It took quite a while to shake off the thunderstorms and sporadic showers throughout the Cascades. Routefinding was frustrating and postholing even more so. Many sections still to this day lend themselves to traction or even an ice axe despite the snow softening and consolidating. Searching for the trail under snow, I regularly took to using my phone as navigation, though I should mention that a lot of these forests have countless “i blazes” chiseled into the trees long ago, which was very helpful. Sky Lakes Wilderness was a rather unforgiving test of my patience and confidence. It all became cumulative and the icing on the cake was an omnipresent cloud of mosquitoes that requires the blood of every living thru-hiker.
At some point I reached the outer limits of the wilderness area, with a promising next stop: Crater Lake National Park. Aside from the much-needed cafeteria food, I of course made my way up to the rim and enjoyed priceless views of the cobalt blue water surrounding Wizard Island and Phantom Ship. This park was as beautiful as it was iconic and I’m certainly glad to have spent time there resting up. Descending toward Diamond Lake, I felt the need to take pause for my sanity and allow a nearby hiker to catch up. Hiking alone in these sorts of conditions is simply no fun at all. I chose to hitch up to Bend, OR for a three-night stay. The waterfront was a beautiful and relaxing place to zero, while Crux and Ale Apothecary were to me the most enjoyable breweries near trail.
Mount Thielsen was very prominent, and the old PCT (a nearby alternate) was flat and snow free. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, swarmed us for the majority of the day. This was probably the worst section for bugs in my opinion, but others certainly were close runners-up. Once we got to a gas station to resupply and headed over to Shelter Cove, life was good again. A short walk uphill revealed a top-notch lunch opportunity in the luxurious Maiden Peak Shelter. As snow fell outside the wood stove produced invaluable warmth. By morning the snow had covered us in about three to four inches near Charlton Lake and it looked downright magical. Soon though, we were once again cold and wet, so we booked it a few days to elk lake.
Entering Central Oregon, we found some of the highest snowpack so far near The Sisters, and also some of the nicest peaks in the entire state. Luckily the trail was not very steep and the primary hurdle was walking through warped snow patches known as sun cups. A few glissades downhill and a series of lava flow sections brought us to Dee Wright Observatory, a unique little roadside attraction where tourists from all over struck up conversation. We must’ve looked terrible, but they insisted on giving us beer money, hazelnut snacks, and general well wishes. Some people are very kind to us and I won’t ever be able to thank them enough. After a free meal at the local Christian summer camp, I began feeling a bit spoiled by this section of trail.
Soon thereafter, we hiked into our last serious snow stretch, which offered up close views of Three Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson, but not without a cost. The snow here was mostly just patchy, but at times, steep and more annoying than anything else. Moving less than one mph, we crawled to camp that night tired and frustrated. The burn zones that followed, I found somewhat depressing after having hiked this section in the past. It was largely unrecognizable to me, with the exception of Olallie Lake Resort, an absolute gem of a stop that boosted our morale to say the least. The wildfire had been thankfully shielded at the borders of the resort, leaving an oasis of green.
Finally, the healthy forests returned in northern Oregon as we got closer to the border. Trail became snow free and big mile days were once again possible. The warm afternoons made it comfortable to go swimming in Timothy Lake, which was a treat. After climbing 4,000 feet, we arrived at Timberline Lodge, the architectural behemoth on the side of Mt. Hood. The main attraction for hikers here is widely agreed upon: the breakfast buffet. It’s been written about plenty I’m sure, but I want to echo that it’s every bit as delicious as they say. I ate more than I ever have probably, around six plates worth, which included mostly hash browns, french pastries, fresh fruit, and smoothies. Several cups of coffee and a lunchtime salad bar later, I threw in the towel. Digestion would take up the better part of my day.
Hiking beyond Mt. Hood, we encountered Ramona, Twister, Wy’east and Tunnel Falls, all more impressive than I anticipated. The alternate trail lived up to its reputation and walking into Cascade Locks was surreal. I finally began to feel like my body was capable of walking from state to state. Washington is sure to be a challenging chapter for me, but I can’t help but feel optimistic. Here’s to my next steps over Bridge Of The Gods, and everything that follows!
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