Friday, October 7, 2016

Day 35- When the snow flies

Day 35- When the snow flies

Oregon PCT Section F
At 2040 (Upper Lake)

Snow swirls in the wind. It's pretty against the reds of the berry bushes. Snow starts accumulating in patches along the trail, tucked in crevices around tree stumps.
White and fluffy.
I hike. Climbing higher. Watching. Thinking. Weighing options.

Maybe the snow will stop. Maybe the sun will come out. Maybe I will keep hiking all the way to Santiam Pass. I want to keep hiking. Please.

But the snow doesn't stop. The flakes get bigger. They swirl everywhere. 

I camped at 5300 feet but there are passes ahead that go up over 6800 feet. The next night will be high and possibly exposed. The forecast is for more precipitation in next few days. How much will fall as snow and how much as rain?

Its all the what if's- what if I can't find the trail because it is obscured by snow? What if I get too cold in my 3-season gear? It's also possible that there will just be a light dusting and it will be beautiful beyond imagine and I will have challenged myself and made it through successfully. 

But how much of a chance is there that I will get myself into a situation where I am in way over my head? If I turn around, am I being overly cautious or making a smart decision that will allow me to live to hike another day? 

Then there is the fact that Pathfinder is back in town, hopefully at the doctors by now getting her bee sting checked out. If I leave the trail at least I know that we will have fun together for the next few days before she flies out. We always have fun. And Slowbro is nearby and we will get to hang out too. And really, having fun and sharing time with friends-- isn't that more important than "completing" this section of trail right now? What would I be proving to myself if I risked it by continuing? What do I need to prove?

When it comes down to it, what to do is clear.

I use my InReach to message Pathfinder.

As I wait for a reply, I sit on the ground eating peanut butter watching the snow. Higher up I can see the trees are covered in white.When I get lower will I forget what it is like to be up here in the quiet? Will I regret this decision? Will it matter that at least I gave it a try and went beyond my comfort zone in being out here by myself? 

I think about what is has been like to leave my comfortable life to find out what the trail had to teach me.


The InReach sounds that I got a new message- yes Renee made it to the doctor. Yes she will get a rental car and pick me up.

I hike out slowly, trying to soak in everything. As I descend the snow turns to sleet and then to rain.
Passing this lake for the fourth time...
 At the road near Ollalie Lake Resort, I start walking down the road. Within a few minutes a couple in a big truck stops and takes pity on me. They give me a ride out the long dirt road to the main paved road where they turn are headed the other way so I get out and wait.  I stand in rain under my umbrella until Pathfinder picks me up. When she opens the door, I know I've made the right decision.


I set out on the PCT with the intention of hiking "until the snow flies" and it sure flew. Earlier than I'd hoped. But I think I learned the lessons the trail needed to teach me for now. I will return.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Day 34- Ollalie Lake

Day 34- Ollalie Lake

Oregon PCT Section F

2052 (Trooper Spring) to 2040 (Upper Lake) and back and forth to 2043 (Ollalie Lake)

Pathfinder's bee sting from yesterday swells up to size of a salad plate. No, it's more like a Frisbee, all red and raised, the swelling creating pressure against her knee. Making it hard to hike. So we hike slow. 
Showing off the huge red welt above her knee, Pathfinder is still upbeat no matter what.
 "How's your breathing?" I ask.

"OK." replies Pathfinder.

"Did your other bee sting swell this much?"

"Umm, no."

We ponder what this might mean, as the day wears on.

There is time to look around as I stroll down the trail behind Pathfinder. Changing colors are bright. The reds of the maples stand out against the contrasting grey rocks of the large boulder fields. 
Boulder fields.
 We take long rest breaks when Pathfinder says her knee starts bothering her more.
Powerline cuts become destinations. They have sun. And sun means warmth.

"Is your breathing still OK, Pathfinder?"

I hope I'm not being overly annoying. But Pathfinder is not strolling but struggling. Trying not to limp. Why is the allergic reaction so bad? She says she's never had a sting get this swollen before. Will this allergic reaction progress in more unexpected ways? 

It is obvious we need to get her out of the backcountry and checked out by doctor. Luckily, we are nearing a road crossing.

Ollalie Lake Resort has no phone or internet. But they do have a number for a shuttle service. Pathfinder and I stand by the road for an hour seeing if we can hitch out. Its a dirt road very very far out. Finally Pathfinder uses her Inreach to call her mom who contacts the shuttle service who can come in 2-3 hours to pick her up and take her to a town with an urgent care center. Phew!

I don't know what I should do. I've always gone off the trail with my hiking buddies who got injured or sick. It's what I do-- stay with them all the way back. But after hiking so slow and feeling like this entire trip hasn't gotten me far, I really want to keep hiking on. 

Pathfinder assures me she's fine going to town without me. The shuttle driver will get her there. So I set out on the PCT towards Santiam Pass- the plan is that Slowbro, who I met back in 2014 at Kennedy Meadows, will meet me there and I'm sure he will help me reconnect with Pathfinder.

Immediately I have that dreadful feeling I'm making a mistake.That I should have waited with Pathfinder until the shuttle arrived. I keep hiking hoping the feeling will go away. She said she was fine, I remind myself. I get a few miles out. What if the shuttle doesn't come? What if Pathfinder gets worse...? So I turn around and hike back, practically running down the trail. Of course she is fine. The shuttle arrives but again I hesitate. Should I go or hike on? I don't know. She assures me she'll be OK. 

I hike out again. Past the lakes again past the same views again. The light is fading. I set up my hammock in the dark in a site I'd scoped out earlier.

I wake up to strange sound on the tarp, softer than rain. It is snow. lightly falling snow. I shine my headlamp out and it sparkles. 

How much will fall? What will it look like in the morning? What will happen?

There is nothing I can think to do, at 2 AM. So I tuck myself back into my quilts.  At least I am warm. I listen to the soft patter of the snow until I finally fall back asleep.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Day 33- Birthday on the PCT

Day 33- Birthday on the PCT

Oregon PCT Section F
2070 (Miller Trail Junction) to 2052 (Trooper Spring)
17 miles

More soft gradual trail. How can the PCT be so kind and gentle and flat? It finally makes sense how thru-hikers can do 30 mile days here. I think about my hiking group back in Georgia- the Trail Dames- and how this would make an ideal trip for beginning backpackers. I can almost hear their laughter echoing through these hills.

For me though, I miss the climbs, the challenge. Is it really backpacking if I don't break a sweat or get my heart rate up? Am I having a worthwhile experience if I'm just floating along? What is the trail teaching me today?

Yellow and red maples glow in the sun. The sky continues to be blue but now there are a few white puffy things up there floating around. Weather looks like it will be changing soon.
Pathfinder walking through the maples.
 Better savor the warmth while it lasts. We stop for a break in a powerline cut. Normally stumps make me sad but I sit on one and think about "The Giving Tree" - a favorite book- and think about life and death and perspectives.
Soaking in the sun at a powerline cut
 At the Warm Springs River getting water, we meet Monarch, who is finishing her thru hike southbound since she flipped up to Washington. I hike with her a few hours (after agreeing to meet Pathfinder at the next junction) and we cruise up the hill and share life stories the way that we do out here- with intensity and honesty, getting quickly to the heart of the matter because we don't have long. In a matter of minutes, we establish our commonalities, share life stories, and say that which is most pressing. And then we part ways just as quickly.

Today is my birthday so I think birthday thoughts about where I am in my life and what it means to be approaching 40. Thank goodness I still have another year in my 30's because what does 40 mean? Will I have to start acting my age? Does that mean quitting hanging upside-down from random ladder things or swimming across nearly-freezing lakes? Will I have to go back to having responsibilities and quit living a free life? What if I like being free of debt, free of a mortgage or lease, free of pets or even a garden? Or is my time getting shorter, the eventuality of death more real, so I should pack in even more backpacking, more adventure, while I still can?

More importantly, I wonder about what I have to show for myself for my life's accomplishments? Have I made any sort of difference in the world? I told Monarch I used to do scientific research and she asked me what my research showed. When I told her, the answer seemed so pitifully small and unimportant so I told her about teaching and mentoring students and joining AmeriCorps to do conservation education at a state park. Then again, sometimes it feels like the biggest impacts we can have are the small ways we bring brightness to our coworkers and friends and the chance people we meet along the way. 

I try not to get nervous about what will happen when I get off the trail. Will I find a job that is challenging and rewarding? Please let it not be a flat easy cruiser miles job. 

At least I haven't left the world a worse place. Like it is enough to follow Leave No Trace and not do anything really harmful to anything or anyone? No real or metaphorical toilet paper left lying around in the woods- nope I pack it out and bury my poop. 

Trooper Springs has a sweet campsite nearby and I bushwhack around to find a sheltered spot in dense trees out of the wind. We are at camp early so there is plenty of time to repair some holes with the additional thread I picked up courtesy of Timberline Lodge. This is another result of my No New Gear experiment- most everything is threadbare and falling apart, and sewing it back together is a regular camp chore.
Mending a hole in my shirt. Photo by Pathfinder.
 Pathfinder gets a bee sting and we joke about how much benedryl and anti-itch cream we are going through. She got a whole squeeze tube full early in the trip thinking she couldn't possibly use all of it. But I've been borrowing it too for a bee sting I got a few days ago and now we pass it back and forth. Remembering days past of repackaging everything into small dropper bottles, and drying dots of toothpaste, and now I am hauling 3 oz bottles of sunscreen and aquafor (vasaline/ antichafing/ foot cream) and we have this huge tube of anti-itch stuff and we are going through all of it and glad for it. Except maybe the sunscreen- that is only getting a little use. But I keep carrying it, putting a little on each day. It feels like carrying a little tube of hope.

Pathfinder gives me her chocolate pudding as a special birthday treat and I savor the chocolaty-goodness in a plastic bag of wonderfulness. We wander into the meadow to watch the sunset glow pink and purple and life stands still in a moment of pure joy and appreciation for everything-- this day, this hike, all the opportunities I have had my entire life, all the people I have loved and all the friends I have had. It all seems too wonderful to comprehend. 
Watching the sunset at Trooper Springs.
 It rains only briefly during night. My tarp is dry before I pack it up in the morning.

Day 32- Little Crater Lake

Day 32- Little Crater Lake

Oregon PCT Section F
2089 (Barlow Pass) to 2070 (Miller Trail Junction)
19 miles

You may think all that swimming in lakes that I've been doing this past month has been just for fun. That I've been out here wandering around lollygaging and swimming around lazily.  But really the swimming has been very serious training in preparation for today's major swimming event. Because today was the big day- the Little Crater Lake Challenge.
Little Crater Lake is surprisingly deep (45 feet down)
Little Crater Lake is a striking blue and 34 degrees.  It was formed by the force of an artesian spring eroding away the soft rock. When I was 8 or 10 my parents took us here several times.

Family legend was that Dad once (he says twice) swam all the way across the near-freezing waters. 

My sister and I would take a brief dip along the shallow shore before quickly getting out. I remember thinking how amazing my Dad was for going all the way across, hoping to one day I'd grow up to be as daring as he.

So when I realized that the PCT would take me to Little Crater Lake, I knew what I had to do. I've been in "training" now for nearly a month. Getting my nutrition dialed in (peanut butter!), practicing getting in and out of lakes in record time, making sure I can withstand cold waters without cramping up or worse, swimming in the rain just in case that's what I have to do. All those swims have prepared me for this big day.
Go, go, go!
 The sun was warm and no rain- perfect conditions. No dawdling at the shore, no hesitation. Swim, swim, swim! And hope that the heart stays strong so Renee doesn't have to rescue me. I had practiced swimming over fallen log obstacles, so I sailed over smoothly. But oh this water is cold and stinging and bank is so far away... just keep going. Then.. oh yes get out into the sun! I made it! Yes I'm daring (or foolish) just like my dad. All that preparation paid off.


The PCT is walk in the park grade easy today. Flat and wide. We stroll along under a blue sky enjoying red and yellows leaves of fall and all the giant trees.
Massive giants
Lollygaging continues as we take a long break along Timothy Lake. Or maybe its not lollygaging but preparation for something very important that requires observation and patience?!
Listening to the lapping of waves on the shore of Timothy Lake.
Camp is made above Clackamas  Lake near the Miller Trail junction, where we watch the light change and get clear water from the spring that feeds the lake. Ah what a good life this is!
Renee gets water

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Day 31- Timberline Lodge

Day 31- Timberline Lodge

Oregon PCT Section G
2094 (Timberline Lodge) to 2089 (Barlow Pass)
5 miles

Woke up well rested at Timberline Lodge and watched the morning light glow off Mt Hood sitting on comfy chairs. Another vacation from vacation. 
Warming up to hot drinks in the lodge's main room
The famous all you can eat breakfast buffet was as good as they say.
View from Timberline Lodge
But I thought the best part, as you would guess, was catching the last ranger talk of the season. It focused on how the WPA built Timberline Lodge and how it put all those unemployed people to work during the Great Depression. The ranger highlighted details of the craftsmanship (that I missed from just briefly walking around)- pointing out the wrought iron work and how the giant pillars were made of ponderosa pine and the balcony where Roosevelt dedicated the lodge on Sept 28 1937
Stonework and craftsmanship of the lodge
The talk really brought the whole place to life. We also learned that the women of WPA hand crafted the rugs out of old worn out CCC uniforms. Talk about recycling!

It really made me appreciate the lasting legacy of this WPA program and the handwork of all those men and women. 

In the afternoon, Renee and I headed down the mountain. Seeing Timberline Lodge get smaller and smaller in the distance, we could see how massive this stratovolcano is in comparison.  
Heading out of Timberline Lodge down the sandy trail
We had a nice easy day- just five miles to camp at Barlow Pass- with outhouse and picnic table, though the roar of traffic was heard into the wee hours.  But I somehow can sleep through anything in the comfort of my hammock. As much as I enjoy a night indoors and the history and beauty of Timberline Lodge, it feels good to be back in the simplicity of the forest and my little hammock home.
Home sweet home.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Day 30- Mount Hood

Day 30- Mount Hood

Oregon Pacific Crest Trail Section G
2106 (Muddy Fork) to 2094 (Timberline Lodge)

"It's always great starting off the morning with not dying," declares Pathfinder.

We high five after our successful crossing of Muddy Fork. The bridge was washed out in 2014. There is a log that neither of liked the look of last night. When I scrambled out on it to check it out without my pack, it felt slippery and the height scared me. So we camped before the crossing so we could be well-rested before figuring out the safest way for us to cross. Good thing we waited because this morning we just splashed our way through the muddy water- the sandy bottom held no surprises and it was only knee deep. So nice to do this together!
Epic fording at 7 AM
The Ramona Falls alternate meanders through mossy forest with more soft easy footing. Its so warm. There is no rain. I marvel at the warmth and sun.
Lovely soft forest paths
Ramona Falls
I hike faster than Pathfinder so on the climbs I set out in front and then wait at the springs. I lay under blue sky with sunlight shining down and just feel the wonderful feeling of not being cold. Because we are not doing many miles there is time to watch a woodpecker fly from tree to tree. I listen to the buzz of insects and try to count how many different types of birdsong I can hear. But mostly I think about warmth and sun. Simple thoughts. Ah warm.

Mount Hood is massive and the rocks are colorful pinks and creamy. 
Sandy River with Hood in the background
Mt Hood
A Forest Service volunteer ranger is near the trailhead and I stop and ask him about all the poop and toilet paper. Turns out he is out here educating visitors about Leave No Trace and proper pooping. The Mount Hood Wilderness gets so much use so is heavily impacted by many pooping visitors. He said that things are improving due to education but there are just so many people. He stressed how important it is to poop at least 100 steps from water, the trail, and campsites and to dig a proper hole.

Renee and I get a bunk room at Timberline Lodge. With all the sorting of food and cleaning and repairing gear, there isn't any time to enjoy the beautiful lodge but hopefully will have a chance tomorrow before or after the much-anticipated breakfast buffet.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Day 29- Wandering around in the woods

Day 29- Just wandering around in the woods
Oregon Pacific Crest Trail Section G
2125 (Eagle Creek Alternate) to 2106 (Muddy Creek)

18 miles 

An unbelievably gorgeous day. Warm and sunny. Soft gradual trail. This feels like cheating. Isn't hiking the PCT suppose to be hard? 
Views of Mt. Rainier
We climb towards Mt Hood.
Mt. Hood
This close to Portland, there are many dayhikers and weekenders out asking, "Where are you coming from? How far are you going?"

I can't decide if I should tell them I'm coming from Mexico, Rainy Pass, or Cascade Locks. And I don't know how far I'm going. So I tell everyone that asks "I'm just wandering around in woods for a couple months."

Some people don't ask. They just make assumptions. Two people in particular.

One dayhiker looks at me up and down and says "Oh you must not be one of those PCT hikers." 

"What makes you think that?"

"Well you don't have a very big... um... pack" he says.

I think he means to say "dick." Like only big burly guys should be out here.


Later, another dayhiker says to me "You sure are getting a late start. But at least you got to do Washington."

This is before she asked me anything! What is this being late business!? I'm exactly on time. Why does she assume I'm a southbound thru hiker?!  I'm doing the PCT on my schedule- which is 1500 miles in 2014, then two AmeriCorps terms of service in Montana State Parks, and then 300 miles in Washington, and now however much I want in Oregon this year, and then I'll finish the rest sometime depending on how it fits in with my life. I'm not late I'm exactly where and when I want to be.

Today I was testing out a new pair of shoes I picked up in Portland. I wore an older version of the Altra Superiors this summer and liked them but have been wearing Keens this trip because I got the stress fracture in altras.  But I'm getting tired of the blisters the keens give me. The altras feel like wearing slippers with such soft padding and thick soles that float over rocks- no blisters even though didn't even tape my feet. I'm so excited until the first evening when I realize I can feel the stress fracture site talking again. Its not pain, just creaky. I felt this same thing a few weeks ago in the keens, so I don't know what to do. Is it just adjusting to the change in shoes? I decide to carry both shoes and keep changing back and forth.  That's what all the doctors wanted me to do when I was healing from the stress fracture, and it seems to make sense. Hopefully, it will keep the feet happy!
Trying out the new shoes, trying to keep the feet happy