Town and I worked our way around Mt Hood, zooming past many hikers doing the Timberline Trail. Backpacking season was in full swing and it felt veritably crowded since we were passing through the Timberline Lodge area on a Saturday.
The trail wound up and down following the contours of the volcano looming above us. We passed a beautiful waterfall and eventually snuck into one of the last good camp spots off of the trail. We were joined by Mugatu and Ranger Rick as we cooked dinner and chatted into the evening.
The next section was going to be passing by the Eagle Creek alternate that was closed indefinitely due to fire damage. When I was 5 years old I went on my first overnight backpacking trip with my mom and some of her friends here. I had been back a few times since then but It was hard to feel melancholy knowing what must have been lost to a fire started by recklessness.
Directly off of the trail we noticed tons of berries which distracted us whenever they were within easy reach. The trail followed a beautiful ridge line leading us to sweeping views of the gorge below with Pacific Northwest volcanoes poking up to the North and South. During one climb Town took the lead and led us on a rip roaring pace as we pushed hard to get ourselves within a reasonable distance from Cascade Locks.
We hiked for a couple hours into the dark and when we finally setup camp the wind was roaring up the hillside from the gorge below. The wind was making it hard to put up the tents and the trees sway at alarming angles high above us. We cursed the “wind hexe” as Weatherman taught us to do and hoped that none of the branches would fall down on us.
With a night of restless sleep we awoke to a calmer morning. We quickly pushed to a huge descent down towards the Gorge which would be the lowest elevation point on the whole PCT. In Cascade Locks we snagged some blackberries from the roadside and found the nearest coffee shop to stink up.
I was very excited to get into Portland and meet up with my friend Erin, who I hadn’t seen for several years! Her and Minh were being amazingly kind in allowing Town Happy Feet and I to stay for a couple days while we visited Portland. It was also her birthday that weekend so the timing was perfect to join them for a few beers on the town. Town was of course excited to live up to his namesake so we took the bus from Cascade Locks ready to get some non trail culture back in our system.
In Portland we quickly met up with Happy Feet who had taken a bus from Central Oregon. He was waiting at the Portland waterfront for us and he had been hanging out in the park enjoying the warm summer weather and watching the odd Portland crowd wander past.
During our stay in Portland I couldn’t have been more happy to meet up with Erin and reconnect with my old friend Andrew too. It is so nice to have great friends that you can reconnect with as if no time has passed at all.
Happy Feet and Town went to the Oregon Zoo where Happy Feet got a second toy penguin to attach to his pack along with one he found on the Appalachian Trail. We also explored the SE Portland area, to check out my old haunts from the time when I lived in Portland after university.
To please happy feet and introduce Town to a new sport we went to play some frisbee golf at one of the best rated frisbee golf courses in the area. It was a great time with Town loving the sport and me messing around with useless trick throws. Once we were back in the main city we all went to a pretentious cafe to knock that off of our Portland to do list as well.
While wandering around the popular food truck courts of downtown Portland we stumbled across an Egyptian food truck with some amazing smells wafting out. We chatted a bit with the people running it and when the owner started hearing stories of the Pacific Crest Trail he excitedly invited us to come back for lunch the next day and be treated to a free lunch on him. This example of Islamic hospitality in downtown Portland was such a nice cultural surprise and we happily took him up on it and told stories from the trail in exchange.
While our time in the city was fun we also felt the draw to continue on the trail. The people, traffic and the flow of life with most people in a Monday through Friday routine was in such contrast to our life on the PCT that I found myself dreaming once more about wandering through the woods and setting up my tent in silence under the stars.
As one of our last things to do in Portland we met up with Bolo, who was staying with other friends of his in the city. We went out for a fun night on the town to send him off properly and ended the night commiserating about our experiences on trail while eating greasy pizza at 3 in the morning. I was sad to see him go and it made the call of the trail all the stronger but also more melancholy.
When we finally left the city and headed back to Cascade Locks I was also sad about saying goodbye to Happy Feet. Up until this point Happy Feet had been my most consistent trail friend between the cold snowy days in the Sierras and hot hiking in Northern California, and knowing I would leave him behind so he could hike at a very slow and relaxed pace made me dig deep in finding my own personal reasons to continue hiking. Continueing on with Town was of course great but he was planning on leaving the trail early as well since he wanted to save the rest of Washington for a later date in warmer months.
Once in Cascade Locks I got a message from Bird who had finally caught up with us! She was also in cascade locks so I rushed off to find her and invite her to spend time with Town, Happy Feet and I so we could send Happy Feet off with a proper goodbye. Once we were all together we relaxed and wandered around Cascade Locks while reflecting on our time together and looking across the flowing waters at our next destination, Washington.
The following morning we all got up early and after talking with Bird she showed interest in joining us to not be hiking alone, as she had been for much of Northern California and all of Oregon. We were losing a Happy Feet penguin, but gaining a bird.
On the bridge of the gods we shared one last photo with Happy Feet in our group and got another with bird to symbolize a passing of the torch persay. We then continued on hiking northwards on the bridge as Happy Feet turned back to return to our camp spot and wait till the proper time for himself to set out.
The Columbia River Gorge is the lowest point on the PCT and we had a large climb to get up and out. The vegetation on the Washington side seemed even more green and lush and we stopped two miles from our original goal because we found the most idyllic stream to camp by and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. We were setting new standard for ourselves by prioritizing wonderful relaxing moments and spots over covering miles and pushing hard. We all felt like the trail was coming to a close since we had started Washington. We had begun reading the final chapter in our “Pacific Crest Trail” book and in a way none of us wanted it to end.
While we were goofing off and making jokes while camped next to the stream a south bounder stumbled by and impulsively joined us for the night. Her name was Dusty and she had been hiking alone for days. Welcoming her new company we all appreciated the fact that we had each other and that the trail family was an important factor in the PCT experience.
The following day we continued onward with the climb. The ridge lines allowed us to look out over the Washington volcanoes to the north and views of Mt Hood showed us where we had come from only a few days before.
We camped on a ridge line and woke up to an amazing view of the gorge filled with clouds flowing up stream like a reverse river, with Mt Hood poking up on the other side. The photos didn’t do it justice but we spent a long time wandering around and enjoying the spectacle.
While heading further north we could see Mt Adams growing hour by hour as we got closer. We started doing silly trail games as well with Bird to keep it interesting and after one strange game of improvisational story telling we stumbled across a beautiful lake to camp at. We spent the evening taking a quick dip in the cold water and relaxing by a fire with the large moon rising above us. Our new pace in Washington was showing us many opportunities to relax and soak in the ever so finite trail life.
The following day we continued onward toward the exit point for our next resupply at Trout Lake. The hiking was mostly near lumber roads and the grey skies helped us to focus on covering ground. At the road we had to road walk to a point where we could get cell reception and call a trail angel for a ride, it was too quiet to consistently hitch. From our waiting spot we had a wonderful view of Mt Adams, the next volcano our trail would scoot around, but we were saving that for after Trout Lake.
The trail angel that picked us up was an extremely nice local and we enjoyed talking with him about the many years him and his family had lived in the area. Once in trout lake we were dropped off by the general store where we could set up our tents. While putting up our camp we noticed that someone had the exact same tent as Happy Feet and we commiserated about how we missed his company already, only a few days after having said goodbye.
While getting dinner at the diner down the street we chatted a little with a couple who were in town for the hope of a big-foot sighting and they also told us about their tours around the U.S. to try and find sightings of U.F.0s… Having no sightings to relay to them we went back to our camp spot and as we were standing in the camp ground Happy Feet magically appeared! It was awesome to see him again and it had been his tent sitting next to ours. He had hitched into Trout Lake from an earlier road so was still 50 miles behind us by trail miles. We were all excited to see him and chatted into the evening about his hope to summit Mt Adams and listening to other trail stories from the other pct hikers.
The next day we prepared to head back to the PCT and ran around doing errands and gathering supplies to hold us over to the next town of Packwood. This next section would go past Goat Rocks which was an area I had been wanting to see for many years and we hoped that the weather would hold for us.
With a true and final goodbye to Happy Feet we wished him luck in his attempt to summit Mt Adams and Town, Bird and I headed back to trail. While standing on the side of the road and trying to hitch hike the sky opened up and rain began to poor. The seasons were changing and our cool summer was transitioning to an early and wet fall. With over 400 more miles to go we were not sure about how much good weather we had left to enjoy.