Every year several crews of WTA volunteers hike many miles into the Pasayten to spend a week maintaining the extensive trail network in this remote wilderness. In my first year as WTA Executive Director, I was excited to have the chance to visit one of these crews, a group of eight teens and two fearless leaders who worked for a week to replace several failing bridges with more durable elevated trails. But, I knew a visit from the WTA ED was unlikely to be a big treat for our hardworking young volunteers, so decided to bring them a watermelon for an added bonus.
About five years ago, I made the transition to lightweight (not ultra-light) backpacking, and this trip was a good reminder of why that was a good switch. About a half mile down the trail, weighed down by the watermelon and my old extra-large, extra-heavy backpack, I was definitely wondering what was wrong with just bringing chocolate.
The trail starts from Slate Pass with amazing views in all directions. The first three miles were a lovely descent among wildflowers to a rock hop across the Middle Fork Pasayten River (my feet got a little wet). About a half mile beyond the river crossing is the junction with the Robinson Creek Trail. After the junction, the trail is more about forest solitude than big mountain views, although you do get occasional glimpses of the surrounding hillsides. The trail is in good shape, with only a few places of erosion and a couple of downed trees, all of which are easy to avoid.
There weren’t many campsites along the first 12 miles of trail, but two are worth noting. Just past the junction with the Robinson Creek Trail is a spur trail to a large campsite along the river. Also, at approximately 6.5 miles from Slate Pass is another nice campsite just off the trail by the river.
The lower-back strain from the watermelon pushed me to hike as fast as I could and I was not sad to arrive at the WTA crew camp at the junction of the Middle Fork Pasayten/Robinson Creek Trail and Buckskin Ridge Trail.
As expected, the arrival of the watermelon was the most exciting part of my visit, and we chilled it in the river before serving it after dinner. Over the watermelon dessert, I enjoyed hearing from the teens about the work they were doing to improve the trail (a lot of wading in mud; a lot of rock hauling), and I was sad that I didn’t have time to stick around to work with them then next day.
I was on the trail early the next morning headed back to Slate Pass. I was happy to not be carrying the watermelon back out, but even without it, it felt like a very long 12 miles. Thankfully, the last three miles (where you get most of the 2500 feet of elevation gain) were glorious, distracting me somewhat from my misery. And, my spirits were also lifted in the final stretch by running into WTA friend and hiking guide author, Craig Romano, who was doing research for an update to his book, Day Hiking in the North Cascades.
All in all, the trip was a lot of fun, but it also forced me to admit I’m not as spry as I once was: hiking 24 miles in 24 hours was exhausting and my feet are still paying the price.