PCT Days 128-143: Oregon Part II, Lava and Glaciers

I didn’t know what to expect from Oregon.  What I got was more mountains, beautiful forested views, and glaciers(!). More weekenders and section hikers. Couples from Portland hiking with tiny dogs. Lots of drippy pale green moss. And smoke. Always smoke.

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Also: lava beds. Lava bed hiking is The Worst.

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But obsidian fields: obsidian is The Coolest.

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Glacial creek crossings: not as terrifying as expected!

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Also, infrastructure is back: Shelter Cove, with its fishing competition and camp store. Elk Lake Resort: ice cream! campsites! Big Lake Youth Camp, a haven of efficient, cheerful amenities delivered by oh-so-clean teenagers.

The seasons are starting to shift. There’s one morning when the light and the breeze and the temperatures bring Fall rushing in like a river—but is it the time of year, or is it our ever-more-northerly latitude?

We’re clearly making progress, slowly inching up on the map, but still I have an array of frustrations: with my aching feet, my slow speed, how heavy my pack still feels, with each other. 24/7 is a lot of time to spend with another person, especially when doing something so physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. One person gets frustrated, then the other person gets frustrated with their frustration.

We pass 2,000 miles (two thousand miles!)  and walk through huge swaths of burned forest where the wind rushes through sounding like a raging river on the other side of the crest. On Day 138 we decide to do A Thirty for the first time: a thirty-mile day, just to see if we can, just to say that we did. We hike separately so that in case I can’t make it I won’t be holding Fancypants back. It’s a wonderful day—a solo adventure, setting my own pace, taking my own breaks—the whole adventure of the trail compressed into one epic day. I make it: 31.1 miles, the last mile uphill through effing sand, ending with dinner and a hotel room at the Timberline Lodge.

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There are more glacial creeks, more green ridge tops, more hazy views of volcanos. Finally, we charge through crowds of day hikers on the Eagle Creek alternate and into Cascade Locks for a double zero in preparation for the last push: Washington.

Day 128 / August 13 through Day 143 / August 28
298.7 miles, PCT Mile 1845.5 to 2144.2

PCT Days 119-127: Oregon Part I, Smoke and Berries

All through California, Oregon has been touted as the promised land of flat trails and big miles. No more mountains! Smooth dirt track through shady forests! Disappointingly, the trail does not actually turn level (or into a moving walkway) immediately after the state line, but it does feel like the landscape changes, somehow. Drier, more rolling golden hills… though maybe that’s just how everything looks through the forest fire haze.

Fires. They’re all around us. Smoke descends during our zero day at Callahan’s Lodge and our dinner trip into Ashland—it’s thick. Really thick. Like, this CAN’T be good for your lungs thick. Back on the trail, we have neon red sunsets and pink orange sunrises.

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But it’s pretty hiking, all the same. The trail is lined with Oregon grapes—big, plump berries that look like they should be tasty, but are actually very, very tart. The trees are covered in long strands of pale green moss. There are bees! (wasps?) Bees everywhere—you stand still in the forest and hear a low buzzing all. around. you. and realize that the undergrowth is vibrating with hundreds of hovering bees. They aren’t aggressive—they only seem to sting if caught under clothing—but they hover and investigate and our food and are just… unsettling.

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We keep making miles—with a string of 24- and 25-mile days, we hit 100-mile markers once a week. We pass the 2/3 point of the trail, which is in a field of lava. I finally replace the tips on my hiking poles, which had been worn down to nubs. Hiking speeds and schedules have somehow realigned so that we are leapfrogging again with friends from the start of the trail—Treeman and Hedgehog, Physio and Cashmere, Morningstar and Cookie Monster. We meet up in towns and compare notes on the past five hundred, six hundred, thousand miles of trail. There’s a huge crowd of hikertrash at Crater Lake National Park, where Fancypants’ parents meet up with us to provide trail magic—food, a ride to a hotel in a real town, more food, and some water caches along an otherwise dry stretch of trail in the park.

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After a near-o in town, we hike with FP’s parents along Crater Lake at sunset before saying goodbye. That night / early the next morning is the Perseid meteor shower, and we want to watch it from the rim of the lake. We’re rule-followers, though, so instead of (illegally) camping along the rim trail, we go down to Lightning Spring, 6/10th of a mile off the trail, and set our alarms for 3AM. At 3 we pack up and stagger back up to the rim trail in the dark and find a spot overlooking the lake to crawl back into our sleeping bags.

It’s a surreal few hours before sunrise—looking down into the crater in complete darkness, I have no sense of where the cliffs meet the horizon. There are flashes of light below, but it’s impossible to tell whether they’re boat lights on the water or lighting in the clouds. The Perseids are just ok—a few streaks of light, nothing too impressive, but then a sliver of moon rises over Crater Lake and holy wow is it beautiful.

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And the sunrise? Words fail.

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Day 119 / August 4 through Day 127 / August 12
145.4 miles, PCT Mile 1700.1 to 1845.5