At the Best Western Hotel in Cascade Locks, Mile 2144
Steve and I drove to Cascade Locks, with my excitement building. This is definitely a hiker town, with thru-hikers everywhere, carrying their resupply boxes, and a big advertisement for Shrek’s, in the grocery store. Shrek is a trail angel who hosts any and all hikers coming through. He’s known for his oversize green bandannas. I met Mountain Mamma, who commented on my Philmont t-shirt. She works with Scouts and Venturers in Michigan. And she chided me for saying I “can only” do a section hike. The correct phrase is I *am* doing a section hike. We’re all on the trail. Mountain Mamma, Steve, and I shared milkshakes and had a great time hanging out. Love it!
After shakes, we hit the grocery store and ended up at the pub, for one last burger. Then we strolled around town, checked out the old locks, and generally had a great time before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow!
This is it! We got up before dawn, and had breakfast next door to the hotel. Then Steve and I walked up to the bridge. He took a few pictures, and I was on my way, a little teary with excitement, at 7:30. Mile 2144!
So my pack is heavy! I pounded out four miles by 11:00, but as the grade increased, I slowed way down. Wondering if I estimated food consumption correctly.
I was counting on loading up with water at Cedar Creek, so I had skipped Greenleaf (2150). Cedar Creek was way down a ravine, on a dirt road, with no proof of its existence. Reluctantly, I pushed on.
Fortunately it’s been wet lately, so a mile after the missing Cedar Creek junction, I crossed the seasonal stream which becomes Cedar, at approximately 2152. Loaded up on 3.5 L because there’s no water until an iffy spring at 2160 (Three Corner), and no guaranteed unto Rock Creek at 2164. That gave me just shy of a liter for every three miles. This is the water ratio I need to work out, given weather, exposure, hiking speed, and elevation gain. And for medical reasons, I need to always have extra water on hand. Running out isn’t an option, and that makes the ratio even harder to compute.
This entire section, Cascade Locks to Panther Creek, consists of two ridges/ravines, and relatively little water. As a new section hiker, it has been hard to judge my water consumption. There’s a balancing act: pack weight vs pace vs water need vs water availability vs food requirements vs estimated food requirements. My pack weight is high, my pace is low, my water need is high, the water availability is low, and I’ve got a full load of food. The lesson here is to try and find a sweet spot, and make that sweet spot an easier and easier place to find.
Met Slacker at the spring. He was really cool, and said he hopes he can do something great for his 50th. This will be awhile 🙂
Called it a day at the campsite at 2154. Nine-plus miles, 3300 feet of elevation gain, with a bitch of a pack. Tomorrow I should start about 4 lbs lighter, and I won’t have a dry spell nearly this long again. Spent an hour or so reading, and then bed before 6:30.
Happy 50th to me!!! Hit the trail at 7:15. It was up in one form or another as I wrapped around Table Mountain at 2157, and then hit Three Corners. The ravines echoed with logging operations. Saw Hood, St. Helens, and Adams. Hood was pretty close, and Adams far. Hard to believe that this will change so radically in a week or so.
Took the side trail up to Three Corners Spring at 3400 ft., mile 2160. The trail is about a third of a mile. I didn’t go all the way to the viewpoint, but focused on the water instead. It was a welcome sight! There is a hose from the spring to a rusty, decrepit trough. Water is a little brown but fine to drink. To get the water, you need to “pump” the hose, and when it refills, you empty it into your container.
From Three Corners, it was all downhill to Rock Creek, at 2164. What a delightful place! Perfect spot to soak tired feet, water cool but not too cold. There was even a backrest on the rock…almost as good as a recliner. I filled up everything, because yes indeed, we have another long-ish dry spell tomorrow. Met Slaughterhouse, a girl from Kansas/Colorado. She was great, and happily took the foot soaking perch as soon as I was done.
Meeting her put a spring in my step, and I made great time to my campsite at 2165. It’s near a seasonal stream which is still flowing, so I’ll be able to top off in the morning. The campsite has room for two more but so far no one has asked. There’s a giant cedar log across the length, and its girth is more than twice as tall as my pack.
I miss my guys, but I’ve got to say, this is a heck of a way to turn 50. I have the best family in the world.
Today was all about the walk and the mind game. I decided last night that I would do the last 15 miles to Panther Creek Campground, given that I’d done 9+ and 12+ the last two days. The first 4 were back up over another ridge, with 3 L because there was no reliable water until Trout Creek at 2174, or 9 miles. So a decent 4 mi up, a steeper 3 mi down, and then 6 mi of flattish. I was pretty damned tired, and my legs, hip, and feet were talking to me. Still looking for the sweet spot.
This section of the trail meanders through a variety of land ownership. After Trout Creek, there is a road walk, a meander through a tall grass field, a skirt of private property on both sides, and so forth. My feet and hip were pretty much done, so I was glad that it was pretty flat. Finally, I reached Panther Creek Campground, at 2179.
First stop was to see the campground host. Rumor had it that Panther Creek had tent spaces reserved for PCT hikers. This was not exactly the case. If it had been midweek, there would have been sites available, but this was Saturday. Larry, the host, said there were none, but he invited me to use the tent pad on his site. Woohoo! Flat astroturf, under a shelter. There are vault toilets, and water is available via hand pump. Almost the Ritz.
Larry shared his bounty with me: pre-pumped water for drinking and a quick bandanna bath, a table for making/ eating my dinner, and boiling dinner water from his trailer. And he gave me my first Trail Magic: an ice cream bar! Good merciful heavens, that tasted great. Easy night after a long day.
Slept late after the 15 mile day. Pack is too heavy and is causing aches and pains. And my pace sucks. Figuring out the sweet spot, but not yet.
I met a thru named Tim while having a trail side snack, and his hiking buddy Kara (Badass) came along a bit later. We started chatting about trail names, and she said they are either given to you based on something that happened, or are based on a story. She asked me about my backstory, and I talked about how I learned to hike. As an example, I told her how Dad had taught me the rest step, and, as an aside, that this week was the one year anniversary of Dad’s repose. She said that Rest Step would be a great trail name, and bestowed it on me. Henceforth, I am Rest Step!
In the early afternoon, I passed the Grassy Knoll trail junction at mile 2189, and almost immediately crested a ridge. As I summited, I was hit in the face with black clouds and thunder. My destination was 1.8 miles down hill and I needed to be there to get water; I only had ½ L left, and the next water after that was well over 2 miles away. I made all kinds of speed, but got hit with the worst storm I’ve had on the trail in the last several years. Torrential rain, and hail ranging from ¼ to ½ inch. And it didn’t stop. I tried sheltering from the lightning, but I hit the proverbial lightning vs hypothermia dilemma, and had to continue down the trail. It wasn’t too far to the tentsite (and the necessary water). I couldn’t set up my tent without soaking everything, so I stood next to a large tree (in a heavily forested area, so much less lightning risk) and marched in place for probably another 20 minutes, to stay warm. When the hail had subsided, and the rain had started to slack, maybe 45 min later, I threw the tent up and got my cold soaked self inside. My NeoAir kept me off of the soaking wet tent floor, and I bundled up completely, while pouring calories into my system.
After the storm subsided, I stuck my head out of the tent. Two women were across the trail and invited me over. The Warden (Terri) and Firestarter (Ginger) are from Oregon, and are section hiking as well. They were getting a fire going, and we stood around steaming our clothes dry. Fun evening with good people.
Blue Lake was gorgeous this am. Perfectly flat, with blue sky, and picture-perfect reflection. It was just the morale boost I needed, as I had been pretty down. And a thru-hiker named Leonidas stopped by my camp on his way north. Most excellent trail name.
I woke to this.
After washing out my socks and hanging them on my pack, I hit the trail. It was a relatively flat day, finished by a gentle downhill, and that really helped my mood. I need to ditch more weight to find that sweet spot, but it’s in sight.
I did 13 miles to Mosquito Creek, which is miraculously lacking said insect. Along the way:
– Stopped at Deer Lake to backflush my filter, after the gick in Blue Lake. 2 days of silty lake water took its toll, but it’s fine now.
– Met Ronny, a local who loves to fish these lakes. He remains amazed at how few mosquitoes there are in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. It’s notorious for the overwhelming clouds of vicious bloodsucking doom.
– Met a family of four, up for day hikes, and chatted while they had their lunch. I got two baby carrots. My heavens, they tasted good. Lighthouse had just been there and Yogi-ed some celery. To Yogi means to look pitiful while non-backpackers are pulling out their vast quantities of food. I think I’m getting the look down.
– Met two retired men out for a day of berry picking.
– And met Acorn the Elder, a thru of about my age. He’s sporting a decrepit blue Ensolite foam pad, which he found at South Lake Tahoe; just seeing that pad brought back quite a few memories, and sparked a great conversation.
Once again I’m sharing a campsite with Warden and Firestarter. We’ve hit it off well, and because we’ve got a similar itinerary, we’re doing everything together except the actual hiking.
After dinner we were joined by Roller Girl and Pilgrim. They’re SOBOs and had lots of good info for us. I love this part of being on the trail. RG and Pilgrim were great. They both got out of the army recently. Pilgrim did the AT last year and the PCT this year. He’s doing a yoyo and that’s where he met RG. We had an awesome time, the five of us.
Before taking off, I asked RG and Pilgrim what advice they’d give to a noob. RG said just don’t get discouraged. Pilgrim said don’t take advice from people who don’t get what you’re doing. And you’ll always be tweaking your gear and learning new ways of doing things, even when you’ve been at this quite a while. And that’s fine.
I purveyed more Trail Magic, giving all of my leftovers to RG and Pilgrim. I now have only two 3000-calorie per day packs, which will give me enough left over for an extra day, in case I get delayed. Closest yet to my sweet spot. I need to plan for 12-mile days, and take less food. I’m putting together a rough meal plan, which includes a lot more fat, less carbs, more electrolytes, and less pre-fab meals. My pack feels a lot better. Finally.
Yesterday was more or less flat, and that gave my bones a rest. Today began the last series of climbs. Terri (Warden) and Ginger (Firestarter) had two more days scheduled, so they split the difference. They had a ten mile day and ended up at White Salmon River (2226)
I stopped at Trout Lake Creek, 2221, to top off my water before the five miles to White Salmon River. I’m still having difficulty with the water need vs water availability balance. I think this will improve with a more steady pace (based on rough incline).
I stopped with Terri and Ginger, and chatted and discussed routes, and then I headed another three miles uphill. After a mile plus, I climbed into the Cascade Creek Burn.
Eerie, and desolate. And suddenly there was a lot more light. Many of the trees were barely standing, resting mostly on a shell of empty bark. I wouldn’t want to be here in a windstorm.
My tentsite is just past the burn, and next to a spring which requires the use of a bucket. Cool!
Miraculously I have signal, so I got to talk with the guys! One more day in the mountains, and I plan to make the most of it.
Last day on the trail, and I definitely have mixed feelings. I topped off my water at the bucket spring. 2.5 L, which was 1 L too much in retrospect, although I didn’t know that so many seasonal streams would be flowing. Right when I finished Terri & Ginger showed up; I headed up the hill as they were topping off.
The burn resumed almost immediately after I left camp, and probably half of the day was in the burn. But that allowed for more views. Before long, I was able to see St. Helens, and then Adams. The views were opening up, and my mood got brighter and brighter.
Terri and Ginger caught up to me, and we hiked together for most of the afternoon. The nice thing about “hiking together” on the PCT is that nobody is making you stay in a group. You hike at your own speed, and catch up eventually. No guilt, no fuss, lots of time for photography. One thing I did was take time to talk with people (when they wanted). I learned a lot, and really felt part of the community.
We hit a point all of a sudden where we could see four volcanoes: Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, and of course Adams. It was incredible. Four at one time is pretty rare, unless you’re on a summit.
This was one of those days where you keep stopping to take pictures, and each picture gets better. The pictures through the burn made quite a contrast, and eventually there was no burn…just beautiful trees, wildflowers, and of course the ever present Adams.
Terri & Ginger decided to camp at Riley Creek, 2237. We had lunch a few miles before, amidst the wildflowers. They were heading down the following day, so once we hit Riley we parted ways. It’s been great to have such cool hiking buddies!
Shortly after I left Riley Creek, I began to see some of next year’s goals: Rainier and the Goat Rocks.
Finally, the last push. My emotions were running high. I got a few more pictures along the silty creeks, and Lewis River. Just before my exit point, I met a group from my neck of the woods; when they heard my trail name, the instant response was “Mountaineers!” We shared a lot in common, and it was a great sendoff for me.
Divide Camp Trail. I cried. And took pictures of my return destination, for 2015, God willing.
This is the turnoff, where I head down and join the gang at Takhlakh. Happy and sad, all jumbled together.
The trail down was just tedium…rocky and ordinary. It mellowed out to duff at the end, and then I hit the road. Left turn, and a couple of miles up the foot-pounding hardpan. Probably 5 miles altogether.
Finally, the campground. I found the entrance, and the Ferrenbergs’ site. Sue & James were astounded to see me so soon, and I got a hero’s welcome! And fresh food!
And then the fam arrived. This was the best. I am very blessed to have a family, and especially a husband, who are cool with my need to hike.
I received a very warm welcome from everyone at camp, who plied me with food, drink, and a comfy chair.
And so, it ends with a few days at Takhlakh Lake. Some reminiscing, sharing a picture or two, a plan hatched for trail magic next summer while I’m hiking north. There is no way to adequately capture the experience, except to say that it was the hardest and most incredible hike ever, for me, so far. I’ve done two other long distance hikes, which both hold “best ever” status for a couple of different reasons. But this was about me, and what I could do. And I did it, glory to God.
In July 2015, I returned to Mt. Adams, and headed north. You can follow my continuing adventureshere.