The Butt Clenching Knife-Edge Ridge on the PCT
Washington offers some of the most stunning scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail, with Goat Rocks Wilderness as the jewel. A 360 spin provides magnificent views of not one, not two, but three mounts—Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier. In addition to the incredible views, the section includes perhaps the most challenging terrain of the PCT—Knife-Edge Ridge and Old Snowy Mountain.
Imagine walking on a knife’s blade across the Grand Canyon. Now you’ve got the picture. Exposed and prone to high winds, the trail represents the worst nightmare for someone with a fear of heights. At an altitude of 7000 feet, the Knife yields panoramic views of the above-mentioned peaks, and upon glancing down—Holy Smokes, Batman—of beautiful rivers, lakes and valleys. The path seems a mere few feet across at its narrowest points, and loose gravel slips underfoot, causing a hiker to take
pause. A misstep or the shifting of a backpack’s weight could send a hiker into a free fall on either side. If two hikers meet going opposite directions, they must perform a choreographed butt-clenching-cheek-to-cheek dance to exchange positions. Luckily, Texas Time did not meet a hiker during her crossing. If I ever hiked and met someone coming from the opposite direction on the Knife, I would insist the other hiker back up to allow me to cross. I can walk a straight line like the best tightrope walker until that line is suspended above the ground, then I weave and wobble like a drunken sailor. My online search couldn’t find any accounts of hikers falling from the Knife on the PCT, so I will avoid the area to keep that record intact. (FYI – Texas Times’ description of the Knife paled in comparison to other hikers’ accounts when I researched it. I included vivid descriptions shared by others who had dared to cross it. Perhaps Texas Time didn’t want her parents to know the perils of the trail. Some hikers referred to the ridge as Knife’s Edge and sore Knife Edge Ridge. On the Washington Trails Association website, they refer to it as Knife-Edge Ridge. I went with their designation.)
At 7900 feet, Old Snowy is one of the highest peaks in the Goat Rocks Wilderness and the moderate trail to its summit make it an excellent platform to see the three volcanos—Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier in good weather. The area can have patches of snow all year. The least snow encounters occur from July – September.
From mid-July through August 24, the Perseid Meteor Showers made their appearance with the peak of activity from August 11- 13. Far away from the lights of civilization allowed Texas Time and her hiking family to enjoy the meteor showers when they were not blocked by tree canopies.
The PCT in Washington offered beautiful scenery and tranquility, although for the most part, food and water carries were longer and major towns were few and far between. Through a satellite GPS messaging system, Texas Time notifies us each time she starts and stops on the trail, which provides us a map of her location. Based on looking at sections of the trail on the maps, the PCT would be much shorter if they didn’t have so many switchbacks.
The group lucked out, avoiding smoke and danger from the West Coast wildfires until they reached Northern Washington. Smoke from the raging Sourdough, Flu, and Dome Peak fires resulted in a mandatory detour to Holden Village, a remote wilderness community rooted in the Lutheran tradition. The village offers
retreat getaways and has no internet or cell coverage. They communicate with civilization, the old-fashioned way, via a landline phone. Texas Time called from their phone and left me a voice message that they were safe from the fires. With the wildfires raging, the group arranged a ride to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
In Vancouver, the hiking family took a couple of days to enjoy the city. They rented bicycles and rode around Stanley Park, enjoying the views of
water, mountains, sky, and trees along the park’s famous seawall. The next day, they boarded a ferry to Granville Island and visited the Public Market, featuring an assortment of foods, produce, and handcrafted unique gifts. (In my notes, I’d written “They took a fairy to Granville Island.” Now, encountering a fairy and taking her to the island would have been exciting!) Texas Time did a little pickle sampling in one of the stores on the island. They also reunited with a woman who live in Vancouver who started the PCT with the group. She injured her foot and had to abandon the trail and returned to Vancouver fairly early into the hike.
The half of the group who hiked the Sierras in the snow and ice had completed the PCT and headed home. Texas Time and two other hikers headed to California to tackle them now that most of the ice had melted. More about that in the next blog.