Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Day 140, September 3, Oregon is for Fighting

Jude Lake

Longer days spent hiking are making motivation to write difficult to come by. Today was another in a series of tough days in Oregon. We woke up by 6 and hiked all day, but the terrain was total...ahem...garbage, for lack of a nicer word. All day - rocks, tallus, lava, etc. So frustrating to hike over terrain whose only goal is to ensure twisted ankles and low morale. Side note: I have NO IDEA how people hike 35-40 miles a day in Oregon over this terrain. Makes no sense to me whatsoever! Dr. Slosh was (yet again) so patient with me as I hiked slowly, lamented that slow pace, and occasionally just burst into tears of frustration, pain, etc. I had 8 blisters and a hot spot on my left foot alone at this point. Just another example of a section that was supposed to be easy and proved itself far more challenging, especially mentally, than expected. Trials on the trail are so much more challenging for me when they are unexpected.

Trail conditions aside, the scenery was pretty nice on this day, although most of the highly expected views of Mt. Jefferson were obscured by clouds - but I'd definitely like to come back when the weather is a little better. We also had a serious river crossing for the first time in a long while. And in other good news, Slosh has been so patient, which is major props to him because I have been fairly miserable and I wouldn't blame him for leaving me in the dust. We barely made it to camp before dark and only completed 24 miles, which was far less than we'd hoped, which is unbelievably frustrating. I didn't expect to battle blisters and foot pain 2000 miles into the journey. But I refuse to quit at this point, and know that at this point, there's nowhere to go but up! So looking forward to a weekend in Portland to hopefully heal my sad, sad feet.

Weather was iffy all day, and after a big climb, headed down toward Ollalie Lake. Made it to a nice campsite at Jude Lake just as dark settled in. Hoping for easier days to come!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Days 136-139, August 30-September 2; Beautiful 3 Sisters and the Cusack's in Corvallis

Lakeside Mile 1965 to Sisters/Corvallis; Day 0; Mile 2007 to Hillside Mile ?

Leaving the lakeside campsite and heading out towards and past the 3 Sisters, the hiking was absolutely beautiful. Definitely my favorite day in Oregon so far. We started the day with rolling slopes across a meadow that bypassed South and Middle Sisters as the trail stretched North. So beautiful, and such interesting scenery as we passed by all day. We entered the "Obsidian Limited Entry Wilderness" - ahhhhhhmazing! True to its name, we first spotted a few bits of the black glass rock & soon enough it was absolutely everywhere...ranging from small fragments glistening in the ground to enormous boulders of the slick rock glass. We stopped for a break at Obsidian Falls to have a snack and take it all in - bubbling spring above obsidian waterfall and all.

As during all of our best trail days, we adopted the zen approach, and I was able to stop thinking about and stressing over deadlines, and when we need to get to the next stop. We arrived at Wade Lake after crossing the best named pass of the trail to date - Opie Dildock Pass. Slosh and I agreed that whoever poor Opie was, he had a pretty unfortunate name...but that whenever we finally get a dog, it would make an awesome dog's name! Rocky and Trex decided to exit to Sisters at McKenzie instead of Santiam Pass, and I joined them. After a number of complicating factors, only TRex and I wound up in Sisters that night. We hit up the grocery store before it closed and collected the standard: ice cream, fresh fruit, and beer. Oh, the diet of a hiker!

The following day, Dr. Slosh's former roommate Chris picked us up and carted us back to Corvallis for a little time off trail with friends. The Cusack's earn the award for the best hosts ever! We had a lovely time - so lovely that we decided to stay an extra night! We drank good beer and cooked a FEAST of lamb kebabs, majadra, and roasted eggplant charmoulah...and of course homemade hummus and pita. We ate on the patio with Chris, LeAnn, and baby Ayla and had a wonderfully relaxing evening - it was perfection. Thank you Cusack's for yet another wonderful visit to Corvallis! Ayla is 2 now and such a joy to be around - so dang cute to boot. After she went to bed, Chris took Slosh and I out for an evening on the town - we took out the bikes and visited Corvallis' new brewery, where Slosh's former labmate, Becky, and her husband Foster met up with us.

We were supposed to head back to the trail on Sunday morning but it was doomed from the beginning. We went out to breakfast at Tommy's and had some fantastic, fatty food. We spent the rest of the day just relaxing and finally getting around to our trail chores. Chris made some delicious homemade pizza, and we called it a night. We got an early start Monday morning, and Chris hiked the first 6 miles with us (and Bodhi, their Golden Retriever came too!) We stopped for a picnic with great views of 3 Fingered Jack and ate lots of the leftover food from the weekend. Chris left us after lunch and we marched on. The day only got harder from there, and I had a few more meltdowns.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Days 133-135, August 27-29, Small World

Mile 1884 to Shelter Cove; Shelter Cove to mile 1936; mile 1936 to mile 1965

Shelter Cove was fantastic. We only had 20 miles to go to meet Rocky and TRex at the lovely campground right on Odell Lake, but predictably got a late start and then took a long lunch on the shores of the lovely Crescent Lake. As we were eating, we met a couple who own a vacation home on Odell Lake. They asked us about our journey and mentioned that their daughter's college roommate also hiked the PCT a handful of years ago with her now husband. This couple mentioned that the PCT hikers now live in Bellingham. Brett goes on an annual "man-ping" hike in Northern Washington every year with a big group of guys, and on a whim, thought he'd ask if the hikers these two were talking about could possibly be the same as one of the guys Brett hikes with. Turns out it was the same couple - Jaime and Jamie (or Solid and Stripe, their trail names)! What a very small world - there we were hiking the PCT, on the shores on a small lake in central Oregon, talking to a couple from Seattle but vacationing in the area - and we both have connections to the same former PCT hikers!

From Crescent Lake, we had about 10 miles to get to Shelter Cove, but I just didn't want to hike. We talked to Rocky and TRex, who had already arrived to the campground and were happily sipping beers lakeside in some fabulous adirondacks by the firepit. I was SO CLOSE to asking our new friends for a ride up to Shelter Cove, but decided against it at the last minute. I just couldn't bring myself to asking them for a ride. I've gotten better at being able to accept gifts from strangers, but straight up asking is still too weird! Brett jumped ahead towards the end of our last 10 miles in order to pick up a few essentials before the store closed, and I arrived a little after 6 to see Brett, Rocky and TRex sitting under strung lights on the grass near the giant firepit next to the docks. What a picturesque/perfect/happy moment! After joining them, we looked up to the sky to see bald eagles circling above. As with so many places on this trail - I never wanted to leave.

After leaving the next morning, we hiked up and past Willamette Pass - the location of my ill fated snow camping of a few years back during my stint in Oregon. (For those unfamiliar - Brett and I decided to go snow camping/backpacking but managed to select the coldest weekend of the uncharacteristically cold winter. Needless to say, it was a rough weekend...I was convinced I had frostbite, and even when we got to our car at the warmest part of the day, the ski resort clocked us in at negative 7 degrees.) Seeing this place in the summer was such a different experience! I remembered a snow covered meadow from a few years ago that turned out to be a beautiful alpine lake.

We hiked through a burn area and made camp in the first place we could find that wasn't surrounded by dead trees liable to fall at any time. TRex had enough service to get a call out to ChikChak, who we hadn't seen since Sierra City. She was having a rough day, and I so wanted for her and StarFox to be with us right then. We miss the rest of the Wolf Pack!

The following morning we got an early start and things went well for most of the day. We decided to "stop at the coffee shop" a few miles in - which means we got to the next water/lake, took off our packs, and made our instant coffee while chatting and hoping the weather would hold off...the rain was threatening. We hiked, hiked, hiked all day, and ended our day with a surprise climb that killed me. I made Dr. Slosh entertain me by telling me everything he knows about rap, who his favorite artists are and why (E-40, duh), and all the history he knows about East Coast vs. West Coast. I just couldn't think of anything else to talk about, and for whatever reason I wanted to hear more about Andre Nickatina...among others! Barely made it to camp before it was pitch black out, but I couldn't have been happier to be inching closer to Santiam Pass.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 132, August 26 - First 30miler in Oregon

Mt. Thielsen Wilderness mile 1854 to Campsite near road mile 1884

First 30 mile day in Oregon! We didn't get started until 8, took a long lunch, and weren't moving particularly quickly most of the day - so it was a great feeling to know we made it that far despite less than ideal circumstances for big miles.

The sky looked ominous leaving camp and I was convinced it was going to rain...but it never did! Hooray. We had some epic views of Mt. Thielsen as the trail skirted up and around the West side of the spires - a few dark clouds and fresh patches of snow from the storms of the past few days reminded me so much of Patagonia and Torres del Paine particularly...brought me back to December 2006 - very pretty, and also nostalgic hiking!

We got water from Thielsen Creek, which was meandering and bubbling through a bright green meadow down the side of the mountain. Everything was so picturesque. We had lunch on the side of a cliff and I managed to get enough cell phone service to call my Dad and say hi. He told me that he'd bumped into my former boss Kathy that morning - I miss her lots and it was great to hear that she's doing well.

We hiked the rest of the day and briefly into the night - made it to camp just after 9 and crawled into bed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Days 130-131, August 24-25 Crater Lake, Hater Lake

Mile 1809 to Mazama Village mile 1829; Rim Village mile 1834 to Mt. Thielsen Wilderness mile 1854

The last few days were tough - yesterday morning feels like FOREVER ago. We only had 20 miles to get to Crater Lake and hoped to get there early enough to take the afternoon off. We made it by 4 and had a chance to get burgers and beer and then spent the rest of the day at picnic tables set up outside the store with other thru-hikers (including Busted, Man in Black, Sierra Bum, Apache, Gone Slow, Shady Acres, Sweet Tooth, and Pants Off Dance Off). It was fun to be around so many other hikers - it's been a while! What made it even better was that we caught up to them...feels good to be gaining ground.

While the original plan was to hike 5 miles out that evening to the rim of Crater Lake (we were in the National Park but a few miles away from the actual lake still), my foot pains had reached new levels on the way in and there was no way I was going to hike one more mile that evening. Unfortunately, the campground was completely full, so we decided to stealth camp at the edge of the official campground near a trail. I didn't sleep well because I was paranoid about getting busted - the rangers at Crater Lake National Park are pretty strict about things that us dirty thru-hikers typically spend our day doing - hitchhiking, camping in un-designated campsites, etc. Earlier in the evening, I'd heard that a ranger had spotted a backpacker camping in between the road and the rim using an infrared scope and issued him a $600 dollar ticket a few weeks prior. With nowhere else to go, we reluctantly camped at the edge of the campground...but I spent the night paranoid a ranger would spot us and give us a hard time. (Side note - I have no problems following rules and am usually totally risk averse and hate breaking them! But it was pretty frustrating to be in a place that enforced rules without providing reasonable alternatives. e.g. absolutely no hitchhiking allowed, but no walking trails into the village and store/restaurant, thereby forcing a mile long road walk alongside a highway with NO shoulder. Dangerous?! I think yes!)

The following morning we hopped aboard the trolley up to the Rim Village. The first one didn't leave til 9am, and let me tell you - it was a luxury sleeping in, especially on a dreary morning after it had rained all night. As soon as we stepped off the trolley, the skies opened up...greaaaatttt. Hustled over to the cafe for coffee and spent the morning lounging, writing postcards, and waiting for the worst rain to pass. We thought that had happened when we got on the trail around 11:30, but not a mile in, the real storm started. A major thunderstorm (flashes of Sonora Pass! agh) and here we are hiking along the rim of Crater Lake. The gusts of wind were intense, it was freezing, then the hail started. I was absolutely miserable! We literally couldn't even see the lake that we were walking around. (The rain kilt I've been carrying since Mexico finally made its debut, however. So chic.) Ironically enough, all this was at the start of a 27 mile "dry stretch", so we were also carrying 7 liters of water. Water was literally everywhere, but we had to carry over 15 pounds of the stuff. Add to that the 7 days worth of food and we had some heavy packs...it was a rough day. Ultimately, we got a few nice views of the lake and were able to push for 20 miles by days end which put us in decent position to make it to Santiam Pass to meet Slosh's former roommate Chris on Saturday.

Of all places on the entire trail, Crater Lake was near the top of my list on places I was excited to see and visit. I lived in Portland for a year after college and always wanted to visit but never made it down to see the famous blue lake. I was so excited to arrive, but the bottom line was that Crater Lake was not very hiker friendly. I always feel slightly self conscious going into town after being on the trail for a while - being more or less homeless, stinky, and vagrant is a new way of life for me. However, usually people are fantastic and pretend like we're not even in need of a shower as badly as I know we certainly are. Who would have thought it would be in a National Park that people would make you feel the most awkward? Upon leaving, Slosh deemed Crater Lake the Hater Lake. What a shame for the place I was most looking forward to on the whole trail!

Alas, now I can say I've seen Crater Lake! I can also say I'm not all that eager to come back anytime too soon, I don't care how beautiful it was!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 129, August 23 Canada is Inching Closer

Highway 140 mile 1780 to last water before Crater Lake, mile 1809

I needed a good day to remind myself that I am capable of completing this journey, and I finally got it today, in the form of 29 miles! Whew.

We got an early start, and I hustled right out of the gates up a 1300 foot climb. We quickly arrived in the Sky Lakes Wilderness area and the hiking finally got beautiful again - I'd definitely love to come back here again as we definitely don't have enough time to properly appreciate the area. Took a nice break at a spring and then carried on after taking in some of the scenery.

We begrudgingly decided to opt out of the Sky Lakes alternate route after realizing that completing sufficient miles was the day's goal. The alternate route passes by a handful of beautiful lakes, while the PCT climbs high above those lakes through a waterless stretch. It would have been too much of a tease to pass by all the lakes without being able to stop for a swim and a nice campsite - we're on a mission now and Canada is looming!

Later in the afternoon, we passed the 1800 mile marker! I realized we only have 8 of those left...pretty wild to even think about. The hiking became even more stunning with sweeping views of volcanoes surrounding us in all directions, lava fields, and beautiful trees. I felt like I was on top of the world, quite literally. So beautiful. At one point I peered South and caught a glimpse of Mt. McLaughlin far in the distance. The camp I had left that morning had been on the South side of the mountain, and here I was just a few hours later watching it from at least 20 miles North. It really hit me that the rest of the trail and trip is more or less a direct route to Canada - no more farting around hiking miles East, West, or South for days at a time as would frequently happen in California. Seeing how far away that mountain was from my single day of hiking gave me chills. All the anxieties since Ashland seemed to wash away and I stopped questioning myself for just a minute as I took in that view.

Still, there's plenty more trail ahead. I didn't think I'd still be facing self-doubt on whether or not I'm capable of completing the trail so far into the trip. I assumed if I made it to Oregon, I'd have no question about the certainty of finishing, and that everything would seem like a walk in the park by this point. The trail continues to challenge me, and the struggles take me by surprise. I mentioned to Slosh recently that I thought this would become "easy" at some point - he responded by telling me about a professional cyclist, who was asked in an interview about how he "made it look so easy." The cyclist responded that it never gets easier - you just push yourself harder, go faster and further. The trail is similar - it never becomes easy, we just push ourselves harder. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is the hardest thing I've ever done! It's also so rewarding, and I'm looking forward to the feeling of having completed the journey..in just over 800 miles!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 78, July 3 - Adventures with Storms

Mile 1,000 to Sonora Pass, Mile 1018 Today was intense. I'm happy it's over, and I'm happy to be alive. Even happier to see friends! We left camp at 7, but it was a rough day from the start. Brett received a text from his Mom that he'd overdrawn his checking account due to a check that wasn't cashed that he'd forgotten about - not the best way to start the day, especially when you're living in a world where you forget about the everyday concerns of normal life (i.e. $$$!) The day was gorgeous, and we got to the start of one of our last major Sierra climbs early and I felt great. I motored up the switchbacks while Brett readjusted some electronics, and as a rare treat (or maybe he just wanted me to think I was flying), Brett didn't catch up to me until the end of the climb. I felt like I ran up the whole mountain! We decided to jam up the side of the very end for a better view, and stupidly skipped the trail to hike straight up...which meant that we missed a turn off for the PCT and wound up on a different trail for a bit before realizing we'd made a wrong turn. We had to cross country back to the PCT, and before long noticed that clouds were building from the South. KingStreet's guide had quite explicitly stated that "the top of the climb towards Sonora Pass is NOT a place you want to find yourself during a thunderstorm", so we hurried along as fast as possible as we were hiking pretty solidly above the tree line. Unfortunately, we had over 5 miles of exposed terrain to hustle across before heading back down to safety, and run as we might, those clouds were building, and building, and building. Brett seemed pretty nervous about the impending storm which in turn terrified me - he doesn't worry unnecessarily, so I knew we were in a bit of a tight spot if the clouds opened up on us and electricity started striking. Most of the hiking was across scree and some leftover snow patches, and the only trees in sight were thousands of miles down the mtn - a POSSIBLE last minute evacuation, but certainly not ideal, as even those were short little stumps that wouldn't provide much cover in the event of an electrical storm. Clouds continued to build and surround us, and I had a minor panic attack, something along the lines of "I DON'T WANT TO DIE HERE!" while hysterically crying (for reals - I swear I'm not usually so dramatic). When the storm finally opened up on us, we had made it within a QUARTER MILE of the descent (and safety!) Unfortunately, not close enough to continue hiking and finish our day. Fortunately, close enough to some low hanging shrubs and trees as to provide a bit of shelter in an electric storm in the Sierra. We were only a mile from our meeting point with friends, but had to literally sprint down the side of the mountain to take cover after the entire sky seemed to light up with the first strikes of lightning, and the ground shook from the rumbling thunder. We may as well have been 100 miles from the Sonora Pass PCT junction at HWY 108. The storm started out tame enough, but soon enough it began hailing all over - the hail got to be the size of golf balls, and it hurt. We were huddled under these tiny little trees trying to stay warm, sitting on our sleeping pads (the foam doesn't conduct electricity) waiting out the storm. Usually, afternoon Sierra storms last an hour, maybe two at the most. After 4 hours, we were both getting very cold, and worrying this thing might not let up. We realized it might not just "blow over" and Brett suggested just hiking down. The lightning was everywhere, and I questioned his logic - when he couldn't explain WHY this was a good idea, I knew he wasn't well - usually I'd take any of his backcountry advice, but he wasn't making sense. I went to check on him and saw his entire face was blue - his lips were particularly blue and I realized we were in trouble. Time to set up the tent. We didn't previously because we didn't want to set up a metal rod in the ground, but I realized it was time we warm up - the only way I wasn't shivering uncontrollably at that point was by singing songs to myself and remembering happy times and warm places. I pitched the tent and got Brett into warm clothes, and felt safer when I saw he was finally warming up. We hunkered down...a total of over 5 hours until this crazy storm ended. I thought we'd be there forever, and was so glad when it finally cleared up. It was a really scary experience, and it's definitely the closest I've faced mortality in my life. Too intense! I cried again when it was all over, but was glad to know that I can help make good decisions for our little team if needed. The end of the day was weird - the storm blew over and we packed up and headed down the hill the last mile. We expected our friends to have been waiting around all day for us, but they arrived literally 2 minutes after us! Perfect timing, and I've never been so happy to see friendly faces. We spent the night at the trailhead as everyone arrived with great fanfare, and everyone looked forward to our long weekend together!