Wednesday July 26, 2017: Wahtum Lake to Dry Creek: 13 miles
We slept well at the quiet lake and awoke to a chill in the air, which slowed down our morning packing a bit. After some instant coffee and a little stretching we started the climb out of Wahtum Lake shortly after 7am. The few other sites we passed with tents in them were silent as we circumnavigated the lake to the mountain above it on the North side.
The forest is very dense on the other side of the lake and wound around several small mountains but kept all the views hidden from us. However the walking was peaceful and we had the trail all to ourselves. We were having a nice time on the gentle ascent and a few nice flat areas where we could cruise along through the filtered morning light.
Around when we were ready for a nice long snack break I saw a little side trail up to my right and we decided to head up it to see if we could find a nice space for a rest. There turned out to be a perfect spot for a break, one that had obviously been camped at before, so we settled in to chill for a bit. My knees had started to feel cranky this morning and I took the opportunity to tape them up and elevate my feet for a bit.
We spent a good hour here and I popped a few Ibuprofen hoping my knees would settle down their whining. Unfortunately that was not to be as the long descent of many, many miles of long switch backs into Cascade Locks was ahead of us. We finally packed up and entered back into the forest to enjoy the last little bit of flatish walking that we would be seeing for a while. We got another sweet view at a random camp site on the side of the trail with a nice older couple packing up their site and smoking a joint, amazing!
Soon we were at the LONGGGG down into Cascade Locks and the cool morning turned into a hot afternoon. The trail is well shaded here thank goodness. It would have been an uncomfortably hot hike in the direct sunlight. Shortly after starting the downhill my left knee started to really protest. I have had knee pain off and on for a long time, some trips my knees can really bother me and other ones they just feel the normal amount of sore like the rest of my body from hiking all day. When my knees decide to act out I can usually just tape up, pop ibuprofen, rest it/elevate it at camp, and things feel better in the morning. So at this point I was not feeling concerned about it and figured the usual care would get me through once I got a good rest in.
We continued our hours of downhill, we are both not speed demons on the downs so cruised along as best we could. We passed a few groups coming up, one of 3 older gentleman with very large packs on with fishing poles strapped to them. They were really looking miserable and I do not blame them AT ALL. Going down this was hard enough, I can imagine what coming up it with full supplies on felt like, yikes. They asked us if they were close to the top and I tried to think of something more positive to say rather hell no… so I came up with “I’m terrible at gauging distances, it’s all shady though!” The guy in the front gave me a sad smile since I think he knew I was doing a terrible job at covering the truth, sorry dude. We soon said goodbye to these sweaty fellows and moved along to face the rest of our respective ordeals. The day was really warm now but we were finally treated to a few views of Cascade Locks and the Hood River below.
The bad part about this was that our shade was also becoming more scare. We crossed multiple areas with big open rocky slopes, giving us views but also bringing the heat with them. We were both feeling pretty beat at this point and my knee pain was starting to get to me, putting me in a crappy mood. We took a much needed break in a small shady spot along the trail, since there was no where else to go in the rock piles, and tried to assess the rest of our day.
After a snack and some nuun electrolytes we decided that even though we could probably push into Cascade Locks a day earlier than planned, it is probably best to stop at Dry Creek (which is a terrible name for a creek!) to camp for the night and save the last 2 miles of downhill for the cooler, hopefully less painful morning.
We packed back up to finish the last few miles to our campsite for the night and I am really hurting at this point. My knee was more painful than ever and it is also making an odd clicking/grinding sound… hmm that doesn’t seem good. About a half mile from camp something big ran off into the trees and I thought that the hind end looked kinda bear like… are there bears in this area?!? WTF? I was not exactly sure what it was so decided to chalk it up to heat exhaustion and pain hallucination to not freak myself out for camping near here. I did tell Sarah what I thought I saw but could not be sure and she was a little behind me and had missed it, she was not stoked about the possibility but we down played it because we were not hiking any further today. We finally hit the creek and took the one acceptable spot down from the bridge.
The creek is super cold and it is much cooler down here in the shade, which is fucking great. As soon as I had my bag off I went and stuck my knee in the cold water to help numb it. It was a pretty awkward position to be in, I had my hands on rocks out of the water, my other leg balancing on a rock behind, and just my left knee in the creek since it was so cold in there. I am sure if anyone came by they thought I looked very odd, which I am, so astute observation passerby.
My knee felt much better in the numbing water but would start hurting again as soon as I came back out. I started to really get concerned about finishing our trip. We were only about halfway through our planned mileage/days. We had about another 60+ miles to go and lots more elevation gain and loss coming out of Cascade Locks. I tried not to think about it too much and hoped that the short day tomorrow and a town night of rest, icing, beer, and lots of ibuprofen would help calm things down in there. I told Sarah about my knee concerns and we ate our dinners quietly before getting in the tent to try to sleep. I really hope it feels better tomorrow and we can continue our trip.