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The "Big Trip" Part III

Let me first start by apologizing for the gap in time between posts. There has been a lot going on post-trip, and I am working to balance everything as best I can. Enough of that, lets jump back in time to July 25th at our camp along Granite Creek near Rainy Pass.

July 25

Woke up along Granite Creek to a damp under-story and breaking clouds. We packed up our things and began walking up Highway 20 towards Swamp Creek. At swamp creek, we stashed our packs, then continued, a little lighter, to the Bridge Creek Trailhead where we were reunited with our bikes. After 11 days, we were happy to find our food and bikes unscathed.

We rode back down 20 to Swamp Creek and started the trek over the Hardy Shoulder to Methow Pass. Again on the PCT, we made it to Lower Snowy lake before afternoon clouds threatened rain showers. We cached in for the day and got some rest.

July 26

Clear skies and spectacular morning light lifted our spirits.

Snowy Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State

Upper Snowy Lake with Hardy behind

Our first objective for the day was Golden Horn. Talus and scree guided us to the summit block where we enjoyed panoramic views of the area. The final move to the summit involved some careful movement across an exposed slab. Really fun, sorta scary!

On the summit of Golden Horn

A rare photo of me enjoying the views

From Golden Horn, we made our way towards Tower Mountain. Becky cautions that rockfall hazard on Tower makes it a dangerous route for large or multiple parties. While this is true, there are many other peaks where this is equally as true. Careful scrambling up the main gully brought us safely to the Summit.

After Tower, we collected our overnight gear from camp and hiked down the Methow river valley. At the river crossing camp we dropped overnight gear and continued to the intersection with Jet Creek. From here an abandoned trail (marked abandoned with a sign) takes off for the pass below Azurite peak. We tried our best to follow through overgrown brush, but lost the trail several times. Once at the pass and back in the alpine, we ascended ridges and gullies to the summit. This was one of the few peaks in this section that I had cell coverage on, so I took a few minutes to talk with my sister before heading down to camp. What a treat!

July 27

From the Methow River, we hiked back up to Methow Pass and back over the Hardy Shoulder to our bikes on Hwy 20. We rode up to Rainy Pass and started out towards Black Peak. A beautiful morning had us feeling good, but clouds soon were building and our pace quickened. At the base of Black Peak weather was still okay, but thunderheads were building to the East. We ascended the standard route on Black to the Summit. Cold rain and gusty winds shortened our summit stay, but at-least there wasn't any thunder...yet. Shortly after I started down from the top, Jeff had a scary run-in with an electrical storm. His metal pack frame started audibly humming, further encouraging a quick descent. Once off the summit, the sun peaked out briefly, but was followed by heavy rain, hail, lighting and thunder. Luckily we had made it to the Wing Lake basin.

Black Peak in North Cascades National Park

From the descent off Black

After the hail turned to rain, we left our shelter and headed for the bikes. Soaked and very cold, we rode back down 20. A short hot chocolate break warmed us up enough to continue to Canyon Creek for the night. A full day ahead now, we could take 2 days on Jack. Little did we know our luck would not keep up...

Hot chocolate along Highway 20 through North Cascades National Park

Roadside hot chocolate

July 28

We slept in this morning, knowing it wouldn't take the full day to get to Jerry Lakes. Jeff and I followed the Jackita Ridge trail to around 6,800 ft on Crater Mountain. We left the trail here and traversed across to the Jerry Glacier. Unfortunately, I was starting to fee somewhat sick. My body was achy and I felt light-headed if I went to fast so we moved slow.

Jack Mountain in the North Cascades

Jerry Lakes with Jack behind

By early afternoon, we had crossed the remains of the Jerry Glacier and found a nice camp between the lakes. Feeling worse, I spent the afternoon trying to eat, re-hydrate, and sleep. I figured I would feel fine by morning.

July 28

We woke at Bulger time and started towards Jack. I still felt sick, but felt I had enough energy to summit.

Jack Mountain in the North Cascades

Jack in the early morning light

On our approach to Jack we noticed a lone orange tent, pitched nicely in the East basin. Another party on route would be mean potential rock fall, so we kept our heads up. When we reached the base of the scrambling, about 7,600 ft on the south face, we passed a neat gear stash (crampons, ice axe, trekking pole). We figured the person got an early start and was a ways ahead as we hadn't heard any rockfall. Shortly after the gear stash, A puffy coat, sunglasses, and a single shoe were scattered vertically in the main gully. A weariness spread from within as I realized that the strewn gear and tent must have belonged to a climber who had tragically died on the mountain about a month earlier. We paused to take it all in, then proceeded carefully up the mountain.

I was feeling quite weak, but made it to the summit. By this point, Jeff was starting to feel it as well. After a short stay on the summit, we headed back down. Once off the mountain, we laid in the heather for a short rest. Jeff said to me "good job not dying up there! now we can die right here." I think that explains pretty well how we felt. The rest of the day dragged on forever as we sickly staggered back towards the trailhead, stopping every 20 minutes to lay down or go to the bathroom. Completely exhausted, we made it back to the bikes and Uhuru, ate a small dinner, and went to sleep.

July 29

Jeff and I woke still feeling ill. It was not in the cards to move today, so we spent the day split between our sleeping bags and the outhouse. We would find out later in the trip that we had picked up Giardia somewhere along the way.

July 30

Feeling a bit better after a full day's rest, we left Canyon Creek for the Pyramid Lake trailhead. Another bike stash and all three of us were on our way up Snowfield Peak. I felt mostly better, but Jeff had lingering intestinal issues and diminished strength. Still, we summited by mid-afternoon.

the Colonial Galcier on Snowfield Peak

The melting Colonial Glacier

The Neve Glacier on Snowfield Peak

Neve Glacier with lots of exposed Ice for late July

With good service on the summit, we made an important phone call to Mondo in Marblemount, ordering 5 burgers and some extras for the three of us. Making it back before they closed at 9:00 PM was a stretch, but worth a shot. Once off the Glacier and feeling significantly less sick, I pushed ahead towards the thoughts of real food.

Once at the bikes I made a speedy transition to bike clothes and was on my way to Marblemount. The ride started off well and I made it to Newhalem in what I thought was decent time. Informed by a green road sign, I still had 16 miles to Marblemount making me feel less good about my pace. I pedaled harder. I was now only a couple miles from Marblemount and thought I was making good time. I was pedaling quite hard, but after checking my watch, realized I was only going about 10 miles an hour. Was I that tired? No, I just hadn't noticed that my rear tire pressure was about 2 psi. Now on the side of Hwy 20 with no pump and darkness approaching, I waited for the others. That is until a very nice lady pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I told her I was fine and didn't want to get in a car due to the nature of the trip. She informed me that she had just seen Uhuru at the trailhead and Jeff hadn't made it there yet. Realizing I would be sitting on the side of the highway in the dark for another 2 hours, I gladly took the ride to Marblemount. So technically, I broke the rules for the human powered trip. It was only about a mile, and I'm glad I did it, but now you know I'm a fraud haha. I arrived at Mondo well after closing time, but they had very kindly waited for me with our food. I walked my flatted bike about a mile from Marblemount to our accommodations for the night: A wonderful spot along the river where we were hosted by some people I had found online.

Meanwhile, Jeff was feeling horribly sick and struggling to make it. I received a text stating that he was unsure whether he would make it to Marblemount before the next day. Uhuru managed to keep him going and they both arrived late in the night.

If you like to bike tour and are unfamiliar with warm showers, you should become familiar. It is a website that bikers can use to find hosts along their routes. I found a place in Marblemount and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of the trip. We were warmly welcomed and provided with a luxury tent, outdoor shower, and other amenities. It was the perfect place to take another rest day!

An amazing breakfast

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Sep 07, 2023

The sight of strewn gear across a valley must have been haunting and humbling -- glad none of you shared the same fate!


Andy Piacsek
Andy Piacsek
Aug 31, 2023

You guys really suffered - but you stuck with it! No guts, no glory :) Everyone else is totally in awe.

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