We spent one glorious evening watching the red sun
slowly set over Crater Lake, hazy and mysterious.
Reaching “civilization” for the first time on the trail feels like what I imagine winning the lottery would.
Access to bathrooms, showers, laundry services, chips, beer, sandwiches, candy, ice cream, fresh fruit and coffee are things I’ll never take for granted again. Stepping into the camp store made me feel like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t wait to buy and consume everything I’d spent the last week and 100 miles dreaming about, things I’d never imagine eating in the real world (Moon pies and Doritos, anyone?). I parked myself on the picnic tables outside the camp store with dozens of other hikers for the majority of my time at Crater Lake. My appetite was finally starting to kick in, and I wanted to restore all the energy I’d lost eating like a bird the first week on the trail. We spent one glorious evening watching the red sun slowly set over Crater Lake, hazy and mysterious. I wouldn’t have traded those couple of days for anything; they taught me the importance of taking care of myself and listening to my body. Rested and recuperated, feet healed and belly full of chips and beer, I began to feel restless. I was ready to get back on the trail.
My first view of Mt. Thielsen coming out of Crater Lake immediately reminded me why I was on the trail: I love the mountains.
Their grandness, the challenges they present, each and every one with its own distinct personality. With more than a week of predominantly flat terrain behind me, I was ready for some elevation gain and the views that come along with it. Little did I realize that I still had another week of hiking the “green tunnel” before I would really hit mountainous territories. I was going it alone again, with a vague plan to re-connect with Angelina somewhere up ahead, and my mind was beginning to wander. After I’d thought the same thoughts for the one hundredth time (usually revolving around food I didn’t have but wanted, or the physical discomfort of my feet), I really started to regret not bringing music with me. The smartest hikers I’d met were downloading books and music at every available moment. The less experienced ones (mostly just me) were relying on our own thoughts to keep us company.
That’s why the joy I felt when I’d occasionally spot the small outline of another PCT’er in the distance came as no surprise. I was relying on these short encounters to keep me interested and to momentarily preoccupy my thoughts. What was their story? Why were they out here? Where did they come from?
I spent many happy minutes learning of the lives of others on the trail. We’d swap trail names and exchange tips regarding the trail lying ahead or behind. It brought me immense joy when still days later my thoughts would periodically return to one of my fellow hikers. Some of the most rewarding nights that month were spent around a campfire talking with strangers, re-living our most exciting moments with tales of the trail. Through others I learned of the hardships of the desert, the struggles navigating the deep snows of the High Sierras, the close encounters with bears or rattlesnakes in Northern California. We’d spend an evening getting to know each other and by morning they’d be gone, like a figment of my imagination. But I too had an important schedule to keep. I was heading for Sisters to spend a couple days with family friends, Dan and Mona, and I had milkshakes on my mind.
Despite my nagging need for real human food and a clean bed, the minute I fixed my eyes upon South Sister in the Three Sisters Wilderness, I found myself slowing to a snail’s pace. I was immediately mesmerized by the red and black swirling rock of the mountains, lightly dotted with ice fields. As I hiked further north, the wildflowers became abundant, stretching into colorful waves over meadows, growing thick along glacial streams, swaying ever so slightly in the wind. I had my camera at the ready as I followed the twisting trail, rounding corners and documenting every petal and every leaf I could find; I didn’t want to forget any of it. I felt as if I’d finally arrived. This was the scenery I had fantasized about time and time again as I prepared myself for the journey. I filtered water in alpine lakes kissed with snow, camped amongst the lupins and walked gently over the sparkling black rocks of the Obsidian Basin, shining like diamonds in the sun.
The landscape quickly became rigid beyond North Sister, turning barren and alien, sparsely dotted trees sticking out of the ground like skeletons on parade. The lava fields spread out like a dark shadow, with the Cascades lining up to the north. I was relieved to finally reach McKenzie Pass, where my ride waited to whisk me away for two days of serious R&R. The timing worked out perfectly: I watched the rain pummel the mountains for the next two days from the comforts of a cozy home, wrapped up in a blanket, beer in hand.
Although the inclement weather hadn’t run its course by the time I left Sisters, I was determined to return to the trail and find Angelina. One of the most visually dramatic parts of the Oregon PCT lie just ahead and we were eager to experience it.