Rookie backpackers hit midpoint of 1,200 mile trail
OROVILLE – Taking on a marathon backcountry trip like the Pacific Northwest Trail is not necessarily recommended for novices. But that hasn’t slowed down Brian Magelssen, Matt Marquardt and Austin Wagoner, who decided to tackle the 1,200-mile trail this summer.
The trio spent a day or so in Oroville last week, stopping for laundry and some fresh food as they made their way from Glacier National Park in Montana to Cape Alava on the northwest corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Oroville is at about the midway point.
The three started their expedition on July 20 and plan to finish by the end of September. All in their early 20s, the three attended Western Washington University and decided that a trip such as this one needed to happen now, or wait until retirement.
“We all quit our jobs to do this,” Marquardt said.
“None of us had career-type jobs yet,” Magelssen said. “So we figured now was the time.”
Marquardt, in fact, had never taken a backpack trip before. Ever.
“It’s been eyeopening,” he said. “The first few weeks were pretty arduous. Even going 10-12 miles in a day was absurd. It took about a week and a half to get into the groove. Getting the day-to-day down was tough.”
But, he said, the learning curve had been worth it.
“We’re loving it – getting away from the city,” he said. “I grew up in Seattle, so seeing the other side of the state, seeing Montana, has been awesome.”
As they’ve rounded into better hiking shape, they’ve gotten up to about 20-25 miles in a typical day, occasionally hitting 30.
“Out of the three of us I’d done the most,” Magelssen said. “That being about 100 miles total. I did hike the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier and did a lot of camping growing up, but this is the first time doing something like this.”
Wagoner, who missed out on the interview while doing laundry, and Magelssen did the initial planning and packing for the trip, with Marquardt hopping on board near the departure date. But the inexperience showed, Magelssen said, in their pre-trip food preparation.
“We’d been planning the food – couscous, powdered sweet potatoes, that kind of thing,” he said. “We were so stressed out, planning 400 meals, 60 days, two meals each per day. We ended up throwing together this crap that was totally inedible. The lunch meat turned into jerky. We were trying to save money by mailing boxes out to towns along the trail, but we ended up pouring money down the drain. “So we’ve ended up buying food in town along with some other essentials. But if we were to do it again, that’s something I’d do a lot differently.”
Meanwhile, the group has had to cope with the inevitable pitfalls of a long trip, including weather and equipment failure.
“Three to four days of rain in Montana was our first real test,” Marquardt said. “Plus, we got a bit lost. And Austin bought a bunch of expensive high-performance gear but beat the crap out of it. We got stuff we needed that’s not great but that we’ll be able to use again.
“But Austin’s been impressive. One day he was having issues with his backpack while we were bushwhacking out of the Selkirks to Priest Lake. He was near the breaking point, but he was ready to go the next day.”
Meanwhile they have managed to take in sights and experiences they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
“Glacier was crazy beautiful,” Magelssen said. “None of us had ever been there. We saw moose, bears.”
“The Kettle Range was a great surprise,” Marquardt said. “From Northport to Oroville, the lower Selkirks, Whitefish. The Kettle Crest Trail was beautiful.
“We came upon this cabin and even though we’d only gone eight miles that day we decided to stay, just because it was so amazing. The following day, though, was pretty challenging because we ended up going 26 really tough miles.”
“Austin was so tired and hurting but he ended up running the last part” Magelssen added. “It was like he had some kind of blood lust.”
As the hikers prepared to head into the Pasayten Wilderness and the second half of their trip, they seemed undaunted by the challenge and were already talking about planning a future adventure.
“It’d be cool to mountain bike the Pacific Crest Trail,” Marquardt said.
“I love the adventure,” said Magelssen. “We could sail to Alaska or something like that. As long as we have crappy jobs, we’ll probably keep doing this kind of thing.”