Chapter 2 – A taste of the Baker’s apprentice
On Sunday, we had breakfast at Kafka’s on Main Street in Vancouver. The baker nailed the ham and cheese croissant, but it’s not the kind of Baker I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind that lies at the eastern end of Washington’s route 542. The kind that’s a glaciated stratovolcano and, at 10,781 feet, towers above all other mountains of the North Cascades.

Mount Baker, the crown jewel of Northern Washington, has some solid company in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, but I could only spend one day there, so I chose Hannegan Peak, which offers an insane view-to-effort ratio.

The way I remember it, the views started before the parking lot, and that distraction made parking the SUV a serious challenge. I managed to keep my eyes on the road just long enough to settle safely into a spot.

The trail follows Ruth Creek for a while and offers stunning views of the Nooksack Ridge and Ruth Mountain most of the way. At Hannegan Pass, a side trail leads to Hannegan Peak, where Baker and Shuksan make their appearance. Glaciers, rocky summits as far as the eye can see, blue skies with just the right square footage of clouds: this is nature at its finest.

The Baker area is one of my brother’s playgrounds. While eating my date bar on the summit, I remembered this one time he came to the East coast. I wanted to show him one of my own playgrounds, so I took him to the Adirondacks to hike Noonmark Mountain. While I sat there, looking at Baker and Shuksan, I remembered that day on Noonmark and couldn’t help but feel a bit of shame. The mountains in the Northeast are great, but to me, it’s a no contest: the West is best. Photos speak more than my clumsy writing.

Mileage: 18.5 km (11.5 miles)
Elevation gain: 994 m (3260 ft)

Chapter 3 – I hate the lottery
I don’t get why it’s a thing. You buy a ticket and wait a couple of days to find out if your numbers were drawn. I know the government needs our money, but where’s the fun in paying for a piece of paper and then doing nothing? The odds of winning are horrible, and when you do win, it usually doesn’t even offset the cost of losing tickets bought in the past. I guess I’d have fun if I won millions, but the odds of that happening are about the same as those of North and South Korea becoming besties. Some would say I could improve my chances by buying a ticket, but that’s not going to happen. Anyways, it seems pointless to me. I hate the lottery.

So… I played the lottery in Leavenworth. I know, I know, I just ranted about it and then admitted to playing it. This kind of lottery was different though.
The price: $0, maximum of 1 ticket per party, and be there at 7:45am sharp, not a second later.
The prize: pay $5 per day plus $6 administration fee… but score a permit to backpack in the coolest place!

Permits for 5 different areas were up for draw. The one and only permit coveted by all gave the right to pitch a tent in any designated campsite in the Core Enchantments section of the Enchantment Lakes area. When each name was folded and tossed in a discolored coffee can, the ranger asked us who felt lucky and wanted to draw. A guy from Georgia stepped up with his southern slang, stuck his hand in the can and drew a name. No luck for the southerner. Me? I hate the lottery…

Chapter 4 – Of “feeling it” and trusting one’s gut
Going to Leavenworth was a detour of roughly 400km, but it’s the only way to try to score that permit so I didn’t mind. Besides, I had a plan B nearby: Pyramid Mountain in Entiat. This was a highly recommended 20+ mile backpack to reach the 8,243 feet summit.

I had the ranger in Entiat on the phone, giving me directions to the trailhead. I remarked they differed from the ones in my guidebook. “Forget ’bout the book”, he replied with what I thought was a thick western mountains accent. That should’ve been my first hint.

It was getting complicated, so we convened to meet at his station, which was on my way, 45 minutes west of Leavenworth. When I got there, he had printed a map, directions and a topo map of the trail. I asked him about water sources along the way. “There ain’t none, I’d start with at least a gallon.” That should’ve been my second hint. Schlepping several liters of water is never part of any of my plans.

I followed the directions and quickly realized the road my guidebook would’ve had me take was closed on account of wildfires. The ranger had me going to an alternate trail that was poorly maintained and had no reliable water source. That should’ve been my third hint. I still made it to the trailhead, where the forest looked like it had been burnt to ashes recently. I wasn’t feeling it, so I turned around. Two hours of forest roads for naught…

Not even noon and already two setbacks. Spirits were high though, for I had a plan C in Twisp, still on the way to route 20, where I thought I’d do my last backpack. I got to Twisp early in the afternoon and it had a weird vibe, so I didn’t even stop. Honestly, I just wanted to go back to the Northern Cascades. Don’t get me wrong, the Central Cascades are far from ugly, but it looks like the area has been hit hard by wildfires recently. The Northern Cascades on the other hand are wetter, which equates to tall trees, wild mountain flowers and easy access to water. And naturally, as I would soon be reminded, more rain.

I studied my guidebook again and a backpack to Snowy Lake off route 20 felt right. I trusted my gut, jetted to the next Ranger Station and bought forest passes. Little did I know that trail was the PCT.

Next: Sampling the PCT and getting wet, way wet