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.
Michelle wanted to do a little detour taking Miller Trail to Clackamas Lake Campground (the lake has since been replaced by a meadow).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.)
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.
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
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.
Michelle and I 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.
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
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 we enjoyed the morning with the boys. Michelle was able to dry her tent out in the sun, once it decided to pop out.
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.
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 great 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
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
Day 32 Today’s Miles: 13 Total Miles: 355.6 Jefferson Park to Olallie Lake
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.
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.
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.
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!
Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here
Day 31 Today’s Miles: 12 Total Miles: 342.6 Hanks Lake to 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.
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.
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!)
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
Day 30 Today’s Miles: 15.7 Total Miles: 330.6 Base of Three Fingered Jack to Hanks Lake (1.3 miles off the PCT)
I had this post written and ready to publish over a week ago, when it completely disappeared on me. So, feeling a bit defeated, it took me some time to start over. Thanks for your patience, I’m nearly to the end!
The wind could not make up its mind through the night; blowing with extreme force, countered with absolute quiet and stillness. My tent flapped noisily, driving me completely batty all through the night. This constant change in sound created a very restless nights sleep, which was bummer timing, because my body was SO tired after yesterday’s really long miles.
I was worried my noisy tent was keeping my campmates awake, but they assured me they never heard mine because their tents were flapping in the wind as well. I made a mental note to play around with the tension on my strings so I have an improved system for the the next wind occurrence.
Thankfully, I was able to sleep in a bit when the wind decided to finally calm. My campmates were packed, and nearly ready to leave as I emerged from my tent. They warned me to be careful camping in the permit areas ahead, as they saw rangers checking with hikers over the past two days.
Michelle and I were meeting at a permit area this evening, but we didn’t think it would be too big of a deal, since it was off the beaten path, and not as popular as some of the other lakes, but now I had a new thing to worry about as I hiked today…
I said thank you, and farewell as they began the descent to their waiting vehicle not far away. They were heading home today, and I would soon be heading in the opposite direction.
It was nice to have the camp area to myself as I made breakfast and got ready to head out.
Today was my very last day solo hiking through Oregon!
I would be on the trail with a companion for the rest of my journey to the finish line. It was bitter sweet. I valued the time I spent alone in constant reflection, with plenty of time to think about life, and rely completely on myself to survive. Thinking about all the fears I faced, and struggles I endured, I was pretty proud of myself.
There was a part of me that felt nervous about meeting Michelle because I had been alone for so long. What if I’m awkward? What if we run out of stuff to talk about? What if our hiking styles don’t mesh (we had never backpacked together before), what if our personalities clash out here in the wilderness?
However, I was more excited to have company again. I would no longer feel worried all alone as the night closed in, and I would have someone to share my memories with, which is incredibly special, and something I’ve always valued. Plus, my dear friend was joining me, how lucky was I!
The first hour of hiking was spectacular as I rounded Three Fingered Jack. The other side was just as impressive, if not more so. The turquoise pools of glacier water down below were beautiful. I took tons of pictures, definitely slowing my morning down, but I really love mountains.
I kept looking for mountain goats, but never saw any today. However, I could have passed right by one, since I’m captain “bad eyes.” Carl noticed so many cool things as we hiked the first 5 days. One day, we apparently hiked right by a woman peeing next to the trail, and I totally missed her!
When Carl brought it up, I replied, “What woman? I didn’t see anyone.” He was blown away I didn’t notice her, and probably a little concerned as well. I wonder what else I hiked right by on my solo days?…. I did cross paths with a huge frog/toad a bit later.
Mt. Jefferson came into view. It looked so far away, yet I would be on the other side of it tomorrow afternoon.
Today had a lot of burned miles, and before arriving at Minto Pass, I hiked through a large section.
I also hiked along a plethora of berry bushes. I took pictures to show Michelle, as she and her husband are definite plant people. I assumed she would be able to easily set the record straight on what they are.
Stopping for a solid rest on a bluff overlooking Wasco Lake, I enjoyed a really comfortable place to sit. This was one of my favorite break locations. Despite the matchstick trees from the fire devastation, the view was impressive.
Wasco Lake is .5 miles off trail, and I wasn’t desperate for water. With RockPile lake only 3.8 miles ahead, I forged on, hiking through the continued burned sections offering more views.
Arriving around 1:30 p.m., the lake was a welcome sight. Several other groups of hikers had already snagged spots. I’m not surprised it was a popular location. The lake offered, what seemed like, the only oasis in the sea of burnt forest.
I finally found a spot to myself on a slope with a log to sit on. My feet were aching, and I was beyond ready to take my shoes and socks off.
I was getting my very first blister on the trail!
Not surprisingly, after yesterday’s long miles over tough terrain, and hitting it hard again today.
I soaked my feet in the lake, then used my moleskin kit for the very first time. It feels good to use something you have been toting around for hundreds of miles, even if it’s injury induced. I ate lunch, and filtered water while watching a couple set up camp. They were done hiking for the day.
With 7.5 more miles to my destination, I continued north. Mt. Jefferson appeared closer and closer, as I wound my way through more burn sections.
The trail turned to lava rock and cinders for a brief period, and views were still expansive.
I was filled with excitement and nervousness when I reached the trail junction to meet Michelle. I had to leave the PCT, which caused some worry to creep in; I didn’t have the best track record with leaving the trail. But, Hanks Lake (where I was meeting Michelle), was only 1.3 miles off the PCT, and it seemed like a straight shot, according to my book.
One major problem, the trail numbers on the signage did not match up with the trail numbers in the book. After reading the descriptions several times, I simply used my intuition, and went with the trail that looked like what my book described, “into the valley below.”
The scenery was stunning through wildflower meadows, and Mt. Jefferson looming overhead. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the time to enjoy it much, as I was rushing down the trail, almost in a jog, racing the sun again, and praying I was on the correct trail.
When I checked in with Michelle this morning, I had guessed I would arrive around 4:30 p.m. It was already 6:30 p.m. – and of course, there was no cell reception.
In no time, I heard the sound of a gurgling creek, and not long after, a lake! I assumed I had made it, but there was zero signage to let me know for sure. It was larger than I had pictured, and as I walked the perimeter, all of the campsites were taken. I guess it was a popular destination after all. A fellow backpacker confirmed it was Hanks, so at least I was in the right place.
I walked around the entire lake looking for Michelle, but with no luck. At one point, I had to cross a pretty precarious creek. It was a good test of balance for our two potentially dangerous water crossings tomorrow, that I’ve been worried about (of course). I made my way back to where I started, when I finally noticed a woman with braids, and a white shirt by the shore of the lake – Michelle!
We were ecstatic to see each other. Both of us were a little nervous about the logistics of our meetup with no cell reception. I apologized immediately for being on day 5 without a shower, haha.
Michelle had already snagged us the perfect little spot, and we had just enough daylight to set up our tents and start dinner. I was SO happy for company, and all my worries melted away instantly with a very smooth transition from solo hiking to company hiking.
We sat around a fire drinking whiskey (thank Michelle!), catching up on life back home, and my life on the trail. We even took a little walk to see the stars by the lake, (something I didn’t do much of when I was alone). My heart was so happy to have my friend with me, and I was really looking forward to our week together.
Our plan was to hike From Hanks Lake up to Wapinitia Pass / Frog Lake (the base of Mt. Hood) – approximately 68 miles over the course of the next 6 days.
I was so distracted with happiness, I didn’t take a single picture of our campsite, or the lake. I went to sleep feeling very safe, comfortable, and exhausted.
Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here
Day 29 Today’s Miles: 24.65 Total Miles: 314.90 Lava Camp Lake Campground to Camp 5 – Base of Three Fingered Jack
I never once set an alarm hiking through Oregon, I just knew I would be up early. I considered it for a moment last night for the first time, but trusted my internal clock. I was out of the tent by 5:20 a.m., greeted by the moon on the horizon, and the first inkling of daylight.
This was definitely the darkest morning for me yet. I made oatmeal, tea, and probably more noise than Carl wanted. I finished charging my phone, and filled water bottles to the brim.
I never got a proper goodbye with Hux since he unexpectedly crashed out last night, so I felt bad taking off so early, but Carl assured me (later in the day), he never even asked about me.
It was really cold, so I had all my layers on when I hit the trail at 6:30 a.m. My pack was heavy, but I was in good spirits, and I smiled wide when the first PCT sign of the day came into view. I was definitely pumped about the big leg ahead!
The trail was immediate rock, and I was careful with my footing from this point on. We considered buying trekking poles in Sisters yesterday, but I didn’t want to waste money. Thankfully, I never really needed them, especially considering I hadn’t used them up to this point, and I was used to hiking without them.
The morning was clear, and I could see mountains in every direction.
Before I even reached the McKenzie Hwy (OR 242), I was warmed up, and taking off layers. I needed to pee, but crossing a lava field offered very little opportunity for privacy, or ability to even get off the trail. So, I just quickly squatted right there on the PCT. Not something I’m proud of, but sometimes it’s urgent.
I was lucky, just 20 seconds later, a thru-hiker rounded the corner. I was actually amazed I had yet been caught in the act because privacy wasn’t always assured along the trail, but this was my closest call yet.
As I entered the lava flow on the other side of the highway, I passed a wooden handmade sign indicating PCT mileage. Sometimes I wished I was hiking the entire trail, but those thoughts were always quickly replaced by my happiness to be hiking all of Oregon – because that seemed like a gallant goal in itself.
I entered the Mt. Washington wilderness, and could see the mountain ahead. It still looked so far away, but I would be up and around it by the end of the morning. In fact, I would traverse TWO mountains today, pretty wild! It’s like magic to watch your route on the horizon, and then see it behind you hours later.
The next section of trail traveled through a couple little forest islands, perfect for pee breaks. The trail turned to dirt momentarily, providing a nice reprieve for my feet. Notice the different trail surfaces in the two photos below. One is significantly easier to walk on.
It was an easy ascent up Little Belknap, a relatively newer volcano. I decided to drop my pack and hike the .2 miles off trail to its summit.
Adding mileage to my already huge day probably wasn’t the wisest of choices, but it was early, so I still felt great, and I knew there was a REALLY good chance I would never be here again, so I might as well; plus it was only .4 miles roundtrip.
There is something extremely satisfying in arriving at the top of anything, even if it’s just Little Belknap. Growing up in central Oregon, I’ve seen a lot of lava rock. I thought about hikers from around the world who may have never seen a sight like this, and how otherworldly it must be.
I loved seeing the lonely trees sprinkled here and there – they must have some amazing adaptations to live in this environment. I also saw some piles of horse poo, completely blown away that anyone would ride horses on this section of trail.
The field of lava flowed right into a burn section, the 2006 Cascade Crest Complex Fire. The trail was particularly tough for the first few miles with a mixture of cinders and lava rock, but then it gave way to dirt as I hiked the wide circuit around Mt. Washington. My feet were so happy to land on soft even ground!
The burnt forest offered views, and the wildflowers were pretty. Ready to take a break, I started looking for a log to sit on that wasn’t burnt. It took some time, but I found a spot off trail to rest my feet.
The trail ducked into live forest shortly after that, and with the sun now high in the sky, I was grateful for the shade. It didn’t take long to come to a beautiful meadow with a view of the other side of Mt. Washington.
This was also the 300-mile marker for the Oregon PCT! My mileage is higher because of my side trips, but crossing the “real” 300-mile point felt extremely momentous. I was 2/3 of the way through my trek!
I stopped for lunch a couple miles later. I took my socks and shoes off to let my feet breath, and ate my usual tuna wrap, but this time I had some cheese I grabbed from camp – so yummy!
The next few hours were a trudge to get through. The day got hot, the trail was dusty with sparse shade, and there was more burnt forest. When I hiked past Big Lake, I could actually hear the activities on the lake, even though it appeared so far down.
We camped here on the other side of the lake just last year with friends, so it was fun to picture where I was on the Oregon map in my head, and see a new perspective of the area.
The following four miles crossed the Ray Benson Sno-Park and ATV / Motorcycle world. This was one of the most unpleasant stretches of trail through the entire state. The heat probably had me a tad grumpy, but it was so noisy with the various loud machines zooming by. To top it off, Lodge-Pole pine forest has never been my favorite scenery. The PCT trail signs were high in the air to account for winter snowfall.
I was greeted by a lovely pond at the end of this section. My book describes it as shallow and sedimentary, but it was clear and fabulous when I arrived.
After filtering water, I soaked my feet for awhile. This was my last water source for the day, so I needed to plan accordingly, but I was ready to be a little “risky” with my water. It’s heavy, and I have carried too much at times. I’ve watched thru-hikers carry tiny little bottles, and I figured there was some sort of middle ground I should strive for.
While relaxing, I met a man hiking all of Oregon as well, but going SOBO, so he was just getting started. When we parted ways he said, “Well, I’m back to walking. That’s pretty much what we do all day long; walk, and walk, and walk.” I smiled replying, “Yup!”
I wanted to soak my feet for hours, but I still had 8 miles to go in my day. Yes, I could have stopped sooner, but I have a thing about camping in the best possible spots available, and I had my sights set on a particular location that sounded really cool. Plus, I knew the more I hiked today, the less I would have to tackle tomorrow to meet Michelle.
Leaving the pond, I saw a thru-hiker hunched over bushes, stuffing berries into her mouth. She said, “Huckleberries” as I approached. This is when the great berry debate began, and would continue through the rest of Oregon.
I grew up eating the tiny red huckleberries. I have never known a huckleberry to be blue. In my mind, these berries must be poisonous. I tell the woman I don’t think they are Huckleberries, and she responds, “Well, I googled pictures, and it seems like they are, plus they taste WAY to good not to be edible.”
Since I’m a little bit of an anxious person, eating berries I’m not 100% certain about makes me SUPER nervous. But, I hiked by another thru-hiker eating handfuls of the same berries. He tells me they are Mountain Blueberry.
I decide to try one, and they are really tasty. I ate a handful, but I was still cautious. Additionally, I didn’t boil my water from the pond, so that’s a double whammy on my nerves.
This section also offered me all the answers I needed from my trail print friend. I must have been hiking closely to someone with the print, because it was very clear now that it was part of the sole of a shoe. The mystery was solved. I followed this shoe for the next few days.
Arriving at the Santiam Hwy (US 20 / OR 126) was pretty exciting. That meant I already hiked 19.1 miles, and getting to Santiam Pass felt like a huge accomplishment. This was the road we drove on yesterday in our big loop when I noticed the PCT trail sign. The blueberry man was trying to hitch a ride to Sisters, but it was a tricky location. The highway was very busy with fast moving cars.
Once safely on the other side, I took the short side trail to the parking area and used a really gross porta, (I would have been better off ducking into the trees). It was Saturday, so the car lot was packed. This was a popular trailhead to access the Jefferson Wilderness Loop.
I sat in the shade for 30 minutes, and celebrated with a snack and checking in with people (I had cell service). I shared my 300-mile marker news with all my favorites back home. I was proud I made it more than 2/3 of the way, and I knew I had a great shot at finishing the state of Oregon.
With 5.7 more miles to hike, I left the trailhead at 4:50 p.m. immediately entering burnt forest from the 2003 B&B Complex Fire. There was very little shade as I began my ascent of Three Fingered Jack. Of course, I would encounter a major uphill for the end of my day when I was tired, wanted to go fast, and now racing the sun.
It was pretty cool to think about hiking over two mountains in one day! However, at this point I was tired, my feet were very achy, and I went into my “just gotta get there,” mode with one step in front of the other. The sun was low on the horizon, so I felt an urgency to beat the clock, which turns the joy of hiking into stressful exercise.
The views were expansive, with Mt. Washington behind me. It now looked so far away. The burnt forest gave way to woods, which made it dark. I was anxious to get to what my book calls, “Camp 5.” I passed a group of climbers, adorning gear complete with helmets. Three Fingered Jack is a popular rock climbing summit.
Then I got BIG views of Three Fingered Jack (which has more than 3 “fingers,” by the way). I was right at the base, so this vantage point was spectacular, definitely one of my favorite sections of Oregon.
When I rolled into camp, it was nothing like what I had pictured in my mind all day – it was SO MUCH BETTER! I was beyond thrilled to see my final destination, arriving at 7:30 p.m. with some daylight to spare. It wasn’t a very large area, so I was lucky there were still a couple tent spots available.
Two men were already set up. I didn’t ask to join this time, I simply announced I was here, and would be sharing the space with them. Thankfully, they were extremely friendly, and showed me a couple tent location options.
They both taught at Mountain View High School in Bend, my alma mater! When they found out I graduated in 1996, the track and field coach asked me if I knew John Nosler.
“Of course,” I said with a smile, everyone knew John Nosler. He was an all seasons sports star, and class President of our school the year we graduated. Apparently, John still holds some track & field records. Pretty funny, and such a small world.
Before I got settled, the teachers pointed out 3 mountain goats traversing around Three Fingered Jack. Their white fur stuck out against the brown mountain. I honestly wouldn’t have noticed them if I had been alone, so I was thankful my camp mates had spotted them, because it was a pretty special thing to see. Our guess was a mom, dad and a juvenile, because one was quite a bit smaller, but I don’t know for sure.
The camp was a piece of land jetted off the side of the mountain. We would all be doomed if the big one hit (earthquake), but we had the very best view imaginable. Three Fingered Jack rose majestically to the east hovering over us, and the west offered panoramic views for hundreds of miles off to the distance. This location was top 3 camping spots in all of Oregon, definitely worth the extra effort today.
I chose the tent pad that was closest to the tip of the edge because it provided a little privacy from the men, although it was a tad spooky. My tent barely fit in the space (good thing I now had my 1-person tent).
With only a little water left, I had a dinner plan that didn’t require any, so that worked out. I had to hike 7.8 miles tomorrow to get to water, so I rationed.
I watched the sky change brilliant colors while I ate dinner. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets on the trail. I had cell service, so I was able to let everyone know I made it, most importantly, Michelle. I told her I was in good shape to see her tomorrow evening.
I got cozy in my tent, absolutely exhausted, but I kept popping my head out to watch the sky. I was beyond proud of myself. I accomplished a really big hiking day (nearly 25 miles), crossing tough terrain, climbed over and around two mountains, and kept it together mentally (for the most part).
This was the hiking day I was most nervous about, yet it wasn’t nearly as bad as I pictured in my mind. I started to realize I could hike anything in Oregon, and I shouldn’t let my book get in my head too much.
I was humbled by the intense beauty and massiveness surrounding me, and overwhelmed, once again, with an appreciation for this journey I was on. At some point, I fell asleep.
Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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