July 23, 2018: Exploring Crater Lake

At Lightning Springs Camp, Mile 4.6 (Crater Lake Rim Trail Alternate)

After such an early start yesterday, I was slow getting out of camp. But I had planned for today to be slow, with low mileage, and extra time to see the lake.

Once out of Grouse Hill, the trail went up 2.5 miles to the rim. It was just enough elevation gain for me to notice, as the smoke grew thicker. The trail grew closer to Rim Drive, until they both converged at the first viewpoint, on the northwest corner of the lake.

Even though it was smoky, it was still a great view. I took my time, taking pictures and the like.


I chatted up a family doing the same thing, and the dad asked me how it was going. I replied that it was going great, although there was a 22 mile stretch with no water. He offered me a liter, straight from the fridge in their RV. Boom! For the curious, or for new readers, to Yogi means to finagle food or water from a willing tourist. In the heat and the smoke, ice water was really appreciated! The fact that I was accessing water caches remained unmentioned; extra water is always welcome even on shorter days.

After that wonderful encounter, I headed south along the Rim Trail. It was more meandering than hiking, but with all the views it was pretty cool.


I spent some time chatting with a 70 year old hiker named Unchained. It’s always fun meeting people who are older than the average hiker. I gave him some tips about the northern end of the trail, including a drool-worthy description of the cinnamon rolls in Stehekin.

Because my actual mileage was very low, I took a side trip up the Watchman. It’s a 1.2 mile round trip, 600 feet gain trail, up to the fire lookout, which is at 8025 feet. It’s not officially part of the PCT, but it’s the highest point in Washington and Oregon. I plodded along, nursing my asthma, but the view was worth it. The lookout is periodically staffed, and of course there was a guy up there today, watching the progress of the Timber Crater Fire. Also, the smoke cleared a bit in the late afternoon, so that I got to see a bit of the lake’s incredibly deep blue.

After I got down the Watchman trail, I met a couple who were sitting still and watching pikas! It was so nice to see and hear the pikas…it’s been a long time. With climate change, their habitat is shrinking.

I reached the Lightning Springs Camp junction, and headed down the 0.8 mile trail. Almost immediately, I met a guy who was one of the CLNP wildfire fighters. I thanked him profusely. Other than homeowners, nobody thanks firefighters like hikers. I was almost misty.

Once I reached the camp, I filled up with six liters at the spring. That will save me the time of getting water in the morning, and will give me my desired two liters for camp, plus the chance to camel up before I leave (camel up = pound a liter of water while at a water source).

Tomorrow will be finishing the Rim Trail Alternate, and heading downhill to Mazama Village.

July 22, 2018: Finally, Crater Lake!

At Grouse Hill Camp, Mile 11.0 (Crater Lake Rim Trail Alternate)

My hike is finally here! I wasn’t sure how this year’s hike would play out. My chronic fatigue syndrome is somewhat improved, although my health is certainly not where it was in prior years. But we’re making it work, and I’m really excited!

Steve and I got up at 4:00 this morning for my 7:00 flight to Medford. It’s a lot faster than the train, which would have required a drive from Eugene and then on up the hill, far south of where I’d started before. But I definitely missed seeing Robin and Mary Beth this year!


I had the pleasure of a ride with Devilfish, who angels up and down the trail. It was great to meet him. We dropped off our other passenger, Alone, at Mazama Village, which is the lower southern part of Crater Lake National Park. I got my bearings quickly, as I’ll be back in a few days.

Devilfish gave me a quick tour as we drove north to Hwy 138, the northern end of Section C. The smoke was moderately heavy; the Timber Crater Fire in the northeast corner of the park was really kicking in. It was too far to be a particular danger, but the smoke was a challenge.

Finally, my starting point! The astute reader will remember that I had to get off trail at Hwy 138 last year, due to the Blanket Creek and Spruce Lake Fires in August and September 2017. I will be hiking through a lot of new burn, but at least I’ll be on trail, and will hopefully finish Section C.

The trail winds along a flatter-than-a-pancake section, for nine miles. It was a good warmup, and I started getting acclimated to the smoke and elevation. Crater Lake itself runs about 7,000 feet, and the lake itself is far below the rim. People, certainly me, aren’t expecting this, so it was a surprise. But the lake itself wouldn’t be visible until tomorrow.


After the nine miles, I reached a trail junction. This is where the “official” PCT diverges from the Rim Trail. It’s rather odd, that the PCT itself doesn’t come within sight of the lake. Virtually every hiker takes the Rim Trail Alternate. And it’s actually mandatory right now; the Spruce Lake fire closed the PCT for the foreseeable future.


Next to the junction was a tiny spur up to the highway, which deadended in a trailhead parking lot. And in that lot was a bear box. And in that bear box was a water cache! And that water cache is regularly supplied by Devilfish! He fills three separate caches (two of which I used last year), via the Diamond Lake Resort. Without these caches, there would be dry stretches of 25-30 miles. Needless to say, his efforts are heroic and change the game for a lot of us.

I had a friend drop off a gallon with my name on it, but there was so much water that it was redundant. Hikers taking care of each other.

Once I refilled my water, with enough for tonight and tomorrow, I continued down the Rim Trail to Grouse Camp. Crater Lake National Park only has a few approved campsites, and I planned to use two of them.

I tossed down my tent, and met a girl named Linnea, who is on her very first section. As soon as we said hello, she asked me for my top five tips for new backpackers. It was a great conversation starter.

The smoke was getting thicker, as the day wound to a close. But as always, it makes for a great sunset.


Tomorrow, the lake!

Taking Care of Yourself On the Trail (or Giving Your Loved Ones Peace of Mind)

NPR posted an article about hikers leaving the trailhead utterly unprepared. If things go south, could you take care of things? Would you need help, or could you deal with problems on your own?

I am seeing this more and more frequently: one or two people, heading up the trail, with a tiny pack, carrying only what they’d need for a long walk in the county park. It’s okay if you don’t carry high end backpacking gear. But you absolutely have to be prepared to spend an uncomfortable night in the woods.

The NPR article also assumes that a hiker can use a cell phone from the trail. That’s not always the case out here in the West. For example, if you start a hike off of I-90, you can easily climb a ridge and then descend to the other side, to eat your lunch by a lake. But at that point, you’ll most likely be out of cell range. Consider a personal locator beacon, such as the SPOT. This is used when a person is in danger…broken leg, completely lost, hypothermia, etc….after a person has exhausted other options. But try your cellphone first.

Besides communication (consider it the 11th essential), make sure you have the 10 essentials. I am *more* than happy to consult on these…the last thing I want is my friends to get into trouble in the backcountry!

Here are some inexpensive ways to fill out your Ten Essentials kit. Once you get them, just leave them in your pack (well, except for the food and water).

  1. Navigation (map and compass…bringing a GPS app is fine too, and you won’t need cell signal, but have the map and compass as backup)
    1. Maps: Get them for free at Caltopo.
    2. Compass and loud whistle: Coghlans Four Function Whistle is very simple, but it will get the job done. $4
    3. Also ***make sure*** you leave your hiking plans with a friend or loved one
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing, AND a warm hat, AND a raincoat…this is the Northwest)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight AND extra batteries)
    1. Headlamp, if you don’t already have one: Energizer Headlamp $15
    2. Batteries: Carry one extra set, in a ziploc bag.
  5. First-aid supplies (that you know how to use)
    1. This Lifeline model is a good one. I’d only add a small bag of Benadryl, in case of sudden allergic reaction. If you’ve got this stuff at home, just put it in a ziploc bag and you’re good. $10
  6. Fire (Lighter AND stormproof matches AND a firestarter)
    1. Lighter: Grab a Mini bic at the grocery store checkout stand, for a couple of bucks
    2. Stormproof matches: This Stormproof Match Kit comes in a case and last forever. $9
    3. Firestarter: Murphy’s Law says it will be raining. Use InstaFire to get the fire going. $8
    4. ***Don’t forget to put it out…dead, cold out…when you leave.***
  7. Repair kit and tools (like a pocket knife)
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (this large size space blanket can fit two people) $8
  11. Communication
    1. For day/weekend hiking, the SPOT is fine. It’s on sale at Cabela’s now, for $90. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s an insurance policy. If you hike once per month, that’s only $7.50 per month, plus the $20 monthly subscription fee…less than you’ll spend on gas and an after-hike meal.
    2. For better coverage, better communication with Search and Rescue, and lower overall cost (with a larger up front cost), I strongly recommend the Garmin inReach. This is my go-to when I’m doing long distance hikes. Search and Rescue prefers this device.
    3. Cellphone…try this first
    4. The compass/whistle above

Please be safe out there.

Not Everything Is as It Seems

When I returned from my 2017 PCT section hike, I was in tears, and not the happy kind.

I completed one hundred miles, which was far short of my desired goal. Saying “one hundred miles” makes it sound huge. And it is, if you don’t hike like this. But for me, it felt like a defeat, even though it was clearly a victory. I had been ill from September through April…just a few months before I had planned to hit the trail again. Chronic fatigue syndrome bit me in the ass, and it wasn’t going away.

I wrote my blog from this space of victory and defeat. I couldn’t really dig into the story. It hurt too much, and besides, I didn’t want my family to worry.

I’m now two months removed from my hike, and I’m starting to gain perspective. I also know that other hikers have faced their own demons, and it is for these reasons that I wrote this.

August 8, 2017

After a handful of miles, I came to a water cache on a forest road. Water was so critical to me that summer. Without enough hydration and electrolytes, I would be in serious trouble. My heart would start pounding. I would get dizzy. I wouldn’t be able to see straight. I certainly wouldn’t be able to walk much. This was my biggest problem…how to balance the need for far more water than normal, with the inability to carry excess water.

The cache was huge, and there was magic. I was very grateful for both…a chance to rest and snack, and fill up with the water that I needed. If the cache had been empty, I would have needed to hitch a ride to town. That had been weighing on me.

The next water source was 15 miles south, and 2000 feet of elevation gain. This isn’t a huge deal, and it certainly would have been fine the previous year. But now it was clear I couldn’t do that in one afternoon, so I needed to load up with water for a day and a half. That meant five liters, over six miles and 1100 feet, to the high point of the fifteen mile stretch, followed by nine miles of easier trail to the lake.

Mid-afternoon, I hoisted my pack. The weight had increased by more than 50%, heavier than the recommended pack weight by several pounds. This meant that I took a lot of the weight on my shoulders, which is really uncomfortable. I hurt in several different ways, and despite the snack, I was headed into despair.

I took a hit off of my inhaler, and headed up the hill, listening to my music. I focused on the rest step, and regulating my breathing. Step, straighten the knee, and breathe. Step, straighten, and breathe. Do this as long as possible. Stop and rest. Gulp some electrolytes. Repeat.

Every few stops, maybe every ten or fifteen minutes, my lizard brain screamed “GO DOWNHILL”. Retreating would have taken me down to the forest road cache, and would probably have netted me a ride to town. I fought to overcome the lizard brain, and pushed myself uphill. Step, straighten, and breathe.

Lizard brain was getting louder, when I met some northbound thru hikers. I have no clue what their words were, but it was all about encouragement. I could do this thing, they said.

Several rounds of this, multiple thru hikers, much encouragement, four miles, and 900 feet later, I reached a wide open campsite. There was a retired couple in front of me, and I dropped my pack. My body was done for the day, and I set up my tent next to the really awesome couple.

We shared some snacks, while thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain eventually started spitting at us, so I crawled into my tent and crashed.

The next morning, the couple had headed north. I had to push myself to get ready to turn right, uphill, southbound. I still had three liters, which was probably enough, but I had to be careful.

Once again, I hoisted my pack. But. My body started heading back downhill. My lizard brain started heading back downhill. I felt sick to my stomach. Everything in me was screaming “TURN LEFT! GO DOWNHILL!”

I made my feet stop. I almost literally grabbed my shoulders, and forced them to turn right. Uphill.

To this day, I’m still not sure how I did it. But I made myself take a step. Uphill. And then another. Uphill. And then another. For two miles, and then I stopped.

I had reached the high point.

It was easy from here, down to the lake. Fresh water and new friends awaited.

This is the real story of my hike.



Eighteen hours after getting home, I threw my pack in the van with all the camping gear, and Steve, Patrick, and I headed for Madras, OR. It was amusing to be heading back to Oregon so soon, but we were well east of Mt. Jefferson, well northeast of Ashland, and far from where I was the day before.

The eclipse was incredible, and totality was unbelievable. If I couldn’t be on the trail, I’m mighty glad I could see totality, especially with my family. It was a gift.

I learned a few days later that the trail I would have been hiking out of Ashland, California Section R, was partially closed due to wildfire. Given my hiking speed, I could say with 100% certainty that I would have been in the closure zone. When an area is closed, firefighters sweep the trail, looking for hikers and hustling them to safety. Fast. I’m grateful I didn’t get caught up in that. And the air quality in Section R has continued to range in the moderate to unhealthy range, especially for people with asthma.

So it became pretty clear that getting off of the trail was even more important than I had anticipated. I’m grateful for that.

By the numbers: Section D, from Willamette Pass to Highway 138 (northern border of Crater Lake National Park), is 60 miles. I took the Oregon Skyline Trail alternate, which cuts ten miles, so I did 50 miles there. I flipped past Section C, and hiked Section B, from Fish Lake to Callahan’s, 54 miles. That puts me at 104 miles for the summer.

In some ways, I’m disappointed, because I wanted to hike straight through to Seiad Valley. Let’s face it, I wanted to get my Oregon tat, to match Washington. It’s my little bit of vanity.

But really, given where my health has been, 104 miles is a mighty fine number. And I’m learning to keep that in perspective.

I don’t know what next summer will bring. But I do know that I’m in good health. And I completed two sections, when the odds were against me even taking a day hike. I am profoundly grateful.

August 18, 2017, Home

I woke up this morning, and took some time just to enjoy being in my tent. Gratitude.

Michael and Karen and I went to breakfast together. I had awesome French toast, bacon, juice, and so on. I figure I’d end this thing right.

As it turns out, Karen works for a gear manufacturer, focusing on military, but also doing work for some of the smaller shops. Her dream is to go to her hometown of Dunsmuir, and open a gear repair shop. My jaw hit the floor. A gear repair shop *right* on the trail? That would be fantastic, and I told her so. We talked over different kinds of gear, and what she’d be able to do. I really hope she can make it work.

When we got back to our tents, Karen pulled out a pro-level repair kit, and said if I needed anything, to just take it. Wow! My pack had to be organized for a flight, rather than the trail, but I managed to get everything inside or attached, and didn’t need to take her up on her generous offer.

All too soon, the shuttle van arrived, and Karen gave me a big hug. I loaded my pack into the van. It felt very weird.

We picked up a couple in downtown Ashland, and then we headed for the airport. Again, weird.

But the weirdest of all was when I watched my pack go down the conveyor belt and out of sight. For two weeks this year, and for many, many weeks in different years, that pack has been my everything. So while I knew perfectly well that I’d see it in a few hours, I still felt naked without it.

A quick lunch later, and I was boarding the plane. I had specifically chosen the east window of the plane, so that I could see what was happening below on my dear trail.

Smoke in Oregon. Smoke in the valleys. Smoke flowing in different directions. Enormous smoke plumes bursting through. I saw Three Fingered Jack, and where the trail was, but other than that it was shocking. Washington was relatively clear, but there were still fires.

We landed, and I made my way to baggage claim and Steve. In tears, I retreived my pack, and we headed for home.


August 17, 2017, Mile 1716: Calling It

At Callahan’s Lodge, Ashland, mile 1716

It’s just not fun right now.

I developed a large bruise on my right shoulder, so I spent most of the day with my pack hanging off my left shoulder. It was painful enough to make me cuss, loudly.

California Section R, which runs from Ashland, OR, to Seiad Valley, CA, has a steep start, and right now is covered with smoke. That smoke is all over Ashland, Medford, and the Rogue River Valley. It’s hard to breathe, and is playing utter havoc with my asthma. There’s more, and worse, smoke and wildfire in the northernmost sections of California.

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Mt. Shasta, almost obscured by the northern California smoke

Going uphill is taking me longer, and longer, and longer. I understand why. I get it. But it’s sapping the fun out of my hike. And it’s draining my energy, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I don’t think I’ve got enough energy to continue, and still enjoy myself. You’ll never find a hike which is all fun, all of the time. But if it’s not fun at all, for whatever reason, it’s time to rethink things.

So I did eleven miles today, plus another 1.5 mile roadwalk, to get to Callahan’s. And I decided to call my hike for the year.

Callahan’s has been a great place to make the transition. I got to wash my clothes, and wash me. And while the laundry was going, I talked with Steve.

He listened to me for a few minutes, and then I asked if it was too late to join the family camping trip to Madras, OR. Madras is on the centerline of the August 21 eclipse. The family was planning on a trip from the 19th through the 21st. All I had to do was to make it to Seattle on the 18th.

So within a half an hour, I had tickets on a midafternoon flight from Medford to Seattle, plus a shuttle ride to the airport. My head was spinning, but it was the right thing to do.

I pitched my tent in the small grassy area at the front of the lodge, and went to have dinner in the restaurant. I had filet mignon, and the largest piece of chocolate cake I’d seen in a long time. Because it was time to treat myself. Well.

I’m sharing the lawn with Michael and Karen, his niece. They’re great, and it’s good to spend time with like minded people, before heading home.

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My final campsite, at Callahan’s

I made the right choice, but I wish I didn’t have to.