PCT Oregon – Day 27 to Lava Camp Lake Campground

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

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

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

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

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

The Husband (Mountain)

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

My morning hill – all to myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last look behind me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View of our campsite from the other side of the lake

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

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

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

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