The Jefferson Wilderness is just north of Santiam Pass, with a burn area that stretches for miles and has an eerie quality to it. The stark white trees stand tall and sterile against the sky, bright green and yellow vegetation growing abundantly from the earth as the forest slowly grows again, returning to its natural state.
We made camp early that day at Koko Lake just beyond Three Fingered Jack. The skies had blackened and rain eagerly washed over us as we climbed into bed, warming ourselves with a pot of marshmallow-topped hot chocolate I’d received in the mail a day prior. Calories consumed and rain dissipating, I poked my head out of my tent to witness the fog hanging thick like a veil over the small pond nearby. The morning brought clearer skies and a dramatic sunrise, but the fog lingered still.
Although our belongings remained wet, as they often were, we excitedly packed up and headed away from Three Fingered Jack toward famous Mt. Jefferson. The temperatures remained frigid for much of the morning while the clouds lingered over the tops of the mountains, never completely unveiling themselves at any point during the day.
Any time a hint of sun would show, we’d whip our soggy tents out and tie them to the trees where they’d flap violently in the wind. We’d snack patiently while taking in the view, hoping for enough heat to dry them out. It makes for a slow day on the trail, but the reward is the priceless comfort of crawling into a dry tent at night. We camped that evening next to a lake at the base of Mt. Jefferson, just a few miles short of Jefferson Park.
After washing up in the warm waters of the lake while taking in a breathtaking sunset, we climbed into our tents and collaboratively made the best trail dessert I’ve ever had. Angelina purchased a package of instant chocolate pudding from the camp store and I had about 6 Chips Ahoy! cookies. As she heated the pudding, adding dehydrated whole milk, I crumbled the cookies and stirred them into the pot. It was thick, it was chocolatey. It was decadent, by our standards. We licked the pot clean.
The next day I was feeling pretty beat down. My energy was low and I knew the trail was going to present some difficulties. With more elevation gain/loss in one day than I’d experienced so far, and a rocky, uneven trail at that, I foresaw the struggle I was about to face. I told Angelina to forge ahead with a plan to meet up later at Odell Lake. The first few strenuous miles were soon rewarded when I entered Jefferson Park.
The views were so spectacular that I couldn’t believe I’d gone my entire life without going there before. I stopped to glance over my shoulder at that stunning towering mountain every chance I could get, to see its reflection in lakes and ponds.
I marveled at the Boy Scouts lined up and following their leader, walking sticks at the ready. I noticed the married couples with their giant tents, hammocks strung up between trees. People were lounging in lawn chairs while children and dogs ran through streams and skipped rocks across lake surfaces. It was a happy scene and one I hadn’t expected.
Unfortunately, the smiles and good vibes faded as the trail became increasingly more demanding. As the elevation gain increased and the sun beat down over me, my temper began to shorten and the anguish I’d felt on the trail finally just exploded out of me. I cannot specifically recall all of the nonsense I was muttering under my breath as I delicately climbed over those rocks, my ankles rolling, my toes occasionally catching. But I do remember repeating (quite loudly in fact) “I QUIT I QUIT I QUIT,” as tears streamed down my face. I hiked out of Jefferson Park exhausted and ready to give up. But with an instant view of a tiny Mt. Hood in the distance, I felt recharged, my goal of finishing at the forefront of my mind.
With just a week left on the trail, I knew I should keep going. I never managed to catch up with Angelina after that slow day on the trail. I was left to finish the trail alone.
The following few days were a bit of a blur as Mt. Hood grew larger and larger in my view. I met and chatted with many PCT hikers. I camped alongside new friends, shared slogs of whiskey and felt the pull of home. On the day I was to reach my favorite mountain, I awakened to a serene and fog-filled forest. The moss and leaves glittered in the damp air. I started to feel the comforts of familiarity in the Mt. Hood National Forest, having spent so much time there in the last several years. The red hues of the dirt, the tall pines, the glowing greens of the moss all felt like a welcoming hug. I was so close to Mt. Hood that I could see it rising ominously above the low-lying fog, waiting for me just ahead.
Editor’s note: This is part three in a four-part series about Brooke’s journey on the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 2014. Read part one, two, four or check out these ideas for exploring the Pacific Crest Trail for yourself.