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

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