Book Five, Chapter Three – Up to the Timberline
Aug. 12: Seven Miles
Left Sisters at 4:30 and was hiking by 5. I accidentally packed out a roll of packing tape, which I discovered when I got to camp by 8:15. No wonder I was moving slow, all that weight! On the way I saw some mountain goats. I heard they’re supposedly stocked there to establish a herd, so that hunting permits can be sold.
Minutes later, I took in a cool sunset with the sun disappearing into the smoke layer.
Timberline Lodge is 90 miles from here, four days? Sure…
Aug. 13: 19.6 Miles
First sub-20 mile full day I can remember. I simply didn’t have it today, I realized because I forgot to eat in Sisters. I had a few things, sure, but my muscles and liver were empty of glycogen stores. I also was hiking on four hours of sleep; I can’t sleep in hotels. The hotel was nice, and I’m no longer filthy, but I just didn’t sleep.
I had saved this snack for a special occasion, and today was it.
Feeling better and more hopeful, I pushed on, vowing to rest and eat whenever I felt like I needed to.
I met up with Janet, whom I hadn’t seen since mile 681.
Camping tonight at Milk Creek, a beautiful stream and raging torrent of glacier water. Ice cold. I soaked my feet as best I could (too cold!) and did a little laundry. There’s nowhere to camp past this for eight miles of climbing through burn areas, and I don’t have that in me. I’ll make it an early night, and try again tomorrow, maybe to a little after Olallie Lake?
And more smoke.
Aug. 14: 21.6 Miles
Felt great. Hiked up around Mount Jefferson. Cool to see actual glaciers. It was like something prehistoric, or out of a movie.
There is a dead horse in Russell Creek. Pretty sad.
North of the mountain, the trail leveled off in a high plateau. Not only was this nice on my legs, but there were incredible views. Little ponds, fields of flowers, and utter silence. It was like the human race all left on a spaceship and I didn’t get the memo.
There I met Brittney, section hiker from Eugene. We hiked together all day. It sounds like she did it right, taking side trails, unmaintained routes from old guidebooks, etc. Some were on purpose, some not. Through it all she trusted in herself and her gear. She said she saw elk, and enormous frogs in the streams that she sometimes bushwhacked.
In a way it’s cooler than the PCT, although it took her most of an afternoon to do four miles. She lives on a farm and runs several Airbnb listings on the property. It was nice to talk to a real person about non-trail things, like raising chickens, for a change.
Olallie was tiny and they don’t accept resupply packages anymore. Thus, Brittney had no resupply, but she rolled with it, did a hiker box and snacks resupply instead, enough to get to Government Camp. I bought the beers. We did some swimming with a German guy who’s been section hiking for years, and then she dug in with me for three more miles to a lake.
Like I say out here, you gotta stay flexible.
Eleven hikers at the lake, and finally some SOBOs. From talking to them, there aren’t many bugs north of here, and it sounds like Washington is cool. Met a great couple, Mr. Miyagi and Sherpa. They had met the other Sherpa, a French guy I hiked with.
Forty-seven miles to timberline, 24 tomorrow to a campsite with toilets and maybe trail magic.
Aug. 15: 27 Miles
It turned out that the horse camp was only for horse people. And it was sucky. So I did 27.
Lots of easy hiking. Today I also briefly crossed into the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. I had mixed emotions about this. Hiked solo all day as usual, with Faceplant miles ahead and nobody else on trail that I know. Hungry, I’m not out of food (never happened yet) but I could use more snacks.
The day generally was OK, like any other. At mile 24 or so it started to suck but then Timothy Lake happened, with skinny dipping and laundry.
I’m getting eager for WA. I’m timing it almost perfectly to skip PCT Days at Cascade Locks. The last 500 miles. The last state. Having the luxury of taking painkillers.
Aug. 16: 21 Miles
Wouldn’t even one yeti in the area make the danger level high?
Got to Timberline at 5, after taking many breaks all day, and dealing with the Real World problem of getting an inspection sticker on my car.
The views of Mount Hood are ridiculous. It suddenly appears as you round a bend in the trail, I think by design. I mean, I think they cut the trail to obscure the view until the last possible moment, then, bam.
On past days there might have been a distant view, but not with all this smoke. I’m glad it worked out this way.
Note that the trail doesn’t go OVER the mountain.
I found no good food here; it’s all pretty pricey and lame. For instance, $8 for soup and they ran out of beer. How does a pub do that? The bar manager was also rude. I swapped shirts and wet-wiped anything stinky before I even came inside, too. Everyone raves about the buffet here, but as a vegetarian I’m not paying $25 for all you can eat pasta salad and bread.
I hung out with Faceplant and her family for a bit, then saw Steph aka Iron Chef now aka Buffalo. I had last seen her at mile 77, drinking beer and eating giant cheeseburgers on the deck at Carmen’s in Julian.
I have, again, way too much food. The problem, or a big part of it, is that you can only buy some food in large packages, i.e., you can’t buy just four tortillas. I could throw the extras away, but problem number two is that way back in Ashland I had no time to organize the stuff before mailing it. So I ended up with this brick of food… which I again don’t have time or a place to organize. I don’t imagine the people here want a full-on hiker trash “yard sale” as I repack everything in the lobby.
I cowboy camped on the side of a hill outside the lodge. My idea was to get in super early in the morning, charge my phone, maybe eat something, and then take off. And of course to use the Wi-Fi. I was up all night sliding off my half-deflated pad (it’s had a leak going on 1,000 miles), and woke with the stiffest neck imaginable. I think it’s from walking around yesterday with my pack on one shoulder. I’m reconsidering my no vitamin I rule.
Timberline Lodge is impressive, a throwback to when labor was cheap. Hand-carved 18- and 24-inch thick wooden beams, solid wood and proper metal fixtures everywhere, tile in the bathrooms, etc. Sadly, it’s all from WPA labor. There’s a lot of memorabilia from the heyday in the ’40s and ’50s, and lots of pictures where everyone is skinny and white, the women all wore sweaters, and the guys smoked pipes. It’s right out of a Devo video. The people were both literally and figuratively dancing on the volcano.
Alas, as the pastoral ’50s came to an end, so must my time here.
Two hard pulls to Cascade Locks!
Aug. 17: 17.4 Miles
Camping under power lines always reminds me of the night on the AT when Chocolate Thunder and I slept under a bridge in New Hampshire. He said we were taking a page from Tom Joad, and he might have been right.
I escaped from Timberline at about 10:30 today, and wasn’t sure how far I would get. Despite several long climbs, I managed to make some miles. The views helped. Ridiculous views of Mount Hood, a sketchy crossing of a glacial river, and views north into Washington with more volcanoes all helped.
Two interactions I had today I thought were pretty interesting. The first, and closest to my heart, was when I came upon a northbound thru-hiker who was standing there sobbing. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I am just tired.” I told her I knew exactly what she meant.
After checking that she had enough water, and assuring her that this was the last long climb before Cascade Locks (and it actually was), I pressed on.
The second was much shorter but I thought equally representative of trail life. I was taking a picture of Mount Hood in the sunset when an older hiker approached me heading south. He had the look of a weekend hiker about him. When he got to where I was standing, he said with a certain challenging smugness, “The glaciers are getting smaller.” Fearing a political or environmental diatribe, I said, “Oh, really,” and just kept walking. No time to hear a global warming or “this administration” rant.
Later on near the road where I am camping, I ran into a very low key but very well set up trail magic. This guy had everything, even down to ibuprofen and wet wipes. The thru-hiker from early earlier rolled in, looking much better. I had a couple of beers and was ready to take another trail angel up on her offer of camping, dinner, and a shower, but then I realized I would not get back to the trail until 9 in the morning. I gracefully declined the invitation. These days it’s still dark until about 6 a.m., but I intend to be on the trail then. Nine a.m. would have been too late, as you’ll see shortly.
Sleeping under power lines is a little creepy, because of the buzzing sounds. However, there is inevitably some sort of dirt access road underneath them, where you can set up a tent. This one is old enough that the road is even covered in grass; so much the better. Now I am just waiting for my couscous to soften so that I can eat dinner.
It’s actually chilly tonight. I put the fly on my tent for the first time in who knows how long. The downside is that it can trap your breath against it and get wet, but I’ll trust in the stiff breeze to keep enough air moving.
Aug. 18: 32.3 Miles
A personal best!
I pulled the 30 to get to Cascade Locks. Night hiked. Saw a scorpion. Rolled in at 9:30 and got an unsatisfying milkshake. After fumbling around on Thunder Island in the Columbia River, I found the tent city. Probably 200 tents. Cowboy camping in a park, with I-84 and a train (one per river bank) adding some noise along with the drunks and for some reason, fireworks upriver.
Earlier in the day I met a girl who lost a tracking pole; she was frantically looking for it back on the trail. We were in the middle of a wooded section, but I resisted the urge to suggest that she simply pick up a stick. Later I met a southbound hiker who told me congratulations. When I asked for what, she said for almost making it to Washington. It reminded me of this.
Shortly before I reached Cascade Locks, I ran into a fellow middle-aged hiker. After we talked for a few minutes, he asked me how old I was. I told him, and as he paused to collect his thoughts, I knew what he was going to say, so I cut him off. “Nothing works like it used to, does it?” I asked. “Fuckin-A!” he replied, laughing.
By 8:30 I had the headlamp on.
A PCT Daze at PCT Days
Until 1 a.m., I endured the shenanigans of partying hikers. At one point they were playing drunk Frisbee over where I was camped. Another group rolled in at midnight and set up their dinner circle ten feet away. I kept thinking, “They’ll go to sleep soon.” At 1 a.m., when one of them stepped on my sleeping pad while stumbling around, I had had enough. And, turning my headlamp on to its rarely-used War Emergency Power, full Death Star mode, blasted them all in the face and told them enough was enough. Things got very quiet after that.
At 5:30 before dawn, I was up, packed my dew-soaked quilt, and moved out. I ran into a woman, Cheesesteak, who like me was out looking for water. Unlike me, she was extremely hungover and desperate. I gave her half of what I had and I thought she was going to cry with gratitude. She’d been here partying since Thursday.
By 7 the hikers were up and the ALDHA-sponsored breakfast feeding frenzy was on. I caught up with a friend from last year’s attempt over a coffee.
This morning I caught the dedication of a monument to 50 years of the PCT. Cascade Locks is the only town where the trail goes through the town. Of course the mileage numbers are already wrong, but what’s clever is that the scale of the columns represents the total length. The distance from Mexico to here, and the distance from here to Canada.
I’m spending the day in Hood River, a much bigger town upriver. I need to buy and package 26 days of food, plan three reroutes around fires, and eat ice cream. Cascade Locks is too small to do anything but the last. The bus driver not only took pity on me and held up the bus when she saw me slouching along toward the stop, but let me and some other hikers on for free!
Tonight is laundry, food, and logistics. Tomorrow is back to Cascade Locks, ice cream and hiker trash, and maybe a dinnertime departure.
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