Pacific Crest Trail Oregon: Day 9 to Island Lake

Day Nine
Today’s Miles: 15.6
Total Miles: 99.5
Fish Lake to Island Lake (Sky Lakes Wilderness)

Despite feeling completely safe last night, I didn’t sleep well. I tossed and turned, waking up a dozen times. This became my new normal, and it wasn’t because I was uncomfortable. I had an amazing sleeping pad I LOVE, that’s cushy and comfy (but bulky – so it’s my one “luxury” item).
[SeaToSummit – Comfort Plus S.I. – Self Inflating]
I always fell asleep quickly on the trail, completely exhausted, but I honestly think it was just too quite. Being a mom, I woke up to every little sound.

Going into section TWO today of the Oregon PCT:
Fish Lake up to Cascade Crest (passing Crater Lake):

My headlamp died while I was journaling last night, so at 5 a.m. I went up to the bathroom to charge it. Maybe it wasn’t very charged out of the package (it was brand new), but thank goodness I was somewhere with charging power! Having light is vital out on the trail.
My ankle was SORE. I was definitely nervous about my day.

My very full backpack – day one of solo hiking!

My pack was significantly heavier, which didn’t help the ankle. I was carrying four day’s worth of food, all of the gear myself (no more hiking partners to help carry shared weight), and I needed enough water to get me through nearly the whole day.

Thomas had support tape for injuries, and he let me borrow some for my ankle. He left camp at 7 a.m., still planning to meet me at Island Lake for the night. I was 30 minutes behind him, but was moving VERY slowly.

I had to hike the 2 miles back to the PCT, not something I factored into my original itinerary, so this was going to be my longest hiking day so far, on top of being injured and carrying a ton of weight. Here we go PCT!

It was a really tough two miles, and I arrived back at the trail in tears. I willed myself the whole way, and my mental game was being challenged. My ankle hurt, and every step brought pain and worry. I started questioning what I should do. It seemed like a really stupid idea to push forward. What if it got worse and I needed rescued? The last thing I wanted to do was put strain on our resources during the pandemic. I was entering deep wilderness for the next few days, and I didn’t want to be stranded.

Weighing the options…

Since I was considering cutting a day out of my itinerary, my final hike up to Crater Lake would be nearly 22 miles – that’s a big day on healthy legs, let alone with an injury! Additionally, my parents had a room reserved at the Crater Lake lodge (a bucket list item for my mom), so I had an itinerary to keep…

I ate several Ibuprofrin and texted Carl my dilemma. He obviously couldn’t make the decision for me, but suggested I spend one more day at Fish Lake so I could simply rest, and hopefully my ankle would feel better tomorrow.

The thought of backtracking, even just 2 miles, sounded so defeating. I decided to keep going and have zero expectations for the next few days. If I had to do it in 4, then I had enough food, and the time to make it happen. I would just go slow. Unfortunately, this would be the last cell service I had until tomorrow mid-morning. Poor Carl; talk about setting him up for a night of worry.

It was a LONG trying day. The Ibuprofrin helped, but I was in pain with every single step. My spirits were really low. I felt like my body was failing me; I literally limped the whole way to Island Lake, but I made it!

I took many breaks, ate a lot of Ibuprofrin, and had nearly zero scenery moments to take my mind off things. It was the real-deal Green Tunnel: how hikers describe many sections of Oregon. I don’t want to use the word, “boring,” but, it was mile after mile of the same thing all day.

Although I was in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, the PCT bypasses all the lakes in the area so the trail can keep as near to the actual crest of the mountains as possible – otherwise it would be the Pacific Lakes Trail.

Fourmile lake in the distance

Adding insult to injury, I entered mosquito alley today. It was one of the worst mosquito experiences I’ve had up to this day (more would come in future days). I had tons of repellent on, (and not the hippie-dippie stuff I usually wear), this was full of DEET, but it didn’t seem to matter. Why did I leave the mosquito net in my resupply bag?

I knew now how lucky I was to have encountered zero mosquitoes until this day. Those little critters can BREAK you, and I felt pretty broken. However, the view of Mt. McLoughlin was nice, even if it was just for a moment, now way behind me.

I made it to Island Lake around 6:15 p.m. – not bad for limping the entire 15+ miles. It was .6 miles off the PCT, but highly recommend in the book, plus, this is where I would meet Thomas!

Alas, no one was there when I arrived. Thomas must have decided to keep going, or he missed the turn off. Island Lake camp was great, but I would enjoy it completely alone. The Pacific Crest Trail was going to TEST every ounce of me today.

Camp for day 9

I had my very own Christmas tree in camp. I was confused why people would go to this great length, and was it done back in December? Perhaps some folks snowshoed in? I’ll never know. If I was car-camping, I would have picked up all the trash, but I just couldn’t risk carrying extra weight with my injury, plus my pack was already really full.

It was nice to have water in camp for cooking and refilling water bottles.

Island Lake

I found a little sunny spot right next to the lake to eat my mushroom risotto backpacker meal for dinner. I read about my hiking day tomorrow, filtered water, and meditated on being brave through the night. The last time I slept out in the middle of the woods alone I was pretty terrified (read all about it here) – and I couldn’t afford another night like that. If I wanted to hike the PCT, I had to be freakin’ brave!

The company of a dragonfly

As soon as the sun went down, the skeeters were out in full force, and I hid in the tent the rest of the night (after hanging my bear bag far away). I half expected another hiker to join me at some point, since this seemed like such a nice camping spot, but I came to realize that thru-hikers don’t veer off the trail very far, and there just weren’t that many people out backpacking this year.

Island Lake Sunset

As much as I love being alone, I found myself kind of lonely and feeling down. The trail is so much fun to share with other people. My ankle really messed up my mental game today, and I started questioning if I was physically capable of hiking the entire state. I decided if my ankle still hurt at Crater Lake and my spirits were this low, I would go home with my parents. This hadn’t been a fun day, and wasn’t that kind of the point to all of this?

As soon as I turned my headlamp off and snuggled in for sleep, I heard a very large crashing noise make its way through the forest, followed by loud banging . It sounded like an animal messing with my food bag – a LARGE animal. The banging lasted for only a minute, followed by more loud crashing – thankfully in the opposite direction of me.

My heart was racing, and of course I kept thinking, “What if the bear got my food bag? Everything is in there!” I even put my cooking stove in it for the first time, thinking it must smell like food now that I’ve used it for over a week. The experts recommend you hang food bags 15-20 ft. above the ground…I’m short, I never did that….oops!

Reflecting back on this day and night, I now know how good and healing it was for me. Real growth comes from the struggle, and this day delivered.

We take for granted our health, until something in our body falters. We take for granted the absence of mosquitoes, until you are swarmed and driven to ultimate frustration. We take for granted the sweeping views, until you are in a tunnel of green for hours and hours. We take for granted the good company we have, until we are all alone. I learned to appreciate all the GOOD on such a deeper level.

Island Lake Camp Tree

According to the book, this is the Judge Waldo Tree, a Shasta Red Fir. It marks the spot where Judge John B. Waldo and his party camped in 1888 on their expedition from Willamette Pass to Mount Shasta.

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