August 12th-15th, 2017
PCT SOBO Days 28-31, Cascade Locks to Pinehead Saddle; Miles 505.5 to 594.4
Day 28: August 12th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile 505.5 to 514
8.5 Miles; +4,352 ft / -833 ft
I spent the night at Shrek’s Swamp last night, drifting off to the sound of freeway traffic, hikers making a ruckus and heavy winds up in the trees. But the swirling fairy lights at least offset all that which may have interrupted my sleep and helpd me to drift into dreamland. I would have loved to sleep in later, but I automatically woke at 6:45am and had to use the bathroom. When I went in there, of course, they were ut of TP…what to do?
So, I went walking down the road, knowing there was an outhouse in the parking lot by the Columbia Market, and used that instead. Good call. I also figured on going to a place called Jumpin’ Jax Coffee hut up the road, because I got some really stellar coffee there last year. When I got there, however, they were no longer in business and the building was occupied now by a Real Estate office. Bummer. I worked my way back to Columbia Market, where I purchased a Keurig Coffee (made it a double), bought two packages of doughnuts and a giant pack of TP for the hiker house.
I munched on a couple of the doughnuts while finishing my coffee and packing up my tent and gear before heading down to the Bridgesidse Lounge for a real breakfast. I have to say, to this day, the breakfast I got there was one of the best I had on the entire trail. It was an omelette filled to the brim with fresh spinach and lots of other veggies, all super fresh, along with the obligatory hash browns and buttered toast. I sat at a big table meant to be shared and a small group of Nobo’s came to join me. They were super chill and I enjoyed chatting with them. Then I worked on my blog for a couple hours while trying to hydrate with several glasses of water. Feeling pretty parched these days, town seems to have a way of doing that.
I then went down the road to a motel to get my laundry done, and purchased some amazing smoked Salmon from a streetside vendor. One more stop at Columbia Market (they are starting to recognize me now) and I was all ready to get back on the trail. My pack was pretty heavy, as I filled up my food bag with some fresh produce: a red bell pepper, an apple, plus chocolate brownie cookies, and a giant bag of Juanitas (the best!) Chilipeno flavor tortilla chips, livin’ large!
I got on the trail by 4:00pm, this time following the PCT out of town, whereas last year I’d taken the Eagle Creek Trail Alternate into town. The Eagle Creek Trail was unfortunately closed this year due to a recent fire. While I was disappointed to not get to hike through Tunnel Falls again, I am always happy to walk a section of trail that is new to me. So, here I go, off into uncharted territory, hooray!!
The trail started climbing immediately and I knew I was in for it, so I set my mind into that “zone” for climbing. As the trail rose higher and higher I enjoyed a new view of the Columbia River down below, and marveled at just how quickly one can elevate above civilizaation. How so suddenly the buzzing world of town can seem so calm and peaceful from that vantage point. Across the river was Washington, and I waved goodbye just one more time. Hello Oregon, I thought as I walked, nice to see you again!
Climbing, climbing, I moved steadily and rather enjoyed the workout, even with my heavy pack, taking long, steady deep breaths and exhaling completely. The forest seemed so well hydrated, vibrating, thriving on all the water the previous season had bestowed upon her. I sucked in the rich oxygenated air and noted the scent of fresh Earth, moss, lichen and pine. I only saw one other person that afternoon, a Nobo who stopped at the same spring for water that I did. We only exchanged a few words, as the day was getting on, he was pushing to get to Cascade Locks and I was pushing to find a campsite before it got too dark.
By 7:45pm I had commpleted most of the major climbing, with over 4,300 ft under my belt, I found a great spot to camp amongst a circle of tall, straight, lichen covered pine trees that swayed in the wind, creeking and then being still. The tent sites there were perfectly flat, and the soil firm but soft, covered in wet pine needles, perfect for pitching, staking and sleeping. So, there I was. My first night alone on the trail in quite a while. I’m totally good with this, I thought, this is absolute freedom.
I’d gotten a message earlier in the day from Monica, and she apparently left from Cascade Locks that morning, so she was about 3/4 of a day ahead of me. I should be able to catch her, I thought. If I do a 32 mile day tomorrow, I will make it pretty close to Timberline, and hopefully catch her there the next day. Then we can eat at the famous Timberline Brunch buffet! Yay! I’d also gotten a message from Carrot, saying she was not getting back on the PCT in OR and so that was that. I completely understood why she would choose to do something different anyway, and hoped she and I would stay in touch. Then, I got a message from Mama Lion and she was planning to come meet me on the trail tomorrow at a location TBD, somewhere in the vicinity of Timberline, and hike with me to the lodge the next day. So, we were planning to meet up and camp together one night, then hike into Timberline the next day to meet with her fiancee Peat and their kids. For being all alone, I do seem to have a lot on my social calendar!
I cooked an amazing dinner that night, bowtie pasta with olive oil, salt & pepper, fresh sauteed red bell peppers and smoked salmon. Oh yeah!
I sat there in camp, silently eating my dinner, listening to the creeking of the trees and the wind up high. I could even hear the train down by the river and was amazed how that sound traveled. Despite all that, it was eerily quiet, and part of me felt vulnerable. I hadn’t camped alone in weeks, it was a little bit different, but I liked it. There was moisture beginning to collect on my jacket as I sat outside eating, and it seemed like it could rain at any moment. It was dark by then, and so I cleaned up my cookpot and got into bed. It started to rain shortly after that, and I fell asleep to the gentle tapping of rain on my tent. Oh what a lovely sound, it’s been way too long! Hello Rain, Hello Oregon!
DAY 29: August 13th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile 514 to 546.5
32.5 Miles, +5,920 ft / -6,164 ft
Rain. Today is the first day on the entire PCT this year that it has legitimately rained, and it was glorious. Well. glorious may be a tad of an exaggeration, but truly, it was a beautiful, peaceful day. A lot happened today that made it special and memorable. The rain, to start, was one. I also broke my own mileage record today, I met up with Mama Lion, I visited Ramona Falls, I crossed the Sandy River with views of Mt. Hood at Sunset, and camped next to a wonderful roaring creek in a dense, dark, dripping wet forest.
Last night the rain fell steadily and at some point in the stillness and complete silence, there were big stick-breaking footsteps. I woke to the sound of them, and my heart pounded from instinct. Why does this happen? I know I am safe, I know nothing is going to happen to me, and yet, those sounds trigger a deeply embedded and instinctual response, the surge of adrenaline making the pulse quicken, the heart pump, ready to run! But I am not ready to run, I just want to sleep. And so soon I was back asleep.
Soon, it was morning and my alarm buzzed obnoxiously at 5:30am. Pitch dark outside still, I poked my head outside to see how wet it was out there. Not bad, not raining right at the time, and so I made my coffee and breakfast as the light slowly returned to the world. I set off by 7:15am, which seems sort of late, I don’t really know what took me so long, but oh well. I felt good, like I had rested, and I was ready to take on the rainy day.
I had a plan to meet up with Mama Lion at Lolo Pass Road, in 25 miles, and I estimated I could make it there by around 2:30 or so, maybe 3:00pm, so I started out at a steady clip, moving my feet swiftly along the padded trail. It was so peaceful that morning. The rains had left the forest enshrouded with a very fine mist, and as I walked I noted the sounds of water so gently dripping from pine bough to Earth. I splashed in puddles, not caring if my feet got wet. I hiked with my compression socks on, and only had a rain skirt and an umbrella for rain gear, as I had ditched my heavier rain jacket a few weeks back to save on weight. I also had my Patagonia Houdini jacket, and figured if it really started to rain hard, I would wear the jacket, and I would employ the use of my handy Montbell umbrella, that lovely piece of equipment for which I was named Mary Poppins. Actually, today I ended up wearing all of that gear, the exact same gear as the day I got my trail name last year, not a bad UL set up, what fun!
By lunchtime it had already been raining off and on and I was thankful there was not any wind, so I could fasten my umbrella to my pack on my shoulder and still use my trekking poles with both hands. I re-connected with the Eagle Creek Alternate and figured on stopping there for water and a quick lunch break. Last year I had stopped here too, and I remember that day being so miserably wet and cold, as compared to now, just wet. Not miserable, not cold. I’ll take it! I made a quick cup of tea, filtered some beautiful, crisp water and was back on my way. I soon realized I had a ways to go before Lolo Pass Road, so I messaged Mama Lion with my In Reach and let her know my new ETA there was closer to 4:00pm. The rain does have a way of slowing you down, walking with more gear, making gear adjustments, and honestly I don’t know what was up, but I stopped to pee like eight times! How many minutes does that add up to? Enough to cut into your day I’ll say.
I made my way over an exposd ridge after my lunch stop and the weather began to deteriorate more, the winds picked up, the mist was thicker than ever and it was now raining more steadily. I hand held my umbrella after that for the next few hours. I stopped at one point on a tree-covered ridge, for a quick pee and a snack, as I’d become famished, and remembered I had camped there last year! It was a rainy, cold night then, it was also my Mom’s Birthday that day, and I remember getting there in the dark, setting up in the rain, everything was already so wet, and sitting inside my tent in the cold, rainy dark, feeling lonely, and missing my Mom. It was one of my lower morale nights, that one, but I bounced back by morning.
Today, no low morale whatsoever, nothingbut smiles. I pushed on from there, and as I approached Lolo Pass Road within 3 miles, I started seeing people again. I must have passed 10 people in that hour, all heading Nobo, and every one of them had a message for me from Mama Lion saying she would meet me up the trail. Lol…she must have stopped to talk with all of them! I reached the Pass parking lot by 4:30pm and saw her car there as well as a note on the bulletin board, written in a sharpie pen, over another older PCT posting, that read “Mary Poppins” and her message was…
Relieved to know she was just up ahead, I stopped once more for another snack, this time under a set of trees with a campsite that also had a picnic bench and a fire pit. I stopped and literally sat in the mud, stuffing my chips into my mouth, not chatting with any other hikers who were there and staring off into space. I was a little bit tired, as I had already hiked 25 miles and I knew I had some more pushing to go. I jetted off from there by 4:45pm and finally bumped into Mama Lion at a nearby trail junction near the connecting trail for the Ramona Falls loop with the PCT. There she was! Yay, together again!
We laughed and exchanged hugs and chatted about our days as we immediately started back up the trail, knowing we only had a little bit of daylight left. It was really great to be back on the trail with her again and I immediately wished she could join me for more than just one night.
We passed the time quickly with all our chatter, and soon found ourselves at the bottom of a 1,600 foot descent that I literally do not remember climbing up last year. It seemed to drop and drop and drop, with so many switchbacks through the dense forest and quite a few blow downs. It was quite beautiful, I have to say.
This was a fun creek crossing!
Then, we climbed back up, and continued up towards Ramona Falls, finally reaching the site by 7:00pm. At that point I had reached the 30 mile mark and that was a new record for me in all of my backpacking days, hooray! Great place to celebrate the achievement!
We snapped a few photos at the falls and continued on our way, not yet certain where we were destined to camp that evening. It was already getting dark in that forest by the waterfall, but when we got out into more of an open area, the sky was lighter and we could soon see the cloud enshrouded Mt. Hood in all her glory. Stunning! The sunset light was starting to glow on her face and the big storm clouds were passing by quickly, mist moving like molasses up and down her slopes.
It occured to me then that we would soon be crossing the Sandy River, which is a giant wash/drainage that comes down from Mt. Hood, and I figured we may be able to get some really nice views of the Mountain from that open area. So, we started to run. Yes, running was probably not the best idea with my fairly heavy pack, but we were so excited, feeding off each other’s energy, giggling like school girls at the possibility of what we might see from the wash. Except, the trail that led down to the wash was a bit further than I’d remembered, and soon we were just out of breath and panting, saying “where does it start to go down?” By the time we actually got out to the wash, it was close to dusk, and the sunset on the Mountain’s face was already faded out. Now, it was time for the task of crossing the River in nearly dark conditions.
Mama Lion was examinimg a log that seemed like a possible crossing, but perhaps was slippery. Another hiker stopped to tell us how she got across on the log but it sounded a bit precarious to me. I’m not a fan of log crossings at all. I decided to investigate upstream a bit and found a short crossing that I determined to be crossable with shoes on and not too difficult. Well. It was way deeper than I had anticipated, and still pretty swift, not dangerously so, but powerful as moving water tends to be. I plunged straight in with my shoes on, and soon was up to the tops of my thighs in the rushing water. I kept my balance just fine though, and shuffled my feet across the bottom of the river, reaching the other shore safely, if not a little chilled and shaky. Invigorating!
Mama Lion made it across safely too, and soon we entered a thick forest where the trail wound along a beautiful rushing creek that was a tributary feeding in laterally to the Sandy River. It was much darker in the woods there and we got out our headlamps to make the last mile up the hill to our tentsite. When we finally found a place for our two tents and called it a night, I was super ready to be done for the day. Whew! What a day! By then I was pretty chilled from being wet all day, and tired, and hungry, but happy. We cranked out our camp chores of setting up tents, collecting and filtering water, and getting tucked into warm, dry clothes. Then, we started boiling water to make our dinners, and Mama Lion busted out a Platypus full of Red Wine. Hell yeah, what a treat! Now, if that wasn’t a perfect ending to such a great day, I don’t know what would be. So, there I was, sitting in the dark, rainy forest, listening to the nearby creek rush on by, chatting with my good friend, sipping on some wine and eating a hot meal. And…my feet were finally dry!
Thats Mama Lion in her tent right across from me…
DAY 30: August 14th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile 546.5 to 566; Highway 26
(stopped at Timberline Lodge for Brunch/Re-supply)
19.5 Miles: +4,138 ft / -3,689 ft
I woke up exactly 1 minute before my watch alarm beeped, it was 5:19am. Mama Lion and I agreed to get an early start so that we could make it to Timberline Brunch Buffet before the Lunch hour, meaning 10:00am. It was a push, but I knew we could do it, and I was incredibly determined. Thinking about all the wonderful food was just too tantalizing. If I could have it, I wanted it! We had a chunk of hill to climb up first thing in the morning, setting off at 6:16am and trudging our way up. The forest was quite cold and my hands were numb for quite some time. Then, suddenly a warm pocket would appear, and feel so good, then it would disappear just as quickly. I was sweaty though and had to layer off and then I would get goose bumps and stop to layer back up again.
I saw my second bear that morning. I was not far behind Mama Lion when I turned a quiet corner in the forest and there she was, rummaging in the lower bushes and then swiftly taking off at the sight or sound of me. I really didn’t expect to see a bear there, but when I did I was also not surprised. Meaning that my heart rate did not even change one bit. Odd. I was no further than 50 feet from this bear, who was probably close to 300-400 pounds, and still it didn’t startle me, or phase me for some reason. I liked that though. It was cool, just like seeing a bear was a normal part of the day. And I suppose, in a way, it was, or is, when you spend most of your days walking in the woods.
The climbing was intense and worth it at the same time because arriving at new heights rewarded us with views of Mt. Hood and way off in the distance, we could see Mt. St. Helens, too. The fog and mist from the previous days precipitation had settled into the folds of mountains and gave an added depth and texture to the distant views. The sun was shining and when Mama Lion and I made our way farther uphill, and out of the forest into the sand dunes, we stopped to enjoy the warmth, the clear sky and the fresh air. We were both super stoked! We are so lucky!
We then started back down a steep trail to a ravine where there were some very interesting new blowdowns from the previous Winter. It was a little like an obstacle course, getting over these giant dead logs, and we laughed as we clambered all around them.
From camp that morning to Timberline was about 12 miles, so by the time we were .25 miles from arriving at Timberline, I was beyond famished. I had wanted to save my appetite for the buffet, so I ate lightly that morning. I had been pushing hard and maintaining a steady resistance to my hunger, trying to block that insane desire, knowing how close I was to really eating, but it may have taken more emotional energy to do this than was healthy. Peat and the kids came out on the trail to greet us and it took every ounce of niceness that I had in me to smile and give everyone hugs and be chatty, when all I could think about was the food! Yes, Hiker Hunger got the best of me that day. But, alas, we were seated at the gorgeous wooden table in the main dining room of Timberline, all 6 of us, and I had a message from Monica that she was close by and would be there to join us soon. Somehow, we had passed her tent last night in the dark without even knowing it. I was so glad she and I were going to see each other again.
I could go on and on about that food, oh my goodness. Lets just say it really is all that people make it up to be. This is true food. It is not just good food that tastes amazing because we hikers are deprived of decent food on much of the trail. There are plenty of those places along the way. No, this place seriously stands out and is top notch. So, yes, three plates and two lattes later, and I was still sneaking baked goods and fresh fruit into a napkin on my way out. Peat was incredibly generous and treated us all to Brunch, way above and beyond. What an amazing treat, thank you Peat!
We all visited for a little while after the Brunch and then it was time for them to get back to Portland, so we exchanged many hugs and said our goodbye-for-nows.
After that Monica (now trail name Tripsy) and I went and found a place to charge our stuff and I got a resupply box from the shop there. I had way too much food again. I ran into Ghost at Timberline, and it was great to see him again! We were all there for hours, trying to catch up on social media, and trying to figure these Oregon fire closures we kept vaguely hearing about. The only thing we could put our fingers on for sure, were closures in the Three Sister’s Wilderness area. We were not sure how much of the trail was closed or how far we could hike. I was having trouble wrapping my head around it all. Not only was I experiencing a bad case of hiker brain, but I had just gorged on all that food and I was incredibly in need of a system re-boot, aka a nap. But that was not happening, so instead, I did some math and figured we could make it to Ollalie Lake in about 4 days time. I packed and re-organized my food accodrdingly, leaving some extra stuff behind in the hiker box, and that was as far as we could plan ahead, 4 days. We set off on the trail again by around 4:00pm, me and Tripsy, Ghost had mysteriously vanished…
It was really great to walk with Tripsy and catch up on all that had been happening on our hikes since we parted ways weeks ago. She, too, had taken a week off to see her family and boyfriend, so thats how I was able to catch her. She was hiking strong by then and as predicted, I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long legs! The rest of the day was pretty chill, a lot of downill from Mt. Hood’s sandy dunes all the way to Highway 26, the road that goes to Government Camp.
I remembered the time I spent there with my family only weeks ago, and of course, fantasized about getting a hotel room and dinner that night, it would be such an easy hitch! But I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do, and I was perfectly content anyways, after that amazing Brunch. Town just seems to have a lure, it’s like you know all the comforts are there, and you can have them, but you have to constantly choose not to. I came out here for a wildernes experience, right? But how much of a wilderness experience is it when you have to camp next to a major highway and listen to the sound of 18 wheelers speeding by through the night? Well, it was just one of only a few nights like that on the PCT, and really, we could have hiked further, but we were both feeling done by the time we reached the highway. So, we stayed there and got a good night’s rest. Well, as good as you can get next to a noisy highway.
DAY 31: August 15th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile 566 to 594.4 a tentsite at Pinehead Saddle
28 miles +3,602 ft / -2,520 ft
Journal Excerpt: I feel like at the end of every day I’m like “wow, what a day!” because so much territory gets covered, so much happens, and I’m so dang exhausted! But exhausted in the best possible way. I slept until 6:30am this morning and got off to a later start than originally planned, but it’s nbd…#nobigdeal. The morning started out quite cool again and I was hiking in my puffy, something that is not typical these days. Tripsy and I made the first 9 miles easily and took our late morning break at Timothy Lake, where we also found Ghost again. The three of us sat there together, wishing we could swim, but it just wasn’t warm enough that day. I remembered last year I was here on September 1st, and went for an evening swim, it was my last swim on my Northbound hike. I am so glad that there is more swimming in my near future!
Timothy Lake was beautiful as ever, and I was so glad it was not closed due to the recent fires. The PCT travels for a few miles right on the edges of this lovely lake, winding lazily. We strolled along the lake in the forest, and shortly I ran into another hiker, going Nobo, named Optimistic Turtle. She and I had been friends on facebook for a while and followed each other’s journeys. It was so cool to meet her in person, and we both immediately recognized one another and hugged hello. Where else does this kind of thing happen, a chance meeting in the woods, but on the trail? We chatted for a bit and took a few photos, and parted ways with blissful well wishes for the remainder of our respective hikes. She told Tripsy and me about some trail magic up ahead, at the horse camp, that was not to be missed. We were so excited about the actual pssibility of trail magic for us Sobos. Hooray!
We arrived just after Ghost did, at the horse camp, and indeed there was magic to be had. The woman there was an equestrian, who visited the area every year for a few weeks all alone, leaving her family back home. She brought three Tennessee Walkers with her and alternated riding them over the weeks there. She apparently also loves hikers, and she put up an amazing set up there. It was incredible, a full pop-up tent just filled with hiker food and supplies. She cooked me eggs with potatoes and toast, and melted cheese on top! I ate that up, shoved a few moist bite size brownies in after that and guzzled a cold V8 juice. Dang that tasted great! I enjoyed talking with her and petting the horses, wishing I could go for a ride. Of course this all reminded me so much of my entire childhood, and young adulthood, camping with my Mom and her horses, so I was feeling pretty nostalgic. It was just the medicine I needed. I felt re-charged in body and spirit after leaving her place. Thank you Carolyn!
We stayed there way longer than we should have and left at like 2pm. Oops. Worth it though. We hiked on in a food coma and after a few hours I really started to not feel well. My throat was super sore and my body felt achy. By 5:oopm we stopped to re-group at a dirt road crossing. I sat down on the gravel and ate an energy bar, took some Ibuprofen and Chinese herbs for my sore throat, drank some water, aired out my feet an peed. Ten minutes and we were off again, with 5 more miles of climbing ahead of us and 8 more miles to camp. We had already hiked 20 miles for the day and were planning on 28. We got this!
I pushed myself mentally to get through this afternoon lull, and by about 6pm I got a second wind, and pushed. I was grateful for that energy boost, but by 7pm it wore off and I was getting pretty hangry. Tripsy was too and the two of us pushed up and up and up this hill that just kept on going, like it never was going to end. Neither of us saying a word about how over it we were until it was actually over. But we finished strong and it was worth it. When we were all set up in camp and eating dinner in the dark, Tripsy said that even as hard as those moments are at the time, how amazing a reward it is, to end your day in a place like this, this here is why we do what we do, its why we’re here…. So serene, so wild, so perfect. Yes, Oregon, I love you too.