Today’s Miles: 17.3
Total Miles: 166
Grouse Hill Backpacker Camp (Crater Lake) to Thielsen Creek – passing Diamond Lake (far below) and Mt. Thielsen
Looking back on this day brings me a pang of sadness. The Mt. Thielsen Wilderness area was hit by one of the many 2020 wildfires at the end of the summer. I feel so blessed to have witnessed it before the fire swept through; something to never take for granted. The trail certainly changes from year to year, all the more reason to adventure when the opportunity arises.
I never set an alarm backpacking, but I got a late start today – hitting the trail around 8:30 a.m. I had another big mileage day ahead, and I should have gotten an earlier start, but I had a newfound confidence knowing I would be fine after completing my big 22-mile day to Crater Lake.
It was a cold morning, but I slept well in my new digs. The one-person tent is certainly smaller, but it feels cozier, and I love all the pockets. The new space grew on me pretty quickly.
As I broke down camp, the other backpackers walked by. They were nearly out of water, and told me they were considering just hiking down to Diamond Lake to get more. That seemed far out of the way, but I didn’t know for sure.
I was on the trail 20 minutes behind them. At the closest road junction I saw a sign that read, “Crater Lake Water Cache,” with an arrow pointing left. My book explained it was a location hikers could stash water ahead of time, but not to count on extra “free” water. Especially with Covid this year, it was smart to have zero expectations on those things.
I had plenty of water to make it through the day, and was happy to get drinking on it to lighten my load. Today, I decided my trail name should be, “Miss Oregon.” I think you technically are given a trail name by someone else, so it didn’t really count, but I felt like I needed one. I have lived nearly my whole life in Oregon, I’m doing the Oregon section of the PCT, I graduated from the University of Oregon, I was wearing an Oregon baseball cap every day…it just made sense.
I passed the couple a few miles in, and they indeed got water at the cache – yay! The problem they would have moving forward, was the amount of water their bottles could hold, which was very little. This style (filter inside your small water bottle) is great for hikes with plentiful water, but not realistic for long stretches of dry trail, especially if you have a pup joining you.
The first 9.1 miles went quickly. It was a flat trail, with not much to look at, but I made good time. On the edge of the Winema National Forest, I carefully crossed HWY 138.
I took a solid rest at Cascade Crest. A sign indicated that Diamond Lake was 9 miles away, while Thielsen Creek was 8.2 miles. When the couple arrived, I suggested they just keep heading to Thielsen Creek. I gave them a little of my water, and they agreed they would keep heading north on the PCT.
We all chatted for awhile. It turns out, *Mike and *Sonya are from Portland and ran in the same career circles as I did. We even knew some of the same people. It’s such a small world sometimes. I was excited they decided to continue on so I would have camp mates again tonight.
Leaving them to enjoy their lunch, I continued on. About .4 miles up the trail, I crossed (FR961) with a trailhead and a BIG water cache. This was the first one I saw on my PCT journey. I knew the couple would be relieved.
The second half of my day was fantastic, and I was reminded of why I’m doing this. On the border of the the Oregon Cascade Recreation area and Mt. Thielsen Wilderness, I had to ascend, but that’s how you get the big rewards.
After climbing for awhile, I earned views of Diamond Lake below (way below). I’ve spent a lot of time at Diamond Lake between family reunions and various camping trips, but I’ve never seen it from this perspective. My grandma Horton loved Diamond Lake, and we would always stop there on our way from Bend to Grants Pass when I would stay a week with my grandparents in the summer.
My grandmother died young from cancer. She loved climbing mountains, hiking and camping, and I know I get my outdoorsy spirit partially from her. My very first backpacking trip was with my grandparents and parents at around age 8.
I thought of her as my guardian angel watching over me as I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
I hope she is proud of me.
Taking a lunch break, complete with shoes and socks off, I sat on a rock overlooking the lake below. I thought about my grandmother, did some mindful meditations, and stretched for a bit. It’s nice to take breaks; that’s why I’ll probably never be a 30-mile-a-day hiker.
Not long after this section, the most wonderful surprise appeared, Mt. Thielsen – just out of nowhere – BANG – so big and right in front of me. It was a magnificent moment that left me grinning from ear to ear. Mountains are my favorite form of scenery, and I had magnificent views the rest of the way to camp.
I found a few more pumice rocks for my kiddo to experiment with when I saw him next. He REALLY loves rocks, and I figure pumice are the only kind of rocks I’m going to tote around for him backpacking. (Their weight is about equal to a marshmallow.)
At the Mt. Thielsen Trail junction, coming up from Diamond lake, the view was unbelievable. Panorama in every direction. I set my pack down and turned circles taking it all in, and took a few dozen photos.
There was a campsite at this location which would have been an amazing prize view all evening, but I wanted to get to water, so I only considered it for a moment.
After descending for an hour, I heard the sweet gurgle of running water, and was finally greeted with idyllic Thielsen creek. This was the very first creek crossing I encountered, and it required a small rock hop.
My balance isn’t what it used to be, so this was an element of concern to me, but I handled this one just fine. The camping area was big, open, and was one of my favorite camping spots on the whole trail.
The water was crystal clear, and there were other campers already set up along the creek. The best part, the mosquitoes were nearly non-existent! I couldn’t believe it, but was incredibly thankful.
I found a spot under some trees, and set up my tent, ate dinner, and simply enjoyed the serene landscape. Mike and Sonya came strolling in with their dog as I was finishing dinner; they made it!
It was a really tough, long day for them, and they already decided they would be taking a zero day tomorrow to rest and recover. They camped near me, and we all chatted until hitting our tents early.
** The names of fellow backpackers have changed for privacy.
Want to start at the beginning of my adventure? Access Day One