While we had planned to be at the trail head early, we ended up not arriving until 12:45. While this is plenty of time to go the 9 miles or so to camp, we often move slow taking pictures, relaxing by rivers or lakes and just enjoying each others company. We were dismayed that we would have to abandon our usual hiking style for the day, but we knew it would be worth it in the end.
First on the trail, we signed the trail register and noticed that several other groups were walking the same loop we were. That was when we realized that it was also PCT through hiker season. As we enjoy healthy conversation with other hikers, we were excited to see who we might meet along our journey. We were also a little worried about being able to get a camp site, but we would find that those fears were unfounded.
Mackinaw Shelter along the North Fork Sauk River
The first trail (trail #649) winds gently alongside the N. Fork Sauk River. Around 4 miles from the trail head you will run into the first camp site. There are several camp sites available as well as a pit toilet. There is also a water source just a little further down the trail. I forgot to photograph this camp site since we were in a hurry but can say that it would be an excellent overnight spot for young kids learning to backpack or an easy overnight trip.
Past the first camping area the trail begins to wind gently, and deceptively, up hill as it approaches Mackinaw Shelter. I was unable to find any history about the shelter but I can say it has a few large camp sites with a close water source and a pit toilet. The shelter itself is fairly underwhelming and the best part about it is the easy access to the river. Photographs of the camping area are below. At the shelter, make sure that you fill up with water since there will be no dependable water source until you meet with the PCT or reach White Pass camps, which are one very long hill climb away.
First taste of the views to come on day 2
After leaving the shelter the trail begins to climb quickly upward as it races to meet with the PCT high above the valley floor. Over the next 2.9 miles the trail will gain 3000 ft. This makes for a knee-jarring climb after such a docile beginning in the valley. However, this is also the beginning of the stellar views that will dominate the rest of this hike. Once at the PCT, it is a short walk east (PCT South) to arrive at White Pass and the camps available just below the ridge. Once at White Pass, PLEASE DO NOT camp in the apparent sites on the ridge. These areas have taken years to restore and are, in fact, still a work in progress. Instead, follow a small trail down into the meadow just below the pass.
The camp sites at White Pass are excellent. There are around 6 camp sites which are pictured below. They are spread out enough that polite neighbours shouldn't bother each other. The camping areas are flat and free of debris. There is a water source in the north end of the camp area, and you get to sleep in a meadow which is always a welcome opportunity.
After a hearty bag of food, and sigh of relief that we made it before dark, we watched the few twinkling stars we could see through the cloud cover before retiring for the night. I imagine if it were a clear night the sky would glow with them. We only had cloud breaks to see through and still saw more than I could count.