After a satisfying night’s sleep, I woke to a misty morning. Then I hiked a quick 4.4 miles to the Big Lake Youth Camp. They had a PCT Center! A building with a huge table, kitchen, two showers, and laundry machines. I took a quick shower then hurried to the Lodge for breakfast, having timed my arrival around the meal. It was served buffet style. I had scrambled eggs, vegetarian sausage, granola w/ soy milk, two GF pancakes, applesauce, and coffee. It was heavenly!
Back in the center, I met Laura, the camp’s PCT coordinator. She was super friendly and helpful. Two other hikers arrived; Miki and Barrett, from Australia and Seattle. I had fun chatting with them while I organized my resupply and did WiFi stuff. Miki made the three of us capuccinos, using powder from the hiker box and guessing at the proper ratio.
Later than intended, I got back on trail and started my A-Ha playlist. The fun of being on my own is that I can stop whenever and all I need is a single tent sized spot!
So back to why I am solo. Well, Sandbag’s friend James joined the tramily for the rest of Oregon. While I’d have enjoyed meeting him, it means they’ll be slowing to 20ish mile days. I am getting off trail for five days on July 18. Since Oregon is cruise-y, it is an opportune time for me to make big miles and get ahead so that I am not behind when I return to the trail.
Anyway, six-ish miles from the youth camp, I entered the Mount Jefferson Wilderness and was overwhelmed by its beauty. A pile of large lava rocks reminded me of a giant turtle’s back submerged in a field of vegetation. Then there was Three Fingered Jack, a mountain with the appearance of a long, spiny dorsal fin. Where Northern California did not impress me, Oregon wins me over each day. I see why people walk the PCT time and again; I am falling head over heels for this trail!
Unfortunately, I got a poor night’s sleep. I simply wasn’t tired until after midnight, then I was chilled and kept waking. The silly part was I could have put on more clothes; a lesson for next time. When I got on trail, I warmed right up with several miles of deadfall calisthenics, woot!
At Rockpile Lake, I took a break and ate the second half of my breakfast. Sitting on a rock at the water’s edge, I excitedly spotted a salamander with external gills! I absolutely love spotting wild salamanders!
Late morning, I got tired and switched audiobooks to energize myself; it worked. In the early afternoon, I crossed several creeks full of glacial run-off water from Mt. Jefferson. The largest was Russell Creek and I went about 300 ft. upstream to find a spot where I could rock-hop across the milky white torrent.
Early evening found me in Jefferson Park, a flat, expansive alpine meadow filled with pond after pond, the PCT a ribbon of dirt winding amongst them. Then I ascended a steep ridge and entered the Mt. Hood Wilderness. In the distance, I saw my first trail view of Mt. Hood. By the time I descended one mile to a campsite, the sun was setting on the horizon.
A strong wind made erecting my tent tricky. As I worked on the second stake, the wind tore the first one loose and my tent went tumbling away. I chased it down and used a new strategy, putting a large rock on each corner stake. I felt exhausted and ready for sleep, having done 28.2 miles with 5,300 ft. of gain.
When I left my tent to pee, sunrise reflected off a nearby pond. The morning was calm and I had slept well, though not long enough. Immediately, I strode downhill for many miles.
What’s funny is I hadn’t thought about trail magic in a week, then near the Breitenbush campsite I saw a large, sealed bucket and felt a surge of hope, though it turned out to be a hiker’s resupply cache from last November. About ten miles later, as I hiked with increasing sleepiness and lowering spirits… a trail magic sign! I almost didn’t go, set on accomplishing a 30-mile day, yet I knew it’d lift my spirits. Plus, it’s not just about the miles, it’s also about the people and experiences.
The side trail to the magic giver’s sprinter van seemed to take forever (really it was only 1.3 miles round trip)… then I was at the oasis! Cheryl, our host, was amazing. I found her in a cluster of five hikers, none whom I recognized, all from Europe. She gave me watermelon and a Klondike bar. I drank a Gatorade. She told fascinating stories about documenting wetlands in Alaska. I got to pet her dog, Pistol. My spirits soared and I felt replenished.
Later, in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, I saw my first PCT black bear! It was teenager sized, ambling through the woods foraging for food. It paid me no mind.
When I told Cheryl that I was set on doing a big mile day, she cautioned me to listen to my body. In the end I did my first 30-mile day! Of course, then I was tempted to push the record further. Heeding her advice, I did a body check-in… and set up my tent.
The day’s initial 14 miles were fairly flat forest with the latter portion offering views of Timothy Lake. I took the short side trail to Little Crater Lake, totally worth it. The pond was crystal clear, with a blue hue worthy of its namesake. It dropped steeply to a depth of 45 ft. and a sign proclaimed that it was a chill 34 degrees. The top of a large pine tree was sunk in the depths.
In the afternoon, I climbed very gradually up the southern flank of Mt. Hood. Through the trees, I caught occasional glimpses of the impressive peak. Shortly after collecting water from a stream, I spotted a small, brown, fuzzy creature running up the trail before disappearing into the bushes. Though it was the size of a cat, it definitely wasn’t one. The day’s last 1.5 miles were onerous, the trail had the substance of beach sand. Happily, the reward was an unobstructed view of Mt. Hood.
After a 31.6-mile day (new record), I camped in the tree grove behind Timberline Lodge. It’s been fun testing my limits! Not without ill effects, my right toes felt numb and tingly. Research indicated that the numbness is called digitalgia paresthetica, it’s simply the result of walking a very long way with a heavy backpack. At least it took my second long trail to experience it.
Another night where I slept poorly… so I rose early and went to the lodge. Inside there was a cozy lounging area centered around a massive, multi-story fireplace. I enjoyed complimentary coffee while I charged devices. The lodge is known among thru-hikers for its breakfast buffet. My dear sister treated me to the $30 meal. Thank you! It was definitely worth the price. My favorite items were a goat cheese, spinach and tomato frittata, and a GF chocolate cake. I also loved the perfectly seasoned potatoes and fresh fruit and melon. When finished, I felt fully satisfied, but not uncomfortable.
After the big meal, I gave my body an hour to digest. Then I flew downhill, my body almost vibrating with caffeine. Directly before the Sandy River crossing, a group of hikers I met at the end of Mission Creek (in the desert section) called out to me. They were SoBo so we traded advice. The river was my first wet crossing in a while. I rolled up my pants and found a knee-deep point where the flow split in two.
At the next junction, I took an alternate that was slightly longer than the PCT. First came Ramona Falls. It cascaded over stairs of basalt columns in a picturesque manner. Then the trail followed a stream with mossy, fairy land banks and steep basalt cliffs to the right. It was a beautiful route and noticeably cooler than the PCT had been.
Due to my late start, I decided to camp after 21 miles. I intended to eat my dinner as I walked; however, I was crossing a rock field and heard a squeak. There was an adorable pika, so I settled on a rock and we watched one another as I ate. Why am I out here if not to enjoy such moments!
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