Sunday, September 29, 2019

Day 36. Last day on the PCT this year

Day 36. Last day on the PCT this year
Wasco Lake Junction 2011 to Santiam Pass 2001
10 miles

I’m going to miss this— waking up and getting to hike everyday, all day. The difference this year is that I’m not dreading getting off the trail. I have a life I’m really looking forward to going back to. I have a job where I get paid to hike! Of course it’s hiking with kids so it’s not all day long hikes like this. But nevertheless, I do love it. I’ve been thinking a lot about my students. How much have they grown up over the summer?
 I also love our home in Moab Utah. Surrounded by all sorts of public lands. Not just my park, but the forest service and BLM lands full of obscure and lonely places. More places to explore than I ever could in a lifetime. It doesn’t quite feel like home as deeply as Oregon does, but it is a good place to call home for now. And I miss Mags.

The return hike holds more surprises. I can finally see the top of Three Fingered Jack, which was shrouded in clouds and rain a few days ago. I spot a cluster of mountain goats on a far slope. I don’t know if I should be delighted or angry when I see them. If I were back in northwestern Montana, of course I’d be thrilled since they are native and part of a healthy ecosystem there. But in southeastern Utah, there is increasing evidence that the mountain goats (that were introduced in areas that they are NOT native for the purpose of trophy hunting) are harming native plants and damaging fragile alpine areas. So I do some quick google searches to see if I should be happy or sad to see these goats here in this habitat. It turns out that these goats are native and were reintroduced recently. Nice!

I get to last viewpoint. I can see all the way to the Three Sisters! I start to cry thinking of what an incredible hike this has been. Each day has been infused with joy and I’ve excelled in doing this hike my own way. So much swimming in lakes, visiting friends and family, going to Ranger Programs and learning natural history, chasing butterflies, iNaturalizing (over 94 species!), a bonus side trip to climb South Sister, and topping it all off with this out-and-back to give me well over 60 total “bonus” miles for this trip.

I’d intended to hike 540 miles but I ended up doing over 600 miles to cover basically the same distance on the PCT. That makes me happy and really reflects my hiking style.

My sister and her husband pick me up from Santiam Pass. We head over to a favorite childhood spot-- Belknap Hot Springs. Many family vacations were spent soaking in these hot springs after our "big" hikes. This is where I first learned how to section hike-- on the McKenzie River Trail. Though back then it was 3 mile and 5 mile sections at a time. But we would piece them together to eventually complete the entire 26 mile trail. Definitely a fitting place to end this trip!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Day 35. Bonus Miles

Day 35. Bonus Miles
Above Jefferson Park 2035.7 to Wasco Lake Junction 2011
24.7 miles going southbound

When I wake up in the morning, I realize I get to do my very favorite thing today which is hiking all day.  Even though I’ve just done this section going northbound, there is no shortage of new sights. 
I spot a flower I’d completely missed two days ago, the fringed grass of parnassius. A fall favorite when I lived in Georgia. This one looks slightly different. A new variety perhaps?

This view of the south side of Mount Jefferson had been completely shrouded in clouds previously. I’m so glad to see this view on a sunny day. It makes it feel like I’ve gotten a second change to purely enjoy the scenery by doing this section as an out and back.
This is my first full day going southbound. I’m now passing a steady stream of nobo hikers. It feels crowded.  Some of the other hikers talk about how many miles they are doing. The “Oregon challenge” is where hikers try to finish all of Oregon in 14 days, averaging 31 miles a day. I daydream about what kind of PCT challenge I'd institute if I were in charge of such things. Haha! Like how many lakes can you swim in. Or how many plants and butterflies you can identify and iNaturalize. 

For my last night on the PCT this year, I thought I would try camping near a lake. A mile off trail so I thought no one would be there. But it turned out to be crowded with folks who'd build campfires, even though the signs all said no campfires. Since we'd just walked through several hours of burn area, I thought it was obvious why campfires weren't allowed. But I had to get water so I decided to ask one of the campers if they minded if I walked through their campsite to get to the lake to get water. Turns out they were with their 6-year-old granddaughter-- her first camping trip. As I got water, she told me about all the fun she was having and about the dragonflies and smores. And then they asked me if I was hiking the PCT and invited me to camp with them (which was tempting but I declined). Of course I had to go from being annoyed by their campfires to feeling happy that this little girl was having such an amazing experience!

I ended up finding a few trees that had escaped the fire and set in for a restful last night away from the smoke and the crowds.

Day 34. Connecting my steps

Day 34. Connecting my steps
Milk Creek (2028) to Upper Lake (2043.7) then back to above Jefferson Park 2035.7
15.7 PCT miles plus 8.2 bonus 

Many sobo hikers had given advice about the crossing of Russel Creek. That it wasn’t *that* bad. That you could cross at the log. That the water was only knee high so it was safer to cross at the trail and not scramble to the log. I’d build the whole thing up in my mind, and was pretty nervous by the time I got there. But when I arrived I heard a cheerful “Hi Joan!” from across the way. It was K. and N. who I hadn’t seen since spending a zero with them in Ashland! 
K. walked back to the crossing and provided reassurance as I crossed the log. I didn’t even get wet feet! I love how just when I needed a little boost of confidence, my friends just happened to be there!

Then we hiked together for a bit, and leapfrogged for the day, and it was neat to hear their stories from the past few weeks.  In the Three Sisters Wilderness, they'd seen and photographed a rare Sierra Nevada fox and gotten to report it to wildlife biologists who were super-excited about their find. What great folks and fun stories!
Around Mount Jefferson
The scenery was absolutely gorgeous all through Jefferson Park and around Mount Jefferson! The sun was out and through it was a hard climb and quite exhausting, my spirits remained high. How lucky to have clear skies!
I barely recognized Upper Lake, my turnaround spot from my 2016 long hike. It looked so different from when I was there in October three years ago— when I woke up to snow and decided it wouldn’t be smart to keep climbing over the pass below Mount Jefferson. Now, having done that pass this morning, I can see just how smart that was and I’m glad I turned around.
No snow or fall colors like there was when I was here last
Trail magic is happening at a road crossing so I got to stop and hang out with K. and N. and celebrate finishing my long section hike. 
K. and N.
As of now I have completed 2447 miles of the PCT, and have about 218 miles remaining in Washington (from the OR/WA border to Packwood and from Rainy Pass to Canada.)
Still lingering snow even in August
Climbing back over the pass was just as gorgeous as it had been coming down. I decided to camp early and enjoy the scenery. I'd scoped out a campsite when I'd come through here earlier this morning so I knew exactly where I wanted to be for sunset.
Watching sunset near Mount Jefferson
The wind is light so far and I just want to look at these mountain for a few hours- I can see a huge blue glacier and the light changing and I never want this feeling of wonder to end.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Day 33. Mount Jefferson Wilderness

Day 33. Mount Jefferson Wilderness
Santiam Pass (2001) to Milk Creek (2028)
27 miles

One of the best things about hiking solo is getting to hike my own way. 

Even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to other people.

I am a person who loves out-and-backs. I appreciate getting to see the same landscape at a different angle and in different light. I noticing things I missed the first time because it teaches me how to better pay attention. I can also pick awesome campsite on the way back for amazing sunsets.

For the last 40 mile section to connect my steps between Santiam Pass and the random lake that I ended at south of Ollalie Lake in 2016, I did an out-and-back, for a total of about 80 miles. I would imagine that most people would have hiked one-way and then hitchhiked from Ollalie Lake. But I LOVE out-and-backs and I also had some extra time.
The day started off cold and windy and progressed to cold and with spitting rain. There were even a few flurries. I couldn’t see the top of Three Fingered Jack or Mount Jefferson at all. 
Mostly everything was just shrouded in mist.
I didn't expect to hike this far, but I wanted to get set up for a shorter day my last day.

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.