“PACIFIC NORTHWEST TRAIL, Mont. — What’s a person to do in a crazy summer when our president endorses a candidate who claims the world is controlled by a “global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles,” when federal agents club a Navy veteran protesting peacefully, when the government delays postal services to impede voting (and thereby kills chicks sent in the mail)?
Take a hike.
For wilderness therapy, I came here to Montana to escape the hubbub and embrace the mountains, to sip from creeks, to sleep under the stars, to negotiate with honest interlocutors, like grizzly bears.
Over seven years, my daughter, Caroline, and I hiked the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, running from Mexico to Canada on the West coast. So with that trail behind us, we’ve started another adventure — hiking the newest of America’s grand trails.
In 2009, President 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 to us on a Montana mountain called Northwest Peak. We forged our own trail and cowboy camped that night on a high (and freezing) ridge above timberline — soothed at night by a spectacular sunset to our west, and awoken by an even more vivid palette of reds to the east.
We then hiked and crawled over boulders along a knife edge of a ridge, thousand-foot drops on each side. It was terrifying and exhilarating to see a pebble skitter from your feet and plunge down — forever. It was some of the toughest hiking I’ve ever done on any trail (partly because there wasn’t a trail), and also some of the most glorious. This is why the Pacific Northwest Trail is often called “America’s wildest trail.”
I backpack every summer because it’s wonderful family time, when none of us can be distracted by phones, emails or screens, when we share the camaraderie of blisters and bugs — and awe. My wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and Caroline’s boyfriend, Adam Ellis Harper, joined the journey this year.”