July 25, 2016, Mile 1960: Friends and a Magical Place

At North Mesa Creek, mile 1960

After a lazy morning with Hallie, over coffee(!), we said goodbye. Her goal was to reach Cascade Locks, 2144, in a few short days, to meet her parents. I fully expected to see redshift as she raced past me on the trail.

In more mundane news, my tent body zipper is rapidly reaching the end of its life. I had this problem last year, but figured a good bath would solve the problem.  Four nights in, I realized my hopes were in vain, and my bug mesh was fairly useless. Which is fine, except when you’re in central Oregon in July. Sigh. Pass the picaridin.

Today’s hike began with a hearty uphill. It’s interesting: the uphills here aren’t as steep as some of them at home, but they just seem tougher. No idea why that is. But tomorrow’s schedule is 17 miles and 3000+ foot gain, which is more than double today’s gain.

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At the summit, I met a group of about a dozen folks, who do small sections every year. They invited me to join them for lunch, and I probably sat around for 45 minutes, having a great time and great conversation.

The next stop was Sisters Mirror Lake, where I was able to get water. I met some of the same group, who had come down for water and a quick swim.

After I left Sisters Mirror Lake, I had one of those magical “blammo! in your face!” moments. Suddenly, I was on Wickiup Plain, which is just mile after mile of trail, all along the face of South Sister. At the very edge you can see old lava flows. Today it was sunny and windy, which was a perfect temperature. And there was *nobody* else in sight, for miles in all direction. What a privilege. It will be one of the favorite moments of my hike, I’m sure.

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I’m now at North Fork Mesa Creek, 1960, just me, a lovely creek, and my busted zipper. Early morning tomorrow, to get some climbing out of the way before the heat.

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July 26, 2016, Mile 1977: Vulcanology 101

At South Mathieu Lake, mile 1977

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You wouldn’t think 17 miles was any more or less difficult than earlier in this hike. Hah. Not this section. But I had to complete the 17 miles, which ended at a water source, because the following day was a 15 mile dry stretch.

The day started out in lovely fashion, with a visit to an unnamed pond, followed by more wonderful miles along the plain.

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The operative word later today was Vulcanology. Midday, I entered the Obsidian Limited Entry Area. There are several of these designated spaces along the trail, where PCT hikers can walk, but not camp or otherwise leave the trail corridor. Obsidian is just that: covered with obsidian shards. It really is pretty, although I pity the hiker with thin soles on their trail runners.

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If you look at the map for central Oregon, you’ll see several large lava fields. Today was my first, but definitely not last, encounter.

Once I exited Obsidian, the trail curved east and skirted its first lava field. It climbed (and climbed) up Opie Dilldock Pass, on the Collier Cinder Cone, which is a fascinating trail, cresting at 7000 ft. The tread was rough, rocky, and sometimes unstable, and it was very exposed to the heat. Interesting as it was, I was mighty glad to start descending on the other side.

The next several miles alternated between a cinder field and a lava bed. Again, really tough on the feet, pretty unstable, and mighty hot.

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From right, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson

I reached my destination, S. Mathieu Lake 1977, at eight. I said hi to the Scout troop in the next site, and crashed without further ado.

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.

Footnote: Riley’s body was found in August, 2019, in a extremely steep glacial area above Jefferson Park. He was recovered on September 3. His father Robin was there at the trailhead, waiting to take his boy back home. 

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.