Monday 22nd August
Start: Bushcamp, mile 2564
End: Stehekin, off mile 2569
I barely slept last night. At one point I looked at the clock hoping the alarm was about to go and it was 23:30! Maybe it was the anxious excitement of finally getting to ‘town’. We woke at 5am especially early in order to cook oatmeal. The stove issue we thought had been resolved was in fact a gas canister issue that has made boiling water very difficult for days. After 40 minutes of trying Conrad went and borrowed a canister from another hiker named Tower. I was so thankful for the coffee and hot food to get us going.
A team of other hikers were dotted around nearby at the creek 5 miles from the Stehekin bus stop. We all had the same plan in mind – get the first bus at 9am, and get to the famous bakery en route for breakfast. There was an almost tangible buzz in the air as one by one people left all heading towards High Bridge. It felt like a race mentality had taken hold of everyone even though they had plenty of time to make the bus.
It was the fastest 5 miles we have ever hiked. The valley continued to undulate along the river. The first hint of Autumn seemed to be creeping in, with leaves of orange, yellow and red in same places. There was a lot of morning wildlife activity to be heard. Woodpeckers were working away, squirrels were darting around hauling their nuts, and chipmunks were squeaking. I bet it is truly stunning here in the Fall.
We reached the stop outside the historic ranger station building an hour before the bus was due to leave. We were probably the sixth people to arrive. Most of them were familiar faces. We all sat around chatting, and the time passed quickly. When the big red vintage-looking bus appeared just before 9am, more than a dozen hikers were waiting. We got near the front with Dan, eager to get into the bakery first when we made a quick stop there.
The Stehekin bakery is a PCT institution. Everyone we have met on the trail mentions it when Stehekin is discussed. I now know why. We grabbed coffees, 2 massive cinnamon rolls, 2 cookies, and a carrot cake. And I am regretting now getting more. We must somehow go back there to try out their pies and ice cream. It’s only 2 miles or a bus ride from town. The cinnamon rolls were delicious – I would go as far as the say the best I have ever had. And I have had quite a few!
Stehekin isn’t so much a town, as a community. 70 people live here. There is no cell phone reception. We are lucky for the hotel wi-fi. Conrad was sad there are no TVs in the rooms. It is situated on the north-eastern shore of Lake Chelan in the Northern Cascades. And despite being on the US mainland, it is only reachable by foot, sea plane, or by ferry. This isolation gives it an old-world charm.
The bus followed the raging Stehekin River, before touching the northern tip of Lake Chelan. The lake is over 50 miles long, but narrow in shape, and as we drove down its eastern side huge mountains towered over us on the opposite shore. We were dropped off right outside our hotel, North Cascades Lodge, opposite the boat landing. All the buildings are wooden and rustic-looking, in keeping with their surroundings.
It struck me today on our short stroll to the post office how many people we had met along the way. In the 200 yards, we were reunited with Zelda and Tarzan, who were about to board the ferry with their dog. Next up was Aussie Sam, then Canadian Sarah, both about to board the bus heading back to the final leg of the trail. Then the M&Ms, who had busted a gutt and just about made the 6pm bus here last night. It was great to see so many familiar faces. We finally picked up our last resupply box from the world’s slowest USPS – thank you to the Marshmeiers for getting them all out on time. Laundry, lunch, then a brief nap followed.
We decided to visit the only other real hotel here for dinner tonight. The Ranch is on the bus route back to the trail, probably 15 minutes ride away. It is billed as a ‘cookout’, with a different special each night. Tonight was flank steak. Not good for me, but they also had chicken a la carte. A full bus arrived at the ranch. It was a self-serve line, with ‘deconstructed’ pad thai and salad accompaniments. The cinnamon raisin bread was my downfall. I went a little crazy, drunk on the ‘real’ and wholesome food. The desert options were a slice of pie or cake, with so many to choose from. I had the largest chocolate cake, and Conrad the blueberry pie. Let’s just say I didn’t feel well getting back on the bus; gluttonous fool!