Backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon – Day 40 to Cascade Locks and the Finish Line

Day 40
Today’s Miles: 16.2
Total Miles: 459.5
Wahtum Lake to Cascade Locks – Finish Line

I woke up at 6:15 a.m. ready to greet my final day hiking the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I retrieved my food bag for the very last time, made my morning tea for the very last time, and enjoyed a beautiful, quiet, and peaceful morning by the lake.

Sitting on a rock near the lakeshore drinking my tea, I thought about my PCT journey. I wondered what it would feel like to be home later that day, and how I will feel when it’s all over. Life’s adventures are so bittersweet.

It was a beautiful morning. The light on the lake was pretty, creating perfect reflections in the stillness that came with zero wind.

Knowing we had a big day today, Carl and I were on the trail by 8:30 a.m. after topping off water bottles in preparation for the 12.5 waterless miles ahead.

Burn sections blanketed this final day, but also brought beautiful wildflowers. Mt. Hood popped into view behind us several times, while Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier provided the scenery in front.

These mountains would be the showstoppers if I continued into Washington, which still caused me to pang just a little. Plus, I knew this would be the perfect time to tackle the far more challenging state of Washington, now that I have my hiking legs. Starting at Cascade Locks on day one next year will be much harder. But, I was grateful I had the opportunity to hike all of Oregon, my home state I absolutely love.

I was so giddy to see signs pointing toward “Cascade Locks” and “Columbia River.” The reality of being almost home was sinking in – the end was really happening! The Washington mountains drawing closer and closer was further proof.

My book described a “haunted forest” – and it really was a bit spooky, but in a cool way.

Taking a break on a ledge with a view of Mt. Hood (I love a good rest with a view), we snacked and talked about back-home logistics.

I saw trail workers today for the very first time through Oregon. I’m sure this was Covid related. Before I started my hike, I did consider the trail might be extra challenging this year, because of the minimal trail maintenance, but it never got too bad. We enjoyed seeing them out there working, and said a gracious “thank you” as we passed.

Growing closer to Cascade Locks, I started recognizing trail names from my day hiking books. We were getting closer to home! Passing TeaKettle spring brought a smile to my face. Isn’t that the cutest name?

Carl and I hiked in silence for a while, and I spent this time reliving every single day of my PCT adventure in my mind. I could recall moments of each day; where I slept each night, the few people I met, what I ate for dinner, where I got water, sunsets and sunrises, and how many miles roughly I hiked.

I imagine it’s harder to do that when you hike the entire trail, but I was easily able to remember the details of every single day. I thought about the mishaps, the pain, frustration, soreness, mistakes, and fear. I thought about the joy, beauty, peace, quiet, solitude, thoughtful pondering, and all the amazing things I saw through my home state.

Over the next 4 miles, the PCT drops nearly 3,000 feet!

My book likened the descent down to the Columbia River to the Grand Canyon descent to the Colorado River, explaining it’s equal distance. Before I started heading down, I didn’t think it was possible, but now I know it is! It was truly one of the toughest sections in the entire state.

Seeing my first glimpse of the Columbia River was emotional. The finish line was now in sight! I felt giddy, sad, overwhelmed, and proud all at once, and it was a LONG way down.

The Columbia River seen through the trees.

It was tough on the knees, but when we passed some hikers going up, I was grateful for my northerly direction. I can’t imagine hiking up! I played around with using my trekking poles, but they made me feel clumsy and slow. It’s hard to switch to using them after not for 5 weeks.

Carl and I both went into, “We just gotta get there mode.” That descent was no joke! We did get many more glimpses of the river, and the small towns below, thanks, in part, to the Eagle Creek fire.

At a point that felt like halfway, we stopped for a proper break on a grassy knoll. It seemed like a spot where everyone took a break.

I got a tad grumpy toward the end of the descent. My knees hurt going downhill on a simple day hike with no pack, so adding the weight of a pack was serious business! The views were our saving grace, as well as discussing what kind of beer we would order at the brewery later in the day.

Very ready to be in a flat zone, it did come eventually. We crossed a couple of cute creeks and finally arrived at a familiar-looking wooden bridge over Dry Creek, (which is not appropriately named, since it always has water).

Carl and I recognized it immediately as a day hike to Dry Falls we did a couple of years ago. We reminisced about how we let Hux hike barefoot for a while as a toddler, and we had both our dogs still at the time. (One of them has since passed.)

Although we were only 2 miles from Bridge of the Gods, my finish line, I was starving and told Carl I wanted one final tuna wrap on the trail. We hunkered down right next to the creek where I enjoyed my very last break on this Oregon PCT adventure.

I took my boots off to soak my tired feet in the cold stream. We were both exhausted and sore – we rocked these past three days to make up for my itinerary mistake. (Missed it? Read all about it here.)

My tuna wrap was tasty, but I didn’t need to eat another one for a LONG time. Wanting a celebration at the finish line, I was in communication with a few people. It’s hard to celebrate too hard with Covid though, so we had a small welcoming crew planning to meet us.

The final 2 miles felt really long, and I looked at my PCT Halfmile’s app continuously, but at least they were flat, and the trail was lined with blackberries. Seeing the road that leads to Cascade Locks my smile was big. Someone left a trail magic box, but it was full of weird stuff, and I wouldn’t be needing trail magic for a while. It didn’t take long to have Bridge of the Gods pop into view, and my finish line was right in front of me.

The plan was to hike to the halfway point of the bridge, but we only went 20-30 feet for photo ops and called it good. The bridge was not created for foot traffic in mind, even though it’s the official PCT trail. You hike with the cars on a very narrow and grated bridge, and Carl doesn’t love heights. I figured I would walk across the whole thing when I hike Washington.

And just like that, I was done! I hiked the entire state of Oregon (except for those darn 2 miles out of Odell Lake.)

This moment is such a blur. I think I cried a little, I think I laughed a little, and I hugged Carl. I was so thankful he book-ended this adventure with me. He was by my side at mile one, and by my side at mile 455, and by my side every step of the way taking care of the homefront, our child, and making sure I had everything I needed. I couldn’t ask for a greater partner to share this crazy adventurous life with.

Our friend met us at the Bridge of the Gods and drove us to Thunder Island Brewery for our celebration beer and meal. I pictured us walking there, but our feet would have ached on that pavement, so I was very thankful for the ride.

I learned how to order and pay on my phone (Covid – things changed a little while I was in the wilderness).

I grinned thinking about all the moments I doubted myself. I remembered telling day hikers, “I’m trying to hike all of Oregon,” that first week, and how it turned to, “I’m hiking all of Oregon!” I had moments of wanting to quit, moments of wondering if the pain, fear, and loneliness were worth it. I had many moments wondering, why am I doing this? I had happy tears and sad tears throughout the journey.

Driving home was strange, being home was strange, and assimilating back into the “real” world was strange. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hike for 4-6 months if one is doing the entire trail, because it was tough to do just Oregon. I went from only thinking about where I was going, where I was sleeping, what I would be eating, and where the next water source is, to thinking about all the hundreds of things our modern lives bring to us.

The first few weeks back were a little tough. I was sad my journey was over. There is something transforming about only thinking about survival for 40 days, and I missed it. I pacified my hiking heart by buying all the other PCT section hiking books, planning my next adventures.

Thank You!

I want to send out a GIANT thank you to my support crew. My parents, who helped in many ways. My hiking partners who kept me company; Carl, Hadlie, and Michelle. Carl, for holding down the fort in my absence, and supporting me every step of the way. The lodges, restaurants, and stores that remained open during these crazy Covid times. Trail maintenance crews! And, all my fellow hikers who were safe on the trail, wearing masks, keeping distance, and learning to navigate this new pandemic reality. And finally, the PCT association for keeping the dream alive for all the backpackers out there.

Did you miss the beginning of my 2020 Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

Backpacking the PCT Oregon – Day 39 to Wahtum Lake

Day 39
Today’s Miles: 16.6
Total Miles: 443.3
Lolo Pass Trailhead Camp to Wahtum Lake

This morning, I woke up with reverence, thinking about how this would be my last full day on this 2020 PCT Oregon adventure! Tonight would be my last evening on the trail; the last time hanging my food bag, making dinner in my jetboil pot, and the last night sleeping in my tent. Only two more days of hiking!

It’s bittersweet like most things in life, but I’ve been daydreaming about hiking Southern California in the spring, and Washington for summer 2021, because now I’m officially addicted to the long-distance hiking life.

Although the PCT half-mile app indicated a spring 1.7 miles up the trail and my book describes it being one you can count on, I was a little worried about our water situation because of the warning back near Olallie lake I received. I asked the van campers if they had the Guthook app, and they did. It also showed the water source with plenty of flowing water.

With all that information, Carl and I decided we didn’t have to ration water. We ate oatmeal, had our tea and coffee, and packed up camp. I used the porta at the trailhead for some reason, but I should have just used the woods. It was in serious need of maintenance.

Since we arrived at camp in the dark last night, I missed the nice view of Mt. Hood from the road. The father/son duo passed us while we finished packing up camp, as well as the two ladies who took our picture yesterday. We headed out by 8:30 a.m. with nearly empty water bottles.

Carl and I crossed under giant powerlines, and in no time, we came to the nice running stream flowing down the hillside across the trail. I’m not sure what the guy near Olallie lake was talking about, but we were good to go for the day.

A woman filtering water at the stream was also hiking to Wahtum lake today. She was day hiking, while her husband was driving to the lake to meet her. I wonder if Carl and I will do similar things when we are older…

The trail offered a lot of beautiful views today. Mt. Hood looked farther and farther away. It’s hard to believe we were right at the base just yesterday. We also started seeing Washington state mountains. Again, my heart panged a little knowing I wouldn’t be traversing them in the coming days.

Hiking along the edge of the Bull Run Watershed, (where Portland Metro gets its drinking water) encompassed a big part of the day. I had never been up in this area before, so it was interesting to be near the “source.” We passed many “No Trespassing” signs.

Berries were the main theme of the day – various kinds lined the trail. I was still a little nervous about eating them, but they were so delicious. At one point, we passed the ladies (we would frog hop them all day), and we discussed berries.

They said they had been eating mouthfuls for the past two days, and they felt fine. This was the green light I was looking for. From this moment on, I ate handfuls of berries as I hiked, especially huckleberries (the mountain blueberry). It slowed us down a bit, but was so worth it.

A rocky hill beckoned to be climbed, so we dropped our packs and scrambled up the steep surface. The scene on the other side offered a view of the Bull Run Watershed.

Hiking right by Lost Lake was fun. We were high up on a ridge, so it was far below us, but we could still see floaties on the lake, and hear the joyful sounds of people. It looked busy (one of the reasons we still have not made it there).

The second half of the day provided gorgeous sweeping views and a very rocky trail. We were loving the scenery, but feeling tired and ready to be at the lake to enjoy some downtime for my final night.

I was planning on a nice break at Indian Springs camp to utilize the picnic table and see the springs, but there were people there, so we just kept hiking. I recognize how spoiled I was on my 2020 PCT journey – hiking amid the pandemic offered far fewer people to share the trail with than usual.

Washington mountains in the distance

We debated whether we should take the Eagle Creek alternate route trail, passing all the waterfalls, but I never confirmed if the trail was open after the 2017 Eagle Creek fire. We planned on Wahtum Lake being our destination, but kept an eye out for the Eagle Creek trail just in case. We never saw the first turnoff, but staying on the official PCT route felt right for me anyway, so it all worked out.

Washington Mountains Ahead

The final 3 miles to the lake felt like forever. We were tired from our long hike yesterday. A woman thru-hiker passed us at one point going twice our speed, she was cruising! A few final views of Mt. Hood at the end of our day helped us see how far we had come.

Spying the lake around 5:30 p.m. brought instant smiles. The first camp was the PCT group camp. I thought about staying there, and if I had been by myself I certainly would have, but Carl and I wanted a quiet final night.

I was worried the lake might be busy, but it wasn’t. Many of the camp spots were available, but of course, we wanted the “best” one, so we looked at them all. We snagged the very last site along the trail and dropped our packs. I ran up the trail to see if we were missing an even ‘better’ spot.

While I was gone scouting, a couple from the car campground (located up on the hill), came down to our spot to take a swim. They hung out for 90 minutes at our campsite, performing a full skinny dipping photo shoot. It was annoying – and funny – all at the same time.

We decided to take a dip on the other side of the birthday suit duo. It was getting cold, and we didn’t have a lot of sun left, but I figured I should swim in one final mountain lake before the end of my journey. We inspired two young ladies camping nearby to get in, but they didn’t last long.

The naked couple finally left our spot, and we could get settled. We made a chili-mac backpacker dinner Carl was really excited about. It was the hearty meal we needed for sure. The sun went down too quickly to dry our clothes out, so I would be hiking in a wet sports bra on my final day. The benefits of skinny dipping I suppose!

It was such a lovely evening – absolutely idyllic for my final night. I was so happy Carl finally got to camp someplace cool. In southern Oregon, we stayed in several car camping campgrounds, and a lodge, and last night was nothing special, but Wahtum lake is beautiful, peaceful, and serene.

The light played on the lake in a fun way, and there were NO SKEETERS – yay!

To top off the magical night, someone was playing a Native American flute – serenading us from across the lake. It couldn’t have been more perfect, and it felt like a spiritual closing ceremony to my big adventure.

I don’t think it could have been a better evening. A part of me was tried, and ready to be home, but I was equally sad my journey would end tomorrow.

Did you miss the beginning of my 2020 Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

PCT Oregon – Day 38 to Lolo Pass

Day 38
Today’s Miles: 17.6
Total Miles: 426.7
Timberline Lodge to Lolo Pass Trailhead

This was probably the most epic day of my entire Oregon PCT trek; full of big wow views, wonderful moments with Carl, a little bit of danger, and a REALLY long day. I’ve been anticipating this section from the planning phase for the three tricky water crossings, two “potentially dangerous” (according to my book). I purposefully planned to have someone do this leg with me because of them.

Thankfully, I was able to sleep in until 7 a.m. after my rough night of anxiety. We had a big hiking day ahead of us, so we were anxious to get on the trail, but equally wanted to enjoy the lodge for as long as possible since we paid for it. We enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant, and I took another shower, taking full advantage of amenities. Saying farewell to room 117, we hit the trail at 10 a.m.

We have three days to travel 49.8 miles down to Cascade Locks, where my Oregon PCT hike would come to an end. Mt. Hood definitely gave Jefferson Park and the Three Sisters Wilderness competition for top PCT Oregon sections. It was simply incredible. We definitely want to come back and hike the entire Mt. Hood Loop Trail that circumferences the mountain.

This was another day of hiking with a goofy grin on my face, because I REALLY love mountains, and I was so happy Carl could enjoy such breathtaking scenery with me.

Photo warning ahead: I took a lot of pictures as we had a roller coaster day of ups and downs in elevation. Leaving the lodge, we hiked under the chairlift and across several little seasonal streams.

More people were on the trail near the lodge than I was used to, but we kept our masks at the ready if the trail became crowded. We didn’t see hardly anyone after a few miles in, making the day that much more magical.

It didn’t take long to make our way down to the first of the two potentially dangerous water crossings – Zigzag River. There were a couple other hikers checking out route options. Since the water was low, it wasn’t a dangerous crossing at all, but I did want to keep my boots and feet dry if possible.

We watched one man trudge straight across at the trail, then watched a couple cross with just one leap between boulders up stream – followed with a thumbs up and a smile in our direction. We decided that was probably the easiest route.

After a quick water break we headed up stream. Of course, the water moved more swiftly in this section as it was forced into a smaller space, but it really was just a single leap across. Carl went first, dropped his pack, then came back over to grab my backpack for me. It was easy without my pack, but I would have been a tad nervous with it on. Just like that, the first potentially dangerous water crossing was over.

It wasn’t long before we got to the Paradise Park Loop Trail turnoff. The book highly recommended leaving the PCT, and hiking this parallel trail. For some reason, we opted to skip the first turnoff, thinking the second option was shorter.

It might have been shorter, but it was STRAIGHT UP! Although it was a tough climb, we went through beautiful wildflower meadows, and when we finally arrived at the Paradise Loop trail, we were absolutely blown away, and kicking ourselves for not taking the first turnoff.

It was out of this world beautiful. Mt. Hood stood so majestic right in front of us, and HUGE. There were little creeks all over, and wildflowers galore. I could have spent an entire week in this area, it was breathtaking, and it took us a few hours to get through this section because we were in no hurry for it to end.

I took a million photos, and we kept wanting to take little breaks to soak it all in. One of the luckiest aspects of our day, was seeing only two or three other people the entire time we were on this trail (mid-week hiking)!

A highlight of not only this day, but my entire Oregon hike, was discovering the flower below. We called it the Dr. Seuss flower, and it lined the trail and filled the meadows. It’s so COOL!

In my research after returning home, the flower is called Western Pasqueflower – a member of the Buttercup family, and this blog post explains more (with some additional fun photos).

One of our many snack breaks was an idyllic spot hidden in the cove of trees providing shade, a grand view of the mountain, and a gurgling creek below surrounded by flowers – so dreamy!

Shortly after, we came to wide open spaces with massive Mt. Hood to our right. That goofy grin never left my face. It was breathtaking.

Spying a huge boulder not far off the main trail, several spur trails beckoned for us to go check it out. It looked like a scene out of an alien movie.

Carl had to climb to the top, of course. Plaques on the rock memorialized two people. We took another break in the shade of one lone tree, never wanting to leave the side of the mountain.

We continued our way back toward the PCT, taking our time with every step, and stopping for just one more photo. I really loved all the little creeks crisscrossing the landscape, and the wildflowers around every turn.

The trail eventually wound back to the PCT, and we said farewell to grand Mt. Hood.

Two young women (we would see several more times in the coming days), offered to take a picture of us – and it’s one of my absolute favorites from my journey because it captures just how genuinely happy I was.

We were quickly approaching the Sandy River, and I knew this was probably going to be the trickiest crossing in Oregon. I was nervous. We stopped in a large camp not far from it, completely littered with trash. It was sad to see a place abused in such a manner. I picked up a few pieces of garbage to do my part, and hopefully some folks behind me did the same.

As we descended down, I saw a large creek, and thought that was our “dangerous” crossing, and was so excited thinking, “this will be easy.” However, hiking out onto an expansive rocky floodplain, I could hear water rushing. The Sandy was still in front of us.

My stomach dropped. The best time to cross rivers is in the morning before the snow melt, and it was now late in the day (4:30 p.m.). I assumed we would have to camp here for the night, because I wasn’t going to cross a rushing river. We popped over a hill, and spotted 8-10 people all in the process of crossing, and a man yells in our direction, “If you want help crossing; hurry, and do it now!”

Talk about AMAZING Trail timing. Even though there were people in the water helping folks across, my first instinct was, “No way, we will camp overnight!” The water was dirty brown, and something about it rushing down the valley off the mountain seemed so menacing.

Carl wouldn’t let me chicken out though, plus we were gifted with the help of all these people, and I knew that shouldn’t be wasted. We quickly took off our boots and socks, and threw on our flip flops. As I watched a young woman just casually cross the river to come get my bag, I realized it must not be that bad.

I was SO thankful she grabbed my backpack for me. Apparently, she carried everyone’s pack across that was in the various groups, and she could tell I was nervous. We actually watched the water level fluctuate by 6-12 inches in the short time we were there crossing, it was pretty wild.

We crossed a small slippery log with the assistance of two men thigh-deep in the water, then rock hopped the remaining section. Carl went first, and made it without incident. I nearly lost a flip flop, but one of the men speared it with his trekking poles as the current took it downstream.

Safely across, I felt so energized and proud of myself. It really wasn’t bad, especially with the help of all the people. And it looks like nothing in the photos. (I promise it was a little more scary than what the photos depict.)

We still had a lot of miles to hike, so we were happy to be across the river. If we cut today short, the next two days would be especially difficult. Carl insists we would have been fine crossing the river if it was just the two of us, but I was happy to have our little crew’s assistance.

While we all got our boots and socks back on, we watched a man cross over all on his own. He wobbled for a moment, and we thought he might fall in, but he used his momentum to thrust himself across safely.

Hiking up out of the Sandy River Basin, we came to the Ramona Falls junction. This morning Carl and I discussed whether we should add the mileage, especially since the falls is a fairly accessible day hike from Portland, but we decided it was worth the .3 mile detour. That hike has been on my “to-do” hiking list for years, but the popularity always steers me to another option. (I don’t love crowds.) Plus, the river crossing crew was heading that way, so it felt like the thing to do.

Adding “waterfall” to our epic day was appropriate, and it’s a beauty! There were a lot of people at the falls, and mostly backpackers, which surprised me. I assumed we would see throngs of day hikers. Running low on water, we decided filtering from the falls would be fun, so we took a decent break to enjoy the view, and have a snack. Fortunately, the base around the falls was huge, so there was plenty of space for distancing.

Everyone was filtering water from the falls. When Michelle and I experienced the Trail Magic near Olallie Lake, a fellow hiker warned me about a long stretch of waterless trail near Lolo Pass (our final destination for tonight). My book and PCT app told me otherwise, but the advice made me cautious, so we topped off just to be safe.

Leaving the falls at 5:45 p.m., with heavy watered down packs, we trucked it back to the PCT. It was a beautiful trail, and I would have loved to take my time, but we knew we were now racing the sun.

Muddy Fork Camp was the original destination for the night (before I realized I messed up my itinerary), and when we arrived, we were both ready to call it a day. Camping there would have been great, and we thought about it momentarily, but Carl was raring to go, and really wanted to push on. So, we faced our third, and final tricky water crossing for the day.

The trail crossed Muddy Fork River using two large downed trees. The bottom one is used to skirt your feet across, while the top one allows you to drape your body over to ensure you don’t fall, while the water rushes a few feet below.

I was stoked to have Carl. He cruised right over, and came back to take my pack across for me, similar to our first crossing. I think his height was a serious advantage. I took my time without a pack, and was still a little scared, especially since it was late in the day, and my body and mind were fatigued.

At 6:30 p.m., and facing 5.3 more miles to get to Lolo Pass, we started one of the toughest climbs in Oregon, (or maybe I was just exhausted from an already big day). The 2.5 miles up Bald Mountain kicked my butt, and I was moving slow. I wanted to hike quickly in our race with the sun, but my body just couldn’t do it.

I was slightly annoyed that Carl rocked it out so well. I’m the one that should have been in great shape after hiking nearly all of Oregon, but he cruised up that hill faster than me. Again, I think his long legs are an advantage. For me, it was one foot in front of the other.

We ran into the father / son pair who crossed the Sandy River with us, (saving my flip flop), and they were struggling too. The son was hiking all of Oregon as well, but started at Callahan’s Lodge for ease of trail access. His dad joined him at Olallie lake.

The sun was setting as we finally crested the Butte. We saw camping options at the top, but decided we should just get to Lolo Pass. Mt. Hood was now behind us, already looking so far away – how did that happen? Engulfed in that beautiful alpenglow, we stared for awhile, in awe of the majestic backdrop for our epic day, but light was fading quickly.

We found our headlamps so they would be at the ready when needed. Hiking across the ridge, I saw my first glimpse of Mt. Adams – the next mountain in the range. My heart sunk a little knowing I wouldn’t be hiking that far. Perhaps next year (2021) I would tackle some of Washington state, but for this year, Hood was my final volcano on my PCT Oregon adventure.

By the time we got to the edge of the ridge, we had to turn our headlamps on. This was my first PCT hike in the dark – it really was an epic day! Heading down those last two miles and descending
1000ft, I took the lead and booked it. Carl joked that he may have beat me on the uphill, but he had a hard time keeping up with me on the downhill. It was dark, and I was ready for camp!

We hiked for nearly 45 minutes in the dark. Luckily, we were in thick forest, so I don’t think we missed out on any grand views or anything, but I was really happy to not be hiking alone. Just a minute from camp, we passed a tent 6 inches off the trail in bushes with a very loud podcast playing from inside. It made us chuckle, but I assume the person felt safer a short distance from the designated camp.

It was 9:40 p.m. when we arrived at Lolo pass – we made it! I was nervous the camp would be full, but we got the entire place to ourselves. It was a not-so-scenic roadside trailhead camp, but it had a picnic table, and a big space for our tent; and suited our needs perfectly. One van was parked in the trailhead parking lot; we would see those folks the following morning.

After setting up the tent, we made the 2-person Pad Thai backpacker meal, which surprisingly was very different than the 1-person version, kinda odd, but equally good. We ate and fell asleep listening to the podcast down the trail. What a day!

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

Backpacking the PCT Oregon – Day 37 to Timberline Lodge

Day 37
Today’s Miles: 11.1
Total Miles: 409.1
Frog Lake (Wapinitia Pass) to Timberline Lodge

Despite hearing raucous in the campground into the wee hours (there’s always that one camp), I slept well. I got up at my usual hour, and retrieved the bear bag. It was SO heavy, now with food for two people. Michelle gave us an avocado before leaving yesterday evening, so Carl and I had a feast for breakfast; Idahoan potato wraps in tortillas with cheese – such delicacies!

My headlamp died while I was in the outhouse last night – it was so dark. Luckily, we would be staying at Timberline Lodge tonight, and all the devices could be charged.

I was beyond EXCITED that Carl got us a room. I had booked one before starting my hike, but cancelled it when I was in Bend because several things were up in the air, and I wasn’t sure which night I would land at the lodge. I didn’t want to get stuck paying for a room I didn’t use.

I was hoping Carl would splurge on a room. I dropped some hints over the last few days, but said we didn’t “need” it. This morning as I packed up camp, I daydreamed about my shower just a few hours away.

Today’s Hike

We started heading back to the PCT around 8 a.m., stopping in the campground to throw trash away, use the facilities, and pump water from the spigot. Thankfully, we didn’t have to filter water out of that lake!

Heading to Barlow Pass, we saw several backpackers, all heading back to their cars after a weekend of fun. I asked a woman how crowded the Twin Lakes camps were, and she confirmed the spots were pretty much taken. The decision to just hunker down at Frog Lake last night was wise.

Arriving at Barlow Pass around 11:30 a.m., we snagged the one picnic table available (I love my picnic tables), and fueled up for our big climb ahead. I was worried about today’s hike on my feet because they were incredibly achy yesterday afternoon, but thankfully, they seemed fine so far.

This area is historically interesting, with the first wagon road over the Cascade Range built in 1845.

Not long after our break, we came to the Mt. Hood Highway (OR 35), which marks the PCT 400-mile point from the California border. WOW! My mileage is a bit higher because of side trips to campsites off trail, but this felt like another big accomplishment, and a reminder that I’m nearly done.

We began the serious climb to the lodge. It was a tough trek as we gained nearly 3,000 feet over 10 miles, even raining on us a little, which is funny, because it rains every single time I’m with Carl (minus southern Oregon).

Stopping at a little creek-side camp, we met a couple of ladies we would see several more times over the next few days. We had similar hiking patterns.

The next section of climb was really tough, but it was also one of the most amazing eye-popping landscapes. As we left the shelter of the forest, Mt. Hood burst into view, and we landed on the doorstep of Oregon’s highest volcano.

Between the wildflowers, and the impressive mountain, a silly grin was permanently fixed to my face the rest of the day.

Exposed on the ridge above treeline, with definite storm clouds in the air, we felt a sense of urgency to get to the lodge, but the going was slow as the trail turned soft and sandy. Backpacking across sand is very tiring.

After some time, I finally remembered I had my trekking poles, and those helped some. Despite the gray sky, I stopped to take loads of photos.

At one point, Mt. Jefferson came into view behind us, and it looked SO far away. I couldn’t believe I was up on that mountain just a few days ago. That sensation never tires.

Mt Jefferson in the distance behind us
Mt. Jefferson

I was giddy spotting Timberline Lodge. Standing at 6,000 ft elevation, the iconic landmark looks so grandiose, and since it was only 3 p.m., we would have the whole afternoon and evening to enjoy it.

Crossing a couple of creeks, and spotting waterfalls in the distance, we hiked the final mile.

We were greeted with a mixture of people up for the day, fellow backpackers (some thru-hikers, and some weekenders), and some tourists staying the night. It was a little weird going inside a building, but we had our masks, and there weren’t many people inside, making it easy to keep distance.

Now, on Day 12 without a shower, I was a tad self conscious walking indoors. Thankfully, our room was ready, and we went straight there. Getting a room was a definite splurge for us. It wasn’t inexpensive, but it was worth every penny.

There was something extra special about hiking to a dreamy night of luxury. It was a well-deserved treat, and Carl and I both have August birthdays, so we figured this was our birthday gift to each other.

The room was quaint, but fantastic. We had a wonderful view of Mt. Hood, and I took the very BEST shower of my entire life. That was by far, the longest stretch without a shower I have ever endured, (or those around me endured).

I could have stayed under the stream of water for hours, but we were hungry, and beer sounded like a fun afternoon activity.

Pleased to have clean clothes to put on for our lodge-style relaxing, we started charging all our devices before heading to the bar. Grabbing our 16 oz refreshments, we snagged two wooden adirondack chairs outside with a towering mountain view.

As I always do before embarking on the next leg of my hike, I started reading through my book to learn about the upcoming miles, consider water sources, and take note of any areas of concern I should have on my radar. As I started adding up the mileage, and comparing it to my itinerary, something was really off. I made a mistake.

After going back and forth, I realized I missed an ENTIRE day of hiking. The plan was to have a casual, easy three days down to the Columbia River, with low mileage so we could take our time. I realized we needed to factor FOUR days of hiking to accomplish a casual trek.

Oh No! Hadlie was watching Hux for us. She had a work schedule to keep, and I was supposed to leave on a family camping trip the VERY next day after completing the PCT (I just never slow down). So, adding a day wasn’t in the cards.

The final leg of Oregon’s PCT

Now, instead of tomorrow being 11.9 miles, we needed to do 17.2. Basically, we had to add 11 miles over the stretch of the 3 days, which is totally doable, but put a wrinkle in our “casual” plan. I guess it’s amazing this was the only time I made a mistake in my itinerary. Poor Carl, he had some serious hiking coming up.

About half-way through our drinks, we made our way to the little cafe for food. We could tell a downpour was on the horizon, so we opted for an inside table, but right on the edge of the big open outside space, so we had a cover and fresh air – jackpot location! When the rain started pouring 20 minutes later, we were impressed with our forethought, as we watched all the outside folks make a run for it to inside tables.

We were pleasantly surprised the food was actually really good. After the rain subsided, we wandered – exploring all the nooks and crannies of the lodge. It really is such a unique place.

In the lodge museum room, the great berry debate was solved…mostly.

Our room came with free entrees at the restaurant, so we booked an 8 p.m. table, and got lucky with a window seat to watch the beautiful sunset. We felt like we needed to “dress up”…so I put on my least stained and ripped clothes I had with me.

Mt. Jefferson

We walked around a little more after dinner, hoping to see the stars, but the lights from the lodge were too bright for any descent stargazing. We went to bed at 10:30 p.m., and Carl was out right away, but my anxiousness crept in, and kept me awake until nearly 2 a.m.

It’s such a bummer when presented with the comfy bed and pillows, I can’t get to sleep. I guess my body and mind prefer the comfort of the hard ground on the trail now.

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

PCT Backpacking – Day 36 to Frog Lake at Wapinitia Pass

Day 36
Today’s Miles: 8.7
Total Miles: 398
Little Crater Lake Campground to Frog Lake (Wapinitia Pass)

We were on the trail by 8 a.m. Hadlie decided not to hike this section with us, the logistics became too complicated. However, the plan was in place for the Carls to meet us at the Frog Lake Day Use area this afternoon with the kids.

Not wanting to pass up the artesian spring water, we filtered from Little Crater Lake on our way to the PCT. The reflection in the water was just as beautiful as yesterday.

While we were getting water, three teenagers came to the shore in swimsuits, obviously preparing to take a dip. It was another chilly morning, I couldn’t imagine taking my layers off, (let alone go for a swim in 34(F) water), but, one of them succeeded plunging for a mere second or two – and our morning was underway!

It was a fairly uneventful day of hiking through the green tunnel, although we did ascend quite a bit now that the PCT was heading towards Mt. Hood with more seriousness. The trail offered a couple sneak peaks of the mountain, and it looked SO much closer today.

We kept hoping for a place to take a break with a view, but the trail never offered that scenario. Instead, we snacked at a big trailside camp with a couple other hikers.

At 1:20 p.m., we landed on the side of Hwy 26 – our hiking day was nearly over. This busy highway crossing could use a bridge or tunnel, the cars definitely did not slow down. After a few minutes, we just ran for it.

The Frog Lake junction was .01 miles down the trail, and we immediately experienced culture shock with the DROVES of people. The trailhead parking lot was packed with cars and activity; it was definitely a Saturday.

Hiking the .5 miles to Frog Lake, my feet ached like no other day. Perhaps it was the pavement, or my shoes were getting old for long-distance hiking standards, but I couldn’t wait to get those boots off and sit down.

The Frog Lake Campground was full of course, but my book mentioned a couple backcountry spots, so I had my fingers crossed I would find one empty. We asked the campground host about them, and she pointed us in the right direction.

Twin Lakes is another 2 miles north, just off the PCT, and I would have much rather backcountry camped there, but with so many cars in the parking lot, the close proximity this area is to the Portland Metro area, and the fact that it was a Saturday, led me to believe the Twin Lakes region would be pretty full too. With my feet hurting so bad, I had zero interest in hiking an extra 4 miles to go check it out with the slim chance a site would be available.

Walking across the meadow toward Frog Lake, we couldn’t believe the amount of people everywhere, and the number of floaties occupying space on the lake. The scene was slightly obnoxious after the solitude of backpacking, but it was definitely a Saturday, and the pandemic left everyone seeking safe outdoor activities close to home. I obviously could relate.

Luckily, the great outdoors is massive, and everyone was able to socially distance, so we weren’t at any health risk. I had never been to Frog Lake before, so maybe it always looked like this, pandemic or not.

Right away, I found a camp spot that would do for the night. It lacked wow factor, but I was just happy to have a place to sleep. Michelle and I walked along the north side of the lake looking for better spots, but there weren’t any.

Arriving at the Day Use Area, we snagged an empty shaded area with plenty of distance from others, and started the long wait for the boys (at this point, they hadn’t even left town yet).

I took my boots off immediately. There was plenty of people watching to pass the time. A group played cornhole in front of us, dogs ran all over, and a little girl lost her shoe in the murky lake.

People were swimming, but I never even got my feet wet – it seemed kinda gross to us. The families arrived at 4:30 p.m., and Huxley hardly noticed me with his buddy there to play with. We all hung out until 7:00ish, eating watermelon, drinking cold beer, and sharing stories from home, and on the trail. We haven’t spent much time with people since Covid, so this was an especially heartwarming reunion.

The kids had so much fun playing, and catching tadpoles. The crowds of people started leaving around 5 p.m., so it was a quieter evening. The view of Mt. Hood is really pretty from the far side of the lake. The next time I would see the mountain, I would be standing high upon it.

I sorted out the resupply bag, and I got clean clothes! Although, I’m not sure it helped much with my Day 11 no shower situation.

Hux got a ride home with Michelle and her family, while Carl stayed to join me for the final leg of my PCT Oregon journey. It was perfect how he bookended the trip, and I was happy to have his company for the grand finale.

I was so thankful Michelle joined me. I started the trek really looking forward to alone time, but quickly determined that backpacking is way more fun with a buddy.

After saying goodbye to the crew, Carl and I got settled into our little spot, and ate heavy (non dehydrated) food for dinner. Walking over to the campground to use the amenities, we saw some stars, but mostly saw lights from towns and cities. We didn’t feel very far away….yet.

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

Pacific Crest Trail Oregon – Day 35 to Little Crater Lake

Day 35
Today’s Miles: 14.8 miles
Total Miles: 389.3
Warm Springs Camp to Little Crater Lake Campground (.4 miles off the PCT)

With the faint white noise of the gurgling river nearby, I slept much better than usual last night. After the morning routine, we headed out – looking forward to another easy day of hiking ahead of us, with mostly flat trail.

The area became more and more familiar with each passing mile. I was getting close to home!

Large pinecones, and evidence of squirrel meals occupied our curiosity. Huge powerlines were part of the early day, and we crossed into the Mt. Hood National Forest at some point.

Squirrel’s Kitchen

Michelle wanted to do a little detour taking Miller Trail to Clackamas Lake Campground (the lake has since been replaced by a meadow).

This was a meaningful location for her family, and she wanted to pay tribute to her dear animal companions she lost earlier in the summer. It was an easy side trail to an empty campground. (I believe it was closed for repairs.)

❤️ In Loving Memory ❤️

I had never been to this area, so we explored a little, stopping at a picnic table near the Clackamas Lake Historic Ranger station for lunch. We took our shoes and socks off, and enjoyed an extended break.

We wandered through the Joe Graham Horse Camp, exploring abandoned, run-down buildings, and eventually found our way back to the PCT.

The iconic Pacific Crest Trail sign is definitely picture worthy! Here at the trailhead, a group of hikers, just completing their backpacking trip, tried really hard to give us food (i.e. Oreos and such), but we respectfully declined.

Wanting to avoid filtering water from Timothy Lake (with motor boats), we stopped along the Oak Grove Fork Clackamas River. A man joined us, also hiking all of Oregon, but SOBO – he was just getting started. He hiked the PCT in 2017, but missed many sections of Oregon because of the fires, so he was doing it over to see the parts he missed.

It reminded me of how extremely fortunate I was this year – every inch of the PCT through Oregon was accessible. Often times, the trail is diverted because of fires, or unsafe trail conditions (as it will be in 2021), from previous fire seasons.

Not long after filtering water, we got our first glimpse of Timothy Lake. I was giddy. Home was only 90 minutes away by car, and we camped here just last summer, so it felt cozy in familiarity.

All the car campgrounds were completely full, so we knew we would backcountry camp along the PCT skirting Timothy Lake. The very first site we came to was available, but it lacked the wow factor, and people were swimming at the shore, so we opted to keep going, assuming better spots were ahead.

But, it was a Friday, and Timothy Lake’s close proximity to the Metro area makes it BUSY. Plus, these “backcountry” spots, were very accessible to a road, as we saw people carrying large coolers, floaties, and camp chairs along the trail.

More critter activity

We hiked the whole 3 mile section, and every spot was taken. I wished for a designated PCT camp that the weekenders couldn’t use. I was feeling a little defeated, and annoyed by the time we arrived at the huge campsite at the end of the lake. This space could accommodate 30 thru-hikers, but one family already claimed it.

Deciding to shift gears, Michelle had the great idea to camp at Little Crater Lake Campground, just a mile ahead. She knew the campground was closed for the season, so we would have an excellent shot at hiking in and grabbing a spot, plus it was only .4 miles off the trail.

With that plan in place, we decided to enjoy the shore of Timothy Lake for a couple of hours, and celebrate. We had a little beach all to ourselves, and went swimming (day 10 with no shower), and drank whiskey vitamin C drinks. We ate my packet of olives I brought for a “special occasion.” It was truly one of the best afternoons on the trail.

We laughed, lounged in the sun, and enjoyed our private beach till nearly 7 p.m. It didn’t take long to get to the turnoff for Little Crater Lake after walking across bridges and boardwalks – the kids would have loved this little trail.

The lake was crystal clear, gorgeous, and tiny. It maintains a 34(F) temperature because of the underground springs. The reflection this evening was pretty spectacular as well.

Best news of all, there were plenty of campsites complete with amenities! We grabbed #10 arbitrarily, and set up tents, followed by dinner in the dark.

Wanting to stargaze, we walked back to the lake. The stars were magnificent, which felt like an appropriate grand finale for Michelle’s last night with me. I think she was looking forward to heading home the next day, and I definitely did a little daydreaming about riding home as well.

With the fire ban still in place, we crawled into sleeping bags not long after stargazing. A group of ladies camped a couple spots down from us. I felt very safe, content, and completely at ease on this particular night.

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

Backpacking Oregon’s Pacific Crest Trail – Day 34 to Warm Springs Camp

Day 34
Today’s Miles: 10
Total Miles: 374.5
Lemiti Meadows to Warm Springs Camp

It was cold and windy last night; probably the coldest night on the trail so far. I worried about Michelle because she had mentioned her sleeping bag zipper was broken. My tent flapped in the wind all night. I thought I had figured out a better system, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

Our thru-hiker campmate was long gone by the time we rolled out of our tents. It was hard to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag this morning, but when I finally did, I noticed a bunny on the trail leading to the food bags. I held off retrieving them, not wanting to disturb the wildlife, but finally went for it. The rabbit could care less, completely unbothered by our presence, and kept us company all morning.

Since we had an easy day ahead of us, we made a fire to warm up while enjoying breakfast and packing. The camp robber jays enjoyed watching us eat breakfast as well.

Hitting the trail around 9 a.m., we opted to try Cooper Spring half a mile up for water, because Lemiti creek was nearly dry and didn’t look appealing. It was a solid decision, as Cooper spring was far superior.

Michelle pumped water for us, and we both took off layers; the day was already warming up. Another thru-hiker joined us at the spring. He was doing a big section, but not the entire trail.

We had another day of easy hiking. I was grateful for her company. We never ran out of things to talk about, and we got along seamlessly. I felt bad these days weren’t overly scenic – definitely lacking the wow factor. We started with such a bang in Jefferson Park, which is an area hard to beat.

Lemiti Meadow

I also felt bad I was on day 9 without a shower. She assured me she couldn’t tell, but I think she was just being nice. This was certainly the longest stretch I had ever gone without bathing. I long passed my Burning Man and Country Fair records!

New types of flora, especially wildflowers, started lining the trail. We also endured some more burn sections, and a couple small lava flows.

Stopping for lunch at a rocky outcrop with a view of Mt. Hood, we both started checking in with people. Hadlie wanted to day hike another section with me, possibly Timothy Lake to Frog Lake, so I tried to coordinate that.

We also were communicating with our Carl’s (Michelle’s husband is a Carl too), and figuring out the logistics of the children, where to meet, how to exchange hiking buddies, etc. There were a lot of moving parts at the end of this leg.

We hiked right by a tree (shown below) barely standing. We assumed it was a favorite scratching post for the resident bear.

Next to a logging road, we noticed the activities of carpenter ants. We were pretty mesmerized by their hard work. Check out a little video from the link below.

It was only 3:20 p.m. when we arrived at Warm Springs Camp, but the next legal camping spot on the trail was Timothy Lake, 10 miles up, and we weren’t going to knock that out today, so we had the afternoon to relax.

With camping areas on both sides of the Warm Springs River (more of a creek this time of year), we opted for the northern option. It was a well-established camp, similar to last night, with great sitting logs, and a nice fire ring – but deep in the woods with very little sun and no views.

We were met with a very sweet heart-shaped pinecone greeting. For some reason it really tickled me, and I decided I might do the same in future camps.

We filtered water at the nearby river, and washed a couple clothing items (not in the river of course). I had a feeling someone would join us at some point, but no one did.

It was our last evening with a fire. The following day we would be entering Mt. Hood Wilderness again, with the fire ban in place.

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

Backpacking the PCT Oregon – Day 33 to Lemiti Meadows Camp

Day 33
Today’s Miles: 8.9
Total Miles: 364.5
Olallie Lake to Lemiti Meadows Camp

I got SO lucky with the weather on this trek – it rained again last night, but since I was camping with Carl, all of my backpacking things (including my tent) stayed dry.

We had an easy 8.9 mile day today, so we were in no rush, and enjoyed the morning with the boys. Michelle was able to dry her tent out in the sun, once it decided to pop out.

Cloudy, cold morning on Olallie Lake, Oregon

A morning fire would have been really nice, but it gradually warmed up. Carl made us all an epic breakfast of hash browns, veggie sausages, pancakes and loads of fruit. Michelle and I got all our resupply items sorted for our next four days.

Our support crew drove us to the trailhead to take pictures (so we could have a non-selfie). Hux ate a bunch of berries that we decided were safe. I still felt a little nervous about it – but that’s my nature. The little lake near the trailhead provided some entertainment before we got back on the trail around 1:30 p.m.

Head Lake

This was my easiest day on the trail. Nice and flat, with great conversation. We stopped on a bridge looking at pretty Jude lake. We wove through some not-so-pretty powerline, and clear-cut sections as well.

One peek of Mt. Hood showed us that we were still heading in the right direction.

Arriving at our destination in no time around 5 p.m., we could have kept going, but there weren’t any solid camping locations for several more miles, and Lemiti Creek camp was great.

It was the real-deal – spacious, with three separate spaces for groups of tents, and nice benches; one of the comfiest backcountry camps I encountered, although, not the most scenic.

We were now on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, so we were careful to follow the rules mentioned in my book:

  • Camp only in designated sites
  • No swimming or bathing in water sources (lakes/rivers)
  • No berry picking or other edibles
  • No gathering or cutting wood
  • Alcohol prohibited
  • Firearms prohibited

Interestingly, we could have a fire, which was a little confusing, but we took advantage of the awesome fire ring and enjoyed a cozy fire all night. I guess we did gather a little downed wood, but we mostly used pieces that were already piled in camp.

A thru-hiker joined us early in the evening. He had already hiked 24 miles, and wanted to get a few more in, but again, there weren’t any great camping options ahead. He was on his 3rd or 4th time hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail in consecutive summers. He had also hiked the Appalachian Trail, but he let us know he hated it, preferring the PCT.

After our initial conversation, he climbed into his tent, and we never saw him again. Michelle and I shared a Mac-n-Cheese backpacker meal, and a fun cobbler dessert. We intended to eat half of the cobbler since it was a serving for 4, and save the other half for breakfast, but we had no problems just finishing it.

The grey camp robber jays were in full force here, and none too shy. We settled into our tents after talking quietly around the fire for a bit. I was glad Michelle was with me. Our thru-hiker company was harmless, but a little rough around the edges, and I would have probably been a bit nervous had I been on my own. We prepared for a COLD night.

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

PCT Oregon – Day 32 to Olallie Lake

Day 32
Today’s Miles: 13
Total Miles: 355.6
Jefferson Park to Olallie Lake

Leaving Dreamy Jefferson Park Today

Michelle and I took our time with the morning routine. Neither of us really wanted to leave Jefferson Park, but we had some miles to get in, and the promise of a fresh homecooked meal at the end of our day. Carl, Hux, and a good friend would be meeting us at Olallie Campground to resupply the rest of our leg, and treat us to company and yummy food.

We made our way out of Jefferson Park, hiking by more lakes, checking out campsites for future visits, and talking about the logistics of bringing the whole family next time, (children and all).

We came across the impressive scat and prints below early in the morning. We guessed bear for the scat, but I’m not an expert. Please let me know in the comments if you can identify either.

I took a gazillion scenery pictures as well. Mount Jefferson is absolutely stunning from all sides. Accompany the mountain backdrop with sweeping meadows filled with wildflowers – it’s truly magical. My face hurt from smiling ear to ear all morning, overjoyed with the beauty around me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I rarely want to visit a location twice because of my desire to see it all, but…Jefferson Park would be an exception. I’ll just have to wait a few years for the fire restoration, and the reopening of trails. I have no doubt the wildflowers will be spectacular.

The assent out of the park was a doozy, but I’ve never enjoyed an uphill climb more. The mountain was behind us, so I had to keep turning my head around for just one more look. Hiking south next time would be a fun option.

Park Butte to the left of us was impressive as well, and I absolutely loved all the little creeks crossing the trail.

We made it near the top, and took a proper rest. I thought we had a view, but we should have held out for another 20-30 minutes, because my very favorite sight of the ENTIRE state of Oregon was waiting for us.

At the true “top” of the divide, magnificent Mount Jefferson was behind us with a panoramic view of Jefferson Park below, and in front of us was a large swath of exposed moonscape with Mt. Hood far off in the distance.

I could barely see the mountain, yet that was home, and my finish line was just on the other side.

My very first glimpse of Mt. Hood from the Pacific Crest Trail

I got a little teary-eyed seeing Mt. Hood. I felt so tiny in this massive landscape. Also, I couldn’t believe I had that far to go because it truly looked weeks away. At the same time, seeing it made me feel like the end was near because I knew by now how quickly those mountains on the horizon draw closer.

Notice Mt. Hood right between us

We made our way down over the lava field and patches of snow. I hiked over the snow slowly, since it was more like sheets of ice. Michelle cruised swiftly over them, but I was more unsure of my footing.

And just like that, we said farewell to Mount Jefferson, and began our journey toward the next Cascade mountain. We hiked by several small ponds, bountiful Heather lining the trail, and more burn sections to slog through.

Some sections of the trail were a bit precarious with fairly steep drop-offs.

We got another glimpse of Mt. Hood hovering behind Pyramid Butte. It already looked a little bit closer.

At the junction of the Oregon Skyline Rd. (FR 4220 heading to Breitenbush Lake), we topped off water at a tiny water source. We weren’t too excited about this water, but it would do. We also attempted to sign a self-issue permit, but saw the familiar note below.

Just as we were leaving, I saw a Trail Angel sign! This was my very first trail magic encounter. (Hiking in a pandemic and all…) Of course, I had to check it out. A man in a camper van treated us to cherries and sandwiches. His daughter did the entire PCT a year or two ago, so he wanted to give back on her behalf. I think being a Trail Angel would be loads of fun!

The thru-hiker I met a few days ago picking “Mountain Blueberries,” and trying to hitch a ride into the town of Sisters was also there. He traveled with pool noodles, explaining that he placed them between his pack and his hips to prevent soreness; plus he lost so much weight, it helped his pack fit better. I wish I could remember his trail name…

When the Trail Angel mentioned something about motorcycle riding in Idaho recently, Michelle prompted us to get going, later filling me in on the huge Covid outbreak at Sturgis recently. Eeek! So, I had a new thing to stress about the rest of the day, and it was a reminder of the “real-world.”

The next few hours dragged on. We were tired, and ready for our relaxing evening. We had more cliffside trails, and eventually made it to “Many Lakes Viewpoint,” complete with a sign. It was a great place to rest.

We sat down on big boulders, and took shoes and socks off. But, at nearly 5 p.m. and 3 miles still to hike, we reluctantly put boots back on our feet after only 20 minutes, and motivated forward. My blister was thankfully just turning into a giant callous, but still tender.

I told Carl we would probably arrive around 4:30 p.m., but I didn’t account for all the picture taking, and getting a late start. Thankfully, the final stretch was a pleasant stroll hiking by several lakes.

We decided to take a tiny “shortcut,” which had us leaving the PCT (never a good idea for me), but it seemed easy, according to my book. Taking the Red Lake Trail, we made it to beautiful Top Lake with no incident.

From this point, the signage was shabby. We continued on “the trail,” but when it became overrun, and ascending dramatically, it just didn’t feel right. So we hiked back to the tip of Top lake, planning to simply backtrack to the PCT. While feeling extremely defeated, I noticed a faint path circling the lake.

It was barely a trail, but I decided to check it out real quick – sure enough – this was the right trail! We weren’t 100% sure until we reached a trail junction mentioned in my book, then we could sigh with relief, knowing were were on the right track. I have only been to Olallie Lake one other time, and we got totally turned around on the trails that trip as well.

After 1.3 miles, we were SO happy to drop onto FR 4220 that navigates around Olallie lake – yay – we made it! It was a short .3 mile walk to the campground, and we saw our support crew immediately.

I felt bad we were coming in so late (6:45 p.m.), but we grabbed a huge camping spot right on the lakeshore, and had a relaxing evening – complete with amenities!

Carl made us a feast for dinner – meatless burgers and salad, and tons of chips and dips and cheeses. We had beer and cider to celebrate – Carl is truly the BEST Trail Angel! We were in a “no campfire” zone, so that was a bit of a bummer, because it got cold. Now on day 7 with no shower, a refreshing swim would have been nice, but Olallie Lake is a no-swimming lake.

Look how far away Mt. Jefferson already is! Hard to believe we were right at the base this morning.

Hux was a little clingy, so I ended up just going to bed with him at my usual backpacker bedtime. The stars were pretty spectacular, so the rest of the crew enjoyed drinks, conversation, and stargazing. Another epic day through Oregon in the books!

Camping mid-week awards the good campsites!
We snagged lucky #3!

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

Hiking the PCT Oregon – Day 31 to Jefferson Park

Day 31
Today’s Miles: 12
Total Miles: 342.6
Hanks Lake to Jefferson Park

Dreamy Jefferson Park

It’s with a heavy heart I write about this amazing day, knowing the area doesn’t look anything like my pictures after the fire swept through late summer, 2020. The beautiful landscape will rejuvenate of course, but I’ll be forever grateful I saw Jefferson Park before last year’s fire. It’s a solid reminder to seize opportunities. This link provides 2021 updates on trail closures in this area: PCT Oregon Trail Closures.

Today’s Hike

I stayed up much later than my usual trail bedtime last night, but having a hiking companion again was fabulous. Today was another big day of nervousness for me. The book describes two potentially dangerous water crossings, and I was anxious to get on the other side of both early in the day when the water level is at the lowest, as recommended.

Michelle joined me for this leg because she had been to Jefferson Park twice, and wanted to go back. Not knowing much about the area, I had zero expectations, but I was REALLY happy to have her company for the creek crossings so I wasn’t facing them alone, thus our meetup worked out perfectly.

We decided to hike down to Pamelia lake to connect to the Pacific Crest Trail, rather than hike back up the way I came down last night, which was extremely steep; it would have been a tough climb.

Michelle brought my trekking poles, which I really wanted for the crossings. I started the day hiking with them, and they proved extremely useful crossing the precarious creek near our camp, but I soon had Michelle strap them to my pack, finding them way too cumbersome. It’s really hard to hike 300+ miles a certain way, and then switch it up.

Hiking to Pamelia Lake was beautiful through lush forest, and many little creeks and cute bridges. I felt bad this is what Michelle hiked yesterday, but if you have to hike a trail twice, this was an excellent choice. Technically we needed a permit to even be on the trail, but luckily we never saw anyone – perhaps the benefit of a Monday.

We stepped into easy conversation while we hiked, and maintained that for the whole week. We were so busy chatting that on our way up the connecting trail, we realized we forgot to get water. We dropped our packs and ran back to Pamelia Lake.

Michelle had a pump filter, which complemented my gravity filter. We now had a tool for every water situation, and took turns filtering water through the week depending on the water source.

Once topped off, we made it back to the PCT – home sweet home! The trail makes you earn Jefferson park at the end of the day with a generous dose of ascent – but it’s worth it.

The first “potentially dangerous” water crossing was immediate – Milk Creek. Thankfully, the water was very low, and we found a place to easily rock hop across. My trekking poles gave me a little more confidence, which was nice. My balance isn’t what it used to be…

This hiking day is in the top 3 for all of Oregon. It was absolutely jaw-dropping beautiful. There is something so idyllic about a towering mountain in the background with water flowing down into the valley. We did hike through one burn section – giving Michelle a peek into my world the past few weeks, but the wildflowers were pretty, and the area was abuzz with hummingbirds.

We arrived at Russel Creek around 2:30 p.m. – the second potentially dangerous creek crossing. We met a family a mile back who said the crossing wasn’t bad, and advised us to look for the log upstream. It was a great tip, because I’m not sure we would have looked that far upstream on our own. This was definitely a trickier crossing than the first one, so we took a break before tackling it.

While we snacked, we watched an older couple with their dog simply cross right at the trail through the water, getting their boots and socks soaking wet. I asked Michelle if we should just do that, and she replied, “Nah, let’s try to keep our boots dry.”

The log crossing was only four or five steps, but the water was rushing, and seemed pretty deep because of the narrow spot. I was nervous, and Michelle offered to go first. She made it across easily, but I could see the sigh of relief on her face.

I started out using my trekking poles, but with the second step, the water was so deep, my pole didn’t touch ground. I felt my balance kilter ever so slightly by the surprise, and used my momentum to quickly get to the other side.

We were both safely across, and it was nice to give someone a high-five. Phew! I wouldn’t encounter another “potentially dangerous” crossing until up on Mt. Hood.

If you are a thru-hiker, you experience dozens of truly dangerous river crossings in California, so I’m sure this would be nothing to someone with all that experience, but there aren’t any opportunities to practice through Oregon, so it tested my nerves for sure.

From this point, we were only 1-2 miles from Jefferson Park, and the rest of the day had the big Wow Factor of 10. It’s appropriately named “park” because it was paradise, and almost looked planned and cared for in all the good ways.

We crossed meadow after meadow, all filled with wildflowers and little creeks, all the while with beautiful Mt. Jefferson providing the most majestic backdrop. I knew instantly I would have to return with Carl. It’s easily an area you can spend a few nights.

We stopped for a break and a swim at the very first lake we hiked by – Scout lake. I am now on Day 6 without a shower, so it was a lovely refreshing swim.

Sitting on rocks in the lake, we let the sun dry us off while eating crackers and cheese (thanks, Michelle!) I made a note to start adding cheese to my pack – it’s such a nice treat. We filtered water, and dreamed about a zero day tomorrow, never wanting to leave this magical wonderland.

Needing to find a camp for the night, we headed toward Bays Lake and quickly realized it might be difficult to find a spot. Our thinking changed from, let’s find the PERFECT location – to – we just need to find A location. Even on a Monday, every camp was accounted for.

We took dozens of pictures, and explored the area as we poked our heads into every camp nook along the way. Heading to another lake, we finally popped into a space that was empty – woohoo! It didn’t offer much of a view, so it wasn’t “perfect,” but it was a spot, and we were ready to settle in for the night.

But, Michelle quickly noticed smoke in the corner of camp, and we saw the ground smoldering under some trees.

Michelle went into immediate “action mode,” grabbing her heavy duty shovel out of her pack, and digging up the burnt dirt.

We had a fire to put out!

Apparently, Michelle came across the same scenario the last time she was in Jefferson Park, a big reason why she brings her turbo shovel.

Jefferson Park is a “no campfire zone,” and the smoldering ground was ironically right next to a sign reminding campers of this rule. Michelle assumed people started a small fire when it rained a few days back. She explained to me when a fire isn’t in a firepit ring, the heat can spread down into the ground and continue to burn for days, or weeks, without anyone noticing. This can obviously start a forest fire.

We poured all of our water we just filtered into the hole. Unfortunately, there was no easy access to the lake, so we trudged down a steep cliff two times, filling every container in our possession to pour onto the smoldering soil.

Once satisfied the forest would be saved this time, we walked around the area to survey the lake access because now we needed water for drinking and dinner.

On route, we found another camping location tucked way off the main trail that was far superior to the other spot. Woohoo! We figured we were rewarded for preventing the forest fire.

We moved our packs to our new home for the night. We now had our very own private pond (that would have made getting water for the fire a million times easier if we had known it was just right there). We had a view, and it was a wide open space – just perfect.

Our very own pond – full of salamanders.

We made Idahoan burritos, with the addition of sundried tomatoes Michelle brought. This was a serious flavor game changer for me, it was SO good. We watched the sunset while sipping hot-water whisky drinks.

We set up our tents in the dark. My headlamp died before I was done. Thank goodness I had Michelle with me, and her backup light. (She is an amazing trail partner – she has everything!)

Brilliant reflection in our little pond.

Earlier in the evening we noticed a telescope set up, so of course we had to go check it out, hoping someone would be there to identify some cool items in the sky. It was a big piece of equipment to lug all the way up here, so we assumed something amazing was to be seen. But when we arrived, no one was there, and we couldn’t see anything from our quick peek through the lens.

We continued star gazing from our own camp, enjoying the evening, and soaking our day in. It was a really lovely night.

Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here

%d bloggers like this: