pass.
[11.5 miles] Intersection with Glasses Lake overlook, just off the PCT.
[11.8 miles] Margaret Lake overlook to the west.
[12.02 miles] 2nd Glasses Lake overlook.† From here the moderate climb up Grizzly Peak begins. 718 ft over 1.62 miles.
[13.6 miles] Grizzly Peak is the 2nd highest point in this section 5,573 ft. From Grizzly Peak you will descend slightly to a sister peak, then begin the consistent drop to Wenatchee Pass.†
[14.5 miles] Just past the sister peak you will be in a saddle where you can look east onto Heather Lake 700 ft below. (overlook)
[15 miles] Grizzly Lake, 350 ft below (overlook)
[16.2 miles] Low point 4,279 Wenatchee Pass, has a skanky pond if you need water before Pear Lake. The climb from Wenatchee Pass to Pear Lake is 671 ft over 1.2 miles (560 fpm)
[16.6 miles] Intersection to Top Lake (0.54 miles side trip)
[17.4 miles] Intersection to Pear Lake (Maximum 0.5 mile side Trip depending on where on the lake you camp, Recommended) The NW corner of the lake is the nicest.†
If itís not too windy you can also camp on the peak 2 miles further. Getting there is very rocky by the peak is a flat meadow.
Get water here.† You will need water for the next 6.5 miles.
[19.4 miles] 5,420 ft Unnamed high point.† Good place to camp but no water.
[22.4 miles] intersection with West Cady Ridge Trail (bail-out option with elevation gain)
[23.9 miles] intersection with Pass Creek Trail (bail-out option)
[24 miles] Pass Creek, Low point 4,192 Get water here. You'll need water for 5 miles.
[24.3 miles] Cady Pass. Intersection with Cady Creek Trail (eastbound bail-out option)
The first 2.3 miles north from Cady Pass are fairly steep with 1,157 ft gain. At the top of that stretch you may get a mobile phone signal, here 47.93947, -121.16510. The tower will be to the SE. The rest of this route will have no chance at a mobile signal.
[28.1 miles] Lake Sally Ann is right on the trail. There are almost always campers there.† It's one of the last places the snow will melt in this section.† Get water here. You'll need water for 5 or 6 miles.
[28.5 miles] Intersection with Cady Ridge Trail (an EASTbound bail-out option)
[29.2 miles] High point, 5,645 Wards Pass
[29.8 miles] Dishpan Gap 5,549. Intersection with North Fork Skykomish River Trail (westbound).† You can camp here.† There is no water.
I strongly suggest you continue another 0.6 miles past Dishpan Gap to this point 47.98302, -121.14219 where you will get a good view of Glacier Peak which is 9 miles to the north. †Then backtrack to the intersection with the NF Skykomish River Trail.
The next water is 3.15 miles and 1,945 ft from Dishpan Gap, when you cross the North Fork Skykomish River.
0.68 miles after Dishpan Gap, where the switchbacks begin, you will enter dense forest again and stay in it until the trailhead.
[38.3 miles]† North Fork Skykomish River Trailhead, Forest Road 63.
When driving out, you should regain mobile phone signal when you reach Beckler River and turn onto Beckler Road.