Fleeing the trolls for the grizzlies of the Pacific Northwest Trail

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed legislation creating the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail — known informally as the Pacific Northwest Trail. It runs from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, hugging the Canadian border, but it sometimes exists more on paper than on the ground.

Some 1,200 miles long, the Pacific Northwest Trail was cobbled together from existing trails and forest roads, so every now and then you get to the end of a trail and the guidebook tells you: Bushwhack seven miles until you get to the next trail.

That’s what happened on a Montana mountain called Northwest Peak. You forge your own trail and cowboy camp on a high (and freezing) ridge above timberline — soothed at night by a spectacular sunset to your west, and awoken by an even more vivid palette of reds to the east.

You then hike and crawl over boulders along a knife edge of a ridge, thousand-foot drops on each side. It is terrifying and exhilarating to see a pebble skitter from your feet and plunge down — forever. It is some of the toughest hiking you’ll ever do on any trail (partly because there isn’t a trail), and also some of the most glorious. This is why the Pacific Northwest Trail is often called “America’s wildest trail.”

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