Friday, August 31, 2012

Day 130-131 - On The Trail Again

Dad drove me back up to White Pass first thing Monday morning (Thanks dad!).  We stopped for lunch in Packwood and reached the trailhead a little before 1:00.  I hiked about 16 miles, and went to bed feeling sore, likely thanks to 4 days without hiking and the 5 hour drive.

Tuesday was fairly cloudy in the morning, with the sun or blue sky breaking through here and there.  I reached Dewey Lake around late morning without seeing any other hikers.  But in the several miles between there and Hwy 410 I saw 60-70, starting with a group of 15 or so kids.  A few hikers were backpacking, but most were just in for the day.  The sky cleared up and it was a perfect day for hiking.  Still, it was more hikers than I've seen any other day this whole trip.  And on a Tuesday, no less.

There were more hikers on the other side of the highway, though not as many.  And after a few miles I was all alone again. And the clouds came back.  It was similar to the clouds from the week before.  They were building up on the West side of the ridge and spilling over the top as the trail followed the crest.  Sometimes I was walking in dense fog.  Then the trail would switch to the East side of the ridge and it'd be gone, overcast but I could see for miles with bits of blue sky in the distance.  I set up my tent in a cluster of trees, had dinner and got into bed as a few small raindrops started falling. I hiked about 26 miles, 10 more than the day before, and didn't feel nearly as sore or tired.

Excellent scenery all day with huge valleys and rocky ridges all around. Lots of elk tracks and some very freshly rubbed trees along the trail, but I still haven't seen one. Had a couple good views of the base of Mt Rainier, but the top was all cloudy.

Day 126-129 - Vacation

Thursday morning was a quick 3 miles downhill to White Pass where I bought a couple pastries and waited for my ride home.  Dad and Sid picked me up at the store after a little while and we drove home to Eugene, getting breakfast along the way.

Like most of my trips home to Eugene over the last several years, the whole visit seemed like a whirlwind of activity.  Dinner party Thursday evening, wedding rehearsal and dinner on Friday, my sister Rachel had her wedding on Saturday, church and another party Sunday.  I did manage to get resupplied, got new tips for my trekking poles, ditched a handful of things from my pack I never use, and, most importantly, got tickets and reservations for my trip to NY with Laura.  (This vacation from my vacation gave me a chance to plan my next vacation.  Life is rough.)

Day 125 - Goat Rocks

On Wednesday the clouds were mostly gone, it was sunny and cold. The trail entered Goat Rocks Wilderness and went up through some big, wildflower-filled meadows then up around Old Snowy Mountain. The trail in the area reminded me some of the Sierras, very rocky with big patches of snow. The trail split into a stock trail, which went lower around the peak, and a hiker trail that went up to within a couple hundred feet of elevation from the top. I took the hiker trail but didn't go to the top. Maybe next time.

The trail down was about the crestiest (is that a word?) trail so far. It went right down the top of the ridge for a few miles with a steep slope on either side. The left side had an awesome view of a huge valley with Mt Rainier off in the distance.

A mile or so down the ridge there was a piece of trail that had been damaged by a rockslide. And by damaged I mean completely gone. But I don't think I'll go into details on how it was on a super steep slope where the trail went around a peak in the crest. My mom won't like reading about another perilous adventure that has me one slip away from a 75' slide down a gravel slope with a likely cliff at the end. A story of how I stood there for several minutes debating whether or not to scramble across the 10' wide rockslide-waiting-to-happen wouldn't be a comforting one. Something about cascades of rocks tumbling down the hill whenever I prodded for a place to step with my trekking poles can be unsettling. So I'll spare everyone the story of how I eventually went for it, clinging to the cliff once I reached the other side, instead of backtracking for miles to get around it.

Untold, harrowing stories aside, the place has a well-deserved reputation for excellent scenery.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 123-124 - The Scenery Continues

On Monday I had a decent view of Mt Adams while eating lunch.
The hike around Mt Adams wasn't as much climbing as I expected, only going up to around 6,000'. There was one large stream flowing down from the glacier in the picture above. Someone had made a bridge from several skinny logs. It's nice to have a bridge, stream crossings can be tough enough without them being through freezing water and lava rocks. My feet wouldn't appreciate that combination at all.

There was another glacial stream later with a nice bridge over it. Late in the day streams like that can get pretty high. This one was deep and rushing strong nearly over its banks. I camped near a cool spring that flows out from under the end of an old lava flow. Someone piled up some rocks to form a pool between the spring and the trail.
Tuesday didn't have much excitement. There were some going-away views of Mt Adams and lots of overgrown trail.
But towards the end of the day some clouds started rolling in. The trail went up over a saddle and gave a great view of a huge valley and a rocky ridge; I just couldn't see the ridge. In this next picture the clouds are pouring over a high pass at the top of the valley, completely obscuring the scenic (I assume) ridge.
When I got up to that cloud-producing pass, it wasn't a simple step over the top. The top was fairly steep and had a huge snow drift below the edge. I elected not to take a long switchback that it looked like some hikers had been using to get around the snow and I stayed on the actual trail. The snow was a lot steeper up close than it looked from way back, probably 45-55 degrees. I spotted a place where some other hikers had made footsteps up it and started over to them. Where the snow met the ground was an interesting phenomenon; the ground looked solid enough to stand on, but when I stepped on it it became a mini-mudslide. My boots sunk instantly into 3-4 inches of waterlogged gravel, sand and dirt that oozed down the hill in a bizzare fashion. It's probably tough to imagine without a picture or better yet, a video. I stood there staring at the strangeness of it for a second before I tried to figure out how to get out of the mess I was suddenly in. After some backtracking, some tiptoeing on larger rocks and more mud oozing into my shoes I made it onto the first snow toe-hold.

That wasn't the only challenge though. I still had a very steep, 30-40 foot high snowdrift to climb. The footsteps were probably at least a day old and were a bit melted. The snow was solid enough and I was able to kick them into useable steps. For some reason I didn't think until I was halfway up about how awful it would be if I slipped and fell off. While it wasn't nearly such a long way to the bottom as a fall near Sonora Pass (where I hiked over the steep ice in the dark), it would have been a cold slide down on my stomach, most likely ending with me sinking into the mud up to my knees. Then probably having my feet slip out from under me and doing a bellyflop in the mud. At 6:30 on a cold evening. On top of a mountain pass with clouds pouring over it from the side I'm headed for where its likely raining. Days from the nearest warm motel room and washing maching. When I could have easily just hiked around this mess. With all this suddenly rushing through my head I started being very sure about each next step and was digging my fingers into holes left by other hikers' trekking poles, hanging on for my life, or my comfort at least.

I made it to the top and turned to face the wall of clouds billowing over the gap. I started hiking down the far side in a dense fog. Turns out it wasn't raining. I got below the clouds pretty quickly and found a spot to camp in one clean piece. Well, relatively clean.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 119-122 - Climbing Into Washington

I slept in a bit Thursday morning, took my time packing and had lunch before leaving Cascade Locks. I knew it was going to be hot again, but decided to make a noon start anyway. After crossing the Bridge of the Gods the trail winds through some clear cut areas, making for a fairly ugly entrance to Washington. They didn't last long though and soon I was back in the trees.

I unzipped my pant legs to cool off a bit and promptly brushed up against some nettles less than a minute later. I had even seen them along the trail for quite a ways before that. The legs went right back on. My timing with removing them has been miserable; I burned my legs in a couple hours in Southern California the first time I took them off, left them on all the way to Northern California, unzipped them one hot day and got stung in each leg by two bees within an hour. I survived much of Oregon without them though. I had to have mom patch them at Odell Lake; I tend to tear up the inside of the ankles and they looked pretty beat up.

Friday was hot as well. Fortunately there was a big creek about 10 miles in that I laid in to cool off. I stopped by another later for dinner and got a few miles up a hill before stopping for the night. I'd been debating whether to do 20 or 25 miles per day before going home for Rachel's wedding. Doing 20 would get me to White Pass, 25 to a highway 30 miles closer to Canada before my break. The heat, sore feet and my super comfortable air matress have settled me on 20.

Saturday was cooler, quite nice actually, and overcast. You could count the number of cloudy days I've had on this trip without taking off your shoes. I stopped at a campground next to a road and was eating at a picnic table when a few raindrops started falling. It was barely raining here and there for an hour or so. That evening I stopped at a very shallow lake, one of several in an area. I saw a bunch of other people out camping, probably just for the weekend.

The sky was clear when I went to bed but around 1 am I woke to booming thunder. I made sure my stuff was all put away and zipped up my tent, I'll leave it open some nights for a breeze. It started raining shortly after. It wasn't heavy and let off quickly, starting up again around 3:00. By morning it was clear again.

Sunday was sunny but all shaded by big trees, and not hot, though going uphill still soaks my shirt with sweat. Must just be pretty humid. I saw a bunch of people out picking huckleberries in one open area. No thorns to fight through but I'll still take blackberries anyday. Looks like lots of climbing the next couple days.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day 116-118 - The End of Oregon

Monday morning I packed up and went down to the lodge to wait for the breakfast buffet to open.  My uncle Don and aunt Connie and some of their family were staying nearby and came up to meet me for breakfast.

After breakfast we went down to the parking lot to meet most of my family.  My sisters, Rachel and Laura, and my brother-in-law Guesly joined me to hike the next section of trail to Cascade Locks, 45 miles total, going from around 6,000' down to just about 200' at the Columbia River.

We made out way around Mt Hood, crossing a few glacial streams. We waded across the first and had a couple log bridges for the others. We stopped at Ramona Falls for lunch.
That evening we planned on stopping at a shelter marked on my GPS but not mentioned in my book. Usually the GPS is pretty good about showing things in the right place but there was no shelter when we got there. We had just passed a small camp spot but decided to push on to the next good spot rather than turning back. Three or four miles later... we finally found a good place to camp, going quite a bit further than we originally planned, over 18 miles.

On Tuesday we had a bit shorter day, due to the long day Monday. We camped near a spring at an abandoned campground above Eagle Creek. I had to explore around in the woods a bit before finding a few old picnic tables. After eating we went back up the trail to an open hillside where we could see Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainier, Mt Adams and the sunset.
On Wednesday we took a shortcut trail from the spring down to the Eagle Creek trail, about 2 miles of steep downhill. Eagle Creek isn't along the official PCT, but most hikers go down to Cascade Locks via that trail rather than stay on the PCT. There were several big waterfalls, narrow sections of trail along cliffs and high bridges. Dad came to pick us up, we met him about 5 miles up the trail. It was about 90 degrees by the time we reached the parking lot at the bottom. Dad drove us into Cascade Locks where we got lunch. They headed home and I got a motel room for the night to relax.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Day 115 - Timberline

I didn't have far to go to get to Timberline on Sunday.  I decided to head all the way there and get dinner and hope for a place to camp nearby so I could be close for breakfast the next morning before meeting a bunch of family. 

I stopped at a creek a couple miles from the lodge, washed some clothes and my feet and hung out for a few hours.  There were 3 people with 4 horses when I got there.  They rode off but about 10 minutes later the horse with no rider came galloping back up the trail.  It stood where it had been tied up earlier, neighing real loud, looking panicked.  I went over and patted it for a while, thinking the other riders would come back for it.  A rifle holster was hanging empty on the saddle, I knew it had a gun in it earlier.  After a while the horse acted like it wanted to go back toward the others, so I let it go trotting off.  Another hiker walked by soon after and I told him to be on the lookout for a loose horse and a gun in the trail.

I hiked the last couple miles up to Timberline, explored around a little while, then found a quiet spot to recharge my dead phone, which had been dead a lot recently.  I had dinner with a few other hikers, Oddball, Clay and Analog.  There were several other hikers around too.  After dinner, the 4 of us went up the hill where the PCT crosses behind the lodge and camped in a little cluster of trees; it looked well-used enough to be OK to camp there, despite being right in the lodge's backyard.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day 111-114 - More Oregon

Not a lot of excitement around Mt Jefferson, here are some pictures though.
I stopped for a break by a little stream and when I got up a young bear jumped down onto the trail about 25 feet in front of me. It wasn't much bigger than a large dog. It looked over its shoulder at me for a second before running up the trail. You can see it as a black shape on the trail in this picture. I need to get faster at pulling out my camera if I hope to get a decent picture of one someday.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 110 - Lava and Sisters and Lava

On Tuesday I hiked around the Middle and North Sisters.  The trail was a mix of forest, open snow fields and lava, lots of lava, especially when nearing the old McKenzie highway.  There I met my grandpa and grandma.  They took me into the town of Sisters for lunch, ice cream and a resupply at the grocery store.

I got back on the trail mid-afternoon for more hiking across lava.  Then through a huge burned area surrounding Mt Washington.

Looking back at the Sisters; this would be a much better picture if the sun was all the way up.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day 107-109 - More Lakes and Mountains

Saturday morning mon and dad drove me back up to the trailhead along highway 58. A few miles up the trail it goes past the Rosary Lakes. There was also a very nice ski shelter a few miles further that could be a fun place to stay in the winter. It had a woodstove and a ladder that led to a loft.
On Sunday I planned on stopping at a lake in the afternoon. About the time I got there some clouds rolled in and it was overcast during my swimming break. After all the constantly sunny days I've had on this trip I'm not sure why it has to get cloudy during one of my rare swims. By the time my clothes dried out and I was ready to keep hiking, the sun came back out.

That evening I found Opus, who I hadn't seen since just before the Sierras. We had dinner at a lake, watching clouds pile up and listening to distant thunder. He went off to get a few more miles in. I did about 2-3 before a few raindrops started falling. I was trying to find a good spot to camp, but after it started seriously raining I just wanted to find a somewhat flat, smooth spot. I found an acceptable place, threw all my food and gear into a big trash bag and set up my tent without getting anything too wet, just my clothes.

The next day I hiked past the South Sister, here are some pictures.
Mt Bachelor (before it got smokey)
Sisters Mirror Lake
By late morning Mt Bachelor was shrouded in smoke from small fires started by last night's lightning.
Obsidian Falls
I ate dinner above Obsidian Falls but had to hike out of the area because I don't think we're supposed to camp in the area. I ended up watching a great sunset from a switchback on the trail then setting up my tent in the dark a bit further down the hill.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 105-106 - Odell Lake

I hustled off Diamond Peak, being chased by mosquitos the whole way down. The first few miles were across lots of snow. I got down close to Odell Lake and took a side trail to a road leading to the Shelter Cove Resort. Mom and dad arrived at the campground a short time later. We set up camp and went out fishing for a little while. The next day was more fishing and relaxing around camp. We went over to the other end of the lake for lunch.
After lunch we went back to Shelter Cove to look for other hikers to invite to dinner. Most wanted to keep hiking but we got one interested. After more fishing we came back for dinner. We only got a couple small fish, but they made decent appetizers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 103-104

I finished up the long, dry section of Oregon hiking around Mt Thielsen to a creek, seeing some good views of Mt Bailey and Diamond Lake along the way.  I found a bit of snow along the north side of the mountain, but not as much as there was around Diamond Peak the next day.  I hiked up the side of Diamond Peak in the evening and camped near a large stream that was mostly covered in snow.  I was up near the treeline.  Most trees were fairly short or broken off due to frequent avalanches in the area.  Along the creek was a small rise that seems to survive the avalanches because the trees were much bigger.  It would have been a great camping spot if not for the mosquitos.  They were thick and ferocious, worse than anywhere else along the trail so far.  I made a fire, which I hardly ever take the time to do just so I could stand in the smoke to try and drive the mosquitos away.  It didn't work very well; DEET, smoke, sun and slapping couldn't drive them away, so I just went to bed with 100 of them buzzing around my head just outside the bug netting.
Crescent Lake

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 102 - Crater Lake

After going the last mile up to the top of Crater Lake I found a water fountain, the last water along the trail for around 27 miles.  The trail goes around the rim of the crater between the road and the cliff.  It was a lot more up and down than I expected and combined with the excellent views the whole way, it was slow going.  I didn't see anyone else along the trail, just a bunch of cars driving between viewpoints.  I tried to not get in the way of people who didn't even want to get out of their cars and simply took pictures out their windows.  I managed to get through the viewpoints without any tourists stopping me for questions about where I was headed.  I don't mind talking to people about my hike, but it can get fairly repetitive with lots of people around, answering the same few questions everytime.  "Where are you hiking?  That's so far!  When did you start?  Alone!  What does your pack weigh?  What does your solar panel charge? How many bears have mauled you?"  I do kind of wish someone had asked where I was camping that night so I could point to Mt Thielsen off in the distance and say "Over on the side of that mountain way over there."

Beautiful weather + beautiful lake = beautiful pictures
There was a bit of snow on the north side of the rim. I also saw 6 deer on the hike around, Jon and I somehow managed to not see any during our 3 days together.

Mt Bailey, Diamond Lake, Diamond Peak, Mt Thielsen and way off in the distance, South Sister.
I made my way down the hill and across a huge, flat stretch to the highway where Jon had left the jug of water. I found it easily, hidden under a small tree off the side of the trail. Thanks to him, I didn't have to go all the way to the far side of Thielsen to get water for dinner, or go to bed thirsty. For how flat, dry and boring this area was, there were a ton of mosquitos. I have no idea why they choose to hang out among all these tall, thin pine trees, but it keeps hikers motivated and moving.