Friday, August 31, 2012

Day 132: Three Corner Rock Ridge to Panther Creek

Tiny fingers of sun stretched over the east ridge through the trees to our camp. We packed up, grateful that we would be hiking into the sun on the warmer east side of the ridge.

We had not hiked far when we realized our water supplies were low. Despite the fact that the next creek was several miles down the trail, we pressed on rather than adding mileage by hiking off trail to a nearby spring. A few miles later we were grateful to find two bottles of Gatorade in a cache of trail magic left for PCT hikers ... Not to mention Reese's peanut butter cups!

Reaching a road crossing, we hit our first "snag" of the day. Brightly colored ribbon blocked the trail. Unaware of a PCT closure in the area, I checked my cached PCTA trail closure web page. Sure enough, it listed an old trail closure due to a damaged bridge at Snag Creek. But, looking around, it seemed the detour was no longer in effect. Signs no longer marked the reroute. Assuming the creek was now passable even if the bridge remained damaged, we continued down the trail.

The Snag Creek bridge was badly damaged. Both log supports were cracked and several of the flat wooden cross planks were smashed. Cautiously at first, I stepped one tentative foot, then another, onto the bridge. It held.

Continuing down the trail, we met two runners carrying light water packs and rolls of pink and orange ribbon. Not far up the trail a pink ribbon tied to the tree declared "14 miles."  The numbers continued to count down until we reached Panther Creek, our destination for the evening and the start of the PCT Bunker to Bonneville 50k ultra trail run the next day. As I headed to bed that night I wondered how tomorrow's PCT hikers would react to hundreds of runners heading the opposite direction down the narrow trail and was glad we had completed that section today.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 131: Cascade Locks, OR to Three Corner Ridge, WA

After a relaxing morning in town, we returned to the trail. Our first task? To cross the Bridge of the Gods (200 ft) over the Columbia River, taking us from Oregon to Washington.  The Bridge of the Gods is narrow, with no shoulder or sidewalk.  The handful of cars, trucks, and semis on the bridge gave us a wide berth, keeping us safe on what might otherwise have been one of the most dangerous sections of "trail."

Climbing out of the Columbia Gorge the trail passed through a jungle of ferns, vines, and other green leafy plants (including poison oak) under a canopy of tall trees. Plump, juicy blackberries hung on vines next to the trail, begging us to sample them. Sweet, ripe perfection!

We spent most of the day climbing on the trees, leaving the tree cover for occasional views back to Mount Hood and ahead to Mount Adams, both now towering into clear, blue skies. We reached the ridge (3,400 ft) in time for a colorful sunset, enjoying more views of the mountains and back to the Columbia Gorge before dipping back into the forest once more. Once there, we made a hasty cowgirl camp under a canopy of trees.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 130: Lolo Pass to Cascade Locks

The thirty mile day is a rite of passage for most PCT hikers, and Sierra decided that she wanted to try one too. With the more gently graded trail in Oregon, we decided that today was the day: the final 30 mile stretch in Oregon down to Cascade Locks.

We woke early, starting off by headlamp as the early dawn light could not penetrate the thick forest canopy above. Looking back at the ridge we saw fingers of cool, damp fog reaching out and encircling our camp.

Although we would start the day at 3,420 feet and end the day at 200 feet, it would not be accurate to say that the hike would be "all downhill."  We started the day by climbing. And every time we dropped a few feet, the trail then climbed some more.

We stopped for lunch at Indian Springs Campground. From there, many hikers take the popular Eagle Creek alternate route, which is both shorter and reportedly more beautiful than the official PCT. But we are committed to a continuous hike of the official PCT, no flips, no skips. So the beautiful Eagle Creek alternate route will have to wait. We continued on the official PCT.

It was late afternoon when we finally began to long descent into Cascade Locks. But rather than the quick descent we anticipated, the trail was rocky, forcing us to slow our pace. It was very, very late when we finally walked into Cascade Locks, with the Bridge of the Gods, crossing the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington, finally in sight. We did it! The 30 mile day!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 129: Barlow Pass to Lolo Pass

From Barlow Pass (4,155 ft) the trail climbed through beautiful, cool forest for several miles. Climbing out of the trees, we glimpsed the base of Mount Hood across a meadow of lupine and wildflowers. The blue edge of a glacier was visible just below the thick for that shrouded the top of the mountain.

The compressed dirt of the forest quickly transitioned to deep, loose sand, and we felt like we were climbing a sand dune. We viewed the Salmon River in its deep, glacier carved ravine, then climbed to cross the river higher on the mountain where the ravine was not so steep.

Sierra was excited at the sight of the working chairlifts on the mountain. As we approached Timberline Lodge (5,940 ft), she wistfully eyed skiers in their racing speed suits, clearly wishing she could be training on the snow. We felt conspicuous as we entered the beautiful lodge building, dirty and carrying full backpacks.

Finding our way up to the Cascadia Room, we were reassured by the sight of all the familiar faces, already seated and enjoying breakfast. And what a breakfast it was! Fresh waffles with a delicious assortment of toppings; fresh huckleberries, raspberries, and blackberries, mini chocolate chips, buts, butter, whipped cream, and maple syrup. Blueberry pancakes, eggs, potatoes, pastries, granola, porridge, and much, much more. We ate and ate until we couldn't eat any more.

After breakfast we took a few minutes to tour the building, which was built in the thirties by the Civilian Conservation Core and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then it was time to hike on.

Even with the top of mountain obscured by thick clouds and fog, the trail was incredibly beautiful. We passed through mossy forests, fields of wildflowers, and deep, glacier carved ravines. A lone black bear munched berries deep in a ravine.

We enjoyed a beautiful orange sunset through the trees, then turned back for a final glimpse of Mount Hood, still shrouded in clouds and fog. Although we planned to camp at Lolo Pass (3,420 ft), we noticed a tent already at the site and began to hike on. But just after we crossed to road a voice called to us, "There's room at the campsite if you want to camp."  Nugio had heard us pass, and had climbed out of his tent and chased after us to make sure we knew we were welcome. Grateful, we followed him back to the campsite and set up camp for the night.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 128: Red Wolf Pass to Barlow Pass

The morning was cold. Sierra hiked ahead to warm up while I finished packing up the tent. The thick layer of fine, powdery dirt covering the trail retained perfect impressions of Sierra's shoe tread. When I caught up with her we began to notice other tracks in the soil: deer, horses, and then, the distinctive prints of a bear's front and rear paws. We continued searching for tracks as we hiked, finding bear prints along the trail for almost half a mile.

We met our first hiker in 24 hours by mid-morning. "Are you hiking through?" she asked, eyeing us both. I nodded. "Then you must be Heather and Sierra!" she declared. Leslie had read our journal while preparing for her southbound hike. She is only the sixth southbound hiker we are aware of this season.

We continued hiking through damp forest for most of the day. Moss covered downed stumps, logs, rocks, and much of the forest floor. We crossed several forest roads, and received trail magic at one of them by a man who not only provided fresh fruit and cold drinks, he also told us a little more about the area we were passing through.

Reaching Wapinitia Pass (3,910 ft) on Highway 5, we were greeted by my father and a virtual welcoming committee: Subway Steve and his wife Steady were providing trail magic to One Ton, Clutch, and a host of other hikers. We enjoyed talking with them, but did not linger long before hiking on. One Ton hiked with us most of the way to our camp at Barlow Pass, and the miles went quickly.

Itchy, Scratchy, and several other hikers came through as we were getting ready for bed.  Some of the hikers had hiked 47 miles or more in the hopes of reaching Timberline Lodge in time for breakfast!  We fell asleep dreaming of waffles.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Day 127: Olallie Lake Resort to Red Wolf Pass

Fresh, wild berries, in various stages of ripeness, lined the trail: pale red thimbleberries, dark purple huckleberries, bright red raspberries, blackish purple blackberries. We helped ourselves to generous samples of tasty, sweet tart berries as we hiked.

We are not the only ones eating the berries. Bears gobble up large quantities of the tasty berries as they fatten up to prepare for winter hibernation. Several left mounds of berry filled scat near the trail, a reminder that bears are active in this area.

The trail meandered through forest all day, dropping into Warm Springs Creek in late afternoon, then climbing out steeply. Although I hoped to find camping on the east slope of Summit Butte or near Red Wolf Pass, the top of the ridge was densely forested, with a significant jumble of downed logs, branches, and sticks in between the trees. Moreover, I began to notice familiar piles of blackish, berry filled scat (bear scat), and was reluctant to camp somewhere with so much bear activity.

Finally, as the evening grew later, we decided to settle for a less than ideal camp: in the trees, near active bears, with plenty of downed logs nearby to attract ants and spiders. Aging tres creaked and groaned with each gust of wind, a sound like the rusty springs on an ancient porch swing. I tried to forget the sound of the tree crashing down the night we camped at Shelter Cove. Covering my head with my sleeping bag, I blocked out the squeaking of the moving trees and fell asleep.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 126: Shale Lake to Olallie Lake Resort

I woke to the sound of men's voices across the lake. I looked at my watch. 3:30 a.m. Climbers, preparing to climb Mount Jefferson that day? Covering my head with my sleeping bag, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Two short hours later, we rolled out of our cozy, warn sleeping bags and began packing up. Getting up early always sounds better in the evening when we are making plans from the comfort of the tent than it does in the morning when we are faced with the prospect of leaving our comfortable sleeping bags and hiking on in the cold, dark morning.

We switchbacked down the ridge in a series of long, slow switchbacks. We crossed Milk Creek on a slippery log and Russell Creek on a thick snow bridge. Then we continued on through a heavy haze of smoke. Smoke burned our eyes and dried the backs of our throats.

We reached Jefferson Park just before lunch. The grassy meadows there were dotted with a potpourri of wildflowers in a rainbow of colors. Small lakes and ponds fringed with evergreens were scattered throughout. Towering above all this beauty and grandeur were the steep, snowy flanks of Mount Jefferson.

Unfortunately, today Jefferson's beauty was shrouded in a thick cloud of smoke that almost completely obscured the mountain. Even closer features, such as nearby trees, appeared as ghost-like apparitions through the haze. But we were grateful to be hiking through the area at all: the day before the forest service had rescinded a fire closure order closing that section of trail.

From Jefferson Park we climbed steeply to the top of the ridge (6,920 ft). There the trail disappeared under a huge expanse of snow. Far below, a thin line showed the trail reappearing at the bottom of the snowfield. "Boot skiing!" Sierra exclaimed, delighted.  With whoops and shouts of glee, we slid down the snowfield on our feet, quickly dropping hundreds of feet.

Helicopters whirred overhead as we continued down the trail. Several trailed large buckets of water from nearby lakes to dump in the fire. One passed directly overhead, seeming to follow the trail. Bits of ash floated from the gray sky like dark gray snowflakes.

A ghostly forest populated a charred, barren hillside, completely devoid of life. Remnants of another recent fire. But reaching the ridge above the burn, we finally reached blue skies, leaving the dense clouds of smoke behind.

From the ridge we descended past several small lakes and ponds to Olallie Lake (4,950 ft), our destination for the evening.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 125: Santiam Lake Trail to Shale Lake

Drips of condensation rolled down the interior walls of our tent near our heads. Elsewhere in the tent the condensation had turned to ice in the cold night, frozen in place to wait for the warmth of the sun. A thin layer of frost covered the outside of the tent as well.

Sierra hiked to stay warm while I finished packing up the tent. Following her, I noticed the distinctive tread pattern of her small trail runners, unique among the many tracks in the soft pumice of the trail. I eventually met up with her in a sunny patch on the ridge.

We continued to climb, traversing around the west flank of Three Fingered Jack. Looking back, the tip of Mount Washington and the Three Sisters peaked above a gray, fog like cloud of smoke that blanketed the valley and obscured the base of the mountains.

Rounding the northwest flank of Three Fingered Jack, we crossed a large snow patch, then climbed to a saddle on the Cascade Crest (6,500 ft). Three Fingered Jack, with its rugged, pyramid shaped main peak and jagged lower spires, rose behind us, a ghostly apparition behind a sheer curtain of smoke and haze.

Reaching Rockpile Lake, we stopped to filter water. Smoke had softened the usually harsh midday light, giving it more of the golden hue usually found at sunrise and sunset. The soft light lit the trees that circled the lake and were reflected in it.

Water bottles full, we continued to inch toward the large, imposing south face of Mount Jefferson, which towered over the other mountains in the area and still retained significant snowfields, even in late August. As we drew nearer, we noticed large plumes of smoke billowing up into a huge cloud just east of the mountain.

We camped on a sandy bench overlooking Shale Lake, with Mount Jefferson towering above.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 124: Highway 242 to Santiam Lake Trail

A thin film of frost covered our sleeping bags and most of our gear. My toes alternated between comfortably numb and excruciatingly painful as I hobbled around packing up. After a brief stop for breakfast and to pick up treats at the Sisters Bakery, we found ourselves back at McKenzie Pass where the trail crossed Highway 242.

McKenzie Pass is a strange moonscape of dark reddish black lava rock. A wavy sea of dark rock extends in every direction. Walking on the moving jumble of rocks was fun...for about the first 20 feet. Then it quickly became slow, tedious, and at times, painful.

As we hiked, the large, steep pyramid shaped peak of Mount Washington came into view. We traversed around its west side, staying on its lower flanks.

We reached a significant milestone in mid afternoon: 2,000 miles! We passed the hiker friendly Big Lake Youth Camp with a slight twinge of regret that we could not stop in for a meal. Then we continued down to the Old Santiam Wagon Road, passing a tangled network of dirt roads and dirt bike trails that crossed our path.

Deep, blackish purple huckleberries lined our path. A few wild strawberries also grew near the trail, nestled in among and between the larger plants. We helped ourselves to generous samples of both varieties, finding them tasty and, when perfectly ripe, sweet.

My father met us at the Santiam Pass trailhead (4,810 ft), where he cooked us a delicious dinner. Then we hiked on into the sunset, finally making camp near a trail junction on a small ridge.  Although it was dusk when we made camp, Sierra immediately scrambled up the tallest rock outcropping she could find, descending in the dark by headlamp.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 123: Middle Sister's Shoulder to Highway 242

With Middle Sister immediately to the east, the sun did not reach our camp in the morning. We packed up with stiff, cold fingers, and hiked out wearing all of our warm clothes and gear. The frozen ground crunched beneath our feet as we passed snowfields that had dampened the trail with snowmelt the day before.

Passing into the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, we began to see more frequent deposits of obsidian near the trail. Then a wall of cascading water appeared before us: Obsidian Falls. We climbed to the top of the waterfall and felt the first rays of sunlight. The ground around us glittered with thousands of pieces of obsidian reflecting the sun.

Crunching down the trail, we sometimes found ourselves walking on a bed of obsidian.  Large obsidian boulders and deposits of smaller obsidian pieces lined the trail. The heavy, sweet scent of fragrant lupine hung in the air as we passed several lupine filled meadows.

We climbed steeply up a trail with a bed of deep red lava rock pebbles, some as large as baseballs. The rocks rolled backward as we climbed. Large red and black lava rock boulders and rock formations lined the trail as we climbed toward what looked like a large cinder cone. Although the trail reentered the forest, the last mile of trail passed through an open lava field. The trail itself consisted of red lava rock gravel and larger chunks. Progress was slow.

We eventually reached McKenzie Pass and headed into Bend to resupply, planning to return to the trail the next morning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 122: Dumbbell Lake to Middle Sister's Shoulder

The morning dawned cool and damp at our campsite on the peninsula. Mist rose from the water that surrounded us on three sides as the cool morning air touched the slightly warmer water. Tall thunderheads piled up in the eastern sky, illuminated in pinks and golds by the morning sun.

Reaching the Horse Lake Trail to Elk Lake Resort we saw a small cooler of trail magic courtesy of "The Supergirl Society." The two bottles of Gatorade we selected were the color of antifreeze, but they tasted cold and delicious!  After a day of drinking lukewarm lake water, icy cold beverages were greatly appreciated.

Although most of the morning was spent meandering in and out of forest and past a few grassy meadows, throughout the morning the landscape slowly changed. The earth became more reddish, and we began to see more volcanic rock near the trail. Then the South Sister came into view, its few bright white snow patches contrasting with the reddish mountain.

The trail passed through fields of tall, purple lupine, the sweet scent of the fragrant blooms filling the air as we hiked past. Then we climbed to a high sandy meadow, with the red volcanic South Sister rising from the meadow's northern edge and the darker peak of Middle Sister visible in the distance.

We passed one lupine filled meadow after another. Several streams meandered through the meadows, lined with a rainbow of wildflowers: more lupine, deep red paintbrush, lavender daisies, and several other varieties in whites, pinks, and yellows. We also began to find small pieces of a smooth, shiny, black volcanic rock: obsidian.

We camped in a sandy meadow on the shoulder of the Middle Sister. Sierra discovered a large snowfield nearby, and disappeared for several long boot skiing runs while I made dinner. We fell asleep under the stars and a small, setting crescent moon.