Day 150: Ferocious Hunger

August 24

Mileage 26

Mile 2177 to mile 2203

I think I must have even woken up hungry. We were slow to rise and not on the trail until 8:00, flying through the first two miles on flat, smooth trail, again in thick, green forest. I found myself head down, paying less attention as I walked with fewer sights to grab my attention and fewer rocks, roots and invisible gremlins tripping me as I walked. Very easy miles but not the most interesting. Just two miles in, the trail hit a large creek with a footbridge and a side trail about quarter mile to a developed campground. Developed campground means toilet or outhouse, and, since walking that quarter mile was easier than digging a cat-hole, I took the side trail and found the cleanest outhouse I may have ever used. Two air fresheners, a fly-strip and spotless throughout. I came back to the river, relaxed a few minutes and began the first of two climbs for the day.

The first climb was the longer of the two and came in three parts. Overall, it was just over 3,000 ft. The weather was warm but not hot and the trail remained in the trees, in the shade. Regardless, it was a tough climb for me and two short level sections, almost evenly spaced up the climb, only made the climb harder as I became fooled hoping each was the top. My hunger began to gnaw at me up this climb, a deep hunger like none I had yet had on this hike. I finally reached the top and ripped into my food-bag. I still had a couple miles to water but I first needed to feed my face a little.

A couple miles later I hit the spring and found a good number of hikers sprawled around. The guys were there and I joined them to eat some more and get water. I had carried what I figured was enough to get to White Pass, four more days away, though it was clear now that I wouldn’t have nearly enough and so I decided to head into Trout Lake in a couple of days. This will cost me a day but once I made the decision I was free to eat to my heart’s content and so I made a serious dent in my supplies.

In the afternoon was another climb, this one about 1,500 ft. I worked my way up, over the top and gently down the other side a couple of miles until I came to Blue Lake just before dark. I was directed by other hikers to the top of a small hill where I found the guys along with Baby and her dog Luna. We had a quick dinner in the dark and I cowboy camped in a perfect flat spot high enough above the lake to avoid the overnight mist.

Day 149: Into Washington

August 23

Mileage 29

Mile 2148 to mile 2177

There were probably a dozen hikers sprawled around the small collection of campsites and at 7:00 am they were stirring, some preparing food while others unzipped, deflated and packed various pieces of gear. I made some oatmeal and packed.The hiking began with a climb of almost 3,000 ft back up from the Columbia River and into the mountains again, or at least the foothills. These are hills so thick with green even a Leprechaun would be impressed, running through the ferns and the thick layers of moss. A mossy green forest floor, walled in by green leafy bushes, vines and ferns while old growth trees shoot up like stalks, branchless until the very top where they spread out to cover this whole forest world in a screen of yet more green – not quite choking out the sun but definitely throttling back its impact, keeping the forest floor green, lush and slightly damp. At one point the trail emerged from this green canopy and entered a new, and active clear-cut area, where the dominant color quickly shifted from green to brown.

At the top of the climb the trail stayed in the trees, leveled off for less than two miles and then dropped back down around 1,800 ft and climbed right back up 1,500 ft. It was “green tunnel” throughout with no expansive panoramas to be had. This was more how I had imagined Oregon than Washington. The trail itself was so firm and smooth as to almost be gentle on the feet, themselves still sore from Oregon’s volcanic rock.

Finally the trail dropped down again over 2,000 ft to the Wind River. I arrived just before dark and found Smilin’, Teton, Hangman and Rayden set up in a flat parking spot off a Forest Service road right next to the bridge.

Day 146, 147 and 148: In and Out of Cascade Locks

August 20, 21 and 22

Mileage 16

Mile 2125 to mile 2148 (minus 7 miles for Eagle Creek Trail)

I woke as it became light and recognized a couple of the other hikers who were sleeping when we arrived last night. It was Turquoise and Burnside, whom I hiked with a few days ago. They set off and we were not far behind, driven by the promise of town food.We were taking the Eagle Creek alternate to the PCT, which is far more popular than taking the official PCT into Cascade Locks because of the scenic beauty of the Eagle Creek Trail, specifically the Tunnel Falls section. The descent was steep, down through thick forests and entered the Eagle Creek drainage. Raden and I hiked together and came to a first waterfall, maybe 150 ft tall, then came to a second waterfall, the famous Tunnel Falls. The trail runs behind Tunnel Falls, through a namesake tunnel carved through the volcanic rock. These falls are also around 150 ft tall and where the trail isn’t in the short tunnel it is carved directly into the steep cliff and has a metal cable fastened as a handrail. It’s not difficult to navigate but I’m sure for those with a strong fear of heights it wouldn’t be so much fun.

We continued down past the falls again, passed Turquoise and Burnside as they took a break and we finished the final few miles to the bottom. Down at the trailhead we looked for and quickly found a ride to PCT Days, about four miles away in Cascade Locks. PCT Days is really just one day, today, and is more of a gear vendor show than anything, but many thru-hikers would be there including Terrence, Smilin’, Teton and the Finns. My cousin Aaron and his friends had also shown up and so once I had phone service I began sending messages and found that everyone was heading to Thunder Island Brewery at 1:00.

Raden and I hit the event, dropped our gear in the camping area, made a quick walk through the vendors looking for freebies (no luck) and then hit the brewery where we stayed the afternoon catching up and having laughs.

On Sunday we all slept in. Teton and Smilin’ headed to Portland with Hangman, whom they’d been hiking with for a few weeks, and the Finns went back up trail to where they’d hitched from. The Finns are several days ahead and so we won’t see them again but I’m caught up with Smilin’ and Teton. They plan to go slow and finish late but I should at least have a few days of hiking with them. Aaron and his friends came and took me to the store in the next town for resupply, then they left and I spent the rest of the day snacking and resting.

Monday morning was another lazy morning. I went out for a big breakfast with Raden and Baby, a girl who had also been hiking the past few weeks with Teton and Smilin’. She’s hiking with her dog and started in Oregon. Once she hits the border she’ll head back to Ashland and southbound California. By 11:00 Baby took off to hike and by noon Raden and I finally hit it. We crossed the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods and entered Washington. Within four miles we ran into a group of hikers we knew and hung out with them in a nice spot on the side of the trail. Teton, Smilin’ and Hangman showed up later and we stayed there for the night, a slow entrance to Washington.

Day 145: Buffet Breakfast 

August 19

Mileage 31

Mile 2094 to mile 2125

I wake and am packed before 6:00. Timberline Lodge has a famous buffet breakfast that opens at 7:30 and it might take me a while to get a ride. I’m standing on the road with my thumb out as the day is lighting up and the cars are just whizzing by me. It’s a fast road and that’s not good for hitching. By 7:00 I’m standing in the same place. By 7:30 I’m getting antsy and close to 8:00 I’m downright worried. Then a truck stops, a DOT truck and the female driver tells me to hurry up and get in. She’s driving around doing a road check and can take me right up to the lodge. She’s an ex-stripper who now drives one of the biggest snowplows in Oregon in the winter.
I walk into breakfast slightly late but with plenty of time to eat my fill. It really is the finest buffet on the trail, with a waffle bar so well stocked that Belgian tourists blush with shame.
I join a table with Radon, Slo-mo and Predator and I dig in deep to my several plates of food.  The rest of the morning is spent lounging around the lodge, catching up on this blog and resting my legs. Radon and I agreed to go 31 miles today though so I set off around noon.  

The trail wound around the middle of Mount Hood and then into the hills beyond. A short detour took in a waterfall and there I met Raydon. We hiked the rest of the day together staying mostly in the forest but with some occasional views back toward Mount Hood. We continued moving the rest of the day, except for a short snack break around dinner time. We continued this pace into the dark and Raydon slowly pulled off ahead of me.

The night hiking was more difficult with numerous long boulder fields slowing my pace. Eventually I made it to the camp spot around midnight. Raydon was still laying out his stuff and a few other hikers were scattered about. I switched my headlamp to red and found a flat spot to sleep.

Day 144: To Timberline, Almost

August 18

Mileage 25

Mile 2059 to mile 2084

I woke up startled, sat up and before my ears could process anything my eyes kicked into action, staring at the two headlights bearing down on me and urging my brain to move my body. Apparently this road does get used. My ears finally caught up with the situation and, noting that the engine had slowed to an idle, calmed me down and allowed me to stay put, in my sleeping bag and squarely in the road. The driver and passenger got out and I remembered I was on the reservation. They both had a good laugh, we chatted about the hike and they told me to not worry and just stay put, they can get around me and nobody else is likely to come down the road.  
Being fully awake now I made a quick breakfast and packed up. I was out of water so I hiked the first few miles and then stopped at Warm Springs River, an idyllic little spot with a clearing in the woods next to a small creek. Raydon came by and I conceded that I was more likely to hit his timing of early Saturday arrival in Cascade Locks rather than the Friday night arrival I had been shooting for. I was still feeling good but shifting ten miles into Saturday morning definitely made the mileage more doable for me.

The trail continued through the thick forest for really most of the afternoon, with only a few small climbs and descents, regardless, as I walked on my legs became heavy and my feet felt beat up. I stopped by Little Crater Lake, which is really just a deep pond in a meadow with such crystal clear water that you almost can’t see where the air ends and water begins. I continued to hike on and my legs grew more tired. My thigh muscles were twitching a little and I felt like I was just one wrong move from having both legs cramp up. The balls of my feet felt like they had been beaten with a ball-pein hammer. It was beginning to get dark and I had around fifteen miles to Timberline Lodge. I stumbled on.

With ten miles left to go I crossed Highway 26, which leads into Government Camp. With a small table and pit toilet at trailhead parking this presented itself as a good spot to stay put for the night and get an actual full night’s sleep; my legs are begging for it.

Day 143: Around Mount Jefferson 

August 17

Mileage 42

Mile 2017 to mile 2059

As expected, I woke to a glorious view of Mount Jefferson. It was around 6:30 and I’d gotten just over three hours of sleep. I hadn’t recognized it in the dark but the tent I set up next to was Radon’s and we chatted a bit in the morning. He’s shooting for Cascade Locks on Saturday morning and I’m still shooting to get there by Friday night, which means I need to do just over forty miles a day for three days in a row; I’m not that confident.
I had a quick breakfast and packed, made so much easier and quicker by cowboy camping. The trail began to drop from the ridge and it ran through the trees for much of the morning. In the trees the trail was easy, smooth and so firm that it required very little concentration and could be traveled swiftly. This smooth easy trail was welcome in my endeavor to crank out serious miles, unfortunately it would not last.

By mid-day the trail was doing short climbs and was filled with loose, fist-sized rocks that would either trip me, or I’d end up kicking with one foot and having it bounce off the ankle of my other foot. It slowed me down and I only made it into Olalie Lake Resort at 7:00 pm. There were few hikers there but mostly they were already in tents. The store closed at 8:00 so I had a root beer and a bit of junk food before hitting the trail again.

I needed to go about fifteen more miles, which would mean stopping sometime after 2:00 am again, and a second night of limited sleep. The moon was again large and bright though, the weather was cool but not cold and I had recently downloaded some good music, so I threw in my ear-buds and walked on. The rocky, ankle banging trail was once again replaced by that beautiful, firm, smooth trail that I’ve begun to associate with Oregon. I sped through the forest with my headlamp on, passing the occasional tent, always dark and quiet. The trail left Forest Service land and entered the Warm Springs Reservation, though other than a sign on the way nothing changed.

By 2:00 I’d passed my forty mile mark and was feeling worn out. I passed one dirt road and then a second smaller one with a small dead tree laying across. I figured they must not use this road and so laid my stuff out on a flat section of the road. Sleep came very easy.

Day 142: Moonlight Cascade

August 16

Mileage 36

Mile 1981 to mile 2017

I was digging into a large breakfast of pancakes and eggs that Jim had made. Rediculous was sorting through his many resupply boxes, it being logistically harder traveling with a dog. I wanted to get up on the trail as early as possible as I have a lot of miles between me and Cascade Locks where I’d like to be by Saturday for PCT Days, a little festival they hold there. Also, if I make Cascade Locks by early Saturday then I’ll have done Ashland to the Oregon/Washington border in two weeks, which is nice.  
After delaying enough, after another cup of coffee, after catching up on writing and organizing my stuff, after all my delay tactics were exhausted I said my goodbyes to Shena (thank you once again and so much my dear distant cousin) and Jim drove me back to McKenzie Pass. I was dropped off at 11:00, said farewell to Jim (and thank you too Jim!), and began my walk through several miles of volcanics lava.

The lava was exactly how one would imagine, hot, sharp, unshaded and awkward to walk on. Rediculous would be dropped off later today at Santiam Pass another twenty miles up trail in order to avoid taking his dog Pearl through this paw cutting section. The trail plows a winding path through all of this lava and could not have been easy to build as they seem to have moved an awful lot of rock.

At around mile ten for the day I stopped by a Seventh Day Adventist Youth Camp for water and to just check the place out. I was out of the lava now and into a large burn area. This burn area was from the B&B Complex Fire, an almost 93,000 acre fire that burned in 2003 and left this entire forest dead but standing. These dead standing trees have since turned an almost silvery shade of grey and the forest itself has somewhat of a post-apocalyptic feel to it. The burn area is huge as well; compared to the Station Fire in California the B&B Complex fire was only just over half as large, but the Station Fire area took three days to walk through, so even half as large is still enormous.

After lunch I walked through the burn some more, crossed Santiam Pass and its Highway 20 and, within a couple of more miles, passed the 2,000 mile mark. Only 650 more miles to go and already I’m beginning to have mixed feelings about finishing. The sun was now setting but the nearly full moon was still shining bright. As it got dark this silvery moonlight reflected off the dead, barkless trees, bathing their already silver forms in a compounding silvery light. These were perfect night hiking conditions and made the more beautiful by a climb onto a ridge overlooking the endless green hills to each side of the burn area and a view of the chain of volcanoes that define the Cascade Range.

Around 10:00 I caught up to Rediculous and ate while he prepped Pearl for bed. We grabbed some water and then parted company as I took off for another ten miles. The trail was empty, punctuated by the occasional trailside tent, each dark and silent in this hour of sleep. It was pleasant though, the best night hiking of the whole trail so far and I kept going until around 2:00. I had wanted to do forty miles but a Limited Entry Area lay just ahead of me and I came up onto a ridge with clear views of Mount Jefferson. It looked like a great place to wake up and so, with another tent nearby, I quietly laid out my stuff for cowboy camping and quickly got to sleep just after 2:30 am.

Day 141: Obsidian and Hospitality 

August 15

Mileage 20

Mile 1961 to mile 1981

I woke up thoroughly wet from the fog in the valley. I was wet and cold but the sun was moments away from removing both unpleasantries. I was heading to McKenzie Pass to meet Jim, my aunt’s brother who will hike the trail next year with his niece Shena. It’s only 20 miles to the pass so I took my time getting ready, letting the sun dry all my gear while I ate breakfast. I saw a number of other hikers on the other side of the meadow, in the shade trying to move their wet tents around; meanwhile, I’m basking in the sun and washing in the creek.  

I hit the trail and after a few miles entered the Obsidian Limited Entry Area. PCT hikers are allowed through this area and immediately upon entry I notice that there is obsidian everywhere. Small obsidian stones scattered amongst huge boulders marbled thick with more obsidian. The limited entry area is only a short section of trail but is packed with beautiful and amazing sites, including Obsidian Falls and Sister Spring. Sister Spring is a large spring where water pours out of a wall of loose, shattered rocks. The water is clear, cold, tasty and flowing hard. I eat lunch with Snow, Patch and Lone-star and then move on alone down through hardened pillows of lava. Huge lava flows extend out in every direction and I’m reminded of playing on glaciers in Alaska. Walking along glaciers makes you feel so small. The size of rocks and the amount of earth being moved around is almost unfathomable; walking amongst this lava gave me the same feeling. Huge rivers of rock flowed down from the volcano, down the slope and out into the valley below. The trail wound through these rock rivers and everything was out of scale, only the mountain itself large enough to juxtapose the lava.

In the late afternoon I came down to McKenzie Pass and met Jim. He had been hanging around Sisters at Shena’s house for a few days and had already picked up two other hikers. A retiree named Hard Core and a dreaded Texan, Rediculous, with his dog Pearl. We had a huge steak dinner and talked trail through the evening, going to bed well past hiker midnight.

Huge thanks to Jim and Shena, it was the perfect stop after several days of good miles.

Day 140: Volcano Land

August 14

Mileage 30

Mile 1931 to mile 1961

I had found some dried raspberry oatmeal in a hiker box back at Shelter Cove and I’m crouching over a hot bowl of it, a little cold and damp next to this small lake and ahead of the sun rising. It tastes awful, or more accurately, it doesn’t taste at all. I choke it down, finish packing and hit the trail. I need to be at McKenzie Pass, 51 miles away, by tomorrow evening. Signs and Bobby are doing the same so we agree to meet at a lake 25 miles away and if feeling solid doing a further 5 miles to a creek at the base of a volcano.  

In the morning it’s more lakes, more trees and more easy terrain. There are a couple of climbs for the day but each is just over 1,000 ft. The trail is smooth and my feet have no pain left in them. It’s more easy cruising.

I stop around 10:00 by the side of a small lake and am joined by Stopwatch and Big-bear. We have a snack, rest up a bit and then it’s back to the trail. All day I’m either passing or being passed by other hikers. Snow, Patch and Lone-star go by and then I pass them later sitting down for lunch. I join them and we have a good laugh acting out infomercials for made up products.

After lunch the trail entered the Sisters mountains area. The Sisters are three volcanos adjacent to each other with huge billows of hardened lava flows coming down from different slopes. The trail went across a broad and beautiful meadow, bounded on the north by a wall of lava hundreds of feet thick. I had stopped at the lake where Signs and Bobby had discussed camping but didn’t see them so I walked on another five miles through the volcanic terrain to a second broad meadow, this one with a clear creek running down the middle. I didn’t see Signs or Bobby here either so I found a nice spot on the western edge of the meadow, where first light will hit in the morning. As the sun went down the temperature dropped and fog formed over the meadow; I knew I’d be wet in the morning but with only 21 miles left I knew I’d have time to dry out in the morning.

Day 139: Feeling Good

August 13

Mileage 29

Mile 1904 to mile 1931 (plus 2 miles from Shady Cove to trail)

After grabbing a coffee from the most extensive coffee menu I’ve seen, I did the road-walk out of Shelter Cove back to the trail and climbed up to the Rosary Lakes. A small chain of three small lakes, each separated by only a sliver of land, all in the shadow of Pulpit Rock. There is plenty of space for camping and I regret not leaving Shelter Cove last night and staying here. Small and sheltered, the lakes are still and offer mirror reflection of the mountain. The little climbing that the trail does is so gentle and everyone seems to be flying down the trail, most people pulling around thirty miles a day steadily through this terrain. I’m leapfrogging the same hikers throughout the morning and I hike for a while with Radon, one of the Truckee guys.  

At a lake where I’m grabbing water I hear that there is a couple making hamburgers for hikers down the trail a bit so I hike through lunch and eventually come across the signs they’ve left on the trail. Not-a-bear and his wife Comet, hikers from last year, are making burgers and hot dogs with cold soda and beer. I rip through a root beer and burger while chatting with other hikers about how far everyone is going, seems thirty miles is the norm now.

I walk the final miles of the day through another burn area where all the trees are standing dead and grey against the volcanic backdrop with new, green trees, the perfect height for Christmas trees, growing in thick bunches here and there. A southbounder told me that the mosquitos would get bad after the burn area and right he was as I hit a swarm at the bottom of the hill out of the burn.

I came to Brahma Lake around 8:00 and set up amongst about ten others, had a quick meal and hit the sack as it got dark.