Tag Archives: Hiking Central Oregon

PCT Oregon Day 28 – Zero Day on the McKenzie Pass

Day 28
Today’s Miles: 0 PCT Miles – 6 hiking miles
Total Miles: 290.25
Zero Day in and around Lava Camp Lake Campground

It was a beautiful typical central Oregon morning; sunny, frosty and cold. I woke up before the boys; got a fire started, made some tea, and wrote in my journal sitting in a comfy camp chair – amenities of car camping I don’t take for granted. The campground was quiet and peaceful.

Creating a zero day turned into a solid plan. My body was tired from yesterday, and the following day would be my toughest and longest day of hiking so far, plus it aligned perfectly with the weather.

I draped my wet tent over chairs and rocks to dry in the sun. I was so happy all my belongings wouldn’t be wet for tomorrow’s hike.

Carl and I made a feast for breakfast and drank mimosas. With no real agenda for the day, we simply enjoyed a relaxing morning watching the ground squirrels steal dog food out of Jasmine’s bowl, walking around the lake, and playing in the water. Carl and Hux did a little parkour, and found a nature teeter-totter.

We left camp for the afternoon to explore, stopping at the Dee Wright Observatory first, which is nearly across the street from the Lava Camp Lake Campground.

I was blown away by the sight of the mountains on the horizon. In yesterday’s fog, I couldn’t see any of them, but the clear skies revealed what I missed yesterday; and what I would soon approach, wrap around, and leave behind, as I continue hiking north.

A view of my future – tomorrow’s hike

The observatory also offered me a glimpse of the giant lava flow I would traverse tomorrow morning.

Out of the entire state, I was most nervous about this upcoming leg.

My book describes hikers doing the section at night because the hike can be so brutal with very little shade, very few camp spots, and no water for 16+ miles. I have zero experience night hiking, so I wasn’t going to attempt that alone.

Big Lake normally offers hikers a reprieve with a place to camp for the night about halfway through the section, but they closed this year due to Covid.

Additionally, this was the only day I wanted my trekking poles, and unfortunately Carl forgot them, (he had a million things to remember, so nothing I was upset about), but it made me extra nervous heading into the cinder covered trails.

Travelling down the McKenzie Scenic Highway, we stopped at the Linton Lake Trailhead. Of course, we had to get a little hike in! The trail was so beautiful with lush forest. Significantly more lush than the majority of the PCT because of the elevation. Linton Lake is only at 2,000 ft., for example.

Hux and Jasmine ran the entire 2 miles to the lake. This is not unusual behavior; the kid loves to hike (and run), especially in nature. My heart was so full and happy hiking with my loves. We took a side trail to the lake, and skirted around the shore to a point.

There were a lot of birds in the area. Carl and I wanted to swim, but felt a tad cautious with all the avian activity, not knowing what was in the water. I was on day 3 without a shower, so a refreshing dip sounded great.

After minutes of deliberation, we both jumped in. It was COLD – so I didn’t stay long.

On our return trip, I was worried Hux expended all his energy the first 2 miles, and would request a shoulder ride, but he ran the whole way back too.

We drove down the road stopping at Proxy Falls, a 1.5 mile hiking loop. It was getting late, but we figured we should do it while we were in the area, and Hux loves waterfalls (don’t we all).

It was probably closer to 2 miles after adding the scrambling around both waterfalls.

We had to decide if we wanted to drive back up the winding McKenzie Highway, or drive down to Hwy 126 to connect with Hwy 20, making a full loop of the day. We opted for the later thinking it would be longer, but faster.

I’m not sure we made the most efficient choice, but it was cool to pass the PCT trailhead on Hwy 20, knowing I would be hiking all the way to that location the next day.

We drove the whole loop. Notice the PCT dotted trail through the middle.

We were also successful in getting into cell range (there is none at Lava Camp Lake Campground for Verizon). I needed to coordinate with my friend, Michelle (and potential hiking buddy), who was supposed to be joining me for a week very soon.

She had some unexpected life happenings unfold while I was on the trail, so her plans were up in the air. I wasn’t sure if she was still meeting me, and if so, when and where. The shape my next two days would take varied significantly depending on what news I heard from her.

As soon as I got service, a message from Michelle appeared. She was able to meet me at our predetermined day and location – the plan was on! I was SO excited I would have a hiking buddy in two days. However, this meant I had a 24-mile hiking day to complete tomorrow – my biggest day yet – followed by a 17-mile day to meet her.

I have never done anything over 20 miles without a zero day following, so the 17-mile day made me nervous. Plus, tomorrow’s lava rock terrain would be difficult, slowing the hiking speed down significantly. This would be my biggest challenge yet, but I was excited to test myself.

We stopped at the grocery store to buy marshmallows for Hux before heading back to camp, arriving around 8 p.m. YIKES!

Carl made dinner while I started to organize myself for the next 4 days and 3 nights.

I was looking at a 9-day stretch, and carrying that much food (and full water bottles for tomorrow), was intimidating. I asked Carl if he could meet me and Michelle at Olallie Lake in 4 days. Of course he said yes, even though I’m sure he wanted to say no. It was a lot of work on his part to meet me with our little guy, but he is AMAZING.

Packing in the dark, and thinking about my resupply was stressful. I was worried I would forget something important. When I have zero days, my things end up all over making it easy for an item to be left behind.

I needed to get hiking tomorrow at daybreak to beat the heat, and ensure I had enough time in my day to hike 24 miles. At some point, Hux fell asleep in a chair next to the fire. He NEVER falls asleep like that; he must have been exhausted. He didn’t even roast a marshmallow.

I crawled into my sleeping bag around midnight thinking about tackling my big day ahead on very little sleep, but feeling full in the love department after a wonderful day.

One of my favorite photos…

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…