Seven Pass Loop
After weeks of plotting and waiting for the right weekend, Apryle and I finally made our way into the Pasayten Wilderness. Once we were in it, the allure of the place made it difficult to find the motivation to make our way out of it. We arrived at Harts Pass Campground on Friday morning and immediately hit the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) southbound for a warm-up twenty miler in preparation for our longer Seven Pass Loop, which was slated for the next day. We were careful to pull in the reigns on the pace in order to save energy and were treated to spectacular views after only two miles on the trail.
It is quite amazing how gradual and rolling this section of the PCT is given the surrounding landscape. It often takes 10-12 miles of hiking through tree-covered mountainsides to get the views that we had the entire run. We passed by Tatie Peak, peered out into the Trout Creek Valley, chased down the ever-looming Ballard Mountain, and descended toward Glacier Pass before headed home to refuel before our Seven Pass mission.
We awoke on a chilly Saturday morning, broke camp, cooked up some oatmeal, double checked our packs and made our way out from northbound PCT trailhead. The trail was quite flat, surrounded by wildflowers and offered stunning views of the valley below us. The first 15 miles of the trail was quite manageable, only 1700ft of vertical and the trail was well groomed. We had a few switch back ascents, but it seemed like we were mainly weaving our way downhill the entire time.
We passed along winding alpine trails that were easily traceable from a distance, crossed upland creek beds, and passed through densely covered pine forests until we reached our turning point onto the Holman Trail. We traveled over Buffalo, Windy, Foggy, Jim and Holman Passes, though I could not tell you which portion on the trail was actually the pass. We were surprised with how quickly we had covered the first half of the trip and hoped the second half would continue just as smoothly.
However, in the latter half of the PCT and beginning of the Holman trail I was stung by a bee on two separate occasions on both of my ankles. This was only a minor annoyance but we hoped it would not be a sign of bad luck to come. Our nutrition and hydration was on point, we both carried 2 L camelbacks with a few hundred calories of Tailwind and I carried a dozen oatmeal chocolate chip bars we made a few nights prior. We only had to stop once to refill water (and purify with iodine), at Shaw Creek about 17 miles into the journey.
The Holman trail was a little overgrown in places where the grass attempted to reclaim the bare soil. There was also quite a number of fallen trees and muddy stream crossings that turned this stretch of trail into a bit of an obstacle course. However, in my opinion, it is not a Pacific Northwest hike without at least a few miles of downed trees to climb over and few muddy creeks to traverse!
We had not realized that we were already on the 472 Trail along the West Fork of the Pasayten until my GPS map revealed that we were paralleling the PCT trail. The Shaw, Oregon and West Fork crossings were harmless and we stayed dry with simple rock hopping techniques. The trails looked muddy but the ground was actually quite solid and the imprints of several woodland creatures were preserved in the packed earth.
The trail along the West Fork of the Pasayten was full of buried longs that made it seem like we were running over an abandoned railroad track. It actually was a convenient match up with our strides. Along this section the sun broke through the trees and we caught glimpses of the ridgelines bookending us. Along the trail there were odd looking stacks of wood and metal piping that appeared to be props for an ongoing trail project.
The trail remained very easy a flat from the start of the Holman trail up until we made the turn for the ascent up Slate Peak. At this point I finally began to get the vertical ascent numbers I was looking for the entire trip. The trail pitched up through the dense forest and broke free into the alpine. Once again we were surrounded by foot tall wildflowers with sweeping views of the vast valley below us.
This pleasant surprise brought the Seven Pass Loop into the number one spot surpassing our previous favorite – The Outer Mountain Loop in Big Bend National Park. The trail turned from a carpeted flowerbed to a rocky talus field as we reached the Slate Peak trailhead. Here we made the final ascent that would lead us to the top of Slate Peak and the impressive skyline that awaited us. After a total of 6,250 feet of vertical and 27 miles of running we made the last descent to the car parked at a switchback on the road below.
Friday August 19th 2016
2953 ft Vertical
Saturday August 20th 2016
6283 ft Vertical