Lava Rock and Banana Bread: PCT Days 107-111 - The Trek

2022-09-24 06:42:23 By : Ms. YC Zheng

In the morning, I’m sitting in my tent eating a poptart, still swaddled in my sleeping bag. I have the mesh door open so that any crumbs fall onto the ground in the vestibule rather than into the tent itself. Barely awake, I have no idea that I’m a perfect target.

This is how Peach finds me. The 9-month-old Golden Retriever pup appears beneath my tent flap, sticks her face and front paws into my tent, and snatches a bite of the poptart.

Moments later, Peach’s owner appears and drags the dog back. “Sorry about that!” she says. She’s a former PCT and CDT thru-hiker who traveled to Crater Lake to offer trail magic yesterday. That’s when I met both her and the sweet but mischievous Peach. They both spent the night here at Shelter Cove.

I realize that she is packing up and recall that she has a car. “Hey, do you mind giving us a ride to the trailhead?” I ask, figuring it’s the least she could do after her dog ambushed my breakfast. She agrees, so I tell Rolls and we hastily break camp. We squeeze into her car with Undecided and Cloud Whisperer, saving us nearly two miles of uphill road walking to where the trail crosses the highway at the north end of the Windigo closure.

The trail is cruisy, and we’re aiming for a big day. The Cedar Creek Fire is nearby to the west. The PCTA reported heavy smoke and an additional possible closure, and we want to get ahead of the affected area.

We’re lucky, though. We hike a full thirty miles under clear blue skies. If I hadn’t read about it, I would never have known the Cedar Creek Fire existed.

When you hear people talk about the Oregon section of the PCT, it’s usually about “making up time.” Whether it’s because of a late start date, challenging conditions in the Sierra, or a habit of taking too many zeroes in the town vortex, most hikers feel compelled to pick up the pace here. The trail in Oregon is also relatively flat and smooth, making it an ideal section for daily marathons or even 30+ mile days.

What people don’t mention is that Oregon is really cool. Yes, the trail is easier, so you’re hiking big days and maybe feeling a bit burnt out. But it’s not boring.

Today, we hike through the Three Sisters Wilderness. After a few days of dense forest, the trail crosses broad meadows in the shadow of the Sisters, these massive volcanic mountains. Their slopes are still dotted with patches of snow.

I remember thinking that the desert was an underrated section of trail, and I felt the same way about NorCal (before it all caught on fire, at least). Now, here I am, again. I think Oregon is underrated.

Today is the rainiest day I’ve experienced on the PCT so far. A thunderstorm rolls in right as we reach Obsidian Falls. Instead of proceeding up the exposed meadow, we shelter near the falls. As I sit under my umbrella, waiting for the heavy rain to pass, I notice all the shards of obsidian dotting the ground. It’s everywhere.

Later, we cross a lava field and then reach a trailhead, where a couple is offering some trail magic. I sit and chat with them, eating snacks while I wait for my tent to dry in the sun. Rolls, Cloud Whisperer, and Undecided arrive. Soon, the sky clouds over again, so we pack our bags and hurry up the trail, hoping to cross the next lava field before another storm arrives.

We don’t make it. We’re in the middle of the wide exposed field when thunder rumbles and the rain begins. It’s light at first, and I don’t stop to put on my jacket. Then the downpour gets stronger. I open my umbrella and keep hiking while the rain falls in diagonal sheets. Around my feet, I see small hailstones bouncing off the lava rock.

As we near the edge of the lava fields, the storm subsides. It’s just early enough that we are able to warm up in the late afternoon sun. The wind picks up in the evening. By the time I pitch my tent, my clothes are mostly dry.

In the morning, I wake up early. I’m aiming for the Big Lake Youth Camp, where thru-hikers are welcome to eat breakfast with the camp staff.

At the camp, I find Shepherd and Viking, who arrived last night. The camp is incredibly generous to PCT hikers, providing a clean, indoor space to rest, charge devices, shower, do laundry, and send resupply packages. It’s all donation based. We’re heading into Bend today, so we’re not in need of most of these services, but thru-hikers never turn down a hot meal.

Today, the breakfast is biscuits and gravy, accompanied by fruit, hash browns, eggs, and cereal. It’s fun to watch all the international hikers tentatively spoon the unfamiliar white sludge onto their crumbly biscuits. To be fair, it’s not the most aesthetically appealing example of American cuisine, but even the most dubious hikers end up with clean plates.

After breakfast, we stop by the camp office to thank the administrators and drop off our donations. Then, we keep hiking. The trail is mostly flat. It criss-crosses with numerous snowmobile trails, easily identified as such because the trail markers are ten feet up on the trees. In the winter, the snow pack in this forest must be deep.

We pose for photos at the 2000-mile marker and then hitch into Bend. Like our ride to Shelter Cove, the driver initially offers to drive us just to Sisters, but then changes her mind and takes us all the way to our destination, well out of her way.

We buy a huge grocery haul in town and then catch an Uber to our Airbnb. The home has a large kitchen. I bake banana bread with blueberries and chocolate chips, and Cloud Whisperer and Undecided make tortellini for dinner.

I go to sleep feeling tired and content.

We have a wonderful zero. Rolls makes a breakfast of avocado toast and eggs and I warm up some banana bread. At midday, we Uber back into town to meet Smiley and Royce, who successfully completed their road walk around the Windigo closure and finished the Three Sisters Wilderness a day behind us. We resupply at the grocery store for the final stretch of Oregon and then return to the AirBnb.

I am a bit stressed out in the afternoon from trying to find a way around the Lionshead fire closure. This isn’t an active fire, but the trail has been closed for two years awaiting repairs from earlier fire damage. Trail crews are reportedly almost done.

Even though the closure itself is only 21 miles, it’s in one of the most remote forests in the state. With USFS road closures to the west and the Warm Springs Reservation to the east, it’s five hours by car to go the full distance around, with a high clearance vehicle required. A few local trail angels offer shuttles around, but their vehicles fill up far in advance and the rates are (understandably) high. Most hikers deal with it by hitching or shuttling instead to Timothy Lake or Frog Lake, skipping 60-100 miles of trail.

Rolls, Royce, Cloud Whisperer, Undecided, and Smiley are all walking a 60-mile road alternate that involves crossing briefly into the closure (FarOut comments cite rangers giving permission for this 3-mile entry to reach a side trail), road walking, and a bit of bushwhacking. I respect their desire for continuous footsteps, but my goal for my thru-hike was always to hike as much of the PCT itself as I can. While I don’t want to skip 60-100 miles, I certainly don’t feel compelled to road walk and bushwhack around. Anyway, I’m supposed to meet my friend Alisha in Cascade Locks. We’ll be taking two zeros for PCT Days and then hiking together afterward. Alisha is a strong hiker, but we won’t be doing marathons every day, and if I don’t get a head start now, I fear my friends will leave me in the dust next week.

After calling and texting several trail angels listed on the Facebook page, I receive a response. Krysta, a trail angel who lives on the Rez, offers a ride from Warm Springs to Olallie Lake, the remote north end of the closure. I’m still missing the 20 miles of open trail between Santiam Pass and Pamelia Lake, but this way I can hike all the miles north of the closure instead of skipping up to the next highway crossing.

I have big plans for those miles, too. Since I’ll be on my own for a few days anyway, this strikes me as the perfect opportunity to attempt the 24-Hour Challenge.

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Sibley "Possibly" Brown. Itinerant teacher, thru-hiker, and wilderness guide. AT NOBO 2018. PCT NOBO 2022?

Great description of biscuits and gravy AND the clean plate!