*This was an approximately 52-mile section of the PCT, southbound, from the Crest Horse Camp to Cascade Locks*
I didn’t want to do the long, hot, awful northbound climb from near-sea-level at the Columbia River for this little section of the PCT, so I decided to do it southbound and maybe save my legs a bit. As one of my antisocial hikes for the season, I needed a shuttle up to my trailhead at Crest Horse Camp. So I put a “gig” up on the jobs section of Craigslist, Columbia Gorge area, asking for a ride from Cascade Locks up the road 26 miles. A few flakey weirdos answered my ad but it didn’t pan out, until some guy named Dean (name changed to protect privacy) texted me and said he lived in Carson. Said, “Sure, I’ll shuttle you up there for $40. I’m not doing anything that day.”
Got to Cascade Locks on a Wednesday afternoon and parked on the main drag. Sat under the bridge for a while, talking to the tribal folks who were operating the fruit stands nearby. They told me that they will hook up PCT hikers who stop by their tables. Cherries mainly. And peaches so juicy you have to lean forward and stand back as you eat them.
Eventually Dean shows up in a little red beater, and I will admit I did have a moment of hesitation; he looked a little wild-eyed. Actually, he looked a lot like me, in 20 years, if I decide to take a certain path in life. He was skinny like me, had the same pattern of sun damage as me. He was missing some teeth (I’ve had some dental misfortunes in recent years), and was limping around in a hard orthopedic boot on account of a broke 5th metatarsal. When he told me that I swatted his arm in delight—I’d broken the same bone. We drove across the Bridge of the Gods and I surreptitiously took a photo of Dean and me and sent it off to loved ones in case he decided to murder me. He didn’t though. Instead we talked about local history and Dean’s various money-making endeavors (fixing up and reselling cars and various heavy equipment, collecting scrap metal, etc.). We passed through Carson, out of cell phone range, and on to Panther Creek Road. “I like it back here,” said Dean, as we drove through mature second-growth near Panther Creek. Dean told me about the massive old diesel generator he’d recently taken apart and made $200 in copper scrap. And about the two-ton trailer he’d recently scored a deal on. We passed a Chevy Volt parked at a trailhead and Dean said, "Elon Musk. The world needs great thinkers like him!" He dropped me off at Crest Horse Camp with a handshake. I told him I’d share his number with some trail angels in the area; hikers regularly want to bypass this section of the trail anyhow.
Heading south from Crest Horse Camp, you skirt the western edge of Big Lava Bed, a massive jumble a rock looming alongside the trail. Lodgepole pine and other true fir of some sort have done a pretty good job of colonizing this formation. At PCT 2204 (see Halfmile’s PCT maps for mileage), a PVC pipe emerges from the trailside, and water was flowing just fine here as of this writing (I doubt this source dries up). I did not look for the spring at 2202, but did pass through a moist area here. A bit of a climb up the side of Big Huckleberry Mountain where there are a couple of unmapped campsites near the top with glorious views of Mount Adams and Hood. I then started a long, truly waterless descent and stopped for the night near a road at 2196. A couple of Washington PCT section hikers there told me how they’d almost gotten heat exhaustion on the climb out of Cascade Locks. The next morning I continued to hike downhill, through a series of switchbacks to Panther Creek. Hikers heading up were grumbling; that is a really tough section. Panther Creek itself was lovely. By mid-day I had crossed the Wind River Highway. A few locals were looking for semi-precious stones in the Wind River. I walked past the southern flank of Bunker Hill and into a big prairie, through some private land. Came across a large container on the trail with a note reading: “Hungry? Grab a bran muffin!! (or three). Hope you are having a beautiful hike, whatever your destination. Your friends at AMC August Camp.” Met several section and thru-hikers (some southbound, some northbound) at Trout Creek, where I went for a swim. Most of them were stopping there to camp, but I kept going, putting in another 5 miles or so, climbing out of the Wind River/Trout Creek drainage. I stopped for the night around 2180, where the trail crosses an old, seemingly unused forest road (NF-412, Sunset Hemloack Rd) southeast of Mowich Butte.
The next morning (Friday) I scrambled up a side trail near 2179 to find an incredible open outcropping (here: 45.793395, -121.993367) with views south to Mount Hood and everything in between. I was able to get cell service here and check in. The trail then descends into the Rock Creek area—a deep, lush canyon, and in many ways of the highlight of this section of the PCT. A feeder stream of the North Fork of Snag Creek cascades across the trail at one point, where every major fern species in the PNW seemed to exist within a 100-meter diameter. There’s a large campsite along North Fork Snag Creek (approx. here: 45.766158, -122.025535), and after crossing Red Bluff Rd, you come to Snag Creek, then eventually the footbridge over Rock Creek proper. This is a gorgeous spot, with a nice campsite and an open, wide area of the creek perfect for swimming (located approx. here: 45.766619, -122.038141). If you are headed southbound, fill up on water here! And take a lot of it (I took almost a gallon, and drank almost all of it); there will likely be no more water for 11 hot miles. I met a couple of SoBo hikers here—Eric and Leafy—who were planning to put in a 30+ mile day to make it into Cascade Locks that night. I have no doubt they did it; they were in fantastic and stinky shape. “Smell ya later,” I said as we parted ways. The climb out of Rock Creek was not all that bad. The next several miles were through quiet, middle-elevation second-growth forest. Still pretty shaded, but occasionally opening up. Huckleberries galore. As of this trip, a two mile section of the PCT was closed due to an approximately 200 meter area of logging along the trail just south of 2168. It was Friday afternoon and there were no loggers in site…the detour takes you on a gravel road, and adds a mile to your hike…So, you know…do whatever you think is right. By about 2166 or so, the Columbia and Table Mountain came into view. Things really started opening here. The trail get rocky, hot, dusty, and exposed. Thankfully, there was a breeze, but I have no trouble seeing how northbound hikers could get exhausted and overheated here. I eventually stopped at Gilette Lake, having put in about 22 miles for the day. Gilette Lake was full of campers, toilet paper everywhere, and the occasional scurrying critter. I don’t recommend staying here.
The next morning I crossed over Bridge of the Gods, high-fiving a passing motorist, and went straight to the Marine Park Campground, paid $5 for a shower, and got a beer and a meatball hero at Thunder Island Brewing (which has a great little interpretive display about PCT hiking and exhorts customers to show thru-hikers some trail magic). What a great trip! 52 miles in 3 days, and I didn’t need to use a single drop of repellent in what is supposed to be a terrible mosquito season! Not on this mostly dry section of trail. Don't know why folks pooh-pooh this part of the WA PCT. I loved it.