The Pacific Crest Trail runs from the Mexican border to just inside Canada, approximately 2,650 miles. Lot’s of people hike parts of this trail each year and about 200 or so actually make it the full length in a single year. To do that most people start mid-April at the Mexican border and hike north toward Canada, finishing up around mid-September. I have dreamed about hiking this trail for a lot of years and finally started on it last year with the northern most section, getting in the first 75 miles.
I had planned on hiking the next 200 miles to the south of that section this year, starting at Highway 20 and hiking down to I-90. But the snow this year in the North Cascades finally scared me off so I shifted my sights to Oregon. The snow looked much more manageable down there, although I did not know as much about the trail. I choose to start at the Columbia River and head south to Highway 242, about 160 miles away. This trip was expected to take about 8 days with the option of heading on down another 30 miles if I still had it in me.
Sue dropped me off Monday morning at the trailhead around 6:45 AM. The first section of the day’s travel was actually up an alternate route that is considered much more scenic. The trail passed along a number of waterfalls, including one where the trail tunnels behind the fall, pretty impressive. The trail is moving up a narrow and deep canyon and is frequently blasted out of the side of the canyon wall, not necessarily a place for those with a fear of heights. There is frequent water along the first few miles, then a dry stretch followed by a little trickle at the 12 mile mark. The next source of water is 12 miles away. That stretch is scenic though and enjoyable. I made camp about a mile past the last water in what was for me a rare ‘dry’ camp. By the time I had camp set up and had eaten and cleaned up a bit it was dark so I jumped in the hammock and called it a day, after 25 miles on the trail. Sometime during the night I woke up to it raining … I thought it was supposed to be clear for the whole trip; kind of a downer for the start of day two.
Tuesday morning dawned wet and rainy. Broke camp under the tarp and marched for the first few hours in light rain. By 10 AM or so the rain had quit and by noon the sun was out. The highlights of the day included Ramona Falls, below Mt Hood, and the views of Mt Hood from the Timberline Lodge area. The day included lots of climbing and lots of walking in what looked and felt like beach sand, neither of which was too much fun with a too full pack. I was able to call home from the Timberline Lodge and then made it another 3 miles to a nice campsite alongside of a small stream. Finished setting up camp in the dark again, took a bath in the stream, had dinner and dropped off to bed after a 20 mile day.
Wednesday looked to be a mostly level day and I hoped for about 30 miles, but it was not to be. The day was mostly spend under the cover of trees, was not too scenic and was pretty dry. Other than Timothy Lake there was not really a lot to commend this section of the trail. I finally staggered to a stop at my second dry camp after a 27 mile day. Had a thunder storm move through with a little rain just as I got camp set up. Had dinner, took a spit bath and fell asleep listening to strange screeching sounds in the woods around me. Sometime during the night I decided that I would not last trying for so many miles each day and decided to back down to 20 or less a day, and looking for a lake or stream to camp near.
Thursday was a repeat of Wednesday in some respects. Not much water around and not much too see for most of the day. I crossed 3 water sources during the day and spent a lot of time in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. The reservation has a lot of logging going on so I saw a lot of clear cut areas and crossed many logging roads. After 20 miles I reached Lake Jude and set up camp. But the lake was stagnant so I hiked about 3/4 of a mile back up the trail, collected water for the next day and for dinner, cleaned up and went back to camp. It was great feeling being somewhat clean and all ready for bed before it got dark; first time for the trip. Had some more thunder and rain before bedtime but nothing too serious where I was and actually made it to bed around dark.
Friday was the big climbing day, up before light and on the trail by 6:30. The first stop was at the Olallie Resort where I was able to buy a Dr Pepper, which I drank on their front porch, and a few small supplies. Then up and past a number of small lakes before the ascent up a snow covered shoulder of Mt Jefferson to the trips high point at about 7000 foot. And then down into Jefferson Park and a nice spot next to a stream and not far from a nice lake. It was intermittently windy here but pleasant. I got in a swim and felt much better. This spot had the largest concentration of mosquitoes on the trip though and was the only place I really needed to breakout the head net and repellent. Other than the final partial day, this was the trips shortest day at 17 miles.
Woke early again Saturday and was off at the break of dawn. Jefferson Park is a mile across where the PCT crosses it and is mostly a high altitude meadow dotted with clumps of trees and small lakes. The trail skirted around Mt Jefferson, dropping for the first few miles and then climbed back to over 6000′ before walking along a ridge for the last few miles. The day’s trip included a ford of Russell Creek that was knee deep, crossing the remnants of an avalanche over Milky Creek and 5-6 miles through an area that burned a few years ago. I was concerned that my destination for the night would be burned but Rockpile Lake and its immediate surroundings had been spared and was beautiful. Set up camp in the trees to the east of the lake, got in a swim and dinner and was able to relax for a bit before bed. Yet another thunderstorm moved through bring some pretty heavy gusts and a bit of rain.
Most of Sunday was spent on a continuing journey through the burned area. Seems like most of the last 35 miles of this trip was through areas that had been recently burned. It did open up the views a lot and was interesting to see the recovery process. In many places the forest floor was covered with flowers, grasses, ferns or huckleberries. The day included a trip up to 3 Fingered Jack, an old volcano whose glaciers had stripped away all but the core, along with some vistas back to Mt Jefferson and ahead the the Sisters. I ended the day at Youth Camp, a PCT hiker friendly camp along the shores of a lake. They have a cabin available for hikers along with showers and food. A fire on Mt Washington was threatening an evacuation of the camp so there was no meal but the shower was nice.
I left Youth Camp early Monday and climbed over the west flank of Mt Washington and then into the lava fields around the Belknap crater. Five miles of walking across the lava fields was pretty interesting, but not something I would like to do every day. 12 miles into the day I hit the trail head and waited for Sue to pick me up.
I found three kinds of people on the PCT. The first group are those who are hiking the complete length of the PCT in a single year, or thru-hikers. These folks were generally younger, although I met a few who were older than me. They were in general fairly friendly and willing to stop and talk for a few minutes and had colorful trail names like Buttercup, Ninja, Sniper, Sunshine or Wired. Section hikers were folks like myself who were only hiking a portion of the trail, anywhere from 50 miles to a whole state. They tended toward being a bit older and still fairly friendly. The day hikers that were encountered near resorts or back country campgrounds were of all ages, generally clean and tidy and less interested in conversing with stinky long range hikers. I generally have little to do with people I pass on the street. But I have found over the years that I enjoy taking a few minutes to chat with the long range hikers I encounter.
This trip had to be one of the hardest things I have ever done, both physically and mentally. I had thought that with all the running I had been doing that walking 25 miles a day would not be so hard. But it was, especially when you throw in a 38 pound pack at the beginning and have to climb several thousand feet once or twice a day. Laying in my hammock after the third day, with my legs, feet and knees throbbing, and thinking that I still had 5-6 days left on the trip was very difficult to deal with. I had been optimistically hoping that I could add 30 miles to the end of my trip but had to decide then that was not going to happen. Instead I decided to slow down a bit, doing only 20 mile days and making sure that I ended up on a lake or stream where water was abundant and I could clean up easily, and enjoy the evening a bit before turning in. That made a big difference for the rest of the trip. As the pack weight dropped and the miles and hours went down a bit I was able to have a much better attitude about the experience. All in all I would have to say it was a good trip and I learned a lot about long distance hiking that will hopefully help in the future.
I am looking forward to getting back onto the PCT next year and hopefully finishing up Oregon and maybe doing another hunk of Washington. But I do not believe that I will be willing to just go out and hike non-stop for over a week again. I have already enlisted my wonderful wife, she with the wander-lust blood, to meet me every few days to resupply and allow a recuperation day when needed. Time to start planning now.