PCT Oregon Day 28 – Zero Day on the McKenzie Pass

Day 28
Today’s Miles: 0 PCT Miles – 6 hiking miles
Total Miles: 290.25
Zero Day in and around Lava Camp Lake Campground

It was a beautiful typical central Oregon morning; sunny, frosty and cold. I woke up before the boys; got a fire started, made some tea, and wrote in my journal sitting in a comfy camp chair – amenities of car camping I don’t take for granted. The campground was quiet and peaceful.

Creating a zero day turned into a solid plan. My body was tired from yesterday, and the following day would be my toughest and longest day of hiking so far, plus it aligned perfectly with the weather.

I draped my wet tent over chairs and rocks to dry in the sun. I was so happy all my belongings wouldn’t be wet for tomorrow’s hike.

Carl and I made a feast for breakfast and drank mimosas. With no real agenda for the day, we simply enjoyed a relaxing morning watching the ground squirrels steal dog food out of Jasmine’s bowl, walking around the lake, and playing in the water. Carl and Hux did a little parkour, and found a nature teeter-totter.

We left camp for the afternoon to explore, stopping at the Dee Wright Observatory first, which is nearly across the street from the Lava Camp Lake Campground.

I was blown away by the sight of the mountains on the horizon. In yesterday’s fog, I couldn’t see any of them, but the clear skies revealed what I missed yesterday; and what I would soon approach, wrap around, and leave behind, as I continue hiking north.

A view of my future – tomorrow’s hike

The observatory also offered me a glimpse of the giant lava flow I would traverse tomorrow morning.

Out of the entire state, I was most nervous about this upcoming leg.

My book describes hikers doing the section at night because the hike can be so brutal with very little shade, very few camp spots, and no water for 16+ miles. I have zero experience night hiking, so I wasn’t going to attempt that alone.

Big Lake normally offers hikers a reprieve with a place to camp for the night about halfway through the section, but they closed this year due to Covid.

Additionally, this was the only day I wanted my trekking poles, and unfortunately Carl forgot them, (he had a million things to remember, so nothing I was upset about), but it made me extra nervous heading into the cinder covered trails.

Travelling down the McKenzie Scenic Highway, we stopped at the Linton Lake Trailhead. Of course, we had to get a little hike in! The trail was so beautiful with lush forest. Significantly more lush than the majority of the PCT because of the elevation. Linton Lake is only at 2,000 ft., for example.

Hux and Jasmine ran the entire 2 miles to the lake. This is not unusual behavior; the kid loves to hike (and run), especially in nature. My heart was so full and happy hiking with my loves. We took a side trail to the lake, and skirted around the shore to a point.

There were a lot of birds in the area. Carl and I wanted to swim, but felt a tad cautious with all the avian activity, not knowing what was in the water. I was on day 3 without a shower, so a refreshing dip sounded great.

After minutes of deliberation, we both jumped in. It was COLD – so I didn’t stay long.

On our return trip, I was worried Hux expended all his energy the first 2 miles, and would request a shoulder ride, but he ran the whole way back too.

We drove down the road stopping at Proxy Falls, a 1.5 mile hiking loop. It was getting late, but we figured we should do it while we were in the area, and Hux loves waterfalls (don’t we all).

It was probably closer to 2 miles after adding the scrambling around both waterfalls.

We had to decide if we wanted to drive back up the winding McKenzie Highway, or drive down to Hwy 126 to connect with Hwy 20, making a full loop of the day. We opted for the later thinking it would be longer, but faster.

I’m not sure we made the most efficient choice, but it was cool to pass the PCT trailhead on Hwy 20, knowing I would be hiking all the way to that location the next day.

We drove the whole loop. Notice the PCT dotted trail through the middle.

We were also successful in getting into cell range (there is none at Lava Camp Lake Campground for Verizon). I needed to coordinate with my friend, Michelle (and potential hiking buddy), who was supposed to be joining me for a week very soon.

She had some unexpected life happenings unfold while I was on the trail, so her plans were up in the air. I wasn’t sure if she was still meeting me, and if so, when and where. The shape my next two days would take varied significantly depending on what news I heard from her.

As soon as I got service, a message from Michelle appeared. She was able to meet me at our predetermined day and location – the plan was on! I was SO excited I would have a hiking buddy in two days. However, this meant I had a 24-mile hiking day to complete tomorrow – my biggest day yet – followed by a 17-mile day to meet her.

I have never done anything over 20 miles without a zero day following, so the 17-mile day made me nervous. Plus, tomorrow’s lava rock terrain would be difficult, slowing the hiking speed down significantly. This would be my biggest challenge yet, but I was excited to test myself.

We stopped at the grocery store to buy marshmallows for Hux before heading back to camp, arriving around 8 p.m. YIKES!

Carl made dinner while I started to organize myself for the next 4 days and 3 nights.

I was looking at a 9-day stretch, and carrying that much food (and full water bottles for tomorrow), was intimidating. I asked Carl if he could meet me and Michelle at Olallie Lake in 4 days. Of course he said yes, even though I’m sure he wanted to say no. It was a lot of work on his part to meet me with our little guy, but he is AMAZING.

Packing in the dark, and thinking about my resupply was stressful. I was worried I would forget something important. When I have zero days, my things end up all over making it easy for an item to be left behind.

I needed to get hiking tomorrow at daybreak to beat the heat, and ensure I had enough time in my day to hike 24 miles. At some point, Hux fell asleep in a chair next to the fire. He NEVER falls asleep like that; he must have been exhausted. He didn’t even roast a marshmallow.

I crawled into my sleeping bag around midnight thinking about tackling my big day ahead on very little sleep, but feeling full in the love department after a wonderful day.

One of my favorite photos…

PCT Oregon – Day 27 to Lava Camp Lake Campground

Day 27
Today’s Miles: 18.05
Total Miles: 290.25
Reese Lake to Lava Camp Lake Campground

If yesterday’s hike from Elk Lake to Reese Lake was epic, today’s hike was definitely memorable. It took me 5 full days to backpack from Odell Lake (Willamette Pass) up to Lava Camp Lake Campground (McKenzie Pass) – 79.25 miles. Of course, that leg was divided with my zero days in Bend, but it did include some big hiking days.

After enduring a typical night of restless sleep, I was ready to get up early and start my day. No one else in camp was stirring, so I tried to pack up my things as quickly and quietly as possible.

My tent was still wet from the evening’s rain. This was the first time I encountered that dilemma on the trail, and I took a moment to acknowledge how lucky I was, and felt grateful.

Fortunately, I had tied my food bag up not far off the PCT, so I easily grabbed it as I headed north.

The Husband (Mountain)

About .25 miles up the trail, I spotted the perfect location for my morning routine. A hill with a 360-degree view, and no campers in site. I couldn’t believe my luck. I made oatmeal and black tea, and enjoyed my breakfast with mountains in all directions. Unfortunately, the only mountain not shrouded in cloud cover was The Husband (photo above).

My morning hill – all to myself

The sun popped over one of the mountains, warming up the day.

As I left my morning spot, I noticed these lines in the soil everywhere. I assume it’s the art of a critter. Does anyone know? (Use the comment section below.)

I was disappointed my views were obscured since the area is known for the panoramas, but it was simply a foreshadowing of my day. However, the wildflowers did not disappoint!

When I arrived on the doorstep of Middle Sister, I could only see the bottom 1/3 of the mountain. I decided this was all the more reason to return with Carl. It was still a gorgeous scene, and I took a moment to relax on a large rock, and just enjoy the quiet morning.

Not long after, the fog rolled in and the wet day began.

The air was moist, and although there was no rain, I was definitely becoming damp. It wasn’t bad for the first few hours. The weather was so unusual and different, it made for an eerie day of hiking (which was kinda fun), and unique pictures.

I saw people today, despite the wet conditions, especially as I entered the Obsidian Limited Entry area. I understood why it was so popular, it was beautiful.

Thankfully, if you are a Pacific Crest Trail hiker, you don’t need a permit to pass through, as long as you stick to the PCT. However, you will need a permit if you want to camp in the limited entry area.

It wasn’t long before I spotted the obsidian. I have a feeling there are fewer pieces along the trail than in the not-so-distant past.

I took a break near a tree to enjoy Obsidian Falls, my very first waterfall on the PCT!

Shortly after, I had to get my raincoat out as the mist turned into a light rain. I resisted for awhile, but it became necessary, and I kept it on the remainder of the day.

The trail wandered through a spectacular area north of the falls. I felt like I was walking through a fairy wonderland. On a warm day, I would have lingered through the meadows along Obsidian Creek, and past the ponds. I was happy knowing I would return and spend more time.

It was hard to look away from the obsidian rock along the trail. Mix the wildflowers into the ground covering, and I had to remind myself to look up.

One last look behind me…

There were patches of snow sprinkled through this section, and I was certainly getting chilly. I considered putting my rain pants on several times, but never mustered the effort. I only saw two other people rocking full rain gear the whole day.

At this point on the trail, I would have seen my first glimpse of the western wall of 10,085-foot North Sister, and a preview of Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. Thankfully, I didn’t know I was missing out on this spectacular panorama at the time. It wasn’t until I reread my trail book to prepare this post that I noticed those details.

There wasn’t an inkling of any mountains in my view. However, I am bit of a rock nerd, so I was happy to continue focusing my gaze downward.

Despite being cold and wet, my spirits were high. The area was so pretty, it was difficult not to smile as I hiked through the wildflower filled meadows and along the gurgling creeks.

After exiting the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, I read in my book that the trail would be fairly exposed the rest of the day. I took advantage of the last tree cover, and found a log for lunch. I made a tuna wrap, and fueled up. I saw three sets of people pass by in my 20 minute break; it was going to be a busy weekend.

Up next – the brutal section! I’m sure on a nice day, these lava flow crossings would be a really cool section of trail, otherworldly I dare say, with amazing sweeping views. But, I couldn’t see any views, and the wind picked up, making me increasingly wetter.

It was an immediate BIG climb of switchbacks, and I was very exposed. The wind beat against my face, and it took all my strength to trudge forward.

I thought of my grandmother telling us to simply put one foot in front of the other. If you keep it up, you will eventually make it to the end of the trail.

If I wasn’t soaked before, I was now. I felt like a mountaineer, braving the fierce weather conditions to summit. It was difficult, and the joy of the day quickly dissipated. My mantra became, “I just have to get there.”

I thought about how lucky I was to have 100% dry hiking days until today. This was the first rain I encountered through the entire state (and really, the only big hiking day of wet on my whole journey through Oregon).

I don’t think I would fare well on the Appalachian trail, it’s too soggy. The weather, much like the mosquitoes, can break you backpacking. It doesn’t make me particularly suited for any kind of thru-hiking lifestyle if I’m a fair-weather hiker. I guess we all have levels of comfort to work on, and toughen up.

To top it off, I unfortunately grabbed the wrong backpack rain cover (my small daypack one), so I knew my things were getting damp, if not soaked.

Just before I began descending switchbacks to get off the ridge, I came to the location my book describes:

“…an incredible 360-degree panorama opens up over Oregon’s entire Central Cascades region. This is quite possibly the biggest view in the entire state, another one of those humbling scenes…”

What I could have seen is shown in the photo above (taken from my book). The below two photos highlight what I saw.

Thankfully, I had no idea what I was missing out on while I was hiking. I didn’t realize this section held the most epic panorama the entire state offered, until I reread my book preparing this post. But, this is all the more reason to return to the area.

The trail became dirt when I skirted along the lava flow, and turned to cinders when it popped back across. Sometimes the trail was sand, making hiking very difficult. In general, my footing was challenged these several miles, and I thought about my ankle injury from the cinders near Fish Lake. I hiked with caution, while also trying to hike swiftly.

The final 7 miles of my day were challenging mentally as well. The only thing that kept me going was my excitement to see Carl, Hux and my parents at the campground. I was tired, wet, cold, and barely stopped for breaks, even to grab food out of my pack.

I did have one final saving grace for scenery, this beautiful meadow shown below.

However, the last 4 miles really dragged on as I hiked through burnt forest leaving me exposed. The drizzle turned into rain, and puddles formed on the trail.

I passed a lot of people heading south. It was Thursday, so I assumed groups were getting a jump on their weekend. The Lava Camp Lake Campground trailhead is a popular launching spot.

In those final 2 miles, I had to resist the urge to check my PCT app every 5 minutes to see how much farther.

Passing by the Matthieu lakes, I saw several tents set up, and wondered why leisurely weekenders would want to camp in the rain.

I started daydreaming about a dry hotel room. Car camping in the rain never sounds appealing, but especially at the end of this day. All day I kept thinking I would hike out of the storm, and it would be nice and sunny at my final destination, but that clearly never came to fruition.

I finally saw the sign indicating the cutoff for the campground at 4:17 p.m. – I only had .2 miles to go! I made good time the second half of my day with no stops, and minimal picture taking.

The parking lot for the trailhead was full. Thankfully, my mom and dad arrived early with Hux and snagged us a camping spot. Indeed, the very best camping spot on the lake! Carl already had the canopy up, but I suggested we find a hotel room. I was excited to see my welcome committee, but I was in no mood to camp in the rain, and I was pretty grumpy.

It didn’t take long for the sun to pop out.

Carl, knowing me really well, got a fire going to warm me up, brought me warm miso soup, vegetable sushi rolls, and I felt better in no time. My mom said it was supposed to be a great dry day tomorrow, and she was right.

We turned the truck on, and spread my sleeping bag out to dry. Everything in my pack was damp, with a few really wet things, but everything dried just fine. Talk about more luck! Even on the one day I get wet hiking, I’m able to dry it all. (I am fully aware of how spoiled I was on my journey.)

It stopped raining, and the sun came out. I was glad we decided to stay. No need to pay a bunch of money on a hotel room, when you can camp for free. (Lava Camp Lake Campground is a fee free spot.)

An additional surprise was seeing my sweet Jasmine dog. It had been weeks.

Hux was really happy finding firewood, and toting it to camp. He did great on his first sleepover with grandma and grandpa. My parents visited with us for an hour around the fire.

Now that I was getting closer to home (Portland), this was their end of helping me through my PCT journey. Carl would take over for the remaining resupply boxes, and really, my adventure was winding down.

I am forever grateful for all my parents did to support my endeavor. They really made my experience far more comfortable, fun, and easy.

Hux and I walked the trail around the lake. The campground looked so different from the last time I was here, 14 years ago. The fire that swept through changed the landscape significantly, but memories certainly turn fuzzy as well.

View of our campsite from the other side of the lake

In typical wonderful fashion, Carl made me a healthy delicious dinner of fish, fresh veggies from our garden, and rice. He amazed me again with his thoughtfulness, and my love for him continued to grow and grow on the trail.

I surprised us both when I emerged from the tent after getting Hux to sleep. We drank red wine sitting by the fire, and caught up on life. I shared my trail stories, and he shared what was going on back home. The sky cleared, and we could actually see the stars popping out. Lucky #6 campsite was good to us, and I was happy to be home with my family.

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

Backpacking the PCT – Day 26 to Reese Lake

Day 26
Today’s Miles: 13.9
Total Miles: 272.2
Elk Lake to Reese Lake

This particular day was EPIC. It was the first day on the Pacific Crest trail that I cried from pure joy and awe, as I was filled with that magic feeling of appreciating everything around me, and overwhelmed with the emotion of gratitude. I also took A LOT of photos – so photo warning – this post is full of them.

If you have to chose between the bottom half of Oregon or the top half; hands down, the top half has more wows. I’m so happy I hiked the entire state, and I found beauty in every single day, but I really love mountains, and you are up close to several in the top half of Oregon.

As much as I enjoyed relaxing in Bend over a few zero days, and spending time with Hux, I was ready to get back to my hike. Hux was equally ready to have his two-day solo adventure with grandma and grandpa. My parents drove me back up to the trailhead across from the Elk Lake resort.

My little guy didn’t even bat an eye as he said, “Bye mom, have fun!” He was used to his new trail mom, and he was heading to Elk Lake to hang for the day. We would all see each other again tomorrow night at Lava Lake Campground.

After a last stop at the vault toilet near the trailhead, I was on my way, hitting the trail by 10 a.m.

I saw my familiar trail print friend right away. This made me smile, and provided comfort as I began my day.

The first seven miles were tough, and not particularly interesting. I steadily climbed the switchbacks of Koosah Mountain, the 381st highest mountain in Oregon.

With an ascent of 1200 ft, I was happy to take a break to enjoy the view of South Sister and Broken Top to the north, Mt. Bachelor to the east, and Elk & Lava lakes and Diamond Peak to the south. I sat on some large rocks breathing in the late morning air. It felt good to get the hard part of the day over with early.

I didn’t see another hiker this entire section, but I knew I was entering the heavily used trails of central Oregon. For the first time on the PCT, I was actually a little worried about finding a campsite later in the day.

Descending switchbacks took me to the first of many meadows, all filled with wildflowers. The trail skirted by a cute pond, then the shore of Mirror Lake.

I tried to have lunch at the lake, but the skeeters were abundant, and I was greeted with my first groups of people, so I didn’t linger long.

I purposefully planned this section for mid-week. I would avoid this area on a weekend, even when I wasn’t scared of crowds in a non-pandemic year.

Leaving Mirror Lake, I was thinking this leg was pretty, but not on the wowza scale I had heard it would be. However, when I turned the next corner, I was BLOWN away by the breathtaking view of South Sister, and the beautiful pumice meadow (Wickiup Plain) leading me all the way to the base.

It was incredible, and I was truly choked up with emotion. Central Oregon is where I grew up, yet I had never seen this particular view. I got SO lucky, I had the entire section to myself, I never saw another hiker as I traveled through the plain.

I took many pictures, took my time, and took a moment to be thankful for all the people who helped this dream of mine become a reality. I was thankful events unfolded in a way that allowed me this opportunity, and I was proud of myself for being brave, and sticking to it during those times I thought about quitting.

I couldn’t believe just a day or two ago I considered heading home instead of continuing. I would have missed out on this AMAZING scene. My trail book author agreed:

“If you suddenly have the urge to drop your pack to sit and marvel at this scene for a while, go for it. This is why you’re hiking the PCT.”
Eli Boschetto, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon Guide Book

I thought of Carl, and wished he had been able to join me, but quickly decided we would come back together and explore the area. I’m not one to visit a location twice, there’s too much to see in one’s lifetime, but this would be a definite exception.

The rest of the day had the wow factor, and I wore a goofy grin nonstop. I was truly so so so happy.

Just pass South Sister, the trail travelled along Rock Mesa, a rhyodacite dome formation. This was my first spotting of smooth glassy obsidian rock on the trail, and my first spotting of my trail friend print going the OTHER (wrong) direction! What?

This could only mean one thing, more than one person was leaving this mark along the trail. I know this sounds funny, and in hindsight it is, but I was crushed with this realization.

Up until this point, I truly felt there was one person leading the way, guiding me along the PCT. Now, it just didn’t feel as special. But, I quickly shook off my disappointment because there was just TOO much awesome surrounding me to let it get me down.

I passed a couple heading south. They both had ear buds in, and frowns on their faces. I tried to make a joke that they would have to keep turning around to see the big view hiking that direction. The woman gave me a little smile, but neither of them said anything.

It was hard for me to fathom being grumpy on a day like today. The weather was sunny and beautiful with perfect temps. The views were unbelievable, and there weren’t any mosquitoes ruining the mood. I would never think to hike with earbuds through a section like this either. But, everyone’s journey is different, and we all have breaking points that cover a wide spectrum of things.

Mesa Meadow was my intended stop for the night on my original itinerary before I knew I could hike farther than 10 miles a day. I planned to do this section in 2 nights and 3 days of hiking, but now I would only take one night.

I found a log to sit and rest my feet while I watched a few other campers in the distance set up tents.

After crossing several cute creeks, I settled on filtering water at one that fell over a small hill creating a mini waterfall with an easy spot to fill up my filter bag.

A woman joined me moments later. She was a thru-hiker, and complained of her feet hurting. She had already hiked 600+ miles in her shoes, and planned to buy new ones in Sisters the following day. She still wanted to hike 10 more miles for the day. I only had about 3.5, which was fortunate, because the sky grew dark as clouds rolled in, and I heard thunder in the distance.

Wanting to avoid my pack getting wet, I picked up the pace, and limited my picture taking to beat the storm to camp. It was hard to tell which direction it was heading, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

I hiked through a burn section not even mentioned in my book. A fire must have rolled through in the last year or two.

Not long after, I passed a man sitting under a tree, relaxing with his shoes and socks off; not appearing too concerned about the ensuing storm. We chatted briefly.

He was hiking all of Oregon too, but with his car. This meant, he was going up and down sections so he could move his car along the way, basically hiking the trail twice. I’m pretty sure there is NO WAY I would ever consider doing that.

I can’t overstate how lucky I felt with the breathtaking wildflower display I was gifted through all of Oregon. The summer of 2020 was off-the-charts stunning, and this section was a definite highlight.

It wasn’t long before I reached Reese Lake, my final destination for the night. There were two men camped, and another small group of folks, but plenty of room for us all. I asked if they minded I snag a small spot, not that I needed to ask, but it seemed polite.

I set up my tent as the first raindrops fell – perfect timing! I had a really cool view of South Sister from my tent with the lake below. Although I had never been here before, the lake had more of a pond vibe, and I had the feeling it would one day not be there.

I hung out inside my tent for awhile, but it wasn’t raining hard, so I filtered water and made a Pad Thai backpacker meal before the rain came with a little more force. I ate inside my tent, but the rain didn’t last long. The fog rolled in after the storm, making the mountain completely disappear.

I performed my nightly routine of brushing teeth, hanging my bear bag extra far away from camp, and snuggled in for journal writing and sleep. This was one of my favorite camping spots along the trail. I was so happy and grateful to be dry and warm, and to be camping with other people. I felt safe, at ease, and filled with joy for my PCT opportunity. And to top it off, no mosquitoes! It really was an EPIC day.

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

Hiking the PCT Day 22-25 – Zero Days in Bend

Day 22-25
Today’s Miles: 0
Total Miles: 258.3
Zero Days in Bend, Oregon

I had, quite possibly, the very best sleep of my ENTIRE life last night. A bed, pillow, and fan for white noise; it doesn’t get much better than that. I was sore, definitely feeling the 21 miles I hiked yesterday, and I was thankful rest was on the agenda for the day.

Taking a big trail break, I spent 5 nights and 4 days in Bend. This was mostly to give Carl an opportunity to catch up on his work and life. Hadlie drove Hux to Bend so he could spend the days with me.

I originally planned on spending two zero days at Elk Lake, but since I had a few more low mileage days on the itinerary in the next couple sections of the trail, I simply planned to merge those days, affording me extra zero days in Bend.

It still seemed silly to have a 9 mile hiking day. My sweet spot was 17 miles. It was a good distance to hike most of the day at a pleasant pace. I could take breaks, take my time, and not feel crazy sore the next day.

It was a little weird to be back in the world. We went to the Columbia Outlet, and walking through a store felt strange, especially during the pandemic. With my weight loss, I had to be careful about buying anything at my current size, but I did find some new shorts to replace the ones I lost on the trail.

It was great to see Hadlie, albeit briefly, and to spend several days with Hux. I was able to catch up on my computer needs, going through all my emails, paying bills, and catching up on life’s responsibilities. We even spent a day at Tumalo State Park.

I washed all my gear; clothes, backpack, water bottles and water filter. I also spent time organizing my resupply stash.

Carl and I tried to plan for him to join me on the next little leg – Elk Lake to Lava lake campground. I was SO excited, since this section was supposed to be a major highlight of the trail, but it just didn’t pan out. I would need to hike it alone.

I really struggled with the news. I was looking forward to the company, and I wanted to share this epic section with someone. I was so disappointed, I even considered quitting. My emotions were high, and I was tired. Carl talked with me on the phone.

“Heather, we will all be proud of you no matter what. You already hiked a really long distance, but I know you will be disappointed if you decide to stop now, and I don’t want you to be mopey for the decision. I know you can do it. You have just been off the trail for too many days, once you get back out there, you will be fine, and loving it again.”

Of course he was right. Taking a break is good to rejuvenate, but you can’t take too long of a break. For me, I just lost my trail rhythm and routine. It can be kinda hard to get back out there.

So, we planned for Hux to stay with my parents for two days and one night while I hiked to Lava Lake Campground. This was his very first solo overnight at grandma and grandpa’s house. We were all earning our bravery badge in the summer of 2020!

The new plan was to all meet up at the Campground. Carl could take Hux home, and I would get to see everyone one more time before my next really BIG leg.

Enjoying Hux and Zero Days in Bend

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

Pacific Crest Trail Oregon – Day 21 to Elk Lake

Day 21
Today’s Miles: 21
Total Miles: 258.3
Brahma Lake to Elk Lake

Beautiful Brahma Lake

Excited for another big mileage hiking day, I was up early. My body hurt after these 20+ mile days, but it was great to have them sprinkled in through my journey. They made me feel proud of myself, strong, capable, and a little bit more like a “real” long-distance backpacker.

Last night was the first time on the trail that I actually got up to pee in the middle of the night. For whatever reason, I wasn’t scared, and I was curious how the stars looked. I have seen very little star action so far because I’m asleep so early.

The big dipper was right above the lake, and the stars were bright and plentiful; well worth climbing out of the tent. I heard fish jumping all through the night, which was an unusual sound to sleep to, but I’ll take it over loud crashing through the woods.

The early morning sunlight was pretty on Brahma lake.

I made two packets of oatmeal for breakfast. I would be in a cozy bed/house later tonight, so there was no need to carry excess food (other than the usual emergency stash, of course). I ate breakfast in the tent to find refuge from the skeeters, they were awful on this particular morning.

My Morning Hike Heading up to Cliff Lake – Look at all Those Lakes!

I was on the trail at 6:50 a.m., and had another grumpy morning because of the mosquitoes – they are such a buzz kill!

Additionally, the trail was blocked by several down logs, so I worried it would be a really long day if I had to climb over trees continually; this maneuver slows you down significantly.

The amazing flowering bear grass was my saving grace. I also passed several cute ponds and lakes (there was a lot of water today), but it was hard to appreciate in the early hours since I knew the water was to blame for the abundance of mosquitoes.

It didn’t take long before I was on the shore of Stormy Lake, and I was happy I chose to stay at Brahma, it was a far superior camping spot – well worth the extra two miles today.

Stormy Lake

I rocked my mosquito head net all morning, along with my iPod in an attempt to drown out the constant buzz.

Around mid-morning I changed into shorts, and realized 5 minutes down the trail I left my pants hanging on a tree branch. I dropped my pack and ran back to get them – it felt AMAZING to take that pack off and run. Wow, I could go so fast! I dropped my mosquito net earlier in the day, and in similar fashion, ran back to get it.

Thankfully, I successfully retrieved both items, but it would be that sort of day. I lost my swim shorts and prescription sunglasses later in the day, but didn’t realize it until it was too late. Unfortunately, I never saw those two items again.

I held off on any big breaks until I arrived at Cliff Lake around 1:30 p.m. This is where I originally planned to stay for the night before I cut a day of hiking out of my itinerary, but it would have been a great location. It made a perfect lunch spot.

Cliff Lake

It was .2 miles off the PCT, with an unsigned spur trail, so I wouldn’t have known it was there if it weren’t for my book. There was a cute backcountry shelter next to the warm scenic lake. I filtered water and ate lunch. I intentionally saved the flavored tuna packet for this big hiking day. It was so good, well worth the extra $2.00.

I had half a tortilla leftover, and got the great idea to add a chocolate almond butter packet to it (think Nutella), and it was delicious. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to discover this special treat.

This was one of my favorite mid-day break locations on the trail. I went for a swim and took my time. The skeeters were gone, my spirits were high, and I was in a great mood the rest of the day.

Now with 9.9 miles to go, I pushed on toward Elk Lake. I started seeing more and more people. It was Friday, and I was entering a very popular outdoor recreation area. It was easy to keep distance, but I had my mask at the ready just in case.

Cliff Lake into Elk Lake – The Lakes Keep Coming

The trail passed many more lakes. I took a break at Dumbbell Lake, and found it especially pretty. I took my shoes off here for a bit and rested; I was getting tired. The reality of a 20+ mile day was catching up to my body.

I was daydreaming about a shower, and clean undies. I forgot to pack clean underwear at my last resupply, so I’ve had the same ones on since I showered at Odell Lake. Oops! At least fancy REI undies are meant to be worn for a few days.

Later in the day, the trail crossed several meadows. I was thankful for the moments of wider spaces. The tree tunnel begins to feel pretty closed-in after a few days.

Seeing the Elk Lake trail junction sign meant I only had 1.4 more miles (off the PCT down to the Elk Lake resort (lodge/restaurant/campground) to go! I even saw my familiar footprint friend heading that way, so I knew I was going in the right direction.

The side trail was open (burn area), so I had a view of the mountains; a definite foreshadowing of the next few magnificent days I would have on the trail.

My wonderful parents were waiting for me in the Elk Lake parking lot with a fresh salad, and french fries.

A part of me wanted to stay at the backpacker spot to see if I saw anyone I recognized, or just connect with other PCT folks (if anyone was even there), but a bed and shower sounded pretty enticing.

Bend is only 25 miles from Elk Lake, so it was a quick jaunt back to my old stomping grounds where I grew up.

I did take a wonderful shower, and for the first time on the trail, I saw how different I looked. I hardly recognized myself in the full-size mirror; I had lost a significant amount of weight. I couldn’t believe it. I guess hiking ALL day long with a heavy pack, and not eating that much is a good calorie burner.

I was beyond tired, and by body ached from today’s 21-mile trek. I got to snuggle into a real bed for the first time in 18 days. Heaven…

Hiking the PCT – Day 20 to Brahma Lake

Day 20
Today’s Miles: 16.5
Total Miles: 237.3
Bobby Lake to Brahma Lake

Bobby Lake

Greeted by one the prettiest sunrises on the trail, my day started out well at 5 a.m. I was awake through the night in typical fashion, and I missed the comfy pillow I had the previous two nights, as well as my company, but last night was thankfully quiet and uneventful.

I had my second food bag scare on the trail. I went to retrieve it this morning and couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched for at least 15 minutes, retracing my steps from last night. Right when panic started to set in, I found it. What a huge sigh of relief; I have two big days ahead of me.

The mosquitoes were bad last night once the sun went down, and they weren’t much better this morning. The camp robber birds were very interested in my morning routine as well. I packed up and was on my way.

I saw my familiar print in the ground today. I assumed the storm would erase them all, but the rain must not have made it this far north. I don’t know why, but I found this print so comforting; someone was clearly leading the way. I also started noticing a shoe print twice my size – it was gigantic, and a little snowman print. I spent a lot of time looking at the ground so I wouldn’t trip over anything.

Thank goodness I had the mosquito net, I wore it all morning. I figured out that the skeeters die down in the afternoon, enough so, that it made me want to begin hiking around 10 or 11 a.m. because they can be that AWFUL in the morning.

Nothing dampened my spirits through the entire state like these tiny little critters. They made me embarrassingly grumpy, and this was one of those mornings.

Carl brought me my iPod to Odell Lake, and it saved the day. It’s old, so it has all my favorite music from 10 years ago, but I didn’t care. It was nice to have a distraction, and quiet the mosquito buzzing in my ears.

Late morning I was awarded my only view of the day. I veered off the trail to an outcrop of boulders with large Waldo Lake spread out below, and took my time snacking, and reading about the next section of trail in my book. Waldo lake is the second largest natural mountain lake in Oregon at 10 square miles.

I arrived at Charlton lake around 1 p.m. It’s close to a dirt road and parking area, and only a 2-mile hike from Waldo lake, so there were people. I saw paddle boards and rafts on the lake. It was strange because I felt so remote, but it was clearly an accessible area.

Charlton Lake

I found a little spot to myself down the lakeside trail to filter water and eat lunch. Despite a chilly breeze, I went for a swim. It just seemed like something I should do, and I was grateful for the decision when I traversed through the dry Charlton Butte fire section not long after.

The trail passed through the 1996 Charlton Butte Fire area for several miles. It was fun to hike through, a definite change of scenery, but it was also hot and dusty. The section had a handful of downed trees, but nothing I couldn’t get around fairly easily.

I got to see my first glimpse of the next wave of mountains. I didn’t know for sure what mountains they were, but I knew I was getting close to Bachelor and the Three Sisters.

With cell service on the other side of the burn, I checked in with multiple people. I was organizing my Elk Lake pick-up, among other things for the coming days. Logistics…

I planned to camp at Irish Lake tonight since it was a car camping campground, according to my book, and I thought I would have better luck avoiding another night all alone, and enjoy the facilities. However, when I arrived, there was virtually nothing there, and it had a weird vibe.

It was early enough I could continue on, and the book recommended Brahma lake camp 2.5 miles ahead, or Stormy lake 4.5 miles ahead, so I surged forward.

I was excited to enter the Three Sisters Wilderness. It reminded me of “home” and my childhood growing up in Bend. It’s also a very sought out wilderness for recreation, it offers some of the big wows.

As soon I got to the Brahma Lake camp, I was so happy with my decision. It was a beautiful quaint lake, and the main camping area was perfect. I decided to stay. Hiking to the next lake to shave another 2 miles off my day tomorrow was tempting, but I really liked this spot, and I place high value on camp locations.

The water was so warm, I decided to go for a swim. I wanted to go skinny dipping at least once on my PCT journey, and what better place; I had the entire lake to myself. The fact that I didn’t see anyone on the trail all day would mean a crowd would roll up while I was in my birthday suit, but Murphy’s Law didn’t reveal herself today. I had the area to myself the entire evening.

My swim was heavenly. I swam from shore to shore before getting out to make dinner and set up camp. The wind picked up, which made setting up the tent interesting, but I figured out some tricks pretty quickly.

The mosquitoes were thankfully absent, perhaps because of the wind. This was such a win I did not take for granted anymore.

I was looking forward to the wind lulling me to sleep, and hopefully keeping me asleep, but of course it died down as soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag.

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

PCT Oregon – Day 19 to Bobby Lake

Day 19
Today’s Miles: 9.8
Total Miles: 220.8
Odell Lake to Bobby Lake

Back to the PCT today! My original itinerary landed me at Bobby Lake tonight, so it worked out perfectly to have a low mileage day. This awarded me a relaxing morning with the boys, and one last delicious meal; breakfast burritos with all the fixings, and a giant plate of fresh fruit.

Some of the ladies I spoke with at Shelter Cove were aiming for Charlton Lake today, but that would be an 18 mile day, requiring me to be on the trail by 7 a.m. I didn’t want to do that, even though it would ensure me company for the evening. I mentally prepared myself for a lot of alone time in the coming days.

I was really excited about this next leg of Oregon.
According to my book:

“If you had to consolidate all of the best wilderness scenery in Oregon into one stretch of the PCT, the 93 miles between Willamette Pass and Santiam Pass would be it. The section has it all: old-growth forest, pristine lakes, alpine meadows, glacier-capped peaks, and stark volcanic plains. It ups the ante with plenty of panoramic views, good campsites, and mostly reliable and frequent access to water.”

Circled Section: Today’s Hike

My pack is lighter now with plenty of water sources along the trail. I only filled one of my containers, and that made a big difference.

After organizing my things, and packing from my resupply bag, I had Carl drop me off at the Willamette Pass Trailhead. In full transparency, this is the one section for the entire state that I knowingly “cheated.” I should have started back at the Shelter Cove Resort, but I got lazy and never found the trail, and I was trying to make it easy on Carl. We opted for the trailhead since it was only a minute from the campground.

So, I skipped out on two miles. I’m sure I missed a couple miles in my getting lost debacle two days ago as well, but I was more disappointed about these 2 miles. If it had crossed my mind, I could have hiked it yesterday, but it never did. I plan to hike it in 2021.

My heart was sad leaving the boys, and I cried a little saying goodbye. Seeing family on an adventure like this is bitter sweet. It’s so nice to see your loved ones, but it makes those next couple of days difficult. I missed them, and it would be a lonely section for sure.

I was, however, SO happy to be back on the Pacific Crest Trail again – woohoo! I didn’t plan on veering away from it anytime soon. I checked in with my PCT app smiling when it registered me ON the trail.

Thanks Trail Crew!

The forest was beautiful with hanging lichen, and I made it to the Rosary Lakes in no time. I met a family of backpackers heading back to Odell Lake with two young children. I made a mental note that this would be a great kiddo backpacking trip.

The mosquitoes weren’t bad, which was such a blessing. Perhaps they got squashed by the big storm yesterday. I really loved the mountain lakes, and took my time with snack breaks to enjoy them.

Middle Rosary Lake

After passing North Rosary Lake, a descent climb waited for me with the sweet reward of a spectacular view of all the lakes: Crescent, Odell, and Lower, Middle, and North Rosary Lakes. It was pretty great to see how they fit on the landscape with a view from above. I love a good view, and I wouldn’t get much more for a couple of days.

This was one of the first places I saw signs up high to account for snowfall during winter recreation months.

Maiden Peak Shelter, a short distance off the trail, was definitely one of the coolest shelters I’ve been to. I hung out for a bit to snack and read the visitation log. I recognized a few names; many stayed the night – a respite from the mosquitoes.

Bobby Lake is a short .3 miles off the PCT, but well worth it.

I arrived around 5:30, ready to settle down for the evening. The lake was beautiful, the campsite was a big open space, and the mosquitoes really weren’t too bad.

I made dinner and sent up my tent. Another night all alone, but I was at peace and calm, feeling brave. I was getting better and better at it.

Pacific Crest Trail Day 18 – Zero Day at Odell Lake

Day 18
Today’s Miles: ZERO
Total Miles: 211
Family Day at Odell Lake and Crescent Lake

My very first real-deal Zero Day, and the 3rd section of Oregon now complete.

It was nice to catch up with Carl on life, and everything back home. He has had his hands full for sure! I appreciated him every single day during my journey. I honestly don’t know how I would fare if the roles were reversed.

Our Odell Lake Campsite

He made us a breakfast feast of pancakes, hash browns and eggs, then Hux and I spent some time at the lake playing with his “magic” pumice rocks. We did float or sink experiments. If something sunk, he would exclaim, “Sinkaroo!” The pumice rocks were a big hit – he was amazed a rock could float.

Wanting a little adventure, we drove to the Odell Lake Lodge and Resort (where I first my parents yesterday), and ordered Deschutes brewery beers (the only thing they had on tap), and a marionberry cobbler. We sat on the beautiful patio facing the lake with no one else around. Hux mostly chased chipmunks, and it was the nicest feeling to just relax.

Odell lake had a wild algae bloom, and we definitely didn’t want to swim there.

We were advised the best option was Crescent Lake, so that is where we spent the afternoon. We all swam, played in the sand, and relaxed in the sun.

My little one really enjoyed swimming. I was looking forward to him taking swim lessons this year, but all the classes were cancelled because of the pandemic. None of the pools were even open. I worry he will be far behind, but I guess most kids will be behind in many things in the coming years…

We made a stop at the Shelter Cove Resort on our way back to the campground. I decided to take a shower. I almost didn’t thinking, “I’ll be in Bend in 3 days,” but I was beyond happy I changed my mind. It was the nicest shower I’ve ever taken in a campground. It seemed new, was very clean, and they even had soft fuzzy towels for us to use. Thinking back on it, I can’t believe I would even consider not showering if one is available on the trail.

Always take the shower!

Leaving the shower facilities I saw Thomas (my fellow Oregon section hiker I met near Callahan’s Lodge, and saw again at Fish lake and Crater Lake). He took another zero day, so I caught up to him. However, this was the last time we saw each other.

Chasing Sprinklers at Shelter Cove Resort

Back at camp, we started hearing thunder, and watched the sky change dramatically. There was no way to know for sure if it would hit us, it never did yesterday, but we started to batten down the hatches just in case.

We wandered to the dock to watch the storm, and I wish we had gotten there sooner; it was fantastical. A couple from Colorado was also storm watching. Two big rainbows greeted us, and the sky looked eerie (pictures on my phone didn’t really capture it).

Here Comes the Rain!

It wasn’t long before the rain started traveling over the lake toward us – then it was time to RUN to our tent. It poured down rain for 45 minutes while we played games waiting for it to pass.

We emerged at sunset, and walked down to the boat dock again. The lake was clear, all the algae was gone, and leeches were on the dock, which provided some interesting science talk.

It was a pretty epic storm. I was BEYOND happy (and super duper lucky) I got to experience it safe, dry, and with my family, and all my backpacking gear stayed safely dry as well. Things really did always work out for me on the trail…so far.

PCT Oregon – Day 17 to Odell Lake

Day 17
Today’s Miles: 9ish
Total Miles: 211
Crescent Lake Whitefish Horse Camp to Odell Lake

Today was meant to be a 9.9 mile day, with a plan to meet my parents at Shelter Cover Resort (Odell Lake) at 2:00 p.m.

It sprinkled lightly this morning while I was still in the tent; my very first rain on the trail, but it passed quickly. It did give me pause to appreciate my dry hiking days so far. Rain would really change the level of enjoyment. I’m not sure I’m cut out for the Appalachian trail solely based on the weeks of rain I would likely encounter.

I walked to the shore of Crescent Lake for my 6:00 a.m. yoga and meditation session. I basked in the the peace and quiet. The lake was calm, and it was the perfect serene morning.

Such cute little tracks

As I packed up, the camp host offered me coffee, and told me to catch my trail at the END of the campground. I noticed the trailhead when I came in yesterday at the FRONT of the campground, but she said her way will save me time, and I couldn’t miss it.

Against my strongest intuition and better judgement, I decided it could be fun to walk through the camp and see all the horses. Indeed, a very obvious trail was at the back of camp, and my book only mentioned one trail in the area, so even though it wasn’t marked, I assumed it had to be my trail, and began to hike. The thought did cross my mind, “How did the camp host know what trail I wanted? I never told her where I was going…”

The morning was filled with irritants. The mosquitoes were active, the trail was full of cob webs, and my mental state was pretty negative. I kept hiking parallel to the highway, and according to my map and directions in the book, I should have headed into the woods immediately (away from the highway).

I knew something wasn’t right, and started feeling nervous 40-minutes in, but I kept going, assuming I would veer into the forest soon, but I never did. I wasn’t in any danger; I could see the highway and watched cars pass by, but I didn’t know what to do. A couple of hours passed, and I was fearing I would be very late arriving at Odell Lake.

Should I turn around and hike back to the Horse camp to start the day over? Should I have my parents meet me at the Horse Camp, and live with the disappointment of not hiking all of Oregon? Should I keep going, and have someone pick me up along the highway?

An emotional meltdown was near. I was tired, really excited to see my family, and certain I was not hiking on the correct trail. Thankfully, I had cell reception, and called my dad in tears and a mild panic. He couldn’t have handled the situation better. He immediately said in the most calm voice, “Well, let’s take a look at the GPS and see where you are.”

YES – the GPS!
I totally forgot I had it on me, and it saved the day!

My dad could see where I was, and informed me to keep going rather than turn around. I would soon discover I had already hiked 5 miles. He gave me directions to turn left on a forest service road immediately after crossing a railroad track. The road would take me to the east side of Odell lake, not the correct side (Shelter Cove is on the west side), but at least I would make it to the lake.

Thank goodness I had cell reception, thank goodness I had my GPS, and thank goodness my dad is calm when presented with a challenge. I wrote down the directions he told me, and one minute later, arrived at a large trail junction with a big map of the area, kiosk, and general hiking information. I could tell where I was, (not close to where I was supposed to be), and what went wrong. This information was comforting.

The line in RED is the correct trail I was meant to take, the line in BLUE is what I actually hiked.

I was frustrated with the lack of signage until this trail junction, and irritated with the Camp Host; but mostly I was angry with myself. My intuition spoke loudly to not listen to her, and start at the trailhead I knew, yet somehow she convinced me. What was I thinking?

In hindsight, it was a day of valuable lessons delivered in a VERY safe way. If this is the biggest hiccup I encounter, the rest of the PCT would be smooth sailing.

Fortunately, I had cell reception the whole day. The forest service road my dad instructed me to take didn’t have any signage, so I took it with crossed fingers, and checked in with him. He could watch my progress on the GPS map, and confirmed I was heading in the right direction.

At one point, I discovered the below animal bones, and shortly after that, peed all over my pants in a very fumbled backcountry pee break. What was happening to me? This was quite the day! I think my mind and body were telling me I needed a real-deal zero day, which thankfully I’d be enjoying tomorrow.

On top of the not knowing where I was stress, I started to hear thunder and watched the clouds get dark. It seemed a huge storm was heading my way. After a few phone calls, crossing an airplane runway, a couple wrong turns, and discovering a disc golf course, I found my parents at the Odell Lake Lodge and Resort – YAY!

My dad jokingly asked if I wanted a ride to the other side of the lake (he knows I want to hike the whole state.) I said, “yes.” We were driving horizontal, to the other side of the lake, so I figured I wasn’t really losing mileage. I will return to this area, and hike the real section.

The risk of leaving the PCT became very real on this day.

We drove to the Shelter Cove Resort, and I immediately spotted an amazing outside bathroom; the kind ordered for weddings. I was beyond excited. Running water, flushing toilet, and the best part: I could wash my hands with soap and water! I washed them a few times of course.

Next, we headed to the Hook and Talon restaurant. I was equally excited for something fun to eat, but my luck would have it – they were closed Mon-Tue-Wed, the days I would be here. So, we explored the impressive store (it was large for a campground), bought chips & salsa, and picnicked at an outside table. A few raindrops fell, but the storm seemed to skirt right past us, finally some good fortune.

I shared stories of my last leg with my parents as we waited for Carl to arrive. I mentioned the couple with the dog, Mike and Sonya, and a woman behind me spoke up that she had ran into them too. She asked if I was “Miss Oregon.” She saw my note at Windigo Pass, and decided to leave a note for them as well. She told me I didn’t miss out on much doing the shortcut because the mosquitoes were awful, and she smelled smoke for hours, causing her to worry a forest fire was nearby (a small one did pop up in the area, but it was put out quickly). So, maybe my route worked out after all.

GoGo Gummie Bear (trail name – if I’m remembering correctly), was from Seattle, and had a permit to do the entire PCT, but Covid squashed California, so she was working on completing Oregon and Washington this year. She started at Callahan’s Lodge and hiked all the way to the CA/OR border to tag it, then turned around and hiked back. I was impressed. That’s not something I would ever see myself doing. She felt bad asking her friend to drive way up in the mountains near the border (thanks again, mom and dad).

I saw Zena (trail name), a woman from the Czech Republic, in the store. Catch (my friend from Japan), told me about her, and said she would catch up to me because she was rocking 30+ mile days.

Odell Lake and Shelter Cove Resort Area

Not long after, Carl arrived. I was SO happy to see him and my little guy. It had been 12 days since I saw my son, Hux; definitely the longest we have gone without seeing each other. I got him out of his car seat, and just held him in a gigantic hug, soaking it in.

We all drove over to the Princess Creek campground, where Carl was lucky to get a last minute reservation. I grabbed what I needed from my parents, including a food resupply bag. We said goodbye, and I thanked my dad for saving the day. I would see them at Elk Lake outside of Bend in 4 days.

Carl and I settled into our campsite. I was so happy to be with my family again. I missed my daughter, but she got herself a summer job, so I wouldn’t see her again until after my PCT journey was over.

I drove back to the store to buy firewood, and ran into Shannon (the woman I met at Callahan’s Lodge and saw again at Brown Mountain Shelter). It’s so fun to see a familiar face from the trail. She was all spruced up from a shower, I don’t know that I would have even recognized her, but she recognized me.

A group of backpackers were all hanging out, so I felt a tiny hint of missing out on that experience, but seeing my family meant much more to me. Shannon had just done her first 30-mile day! Everyone is faster than me, so I probably won’t see any of these people again, but…you never know.

Campground Flowers

Back at camp, I enjoyed great treats and snacks. Carl was incredibly thoughtful; he brought all my favorite foods. He went above and beyond, and I still smile thinking about how amazing he was through my adventure.

He made us a delicious dinner, and we shared a bottle of wine. He forgot the corkscrew, so we did the old-school push it into the bottle trick.

My Personal Chef for Two Nights

We roasted marshmallows, and around 9:30 p.m. I got our little one ready for bed. I told Carl, “I’ll be back out.” He just laughed saying, “No you won’t.” He was right of course. I crashed as soon as my head hit that comfy pillow.

Oregon Section 3 Now Complete

Did you miss the beginning of my PCT journey? You can start here with: Day One

Be Smart on the Trail (not like my example above).
Here is a great article about GPS devices, and how to use your phone on the trail from: Clever Hiker

Hiking the PCT Oregon – Day 16 to Crescent Lake

Day 16
Today’s Miles: 18.6
Total Miles: 202
Tolo Camp (near Windigo Pass) to Crescent Lake Whitefish Horse Camp

It was a very quiet night with zero incidents. I didn’t have to worry about water, as I would be hiking near several lakes today. I planned on doing the shortcut via the Skyline Trail, ending at Crescent Lake, but I was a tad nervous to leave the PCT.

Before departing, I cleaned up the camping area. There was a significant amount of litter at this location. I didn’t grab everything, but I packed out what I could for good campsite karma, and simply doing the right thing.

The hike down to Windigo Pass was easy. I communicated with Carl through the day, planning our meetup for tomorrow at Odell Lake. I was excited a family meetup was on the horizon.

I’m probably unusual in my enjoyment in crossing roads and passing through trailhead junctions, but I thought Windigo Pass was kinda cool. The camping area seemed nice, and the trail angel stash was AMAZING. Tons of water, boxes with bug spray, hiking books, first aid, solar chargers and toilet paper.

A message board was available for leaving notes. I wished someone had left me a message, it would have made my whole day. I decided to leave a note of encouragement for Sonya, Mike and the pup. It seemed thoughtful, and they were the only people I knew behind me.

A woman arrived while I was resting/snacking. She had her serious face on, and seemed to be on a definite mission. She was from Ohio, hiking the PCT for the second time with a goal to do it in 100 days! At this point, she was a week ahead of schedule. WOW! She told me she’d hiked the Appalachian trail twice, but prefers the PCT because the trail is easier and far more scenic. She was loving the Covid factor that resulted in WAY fewer people on the trail this year. She didn’t stay long. She was trying to get to Odell lake tonight (my destination for tomorrow).

I decided to head toward Spring Campground on Crescent lake, hoping for some sort of walk-in camp, knowing the campground was full. This is the moment I left the PCT. Heading 3/4 of a mile down the Windigo Pass dirt road (FR 60), I found the Oldenberg Lake trail (the old Oregon Skyline Trail).

The trailhead was barely noticeable, and it wasn’t marked. With faith, I started to hike, but the nerves set in immediately, not knowing if I was on the right trail.

Luckily, I passed a woman on horseback fairly quickly. She confirmed I was on the correct trail, and not long after that, I passed signs for Nip and Tuck lakes that were mentioned in my book, so I knew I was on the right track.

It was hot, dusty, and my least favorite Central Oregon landscape. When I arrived at Oldenberg lake, I took a lunch break and went for my very first PCT swim (while hiking). I swam at Fish Lake at the end of day 8, but this was my first mid-day swim. It felt amazing! It certainly cooled me off, which was good, because the hike onward to Crescent Lake was brutal.

The scenery was not impressive, it was hot, and I had the, “just wanna get there” attitude. I really wished I had music, or a podcast – something to pass the time. I never want that sort of distraction in the woods because I love to hear the sounds of nature, be aware of my surroundings, and enjoy the quiet, but for some reason, today I longed for distraction.

I sang out loud every song that popped into my head for at least 90 minutes. No one was around to be bothered, except for one family on bikes (the downside to leaving the PCT where bikes are not allowed). Finally, the trail poured onto the highway. My book directed me to head SOUTH for Spring Campground. This is where I tell you what NOT to do when hiking.

I had zero inkling which direction was south. I obviously wasn’t in any danger, I was on a major highway with plenty of traffic, but I should have had more maps with me, and I should have learned how to read a compass. I stopped a car and asked for directions. My intuition told me to go right, while the kind folks told me to go left, but not with 100% confidence.

I decided to follow their recommendation, and thankfully they were correct. The access road was only 5 minutes up, but the road down to the camp was LONG. My feet ached on the asphalt, and I was very ready to be done hiking for the day.

The camp host was at the entrance, and he informed me that the only place with walk-in sites was the horse camp. I nearly stayed on the trail and hiked there, so I was kicking myself for this unnecessary detour. The camp host offered to give me a ride, which was very kind, but I felt weird accepting with the pandemic, and I feared I smelled pretty awful by this point.

He told me the water level in the lake was so low this year, I could actually walk all the way to Horse camp along the shore of Crescent lake, rather than head back to the highway. This sounded more pleasant, so I found the sandy beach – and the crowds of people.

The lake was poppin’! Crescent Lake has a party vibe, and I half expected someone to offer me a beer, but that never happened…maybe I didn’t look like a “real” backpacker.

I found a section of empty beach, and went for another swim. The water was colder than little Oldenberg, but so refreshing. Making my way around the lake, I found the Horse Camp. The camp host didn’t give me the best directions, but I figured it out.

The message board at the front of the campground had a sign, “PCT’s – Site 3 – Welcome.” It was right next to the camp host, and next to other campers, but it was free, had a picnic table, vault toilet, and I could drop my pack for the day – woohoo!

I made ramen immediately, I was SO hungry. This was my first experience sleeping in a horse camp, and it was pretty fun. The dogs ran all over, the horses made a lot of noise, and they thankfully covered up any unpleasant smell I was emitting.

The camp host setup was the most impressive I’ve ever seen; complete with flowers, tomato plants, decorations, and a gazebo with a hot tub! Additionally, at night it was all lit up.

Fuzzy shot – but the only one I got – notice the hot tub gazebo in the background.

After settling in, I walked to the lake and watched the sunset. It was a calm, peaceful, warm night with a big wide open space, which I love. The moon looked beautiful on the horizon. I got cell service near the shore, and checked in with my loved ones. I was really excited to see my support crew the next day. Only one more day of non-PCT hiking to get through, and then I’ll be back on the trail.

Did you miss the beginning of my PCT journey? You can start here with: Day One