Where: Oregon Pacific Crest Trail from Elk Lake Resort trailhead 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 just did not have it in me to make individual posts for each day, sorry not sorry) and contains curse words, you have been warned.
Pre-hike: 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 Bend, Oregon on Saturday July 23rd. I really love this drive, especially after you get through the first part of I-5, and Mt Shasta looms up crazy big out of no where. You pass through odd small towns like Weed, Ca. and then suddenly you’re in Oregon, surrounded by Lodgepole trees and huge open prairie meadows. We met up with our friends Megan & Leah at Olallie Lake Resort to drop our end car (the Olallie Lake Resort folks are super nice people and they let us leave our car on their property for free, thank you very much!) Then we all squished into Sarah’s Forester and drove back South to Elk Lake Resort, our start point, about 40 minutes outside of Bend, Oregon.
We ate a big dinner at the resort and drank our last beers slowly, before heading off for our first night of camping in the oddly placed PCT hiker sites. Unfortunately there was a wedding at the resort and the party went on into the wee hours. Much stumbling, jumbled yelling, and such, were heard throughout the night. Honestly I was too excited to sleep well any way. Soon the morning was upon us and we drank our instant coffees, while packing up our odds and ends, then jumped into the car for a short drive to our starting trailhead. Hooray it’s time to hike!
Day 1. Sunday July 24th: Hike in from Elk Lake Trail head to Creek side campsites near South Sister, PCT Mile 1951 to 1960.3, 9.3 Miles.
We started our adventure with a 1 mile hike in from the Elk Lake Trailhead up to the PCT. The morning was cool and beautiful and we made it to the PCT junction 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!
The Pacific Crest Trail winds through an old burn area at first, with shoots of new growth and fireweed blooms poking up in between the grey tree skeletons. I’m feeling super sentimental to be in this spot again, we finished our section hike here last year and I swore I would be back … and here I am!
There are tons of birds out this morning, jumping between the trees and singing us up the switch backs (most of them look like some kind of swift or swallow with gray bodies and white under markings) All this joyous bird singing makes me think that I am totally Snow White. I’m just out here whistling away, calling all my animal buddies to help us with the climbing on this glorious blue bird of a day.
We soon enter a nice shady area, with mossy trees galore and hike through similar forest for most of the day. Our planned lunch stop is at Sisters Mirror Lake and as we draw closer we start to see some snow patches through the trees (a big difference from the very dry PCT last year!) Shortly after we exclaim how beautiful the snow is and how lovely it is out here in general, the hoards of blood suckers who accompany such beauty, show up for their lunch, womp womp. It then becomes a race against vampires, we try to hike faster to lose them, we swat and spray any uncovered flesh, and hope for breezes to blow them off course, but they just keep coming back for more.
Nothing deters them and we are running out of steam from hiking so fast. Sisters Mirror Lake seems to be an especially favorite spot for the blood suckers so we hike past our intended stopping point and aim for higher ground, with hopefully a breeze. After a bit more climbing we find a nice spot with some shade, tucked away from the trail, and eat our lunches with gusto, enjoying great views of Mt Bachelor and South Sister, as the wind blows our other uninvited guests away. Buh-bye jerks! Calories ingested and Nuun electrolytes inside us, we hike on and wind back down and around through the trees. Suddenly popping out onto the beautiful and strange, Wickiup Plain. I have seen pictures of this place a few times online and it was so much more amazing in person. It’s such an interesting area and we can see the trail snaking through it for a long while, yay!
There are surprising amounts of lupine, plus little yellow and white flowers, sprinkled all throughout the plain of dry volcanic rocks. The sun is baking us but it’s so dang pretty out here and there is a huge wall of frozen lava rocks of deep red and black rising to our right below the Middle Sister. The rich colors make a very cool contrast to the snow clad, red headed sister towering above it all. Wickiup Plain finally ends and we round a bend and come upon a big meadow with small patches of snow in the shade and tons of lupine flowers as well. The meadow meanders around another bend and comes to a little creek crossing that runs through it. We are pretty done for the day and when we find nice flat tent spots under some big trees on luxuriously soft pine needle duff, we decide to call it.
Unfortunately the blood suckers show up shortly after our arrival, so we quickly eat some snacks and set up our tents to escape into the safety of their mesh around 3:30pm. We spend the afternoon chilling in our tents as long as possible, until grumbling stomachs make facing flying jerks an inevitable, must feeeeeeed. I boil water and eat a pretty bomb burrito bowl thingy wrapped in some tortillas and quickly crawl back into the tent I’m sharing with Sarah. Today is the most miles Leah has ever backpacked in a day! And even though the mosquitos are literally eating our asses, it’s been a great start to the trip. We chat through our tents for a while after dinner, discussing the plans for tomorrow as the sun fades away. It starts to get cold and I nestle down into my sleeping bag next to my precious and shortly became unconscious around 8:30pm. Night, night Grandpa.
Day 2. Monday July 25th: Creek side camps to Sawyer Bar, PCT mile 1959 to 1972, 13 miles.
It’s real dang cold when we wake up at 6am, the bonus to this is that it slows down our enemies a little, unless you happen to be holding still to pull your trousers down, then game on. (Two days later, we decide to do a mosquito bite butt count challenge, Leah was the hands down winner with 38 on ONE butt cheek, Sarah was a close second with 29.) But I digress, we do a pretty good job of packing up quickly for the first morning out and leave camp by 8am. The views today are super bomb, there are tons of open meadows with great views of South and Middle Sister to keep us company.
It is so cool to see something from so far away and then hike all day towards it, watching a mountain just loom ahead of you, seemingly so far off, until all fo a sudden you are right at it’s feet, wtfffff! So neat.
Today we get to hike through the Obsidian limited entry area, just 2 short miles of awesome-sauce that you can not camp in without a special permit you have to get through a lottery. Needless to say we did not luck out in getting one but were stoked to walk through this beauty. We are hiking along a boring bit of trail and then all of a sudden there are just HUGE chunks of obsidian all over the place! It’s hella rad and then this cool shit gets even better with a fantastic waterfall (WHATTTT?!?), green meadows, flowing creeks, and wildflowers galore!
The only sucky part of the day is that our camp at Sawyer bar is listed as likely not having any water, so we have to fill up and carry several extra liters of water each for about 3 miles. We take turns cameling up at the cold, clear Glacier Creek and I stuff cheez-its merrily in my face while awaiting my water to filter on thru to the other side. Then it’s up through our last bit of shade for a while into lava town.
It’s tough going for a while, carrying all the extra water weight uphill in the hot sun, through lava rocks and such. We end up being very glad that we carried it though when we hit the “creek” at Sawyer bar and it is bone dry. No water for you.
The campsite is great though, it’s in the shade and surrounded by big waves of lava and a few snow patches in the deep dry creek bed (weird that snow can be here but no water, nature am I right?). And added bonus that in this more open area and with no flowing water around there are virtually no vampires, WIN!
We arrive in the late afternoon and a bit later a solo woman from Germany shows up. She asks to share the space with us and we happily oblige. She is hiking the Oregon section of the PCT alone and is a total badass. Her husband is driving along in a van and meeting her for resupplies at certain spots along the trail. We have a lovely evening hanging out with her and no bugs. Yessssss.
We also all have enough water to last us to Minnie Scott Spring tomorrow, which is 2 miles North of us, so its cooking dinner, making tea, and drinking water to our hearts content in this lovely dry camp. 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 get to wash up yesterday at the blood sucker camp, so it will be nice to do laundry and hopefully take a swim if the water is warm enough and not gross. The day quickly turns to night and we are all tired from the long hike today and asleep before the stars come out.
Day 3. Tuesday July 26th: Sawyer Bar campsite to Lava Camp Lake, PCT miles 1972.4 to 1980.5, 8.1 miles.
I’m awake before my alarm goes off, it’s warm out already and the sun is filtering through our tent between the trees right into my face, I ain’t mad though. When my watch alarm finally goes off at 6:30am, officially starting the day, I’m greeted with the sounds of backpackers getting up, all the gear rustling, crinkling bags, deflating of sleeping pads, the sudden flare of a stove being lit. All the sounds that I love.
I’m impressed with everyone’s good attitudes this morning, Megan and Leah are dealing with a few blisters each and we are all achey from yesterday’s slog. It makes things a little better that we have a shorter mileage hike today and a lake to look forward to. We sling our bags on and make it out of camp a bit faster than the day before around 7:45am, saying goodbye to our new friend and that we hope to see her down the trail before she meets her husband for a break in Bend.
Our day starts with a big climb through the lava fields, along the spine of a few cinder cones and up long switch backs. It’s a weird ass landscape, it feels other worldly and it’s already warm out, uh oh. There are just ghost of trees and stumps here, all bleached out and gnarly from the lava and the never ending sun. I ADORE IT HERE.
Leah ended up wearing her camp sandals to hike in this morning since her blisters are so painful. I’m very impressed with her walking through this rock in just strappy sandals, total boss! We climb, climb, climb up and around and are treated with a view from the top of a lava hill, showing us our future goals of Mt. Washington, Three Finger Jack, and Mt. Hood looming in the distance, hiiiii old dead white dudes. North and Middle Sister stand huge and snow covered behind and next to us, it’s a perfectly clear day and we get a nice breeze every now and then. The trail circles around Yapoah Crater and we are truly enjoying the less mosquito filled lava fields. A lone stand of tough ass trees offers a nice, shaded break spot up on a lava ridge and I eat sooooo many Reese’s pieces here, staring off at the valley and the North. Life is so, so good.
Our next spot on the maps is the Mattieu Lakes area, which turns out to be not very pretty and is WAY more buggy, yuck. We vote to jam through this area with little to no breaks so we can hopefully hit our campsite at Lava Lake ASAP to have lots of time to chill and do chores.
We hike hard, only stopping once to chat with a lone hiker and her dog, and then boom, here we are! It’s around 2:30pm and we are spent but the campsites are lovely, we even have a picnic table, oh snap!, and there’s only a few other people camped around the lake. We get in the water, wash all our clothes, and chat with some nice people (and we get to pet their good dogs!) There’s a forest road that runs up to this lake but luckily it seems to be a chill spot. Plus the pit toilets here are very clean and do not smell like you would rather dig a hole some where outside, hooray!
We all really needed this rejuvenating afternoon and it feels great to be a little bit cleaner too. The day continues to be hot and we take turns laying in the tent, dipping in the water, eating snacks… There are some very curious Gray Jays hanging around camp and they come pretty close to us before hopping back onto the tree branches above. They are fun to watch and I take turns reading and watching them as the day fades away. I look back through a few pictures from today as the light goes and then my eyes are too heavy so I do what you gotta do and sleep again.
Day 4. 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, 17 miles.
We agree for an early wake up at 5:30am, to hopefully get some cooler morning hiking in as we have a long day in store. It’s about 16 miles to the cut off for our resupply at Big Lake Youth Camp, then another mile or so to the lake, and it did not get cold last night so it’s likely to be hot one. The glory of a light pack before resupply is a wondrous thing and I hope it helps carry us through todays challenges. We leave camp around 7am and start the long lava trudge.
Man this day did not start out great, we got started early but it didn’t seem to help much. There is no shade to be found any where and the literal miles of lava we are hiking through is so tough on our feet and spirits. We are hiking less fast than we want to be and everything just feels just a bit harder.
We all naturally spread out on the lava fields, trudging in the best way we can, so we don’t even have each other’s company to distract us from the tough. We are all suffering a little today and we take a long break out on the lava field, since there is no where else to go, and try to rally each others spirits. We decide to stick closer together, remind each other to hydrate, and eat snacks. Try to talk about something to help the time pass by. I’m sweating so much, so much lava, so much sun, too much everything today.
Our maps show some green coming up past the lava field of eternity and we are all looking forward to shade and trees again. At some point, that feels like 3 years later, the lava finally ends and surprise there are no trees. Just an area where trees used to be and are now just burned husks of their former glory. Well this sucks. It’s just so hot and dusty and and and… Leah is the first to crack after we hit this obstacle, this is her first long trip and it’s taking it’s toll today. We get her in the shade of burned tree to rest, cool down, and get some food in her. Megan gives her a good hug and after some snacks and electrolytes we get moving again. I’m just zombie hiking and I have no idea how far we have come any more, how far we have left to go. Its just the sun vs us and I keep hiking towards the hope of cold soda at Big Lake.
I’m pulled from my zombie mode hiking by the highlight of the day, which is a coyote turd covered in different colored butterflies. This “highlight” may help you understand how well we are doing mentally. Although I do think this sight would be a special treat any day and so I documented it’s glory for future true enjoyment.
After this moment I rallied a bit and suggested we play a question game to distract us, which worked pretty well for a while. We asked each other silly questions like who would you want to meet if you could pick anyone alive or dead? FYI I picked Octavia Butler, as she is such a brilliant sci-fi writer and all around badass. Then we talked of what cold drinks we would get (root beers floats were a top choice) and suddenly we all felt a little more positive and realized we were finally getting closer to the lake.
Unfortunately to top off this shit of a day (see what I did there), we got really confused at the cut off to Big Lake, as it’s a jumble of dirt trails with no markers, so we ended up wandering around the wrong side of the lake for a while, so that sucked pretty hard. We finally figured out our mistake and got on the right track though. And once we got to the youth camp it was great, everyone was super nice! We picked up our resupply packages, promptly ate cookies, and bought multiple cold sodas at the little store. The staff here are young and adorbs, they do your laundry for you, gave us towels to take a free shower, and let you eat meals with the campers, all donation based. The showers were FANTASTIC, the veggie nacho situation for dinner was bomb, and we got to camp on a cool little sandy cove along the lake. We were happy to donate money for all this wonderful care.
The only down side is there are lots of other hikers here on this tiny sand bar so we are a bit squeezed in and the sounds of screaming children float over to us from the lake. However everyone is pretty chill and we are having a nice time hanging out. The Youth Camp, for obvious reasons, does not carry alcohol in their little store so Sarah and I sent ourselves two cans of red wine in our resupply for a treat. We decided to share one and gifted the other one to some other hikers camped near by, who were stoked to have it. Just as an aside the Big Lake Youth Camp is run by Seventh Day Adventists and as a group of tattooed queers, we were a bit worried about the religious aspect of the camp, but everyone is totally nice and they did not make us feel uncomfortable at all. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing with other hikers, then watching the sun go down across the lake. The sound of the little waves lapping at the shore sings us to sleep and I feel safe and cradled down here on the sand.
Day 5. Thursday July 28th: Big Lake Youth Camp to Dry Campsite, PCT mile 1992.6 to 2002.4, 9.8 miles.
We have a late start in the morning, it’s hard to get going after such a long slog yesterday. Megan and Leah decide to eat breakfast with the campers but it’s not served until 8am so that delays us a bit further but I totally get it, home cooked breakfast is way better than oatmeal. Sarah and I decide to just eat our trail food outside in the coming sun, the cafeteria feels overwhelming, it’s just too loud and bright so early in the morning…or maybe that’s the wine talking? I dunno. We get on the trail around 10am and the day is turning out to be hotter than the one before, at around 90 degrees. With our full packs of food, plus 6 liters of water for our dry camp tonight, this feels brutal. We get treated to more burned trees and no shade or water too, boooo for today.
It’s hard to muster a good attitude today, we are all dehydrated and nauseous at times. There is no other choice but to keep hiking so we just do. Then some nature magic occurs when we enter the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness and we finally get some shade, at least for the last 1/2 mile to camp. Our planned campsite from the half mile data is super close to the trail and really buggy, boo again. Sarah and I arrive a little before Megan and Leah, so I do some exploring and find an awesome site just up a little hill that was out of sight. It has a gentle breeze and a great view, the evening is saved!
I decide to just eat snacks for dinner since we have 6 miles to our next water source at Koko Lake tomorrow and we are all a little low on water after the long hot day. We are treated to a lovely sunset and I cross my fingers that we have cooler day tomorrow, as I climb into our tent to sleep.
Day 6. Friday July 29th: Dry Camp to Rockpile Lake, PCT mile 2002.4 to 2012.3, 10 miles.
Well we got started earlier today at 7am but my wish was not granted for a cooler day, spoiler alert it was another long hot day. 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 and had views of big boulders, meadows in the valley below, and wildflowers all around us.
The trail curves along the slope and then up to a little sharp corner turn to face the North side of Three Finger Jack. We take a break in a little rock nook here out of the wind to eat and enjoy our last bit of shade for a while. The hot was coming for us and we left any shade and tree cover behind for more open slopes and burn areas. We are all very low or out of water now, after dry camping yesterday, and are hoping that Koko Lake shows soon.
The elevation drops down, down, down and our first water opportunity comes at a small pond around 5 miles. This source is a little yellow and there’s no shade by it but we are too thirsty to care. Once filtered out with Nuun tablets added, it actually didn’t taste so bad. We did not stay here long, since there was no shade and we had some big climbs coming up. I knew this area was mostly open ridges and Sarah is not really not fond of heights. We hit the open ridges quickly and Sarah powered through some sketchy shit like a boss! Once we got through this scary area it was into more burn with TONS of downed trees that 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 along the way. Blow downs are dicks.
Honestly this day seemed like it would never end with all the puzzle dancing around dick trees that we did. However, as all things do, it did come to an end at pretty Rockpile Lake, our campsite for the night.
We walk around the Eastern edge of the lake and find a nice site with shade and a breeze to keep the bugs dancing away from us. It feels really special at this point to have a camp with readily available water, we all feel very grateful for it. We are also finding less and less bugs as we travel north and are super thankful for that shit too!
The afternoon is spent doing a little laundry and taking a dip in the lake, as the daylight fades the wind picks up to more than a pleasant breeze. It makes lighting our little stoves a challenge for dinner but a hungry hiker always finds a way and we place our packs etc around us to block the wind out. We win this round. Dinner gets devoured and we plan an early start tomorrow to hopefully beat some of the heat and have a more enjoyable day. The current wind situation is making it hard to believe it is going to ever be hot again though, as it’s freezing here all of sudden. We all climb into our tents to bundle up and the dust is just blowing all up in my face, rude. Sarah and I push all of our various belongings around us like a shield of sorts to try and block the dust … it doesn’t really help though but we are too tired to care very much and we fall asleep with sand in the corners of our eyes.
Day 7. Saturday July 30th: Rockpile Lake to Shale Lake, PCT miles 2012.3 to 2020.2, 8 miles.
The wind storm keeps up all night, whipping the tent around, and blowing the mean dust into our faces. In the morning all our stuff has a fine coating of brown. Needless to say we did not sleep well and when the alarm beeps at 5am, the wind is still having a rager. My eyes are bleary with dust, my mouth is gritty with sand, is this what the Thunder Dome is like?
We shake our stuff out as best we can and pack up quickly to run from the wind. The trail takes us down and away from the lake and the wind finally settles down a bit, she must finally be tired. When the sun hits our chilled bodies, we rejoice and it turns out to be a very pretty morning. I think I love early morning hiking the best of all. It’s just so quiet and the light does cool shit, like when it’s just starting to crest the hills, shining all orange and yellow over everything and it is really, really good looking. We are in the shade most of the day and we still battle the wind higher up in the alpine areas but dang girl those views are banging!
Mt. Jefferson beckons us forward and we rock out our miles. We climb up to a ridge and far down below us there are these gorgeous, clear green lakes called Hunt and Hank respectively, and we have to stop a few times to admire them. It is crazy how many different shades of green they are, you so pretty!
Past the magic green lakes we hit our goal of Shale Lake and there are wonderful campsites here. There is a clear view of Mt. Jefferson and we see our first doe of the trip, she just casually wanders by our tents, her big ears twitching to and fro. We sit by the lake a bit, Sarah and I are considering a dip until we see a small green and yellow stripey snake swimming along the edge of the lake, to which I promptly say “no thanks water snake.” And we all laugh a good while. (This becomes a chant through the rest of the trip at other questionable bodies of water.)
We also finally get the cooler weather we have been hoping for and it is chilly in the afternoon shade, it is very a welcome relief! I did not want to carry a beanie and puffy jacket all this way for fun, time to put the work in warmies. We spend the early evening hours exploring a bit around the lake and up a small canyon behind us that clearly has seen some avalanches or flash flooding, as the bottom is choked with bits of trees and earth but it’s dry today. When we get back to our tents for dinner, the evening has truly come and it’s cold, cold. We boil water and eat our freeze dried things, I make some tea for us and it’s soon into the tent to read with our headlamps and pass out with dreams of Jefferson Park in our heads.
Day 8. Sunday July 31st: Shale Lake to Jeff Creek Campsite, PCT miles 2020.2 to 2027.8, 7.6 miles.
We decide on shorter mileage for today, as we need to cross the Glacier melt of Russell creek before 11am, and even if we hoof it we 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.
Since we are not in a rush today and it’s cold we start a bit later. When we finally head out in the late morning we are treated to downhill switch backs to a beautiful gully with lots of ferns and cute little underbrush with white star shaped flowers. It’s very peaceful and quiet down here, we can just hear the breeze rustling the leaves and some chipmunks chattering above us in the lichen covered trees. We drop down to cross Milk Creek, which is not very white right now, maybe since it’s earlier in the day there is less glacier silt running into it? We take a nice break on the other side in the sunshine, soaking our feet in the cold, clear water. There are many different colored maples along the creek here and it feels like we have walked into a whole new place.
We climb back up the other side of the creek and after a little bit we pass a pretty large pond with talus on one side and we hear the calls of a few Pikas nestled in the boulders. They are the first Pikas we have heard on this trip and one comes out near the trail and yells at me for a bit before putting on its invisibility cloak and disappearing again. There is a small campsite in full sun near the trail at this random pond so we decide to head on to Jeff Creek, in the hopes it will have a better campsite offering. Although I am sad to leave the adorable Pika’s behind.
As we move on to the creek we run into a small search party on horse back who are looking for a missing 21 year old hiker, they show us his picture and ask us to keep a look out for him in the area. This news makes us all introspective and we hope they find him soon, I bet his family is so worried.
We hike on in silence and then we are at tiny Jeff Creek (who is Jeff? Why is this baby creek named after them?) Unfortunately it does not have better accommodations but we also do not want to back track a mile to the other equally subpar spot so we settle in to the most awkward place I have ever camped. It’s 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. So we set up our tents and just hoped it was not our time yet.
It’s still early in the day and a few of us decide to walk back to the pond to hang out a bit (mostly I went to look for more Pikas) The pond is definitely a “No thanks water snake” source, it’s all brown and scummy so we don’t even put our feet in. We just laze in a flat area under some trees and take turns napping or just zoning out. Our stomachs tell us when to head back to camp and we follow their grumbling back to dinner and into our tents with the sun. Sometime after dark a few other hikers show up with their red headlamps and set up in the jumble of trees near us, they are gone before the sunrise and I never even hear them leave.
Day 9. Monday Aug. 1st: Jeff Creek “camp” to Breitenbush Campgrounds, PCT mile 2027.8 to 2036.9
The mornings are continuing to be cooler now and we pack up with cold hands to head out in the morning light to hike the short 1.6 miles to the dreaded Russell Creek crossing. We get to the “creek” around 8:30am and I am 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 is 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 this looks “bad” and I think getting farther up from the death area seems like a great idea to me.
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 across 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 is all slippy sand and fall to your death zone below you, Uhn uh. NO THANKS WATER SNAKE.
Sarah and I cross the sandy death trap, one death trap down! Then we head up creek over some large boulder piles, one large rock moves a bit while Sarah is going over it and this breaks her confidence. I find a spot that looks manageable to step across at, even for my short legs. Sarah tells me to go first and I make it across after one spot in the middle that’s a little iffy and a bigger jump. She follows after me and makes it over the first few rocks just fine but when she hits the iffy spot with a bigger jump after that and there is no place to plant the trekking poles in the rushing deep water, she gets stuck. We spend some time having her take deep breathes and I talk her through it, she makes the jump and lands safe on the other side, whew. We walk back down the creek to where we can see Megan has made it across and Leah is now fording, in thigh high water. This looks hella scary and luckily it’s a short crossing and she makes it to the other side.
I usually do not get to stressed at creek crossings but this was a different beast, especially in the 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 all meet up back at the trail and spend a little time calming our nerves and sharing our scary moments getting across. We are all just super happy to be safe and done with that crossing! It’s then time to head up, up, up on the other side and as we climb we can see some of the glacier that is the headwaters of Russell Creek, towering along the mountain sides. Soon it’s into thicker forest, away from the glacier views, and over several smaller creeks that you could easily step across but oddly enough have wooden bridges over them…huh.
This seems kinda fucked up to me cuz Russell Creek needs a bridge in a bad way but I suppose it would get washed out every year and taken for a ride over the death trap…so there’s that too.
Moving on we enter 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 the park we run into a cute queer couple, who we chat with for a few minutes, and we are stoked to see more of our kind out here enjoying nature.
We take our sweet time going through the park and decide to scoot off the trail a bit and stop for lunch at nearby Scout Lake. It’s a Monday morning and we have the place all to ourselves. Lunch is a glorious affair but over too soon as we still have miles to make, so away we go. We meander slowly through then end of the parks meadows, covered in wildflowers of all kinds and then it’s time for the long climb up and out of the park. Sadness.
The views we have the whole way up makes it pretty enjoyable though and we often could see Mt Hood in the distance ahead and Mt. Jefferson shrinking behind us, covered in it’s glaciers. We take a nice break at the top of one of our last climbs and see that there is a lot of snow on the other side of the ridge we are headed toward, should be fun. There is also a beautiful glacial cirque with a partially ice covered sparkling blue lake in it. Megan and Leah decide to break for a while longer so Sarah and I hike ahead and then stop on the snow field for an impromptu snowball fight while waiting for them to catch up. We squeal and laugh like total bastards on this snow we have all to ourselves. Sarah nails me in the neck with a snowball and the ice drips down into my shirt but I don’t care, this is amazing, this is being alive. Living in the moment is exactly what this is. Megan and Leah eventually join us and we move off onto dirt trail again. We are having a fantastic day, the stress of crossing Russell Creek is gone from our bodies finally, and we are just enjoying this time and place. And it’s a great place to feel this way, its wicked gorgeous with big views, meadows, small lakes, and the weather is perfect. So much clear, so much blue sky!
On our last small stretch to camp we run into another search party, this time a large group, looking for the young missing hiker and we find out he is from the bay area and has been missing for 5 days. We had been seeing a helicopter circling Mt Jefferson this morning and now find out that it is out there looking for him. It is 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 trailhead 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 while and think that white people have been stealing other people’s shit forever and how ridiculous it all is, that we are out here recreating on stolen land. How can someone own half a lake? Or how can you really even OWN a lake? It makes no sense to me but I don’t get to make these decisions.
I get setting up the tent for our last evening out here, lost in these thoughts. We have a ridiculously huge camping area, with picnic tables, and benches all around us. There is a pretty marsh on our side of the lake 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.
Even with all my complicated thoughts this is a wonderful place and I can not believe we will be done out here tomorrow. It bums me out to be finishing already, however I am also longing for a Deschute’s cold beer, a real meal, and a hot shower too.
I feel like last years trip was harder some how, I guess maybe because we were doing consecutively bigger mileage days, 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 to when it’s actually quiet for a minute and you can let yourself really think. And you are about to be back in it, the real, real world. It’s hard to let these thoughts go, this sort of simpler existence I wish for. Just hike, get water, feed yourself, find a place to set up your tent, do it again tomorrow. It’s easier in a lot of ways to backpack then it is to be an adult off the trail. And I know I have privilege in even being able to do it, being able bodied, taking time off from work etc etc. I take some deep breaths and try to settle back into this moment, the sunset, the birds chirping, my heart beating. This time is over before I know it and all I have is the past.
Day 10. 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 that I hope to see another time or really see at all through the mist.
We hit Olallie Lake around 11am, grab some cold drinks and chips at the little store to stave off hiker hunger until real town food will be inside us. We take down the chips like nobody’s business and then jump our stinky bodies into the car. We blare Beyoncé’s Lemonade album on the drive to Bend. It feels super weird in the car, listening to music, flying by the places we hiked through days before. But it will feel normal all too soon. So I try to sit with the feeling as long as I can.
It hits me that this trip is over when we pull onto the highway and I’m feeling sad, like just so bummed we are done so soon. I always feel this way after trips though, I plan so far ahead and just try to get through each week of work to the next week until it’s time to get outside. That feels kinda shitty to say and I need to work on that some more, I can’t live for a few weeks a year, yikes! I wish I had longer, oh I dunno like forever, to just hike. I’ve got to change my circumstances to make that come true, though I’m not sure how to do that currently, so until then I’ll have my couple of weeks each summer to go out. It’s good to have goals you know.
We hit Bend and immediately go to Deschutes Brewery to stuff our smelly faces and then 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 past 7am on weird soft beds, trying to get used to the constant humming of civilization noises again. I covered all the little lights in our room that I could last night, as even a little red flicker keeps me awake now. We finally get motivated and meet up with Megan and Leah to go eat delicious brunch foods before I drop them back at Elk Lake trailhead and their car. Sarah finds a shop with an opening and gets a tattoo of her favorite backpacking flowers, Indian Paintbrush, while I’m dropping them off at their car. Sarah and I are taking an extra day of vacay in Bend and when she’s done with her awesome tattoo we wander around the town, eating more, buying cold beer to share, and finally laying on the grass by the river to relax. It feels V good to be alive and together right now just laying on this blanket in the grass.
Tomorrow we drive home to our dogs, our lives, and then back to 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 I’ll wish I was sleeping in my trusty tent when daily life shit gets too tough. 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. And just remember No Thanks Water Snakes.