Monday, September 16, 2019

Day 30-32. Double Zero in Bend

Day 30-32. Double Zero in Bend
8/8/2019 to 8/10/2019
Big Lake Youth Camp (1995.1) to Santiam Pass (2001)

It sprinkles during the night and there is fog all the way to Santiam Pass. Rain and thunderstorms are forecast for the next two days. Perfect timing for a town stop with friends in Bend!
Mark and Toni were like my Uncle and Aunt growing up. Many weekends and holidays were spent together. I have fond memories of rafting trips with them. We haven’t been in touch for a while, but in no time we are laughing and telling stories. It’s so amazingly wonderful to see them!

They’ve just moved into a new place in the Old Mill District, which is just a ten minute walk to the REI and a huge variety of restaurants. One morning their daughter Lauren is off work so we hang out and stroll along the river and catch up on the last 20 or so years of our lives.
I am so thrilled when they suggest an afternoon at the High Desert Museum. There are exhibits on local wildlife, birds of prey, mining, pioneer, and ranching history, and Native American cultures. I feel starved for a deeper understanding of the history of this area and find the visit to the museum so fulfilling. I especially love learning just how early people walked here- 10,000 years ago- wow!
Huge thunderstorms and hail move through but we watch the storms from their comfy living room. I'm so glad I made time for this extended rest stop. Most people on long hikes are under time constraints, but I'm glad that I can take time to enjoy the areas I'm passing through and visit people I care about. It's making this trip so special!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Day 29. More Lava

Day 29. More Lava
Lava Lake Camp Junction 1982.6 to Big Lake Youth Camp 1995.1
13.5 miles

I love waking up early. The lava is otherworldly in the dark. Shadows from my headlamp play on the rocks. It all seems so magical and wondrous and I just want to savor it.
The first light appears slowly. The birds that chirp at this hour have strange songs. Time passes slowly but also feels limitless and spacious.
I’d been expecting difficult footing, but the trail through the lava is gentle and I love skipping through the rocks. Compared to the lava rocks I used to hike through during my winter season working at El Morro National Monument, when I’d explore nearby El Malpais National Monument, this is a cakewalk. But I wonder what I’d think if I’d done this back in 2014 when I started hiking the PCT.
Dee Wright Observatory is the perfect place to watch sunrise. Built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it features little windows that identify peaks like Jefferson, Washington, and the Three Sisters. On top, there is a metal peak finder to identify all the surrounding geological features.
My parents took me here by car many times on family vacations. I remember reading all the signs and trying to memorize the shapes of the mountains so I would be able to identify them later. My parents always knew all the names of the mountains wherever we went. So I understood this to be an important thing to be able to do.
Though out here on the PCT, there have been a few times where I see a new mountain peak when I get up to a pass and ask another hiker coming from the other direction what it is. And they say they have no idea, they just hike and don't bother with the names. And I just shake my head and pull out my maps. There are so many different ways to enjoy this trail. But I need to know the names of the peaks or else I feel completely disoriented.
I meet more SOBO hikers that all warm me about there are more lava rocks ahead. "That's what I’m hear for!" I want to say. Because I love the lava. But I end up just nodding and smiling.
I take the side trail to Big Lake Youth Camp and arrive in late morning. They don't serve lunch until 1 so I have a few hours to take a shower and relax. I see some of the other nobo hikers I haven’t seen for days so it's great to catch up. They are really nice at the camp and I decide to hang around for the night.

Day 28. Obsidian Limited Entry Area

Day 28. Obsidian Limited Entry Area
mile 1962 to Lava Lake Camp Junction 1982.6
20.6 miles

Today was one of most scenic days on the PCT— with incredible obsidian outcrops against a backdrop of the the Three Sisters peaks.

I’d been looking forward to this section for a while. Our PCT permits allow us to pass through the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, and it is difficult to get a permit to visit otherwise. I’d learned from the FS Ranger I’d talked to a few days earlier that many tribes get their obsidian from quarries here to make arrowheads and stone tools and have for generations. 
How incredible it is to walk through all the sparkling obsidian. It is interesting to contemplate what an incredible resource this was for tool-makers and to wonder about how far the points from this place have traveled across the vast trade-networks and how many meals arrowheads made from the rock here have provided.

Further on, the trail leads through recent lava flows. It made me wonder who the first people to discover the obsidian area were, how many travelers and traders came here, and how tough it must have been to explore and trade with all this lava. Where there paths through the lava made thousands of years ago like the Zuni-Acoma Trail in El Malpais NM in New Mexico? I really wish I knew more of the history here.
The sobo hikers that I stop and talk to all say the lava section that I will encounter tomorrow are terrible. They say it tears up your feet and takes forever to pass through. They make it sound really rough and terrible.
Then I meet C. who is a section hiker who is singing a different tune. She says the thru hikers are just complaining and actually its beautiful through the lava. We laugh and connect and complain how everyone seems so rushed and its hard to not soak in the general hurriedness. 
Later in the day, I say hello to a sobo thru-hiker has a forlorn look. When I ask how its going she blurts out “I wish this was over.” I feel so bad for her but don’t know how to help. I say the next part through the obsidian is amazing. But I doubt that’s the problem. I wish I could sit down and find out whats wrong. But maybe I'm not the right person to have that conversation. It seems so hard for me to imagine what its like to not want to be out here. I’ve never had the experience of wanting a hike to end— sometimes I think I’d like to hike so long that I feel that way. And part of me thinks maybe its better that I have this longing for more, that I’m still fresh in my love for the trail and I don’t feel the pull to leave. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Day 27. Climbing South Sister

Day 27. Climbing South Sister
Moraine Lake to the Summit of South Sister, then back to the PCT mile 1959 to mile 1962
3 miles on the PCT + 12 non-PCT miles
15 miles

My eyes open before my alarm goes off. Today is like a vacation from my vacation! What will the largest-glacier-in-Oregon look like? Will there be ice still on the high elevation lakes? What butterflies will be flying around at 10,000 feet? I think about all the PCT hikers down around the base of South Sister, while I am high up here in the alpine wonderland. It thrills me to be deviating from the PCT and making my own choices about where I roam.
Despite starting to hike by 5:20 AM, I don’t get on the actual climber’s route until 6AM. I have to hike all the way to Moraine Lake from my remote site, climb up from the lake and then cache my tarp/ sleeping bag/ hammock off the trail. With all the habituated chipmunks lurking, I decide to carry all my (4 days worth!) food. Heavy, but prudent.
I love the morning predawn hiking. Love the vastness and the exhilaration of the climb. The air smells delightful after the storm. The footing is really good after the rain- like the trail got compacted and cleansed. I can only imagine how dusty and loose it was the morning before. 
Three sets of footprints are in front of me. One set is small and I find out that they belong to a 4th grade girl hiking with her dad. Her sweet voice wafts on the wind and its delightful to meet her. 
When I get to the really steep uphill with loose rocks I come upon the lead hiker, and we end up hiking for most of the day together. R. keeps a steady pace and just tells me a few snippets of his story. I’m amazed that he is 70 years old! He is one of those people you can sense had lots of experiences over his lifetime, but doesn't brag. I feel lucky to have run into him. R. says that he wanted to hike this mountain today because next year they are switching to a permit system.

The first lake is amazing blue and the Lewis glacier above has deep blue ice.
A few young guys pass us on the way to the top, but by the time we get up there (just before 9), they are already heading down again so it doesn’t feel crowded. 
Instead, it feels like we are on top of the world and have it all to ourselves! Volcanos stretch out to the north and south, ones I’ve hiked around and have yet to hike near. The Three Sisters are all shaped so different even though they form from the same mountain building processes. R. talks about the geological processes that formed the features that he's hiked over the years.
On the way down, we run into A LOT of people coming up. It becomes very overwhelming and I hurry to turn off the Climber’s Trail back onto the side trail that will lead to the PCT. The experience of that massive crowd swarming up the mountains makes me see why they will have a permit system. I’m very grateful for my early start because I feel like the crowds didn’t negatively impact my experience of climbing the mountain. 

I take a circuitous route back to the PCT, instead of the direct route, so I skip less of the PCT. The view of South Sister from the PCT is still beautiful, but it makes me really glad I climbed it so I could experience it up close.
I make camp early (4 PM!) since I don’t need to get to hwy 20 until Thursday. And because I’m tired and have been up since 5 AM.  I delight the mosquitoes by fetching water and bringing it back to my campsite for a sponge bath. I’ve not felt so sweaty this whole trip. The rinse off feels delightful and the mosquitoes sure are pleased by the meal!

As I lay in my hammock and calculate my daily mileage, I discover I bypassed 6.7 miles of the PCT with my 22 mile Elk Lake/ South Sister alternate. Of course some people will still say that because I didn’t hike the official PCT route, that this makes my hike “invalid.” To this I can only laugh. I gained so much with my side trip— getting to see the glacier up close, experiencing an incredible view, and the butterflies up there were just amazing! I’m so glad to have the experience of that extra adventure. It was definitely one of the highlights of my whole summer.

Day 26. Side trip off the PCT

Day 26. Side trip off the PCT
Near Elk Lake 1950 to Elk Lake cutoff 1952.6
2.6 PCT miles + 10 non-PCT miles
12.6 miles
Elk Lake to Moraine Lake not on the PCT

Today is the start of my South Sister side trip. I’m planning to summit South Sister tomorrow, but first I need to take a detour to get more food and pick up a permit.

I arrive at Elk Lake Resort an hour before they open for breakfast. My hiker hunger has kicked in and I am lightheaded with low blood sugar by the time I order. The french toast and scrambled eggs are the most delicious I’ve ever had. I slather them with butter and drench them in syrup, then ask for extra syrup. Would it be excessive if I asked for extra butter too? As I devour them, I eye the butter packets that the man at the table next to me left behind. Would anyone notice if I just grabbed them off his dirty plate? 

After breakfast, I feel like the Very Hungry Caterpillar in the book I read to my first grade students— I’m still hungry! But ice cream isn’t served until 11 AM. I NEED ice cream. So more waiting. 

Finally, the ice cream counter opens. The strawberry ice cream root beer float with two scoops of ice cream is most marvelous I've ever had! Juicy chunks of strawberries mixed with flavored sugar water melt on my tongue. I try to make it last forever by eating it spoonful by tiny spoonful, going for a Slowest Know Time of Root Beer Float Consumption (SKT of the RBFC). But it is gone too soon. My stomach is a bottomless pit and I contemplate staying here all day and ordering root-beer float after root-beer float. But I know I need to hike.

I make my way on non-PCT trails to the trailhead where I get my free permit to climb South Sister. When I get to the trailhead, I see a Forest Service Ranger at the signboard and approach him to ask some questions. Turns out he is an Americorps member so we have that in common and he wants to hike the PCT someday. Despite the fact that it starts to rain, I ask a million questions and talk as if I haven’t had much conversation for the last few days — which I suppose is because I haven’t! Thankfully, he is happy to share information which I really appreciate!

The storm intensifies as I climb. I clutch my umbrella as claps of thunder migrate across the sky. This is the first rain I’ve had all trip, and it figures that it is coming down just as I am heading up to my highest elevation that I will reach all summer.
I talk to hikers coming down the mountain and hear frightening tales of their close calls with lightning. Hair standing on end and feeling the electricity so near. When I ask the hikers how it was the most common answers are “long” and “brutal” and “terrifying.” Will the storm pass before I climb tomorrow?

I just keep climbing.

As I approach Moraine Lake, the sky clears! But I can see more dark storm clouds coming in the distance. I need to find a campsite quickly! 

I rush down the trail to the designated campsites. The thunder keeps booming as I circle around the lake looking for a spot. The FS has installed posts with number that you are supposed to camp near within the Moraine Lake Area. But the unoccupied site are too exposed for me and facing into the wind. My original plan was to camp in a designated campsite, since that is the most LNT option in this area. But because of the danger of the storm, I decide that I will figure out a plan b. I hike cross country until I am outside of the Moraine Lake Area, which puts me even further away from the Summit Trail, but I know it is the right thing to do LNT-wise and I definitely don’t want to break any laws. 

Finally, I find a cluster of dense trees on a slope. No one else has ever camped here or will probably will ever camp here. It looks perfect!

Just as I get my hammock hung and tarp pitched, it starts to rain and then hail like crazy. The thunder booms in all directions. I wedge my umbrella under my tarp as extra protection from the storm.
I try to enjoy the patter of rain on my tarp. I try to feel thankful that I have a tight pitch. I try to remind myself how exciting it is to be on adventure off the PCT. But really I just want the thunder to end ... pretty please. It finally does end and I fall asleep early in anticipation for an early start tomorrow.

When I get up in the middle of the night, the sky is filled with stars which tell me the storms have passed.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Day 25. Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness

Day 25. Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness
Charlton Lake 1925 to near Elk Lake 1950
25 miles 

What a joy it is to wake to a sweet sunrise. To hear the fishes jump and sense how alive this place is. 

Lakes are plentiful all day! So I get to be choosy with the swimming. Dumbell Lake is perfect with a warm lava rock peninsula and a deep rocky bottom. And I have it all to myself!
As I enter the Three Sisters Wilderness, I look at my maps and do some calculations. I’m not suppose to meet my friends in Bend until the 7 or 8th. Plenty of time for a side trip.

Just as I am contemplating potential routes for my side trip, I run into a backcountry forest service ranger! What luck! After checking my PCT permit, he gives me the scoop on climbing South Sister— including where to camp and confirming that I will need to pick up a permit since my PCT permit won’t cover me that far off the PCT. He also warns me that it will be very crowded and suggests an early start. I’m so thrilled with my plan for an off-PCT diversion. 

I probably could have had dinner at Elk Lake Resort, but I’ve heard its busy and it’s Saturday night. I really like to sleep by myself where it is quiet and I can pretend I am having a wilderness experience. So instead I camp early in an out-of-the-way spot and plan to go over in the morning to get some food.

Day 24. A new toy

Day 24. A new toy
Shelter Cove (1902.4) to Charlton Lake (1925)
18.8 miles

Just as I am saying goodbye to my sister and her family, my nephew runs to his room and returns with a toy car. He presents it to me and later my sister says it is one of his favorites. I tuck the car into my pocket.

I have a feeling this toy car will have some adventures!
It’s definitely hard to say goodbye to my sister and her family. I wonder if I should have stayed another day. I sure hope this is the start of more time together. When I get to a ridge, I have cell service so I text my sister a photo of the car at it's first overlook and tell her how much I miss everyone.

It makes me so happy to pull out my food bag and find it filled with all sorts of appetizing treats that my niece picked out.  The street taco sized tortillas are amazing with salami, cheese, and a little individual serving of guacamole. Iit fills my heart with joy that my niece was the one to pick out this food for me.
It felt a bit crowded at all the lakes today. Or maybe I am just sad and cranky because I'm missing everyone. But I pull out my toy car and race it around making little "vroom" sounds even though I am in a wilderness area and somehow it makes everything better.