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