August 4, 2016, Mile 2073: Five Hundred, and Twenty

At a campsite, mile 2073

Today began with two goals in mind. The first was to hike my 500th PCT mile, and the second was to complete my first 20.

At 2059, I celebrated my first goal. The usual way to celebrate is to use whatever is local to create your number. Pine cones fit the bill, and I now have my very own 500 to mark the occasion. I’m mighty proud!

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The second goal was reached early this evening. It was the perfect day for it: the tread was gentle and the trail was mostly rolling. So voila! I’ve done a 20!

I’m also planning my ascent to Timberline Lodge. I could do it tomorrow, if I were willing to do another 20, but the uphill to Timberline is incredibly sandy…imagine trying to climb an enormous sand dune. So I think I’ll stay at Barlow Pass, five miles prior, and then head up the next morning.

Oh, and remember the five-day rule? Over the last five days I’ve forded/scrambled Russell Creek, climbed a ridge, descended snow fields, hit 500, and got my first 20. I’m feeling pretty good.

August 3, 2016, Mile 2052: Ice Cream and Gentler Terrain

At Trooper Spring, mile 2052

Interesting night. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by loud voices and a bright flashlight. The voices were calling, “Search and Rescue. Riley, Riley, is that you? Riley, Riley.”

It took a minute to get my wits, and then I said, “No, this isn’t Riley.” They asked me to stick my head out for a negative ID, and I signed my name as well. Turns out that somebody passed on a tip (later disproven) that Riley was using an orange tent. I have a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1, which is definitely orange. The SAR team apologized, and all I could say was, “No apologies needed. Thank you for checking.” Lord have mercy. **

I awoke to sunshine and no wind, with a delightful view across the lake. Love mornings like this.

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I headed down to Olallie Store, which was just two downhill miles away. It’s a tiny store, with snacks and resupply items, piped water, and no electricity other than a small generator. It’s a great place to take a break over ice cream and cold drinks. Mmm…ice cream!

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I stayed for a couple of hours, talking with different people. I met Cashmere, a woman of about my age, who is another member of the Women of the PCT group.

Before leaving, I attempted to get my hydration system set up. No dice. Chia Seed and her husband Quinoa had a syringe, so I could completely backflush the filter.  The filter is working fine, but I can’t get the inline system functioning. So from here on out, my system is two 1.5 L bladders for dirty, and two SmartWater-esque bottles for clean. Not sure if I can fix this at home.

With my second-best hydration system in play, I headed nine miles toward Trooper Spring 2052.

As of the last day, the terrain has changed noticeably. It is much closer to Washington than it is to the lava fields and burns of just a few days ago. Looking at the map, it appears to be more of the same for at least awhile. So tomorrow I’m going to try for my first 20 mile day. It’s a personal goal, and if something crops up I won’t be overly concerned, but it’s a nice-to-have.

** Footnote: As of mid-September, Riley has not been found. The search was called off in early August, and his family has returned home to California. Lord have mercy.

August 2, 2016, Mile 2041: Discouragement Busters

At Upper Lake, mile 2041

Petra and I headed uphill to Russell Creek, first thing this morning. The creek runs through the bottom of the old glacial bed, which in this case means you have to descend a long, steep scree and boulder slope, ford the creek, find the trail, and climb back out the other side.

The trail down was easy enough, with cautious footing, although one section required a controlled butt slide down to the next set of boulders. Kudos to Purple Rain Adventure Skirts for being tough enough to handle challenging slopes.

The creek itself can best be described using the following phrases: fast, glacial, silty, faster, cold, powerful, and “really effing fast.” Arrange those words how you will. I can’t imagine trying to ford it in peak snowmelt.

At the trail, there were a handful of boulders which looked like a potential rock hop. Unfortunately, there was no way to confirm their stability, and this was not a place I wanted to compromise. So we looked further upstream, for someplace we could ford. I extended my poles and prepared to probe the silty, opaque water.

We made it halfway across, to a little island, and from there we felt for another crossing. Packs were adjusted, poles arranged, and we angled our way across. Success!

A well-deserved hug later, we needed to find the trail. O, trail, where art thou? It couldn’t be seen from where we were at. Petra scrambled up a couple of places, but didn’t have any luck. For anyone who doesn’t understand how easy it is to lose your way, I invite them to do what we were doing.

The third time was the charm. We went downstream, even though we couldn’t see any sign of the trail, and then voila! we found a spot to scramble up.

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Wider than it looks

Our victory lap involved having breakfast half a mile along the trail. Petra threw her pad down, and we had hot tea and munchies for breakfast. Awesome!

We continued up the hill, with me pushing and her holding back. Finally I said that I needed to return to my normal pace, and that I knew she’d need to speed up. With great big hugs, and a hope to hike together some time, we said goodbye. I am *so* glad to have made such a great hiking friend!

Almost immediately after Petra forged ahead, I came to Jefferson Park. It’s a large plain immediately to the north of Mt. Jefferson: full of clear lakes and meadows. I would love to spend several days there, but it was refreshing even to meander along its trails.

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After hiking out of Jefferson Park, the trail begins to climb Park Ridge, gaining 1000 ft in 1.6 miles. It was a push, but it felt good.

Part way up the ridge, I met a Search and Rescue team. They were looking for an overdue backpacker named Riley, last seen in Jefferson Park. They gave me a description and showed me a picture, but I hadn’t seen him. I heard lots of helos yesterday, though. Prayers for him and his family, and the rescuers.

I crested the ridge at almost 7000 ft, and began the descent on the north aspect. There were several large snowfields, and as a person who doesn’t boot-ski, it might have been a problem. But there were loads of kicked-in steps, and I added a few more of my own. No problems at all, just a gentle descent and lots of fun.

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I continued the descent through glacial rock, and lots of wind. After about five miles, I took a snack break, and it was there that I met the second SAR team, who were searching the perimeter around Riley’s car. We chatted briefly. At this writing, he had been reported missing five days ago.

I reached Upper Lake 2041, in the early evening. I set up camp, rinsed out some clothes, and staked out the tent against the wind. I was tired, and needed a hot drink. And I was very, very proud of myself.

Footnote: KGW, a Portland TV station, had reporters in the area where Riley’s car was located, and in the area I passed through. In their story, they briefly interviewed Petra, who was about 90 minutes ahead of me at that point. 

August 1, 2016, Mile 2028: Hiking Buddy

At a campsite, mile 2028

Shower was gone when I got up. I took my time, but didn’t dawdle this morning.

The trail was more or less downhill for several miles, traversing a wooded ridge. I stopped for a mid-afternoon break at Milk Creek 2125. It was the perfect size creek for a ford, foot soak, and quick rinse. Talk about relaxing!

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I pounded out a few more miles uphill, to get to a campsite at 2028, along a tiny seasonal creek. The site is covered with older blowdowns, which leave just a couple of spots for small tents. I wedged my tent into one spot, set up camp, and made dinner. I also laid out my plans for tomorrow, which will include fording Russell Creek, hiking through Jefferson Park, and ascending/descending Park Ridge (7000 ft). The plan for the next day is to hit the Olallie Store, a tiny facility on the shore of Olallie Lake, and purveyor of wonderful trailside munchies.

Just as I finished getting organized for tomorrow, a woman showed up, looking for a place to throw down a tent. I showed her the one remaining spot, and she started making camp. I hung out, and we chatted away.

I introduced myself, and her response was, *You’re* Rest Step? (Wow!). I said, Well, yes I am. She introduced herself as Petra (pronounced Peetra), and said that she was on the Women of the PCT FB group. Apparently she had met Brenda (Atta Girl), who mentioned my name. Cool!

We’re pretty similar in hiking style and personality. She’s from Yuma, and she decided that, upon her retirement from tech, she would hike the PCT. She skipped the Sierra and flipped north, like many hikers this year. She’ll return to the Sierra later this summer, after the snowmelt.

She’s also a slower hiker, although with many hundreds of miles under her trail runners, her “slow” is faster than mine. And like me, her balance is a little suspect.

After a lot of good conversation, we planned to hit the trail around 6:45 tomorrow, to ford Russell Creek.

July 31, 2016, Mile 2017: The Mental Game

At a campsite, mile 2017

Per my plan, I slept in. And then I didn’t get out of camp until noon. I did some much-deferred camp chores, but generally speaking I felt like a discouraged slug.

I left camp, and hiked over Minto Pass, where I ran into the trail crew. They were finishing up, and toting their tools and an enormous cross-cut saw. We chatted briefly, and I thanked them again for their work.

At 3+ miles, I hit Rockpile Lake 2012. It was gorgeous, and if I had had more gas in the tank the night before, I would have stayed there. Alas.

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The proverbial straw was that I discovered I’d left my foam pad back at Wasco Lake. This is a 1/8″ thick pad which fits into the back of my pack. In the spirit of multi-use, it can be used to pad/support the pack, act as a sit pad, and add extra insulation/padding to a regular inflatable. I had cut this one to fit. And while the pack functions fine without the pad, it rides differently, and needs to be snugged up quite a bit to keep the weight from sliding around.

So there I was, short on miles, short on energy, short on time, with a heavy pack, and losing gear. I was *not* a happy camper.

After an hour (yes, a full hour…sigh), I had loaded up on water, poured calories into my system, and shouldered my New! Improved! pack, for the five miles to my evening’s goal.

Discouragement weighed on me, as I kept plugging along. In case the audience is curious, a long distance hike is absolutely not a frolic through the trees. Some of it is just that, but some of it is just plain hard work, and a lot of it is winning the mental game. It’s very easy to slip into negativity…trust me. One of the tricks you can use is the five-day rule. This states that if you truly want to quit, you have to wait five days before you bail. So in the spirit of the five-day rule, I wondered what the next five days would bring. And although I really had no idea what might happen, I figured I’d give it a try. Tune in on August 4 to see what the future held.

A couple of hours later, I neared my goal for the evening. And then I was suddenly blessed with a wildflower-strewn alpine meadow…only my favorite terrain in the high country. It was like God was saying, “It’s okay…I’ve got this.”

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Then I rounded the corner to the campsite, and it held an in-your-face view of the south side of Mt. Jefferson. The sun was low in the sky, and the mountain reflected more and more alpenglow as the minutes went on.

I shared the site with Shower, a man about my age, who sported long blond hair and beard. He was doing 35s, to make a rendezvous with family at Timberline in a couple of days. He also told me that despite his looks, he was the retired Assistant Director of Fish and Wildlife for the state of California. That’s the thing about the trail…it’s the great equalizer.

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July 30, 2016, Mile 2009: Up the Ridge and Around the Corner

At Wasco Lake, mile 2009

As I mentioned, today required an early start. I left camp long before the dining hall opened, although I did sneak in long enough to drink my fill of orange juice from the always-available dispenser.

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Today’s hike began with a long, flat ramble up to Santiam Pass (Highway 20), mile 1999. There is a large trailhead on the north side of the road. Blanche, a local and well-known trail angel, was dropping off two hikers whom she had driven up from Sisters. She wanted to know if I would like to head down the hill to Sisters, and I had to decline three times.

Once across the road, the trail headed almost straight up the exposed ridge. I used my umbrella again; while it takes some adjustment, it can be pretty effective against this kind of situation.

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I climbed and climbed, into an area where the green was slowly taking over the burn.

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I rounded a corner, and then…Three Fingered Jack was right in my face.

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What an incredible view. The trail winds around the west side of the extinct volcano, and crosses up and down over multiple dry glacial stream beds. It was lovely.

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I rounded another corner, and then…Mt. Jefferson. It wasn’t as close, but it was there, and provided a bit of motivation for this tired hiker. I slowly descended to the lakes basin around Minto Pass, and hiked down a steep approach trail to Wasco Lake 2009.

As it was the weekend, I didn’t see any sites at all, but when I backtracked, I saw a couple in a medium sized site. I said hi, and said that I didn’t take up very much room; would they mind if I pitched my tent off in a corner? Then I saw their PCT trail crew hard hats, and all was grand.

They went off to the adjacent site, occupied by the other couple in the trail crew. And after a few minutes, they invited me to come join them. BYO dinner, and good conversation.

Tomorrow I’m sleeping later, and focusing on going a bit slower. I need to hike for me, not for some mythical mileage. And over the next few days I’m setting up for Russell Creek. It’s a potentially dangerous ford, which means I’ll need to camp close by and plan to cross early in the morning (glacial streams increase in flow the later you are into a warm day). To set up for this, I’ll need two shorter days. It’s all a balancing act.

July 29, 2016, Mile 1993: Blessed Zero

At Big Lake Youth Camp, mile 1993

A zero is when a hiker spends two nights in the same place, thus hiking zero miles. I figured I’d take one zero in my Oregon section, and this seemed like the perfect place to do it.

When I woke up, Tim, Tyler, and One Pole were gone. They wanted to get an early start before the huge burn just north of here. I hope to see them up the trail.

Walking up from the cove this morning, we had to pass the kitchen. And from the kitchen emanated the fragrance of homemade cinnamon rolls. Apparently they spend all night preparing them. It was TO DIE FOR.

From there, I spent time in the little store buying coffee drinks, sending a T-shirt home, and generally relaxing. Matt had to take off, but he said he’d be in Cascade Locks one week hence, and would love to buy me a beer. Works for me, if I can be there in time!

I finally took the time to reorganize my stuff. It’s been such a social experience that I haven’t even focused on my resupply! But I had to load up a 7-day resupply, plus enough water to get me through a 12 mile dry stretch tomorrow. Yup, that’s a heavy pack…sigh.

Had a bit of an issue today. Priscilla, aka Grateful, is hiking with her son and their dog Max. Unfortunately, Max was really pretty fried, and when I reached down toward him, he responded teeth first. We went to the onsite doctor, who checked it out and gave me some ice…should be zero problem. Priscilla was understandably upset, so we sat and talked. It was a really good opportunity to just be friends, and except for a bruise on my arm, it was a win.

They took off before dinner, so that they could night hike through some of the lava and burn. It was great to make a new friend.

Just before dinner, Green Bean arrived. He’s from Israel, and is probably one of the fastest hikers I’ve met. I sat next to him at dinner.

Also at dinner time, a group of thrus arrived: a girl named Sprout, and three guys…and they hated the lava as well. Anybody detecting a theme?

I grabbed my stuff and headed down to the cove after dinner. I’ve got to get up by 5 in order to make some miles through the burn, before it gets too hot. I remembered to wrap my pack in my polycro plastic ground cloth, to keep the pack from getting soaked with the record condensation. And tonight I’m sleeping in my tent.

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Man, I love this place.