Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hiking the PCT in Oregon

A chilly September evening, Mary and Xena dropped us off at the windy Santiam Pass. Once we were there, it came to Mary that she could have offered us a place to stay back in Sweet Home. But that's okay, it was time for us to leave town and return to the wilderness. After over one month along the Pacific coast, we were back to the Pacific Crest Trail, about to hike the Cascades range.

Mount Washington and two of the Three Sisters to the south.
As Mary drove away, in the parking lot we saw Sheepdog and Sandals, two southbound hikers that had hiked with Freebird before. There was an outdoor toilet nearby that I needed to use to change into all of my warmer clothes. Sheepdog, who had used the facilities there just because she was excited about encountering a "sit-down potty" on the trail, warned me that it's so warm in there and I'll never want to leave! The interior was very clean and spacious, and I would've camped there in a heartbeat. But I changed quickly so as not to get too attached to the idea, as well as to not keep Freebird waiting too long in the cold. Then we walked up the trail to search for a campsite.

For miles ahead, as Sheepdog and Sandals had informed us, there was a huge forest fire burn, so that meant probably not much shelter from the wind in the understory. I wondered if we would find anywhere suitable to camp around there, or if we would have to return to the pass. But within a few minutes, a provision from God appeared.There was one spot tucked away between some small fir trees, which had grown up tall enough to block the wind. So we slept comfortably that night, without having to turn around. The next day, as we walked miles through the rest of the burn, we never saw another camping option. Everything worked out perfectly.

With brilliant reds and bright yellows scattered about, we got to witness the arrival of fall in the Cascades.

Climbing up a hill to get a get 360' views of the mountains around us.

An old skillet found along the way.

To our south, Mount Washington and Three Sisters loom on the horizon.

Three-Fingered Jack rises to the north.

After taking in the views we walked back down the hill, returned to the trail, and continued on.

Fireweed blossoming throughout the burn, adding to the vibrancy of the fall colors.

Hills were aflame with bright reds from huckleberries and blueberries, prime season to be picked and eaten.

A cinder cone to the east.

Approaching Three-Fingered Jack to the north.
Another view of Mount Washington and Three Sisters.

Soon we came upon the spectacular Three-Fingered Jack and rounded it.

Just as we were passing Three-Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson became visible to the north!

The colors of Three-Fingered Jack were incredible from its north face. Red stripes all across the rock. I've never seen anything quite like it. With that part of the peak now in shadows, the camera couldn't accurately portray the vibrancy of the reds.

Plump, juicy huckleberries! It was impossible to avoid taking long breaks when gorging on these! One of the best pleasures of the trail - picking fresh blueberries and huckleberries.

That evening, we came across a network of small ponds and a herd of grazing deer and knew that we had found the perfect campsite.

The following morning, the wind picked up tremendously! The sight of the waves shimmering below us was so breathtaking that I couldn't resist taking a picture, though I had to brace myself and do everything in my power not to be blown off of the ridge!

A last view of Three-Fingered Jack.

Along Rockpile Lake, blueberries were plentiful. We collected huge quantities into a Ziploc to cook into our oatmeal the next morning. Then, we decided to take a lunch break here.

Approaching Mount Jefferson from the south!

As we watched the sunset, we met Tony, who was hunting in the area with a friend of his. He wanted to help us to find a place to stay the night and gave us a tour around the lakes nearby. Pointing over to what path would lead us over to his tent, complete with wood-burning stove, he invited us over anytime that night if we got cold. The wind had really picked up that evening.

When we were walking with Tony, he had led us past a few small ponds down the ridge. Freebird and I both had received a strong intuition that this was the place to camp, so we turned around and went over there to scope out the area. We walked in circles for around for over a half hour in frustration, not finding the place. We thought we had looked everywhere! But we were only looking at places that we assumed would be the best shelter, based on our own past experiences. In each place, the wind whipped through so strongly. Weary, we silenced our thoughts and finally listened. The spot was in a meadow with no tree canopy, and yet the wind was blocked somehow from reaching the area. We had passed this meadow two or three times already and completely ignored it. Aside from that being the one spot with no winds, the tall grasses provided us a warm nest. This was surely a lesson in listening to and trusting that inner voice, for sometimes things may be contrary to our previous understanding. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." --Proverbs 3:5-6

The next morning the air was still and we could see a mirror reflection of Mount Jefferson at the lake near Tony's camp. A kind of visual to illustrate what happened when we quieted our thoughts the previous night and opened our ears to listen. Following the storm is the peacefulness of surrender.

"Pilgrim," from Calgary, Alberta, in the midst of another thru-hike. He walked the whole trail in both '77 and '80.

Rounding Mount Jefferson on its west side.

A glacial stream flowing from the peak.

Filling up at a spring!

We arrived at Jefferson Park to the north side of the peak, a beautiful meadow speckled with lakes and reflecting pools. This is a very popular area for tourists, and to my surprise, there were still so many visitors in mid-September. We sought out a campsite as far away from the noise as possible.

We opted to watch sunset over Russell Lake and then camp nearby.

The next morning we ascended up a ridge above Jefferson Park as huge crowds of 
visitors were rushing in to the meadow to camp for the weekend.

Tom (man in red cap) hiking down the ridge toward Jefferson Park. He gave us some maps for the upcoming trail.
We met and spoke with several friendly day-hikers along the way. Rick and two of his friends, from Portland, gave us some ramen packets and three bags of trail mix, amazingly enough! At the moment, we were completely out of snacks and running low on the rest of our food. Again, perfect timing!

At the summit of the ridge, we could still look over our shoulders at Mount Jefferson, though we would be leaving that behind soon. To the north, we could see what was to come. Mount Hood was now visible on the horizon, peeking through forest fire smoke. Below us were several glaciers. With this incredible view and no strong gusts, this was the perfect stop for a lunch break.

Mount Hood

Mount Jefferson and Russell Lake behind us.

Walking across a glacier.

We continued to see streams of visitors pouring into Jefferson Park. Here is pictured 20-month-old Tess, with her father. She seems to be more exhausted from the climb than he is!

We had become quite warm from the hike, so when coming across this lake, we were grateful for the
opportunity to jump in! This is the first and only spot in which I've swum in Oregon.

We passed by "Many Lakes Viewpoint," which I assume used to allow hikers a view of the many lakes to the north. Now it was all shrubbery and forest. There we met Paul (trail name "Bouncer") and Deanna (who I named "Sacajawea" because of the colorful leaves in her hair). They heard that we were on our way to the Olallie Lake Resort to resupply on some food at their store, and they threw us each a granola bar. They offered to give us a ride the next day to their place near Portland, with anticipation of getting to know us. I looked forward to this as well because I needed to find a new, warmer sleeping bag as the seasons were changing. The one that Brandon gifted to me in Moab was no longer sufficient for retaining body heat with the lower temperatures. We chatted with Paul and Deanna for awhile, and then raced off to Olallie Lake, hoping to get there before the store closed.

Deanna a.k.a. "Sacajawea"

We arrived at the Olallie Lake Store at 6:57, just minutes before its closing. With no electricity or any lighting within, it was difficult to see what they offered. A man who worked there was very helpful in directing us to what we needed. Some northbounders, Saint and Wanderer, arrived after closing, but the workers kept the door open for them. Meanwhile we overlooked the beautiful lake and Mount Jefferson rising above it, glowing pink from the sunset. We talked with some southbounders at the entrance to the store, Dang It and Ferd, who shared many amusing hiking stories with us. One in particular was about their "fart wars" when they sleep crammed in a bivvy sack together. They were camping beside a smaller lake just across the road from Olallie and welcomed us over to another open spot. We accepted, as long as we could stay far away from them and their fart wars!

Alpenglow at sunset on Mount Jefferson.

In the morning we found Ferd, Dang It, and Saint sitting on the gravel outside of the store, "hiker-trashing" it up! All of their belongings were scattered across the ground, making use of the area to cook some breakfast. Ah, the Hiker Trash subculture is quite a peculiar and interesting breed!

Ferd drinking some hot cocoa.
One of the cabins on the property, which we declined since the weather was perfect to camp outside for free.

Olallie Lake Store.
 I was suffering from blisters on my feet and wanted a break from hiking. Freebird had one more section to complete on the trail to officially have thru-hiked the PCT three times (in 2010 he missed some miles in this area due to a forest fire), so he left to finish that while I hung out at Olallie all morning, sipping on tea and indulging in snacks. While Ferd and Dang It rushed off back to the trail, Saint accompanied me all morning. I was impressed by her laid-back attitude.

It was enjoyable getting to know Saint more. She received her trail name from a fellow hiker who declared her a saint for giving him a shoulder massage. Saint is a very loving, caring person. She even traveled to India once to volunteer with Mother Teresa's group. Aside from that, she had tremendous courage to be hiking the majority of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself (most women travel with at least one other person).

At one point I walked back into the store to purchase some more snacks for us to eat. When I was paying Grant at the cash register, a chipmunk snuck through the back door and scurried over to the shelf to try to snatch a pack of peanut butter crackers. He stood up on his hind legs and tried to reach up for them, but flopped over backwards with a squeak! During the second attempt, Grant noticed and shooed him away, telling me that this happens very frequently.

Saint was waiting on a man named Robert to drive her to a nearby town to get some in-soles for her shoes. "Civilization" was rather far from us then, but Robert was willing to drive her a 2-hour round trip! Amazingly enough, a woman entering the store overheard their conversation and gave her in-soles to Saint, the same exact size that she needed!

Freebird completed his miles and hitched back to Olallie Lake, to find Saint and me sitting at the same exact spot as when he had left hours before! He was impressed!

Robert still offered Saint a ride to where she could get cell phone reception to call her family. After they left, Freebird and I went into the store to inquire about lunch. We asked if they offered any fresh-cooked hot foods or had a microwave. Neither. But Grant told us that someone had just caught some trout, and so they grilled one for us. When Saint and Robert returned, we split it with them.

Paul and Deanna (Bouncer and Sacajawea) arrived as we were finishing lunch. They regretfully announced that they could no longer take us to their house, so we changed our plans. They were able to at least give us a ride to Jude Lake, three miles away from the store, where Freebird had hiked to earlier. From there we would try to hitch out the next day and get to a town.

We arrived at Jude Lake's shores and set up camp along a side trail, singing, "Hey Jude, don't make it bad..." We knew that Saint had begun hiking again and would be passing by anytime soon. At the split of the side trail from the PCT, we left her a smiley face and arrow with a note, inviting her to visit us. And that she did! She talked with us for much longer and then, laughing at herself, said, "I've got to get at least 5 miles in today." Then off she went. We hoped to see Saint again on the trail, but that was the last time we crossed paths.

Jude Lake

Getting water to filter.

After dinner that night, we celebrated Freebird's official third completion of the PCT! We lit some dead fir needles on fire, using them as a makeshift candle, and stuck them in a muffin purchased at the Olallie Lake Store.

An original trail blaze of the PCT.
One last look at Jude Lake.

On the way back to the road to hitch, we took another brief side trail 
to Russ Lake, complete with a view of Olallie Butte.

Along the road, it was warm. We rolled out a Ridge Rest as a mat under a tree, reading the Bible there, and making a mad dash to the road every time a car was coming. The first people to be going in our direction, John and Roy, gave us a ride to National Forest Road 46. I sat in the cab of the truck, being "guardian" to the collection of pine cones John was bringing home to his wife. They were bouncing and rolling all over the place on those rugged back roads! As they dropped us off, John gave us some fresh, local strawberries and raspberries, a couple apples, and a ham and swiss sandwich with Miracle Whip to split for lunch.

Then we sat on the Ridge Rest along the road for what seemed like an eternity. All of the cars were heading in the opposite direction. Both Diane and Grant, from Olallie Lake, passed us as they were driving into a nearby town to run some errands, kindly stopping to check up on us. Grant informed us that the route we were trying to take up 46 had a closure due to a forest fire as well as a rock slide induced by trying to put the fire out. That explains why no one was headed in that direction. Grant pulled out his maps so that we could figure out a route. We could still hitch up that road and then turn onto another side street to get around the mess, but it was a matter of waiting on someone who would actually be going that way.

We watched fire trucks and forest service employees going to and from that location. Feeling unsure about where to go, we read through the Bible for encouragement. Everything signaled that we just wait. Then we opened to Psalms 23. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me."

Jackson falling asleep at Stacy's feet.
We were hungry and had just begun to split our last pack of crackers when Krista, Stacy, and Jackson showed up. They hadn't even heard about the road closure ahead. We directed them along the new route of which we had learned, thanks to Grant. Had they not picked us up, they would've had to turn around at the closure and run completely out of gas. Now it made sense why we hadn't gotten a ride before them; they clearly needed our help. Dropping us off at Wapinitia Pass, Krista and Stacy gave us a freezer storage Ziploc stuffed with food and refilled all of our water bottles.

Wapinitia Pass

From here, we would only have to hike about 6 miles to Barlow Pass, where we could easily get a ride into town. I decided that I could handle that. However, soon I was suffering again from blisters, cussing under my breath and in tears as I trailed behind Freebird in pain. I kept trying to remind myself to look around at the beauty, elevate my thoughts, and remember that our campsite wouldn't be very far away.

Freebird left me a little gift to cheer me up and remind me to smile!
The forest aglow with the light of the setting sun.
Freebird and I decided to take the side trail to Lower Twin Lake and camp there. It was painful walk, but I knew that a campsite along a beautiful lake would be worth it. It sure was!

We had some neighbors that night with an infant and two dogs, and we were impressed with how quiet they all were. We hoped that we weren't making too much noise for them, staying up late with a campfire. After the fire was out we slept soundly, where certainly we were led to rest beside the still waters, reminiscent of our earlier reading of Psalm 23.

The following morning, the sounds and sights of wildlife was everywhere. Ducks, great blue herons, kingfishers, Canadian gray jays... while sitting at the campfire, we heard a loud splash. I looked up to see an osprey carrying off a prized fish in its talons.

Smoke from our campfire hovering above the lake.

Freebird had told me about feeding Canadian gray jays before, and I never believed that an entire breed of bird could be courageous enough to eat out of a person's hand. I've heard stories of individual wild birds being trained to do so over long periods of time, but never anything like this. 
So that morning, I got to witness this spectacle for the first time.

One of our neighbors named Lynette came over to meet us in the morning. She had taken off her sunglasses and left them somewhere on the trail (as she often does), and was on a mission to find them quickly so that she and her friends could leave. But she quickly forgot about being in a hurry and talked to us for over a half hour! Lynette shared with us the story of how she had once lost her sunglasses on a trail near Mount Hood and decided to just purchase a new pair. The next year, after all the snow melted away, she found the ones that she had left behind, in the same exact spot!

Finally Lynette continued the search, and 5 minutes later her friends came to look for her. Olga, her daughter Zoe, and Jan came over to our campsite. They laughed when they heard how long Lynette was talking to us, not at all a surprise to them!

Olga and Zoe
Olga's friend and guardian, Copper, keeping a close eye on her.

Jan's companion, Henry.

Jan feeding a Canadian gray jay.

Not knowing when Lynette would return, the group resolved to go back to their camp and pack up everything. Shortly she came back with her sunglasses and they left, just as Freebird put out the fire.

After we were all packed up, a persistent gray jay attempted to search the contents of Freebird's pack for food.

Rather than turn around, we chose to complete the Twin Lakes loop trail to get back to the PCT. 
It would only be one mile extra, so why not?

Upper Twin Lake, with Mount Hood peeking through the trees.

Forest fire smoke starting to take over the trail. Another reason why it would be wise to hitch into town.

We reached Barlow Pass in the afternoon and hitched from Highway 35, hoping to get into town that evening. Freebird felt strongly that the first car would stop for us. First came a truck, and then a car. Sure enough the car pulled over! A woman opened the passenger door and yelled in a familiar voice, "Dave and Stephanie, get in!" It was Lynette! Olga, Zoe, and Copper were all in the car as well. They made room for us in the backseat, and then we were off for Hood River!