PCT 13: Weaving Between Volcanoes

After thanking my mom and saying goodbye, Bolo, Town, Happy Feet and I left Bend. My dad offered to give us a ride up to the top of McKenzie Pass, where we had left the PCT five days earlier, so we headed back to trail on a beautiful sunny day. After attending trail days and saying goodbye to Bunyon we were all in a subdued mood. I believe we were excited to return to trail but we had been looking forwards to Bend and Trail days for months and now they were over, we were a little closer to our goal but with many more miles to Canada. I also knew hiking with out Bunyon meant our trail family would stretch out far more so I would have many hours and days of trail solitude.

After a goodbye with my dad at the top of McKenzie pass I could tell he wanted to go with us but we had miles to cover and the cold fall weather to beat in the coming months. The first section of trail was a return to the lava flows we had left. We hiked off with the constant crunch of cinder under our feet as we eyeballed larger rocks to avoid rolling our ankles. It was tedious and I quickly gained two new holes in my shoes but after six miles we were back onto a more standard dirt track through the woods.

The many miles of Lava flow we had already crossed from the base of North Sister

We wound past the base of Mt Washington and Happy Feet was showing some interest in trying to summit it but eventually we all got excited about making it to Big Lake and resting at the youth camp. The first day back on trail was leaving me feeling sluggish but I hoped to get back into the through hiking routine in the next few days.

At Big Lake youth camp they allowed us to stay in a building set up with a sink and laundry with electrical outlets. Despite only being back on trail for one day it was a wonderful spot to relax.

We wandered down to the lake and found a good spot to camp on a beach made of volcanic sand. We could see other PCT hikers dispersed through out the woods and groups of other people camped around the lake while slowly paddling around in quiet boats. We sat for a long time enjoying the sunset and chatting as we often did in camp. Little did I know this would be the last time we would all camp together on trail.

Town and his prime tent real estate
Happy Feet wandering over to join us in watching the sunset at Big Lake
Watching the sunset while chatting with Happy Feet

The following day we went back to the guest building and threw together breakfast. Bolo had noticed his external battery was not holding a charge properly, but luckily he had already found a replacement in the local hiker box. This battery was dead so he wanted to wait several hours until it was recharged before setting out. With a big rainstorm predicted to hit in a few hours I wanted to set out and cover some ground before it hit. Happy Feet, who hated to hike in rain, was with me and we set out after saying a quick goodbye to Bolo and Town, expecting to see them again later in the evening when they caught up with us.

As we hiked the dark grey clouds above us quickly thickened and the temperature began to drop. It was going to be a pretty miserable rain storm once it hit. Just as the first drops fell Happy Feet opted to set up his tent to wait it out. I decided to keep pushing wanting to cover more ground since it was noon, and I said goodbye to him as he jumped into the tent as the down poor began. Embracing my inner Pacific North Westerner I put up my rain jacket hood, scrunched up my face and walked into the wet, gloomy weather. The temperature dropped so it was miserably cold with lots of wind, but hiking hard kept me warm.

The views were sadly obscured by the rainy and clouds and I didn’t get a single look at Three Fingered Jack even though I knew I was hiking right along its base. As the day progressed I noticed my headphones cutting out and eventually they died all together, most likely due to getting wet in the rain. This was a big disappointment since music was a huge part of keeping me motivated when hiking alone, but with them broken i decided to challenge myself to hike without them and be fully present alone on the trail.

The rainy clouds blocking any mountain views
I’m almost certain Three Fingered Jack should be looming over me but instead there were oppressive clouds

At one point a pct hiker came up quickly, startling me, and I slipped falling on a wet log. In the cold wind and rain he introduced himself as Sunshine and we laughed briefly about my fall before he pushed on.

Eventually I arrived alone at what was supposed to be a beautiful camp spot on top of a ridge looking north towards Mt Jefferson. For me it was a cloudy expanse with even more wind and rain. I quickly set up my tent and jumped inside soaking wet. It was a cold night and I heard a few other hikers stumble by in the rain outside as I fell asleep.

The next morning I was rewarded with a beautiful view of Jefferson above me, breaking through the clouds. It was a great start to the day and as I hiked off I met other hikers who had weathered the rain storm too. Walking through the Jefferson wilderness was stunning. I could look down from the ridge line at lakes I had hiked into in years past with my family. Being somewhere familiar brought back many memories of family backpacking trips and reminded me of the generations of backpackers before me.

The view from my camp spot the day after the rain

I soaked in all the views where I could. The trail progressed along switchbacks that climbed over ridge lines that webbed out from Jefferson creating allot of trail variety. I eventually made my way to a high point where I could look northwards and see Mt Hood, like a sentinel, marking the northern point of Oregon and the beginning of Washington.

Descending one of the massive shoulders of Mt Jefferson
One of the many beautiful lakes around Mt Jefferson
My last close up view of Jefferson before descending towards the green tunnel to the north
Looking at Mt Hood and trying to guess where the Columbia Gorge was marking the end of Oregon and the beginning of Washington

As I descended towards Olallie Lake, my planned camp spot for the night, I was accosted by an angry hornet. It went straight for my leg and stung me in the exact same spot as my first hornet sting from a few weeks earlier. Pissed off at my bad luck and worried about a repeat of my allergic reaction I tried to calmly push on towards my camp spot. I felt lucky in having no immediate swelling and thought perhaps I was stung by a different species of wasp.

A cairn taller than I am

I had another surpirse just before Olallie lake in noticing the hiker Pepe relaxing just off trail and people watching the other through hikers as they passed. He congratulated me as the first person to notice him since so many of the other hikers had such strong tunnel vision and they didn’t even see a man sitting on a rock just above the trail.

Pepe and I had hiked together in the Sierras during May, months earlier. It was nice to catch up with him and commiserate about our shared experiences during that intense time in the Sierras in snowstorms, avalanches and cold.

After having taken so many zero days off trail I was finding myself surrounded by people who had gone through the Sierras a month or two after me. Although it was fun to hear of their different experiences in the Sierras it was nice to run into someone who had gone through the same intense May Sierra experience. We chatted and remembered the snowstorms, single degree temperatures, avalanches and post hole hell, contrasting with the beautiful hiking conditions of the past few months.

Pepe was resting up a bit before strategically setting up camp 50 miles from the Timberline Lodge to challenge himself for a 50 mile day. I wished him the best of luck and then said goodbye since I wanted to get to Olallie Lake before dark and was still worried about the mystery sting on my leg.

At Olallie lake I camped with some other PCT hikers and I enjoyed a slightly overpriced micro brewery beer which I had bought in the local general store. As I went to bed I couldn’t help but think about Pepe, who would be passing this spot in the middle of the night on his mission. I was also glad that I would not be getting up at midnight.

The view from Olallie lake’s general store. I had arrived just before the sunset

The following day I awoke to a throbbing pain and swelling in my leg. I wasn’t very surprised and I tried taking some ibuprofen so I could hold off on the benadryl to avoid its debilitating drowsiness. Having hiked through that once before I was not too keen to repeat it unless my allergic reaction got truly nasty.

The hiking between Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood was mostly through the green tunnel of the woods and I took many breaks to elevate my leg and take more ibuprofen, which did seem to be helping my throbbing leg.

I noticed many grey jays flying around and enjoyed feeding them out of my hands as I had as a kid. Towards the end of the day the throbbing in my leg was getting extremely uncomfortable and I stopped a few miles before my goal to set up camp and take the benadryl I had been holding off on. In my groggy state I barely got the tent set up before falling asleep with a half eaten dinner and mosquitoes buzzing outside my tent.

When I awoke the swelling had gone down and the pain had lessened so I happily set off to make it to Timberline Lodge. I was beginning to wonder if I would see Bolo, Happy Feet or Town soon. I hadn’t seen or heard from them since the rain storm. I ran into Sunshine again a few miles from Timberline and it was nice to say hello while we were not in the middle of a rainstorm after having fallen hard on my butt.

While passing a large lake that the trail followed for several miles I ran into a large group of joggers. I said hello and grew excited when I heard they were from Portland too. “No way! I’m from Portland too!” I quickly realized I was being overly excited by this and most likely appearing a bit deranged to them. I was just so used to being in places far from here and was in the habit of getting excited when meeting people who were from Portland as well. I would have to change my expectations since for the next few days most day hikers I would meet would probably be from Portland.

Once at the Lodge I made my way to the small town of Government Camp to ressuply. The town was pretty but everything was overpriced so I sat on the porch eating a snack and people watching the tourists from Portland as they wandered by, ogling me in return.

While sitting there an older woman and her friend came up to me while looking over my backpack. I said hello and she informed me that she was meeting up with her grandson, Sunshine, at the Timberline Lodge. I told her I had hiked with him a little and she was excited to hear a few trail stories before eventually leaving me to my people watching.

Once back at Timberline Lodge I set up camp on the base of Mt Hood in a hidden copse of trees. The local park rangers, once hearing where the PCT hikers were camping, nervously said to not tell people about out spot. I thought this was funny with the lodge patrons not knowing there was a large group of PCT hikers, camping for free, only a few hundred feet up the mountain.

The entrance to Timberline Lodge

While getting cell reception I finally heard from Town, he was half a day behind and wanted to try and meet up with me at the Lodge. He had also not heard from Bolo since leaving Big Lake and the last he saw of Happy Feet was when he passed him camped out in the rainstorm. Looking forwards to having my trail friend catch up I headed back to the Timberline Lodge to charge up some electronics and to people watch.

It was a Saturday so there were tourists wandering around everywhere between the ski area and the historic lodge. There was also a wedding going on and I plopped myself down on a couch near an outlet and snagged myself a wine glass to partake in a wine tasting, which was almost certainly intended for wedding guests only.

The contrast between the extremely dirty looking PCT hikers and the other lodge patrons was fun to observe. We were wandering around the lodge intermingling with well dressed wedding guests and other tourists while we tried to not track to much dirt around and were aware of those downwind of.

While enjoying these interactions and people watching I ran into Sunshine and his grandmother. It was nice to say hello and she quickly invited me to join them for diner at the Timberline restaurant! I was taken aback by the kindness and allowing me to sit in at their table after they had made reservations. She said she was happy to do it as long as I promised to some day treat an elderly woman to a nice dinner when the opportunity arose. During dinner I was made all the more aware of my through hiker appearance sitting for dinner surrounded by the other fancy guests. The dinner was fantastic and it was great to chat with Sunshines grandmother who had traveled a decent amount as well.

After the dinner wrapped up I thanked her and made my way back to the PCT squatter camp just up the mountain, falling asleep to a full stomach and excited to have Town rejoin me in the morning. Town made it into the camp late at night and we caught up the following morning as Town enjoyed the famous Timberline Lodge breakfast buffet.

I finally got a phone call from Happy Feet and It took me a second to figure out where he was; he could hardly stop laughing to tell me where he was. It turned out that he was over a hundred miles south camping in the town of Sisters. He wanted to take a break from through hiking and to slow down to an easy pace but also wanted to meet up with Town and I in Portland. We made plans to meet up with him after he took public transit to catch up with us and I messaged Bolo to see where he was at too. Bolo was also planning on meeting up in Portland after he hiked there, most likely arriving several days after Town and I. Bolo let me know that after much thought he wanted to leave trail from Portland as well. With this new information Town and I agreed it was important to wait in Portland to send Bolo off properly.

With these new plans and realizing the trail family had dwindled to just Town and I, we set out from Timberline lodge looking forwards to Portland as a send off for both Happy Feet and Bolo. I was sad I wouldn’t hike with them any more on trail but I also knew we all needed to hike at our own paces and to come and go as needed.

I had also been hearing from Bunyon who was ahead of us up in Washington and she was very much enjoying hiking solo. She could stop whenever and wherever she wanted and practice ukulele to her hearts content. I was happy to hear she was enjoying this new challenge for herself and Town and I thought we may be able to catch up with her, but the chances were low. We would be staying in Portland for at least five days and we new she would inevitably get further ahead of us despite her more relaxed pace.

Leaving Timberline Lodge I excitedly told Town about the fun times we would have in Portland as we worked our way up and down the valleys around Mt Hood. I was also looking forwards to catching up with friends of mine in Portland who I hadn’t seen in years. It would be hard to say goodbye to my trail friends but I was extremely excited about seeing old ones.

Looking up at Mt Hood

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