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.

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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.

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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.

July 28, 2016, Mile 1993: Heaven

At Big Lake Youth Camp, mile 1993

I raced through my chores this morning. The camp was four miles away, and I made it in maybe 90 minutes. It was a soft, gentle, downhill trail, which was perfect. I was an emotional and physical mess, and just needed a break.

When I arrived, I checked in at the office. They welcomed me with open arms, signed me in, and fetched my resupply. Then they sent me to the Hiker Lounge, which is an A-frame building being refurbished. Eventually, it will have a laundry, shower, and bathroom; for now, it’s a comfy, shaded place for hikers to hang out.

I sat down with my pack and resupply, and gathered my dirty laundry…because they DO IT FOR YOU! I then stopped at the shower, and lost five pounds of dirt. Whoa.

There’s a great crop of hikers rotating through. Noah is the camp PCT Liason, who took us all under his wing. The Brit Famiy Robinson (mom, dad, daughter Pippi Longstocking, age 13, and Captain Obvious, age 10) was there when I arrived, and shortly thereafter they headed north. Simon, aka One Pole, is an early-20s hiker from Belgium. Megan and Jeremy are siblings, and are doing most of Oregon together. Priscilla, aka Grateful, and her 14YO son Aidan, are southbounding a couple of sections, with their dog Max. Matt, with his canine companion Barkley, are also doing a few sections southbound. And Tim and Tyler are a father/son pair, from San Diego. Tim is doing the entire trail, while Tyler joined him north of the Sierra, after he finished his spring quarter classes.

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At 1:00, we headed to the dining hall. The staff and hikers are fed first, to keep them free from the madhouse of 220 hungry kids. I had a *mountain* of taco salad fixings, and finally my brain started to clear.

The afternoon was restful. I slurped Italian sodas, hung out with the hikers, and asked Noah about the lava. He said that almost all of the northbounders, who come in off of the lava, are completely fried. So I don’t feel so bad.

This is definitely a camp. There’s the noise, excitement, activity, and everything that goes along with summer camp. But in the middle of it, there’s a niche carved out for hikers.

With each meal, I pounded the calories. The fog began to lift. And with that, the stress-free environment helped relieve the emotional overload of *constantly* watching my feet, focusing on each step, trying not to overheat, etc. I started to feel like myself by the end of the day.

At the end of the day, the hikers grabbed their packs and headed down to the cove. Because of zoning regulations, the hiker lounge can’t be used for sleeping. So we needed to toss our bags down on a little spit between a lagoon and the lake.

Cowboy camping (sleeping without a tent) was the order of the day. So with the sun sinking in front of us, and some of the guys out swimming in the lake, it was an incredible scene. I lay there watching the stars come out, one by one, and eventually fell asleep.

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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.

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 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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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.

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 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 5, 2016, Mile 2089: Magic Powered

At Barlow Pass, mile 2089

Go figure, I was tired this morning! I was dragging a bit, as I followed the ridge above Little Crater Lake. And then…OMG MAGIC! (Yes, it’s actually spelled this way). Some kind camper, probably close at hand, had left a cooler with fresh fruit and soda on ice! Epic!

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Buoyed by the magic, I headed down the trail. In about five miles, I crossed an unpaved forest road. There was a man getting into his truck, and when I stopped to talk, he said that he’s doing the trail by nickels and dimes…day hikes, covering as much as he can. Brilliant! And then he gave me a liter of water, out of one of his Nalgenes. This may not seem like much, but when you consider the energy needed to haul 2.2 lbs of water for, say, four miles, it adds up in a hurry. More magic!

The balance of the day was rolling trail, traversing ridges, and the like. Barlow Pass 2089 was 17 miles on the day, and there was a great spot for tents, near a picnic table, privy, and a small parking lot. I ended up sharing with a NOBO (Mighty) and a SOBO (Matt), and being passed by a pair of people about my age. Mighty is friends with Cashmere, whom I met at Olallie.

Timberline tomorrow!

August 6, 2016, Mile 2094: Timberline

From Barlow Pass, it was about a five mile climb up the side of Mt. Hood to reach Timberline Lodge. Especially toward the top, the tread was mostly sand, which slowed me down. But as I stopped to take a break here and there, I looked south to see Jefferson, and the Sisters. It was awesome to see how far I’d come!

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I reached Timberline 2095 in the very early afternoon. The trail goes right through a couple of campsites, so I pitched my tent in the lower one, staking it out against the increasing wind. I emptied my pack of all but toiletries, dirty clothes, and my puffy, and headed down the hill.

The first stop was the hiker shower. It’s basically the shower version of a Porta-Potty. There was only a small bottle of shampoo, and of course no hot water. But I made do, rinsing out my shirt as well. I didn’t have a towel, so I just put on my wet clothes and called it good. Everything dried quickly in the dry, hot wind.

I got my resupply at the gift store. Whoever gave me the tip of using fancy duct tape on both your box and your wallet was spot on. All I did was show up, show them my wallet, and somebody said, “I recognize that! I know exactly where it is.” This saved a ton of hassle, and I was able to take my box up to the large patio area to shuffle my resupply.

I sat down next to a couple about my age. One of the women was telling me about their backpacking trips, and I offered to share a few of my excess items: trail mix, and a few extra dinners. The other woman was happy to have the dinners, but she insisted on getting my address so that she could return them once my trip was through. I narrowly escaped that one. We had a great time, chatting about our various trips, until it was time for dinner.

With my new resupply, I headed down to the Blue Ox, the local (small) pub. I had a 12″ pizza and a 12″ salad, while catching up online. Then I headed over to the day lodge to call Steve and keep charging my battery.

I headed up the hill about 8:00. The wind had been increasing, and one of my new campsite mates, Vessica, was having a heck of a time staking down her MSR Hubba Hubba. I couldn’t help her, but the other person, Animal Lover, had a few ideas.

I rechecked all the stakes and guy lines, and brought my umbrella inside the tent. I opened it and anchored it down, providing a good wind block. Hat tip to Jan for the great idea!

Breakfast buffet tomorrow!

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