July 27, 2016, Mile 1989: Vulcanology 102, or Why Lava Sucks

At a campsite, mile 1989

If I ever have the chance to go to Hawaii, I will turn it down, unless I can skip the lava fields.

The trail through this part of Oregon is notorious, and I’m beginning to see why. When you cross the lava, it can be through trenches (where the lava has folded). It can switchback up one side of a fold and down the other. And whatever or wherever you are, the tread consists of oddly shaped, incredibly sharp rocks. Which are mostly black, and trap the heat. And which will slow you down no end, as you try to negotiate the trail without taking a spill. Hint…I ended the day with a fresh crop of bruises, scratches, and just plain dirt.


By noon, I had made my way down the eternal lava folds, and arrived at McKenzie Pass. I had lunch with another woman, and met an English family, the Brit Family Robinson (mom, dad, kids ages 10 and 13). They were incredibly nice, and really determined.

I couldn’t put it off any longer. I crossed the highway, and headed up a fully exposed lava field. I used my umbrella to cut the glare, but it didn’t do anything for the heat reflecting off of the lava. Because this was in the middle of a 12 mile dry stretch, I was loaded down with (much needed) water. I crested the ridge, found a shade tree, and had a bite of lunch.

The other side was the beginning of a very large burn. I headed down, hitting the ravine around 4:00. Right as I was about to start climbing the next steep ridge (also in the burn), I met two women on horseback. They were headed in the opposite directions, so I wished them well, and said that I hoped they liked lava. Maybe fifteen minutes later they returned, saying that the horses just couldn’t handle the terrain.

They wanted to know how I was doing, and I said that of the four liters I’d started with, I only had 1.5 liters left, due to slow going through the (you guessed it) lava. When they heard this, they  gave me some water, Gatorade, and a satsuma. Magic!

Feeling relatively refreshed, I headed up the ridge. There were probably 15 blowdowns per mile: all burned, which makes the branches sharp. Ouch. Add that to the bruises and the dustiness.


I wasn’t able to make it to Big Lake, but thanks to the magic, I had more than enough water for a dry camp. This entire day was emotionally and physically draining, far more than I could have imagined.

I’m turning off the alarm for the morning; I’ll wake up when I wake up. It’s a fairly level four mile stroll into Big Lake, and if everything I’ve heard is true, I’ll be in hiker heaven.

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