Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pacific Crest Trail trip 2013

Pacific Crest Trail Section 28 – 2013
Elk Lake, Oregon to Wind River Road, Washington – 231 miles
August 17th to August 29th.
Flying and driving out to the end of your last section takes a lot of time and energy. Fortunately I had the help of Judson Brown, fellow hiker and resident of Bend Oregon, who picked me up at the airport and shuttled me to the trail.
I left the trail-head at 2:30pm, and I put in a sluggish 10 miles that afternoon, and met my first south-bounder of the trip, “Grapenut”. I camped near a trickle of water that just had to be filtered. It was the start of another grand adventure. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Three Fingered Jack
Sadly, my hiking partner of several years, John Hart, had become ill shortly before the trip. He’s on the mend, but didn’t have the energy to go this time. I missed him terribly; he’s an incredible companion. I’ve never hiked alone. I consider hiking to be a social activity. Unlike Thoreau, the flora and fauna are not enough for my soul. 
The next day I ran into Maple (Emily Gilbert) and her boyfriend Greg. I first met Maple last year when she through hiked and I was available to pick her up at the airport. They were doing the Sisters Loop trail. It was wonderful serendipity. It’s a big world, but it can feel small.

I saw 3 dogs on the trail with backpacks. One dog had dog shoes duct-taped on. I saw a hiker with 3 alpacas and a horse. I saw 5 pack trains in the first half of this trip. I guess the Sisters area has a fair amount of horsemen. Passing all the volcanoes, the trail became pure volcanic rocks. Glad it didn’t last too long as it is hard on the feet.
I've come a long way. 
Coming up to a view before Lava Lake Camp, I saw a fire starting to the west. I had a minor panic that the trip would be over soon, but the next morning the fire was out. Coming into Lava I met a modern hippie girl in a flowery dress, carrying a book and a mug of what turned out to be Tequila-spiked beer. She offered me a drink and it was very good - a flashback to 1970.
I questioned all the South-bounders (Reach was the first) about water sources and crossings on my segment. I was in another mild panic about Russell Creek north of Timberline Lodge. It turned out that Muddy Fork was the freakiest, with two downed trees as a bridge (had to crawl over the roots), and Russell Creek and Sandy Creek the trickiest. It was as dangerous rock-hopping at Russell Creek as crossing it. I got my feet wet in almost all of them. Fortunately for the “Trail Drums”, I was prepared for the crossings. I thought wet feet wouldn’t be an issue, but by the end of the walk they were wrinkly and it turns you into a tenderfoot, more vulnerable to hot spots, cracks and blisters. I did well but a through-hiker would be in tougher shape.
Met VP, Hooligan (who didn’t carry a water bottle, simply tanking up at each water source!), Rabbit Stick (who had previously built his own boat an rowed across the Atlantic!), and gave away an extra tent stake to an unusual guy named “Boomer” (he passed me cleaning up in a creek he asked, “Are you washing away your sins?”). 
My first resupply was Big Lake Youth Camp. It’s a Seventh Day Adventist camp that is a large and well run. It was almost burned out in 2010 - barely saved with a torched forest on the east and a gorgeous lake on the west. They are nearly closed at this time of the year but welcome hikers to a shower, laundry, resupply and meal. I donated to them in thanks and in honor of my daughter who is a resident at Loma Linda Children's Hospital, an SDA-run medical center. I saw a bounding deer buck with a full set of horns on the way in, and a yellow striped garter snake.
The highest points still have snow. 
Saw Brown Bag, Hiker Box Special, Sailor Moon, Trout, Bandaid and Moose. The latter two were carrying Mandolins. Really! I tried to keep up with Cookie. We leapfrogged for a few days and she was a literate and interesting hiker. She was listening to audio books for company, as I was. Swiss Army was on the trail for the 2nd time in two years. Last year while he was hiking alone, his wife passed at home. We’re about the same age and his loss hit me especially hard. Don’t know how I’d go on, as if there’s a choice.
All these years I've only seen two things to eat on the trail: Coffee Berry in the Angeles Crest Mountains north of LA, and blackberries in northern California atSeiad Valley. But, halfway into this section I got to eat huckleberries, right along the side of the trail! I ran into an older couple harvesting them near the Hunt's Creek Trail. They showed me a Tupperware container full of them, and, much to my surprise, another one of wild blueberries. They tasted great. For the next several days and miles and I ate huckleberries, laboriously plucking them off one by one but worth it.
Mt. Hood
Ollalie Lake Resort was a gem, a store, campground and cabins surrounding named lake, and well-run by Sam. As I arrived, a camper and her son gave me a nectarine. Delightful. It started to rain and I sprinted for the store. I wound up under a tent next to it, where there was free coffee and hot chocolate for the hikers! I did my first magic show on the trail for Sam, employees and guests. A lot of fun! Trout’s parents set up food, drinks and supplies across the parking lot for the hikers. Much love to them. By the way, the resort is for sale for $250,000 - amazingly cheap for all those structures, pier, boats and facilities. It's a sobering reminder of how hard it is to make a go of it in the wilderness. I’ve seen the sad story many times along the trail. Two hours later I was on the trail again, rain free.
Before Timothy Lake (which is huge) we had Trail Magic from Fun Hog and her crew: hard boiled eggs, cheese, water and variety of snacks. I did a magic show right on the trail. What lovely people.
Trail Angels
I leapfrogged for a while with Malpais and Borrego, a young couple doing all of Oregon, creative, friendly and on an adventure in their VW bus when not on the trail. I enjoyed breakfast at Timberline Lodge with them, and hooked up with their uplifting and artistic blog.
I camped the night near North Pinhead Butte (hilarious name) in the first real thunderstorm of my hiking life. I was securely in my tent before it started. I was anxious with the rain and lightning, and didn't get much sleep that night. I kept thinking it would be a sad way to go, fried to a crisp on a mountain top. I can worry about anything. Walking the next morning made for wet shoes and pants. I’m thinking of getting a waterproof shoe for future trips.
At Barlow Pass, Don and Loren made a lovely repast for us. Their daughter was on the trail and they made it easier for all the hikers with snacks, gear and rides. On the way to the pass I spoke to an elk hunter out with an axe. He was chopping up wood for his redoubt in the winter. He heads up there to hunt for days in the snow with food and a fire. With a high powered rifle, a scope and a laser beam, he shoots an elk or deer and then tracks it down the kill and drags it out of the forest. He earns his family’s food.
I ran into PCT legend Scott Williamson and a friend. I almost didn’t recognize him. He's a sweet, humble guy who’s broken the record many times. I got a magnificent picture of Mt. Hood the next morning. Ramona Falls alternate trail is a short dogleg. The falls are in a deep forested area. The walk out is a green tunnel next to a picturesque stream. It’s The Lord of the Rings in Oregon.
Timberline Lodge
The hike up to Timberline Lodge was tough, a big climb with a giant beach of sand when the trees petered out. I conjured up the perfect ad for Oregon travel: A pair of sunbathers on an obvious beach. The camera pans up to see Mt. Hood in all its glory. “From the beach to the mountains. Visit Oregon.” When I started up, a horseman came by and said, “I’ll be coming back down in about an hour.” He wasn’t kidding. We chatted for a few moments near the top. I saw a lot of horsemen on this trip. After I got my resupply box at Timberline and found no room in the inn, I hitched a ride with the Lodge's pastry chef to Government Camp down the hill. Government Camp is a sweet burg. I felt poorly, so washed my body and clothes, had an early dinner, and passed out. Got up the next morning to hitch back to Timberline. It had just started to rain when I caught a ride with a father-son ski trip group. I had planned to move on but it continued to rain all day. I took another night at Timberline Lodge and I’m glad I did. It’s an architectural gem, a remarkable hotel. Every nook and cranny is sculpted, painted, crafted by the WPA workers who labored over it during The Great Depression. It has been restored and run lovingly by the family who’s owned it for almost 60 years. I did pay $25 for a burger, but it was a great burger. Put Timberline Lodge on your bucket list.
I launched off the next morning. It was overcast but dry. The trail skirts the west side of Mt. Hood clockwise. It includes the river crossings Zigzag, Russell Creek, Sandy River and Muddy Fork, all of them different and scary to me. However, I did survive. Cookie gave me semaphore signals on how to cross Russell from the other side. It was also one of the muggiest days ever. Who needs rain when it’s muggy?
I ran into a section hiker, Minstral. We talked about the amazing fact that with the addition of an app our cellphones have become a GPS with explicit directions, maps and pictures for hiking the trail, all of this on airplane mode so one battery lasts a couple of days. He then said, “Well, you know why they put GPS on our phones? So the government can track us.” Too much of a conspiracy theory for me, even with the recent revelations.
I decided to take the recommended Eagle Creek alternate on the way down to the Columbia River. The Salvation Creek connector is a bone jarring descent to the Eagle Creek trail. It’s more a jagged gash in the forest. The Eagle Creek Trail is more of a highway. It’s also a beautiful canyon with several astonishing features. First, in many places the trail has been dynamited out of the rock walls. Several areas have steel cable handholds to keep you from plunging a hundred feet into the chasm. You place both hiking poles in your left hand and hang on with the right. Tunnel Falls has the eponymous name for the trail behind it,a fall from a creek entering Eagle Creek in a cul-de-sac. I’d heard about this place for years and it was everything I’d imagined. There are many pools and falls in Eagle on the way down. Borrego e-mailed me that he went for a swim. There were lots of perfumed day hikers coming up the canyon. Something other hikers have noticed, they're All dressed up for a day hike with a splash of Eau de Something.
I got to Cascade Locks mid-afternoon. Another motel, Cascade Locks Motel and RV Park, provided a shower and a rest. The Columbia isn’t a river as much as a waterway, a shipping route. Sitting at the Char Burger for dinner and breakfast the next morning, I saw numerous barges pushed down the river by tug boats, one of them piled high with wood pulp for the Weyerhaeuser plant downriver. The Columbia Gorge is stunning. The Bridge of the Gods is a bridge from a dream. It’s just as I expected: A span from another time.
Bridge of the Gods
The next morning I crossed the bridge. The toll-taker said, “No charge for PCT hikers, and walk against the traffic,” which is necessary because there is no place for pedestrians. Making my way to the other side I found the narrow trail that was the last big climb of the trip. I was in Washington! The last state on the trail. It felt good. I walked for hours up, and up and up, not particularly steep but endless. I camped at Rock Creek and shared dinner time with Osprey and Someday. I’d run into them the day before, while they were arguing at a creek. “We’re siblings. We always argue.” Left alone, I carefully planted my tent in a hollow above the creek. 
The next morning, my last on the trail, it started to rain about 9am. I put on my rain pants, jacket and pack cover for the first time in ten years on the trail. My pack stayed dry but raingear turns you into a sauntering sauna. I was soaked through and through. I’m not sure of their value except when you’re not moving. I found a warning about a bee hive right on the trail, and a sign recommended I bushwhack for a hundred yards. I don’t what’s worse, bushwhacking or getting stung. I also found frogs hopping about, and slugs the size of a banana (which may be their name).

Columbia Gorge
Making my way to Wind River Road, my end point, was a relief. I was another amazing journey, but I was ready to stop. I covered a lot of miles in record time; not the most important thing but it felt like an achievement. The section was absolutely stunning; some of the best views and experiences since the Sierras, not terribly hard but tough enough.
470 miles to go to Canada. I hope I’m not alone next year. I did have a wonderful time socializing on the trail, but a hiking partner is the best.