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Eastside PCT Loop

Difficulty: strenuous 3 days

31.2 miles

Elevation gain: 7000'

Max elevation: 5880'

Camps: Deer Creek, Three Lakes, various along the PCT (e.g. Dewey Lake)

First hiked by me: 2021

This loop combines the Eastside Trail, southern half of Naches Peak Loop, a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that skirts the eastern border of Mount Rainier National Park, and Laughingwater Creek. It's a circuit of duality: ancient forest along the Eastside Trail and Laughingwater Creek, versus subalpine splendor on the PCT. Close-up attention to immediate surroundings versus big views. Solitude versus chatty thru-hikers. Inward versus outward.

Unusually for Rainier trails, both the Eastside Trail and this section of the PCT cover multiple miles without much elevation change, each being content to maintain the height they are at for extended stretches. This makes for fast hiking and encourages an attitude of settling in for the long haul, quite different from the constant variation experienced along something like the Wonderland.

Logistical details: camping along the PCT works differently from inside Mount Rainier National Park. Permits are not required there, so you can hike this as a 2 night loop with only one night booked at a Rainier campsite, but it is still important to practice Leave No Trace and camp at an established site, of which there are many along the trail. Be aware you cannot camp where the PCT dips inside the National Park, and the boundary signage nailed to trees can be easy to miss. Unlike Rainier campsites, PCT ones do not have bear poles (bring a canister, or be prepared to hang your food bag from a tree) or toilets (bury your poop, and pack out used toilet paper).

I hiked this loop in August, at the height of wildfire season when smoke from forest fires had turned the air hazy, making outdoor exercise unhealthy for those with impaired lungs and causing congestion and headaches for everyone. Tragically, smoke has now become a regular part of late summer weather in the west of North America. This wasn't a thing for the first decade I lived here, but since 2017 smoke has joined rain and snow as something hikers need to pay attention to. Breathing unclean air makes hiking more physically strenuous, and I'm finding it's much like rain in that, while I miss the distant views, haze can add a unique beauty of its own.