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 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 just over 800 miles!