Swift Creek, New Trail Angels and 2017 in Review in this October Newsletter

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Hikers "Tinkerbell," "Roadrunner," "Iceberg" and "Pacer"  travel the Pacific Northwest Trail from Glacier National Park to the Pacific, stopping in trail towns like Republic for supplies and human contact. Photo: courtesy of the Ferry County View and Artie McRae.

Record numbers of thru-hikers have flocked to attempt the Pacific Northwest Trail in 2017. By PNTA estimates, it is believed that over 100 hikers have attempted end-to-end treks, nearly double the largest figures in our 40 year history!

No two seasons or trips on the PNT are exactly the same. In this October Newsletter, we will look back to learn more about the challenges unique to 2017 and exciting new changes that will affect our trail community for years to come.

PNT Hikers Now Have More Support Than Ever in Trailside Communities TrailAngels

With only five or ten thru-hikers per year for most of its history, it has been easy for hikers to go virtually unnoticed among all but the smallest towns along the Pacific Northwest Trail. But as more folks across the Northwest catch onto this remarkable hiking trail, they can hardly miss the stream of colorful visitors with worn shoes, bad tans, and easy smiles. For some, a small gesture of kindness can lead to a larger role in our growing trail community.

This was the case with Artie and Mike McRae of Republic, Washington.  Artie McRae, who is the local Postmaster, became curious in recent years about the growing number of packages, mailed to the Republic Post Office in the small Eastern Washington town.

Thru-hikers quickly learn to master the art of "resupply," by filling packages with provisions in advance of their trips, or by cobbling together a week's worth of meals from any food locally available. Bakeries, groceries and even tiny road-side markets can all provide the calories needed to sustain their human-powered adventures.

In an article published in the Ferry County View, McRae recalled how her interest in PNT hiker's resupply packages eventually led to the fateful choice to invite strangers into her family's home.

"After meeting many of these fascinating people I was moved to get involved. Last year my family and I started giving hikers rides to trailheads. After the season was over we talked it over and decided we wanted to be listed as "trail angels" in the 2017 guide book," said McRae.

Read Artie McRae's full article, originally published in the Ferry County View, here.

Heavy SnowpackSnowpack

Many areas along the trail corridor saw above average precipitation and snow In 2017. By May, some areas of trail were covered by snowpack at 130% of normal. Snow that persisted at higher elevations in Glacier and Olympic National Parks affected PNT hikers in a number of ways. Many chose to delay trips and wait for trails and passes to melt out.

But an adventurous and well-prepared few equipped with pounds of snow-travel equipment, like ice axes and traction devices, set out to blaze snow-covered trails that concealed snow bridges and other concealed hazards. Snow bridges which form along trails over creeks, may be virtually hidden by a blanket of snow. Under the weight of a hiker, snow bridges can collapse, causing injury or trapping victims between snow and icy waters.

After laboring across snow covered trails in the Rocky Mountains, these determined early season hikers later met with a new, but related hazard in the Cascades - the potentially hazardous stream crossings at Swift and Rainbow Creek near Mount Baker.

Without bridges in place to aid them, PNT hikers must make two back-to-back, heart-pounding crossings to continue south toward Baker Lake. Those arriving in late July through early August this year determined that the ford at Swift Creek was "impassable," and chose to turn back.

Later in the season, as the heavy flow of the creeks subsided, other hikers were able to make these crossings safely without having the rhythm of their trips broken by backtracking.

The PNTA, and regional volunteers have been working with the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to find a long-term solution at Swift Creek for years. Now, new solutions to this old problem could be in store for the PNT. 

Learn more about these exciting possibilities here .

PNT thru-hikers: Signpost, Sandman, Snowman, Merryweather and Lancelot enjoyed a ride to the Snow Creek trailhead in the Olympic National Forest courtesy of Lys Burden of Port Townsend, Washington. Photo: Lys Burden

Growing PopularityPopularity

Until 2017, PNT hikers have been more likely to pass each other like ships in the night than to meet one another in town. For those more acquainted with the triple crown trails, hiking for an entire day without spotting another thru-hiker would be remarkable, and completing an entire long-distance trail without meeting another thru-hiker would be unthinkable - it's hard to imagine how thru-hikers could earn proper trail names with that much solitude!

This season marks a watershed moment in our history. For the first time, the number of PNT thru-hikers reached triple digits. And while this level of use is comparatively small, the "Class of 2017" enjoyed new benefits that come from sharing the trail together.  

Photos from the PNT Hikers Facebook page are full of smiling hiking groups enjoying the unique trail towns along the PNT. While hikers from years' past roamed historic main streets like lone wolves, packs of thru-hikers in 2017 had the opportunity to exchange trail tales and form friendships while enjoying R&R in trailside communities.

Another benefit is the safety found in numbers; now it's easier than ever for hikers to team-up in groups to mitigate the risks of hiking alone in the backcountry. Glacier National Park reports that "There have not been any reported attacks [by grizzly bears] on groups of four or more in Glacier."  For this reason, the park recommends traveling in groups to minimize the chance of a bear encounter.  Other hazards that are more safely dealt with en masse include fords across fast moving water, as Swift Creek is notorious for.

New ResourcesResources

With interest in the Pacific Northwest Trail continuing to grow in 2017, the PNTA worked to improve access to the trail by offering new resources like free trail maps, trail alerts and updated information at PNT.org.

Trail maps and book-length guidebooks of the PNT were first published 35 years ago by Ted Hitzroth and Ron Strickland. Since that time, the dynamic corridor of the Pacific Northwest Trail has continued to evolve. For a time, third parties offered the most current information. But these sources often gave users conflicting and outdated information. Some even circulated advice that undercut the success of the trail's development and frustrated hikers.

Today, the most up-to-date information is available through an entirely new and fully annotated mapset created by the PNTA. When paired with the Avenza smartphone app, PNT hikers have new tools that simplify navigation on the PNT. Our map data will be revised annually based on input from our users and agency partners.

Also new for 2017 is our Trail Alert system. PNTA staff work closely with the US Forest Service, National Park Service and others to provide users with critical information about trail closures, detours and wildfires, as close to real time as possible. Information is communicated through multiple channels including our website and a plain-text email system for those needing access to information while out on the trail.  

Later this year, we will launch a new PNT.org that will provide better trip planning information and other exciting new features. We will share progress updates about our new website in upcoming newsletters.  


The Pacific Northwest experienced extended drought in the summer of 2017, following a wet winter, and leading to one of worst wildfire seasons in years. Exceeding $2 billion nation-wide, the cost of firefighting, borne by the U.S. Forest Service, has been the most expensive in history.

Communities nearest the fire have braved unhealthy air and the uncertainty of possible emergency evacuation from their homes. In July and August, some areas of the Northwest did not experience relief from smoke for weeks at a time, and some endured the worst air quality in the nation.

For many, the damage sustained by their favorite wild places has produced a sense of grief. In total, five large wildfires led to trail and road closures on or near the Pacific Northwest Trail in 2017.

Driven by weather conditions and other complicating factors, fire behavior can evolve quickly. The PNTA and our partners at the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and state DNR coordinated throughout the season to quickly share information about closures and detours and to relay that information with the public to our online community and to hikers in the field-it served as a serious test of the PNTA's new Trail Alert System.

For PNT thru-hikers, poor air quality and temporary trail closures only added to the difficulty of their long journeys. Some detours took hikers off of trails and placed them onto motorized routes, like dusty gravel forest roads, and hot asphalt highways. In some cases, the additional mileage of 50 miles or more tested hikers' resolve to connect their steps and "stay true to the thru" on their crown to coast adventures. Two eastbound hikers were forced to modify their routes by finishing their thru-hikes at Many Glacier-extreme fire danger in the National Park had closed access to the Belly River Trail and the PNT's eastern terminus.

But the wildfire which challenged firefighters and closed trails in the Pasayten Wilderness for three months became the largest to threaten the PNT. The Diamond Creek "megafire" remained south of the PNT for nearly a month before it followed a pathway of new fuels over Larch Pass and advanced north-ultimately it burned across PNT and over the US-Canada Border. In total, it consumed over 127,500 acres. Roughly twenty two miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail fall within the fire perimeter.

The full effect of the fire on the wilderness and the condition of the trail is not yet known, but the trail was reopened by the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on October 20th, with appropriate cautions. PNT hikers in 2017 may have been among the last in a generation to see the wilderness before the massive burn.

Restoring the PNT/ Boundary Trail in a massive wilderness, inaccessible by road and without mechanized equipment, will be a challenge-those that feel the call to action can help by making a donation in support of our trail crews and by looking for volunteer opportunities in 2018.

Making Progress at Swift CreekSwiftCreek


The Swift and Rainbow Creek crossings in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS) have presented formidable challenges on the Pacific Northwest Trail for decades. Without bridges in place, PNT hikers make two back-to-back, heart-pounding crossings. The ford across the icy waters of Swift Creek can be waist deep, even in early August.

Both of these drainages are notorious for producing high flows of water from snowmelt.  Among all of the Cascade Volcanoes, Mount Baker , known to the Lummi Tribe as the "white sentinel," is second only to Rainier in the volume of snow and ice it holds.

Two early season hikers teamed up to make the first crossing of the year. One hiker was allegedly swept under the torrent at Swift Creek, but made it across with the aid of a partner, shaken, but not seriously injured.

But the crossing proved too much for many this year. Those hikers who arrived in early August assessed the danger and chose to turn back, rather than risk an unsafe crossing. This comment posted in the PNT Hikers Facebook Group on August 4th illustrates the situation:  

"FYI: Four of us just completed North Cascades complex and were unable to cross Swift Creek (between Lake Ann and Baker Lake) due to high, swift moving water (on July 29). Just a lot of melting snow still. We had to climb back up to the Mount Baker highway and drive around to Baker Lake... a PNT hiker, camped next to [Swift Creek] and tried to cross from 7 to 9 a.m. He got out about a 1/3 of the way up to his waist, and when he reached into the middle of the river with his pole, he couldn't reach the bottom. We ran into him 2 hours above the crossing, and we all turned around together."

After the tragic loss of two Pacific Crest Trail hikers who apparently drowned attempting fords in the Sierra this year, we are reminded that risks we face in the backcountry are very real.


The options thru-hikers have at Swift Creek are very limited; they can either ford or backtrack and begin an inconvenient, 100 mile detour along blacktop highways to reach Baker Lake to the south where they can resume their westbound journeys.

Consider for a moment, the context of a thru-hiker's entire 1,200 mile adventure - between the eastern terminus at Chief Mountain and Hannegan Pass, most PNT thru-hikers have successfully followed a continuous route for nearly two-thirds of the trail. For thru-hikers, who face a series of challenges - which all test their will to preserve an unbroken chain of steps -  the desire to forge ahead despite all odds is very strong.


The PNTA and our volunteer trail maintenance partners in Whatcom County, SWITMO, have been meeting with MBS staff throughout 2017 to explore long-term solutions to aid hikers in the crossing of Swift and Rainbow Creeks, as well as to identify other future improvements to the trail corridor on the forest.

P romising new solutions are on the horizon for the MBS portion of the PNT, which will unlock the region's potential to offer some of the finest long-distance hiking trips along the entire trail corridor.

A recent scouting trip explored the feasibility of two possible solutions for the crossings. One possibility under consideration for Rainbow Creek is the installation of a cable car. While this solution has been used by the NPS in North Cascades National Park over the Chilliwack River, there is no precedent on our National Forests for this type of infrastructure, and additional consideration is needed before approval can be granted.

The PNTA and collaborators also evaluated future trail relocations off of motorized tread in the area, such as where the PNT currently climbs the steep and winding section of Highway 542, between Hannegan Pass Road and the Mount Baker Ski Area.

Funding for engineering studies and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis will also need to be secured before these projects can proceed. 

The PNTA will continue to post updates about the progress of this ongoing work on our website, and share opportunities for members of our community to  donate to the project  and other ways to get involved.

The 1,200 Miler Project TwelveHundredMilers

Record numbers of thru-hikers have flocked to attempt the Pacific Northwest Trail in 2017 - the Pacific Northwest Trail Association estimates that over 100 hikers have attempted end-to-end treks this year, nearly double the largest figures in our 40 year history.  For most of its existence, as few as five or ten were bold and experienced enough to tackle this rugged route.  

Long distance trail lovers will recognize that these numbers are relatively low - end-to-end treks "against the grain" of the rugged northwest topography of the Pacific Northwest Trail represent a rare accomplishment - historically, less than half of all attempts to complete the entire PNT in a single season have been successful.  

In 1977, Ron Strickland began tracking the first exploratory thru-hikes on the PNT, but over the last forty years, many finishers' accomplishments have been lost to history - until now.

To publicly honor the achievement of these hardy men and women, the PNTA has created an official list of those who completed all 1,200 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail. The names of these hikers and equestrians will be published at an all new PNT.org to launch later this year.

We acknowledge that this preliminary list may be far from complete and encourage PNT end-to-enders to contact us .

The special passion 1,200 Milers hold for the Pacific Northwest Trail helps to ensure its legacy; the personal stories long-distance hikers share about the struggles and rewards of the trail are what draw others to experience the PNT and the beautiful landscapes and historic main streets of the Pacific and Inland Northwest.

Read more about our recognition policy, here.

A New Look for the Next 40 Years NewLogo

If you joined us at Deception Pass State Park for our 40th Anniversary, you may noticed a new PNTA logo has begun to appear in our pop-up history exhibit and on new stickers at our info booth.

Looking ahead to the next 40 years of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, in 2017 our Board of Directors pursued the development of a new service mark with the help of volunteer designers. The new logo will replace the original 1976 design created by Chris Kounkel. The updated design will come to symbolize a new chapter in the history of the trail and nonprofit organization.

As the year 2017 draws to a close, expect to see our logo appear on our website and other places as our original 1976 logo is retired to an honored place in PNT history.

40 Years of Volunteer-Made Designs

Shown here, is a brief history of the visual identity of the Pacific Northwest Trail and its nonprofit steward, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. Consistent with the grassroots advocacy upon which the trail and organization were founded, all of the designs created for the trail and association were developed by volunteer designers who generously lent their creative talents to the effort.

New Bandana Design bandana

There is a new item in our online store, a Pacific Northwest Trail bandana. 

The striking new design highlights the major mountain ranges which define the rugged character of the PNT. Unlike other National Scenic Trails which follow mountain crests, PNT'ers must tramp "Against the Grain" of the Continental Divide, Whitefish Divide, Purcells, Selkirks, Kettles, Cascades and Olympic Mountains, on their 1,200 mile Crown-to-Coast adventures.

Support the PNTA and show your love of the Pacific Northwest Trail with one of these unique bandanas, available here


New PNT Book newbook

Filmmaker, and 2015 PNT thru-hiker, Alex Maier has just published a new book about the PNT entitled, A Hiker's Philosophy, Learned on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Maier's incredible images of the PNT have inspired countless PNT adventures. Part photo book, part novel about his experience hiking one of the world's most challenging and beautiful long-distance trails, this 124 page book will inspire you to get outside and explore the PNT. 


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