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.

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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