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