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Fair weather hiking season closing sooner than expected in Western Washington

Fair-weather hiking season in Western Washington is likely coming to a close earlier than many expected this year with colder conditions adding challenges hikers might not be prepared for.

Rescue workers in Snohomish County have already begun responding to hikers in need along the Pacific Crest Trail.

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“On Saturday, we received notification that a 41-year-old male who was hiking the PCT, he’s a through hiker and a solo hiker, he sent an in-reach distress signal from the Kennedy Creek Crossing, this is up near Glacier Peak,” said Shari Ireton with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The signal was from a personal locator beacon. They are used by hikers in emergencies to notify authorities that they need help. The man had fallen in a creek. It was snowing heavily. And on top of that, he had somehow picked up an intestinal illness. He was not able to travel further to find a road or help. A helicopter was dispatched and the man was taken to a nearby hospital.

Then, it happened again.

On Sunday, another beacon was activated by a 76-year-old man; another solo hiker along the Pacific Crest Trail. He fell and hit his head. The head injury was significant and prevented him from walking straight. His gear had become wet and temperatures were dropping. Luckily, he received help from other hikers and local officials.

September and October can be decent times for hikes in the Northwest, with cooler fall weather than hot summer days. But this season is proving not to be such a scenario. Cold temperatures and mountain snow has moved into Washington earlier than expected. The Cascades saw significant snowfall in late September. The National Weather Service has begun warning hikers and campers to prepare for winter-like conditions. Not to mention various incidents of thunder and lightning that has moved through the region over the past month.

In short, this fall’s hiking season is not what many may expect.

“Even if you know the trail really well … if you’re hiking and there is a little bit of snowfall, that trail that you are really familiar with can disappear,” Ireton said. “It’s easy to get turned around.”

“Higher up in elevation it gets colder, there is more snow on the ground, the sun sets earlier,” she said. “There are just more chances of exposing yourself to the elements.”

Whether a day hiker or an overnight hiker, Ireton strongly advises consulting the forecast first, and take a map and a compass. Hikers should also bring more clothes than they think they should need.

“Even if you think you have enough, it still gets chilly up there,” Ireton said.

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“One of the challenges PCT hikers might have is that there are pretty big sections here in Washington state where the nearest road is pretty far, so even if you know there is a winter storm coming, trying to race ahead to get to that safe place to step off the trail can be a real challenge.”

Even if a hiker on the mountain trails is aware of a storm coming two days out, it can often take up to four days to reach the next waypoint or road, Ireton said. She also encourages hikers to check on each other while on the trail and see if other hikers need assistance.

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