Where: Oregon Pacific Crest Trail from Elk Lake Resort trail head to Olallie Lake Resort (S to N) When: July 24th – August 1st 2016 Who: Ben, Sarah, Megan, and Leah.
Disclaimer: This post is long as hell (because I did not want to make individual posts for each day) and contains curse words, you have been warned.
After a few months of planning logistics to get me through the winter months, it was finally time to get up at the good ol crack of dawn and drive from Oakland, Ca to Oregon on Saturday July 23rd.
I really love this drive after you get through the first part of I-5 and Mt Shasta looms up big ahead of you bringing you shortly into odd small towns like a Weed and then into Oregon trees. We met up with our friends Megan & Leah to drop a car at Olallie Lake Resort to the North (super nice people and let us leave our car on their property, thank you so much!) Then drove back South to Elk Lake Resort, about 40 minutes outside of Bend, Oregon.
We ate at the resort and drank our last beers for a while slowly before heading off for our first night of camping in the oddly placed PCT hiker sites. Unfortunately there was a wedding that night and the party went on into the wee hours. Much stumbling, jumbled yelling, and such were heard through the night. Honestly I was too excited to sleep well any way. Soon the morning was upon us and we drank our coffee while packing up to jump into the car for our starting trailhead.
Sunday July 24th: Hike in from Elk Lake Trail head to Creek side campsites near South Sister, PCT Mile 1951 to 1960.3.
We started our adventure with a 1 mile hike in from the Elk Lake Trail head to the PCT in about 20 minutes, which was a great morale boast to start our hike and made us feel like total hiking bad asses. This 100 miles will be done in no time!
It was a very pretty morning with the old burned out area and new growth coming in. I’m sentimental for this spot since we finished our section hike here last year and I swore I would be back … and here I am!
There were tons of birds jumping between the trees and singing us up the switch backs (most of them looked like some kind of swifts or swallow with gray bodies and white under markings) This also made me think that I am totally Snow White calling all my animal buddies out to help with the climb, as well as a swift hiking bad ass.
We soon entered a shady area with mossy trees and hiked through similar forest most of the day. Our planned lunch stop was at Sisters Mirror Lake and as we got closer we started to see some snow patches through the trees (a big difference from the very dry PCT here last year!) Shortly after we exclaimed about this beautiful sight and how lovely it is here, the hoards of blood suckers who accompany such beauty showed up for lunch as well, womp womp.
We had a very quick lunch due to our unwanted guests and moved on to higher ground with a breeze that opened up great views of Mt Bachelor and South Sister. Soon we wound back down through the trees and came to the beautiful and strange, Wickiup Plain. I had seen pictures of this place a few times and it was so awesome to now be standing in it!
There was surprising amounts of lupine, little yellow and white flowers all through the plain of dry volcanic rocks too. Shortly after we headed out into the sun baked area a huge wall of frozen lava rocks of deep red and black rose to our right below the sister. It made a really cool contrast of the snow clad, red headed sister with the black rock below. After we crossed Wickiup Plain we came to a big meadow with patches of snow in the shade and tons of lupine as well. We followed this around another bend and came to the creek where we found some nice flat spots in the big shaded trees on some cozy pine needle duff.
Due to the blood suckers showing up shortly after our arrival, we quickly ate snacks and set up our tents to escape into them by 3:30pm. We all chilled out in our tents as long as possible until grumbling stomachs made facing flying jerks inevitable. I ate a bomb burrito bowl, crawled back in my tent, and shortly became unconscious around 8:30pm. Grandpa loves an early bedtime.
Monday July 25th: Creek side camps to Sawyer Bar, PCT mile 1959 to 1972
It was cold when we got up at 6am, slowing down our enemies some unless you happened to be holding still to pull your trousers down, then game on your ass. Later on the trip when we did a mosquito bite butt count Leah was the hands down winner with 38 on one cheek, Sarah was a close second. We got out of camp by 8am and enjoyed tons of meadows with great views of South and Middle Sister most of the day.
It’s pretty F-ing cool to see something from so far away and then work all day towards it, watching the mountain just loom ahead of you until you are right at it’s feet, wtfffff! Today we got to visit the Obsidian limited entry area, just 2 short miles of awesome-sauce that you can not camp in without a special permit you get through a lottery. Needless to say we did not luck out in getting one but were stoked to walk through this beauty. There were just huge chunks of obsidian all along the trail and it was capped off with a waterfall (WINNING) There were also a few creeks and sooo many wildflowers!
The only sucky part of the day was that our camp at Sawyer bar was listed as likely not having any water, so we filled up at cold, clear Glacier Creek and water carried a few extra liters each for 3 miles. It was tough going carrying the extra weight but we were glad we did because the creek at Sawyer bar was VERY dry. No water for you.
The campsite was cool though, surrounded by a few snow patches in the deep dry creek (weird that snow can be here but no water, thanks nature) and waves of lava. Bonus the more open area and no flowing water meant virtually no vampires, YES!
We shared the area with a cool woman from Germany who was hiking the Oregon section alone, with her husband meeting her for resupplies at certain spots. She was actually a total bad ass! We had a good evening hanging out without bugs and had enough water to last us to Minnie Scott Spring 2 miles North. We are all looking forward to camping at a lake tomorrow, with bonus pit toilets (this can either be an actual bonus or a total stinking let down BTW). We did not wash up yesterday at blood sucker camp so it will be nice to do laundry and hopefully take a swim if it is warm enough.
Tuesday July 26th: Sawyer Bar campsite to Lava Camp Lake, PCT miles 1972.4 to 1980.5
Everyone is doing pretty awesome for dealing with some blisters and the aches/pains that come with walking all day with a backpack on. We have a shorter day to hike to the lake and we are all looking forward to it. Our day started with a climb through lava up long switch backs, Leah wore her sandals since her blisters are so painful this morning. This area feels like a completely different planet and it is SPECTACULAR! Most of the trees look like ghosts in the shadows since they are all bleached out and gnarly. LOVED. IT. HERE.
The view from the top showed us our future goals with Mt. Washington, Three Finger Jack, and Mt. Hood looming in the distance, hiiiii old dead white dudes. North and Middle Sister stood huge and snow covered behind and next to us. We moved on and circled around Yapoah Crater and are enjoying the less mosquito filled lava fields. We took a nice break on a lava ridge with great views into the valley and North. I ate soooo many Reese’s pieces, life is good.
After this we came into the Mattieu Lakes area which is not very pretty actually and way more buggy, yuck. We voted to jam through this area so we could hit Lava Lake ASAP to have lots of time to chill and do chores.
We jam and then boom, here we are! The campsites are great, we even have a picnic table, oh snap! We get in the water, wash all our clothes, and chat with some nice people (and we got to pet dogs, hooray!) This area has more people since there is road that leads in but luckily it is nice and quiet.
Also side note the pit toilets here are clean and do not smell like you would rather dig a hole some where. We had a rejuvenating day and it feels great to be cleaned up some. There are some very curious gray jays here and I will be a little sad to leave this place tomorrow but excited to see what is next!
Wednesday July 27th: Lava Camp Lake to Big Lake Youth Camp (Resupply) PCT mile 1980.1 to 1996 plus 1 mile to the lake from PCT.
The glory of a light pack before resupply is a wondrous thing, however this day was hot as balls and filled with lava for days and burned areas. You win some, you lose some.
It was a tough day mentally for all of us as we trudged through these bummer areas and sweated all over. SO MUCH LAVAAAAAA.
The highlight of the day was a coyote turd covered in different colored butterflies, if that helps you understand the mood for the day better. Although I thought it would be special any day and so documented it’s glory. We played question games to distract ourselves which worked pretty well for a while (I want to meet Octavia Butler as my deceased awesome person fyi) and we all felt more positive as we got closer to the lake.
Then to top of this shit of a day (see what I did there), we also got confused at the cut off to Big Lake so wandered around the wrong side of the lake for a while, so that sucked pretty hard. However once we got into the youth camp it was great, everyone was really nice! We picked up our packages and promptly ate cookies and bought cold soda at the little store. The staff here are young and adorbs, they did our laundry for us, gave us towels to take a free shower, and let you eat meals with the campers, all donation based. The showers were lovely, the nacho situation for dinner was bomb, and we camped on a cool little sandy cove along the lake.
The only down side is there are lots of other hikers here on the small sand bar so we are a bit squeezed in and the sounds of screaming children float to us over the lake, however everyone is pretty chill and we are having a nice time. Plus I sent myself 2 cans of wine which are actually pretty tasty, I gifted one to some other hikers and shared mine with Sarah. As a group of tattooed queers from the bay area we were a bit worried about the religious aspect of the camp, it is run by seventh day adventists, but everyone is totally nice and did not make us feel uncomfortable.
Thursday July 28th: Big Lake Youth Camp to Dry Campsite, PCT mile 1992.6 to 2002.4
We had a late start this morning since Megan and Leah wanted to eat breakfast at the camp at 8am, which is totally fair because oatmeal is the worst, so we did not get on trail until 10am. The day turned out to be hotter than the one before at around 90 degrees and with full packs of food, plus 6 liters of heavy water for our dry camp, it was tough going. We had a lot of burned out areas and no shade, which did not help morale.
It was hard to muster a good attitude since we were all feeling dehydrated and nauseous at times. However a hikers gotta hike so you just do the damn thing. We entered Mt. Jefferson wilderness and finally some shade for the last 1/2 mile to camp. Our planned campsite from the half mile data was close to the trail and really buggy. Me and Sarah had arrived a little before Megan and Leah so did some exploring and found an awesome site up a hill with a breeze and a great view, totally lucked out on that one!
We have 6 miles to our next water source at Koko Lake tomorrow and we are all getting a little low after the hot day so fingers crossed it cools off a little tomorrow. I’m out with the sun per usual grandpa style.
Friday July 29th: Dry Camp to Rockpile Lake, PCT mile 2002.4 to 2012.3
Well we got started earlier today at 7am but my wish was not granted for a cooler day, it was another long hot one. The morning started out cool and beautiful as we made our way along the west slopes of Three Finger Jack. We were luckily in the shade here and had views of big boulders, meadows in the valley below, and wildflowers.
Soon we turned the corner to the North side of Three Finger Jack and had a lot more great views as well. It started to warm up here and we soon left any shade and tree cover behind with more open slopes and burn area. Weeeeeee!
We got water at the first pond we came to at 5.7 miles, it was a little yellow and provided no shade but we were thirsty and once filtered out with nuun tablets in it, we were thankful for it. We did not stay here long since there was no shade and we had some big climbs coming up on open ridges that Sarah is not fond of (she is scared of heights but is super awesome and powers through some sketchy shit like a boss!) Once we got through this scary area it was into more burn with TONS of downed trees we had to climb up, over, and under. This made for slow going in the blazing sun and we all got a little scratched and banged up. Blow downs are dicks. This day seemed like it would never end with all the puzzle dancing around dick trees we did. However as all things do it came to an end at pretty Rockpile Lake.
We had a really nice site with shade and a breeze. It is so nice to have camps with readily available water, spoiled I know. We are also finding less and less bugs as we travel north and are super thankful for that shit. As the afternoon wore on the wind picked up and made lighting our little stoves a challenge but a hungry hiker always finds a way. We are planning on another early start tomorrow to hopefully beat the heat. Although this wind situation is making it hard to believe it is going to be hot again. The dust blowing in my face while laying down in the tent is not pleasant. I push all my belongings around me like a shield of sorts…it doesn’t really help and I fall asleep quickly any way.
Saturday July 30th: Rockpile Lake to Shale Lake, PCT miles 2012.3 to 2020.2
The wind storm kept up all night and all our stuff had a coating of dust in the morning. Needless to say we did not sleep well and when we got up at 5am it was still blowing. We shook our stuff out and packed up and as we headed out around the lake it settled down some and the sun felt great on our chilled bodies. It turned into a very pretty morning, I think I love early hiking the best of all. It is just so quiet and with the light just starting to crest the hills it is really, really good looking. We were in the shade most of the day and still battled some wind higher up in the alpine areas but dang girl those views!
Mt Jefferson beckoned us forward all day and helped us rock out our miles. Right before Shale Lake there are the clear green lakes of Hunt and Hank down below us and we enjoyed some time looking down on them during a break. It is crazy how bright green they are, you so purty!
We soon hit our goal at Shale Lake and there are wonderful campsites here. There is a clear view of Mt. Jefferson and we saw our first doe of the trip wander through with her big ears twitching in the early evening. We also saw a small stripey snake swimming along the edge of the lake, which deterred us from taking a swim, no thanks water snake.
It has also finally cooled down some and is very chilly in the shade, it is a welcome relief! I did not want to carry a beanie all this way for the fashion choice.
Sunday July 31st: Shale Lake to Jeff Creek Campsite, PCT miles 2020.2 to 2027.8
We have a short day today due to needing to cross the Glacier melt Russell creek before 11am tomorrow and can not make it there before that cut off today. The guide book gets real dark and serious about this “potential one way trip down a gorge” so we are not trying to fuck around. Last night and this morning are the coldest we have had during the trip so far and it is a nice change from sweaty balls hot.
We started a bit later since we did not have very far to go and we headed down switch backs to a gully with lots of ferns and cute underbrush with white star shaped flowers. It was very peaceful and we loved hearing the chipmunks (especially me cuz I love those cute turds!) chatter at us in the trees. We dropped down to cross Milk Creek, which was not very white at this earlier time of the day due to less glacier melt. We took a nice break on the other side, soaking our feet in the cold, clear water. There were also very pretty maples along the creek.
We passed a pretty large pond with rock fall around it and heard the calls of a few Pikas nestled in the boulders, one came out near the trail and yelled at me for a bit, it was hella cute. There was a small campsite along the trail at this random pond but we decided to head on to Jeff Creek in the hopes it would have a better offering.
As we headed to the creek we ran into a search party on horse back looking for a missing 21 year old hiker, they showed us a picture and told us to keep a look out for him in the area. That made all of us very sad and we hoped they would find him soon. When we made it to the tiny creek we found that it did not have better accommodations but we did not want to back tract the mile to the other equally poor spot so settled in to the most awkward place I have ever camped. It’s totally blow down danger zone here in between tons of fallen trees. Obviously this site did not instill the greatest confidence that a tree would not Widow maker our asses while sleeping but better choices were not to be had.
Monday Aug. 1st: Jeff Creek “camp” to Breitenbush Campgrounds, PCT mile 2027.8 to 2036.9
The days are remaining cooler and we soon head out in the morning light the short 1.6 miles to the dreaded Russell Creek. We got to the “creek” around 8:30am and I was definitely thankful that we were not crossing later in the day. This place is sketchy as hell, like a clown in a sewer, don’t trust that shit.
There is a large gorge drop off about 200 yards from the area the trail leads us down to cross at and a snow bridge over the plummet to your death area.
The water was flowing fast already, looks pretty deep, and is cold as fuck. The guide book says to walk up about 100-150 yards over the boulders to possibly find a better spot to cross at if it looked bad. Well yeah looks “bad” and I think getting farther up from the death area seems like a great idea.
I scout this option from the top of the hill and it does look better up creek a ways with some large rocks to hop on. I really like the idea of keeping my shoes on for grip and not getting too wet so me and Sarah vote to go that way. Megan and Leah decide to cross near the trail and take their shoes off, those crazy mo-fos. Even the way down to get to the creek crossing is a bit treacherous, with about a foot wide path that was sandy and fell off to the creek below. Uh uh.
As me and Sarah headed up creek over some large boulder piles, one large rock moved a bit while Sarah was going over and freaked her out. This made it tough to cross the creek since she lost some of her confidence. She made it over the first few rocks into the creek but there is pretty big jump after that and no place to plant the trekking poles in the rushing deep water so she got stuck in the middle for a few minutes.
I had already made it across so we talked it out for a bit and she was able to calm her rising nerves to take the leap. She made it and we took a deep breath to walk back down to see how the others were fairing.
I usually do not get scared of things like this but I was definitely freaked out going across, especially in areas where my poles could not touch the bottom and I was jumping from one wet rock to another. I am totally fine not crossing that ever again, thank you very much.
We watched from above as Megan talked Leah through the rushing water up to her knees, which looked way scarier to me then boulder hopping but to each there own. They both made it thankfully with just some frozen feet and soon were headed up to us on switch backs.
We then head up, up, up on the other side and could see some of the glaciers that flow into the creek along the mountain sides. Soon it’s into thicker forest and over several smaller creeks that you could easily step across but oddly enough had wooden bridges over them…
Which seems kinda fucked up to me cuz Russell Creek needs a bridge in a bad way. Take all these tiny fairy bridges and make a big one for the death slide would ya?
Moving on we entered into the crown jewel of our trip, Jefferson Park. Hello gorgeous lover. This place is magic town, filled with tons of wildflower meadows, babbling streams, deep lakes, and big views of Mt. Jefferson. Plus shortly after we enter we ran into a cute queer couple and we were stoked to see more of our kind out here.
We took our time going through the park and stopped for lunch at Scout Lake. We are lucky we went through here on a Monday and had the place to ourselves. After slowing meandering through we had a long climb up and out of the park.
The views we had the whole way made it pretty enjoyable and we saw Mt Hood often in the distance and Mt. Jefferson shrinking behind us, covered in glaciers. We took a break at the top and saw that there was a lot of snow on the other side of the ridge we were headed toward, plus a glacial cirque with a pretty ice covered deep blue lake on the other side. Me and Sarah stopped for a snow ball fight while waiting for M & L to catch up. We squealed and laughed like total bastards and had a blast. This area is gorgeous as well with big views, meadows, small lakes, and the weather was perfect to boot.
On our last small stretch to camp we ran into another search party looking for the missing hiker and found out he was from the bay area and has been missing for 5 days. We also kept seeing a helicopter circling the mountain and park searching. It was a very sobering event and we were all quiet for the last hour to camp.
We take the turn off for our last trail night into Breitenbush campground. The missing hikers car is parked at the trail head here and several sheriffs are there asking anyone if they had seen him passing through. We really hope they find him soon.
The lake at Breitenbush is interesting and there are these cool old shelters here. One side of the lake is owned by the forest service and the other side by the Warm Springs Native Americans. I muse at this for a minute and think that white people have been stealing other people’s shit forever and how much that sucks… That’s some thoughts for another day though and I get setting up the tent for my last evening out here. We have a huge camping area with picnic tables and there is a pretty marsh on this side that tons of ducks are swimming in. My bird lover part is nerding out hard core and I pull my binoculars out to get real about it. There are some friendly and curious Gray and Stellar jays jumping all over the trees yelling at us too. One Gray Jay lands a few feet from me on a low hanging branch and we just study each other for a bit before it takes flight again.
It is a wonderful place and I can not believe we will be done tomorrow. It bums me out in a lot of ways to be finishing already, however I am also longing for a Deschutes cold beer and a hot shower too…
I feel like last years trip was harder some how, we did make bigger miles and I was newer to long trips so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it’s just other stuff weighing on me currently, the missing hiker, being queer in the current climate, my privilege, what the next few years will hold for all the marginalized folks in this country. You know just the casual thoughts one gets when it’s actually quiet for a minute and you can hear yourself inside and out. And your about to be back in it, the real world. I take some deep breaths and settle back into the moment, this sunset, the birds chirping, my heart beating. It’s over before I know it.
Tuesday Aug. 2nd: Breitenbush Lake campground to Olallie Lake Resort. PCT mile 2036.9 to (I lost this paper & need to look it up!)
It is the coldest morning of the trip so far and we are shrouded in fog for the first time, which is making me miss home a little more. We head out early and jam the last few miles to Olallie Lake and our car. There are some pretty awesome lakes in this area.
We hit Olallie Lake around 11am, grab some cold drinks and chips at the little store to stave off hiker hunger until town. We take down the chips like nobody’s business and quickly jump our stinky butts into the car, blaring Beyoncé on the drive to Bend for a well deserved burger and beer.
And just like that it’s over and I’m sad about it, like just so bummed it’s done already. I wish I had longer, oh I dunno like 5 months or so longer. I’m hopeful that will come sometime in the next few years. Until then I have my couple of weeks in the summer to chip away at it. It’s good to have goals.
(Side note Oregon has such great beer, get you some! Cheap and no sales tax, wuuuuttttt?!?!)
We stuff ourselves at Deschutes Brewery and find a hotel along the river. I shower FOR-EV-ERRRR and it’s as good as I think it will be. We go out and eat/drink more things. Then off to bed in a cozy room with the sounds of the river below.
Weds August 3rd: We sleep in on weird soft beds trying to get used to civilization noises again. Finally we get motivated and go eat delicious brunch foods before I go drop M & L back at Elk Lake trailhead and their car, while Sarah gets a tattoo of her favorite backpacking flowers, Indian Paintbrush. We say goodbye to our friends for now, as me & Sarah are taking an extra day of vacay in Bend. Sarah’s done with her awesome tattoo when I get back and we wander around town, eating more, buying beers, and finally laying on the grass by the river. It’s good to be alive and here right now, together.
Tomorrow we drive home to our dogs, our lives, and work but it’s cool, it’s got to be any way. I’ll miss the trail as usual, like I do after every trip. I’ll pine for it especially all winter and wish I was sleeping in my trusty tent when daily life shit gets tough. And eventually I will stop myself lamenting and remember to be thankful for all the tough shit too because it makes the trail, when I return to it, that much sweeter. Cheers.