A day with long-haul hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail

They’re easy to spot this time of year in the North Cascades: lean, fast-moving hiking machines in their trail-running shoes, ultralightweight backpacks and a look in the eyes that says they have places to go.

It’s the annual migration of thousands of northbound hikers traveling the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexico border to Canada. Most of them began the journey in late spring, which means to reach their destination before the snow falls, they’ll need to average at least 18 to 22 miles per day.

Hence the look you get as they whoosh! past you on this well-traveled highway to heaven, their eyes clearly on the prize ahead.

“We call it the 10,000-yard stare,” said Katie, a spokesperson with the Skykomish Ranger Station. “And that’s kinda sad, because they’re coming into the most beautiful part of the Cascades.”

At this point, long-distance PCT travelers, or “thru-hikers” as they’re more often called, are just beginning to experience classic North Cascades hiking, with its signature glacier peaks and glistening, high-Alpine lakes.

Five years ago, 988 northbound permits were issued. In 2017 that count more than tripled to 3,496 permits.

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