16 Miles On The Pacific NW Trail (PNT) – Training Hike For Chinook Trail Thru-Hike In October

In training for my Chinook Trail thru-hike this October, I’ve been going out on 15+ mile training hikes in the Bellingham area – mostly in the Chuckanut/Blanchard Mountain area. I’ve done short sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), but in looking at the section between Chuckanut Drive (the Oyster Dome trailhead) and Alger, WA, it looked to be about 16 miles – absolutely perfect. It combines uphills, downhills, several lakes, a bit of road walking, and food and beer at the end. My actual miles on the Chinook Trail will average about 22-25 miles a day, but with a bit more rest, I definitely could have done 20+ miles with this hike.

The day started cool a misty, with occasional rain – to me absolutely perfect hiking conditions. Plus, after a few weeks of no rain at all, the forests here needed the moisture. There was a trail closure that didn’t affect the PNT, but it did require a detour for anyone hoping to reach Oyster Dome. As Oyster Dome isn’t part of the PNT, it wasn’t an issue for me. The weather seemed to keep people off the trails as well – through the entire hike I only saw three small groups of hikers, two trail runners and 1 bicyclist. The biggest uphill climb of the day was the section up to the Skagit Overlook – a good workout, but the legs were still fresh so it really wasn’t too difficult. The next section is a more gradual climb up to Lily and Lizard Lakes – I love this section of Blanchard and the mist and fog made this section quite beautiful, especially with all of the moss on the trees.

A few weeks ago I did the next section, the British Army Trail, going uphill and it was tough! It’s relatively steep, plus it came towards the end of my first thru-hike of the Chuckanuts, so it really wasn’t much fun. This time I was going downhill and had a much better experience. After this section it’s a bit of forest road walking, decent gravel roads that were more of a gradual downhill. The next section was mostly motorcycle trails and short sections of forest road – this is probably the least interesting section of the trail, and with rocks and deep ruts filling parts of this section it would be pretty easy to turn an ankle here, so watch your step!

Following that is close to 2 miles of road walking on Summerland/Nulle Road, which takes you under Interstate 5 over to Squires Lake Park. I’ve done the trails here on the way up to Alger Alp before, and it’s a nice trail with several cliff-side overlooks. It was more uphill though, which at mile 14 of the overall hike wasn’t super-welcome, but it’s fairly gradual so it wasn’t a big deal. The sun was starting to come out by then, so my clothes and pack had a good chance to dry. The trail turns onto forest roads as you continue south, ultimately spilling out onto Alger-Cain Lake Road, right near the town of Alger and the Alger Bar & Grill, which was where I ended the hike with a veggie burger and a beer. Conveniently there is a Park & Ride about 1/4 mile with buses to Burlington and Bellingham.

Overall this was a perfect hike to prepare for the Chinook Trail – I’ll probably do it again, but in the opposite direction for no other reason than to make it a different experience.

Quick Shakedown Overnighter In The Chuckanuts

With a forecast in the 70’s and no rain, it was a perfect opportunity to try out some of my new gear with a quick overnighter in the Chuckanuts. I had a new backpack (Osprey Atmos 65), sleeping pad (Therm-A-Rest NeoAir X-Lite) and quilt Enlightened Equipment Revolution 20 to try out – both performed amazingly well. Temps dropped down to maybe upper 40’s or so, but I was nice and warm all night long. My intention was to hike 9 miles each way, but about 4 miles in it was already 7:45, and I didn’t want to set up camp in the dark, so I found a nice spot for the night. The new pack felt amazing – it was the perfect size and was super comfy, and definitely helps with back sweat. The only thing I didn’t like were the tiny hip pockets – while hiking they are nearly impossible to stuff anything into, and impossible period to zip up. To solve this I think I’m going to have to get a clip on pouch – it just sucked not having easy access to stuff like a phone, snacks, lip balm, etc. Other than that little thing everything was great and a nice warm up to the upcoming season.

Cedar & Pine Lakes – Surprisingly One Of The Steepest Hikes I’ve Been On

Earlier this spring, with all of the snow in the Cascades, I decided to make it a goal to hike every trail in the Chuckanuts – some like Oyster Dome I’ve been on at least a dozen times, but others I somehow haven’t done at all. The hike to Pine and Cedar Lakes is one I haven’t tried yet, despite driving past the trailhead many times in the past. Well it was a pretty cool hike – a classic Chuckanut route through forests, past streams and a fair amount of elevation gain and loss. The start of the trail starts off steep, or should I say – STEEP. This was one of the steepest sections of trail I’ve ever been on, steeper than any of the Mt. Baker hikes I went on last year, and just as steep as several sections of the Cinque Terre trail were this year. My wife was not happy – level river hikes are more her thing, some elevation gain/loss is okay, but this was just not fun for her. I didn’t even like it much, but I can handle just about anything so I made the best of it.

The scenery was beautiful though, with streams cutting into the mountainside, forming sometimes deep valleys that we would hike along. In fact, the hike was definitely more scenic than the destination – each of the lakes was okay, but not where we wanted to linger long. Muddy shorelines, bugs and a lack of great places to sit meant we only stayed at each lake about 5 minutes or so.

We made our way back to civilization by taking the Hemlock Trail north towards Arroyo Park – we initially planned on hiking all the way into Fairhaven for a pint at Stones Throw Brewery, but we were approaching 8 miles of hiking and getting a little tired. So we decided to make it a loop, hike into Arroyo Park, then walk along Old Samish Road back to our car. Lemme tell you, hiking on pavement after a long hike in the forest is not fun – my legs, knees and ankles started begging for mercy right away. But we made it in the end – overall I’m not sure when or if I’d go back (Lizard Lake is probably my favorite lake in the Chuckanuts), but it was a decent hike, a great workout and some lovely scenery to enjoy along the way. We did make it to Stones Throw in the end, but we drove…