I woke up before sunrise and watched it happen over the lake while the water birds dashed back and forth in front of it. Owl and Phoenix woke up while I was sitting there, so I packed up my bed and put the living room back together while Phoenix drove straight into making coffee for the both of us.
After throwing the last of the indoors wood in the fire around 4am, I got in a good stretch of sleep that ended with some bizarre scenes including very clashing and mismatched music. The confusion gently woke me to find that the music was real.
I didn’t wake until it was quite light out this morning. And it’s hard to get moving when the world and all your gear are wet. So it was 9am before I started hiking.
The trail was kind of meandery, up and down through the forest. It started out by coming by a lot of lakes. Later, it would come close to lakes, but not close enough that you could see them from the trail. In general, there were no views or any interesting sites for the latter half of the day.
I got up well before first light to head out into the cold and down to the lake. I plugged my phone back in, gathered some water from the lake, and carried it back to the cabin to filter before packing up.
The sun rose while I was packing, so once I had my things removed from the cabin, I walked back down to the lake to fetch my phone (which had only gotten 10% battery from the very low current trickle in the past hour) and returned to the cabin for photos. Then I made sure the propane heater was off and locked up the cabin again.
Across the street at the trailhead, I was not even a quarter mile up the spur before I had to stop to dig a hole. It was still pretty cold, but at least the sun was well up.
It was probably 8am by the time I made it back to the PCT proper, so I promptly stopped for my morning snack, but after that I had no reason to stop until lunch.
The trail was kind of plain again in terms of scenery, though it did pass ponds and lakes on a regular basis all day.
In the afternoon, I passed a pack sitting beside the trail. A bit later, a light mist started to turn into actual rain, so I stopped to change into rain clothes. Owl caught up to me then. It was his pack I had passed while he was in the woods filling his own hole. He had called to me, but I had not heard him over the podcast I was listening to. He said the others were all ahead. I said I was planning to camp at Stormy Lake. He said he and the others were planning to push on to the next lake after thanks to complaints about the wind at Stormy. I had no intention of doing that. It meant another hour of hiking in the rain after sunset. Besides, I would have no need to pitch a tent the next night and so could make it a bigger day.
So, I camped alone at Stormy Lake, warm and dry in my tent as the rain continued. outside.
Total distance: 18.5 miles
Trail progress: 17 miles
When I hiked out this morning, maybe an hour after first light (but still, it seemed, before Owl and Phoenix passed, or, at least, I didn’t see them go by or their footprints in the snow), I wasn’t sure where I was going to stop at the end of the day or how far I was going to hike. It wasn’t my primary concern. Instead, my major goal was to arrive at Elk Lake Resort to pick up my food resupply.
My mom and I had been on the phone with Wendy, the proprietor, for several days concerning being able to pick up the package despite the resort’s seasonal closure. The package was definitely there, and I wanted to get there before nightfall to ensure I could meet someone to fetch it for me. I had 16.5 miles to go before 6pm. No big deal, right?
It really wasn’t. The snow had stopped. The frost was melting. The trail was mostly flat and the slopes were gentle.
The most incredible bit of trail was a place where the trail suddenly dropped into an enormous open rocky treeless plateau with an enormous mesa of piled boulders on one side. It sloped gently up for a mile with no shade to be found in a way I hadn’t experienced since the High Sierras.
As soon as there were trees again, I stopped for lunch, and after that, the trail went back to being its boring Oregon self. There was one nice view of the few small buttes in the area from the side of Koosa Mountain, but nothing of interest from there to the junction to Elk Lake.
A half mile down the side trail, I tripped and bit it hard. The way I was laid out on the sandy slope, with my head below my feet, it was very difficult to rearrange myself to be able to lift the pack on my back enough to get my feet under me. Even with my bear can nearly empty of food, my pack was as heavy as it had been in a long time thanks to the heavy winter clothing I was carrying. So I laid there a while just getting up the gumption to do that little bit of awkward weight-lifting.
Anyway, I made it down to the resort with an hour of daylight to spare, found someone in the lodge immediately, and after a little bit of confusion (which involved me looking right at my package while the guy never did and claimed it wasn’t there until he made a call and went back to look again), I had my food. I plugged my phone into an outdoor outlet and then spent a half-hour repacking the contents of the box into my pack and bear can.
I called Wendy to let her know the package was received alright. She noted that it was getting late, the sun was setting, and offered to let me camp in the campground. So I told one of the men working there that I was going to do so, and he pointed out that it was going to be very cold that night, maybe dropping into the teens. He promised to bring me firewood.
But nevertheless, I hiked up to the campground and picked out a site and started to pitch my tent.
I was almost done when a golf cart with firewood arrived. A whirlwind of activity involving a screwdriver and some headlamp assistance followed, and I found myself in a camp cabin with a propane heater running. I cooked and ate and went to bed on a mattress. I was the opposite of cold that night. In fact, I left my sleeping bag unzipped and open.
Total distance: 16.5 miles
Up well before dawn this morning, and the fog was still hovering. Tent was wet, but not as wet as the others’ because they had opted to camp under the trees, which have a habit of gathering fog and dripping it down like rain.
I was packed up as quickly as anyone and the first to leave camp as the sun started coming into view. I set out into the midst of the lava field. Someone in there, Owl caught me up, but he hadn’t taken off his warm pants before starting out, so I left him behind as he changed out of them.
I stopped for my mid-morning break after a little under five miles, eager to take advantage of a tree-covered in the sea of lava. All four of the others passed me during those fifteen minutes and I didn’t catch them again until the end of the day.
When I finally came to the end of the sea of lava and worked my way up the side of a partially burned ridge to Scott Pass, I stopped next to South Mathieu Lake for lunch. A chill wind poured over the pass, so I couldn’t stay sitting still for long. I packed up and got moving.
Soon, the wind brought a light dusting of snow. I stopped for a snack and pulled on my jacket and snow pants and put my Packa on my pack. I also filled up on water at the next creek I crossed. My hands were freezing as I filtered it, but it sure beat having to do the same after the sun went down.
With the last of the afternoon, I entered to the two mile stretch of the trail through the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, a section of trail through and on actual obsidian. Chunks of it underfoot. Obsidian Falls flowed over it. Very cool. But the rules for the area are no camping and stay on the trail, so I got out the other side as quickly as possible.
I had to pull out my headlamp to do the last couple of miles over cold, snowy hillsides. Finally, I came to the Linton Meadows Trail junction, where comments indicated there were tentsites to be found around. In fact, Owl and Phoenix’s Duplex was just a little past it down by the edge of the trees. I shouldn’t have let them pass me because I couldn’t see anything else level and large enough, and it was getting late. I went on maybe another half mile past them until I came across a just barely big enough shelf of snow above the trail. Looked pretty flat.
I haven’t mentioned this, but for the last five miles I had been desperately holding my bowels. I was done. Couldn’t hold it anymore. This little spot was going to have to be enough.
The second thing I did upon arriving was set up my tent and pull all my stuff under the vestibule. I put on another layer of clothes, climbed into my sleeping bag, and only then started cooking in the vestibule. It was pretty dang late by the time I was ready to go to sleep.
Total distance: 20 miles
So, I took a zero in Bend. Bend is a great place, but it is certainly not on trail, which means it’s time for another AmAzInG DoUbLe DaY PoSt!!!!…
Honestly, my zero wasn’t very fun. I spent the vast majority of it in a coin laundromat a 20 minute walk from my motel. That is, I got one load going and ran it all the way through until done. Solid two hours. Then I changed into the clean clothes and washed the ones I was wearing, then went out for a meal of fast tacos and a trip to the grocery to pick up some limes. Then, back at my room, I realized I had forgotten to wash a critical item and walked all the way back out to wash a third load. Finally, it was so late that I had to skip drying it and go.
Why? Because I needed to get to REI, a 30 minute walk in the other direction, with enough time to try on clothes and so forth. I bought some waterproof gaiters, snow pants, a snow jacket, new trekking poles. I had meant to exchange some busted items, but I had been in such a hurry I’d forgotten to grab them. I don’t think I remembered to check whether they had canister fuel, though I expect the shortage was affecting them as well. I would end up starting the next section with only the fuel I had on hand.
Finally, after a day that was nothing but work, I set out carrying my busted, overflowing REI bag to do one fun thing in Bend. (The only bags they had were busted by default.)
I let Google route me to Crux Fermentation Project, the brewery halfway between REI and my motel that looked like it had some good stuff online. But I didn’t trust Google enough once the brewery came into site and tried to take a shortcut. I circled around a jumbled pile of stuff in the middle of a field with the sound of a generator running inside and realized I had stumbled on a homeless camp. On the other side was an impassable drop onto a railroad track. I worked my way back to the Google approved route.
Anyway, it was a nice restaurant and brewery with multiple places to order and a big field and tent beside it with a giant fire and a lot of chill people enjoying their evenings. It was the most normal social event I had seen in a town in a long time. Aside from the masks and distance between groups, of course.
I ate a bowl of something vaguely mex inspired and drank two of their favorite beers, which brought me right to closing time, then started back to the motel, which surprised me by how close it was.
I got up quite early and repacked my pack to incorporate the new items to get out of my room by 8:20. I turned in my key and set out down the road to my first destination…
Then I realized I didn’t have my phone and ran back to the motel to get the key back. The manager laughed heartily at my forgetfulness. But by 8:30 I was on my way again. Luckily, everything I needed was only a couple of minutes away.
My first stop was the UPS Store, where I sent home the clothes my recent purchases had obsoleted. Right across the street was Bend’s only (yet controversial) transit center. I was to meet a shuttle here that would leave me at Santiam Pass. To confirm this, I asked a stranger. “Unfortunately, yes,” he quipped, in a way that a native might have understood. He then wanted to continue talking about being careful of all the dangerous animals. Frankly, he creeped me out, so I went to sit far from him.
I didn’t have to wait long. The shuttle showed up on time and the driver was super nice and chill. An hour later, I was at the PCT Trailhead, right at the southern end of the closed section I had had to skip.
The terrain I faced once I crossed the highway was some of the dullest I had seen to date. I can’t even describe how uninteresting it was. It was flat and relatively easy to move through, but there was also someone not far away using machinery that sounded like an industrial strength vacuum. I stopped at a pond to get some water because I had forgotten to get enough from my motel room, and then bypassed the side trip to Big Lake Youth Camp, though I could see Big Lake just fine from the trail.
The trail followed the edge of a lava field and I stopped early at the foot of it in a sandy, flat area that was the last marked campsite in Guthook for ten miles.
I set up camp close to the edge of the lava and climbed inside my tent to do some maintenance. Soon, I heard some activity outside.
Owl and Phoenix had arrived following two consecutive zeroes in Bend. And they had friends with them: Firefly and her partner who was entirely new to long distance hiking but would receive the trail name Grommet that very night. Not after the claymation dog character but for the way he liked to manufacture useful gear for the trail and incorporate grommets into them.
Owl and I rearranged an area next to the lava so we could have a campfire to celebrate the beginning of Grommet’s adventure. We all sat near the fire cooking and eating our own suppers until the sun was gone and a thick fog was rolling in. At that point, we all started getting the urge to turn in led by Phoenix. I was second to hit the sack, hoping to get an early start the next morning.
Total distance: 12 miles
I got up with the sun or just before it, and the wind and rain (or condensation dripping from trees, which is functionally the same thing) were still getting busy. I packed up some of my things in it, but then put on my packa, put my water bag and air mat and electronics bag in its big pocket, and went down to the lodge again.
There was a sort of small stage outside one side entrance well under the eaves of the lodge, so my plan was to roll up the mat there where it could stay 90% dry. But instead of doing that right away, I laid all my stuff out on the stage and went into the lodge.
It turned out the side entrance opened on a hallway mainly intended for employee use, lined with employee offices and utility rooms.
Further into the lodge, I found the main lobby. After exploring it a bit, I talked to the clerk, who directed me upstairs to the restaurant where free coffee was offered. This was the space I had been in the previous night.
But once I saw how empty the restaurant was (at 7am on a nasty day), I decided to try to get some real breakfast. I had no reservation and I looked as gross as a hiker always looks–worse, maybe, given the amount of mud I’d encountered two days prior–but they could seat me right away.
I had an enormous three course breakfast featuring salad, meats, potatoes, and a pastry. It ran me 60 dollars. I hoped it would give me the motivation I would need to get me through a miserable day’s hike.
Then I spent some time in the hotel bathroom. Money isn’t the only cost of an enormous breakfast. Plus, the clerk said it was the best place to fill my water bag.
Finally, I went back out to pack up my air mat, then up the hill to pack up my tent. Finally, once again totally soaked, I could start my hike.
It was only another ten miles and most of it was downhill, but it was cold and foggy and there weren’t many views to be had. Also, there were still plenty of deadfalls to be avoided.
After I crossed the road at Barlow Pass, I started seeing more day hikers. More and more in spite of the weather. It gave me hope of getting a ride from any of this number who would return to the trailhead parking lot.
So when I got to the trailhead, I crossed the rode and stood in front of a semi parked on the shoulder where anyone leaving the lot and going my way could pull right off beside me.
No luck. This was probably the longest wait for a hitch I’ve had to date. Despite being bundled up and in rain gear, the cold fog soaked through and my temperature continously dropped. I danced in place to try to stay warm, but another hour there would have put me in hypothermia territory. And it’s not like there was no traffic. There were dozens of cars per minute. It’s just that no one there wanted to help me get somewhere warm and dry.
Until a hero comes along! Another unicorn, in fact. 21-year-old single female Shea and her pupper Stevie. They were headed to Bend for a day of rock climbing with a friend and was willing to take me with. This was nearly a two hour trip, and she let me run the heat aimed directly at me the whole way.
The beauty of the desert plateau we drove into was incredible, as was the river at Warm Springs State Park we stopped near for a dog walk break.
Along the way, I reserved a couple of nights at a motel and Bend called Rainbow Motel that was incredibly cheap and well-situated relative to the places I needed to go. As soon as she dropped me there and I got my room key, I cranked the heater in the room up to 11 and left it there.
And then I took off my wet clothes, took a hot shower, changed into my long johns, ordered a pizza from Domino’s for delivery, and spent the rest of the evening in bed just enjoying being warm and dry.
Total distance: 10 miles
I slept in this morning for obvious reasons–my late bedtime and the continuing rain. When I finally emerged from my tent where I had been slowly and casually packing up, another hiker came down the trail, having survived the same mess the previous day but stopping even further back than me. I again apologized for being in the trail the log was blocking anyway.
It was after 11am by the time I started hiking again. After passing the one log that had stopped me the previous night, the trail was largely clear all the way down to Ramona Falls just a quarter mile away. There were many day hikers in the area. I went ahead and ate lunch right there near the falls before even truly getting started hiking.
I missed a turn where the side trail rejoined the PCT just above the falls and ended up walking nearly a mile north on the PCT by mistake. It wasn’t completely clear, but it was a sight better than the Timberline Trail. It was obvious Owl and Phoenix would have gotten to Timberline Lodge the previous day no problem. I passed a man collecting mushrooms in a bucket twice, confusing him a bit. He had the nature of the trail a bit confused in his mind and had contributed to my confusion when I passed him the first time.
Finally headed the right direction, I committed myself to top speed, hoping to complete the ten miles to Timberline Lodge by 6pm, when it was supposed to close. It was going to be tight, requiring maintenance of top speed uphill, running down hills where possible, and luck that the trail was mostly clear. And it was mostly uphill.
But it was a beautiful day and a beautiful bit of trail with only a dozen or so spots with trees blocking the trail. Even so, I was getting discouraged as 6pm got closer. I made it to the door at the lodge at just minutes before the deadline.
It turned out it wasn’t a deadline after all. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Saturday, but the Ram’s Head Bar on the second floor was wide open. So I got me a stout AND an incredible hot chocolate.
Annnnnd a root beer.
I watched the sun set from the windows of the nook. I saw some pictures on one guy’s phone of a pair of twins he’d seen earlier dressed in exactly the outfits the twins from Kubrick’s The Shining (which famously used exterior shots of Timberline Lodge as the exterior of its Overlook Hotel). The little girls involved in said photo shoot hopefully had absolutely no idea why they were being dressed in matching blue dresses and asked to stare unsmilingly into a camera.
While we’re on the subject of The Shining, I should mention that I saw a guy sitting at a desk near the entrance I used typing on a manual typewriter. I thought perhaps it was something the lodge put out for guests to mess around with, but I was wrong because by the time I had gotten my fill of the lodge’s strong cell service and went to leave, he had disappeared and so had the typewriter. But more on him in the next post.
The temperature had also plummeted and a fog was coming in. A wet night had been forecast for the mountain. All of the guests that had been hanging out on the patio had vanished. I stepped back inside to put on my pants, added my down puff, then went back out to pack up my pack and walk up the hill.
You see, although the Timberline Lodge will charge you $285 a night for a room, there is a free campsite for maybe half a dozen tents just up the hill beside the PCT, maybe a five minute walk away. Probably not where you would want to stay during the height of ski season, but it’s not exactly their mountain, so what could they do about it if you did?
Anyway, I needed to find said site. Luckily, I spotted the headlamp of a man headed up the hill. I asked him about it. He was already set up there and had stayed there on many occasions. I found a spot near his tent and tried to set up quickly as the wind blew in more fog that would thicken into rain. I cooked dinner in the vestibule under the closed flap of the rainfly and hoped the next day wouldn’t suck too badly. I knew it wasn’t going to be the most fun, but I had high hopes it would at least start and end well.
Total distance: 12 miles
Trail progress: 10 miles
Thanks to the cold and the late night preceding, I only started packing up at sunrise. But it didn’t take too long, and I was out and hiking by 8. Phoenix and Owl did not catch me up.
After an hour and a number of encounters with weekenders, I had made it to the junction near the top of Bald Mountain. Based on the comments on Guthook, I thought that following the Timberline Trail here would be more interesting than the PCT. And it did turn out to be exactly that.
But there is a reason that “May your life be long and interesting” is considered a curse. And the Timberline Trail was that kind of interesting.
The first two miles or so were amazing, filled with views of the valley and then three easy crossings of the headwaters of the Muddy Fork. I could even see that the other side of the valley had a number of trees fallen on it, and expected it to get somewhat technical coming back up. But the PCT was supposed to have downed trees on it as well, and I had come through a few miles of tree falls the day before with only a few hours lost, so I grit my teeth and dove in.
It turns out I had severely underestimated the difficulty of the problem before me. And I’m using problem in the sense that climbers use it here. Because for the next nine hours, I did hardly any hiking at all. It was a lot more like caving, and even when I could momentarily find the trail, it lasted only a dozen feet at most before I had to resort to climbing, crawling, beam walking, backtracking, detouring, sliding, hanging, falling, and diverting yet again.
As the sun disappeared and a thick fog set in, the jumble got so thick and impenetrable that I had no choice but to descend hundreds of feet down the hill from the trail and scramble and slide across the crumbling hill. Eventually, covered in mud, blood, and cuts the scabs of which would still be around a month later, I hit a wall of thorny plants and had crawl straight up a waterfall to find the trail again.
Soon, I found myself at the mouth of the valley again, about two miles from where I had entered the fray nine hours before. It was pouring rain at this point, but I didn’t want to get out my pack cover/rain jacket because it would have been shredded by the obstacle course. So I and my pack were as much mud and water as fabric by this point.
After a somewhat easier quarter mile down into the next valley, I hit another tree that was going to force me way off the trail and said to myself “I just cannot do one more tree tonight.” I set up my tent right in the middle of the trail in front of that tree and got in out of the rain as quickly as possible. I changed into the dry clothes from deep in my pack and crawled into my sleeping bag before even starting to cook.
I was just about to finish cooking when someone else came past my tent and back again. Turns out I wasn’t the only one dumb enough to push through on that particular section of trail that day. But clearly this guy was more tenacious than me and pushed on into the night. I apologized for setting up on the trail, even though it was impossible to stay on the trail in that spot anyway.
I can tell you, after the most difficult day of hiking to date, it wasn’t hard to sleep that night.
Total distance: 7 miles? Maybe less?
Trail progress: 7 miles
Average pace: Almost 2 hours per mile!
Average pace on the difficult part: 4.5 hours per mile!