Crater Lake to Sisters
July 20, 2014
Start: Halfmile 1834.0
End: Halfmile 1840.0
Distance: 6.0 Mi
Cumulative: 1,879.5 Mi
The last few days have been lazy ones. We ran some errands, spent some quality time, but mostly we did a lot of nothing. It was awesome. Those are the first true nothing-else-to-do zeros I’ve had since I left the border in April. We spent today enjoying the rim drive and a short hike with her dog, Molson. I can’t even count how many selfies we took. I was so sad to see her go. I sang to her while we danced in the parking lot. And then, even more quickly than she appeared just a few short days ago, she was gone again.
Time to hike, to make my way once more towards her. One step at a time. I left Rim Village alone, except I wasn’t. There were people everywhere as I filled my water bottles and cinched my pack. Off I go. It was after dinner. I was fresh, but what’s the rush? I’m at Crater Lake. I took my time, enjoying every view, trying desperately to capture this place. Even my wide angle – the wide angle that so often is too wide to get the photo I want – wasn’t wide enough today. How like life.
I’m camped quietly out of sight atop a high point adjacent to the Devil’s Backbone. Can’t beat this view. I had planned to hike beyond the rim before making camp, but it was getting dark. I had an excuse to stop, so I did. Our little secret.
July 21, 2014
Start: Halfmile 1840.0
End: Halfmile 1877.5
Distance: 37.5 + 3.0 = 40.5 Mi
Cumulative: 1,920.0 Mi
Hadn’t made up my mind about attempting Mt. Thielsen. It wasn’t part of my original game plan. I didn’t have any beta. How long is the side trail? Is it a walk up? I was still debating – and probably leaning toward skipping it – when I reached the split. Atlas was there with a big group, most of whom had already topped out and come back down. He was heading up and asked if I cared to join him. “Sure.” It just slipped out. We ditched our packs at the junction, and we were on our way.
The trail was steep and loose, then it was steep with sketchy hand holds, then it became a scramble, then finally a pretty straightforward class V climb. We were confident in our abilities, but the line was exposed. A fall probably wouldn’t kill us, but it would likely end our thru-hike. We were no more than 50 feet from the summit and both fighting summit fever, but we called it quits anyways. Close enough, we figured. We just had to put it into perspective. Topping out wasn’t worth the risk. We’re not out here for Thielsen; we’re out here for Canada.
On the way down, I looked back and saw another route that looked (from my perspective) like it might be more mellow. I called to Atlas who seemed undecided. “We’ll never be here again,” I shouted as I turned around to check it out. He beat me to the ridge. I saw him look up, then down. All he said was “Ohhhhhhhhh…” I climbed all the way back up only to find that this route was far more exposed and sketchy than the original. At least I don’t have to wonder. We descended, both happy with our decision to do so.
I’ve climbed dozens of 14ers in Colorado, been on a number of exposed ridges and challenging lines without fall protection. But in each of those cases, I had researched my route. I understood the challenges; I was prepared. I’d brought my game face. That wasn’t the case here. This was an impromptu side trip. I was unprepared and unwilling to substitute this goal for Canada. Everything can’t be the most important thing. Sometimes you have to triage.
And besides, wasn’t it John Muir who once noted of Mt. Rainier that mountains are best-appreciated from below? Thielsen is a beautiful peak.
July 22, 2014
Start: Halfmile 1877.5
End: Halfmile 1920.5
Distance: 43.0 Mi
Cumulative: 1,963.0 Mi
I did 43 miles today. I’d read about a ski hut just north of Rosemary Lakes and figured it’d be nice to sleep inside tonight. I hiked late last night; it was after dark before I finally reached camp. I wanted to be near other people and figured the Tolo Camp at the junction for Six Horse Spring would be partly occupied. It was. Good thing too, because I saw another set of green eyes. It was around 920p and maybe five minutes before I reached camp. I couldn’t make out any shape. He was there, then gone, never making a sound. He was stealthy but seemed far too small to be another cougar. We’ll never know. I don’t think he followed me, since I didn’t see him again before I reached Tolo Camp and the three other hikers who were already camping there. As you can imagine, I was happy for the company.
Early start this morning. Left camp shortly after 5a. Ok, not that early. 10k would call that sleeping in. It was still dark but wouldn’t be for too long. Hiking through the woods this morning was eerie. It was cloudy and foggy, the sun unable to light my way as it normally would. I just pushed myself forward, scanning the trees with each step, trying to stay alert. I was feeling paranoid.
The clouds persisted all day long. For a time, it looked as though it might clear. Then it got dark – really dark. It was about 545p when I heard the first deep rumble of thunder. It grew in frequency and intensity as I marched into the storm. I knew it wouldn’t hold another two hours, which is what I needed to make the ski hut. Then the lightning started. Then the trail climbed up and up.
The thunder was loud and close. It was raining, then hailing. I started hiking hard, as hard as I could. I was sure it was about to get epic. Then it eased. Overcast and a light drizzle. The weather event was all but over before I reached the hut. With any luck, it’ll be a blue bird day tomorrow.
July 23, 2014
Start: Halfmile 1920.5
End: Halfmile 1950.0
Distance: 29.5 Mi
Cumulative: 1,992.5 Mi
Ok, let’s try this again. My first draft of this post sounded an awful lot like “Boo hoo, poor pitiful me.”
I don’t wanna give the wrong impression. Life’s good out here, if a bit challenging sometimes. How can
we appreciate the good times if we don’t struggle every so often? I haven’t had to struggle much lately.
Didn’t wake up until 8a. Hit the trail just before 9a. Shameful. 10k had probably already done 12-15 miles by the time I took my first step this morning. It seems impossible that I’ll ever catch him.
I had hoped for 33 miles and a clear day. Neither was to be. It rained off and on, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, sometimes just thick fog, but always moisture. Even if it wasn’t raining, the breeze sent drops plummeting down from the saturated tree canopy. The thick, encroaching understory was also saturated. And there were puddles everywhere, puddles on puddles. There was no escaping. I was just going to be wet and uncomfortable. It was actually kind of fun at first, something different. And you know how I like different.
I felt the sun on my face for a few brief moments, which boosted my morale greatly. Then it never appeared again, which caused my morale to steadily drop. I shouldn’t be complaining. I slept inside last night and got to start comfortably this morning. That’s better than most. And it will not be the case tomorrow. I’m camping tonight, having set up as the rain continued to fall steadily. I’m soaked. Everything I have is soaked, or will be by morning.
Things could be better, I thought.
Yes, things could be better. But they could always be worse. The wind could be howling; it could be a torrential downpour; it could be freezing tonight; I could be running low on food; I could be lost. But instead I’m lucky, and I know it. Lucky in so many ways, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be psyched on my current situation. And I’m not. This has been my most challenging day on the trail so far. I’ve always ended each day well, if that makes sense. Regardless of the challenges of my day, I’ve always been able to climb comfortably into my sleeping bag and appreciate this place. My challenges have been trivial and short-lived.
Tonight, it’s not so easy. Yes, my challenge is still trivial. But tonight, I’m sleeping with that challenge. Ah well, it’s all part of the experience. There is no place I’d rather be.
July 24, 2014
Start: Halfmile 1950.0
End: Halfmile 1985.5
Distance: 35.5 Mi
Cumulative: 2,028.0 Mi
Everything is sopping wet. There are two exceptions: my puffy jacket and my down quilt. Well, that’s something. I kept hitting snooze this morning; I was dreading the day. Finally, I emerged from my tent to find a still-cloudy sky but no rain. Well hey, that’s something too. Things are looking up. Now if we can just get some sun, then I can dry out and we’ll really be in business. I packed up, knowing full well that the sun might not break through the cloud cover at all today.
I’d been hiking a few hours, watching the sky closely. There were fleeting patches of blue, but nothing substantial enough to dry out my full arsenal of gear, so I kept on. The weather was playing with me. Then I topped out on a climb and found myself standing in a small clearing with rocks and trees, more than enough to spread out my gear. And the sun was shining brightly, more clear than cloudy. I recognized the opportunity and knew it likely wouldn’t last, so I stopped and unpacked every single item I have. I exploded in that clearing. A few hikers passed, all with a quiet understanding of my struggle. We’ve all been there in that clearing at one time or another, sitting in the middle of our own mess, willing the clouds away.
An hour later, I was dry. Everything was. A fresh start. The worst part about last night was not knowing that I’d have a chance to dry out before setting up camp again. If the weather had persisted, I would’ve been unhappy, but I would’ve matched her persistence stride for stride. Second degree fun and all that.
I passed some gorgeous peaks today – I think. I spent most of my day in the Three Sisters Wilderness. I caught a glimpse of what I believe was the South Sister before the clouds rolled in. As I hiked on, I passed a few great vistas that were totally socked in. The clouds didn’t clear until I was already in the lava field nearing South Matthieu Lake, my campsite for the night. It was the golden hour, and I did look back and catch a lovely view of what I can only assume was the North Sister. It made me lament not getting those views throughout the day, but I can always come back. Those mountains aren’t going anywhere. For the above photo, you’ll have to use your imagination as I did. Kind of cool to think there’s a mountain there.
July 25, 2014
Start: Halfmile 1985.5
End: Halfmile 2007.5
Distance: 22.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,050.0 Mi
I only covered 22 miles today. Haha, only. That’s basically a nero. Mentally, I was in Sisters before I even hit McKenzie Pass. In the real world, I was still about 18 miles away. They were tough miles too: lava rock and old burn areas. Just keep walking, just keep walking. My feet were killing me. I ran into Carrot randomly this morning, and we hiked together nearly all the way to Santium. Finally, I got my legs under me. She split off a few miles short of the pass, because she needed water and to dry out her gear. Before she left, she gave me Blanche’s phone number. Blanche is a local Trail Angel who gives rides to/from the trailhead. I left her a voicemail and crossed my fingers. Longshot, but worth a try.
I finally hit Santium Pass around 1p. Blanche was en route and only a few minutes behind me.
Wait, is that a cooler?! Might there be cold soda in that cooler?? Oh god, please soda. LET THERE BE SODA! And there was. I sat there, enjoying a cold orange soda while I waited. (My favorite.) A celebratory gift from a local Trail Angel, a congratulations for passing the 2,000 mile mark. Has it been that long, that far? I missed the monument, if anyone built one. Just cruisin’ too hard, I guess. Today marks 99 days and 2,107 miles. Hard to believe, but here I am.
There had been 90 miles of PCT closed due to fire just north of Sisters. Today they opened the first closure and apparently drastically reduced the second. Twenty-five miles of road walking down from 90? I’ll take it! I didn’t do all of the road walks in southern California just to hitch around this one. I’ve been able to maintain a continuous walking path from Mexico to Canada thus far, and it’s my goal to do so until Manning Park. Nearly there.
With fewer than 600 miles to go, it’ll be over far too quickly. And I know it. In fact, I should be done this time next month. Wow, that really puts it in perspective. I can’t even fathom finishing this adventure. How will it feel to be an accomplished thru-hiker, rather than an aspiring one? How will it feel to be done? I’m looking forward to spending some time reflecting on this incredible experience. But for now, I’ll live it.