Here is a detailed report of a 7 day trip someone did of section J of the PCT. We can look over this and try and use it as a little bit of a guide.
Day 1: Kendall Katwalk to saddle between Joe and Edds Lake (~9 miles). We filled up a LOT of extra water at Ridge Lake, as Joe Lake is not accessible from the Trail, and Chikamin Ridge is dry. The trail is in great shape for this part. Many day hikers turn back after Kendall Katwalk and/or Ridge/Gravel Lakes. A fighter jet flew through the valley below us here– it turns out we saw one nearly every day, most likely from nearby McCord base. We had no humans at our campsite (just a deer lumbering by that night).
Day 2: Joe/Edds Lake to Spectacle Lake (~11 miles). The trail along Chikamin Ridge boasts amazing valley views, but is completely dry, even the tarns immediately before Chikamin. The trail goes along talus for much of the mileage. After cresting the ridge, you can view the Park Lakes basin. You reach a horse campsite first (a good lunch spot for us), then travel down into a nice glen where lower Ridge Lake is accessible for water and camping. Up an over another ridge and Spectacle Lake comes into view. It is WELL worth the extra 0.5 mile to hike down to the campgrounds at Spectacle (the trail is a little hard to follow). It was our favorite camping spot (although some aggressive chipmunks stole some of my snacks before we were able to hang the food bag). We had a great starry night sky view from wide open Spectacle Lake, and a sweet dip in the lake the next morning.
Day 3: Spectacle Lake to Escandido Ridge (14 miles). This day starting out nicely through a burnt forest with a lovely wildflower undergrowth. Water was flowing down the slopes again through this valley. The trail goes into Lemah Creek basin, and jaunts nicely through a lovely forested trail. The trail turns left and starts one of the worst-maintained sections– trees were down and a bridge over Lemah Creek was down. The trees were not too hard to go over or around, and the creek has a log just to the right of the bridge which was easily crossable. The trail then starts climbing up to Escandido Ridge (the longest ascent of this section). Fill up in one of the streams towards the lower part of this ascent as there is no water until a frog-filled, slightly murky tarn on the other side of the ridge. This climb took a good part of the afternoon and left us short of our mileage estimate for that day. A sign says camping is prohibited through a good 2 miles on the far side of this ridge, so we filled up at Escandido Tarn and hiked a final 2 miles to a flat camping spot in the woods (no water here).
Day 4: Escandido Ridge to Deep Lake (11+ miles). The morning starts with a pleasant descent on good trail to Waptus River, with sweeping views of the Waptus River Valley. No water on the descent until you reach a low-flowing Waptus River and a few streams past it. We skipped closer views of Waptus Lake in order to make a late afternoon arrival at Deep Lake (another descent switch-back-filled ascent up a ridge). No water until immediately before Deep Lake at two flowing streams. A short, flat spur trail leads you to campsites along the south rim of the lake. Found a great campsite on a rock over Deep Lake, and took another divine swim.
Day 5: Deep Lake to Deception Lake (11+ miles). The morning starts with a 1,200 ft ascent to Cathedral Rock. It’s well-graded, and you get great views of Deep Lake below. Cathedral Rock was covered in clouds, so we didn’t get great views of its enormity. The ridge above Deep Lake past Peggy’s Pond trail is completely dry of water, although there are some nice flat campsites up there. The trail descends with a view of Hyas Lake through the trees past a cutoff for the ‘old’ PCT (a detour which horses must take, but adds a good 9 miles onto the trail). The ‘new’ PCT is rocky and has some tricky footing. The ‘dangerous ford’ a couple miles in isn’t too bad (and I hate stream crossings). It has some logs put down which allow you to cross rather easily without too much balancing. The old and new PCT meet back up and continues on a very nice, soft dirt trail through delicious forest. Water starts running through streams in this section again. A little ascent takes you up to Daisy/Deception Lakes. Camping around the lake is descent.
Day 6: Deception Lakes to Mig Lake (~11.2 miles). Once again the day starts with an ascent to Pieper Pass. The valley views are sweeping on both sides and at the top. After cresting the pass, you can see deep blue Glacier Lake, and have a nice descent by dramatic rocky slopes into the Glacier Lake valley. Some gravel and talus may slow you down here. A nice dirt trail takes you through forest by Glacier Lake and Surprise Lake. A steep ascent takes you up to another ridge (I was tired of switchbacks by this time), and on the other side you get a great view onto turquoise Trap Lake. We started meeting day hikers here. We didn’t take the 0.7 spur trail to Trap Lake, but you may need to if you haven’t filled up with water at a lake prior. With full water from Deception Lake that morning, we made it just fine until we found a small trickle on the 3.2 miles between Trap Lake spur trail and Hope Lake. Hope Lake was a muddy color, and our book said camping is prohibited here. We saw ONE mosquito here. We went the last 0.9 mile to Mig Lake, which also has a ‘small pond’ look after the deeply-colored alpine lakes we had seen on the trip prior to this. We found a nice spot right by the lake and filtered water directly from it as there are no springs around.
Day 7: Mig Lake to Stevens Pass (8 miles). This day offered the least spectacular views, and a few more ups and downs to add to our trip already boasting a lot of elevation. Lake Josephine is the nicest of this last day of lakes. Swimming Dear looks more like a wetland, and Lake Susan Jane is cute. You go over another steep ridge and start seeing power lines at Stevens Pass. No water running here, and civilization starts coming back into view as you can see the ski trail signs from Stevens Pass ski area. One final descent from the chairlift takes you down to the parking lot. No showers at Stevens Pass, but running water and flush toilets are available, as well as ice cream and espresso 🙂
We were glad to have had 7 days to do the amount of mileage and elevation required on this challenging section of the PCT. With the side-trails to the lakes, our mileage came out to about 77. Some groups were doing it in 5, but that means a good 15 miles a day with heavy packs and 1,200-2,300 feet of up and down sometimes twice in one day. Lots of thru-hikers coming through this time of year, but they just breeze by and mostly seem like they don’t want to interact with section or day hikers.
A truly beautiful section of trail– we saw 22 lakes, sweeping views, and a diversity of landscapes. I will definitely do it again. Instead of picture files, I’m attaching a Youtube video that Josh put together of pics from the adventure.