Tag Archives: Bend

Backpacking the PCT – Day 26 to Reese Lake

Day 26
Today’s Miles: 13.9
Total Miles: 272.2
Elk Lake to Reese Lake

This particular day was EPIC. It was the first day on the Pacific Crest trail that I cried from pure joy and awe, as I was filled with that magic feeling of appreciating everything around me, and overwhelmed with the emotion of gratitude. I also took A LOT of photos – so photo warning – this post is full of them.

If you have to chose between the bottom half of Oregon or the top half; hands down, the top half has more wows. I’m so happy I hiked the entire state, and I found beauty in every single day, but I really love mountains, and you are up close to several in the top half of Oregon.

As much as I enjoyed relaxing in Bend over a few zero days, and spending time with Hux, I was ready to get back to my hike. Hux was equally ready to have his two-day solo adventure with grandma and grandpa. My parents drove me back up to the trailhead across from the Elk Lake resort.

My little guy didn’t even bat an eye as he said, “Bye mom, have fun!” He was used to his new trail mom, and he was heading to Elk Lake to hang for the day. We would all see each other again tomorrow night at Lava Lake Campground.

After a last stop at the vault toilet near the trailhead, I was on my way, hitting the trail by 10 a.m.

I saw my familiar trail print friend right away. This made me smile, and provided comfort as I began my day.

The first seven miles were tough, and not particularly interesting. I steadily climbed the switchbacks of Koosah Mountain, the 381st highest mountain in Oregon.

With an ascent of 1200 ft, I was happy to take a break to enjoy the view of South Sister and Broken Top to the north, Mt. Bachelor to the east, and Elk & Lava lakes and Diamond Peak to the south. I sat on some large rocks breathing in the late morning air. It felt good to get the hard part of the day over with early.

I didn’t see another hiker this entire section, but I knew I was entering the heavily used trails of central Oregon. For the first time on the PCT, I was actually a little worried about finding a campsite later in the day.

Descending switchbacks took me to the first of many meadows, all filled with wildflowers. The trail skirted by a cute pond, then the shore of Mirror Lake.

I tried to have lunch at the lake, but the skeeters were abundant, and I was greeted with my first groups of people, so I didn’t linger long.

I purposefully planned this section for mid-week. I would avoid this area on a weekend, even when I wasn’t scared of crowds in a non-pandemic year.

Leaving Mirror Lake, I was thinking this leg was pretty, but not on the wowza scale I had heard it would be. However, when I turned the next corner, I was BLOWN away by the breathtaking view of South Sister, and the beautiful pumice meadow (Wickiup Plain) leading me all the way to the base.

It was incredible, and I was truly choked up with emotion. Central Oregon is where I grew up, yet I had never seen this particular view. I got SO lucky, I had the entire section to myself, I never saw another hiker as I traveled through the plain.

I took many pictures, took my time, and took a moment to be thankful for all the people who helped this dream of mine become a reality. I was thankful events unfolded in a way that allowed me this opportunity, and I was proud of myself for being brave, and sticking to it during those times I thought about quitting.

I couldn’t believe just a day or two ago I considered heading home instead of continuing. I would have missed out on this AMAZING scene. My trail book author agreed:

“If you suddenly have the urge to drop your pack to sit and marvel at this scene for a while, go for it. This is why you’re hiking the PCT.”
Eli Boschetto, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon Guide Book

I thought of Carl, and wished he had been able to join me, but quickly decided we would come back together and explore the area. I’m not one to visit a location twice, there’s too much to see in one’s lifetime, but this would be a definite exception.

The rest of the day had the wow factor, and I wore a goofy grin nonstop. I was truly so so so happy.

Just pass South Sister, the trail travelled along Rock Mesa, a rhyodacite dome formation. This was my first spotting of smooth glassy obsidian rock on the trail, and my first spotting of my trail friend print going the OTHER (wrong) direction! What?

This could only mean one thing, more than one person was leaving this mark along the trail. I know this sounds funny, and in hindsight it is, but I was crushed with this realization.

Up until this point, I truly felt there was one person leading the way, guiding me along the PCT. Now, it just didn’t feel as special. But, I quickly shook off my disappointment because there was just TOO much awesome surrounding me to let it get me down.

I passed a couple heading south. They both had ear buds in, and frowns on their faces. I tried to make a joke that they would have to keep turning around to see the big view hiking that direction. The woman gave me a little smile, but neither of them said anything.

It was hard for me to fathom being grumpy on a day like today. The weather was sunny and beautiful with perfect temps. The views were unbelievable, and there weren’t any mosquitoes ruining the mood. I would never think to hike with earbuds through a section like this either. But, everyone’s journey is different, and we all have breaking points that cover a wide spectrum of things.

Mesa Meadow was my intended stop for the night on my original itinerary before I knew I could hike farther than 10 miles a day. I planned to do this section in 2 nights and 3 days of hiking, but now I would only take one night.

I found a log to sit and rest my feet while I watched a few other campers in the distance set up tents.

After crossing several cute creeks, I settled on filtering water at one that fell over a small hill creating a mini waterfall with an easy spot to fill up my filter bag.

A woman joined me moments later. She was a thru-hiker, and complained of her feet hurting. She had already hiked 600+ miles in her shoes, and planned to buy new ones in Sisters the following day. She still wanted to hike 10 more miles for the day. I only had about 3.5, which was fortunate, because the sky grew dark as clouds rolled in, and I heard thunder in the distance.

Wanting to avoid my pack getting wet, I picked up the pace, and limited my picture taking to beat the storm to camp. It was hard to tell which direction it was heading, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

I hiked through a burn section not even mentioned in my book. A fire must have rolled through in the last year or two.

Not long after, I passed a man sitting under a tree, relaxing with his shoes and socks off; not appearing too concerned about the ensuing storm. We chatted briefly.

He was hiking all of Oregon too, but with his car. This meant, he was going up and down sections so he could move his car along the way, basically hiking the trail twice. I’m pretty sure there is NO WAY I would ever consider doing that.

I can’t overstate how lucky I felt with the breathtaking wildflower display I was gifted through all of Oregon. The summer of 2020 was off-the-charts stunning, and this section was a definite highlight.

It wasn’t long before I reached Reese Lake, my final destination for the night. There were two men camped, and another small group of folks, but plenty of room for us all. I asked if they minded I snag a small spot, not that I needed to ask, but it seemed polite.

I set up my tent as the first raindrops fell – perfect timing! I had a really cool view of South Sister from my tent with the lake below. Although I had never been here before, the lake had more of a pond vibe, and I had the feeling it would one day not be there.

I hung out inside my tent for awhile, but it wasn’t raining hard, so I filtered water and made a Pad Thai backpacker meal before the rain came with a little more force. I ate inside my tent, but the rain didn’t last long. The fog rolled in after the storm, making the mountain completely disappear.

I performed my nightly routine of brushing teeth, hanging my bear bag extra far away from camp, and snuggled in for journal writing and sleep. This was one of my favorite camping spots along the trail. I was so happy and grateful to be dry and warm, and to be camping with other people. I felt safe, at ease, and filled with joy for my PCT opportunity. And to top it off, no mosquitoes! It really was an EPIC day.

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

Hiking the PCT Day 22-25 – Zero Days in Bend

Day 22-25
Today’s Miles: 0
Total Miles: 258.3
Zero Days in Bend, Oregon

I had, quite possibly, the very best sleep of my ENTIRE life last night. A bed, pillow, and fan for white noise; it doesn’t get much better than that. I was sore, definitely feeling the 21 miles I hiked yesterday, and I was thankful rest was on the agenda for the day.

Taking a big trail break, I spent 5 nights and 4 days in Bend. This was mostly to give Carl an opportunity to catch up on his work and life. Hadlie drove Hux to Bend so he could spend the days with me.

I originally planned on spending two zero days at Elk Lake, but since I had a few more low mileage days on the itinerary in the next couple sections of the trail, I simply planned to merge those days, affording me extra zero days in Bend.

It still seemed silly to have a 9 mile hiking day. My sweet spot was 17 miles. It was a good distance to hike most of the day at a pleasant pace. I could take breaks, take my time, and not feel crazy sore the next day.

It was a little weird to be back in the world. We went to the Columbia Outlet, and walking through a store felt strange, especially during the pandemic. With my weight loss, I had to be careful about buying anything at my current size, but I did find some new shorts to replace the ones I lost on the trail.

It was great to see Hadlie, albeit briefly, and to spend several days with Hux. I was able to catch up on my computer needs, going through all my emails, paying bills, and catching up on life’s responsibilities. We even spent a day at Tumalo State Park.

I washed all my gear; clothes, backpack, water bottles and water filter. I also spent time organizing my resupply stash.

Carl and I tried to plan for him to join me on the next little leg – Elk Lake to Lava lake campground. I was SO excited, since this section was supposed to be a major highlight of the trail, but it just didn’t pan out. I would need to hike it alone.

I really struggled with the news. I was looking forward to the company, and I wanted to share this epic section with someone. I was so disappointed, I even considered quitting. My emotions were high, and I was tired. Carl talked with me on the phone.

“Heather, we will all be proud of you no matter what. You already hiked a really long distance, but I know you will be disappointed if you decide to stop now, and I don’t want you to be mopey for the decision. I know you can do it. You have just been off the trail for too many days, once you get back out there, you will be fine, and loving it again.”

Of course he was right. Taking a break is good to rejuvenate, but you can’t take too long of a break. For me, I just lost my trail rhythm and routine. It can be kinda hard to get back out there.

So, we planned for Hux to stay with my parents for two days and one night while I hiked to Lava Lake Campground. This was his very first solo overnight at grandma and grandpa’s house. We were all earning our bravery badge in the summer of 2020!

The new plan was to all meet up at the Campground. Carl could take Hux home, and I would get to see everyone one more time before my next really BIG leg.

Enjoying Hux and Zero Days in Bend

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

Pacific Crest Trail Oregon – Day 21 to Elk Lake

Day 21
Today’s Miles: 21
Total Miles: 258.3
Brahma Lake to Elk Lake

Beautiful Brahma Lake

Excited for another big mileage hiking day, I was up early. My body hurt after these 20+ mile days, but it was great to have them sprinkled in through my journey. They made me feel proud of myself, strong, capable, and a little bit more like a “real” long-distance backpacker.

Last night was the first time on the trail that I actually got up to pee in the middle of the night. For whatever reason, I wasn’t scared, and I was curious how the stars looked. I have seen very little star action so far because I’m asleep so early.

The big dipper was right above the lake, and the stars were bright and plentiful; well worth climbing out of the tent. I heard fish jumping all through the night, which was an unusual sound to sleep to, but I’ll take it over loud crashing through the woods.

The early morning sunlight was pretty on Brahma lake.

I made two packets of oatmeal for breakfast. I would be in a cozy bed/house later tonight, so there was no need to carry excess food (other than the usual emergency stash, of course). I ate breakfast in the tent to find refuge from the skeeters, they were awful on this particular morning.

My Morning Hike Heading up to Cliff Lake – Look at all Those Lakes!

I was on the trail at 6:50 a.m., and had another grumpy morning because of the mosquitoes – they are such a buzz kill!

Additionally, the trail was blocked by several down logs, so I worried it would be a really long day if I had to climb over trees continually; this maneuver slows you down significantly.

The amazing flowering bear grass was my saving grace. I also passed several cute ponds and lakes (there was a lot of water today), but it was hard to appreciate in the early hours since I knew the water was to blame for the abundance of mosquitoes.

It didn’t take long before I was on the shore of Stormy Lake, and I was happy I chose to stay at Brahma, it was a far superior camping spot – well worth the extra two miles today.

Stormy Lake

I rocked my mosquito head net all morning, along with my iPod in an attempt to drown out the constant buzz.

Around mid-morning I changed into shorts, and realized 5 minutes down the trail I left my pants hanging on a tree branch. I dropped my pack and ran back to get them – it felt AMAZING to take that pack off and run. Wow, I could go so fast! I dropped my mosquito net earlier in the day, and in similar fashion, ran back to get it.

Thankfully, I successfully retrieved both items, but it would be that sort of day. I lost my swim shorts and prescription sunglasses later in the day, but didn’t realize it until it was too late. Unfortunately, I never saw those two items again.

I held off on any big breaks until I arrived at Cliff Lake around 1:30 p.m. This is where I originally planned to stay for the night before I cut a day of hiking out of my itinerary, but it would have been a great location. It made a perfect lunch spot.

Cliff Lake

It was .2 miles off the PCT, with an unsigned spur trail, so I wouldn’t have known it was there if it weren’t for my book. There was a cute backcountry shelter next to the warm scenic lake. I filtered water and ate lunch. I intentionally saved the flavored tuna packet for this big hiking day. It was so good, well worth the extra $2.00.

I had half a tortilla leftover, and got the great idea to add a chocolate almond butter packet to it (think Nutella), and it was delicious. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to discover this special treat.

This was one of my favorite mid-day break locations on the trail. I went for a swim and took my time. The skeeters were gone, my spirits were high, and I was in a great mood the rest of the day.

Now with 9.9 miles to go, I pushed on toward Elk Lake. I started seeing more and more people. It was Friday, and I was entering a very popular outdoor recreation area. It was easy to keep distance, but I had my mask at the ready just in case.

Cliff Lake into Elk Lake – The Lakes Keep Coming

The trail passed many more lakes. I took a break at Dumbbell Lake, and found it especially pretty. I took my shoes off here for a bit and rested; I was getting tired. The reality of a 20+ mile day was catching up to my body.

I was daydreaming about a shower, and clean undies. I forgot to pack clean underwear at my last resupply, so I’ve had the same ones on since I showered at Odell Lake. Oops! At least fancy REI undies are meant to be worn for a few days.

Later in the day, the trail crossed several meadows. I was thankful for the moments of wider spaces. The tree tunnel begins to feel pretty closed-in after a few days.

Seeing the Elk Lake trail junction sign meant I only had 1.4 more miles (off the PCT down to the Elk Lake resort (lodge/restaurant/campground) to go! I even saw my familiar footprint friend heading that way, so I knew I was going in the right direction.

The side trail was open (burn area), so I had a view of the mountains; a definite foreshadowing of the next few magnificent days I would have on the trail.

My wonderful parents were waiting for me in the Elk Lake parking lot with a fresh salad, and french fries.

A part of me wanted to stay at the backpacker spot to see if I saw anyone I recognized, or just connect with other PCT folks (if anyone was even there), but a bed and shower sounded pretty enticing.

Bend is only 25 miles from Elk Lake, so it was a quick jaunt back to my old stomping grounds where I grew up.

I did take a wonderful shower, and for the first time on the trail, I saw how different I looked. I hardly recognized myself in the full-size mirror; I had lost a significant amount of weight. I couldn’t believe it. I guess hiking ALL day long with a heavy pack, and not eating that much is a good calorie burner.

I was beyond tired, and by body ached from today’s 21-mile trek. I got to snuggle into a real bed for the first time in 18 days. Heaven…