(Day 22 was a zero in Sisters and Bend. Coffee, pastries, burritos, paletas, beer, shave ice, Thai food! I borrowed a pair of running shorts from J. and bought a t shirt for 50 cents at a thrift store so I could wash everything else at a laundromat. In the evening we intended to drive back to the trailhead but we didn’t finish dinner till 10 — oops. So we treated ourselves to another glorious night’s rest in real beds.)
In the morning I tell J. I want to be at the trailhead by 10. We get coffee and pastries again and pull up at the trailhead at 10:02. Pretty good! He’s also let me borrow his running shorts for the rest of my hike (it turns out they’re really comfy, and I want to see how they do on trail — men’s running shorts; who knew? My merino shorts have been slowly disintegrating, and it seems like a good idea to explore my options) and helped me tape some medical gauze pads over my heat rash to hopefully absorb some sweat and protect it from rubbing.
I cross the highway and walk through more sandy burn, then a little bit of more established forest. The first few miles pass quickly, and then I reach the dirt road turn off for Big Lake Youth Camp, a summer camp that offers very generous hospitality to PCT hikers — a cabin with laundry and showers, and donation-based meals three times a day. I want to stop by to fill up my water bottles — and maybe stay for lunch.
The dirt road leads past a logging operation. I can hear heavy equipment and the workers’ music playing. I follow other hikers’ footprints in the dust. A deer has gone this way, too.
At the camp, a cheerful staff member makes me a name tag and points me towards the hiker cabin, which is full of nobos. I fill my water bottles and loiter until lunch — burritos, fresh fruit, and one very tasty cookie per person. After lunch, I head out along the trail that leads back to the PCT southbound.
More sandy burn — but eventually the trees get greener and taller — at least briefly, and then I’m back in the burn. There are views of Mount Washington and, increasingly, North and Middle Sister. I call Ben and we chat while I hike about what we’ve been up to and about meeting at Odell Lake at the end of the week. I’ll go that far, I’ve decided. Today is a decision point — McKenzie Pass was my original goal destination, but I’ve got a box at Shelter Cove (Odell Lake) that I’d like to go get. J. is doing some runs out of McKenzie Pass today, so I’ll see him there tonight. I could just get a ride home from him. But I’m having a great time on trail lately.
Soon the trail leads past big lava flows, black piles of rock here and there. In the distance I see the big lava field I know I’ll be crossing; the trail winds it’s way there slowly, but for now the tread is soft and sandy with occasional bits of pumice.
Then it leads up into the lava, a path cut into the rock. The trail tread is rocky and uneven, made of loose pieces of pumice and leading up and over and around and through all kinds of lava formations. It’s beautiful and alien and stark and so, so cool. I timed it exactly right, somehow — it’s getting to be evening, and the light is beautiful. It’s not too hot and there’s a nice breeze.
I look up from my umpteenth photo and there’s J. running up the trail towards me. I’m just a couple miles from the trailhead now; he gives me his car key in case I need or want it when I get there. I beat him there by ten minutes or so (he ran up to Belknap Crater) and am glad to be able to sit in a seat while I wait for him to finish his run.
We pitch our tents at the trailhead and walk up to the road to watch the sunset and admire the glowing Sisters, then cook dinner and go to sleep.
I wake up six minutes before my alarm is set to go off, but I don’t manage to crawl out of my sleeping bag straight away. I do manage to pack up and get out of camp by 5:40; none of the hikers camped nearby have stirred. I hike in my fleece and puffy, with my still-slightly-wet bra and my shirt tied to the outside of my pack. I skip breakfast for now, but my hip belt pockets are full of snacks.
I enter the burn pretty immediately — last year’s burn. The ground is black and everything is covered in soot, but here and there are clumps of green beargrass. I can see the dry burnt tufts of last year’s growth, but a significant fraction of the beargrass is recovering and regrowing just like I assume it does after the snow melts every year — new green growth straight up out of the burnt tufts.
There’s a dead horse in Russell Creek. I’ve known about it for a few days — there are plenty of funny and punny comments on Guthook about leading a horse to water, beating a dead horse, etc. A little ways before the creek, I pass a sign from the Forest Service: “Animal carcass in the area. You may see increased animal activity in the area as a result.” In the still-dim morning light, I feel just a tiny bit anxious.
At the creek, I try not to look for the horse, but I’m a curious human and can’t help myself. It’s in the water just below where the trail crosses. Its head is hidden below a rock, and its body is bloated and round. It looks like a sort of fuzzy brown rock, with something green starting to grow over the top.
The creek is pretty low this early in the morning (it’s 6 o’clock), so rather than trying to climb over the big boulders upstream to find a perfect rock-hop, I ford the creek right at the trail. The water is only about ankle-deep till I’m halfway across, and then I finish the crossing with an easy rock-hop. From the other side, I can see the horse’s tail and hind legs lying in the water. The trail up from the water is narrow; I imagine the horse fell from the trail into the creek. Pretty terrible.
I continue through the burn as the sky turns from pink to blue. I’m starting to feel warm in my fleece and puffy, but I also keep walking into strange patches of cold air — microclimates related to the burn or the shape of the mountain — I don’t know. My left Achilles tendon is buggin’ me a bit, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any worse, and my current policy is to not really pay my pain any mind unless the same spot hurts more for more than a day.
I cross another creek and push through some big bushes trying to eat the trail. I’m through the burn, at least this section of it, and climbing through old, thick, dark, dim forest. The sun is still low in the sky and hasn’t touched this part of the woods yet.
I keep walking, and at exactly 10 o’clock I reach Shale Lake, 10.8 miles into my day. 10 by 10! I stop long enough to filter some water, take a photo or two of Mount Jefferson’s reflection in the lake, and pull off my fleece and puffy and put on my bra and shirt. Then I continue on through some pretty semi-alpine stuff and into an older burn — white skeletal trees and lots of green undergrowth, plus short evergreens two or three or four feet tall. It’s quite pretty. There are also beautiful views, including a glimpse of North and Middle Sisters.
My next stop is Rockpile Lake at mile 18 or so. I filter some more water and continue on into the heat of the day. It’s really hot, and in this burn there’s very little shade. My Achilles is feeling better though — my feet are generally sore, but not specifically. A few more miles and I stop at my last water source, a small pond surrounded by burned forest. I crouch by the water and enjoy a little fantasy about being, like, a peasant in a fantasy novel set in Arthurian times, being dirty and sweaty and traveling through the landscape and, you know, being on a quest or seeking my fortune or something. It feels like the whole world is this burn.
I set off with three and a half liters, probably more than I need for the last ten miles of the day, but it’s really hot and I’d rather have too much than not enough. A mile later, J. runs up behind me; he’s been running a loop around Three-Fingered Jack today that finishes on the PCT. “Do you have any extra water?” he asks. I give him a liter. That worked out.
The burn continues (the burn is the whole world, after all). I leave J. sitting on a log drinking water and catching his breath; he’ll pass me again in a few minutes. We’re climbing up to a pass right below Three-Fingered Jack, which definitely has more than three fingers if it has any. I keep on keepin’ on. I take a lot of photos. I reach the top of the ridge and cross over to the other side, traversing a slope across stream beds where in other seasons snowmelt clearly flows — the trail goes up and down into and out of these paths.
My feet are really hurting by now, but my morale is pretty good. Jefferson is in the distance now, looking beautiful but surprisingly small. I’ve come a long way today! I listen to podcasts and work on maintaining forward momentum.
On through the burn — sandy brown trail, white trees, green undergrowth, blue sky. A few miles from Santiam Pass, the heat rash on my back starts to hurt again. I stop and strip off my shirt and hike in my bra. If I straighten my spine and keep my shoulders back, I can kind of create a little airflow gap between my back and my pack, but then it jostles against the rash and maybe that’s worse. Honestly, that pain distracts me a bit from my sore feet, which is kind of nice.
I hike on. The sky starts to turn pink. The Three Sisters, and maybe Broken Top? — I don’t actually recognize the mountains down here as well as I’d like to think I do — hang out on the horizon in the decreasing distance. I check Guthook for the umpteenth time to see how close I am to the trailhead, and it shows me off the trail. I panic for a moment and find a weird little triangle of trail on Gaia; this trail will lead me back to the PCT, but it’ll add a little distance. I’m super cranky and wondering how I missed a junction. What the heck!? Then I get back to the PCT and it’s clear there’s been a reroute that’s not yet reflected in Guthook; the old PCT has logs strewn across it to block the way. Sigh.
Just a couple miles left — let’s go. I stop to dig in my pack for my external battery (my phone is almost dead; I’ve been texting with J. as I approach the trailhead) and my headlamp (just in case).
Half a mile from the trailhead, I hear a dog barking in one direction and an odd whistle in the other direction. Oh — it’s J. He walked in to meet me. He’s feeling pretty beat up from his run, so we hobble out together to the trailhead. It’s not quite dark when we finally arrive. I have him take a victory photo. Thirty two point four miles, my friends. I’ve never moved my feet so far in one day before.
They hurt a lot. I collapse into J.’s car and we head into Sisters for food and showers and beds.
I wake up at 6:30 or so when someone’s dog barks loudly. I pack up my stuff while J. wakes up, and then he sets about making pancakes. Sweet. I eat pancakes and jam and a cup of hot chocolate with a splash of coffee. I take my time about leaving — I’m planning on another short day, 14 miles or so, so I can set myself up to cross Russell Creek, which I’ve heard (from Guthook comments and a few section hikers I spoke to yesterday) is a difficult crossing, tomorrow morning, early in the day when the water level is lower.
I set out around nine. The trail leads through shrubby forest, past pretty lakes. Lake after lake, gnarled dead white trees, plenty of green ones too, blue sky. It’s hot and dusty, but what else is new? I’m used to be being sweaty and dirty — it doesn’t bother me.
I meet a backpacker with a beautiful husky and give the dog a scritch behind the ears. He asks me, “are you looking for a sexy guy with a spoon?”
“Oh, he said he had a friend coming down the trail this way.”
I shrug and wish him happy trails and continue on. A mile or so further, I check my phone for signal and get a text from J.’s InReach asking if I’ve passed the Breitenbush Lake trailhead yet. (He’s planning on starting a run from there, south on the PCT — we’ll probably run into each other again today.) I reply that I haven’t, and he texts back, “ok, I have your spoon.” Oh!! I must have left it at Olallie Lake — J. had been using it to flip pancakes. I hadn’t realized yet that it was missing.
I walk less than a quarter mile and there he is sitting on a rock and admiring a view of Mount Jefferson. He’d walked in from the trailhead, spoon in hand. “Oh hey! That guy you talked to thought you were sexy.” He laughs. He hands me my spoon and we walk out together; I stop at his car to refill my water bottles from his gallon of water and drink one last La Croix from his cooler. The car next to his has a dusty sticker on the back reading “Let’s Advenpurr Through The Meowtains.”
J. runs ahead and I follow the trail as it climbs through more scrubby forest, past more pretty lakes. There are some melting snow patches, lots of green covering the ground, wildflowers, and that blue, blue sky. It’s so pretty! I try my phone again and whaddya know, I have some data signal for the first time since Timberline. I sit next to the trail, lean against my pack, and take a little time to check my email and call my mom. Weekend backpackers and day hikers pass by; one asks me if I’m okay. “Oh yeah! So good!”
When I walk on, the trail just gets better and better. The trees thin out and there are more patches of snow. I love alpine environments so, so much. I am giddy every time I turn around; there’s Mount Hood in the distance, stunning as always. A red cinder cone a little closer, and closer still the trail winding its way up, through beautiful rock formations and across snow patches and around small ponds and under little rivulets of water that sparkle and shimmer in the sun. I am so happy.
Then I crest the top and there is Mount Jefferson, suddenly huge and close. A beautiful bowl down below between me and the mountain, full of trees and meadows and lakes and streams. I grin and start down into it.
More wildflowers, more trees, more beautiful lakes and streams. I’m moving slowly not because I hurt but because everything is beautiful. I follow the path set before me and enjoy every goddamn step.
…At least until the heat rash on my back makes itself known. My pack jostles against my back just a tiny bit with every step, and suddenly it’s excruciating. When I touch it, it feels like a bad sunburn. I put some salve on my fingers and reach up under my shirt and bra to spread it every where I can reach; then I decide to just take off my shirt and hike in my sports bra for a while. My shirt has some cotton content and is soaked with my sweat, which is certainly not helping the situation. The salve and a bit of air on my back do help somewhat.
I meet J. towards the end of my walk through the beautiful bowl; he’s been lingering because he wants to take a detour on his way back to the trailhead but didn’t want to miss me. He gives me some beta on the couple miles ahead of me, and we solidify plans for tomorrow. I have this idea that I’m gonna do a 30. A 30-mile day, that is. That would get me just about to Santiam Pass, where J. is planning to park tomorrow for a run around Three-Fingered Jack. If I can make it, I can get a ride from him into Sisters or Bend.
I walk just a little bit further to a pretty, milky stream and follow it to a largish tentsite. This is where J. suggested I camp tonight; I’m still about a mile from Russell Creek, but I’m just about to enter a burn area and there aren’t really any good spots to camp. The tentsite here is already occupied by a couple nobos; there’s room for more tents, but I spend a few minutes looking around nearby before I ask them if I can share. They’re happy to share; I find a spot and lay out my groundsheet and pad and sleeping bag to cowboy camp — I figure that’ll make it a little easier to get going in the morning.
I wash my sports bra in the stream and hang it to dry; hopefully that will help remedy the heat rash and chafing and make me more comfortable tomorrow. I make dinner. A few mosquitos come out around dusk; I’ll sleep with my headnet on. I chat for a while with a nobo section hiker, Dash. Then I head to bed. I’m gonna set my alarm for 5 tomorrow morning. Here goes nothing!
I wake up at 6:30 and pack up and head out pretty quickly. I skip hot breakfast and head out, eager to get down to Olallie Lake and do nothing in particular. I descend through the woods towards Trooper Spring, where I fill my gallon-sized ziplock bag some dirty laundry and water from the spring. I swish it all around, dump the water out away from the spring, and repeat a few times, then attach everything to the outside of my pack to dry in the sun.
I follow the trail through diverse forest — sometimes thick and dark, with tall green trees, and sometimes with lots of sky, dead white trees and smaller young ones. There’s an old burn section that’s been salvage logged, full of fireweed — that’s where I see my first glimpse of the summit of Mount Jefferson, and a sliver of its side.
More forest walking, and then a dirt road and a little handwritten sign in the woods inviting hikers to the Ollalie Lake Resort store. I turn left and arrive at the lake and the store — and there’s a beautiful view of Jefferson on the other side of the lake.
I buy a beer and a carton of chocolate milk at the store and sit on the porch making conversation with friendly visitors, including a five-year-old boy who’s very excited about having caught two fish in the lake today. After an hour or so, J. arrives with a new fuel canister for me and my new size 10 shoes. I try them on and am a little astonished to discover that they actually fit pretty much perfectly.
I pass the afternoon reading, mostly, admiring the view, and chatting a little with other hikers. J. goes for a run up a nearby big butte. I snack on fruit and cook dinner and pitch my tent in the “day use” area where the resort staff generously allow hikers to camp. The sun sets and Mount Jefferson glows over the lake for a few minutes. J. pitches his tent near mine and cooks dinner on his car camping stove. Everything gets quiet after dark. We sleep.
When I wake up, my ankle/shin/whatever is much improved. What a relief! It still hurts a little when I flex my foot, but I can walk without pain. I intend to take it pretty easy today, though, to give it a rest just in case. I have a leisurely breakfast and a cup of hot chocolate before leaving camp around 8.
I walk the forested trail beside Timothy Lake and then further south. Three or four miles into my day, I cross Forest Road 42, which I must have biked down on my short bike tour in September 2015 — I remember the beautiful PCT arch across the trail. On that trip I noticed every PCT trailhead or marker I passed, thinking I’d be getting back on trail when I got to the Sierra.
Shortly after the road is the junction for Joe Graham Horse Camp, just off trail. I’d heard about trail magic here from a few nobos, and indeed there’s a little laminated sign at the junction. When I arrive, trail angel Connie shows me the little pop-up tent she’s got set up with a sandwich bar (including vegetarian deli meat!), chips, and a cooler full of sodas. Awesome. I sit and eat and chat with nobos. After a while it occurs to me to ask Connie for an ice pack or some ice — she not only has an ice pack, she also offers me some menthol analgesic pads, even putting some in a little ziplock for me to take with me. I don’t know why some folks are so nice to dirty hikers, but I sure appreciate it.
My shin continues to feel pretty okay as I hike on, but I do get some pain, off and on, at the inside of my ankle, where my posterior tibial tendon attaches at my accessory navicular — the injury I had fall 2016 – spring 2017. All the more reason to take it easy today.
I descend towards Warm Springs River. A bear runs across the trail downhill from me. “Hi bear! Bye bear!” I call after it. I turn around and there’s another sobo behind me. “Oh hey! I just saw a bear!”
“Neat!” he says. We exchange trail names (his is Walkabout) and then he pulls ahead — I’m moving a little slowly.
There’re several nobos hanging out at Warm Springs River, which despite the name is very cold — perfect for soaking tired and sore feet. I spend 45 minutes sitting on the log bridge across the river with my feet in and out of the water. Just as I’m getting ready to leave, a very bold or very stupid chipmunk runs right over my pack, which I’m currently loading with filtered water, and nearly up my leg. I yelp.
The next water is nine miles away; the next campsite is six and a half. Uphill. So, loaded with water for dry camping, I climb through the forest to Pinhead Saddle, where I find a campsite and pitch my tent. On the way up, a garter snake slithers across the trail in front of me and startles the bejeezus outta me. So today I’ve been scared by a wee snake and a chipmunk, and I just waved at a bear.
I’ve been snacking a lot today, and I’m feeling too lazy to cook dinner. I eat a few hundred calories worth of hazelnuts instead, finally finishing off the little bag of them that I’ve been carrying since White Pass. Nuts always seem like a good idea when I’m buying food for resupplies, but I never really want to eat them on trail for some reason — but they’re too expensive not to eat. Sunk cost!
I check Guthook — I hiked 18 miles today; so much for an easy day. Easy by thru-hiker standards, but I’m no thru-hiker. My feet are sore, though only, thankfully, in a general way. Tomorrow I’ll hit Olallie Lake in just 12 miles and change — and maybe I really will take it easy tomorrow, and stop there.