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Date: August 25, 2017
Miles: 31.2 miles (50.2km), from Thielsen Creek to Windigo Pass and from there along the Oregon Skyline Trail alternate to Crescent Lake.
Health: Feeling good.
We wake up early to try to get most of the 22 mile (35.4km) dry section done before it gets hot. Everyone else was up except for Topo. I go over to see if I can wake him up. As he doesn’t wake up I write him a note to let him know what our plan for the day is. Just as I’m about to leave the note he wakes up and we have a short chat.
We walk back to the creek to get water for the dry section. I camel up a bit and then fill up 2.75 liters, my full water capacity. I wasn’t expecting Oregon to be this dry so I got rid of my extra water bottles.
The creek with Mt. Thielsen in the background.
We’re hiking before 6 am and the trail is soft and easy, just like yesterday. The air is nice and cool — we make easy miles. On the way, we meet a few southbounders and hear there’s still plenty of water left at Windigo Pass — our next water source.
I nicknamed this mountain “Dick’s pass”.
After a few hours, we reach the highest point of the PCT in Oregon and Washington. At 7560 feet (2,304m) it doesn’t feel that high. The fact that the point is also on a small hill doesn’t help. We take a quick snack break and then keep on hiking.
At the highest point of the PCT in Oregon and Washington.
Even if the trail isn’t anything special today, the mood is high. Sam and the girls are getting along well and having more people around makes the time fly faster.
At one point Topo catches up to us. With all the talking and taking breaks, our pace has been a little slower than usual.
LL stopping to enjoy the views.
While hiking along a ridgeline I find some cell reception and make a call to Finland to discuss some work related stuff. I still don’t have any idea what I want to do after the trail when I get back home, but it’s time to start figuring something out.
I spend over an hour on the phone and once I’m finished, start hiking again. I hike for less than a minute to find everyone else having a lunch break not far from where I sitting talking on the phone. They are already finishing up so I take out some snacks and hike out with the others.
At times the light in the forest was beautiful.
The trail is easy and I soon reach Windigo Pass with over a liter of water left. That was an easy dry section. There’s a well-stocked water cache at the pass and once everyone arrives, we stop for a second lunch.
I’ve read comments and recommendations about an alternate called Oregon Skyline Trail (OST) from Windigo Pass. The alternate cuts about 7 miles (11.2km) loop off from PCT and is supposed to be nice. While I feel like seeing something new, others want to stick to the PCT. We agree to meet up at Shelter Cove Resort the next day.
While the others continue straight on the PCT, I take a right from the pass and soon find the OST. After a short dirt road, the trail heads back into the forest and is pretty easy to follow. This is great since I don’t have a map for this trail and I’m following directions on an app called Halfmile. The app tells you when and where to turn, and whether you’re on or off the trail.
While I’ve been hiking alone a lot on the PCT, it never felt like I was actually alone. The PCT is so well traveled that if I’d sit down, someone would surely come up soon. The OST feels much less traveled and I don’t see any hikers at all. It feels kind of nice to really be alone on the trail.
Someone left a message on the trail.
At one point I have to stop to get some of the volcanic sand out of my shoes and socks. The volcanic sand gets everywhere and is really hard on your feet. I add some Leukotape to my feet and keep hiking.
I come to a fork on the trail and as the app doesn’t mention this I hesitate for a moment. The path to the right looks more worn out and it would make sense that would be the OST. I head to the right but keep my eye on the Halfmile app to see if I’ve left the trail. After about 500 feet (150m) the app says I’m off-trail. I walk back to the fork and head left. I keep checking the app every few minutes but it says I’m on the trail so I’m happy.
Oregon Skyline Trail alternate.
I soon make it to Crescent Lake where I had planned to camp and I’m almost done with the OST alternate. From here on it’ll be a short walk to Shelter Cove and I’ll be there early next morning way before the others. I made good time on the easy trail.
As I don’t have a map, and there are no signs, I can’t find the campsite mentioned in the trail notes. After walking around on a small forest road I find some people camping with a big horse trailer. I walk over to ask for directions.
The people seem surprised to see me and before I get directions they offer me food and cold beverages. It’s really hard to say no and I soon find myself sitting on a lawn chair with an ice cold beer and a nice big burger. We talk about the trail and they tell me about the horses and all the work they do here. Before I notice it’s getting dark and I have to find a place to sleep.
Nothing better than an ice cold beer after a hot day on the trail.
I apologize for having to leave so early and start heading out to find a spot for the night. Before I leave they fill up my water bottles and hand me one more cold beer for the night. I thank them for all their hospitality and then head on.
I find a nice camp spot close by and set up my shelter. I drink the ice cold beer while laying in my sleeping bag, all nice and warm with my tummy full of burger. This was a lovely surprise.
Date: August 24, 2017
Miles: 26.1 miles (42km), from Crater Lake Cafe to Thielsen Creek at mile 1,853.6.
Health: Happy and well rested.
We all wake up early, well before the sunrise. It’s still dark and cold outside and I decide to put the tourist center's facilities to good use. When I'm done with the morning chores I quickly walk to the rim to see if the sun has already started to rise. I don’t see much in the dark but what I can see is smoke. Lots of it.
The Crater Lake visitor center in early morning light.
I get back to our camp and we all get ready to move. As the sun is starting to rise we all make our way to the rim of the crater. Instead of a gorgeous sunrise, we see a grey, smoke-filled view with a lake somewhere down below. We don't see the crater nor the lake. This was hardly worth waking up this early.
We eat breakfast on the rim, watch the sun rise above all the smoke and try to catch even a small glimpse of the lake. While not what we hoped for, the yellow sunrise created by all the smoke is still pretty unique.
The author trying to locate the lake in Crater Lake.
As the part of the PCT around Crater Lake is closed due to an active fire, we have to take a detour along the West Rim Trail. This is not an issue as most hikers opt for the more picturesque West Rim Trail as it follows along the rim of the crater.
Sunrise over Crater Lake.
We start walking as we see first of the tourists slowly arriving. The soft sand, constant up and down, and not seeing anything due to the smoke gets tiresome after a while and we decide to switch the trail to the Rim Road. It’s much faster and easier to walk on a road than on the soft sand of the trail.
While the road is easier and faster to walk on, it’s also more monotonous and boring as there’s not much to see. At least the temperature is nice and having more company makes time fly by faster. We tell jokes, sing songs, and generally, just goof around.
Early morning road walk along the Rim Road.
At times the smoke gets so bad that we have to use wet bandanas to cover our faces. The girls have been smart and they’ve bought proper face masks for the smoke. I’m not sure if they actually work, but at least they're easier to breathe with.
We stop at one of the scenic spots along the road and finally see the lake. After a short road walk, we finally reach the spot where the West Rim road crosses with the PCT. This is also the spot where the PCT fire closure ends and we can get back on the trail.
Sam wanted to stand on snow in every state along the PCT.
Indigo and her face mask.
From here on out the PCT is pretty flat and easy to walk on. The trail goes on in a straight line with almost no elevation change and no turns. While this makes for easy hiking, it’s also pretty boring as there are no views. Still better than walking on the road.
We all switch to cruising mode and I’m soon walking alone. Miles go by fast on a trail like this and soon it's time for lunch. We all gather to the side of the trail and soon we have a large party as more hikers stop next to us as well. After lunch, we quickly do the rest of the miles to reach Highway 138. This is the spot where Blis’s wife Meg cached all the water for us yesterday.
Entering Mt. Thielsen Wilderness.
Water cache before a dry section.
Right as we cross the highway a car drives up and stops next to the road. A guy hops out and starts carrying boxes of Gatorade, water, and all kinds of candy to a cache nearby. We all go out to help him and have a nice talk with him. He’s from a group of people who maintain this cache and just happened to arrive at the same time as we did.
Topo cruising on the flat part of the trail.
We drink some cold Gatorade and eat some candy. As we all still have plenty of water left, we leave our gallons of water for the next hikers to enjoy. It’s so dry up here that someone is going to find some use for it at some point.
After the highway, the forest turns greener and the trail softer. With a little bit of up and down the trail comes more enjoyable to walk. I’m really enjoying this kind of hiking.
At one point I catch up to Topo while he’s having a break and enjoying the views of Mt Thielsen. I stop for a while to take in the views as well and then push on. The trail follows along the side of the mountain and the views are gorgeous. This part of the trail feels like a highway. It’s well maintained, easy to walk on, and you don't have to look where you step or where you’re going.
Mt. Thielsen from the trail.
Soon I arrive on a small creek. This is the last water source before a 22 mile (35.4 km) long waterless section. It’s still early enough to do another 5-7 miles (8-11 km) but that would mean having to carry water for both, dry camping and the rest of the dry section tomorrow.
LL coming down the trail.
I see LL coming down the switchbacks and soon Sam and Indigo arrive as well. After a short strategy session, we all agree that it’s better to stay here, close to the water, and to deal with the waterless section in one go tomorrow.
Indigo, Sam, and LL getting some water before heading to camp.
There was a nice big camp spot some way back up on the trail. We fill our bottles from the creek, walk back up the trail, and start settling in for the night. Topo arrives soon as well and he agrees with the plan. As it’s still early we spend the rest of the evening eating, telling jokes and basically having a good time.
We make a plan to get up early to beat the heat and get as much of the dry section done before it gets hot. We all drop one by one and everyone’s sleeping well before hiker midnight. I stay up a little longer transferring photos to my phone and writing blog posts. Today was a good day!
Date: August 23, 2017
Miles: No trail miles.
Health: Frustrated but healthy.
I wake up to the sound of a truck driving by. I slept pretty well considering how close to the road we camped. We slowly pack our backpacks, take out some bars for breakfast and move to the side of the road. It’s still early and there’s not much traffic so we are in no hurry.
We figure out which way we need to hitch, set our packs down so that they are visible to the passing cars, and then throw out our thumbs. There’s not much traffic going by so we spend most of the time talking and taking photos.
Our campsite for the night.
None of the cars going our way are stopping. It’s still pretty early in the morning and two dirty guys standing next to small dirt road aren’t exactly screaming “pick us up”. We’re too far from the PCT for anyone driving by to know why we are here so our chances of getting a ride are pretty slim.
As we have no luck with hitching, we decide to walk. It would take us roughly two days to walk along the roads to Crater Lake so getting a ride would be a real blessing.
We walk along the road and dodge the oncoming traffic as there’s not much of a shoulder to walk on. Whenever there’s a car going our way we put our thumbs up but get no takers. We’re dirty and covered in dust, surrounded by fields of cows. I don’t see anyone picking us up any time soon.
After a couple of hours of walking, we stop at a small crossing and put our packs down. Finally, after 3 hours of trying to get a ride, a German couple turns around after passing us once and picks us up. They are on a US road trip and decided to take pity on us after passing us by. They happen to be going to Crater Lake too, so we’re going in the same direction. We thank them immensely for the ride and sigh in relief not having to spend the two days road walking.
Waiting for a car to pass.
After a few hours drive, we get dropped off at Mazama Village, which is right below Crater Lake. We thank the couple for the ride and as they head up towards the lake, we stay down at the village to take care of our resupplies.
Before getting our resupply packages we hit the restaurant and order some burgers. While we wait for our food to arrive we find a place to recharge our electronics. My new charger is extremely slow. It’s actually so slow that it would take forever to fill up my battery bank so I have to order a better one soon.
See that path of wildfires? That’s basically Oregon portion of the PCT.
After finishing our burgers we’re both still hungry so we order pizzas as well. One of the great things about hiker hunger is that you’re like a bottomless eating machine. How often can you finish two meals on one go and feel good about it?
While eating we see two familiar hikers – Indigo and LL. The last time I saw them was in Sonora Pass and it’s so great to see them again. It’s funny because Sam has heard me tell all these stories about them, but he’s actually never met the girls in person.
While we’re catching up on all the stories since we last met we see another familiar figure enter the restaurant. It’s Topo! I can’t remember the last time I saw him. It’s like a big get together and I couldn’t be happier!
Organizing our resupply boxes.
Indigo sorting through her resupply.
After everyone has eaten we head back outside and go pick our resupply packages from the post office out back. For the next few hours, we hang around, sorting out our resupplies, and catching up. Soon Happy Feet, Blis, and Blis’s wife Meg join us too. The party keeps getting better and better.
Blis’s wife Meg is driving further north to cache some water for us for a long dry section of the trail. Happy Feet is going along with her as he’s skipping north to the Oregon–Washington border to get ahead of all the fires. This makes a lot of sense as we’re all getting really tired of hiking in the smoke day in, day out. Not only does it make hiking boring, but we’re also all getting worried about the health factors of breathing all the smoke for long periods of time.
Evening hike up to Crater Lake.
After all the logistics are done, it’s time to continue with the hike. Our plan for today is to hike the short hike up to the crater so that we can watch the sunrise on the rim tomorrow morning. Slowly we get our gear together and head back on the trail.
Sleeping close enough to LL to hear her Thermarest every time she moves.
We climb the trail up to the rim and find a nice camp spot 0.2 miles from the lake. We get to the camp just as it gets dark and set up our shelters on soft ground. We’re so close to the crater that we can use all the facilities at the tourist center close by. Running water and real toilets – luxury!
Our camp is filled with laughter, jokes, and stories. It's so great to be hiking with a big group of friends again!
Date: August 22, 2017
Miles: 19.3 miles (31.1km) + 1.7 non-PCT miles (2.7km), from mile 1,782,4 to Sevenmile Trail Junction at mile 1,801.7.
Health: Feeling better but still need more sleep.
It’s a slow morning. We fill our water bottles up to full capacity as we’re heading into a long waterless section. Before the hike, I had this image that once we reach Oregon it would be all rainforests and waterfalls but somehow it feels more like the desert. It’s hot and dry with long waterless sections and we’ve had to start keeping a close eye on our next water sources – something we haven’t had to do in a long time.
Christi’s Spring – our morning water source.
We walk through big burn areas and the scenery is pretty miserable. The overhanging smoke and smell of fire are everywhere. I feel like the entire PCT section of Oregon has either just burned down, or is currently on fire. With the massive fires this year, I wonder how much of unburned trail is there going to be left in few years. Feels sad to walk through all these parts thinking this was probably a really pretty forest before it burned down.
Walking through many burn areas.
At one point I catch up to Sam as he’s sitting right on the trail, using the small spot with cell signal, to take care of some personal things. I walk a little further up and sit down to do the same. I check and reply to some comments and messages and check the trail conditions ahead. We can’t walk far today as the trail has been closed not far from where we are due to a new fire which started yesterday.
As we have no rush we walk on for a bit until we reach water and then take a long lunch break by the creek. Our mood is a bit down as we have to skip miles again and finding a way around the new closure is going to be another extra headache.
Keeping connected while on the trail.
Easy cruising along mountain-sides.
After lunch, the trail is pretty easy and we cruise down fast. I reach the 1800 mile marker and decide to wait for Sam to catch up. In a few minutes he comes by and we walk the last 1.7 miles to the trail closure. From there it’s another 1.7 miles to the Sevenmiles trailhead to get off the trail.
We get to the trailhead early and try to make some sense of the complicated instructions on how to get off the mountain. As there are few cars at the trailhead, instead of trying to walk the 10-mile road walk along a dirt road, we decide to do the next best thing: sit down and wait.
As we wait a car drives up with two guys inside, looking like they’re about to go hiking. We instantly strike up a conversation, hoping to somehow yogi a ride back down. As they realize they might not make it far with the trail closure, they start to think of a plan b. For over two hours we stay close to them and keep a conversation going, hoping they’d decide to turn around and we’d get a ride along with them.
Finally, right before dark, they decide to head back and we get a ride with them. While driving down we’re happy we got the ride as there are several intersections and getting lost would’ve been a real possibility. Also, it would’ve been a pretty boring and long walk.
Once we reach the highway they drop us off and we thank them for the ride. Sadly it’s already dark and too late to hitch. With a quick scoping of our surroundings, we realize our only option is to sleep on the small patch of semi even ground right next to the highway. The patch is barely wide enough for our shelters.
Waiting for someone to pick us up.
Just as we’re getting our shelters up it starts to rain. While my shelter is not fully setup I dash in to take cover from the rain. Soon the wind picks up and I have to go outside in the dark and rain to properly stake down my shelter. Just as I get everything tight the wind really picks up and a thunderstorm swoops over us.
The lightning lights the sky around us and we can see every strike through our shelter walls. We’re happy to be down from the mountain but can’t help but to think if the thunder is going to cause more fires. I soon fall asleep with the sound of thunder and trucks going by every few minutes. Not my favorite camp spot along the PCT.
Date: August 21, 2017
Miles: 29.7 miles (47.8km), from mile 1,752.8 to Christi's Spring at mile 1,782.4.
Health: Need more sleep.
It’s cold when we wake up in the morning and we have to wear our jackets. No-one else is up yet which is strange as everyone was already sleeping when we got here early last night. We fill our bottles from the water source, find our way back to the trail and start walking.
Our morning water source.
The trail goes through a forest and stays cool until the sun comes up and the temperature starts rising again. In the middle of our conversation, Sam suddenly curses out loud – his backpack has failed yet again. It’s the load lifters. Again. We stop to the side of the trail so Sam can fix his pack. This is something that happens every few days. If it’s not the load lifters, it’s the frame, or hip belt, or something else. Definitely not a good advertisement for Zpacks.
Morning walk through the woods.
While Sam is fixing his pack I head off little further from the trail to take care of some paper business. While digging a hole I notice we’re right next to a forest road. Looking at the map I see the trail wiggles along the road for a long time, basically going right next to it. As the trail is rather boring and slow, we decide to walk on the straight forest road. This way we don’t have to do all the unnecessary loops and wiggles the trail does. The road is also easier to walk on than the narrow trail, allowing us to walk side by side, making talking to each other easier.
Today is kind of a special day as there’s a total solar eclipse happening in a few hours. While the path of the total eclipse is over a hundred miles north, we’re still pretty close to the path. The issue is, we’re currently in a thick forest with barely any view of the sky. Not wanting to miss the eclipse we start hauling ass hoping to either find an open area or reach the next highway hoping to have a view of the eclipse.
With no open areas with a good view of the sky, we make it to the road with only minutes to spare. We take out the eclipse glasses we got a few days earlier and sit next to the road waiting.
As nothing happens I decide to use the time to eat. All of a sudden we notice it’s really quiet and the air gets chillier. Looking around it’s also getting darker – the eclipse has started!
We get back on the road with our glasses and marvel at the sight. We’ve heard the news that the areas on the path of the total eclipse are overcrowded and full of people. We have the entire road to ourselves and there’s not a soul in sight. It’s actually strangely silent as there are no cars on the road and even the birds have gone silent.
Info about the trail closures ahead.
Once the eclipse is over we get back on the trail. There’s a news flyer telling about the fires around Crater Lake and the surrounding areas. It seems most of the PCT in Oregon is on fire and we might not be able to make it all the way to Crater Lake due to trail closure.
Filtering water from a cache for a dry section.
After some time in the forest, we get out and the trail transforms into volcanic rock. While not as bad as what Oregon has coming up, it’s still bad enough and really hurts to walk on. And as we’re not in the shade of the forest anymore, the temperature rises again. I have to stop to recover and get some electrolytes.
I’m not feeling this part at all. At one point I accidentally kick a stick between my feet and the stick rips through my shoe and punches straight to the bones on the side of my feet. I feel like I’m completely done. I’m tired, I’m hot, my shoe’s torn up, my feet hurt, and the trail feels like it’s winning. Being alone in the middle of all this volcanic rock that hurts my feet is the icing on the cake. I have a small meltdown.
Finally, the volcanic rock ends and I reach a road and find Sam sitting in the trees next to a stream on the other side. I curse and vent for a while and Sam just laughs at me. The trail breaks us all at different times, and in different ways, and having someone there to laugh at you and to remind you that it’s going to be okay is crucial.
After steaming for a little while and getting all the frustration out of my system I sit down and have lunch. I’m feeling better already.
While eating I notice Sam’s feet are looking pretty bad. Mine are just dirty but his feet are pretty torn up. I investigate the damage from the stick and it seems the only damage is the gaping hole on the side of my shoe and a little soreness around the point of impact.
We soon get up and get some water from the stream before getting back on the trail. The rest of the day we follow the trail in a forest with not much to see – it’s like walking in a green tunnel. We make it to camp just after dark and set up camp. It’s getting dark earlier and earlier each day and I can’t help but to think of the approaching winter and how far we still have to walk to reach the Canadian border.
Date: August 20, 2017
Miles: 27.1 miles (43.6km), from mile 1,725.6 to mile 1,752.8.
Health: Tired, both mentally and physically.
We wake up early and get back on the trail. Sam speeds ahead as I stay a little back – I’m always super slow in the morning. Judging by the heat this early in the morning it’s going to be another hot day.
After a few miles, I reach a trailhead with a few cars and what every hiker wants to see early in the morning: a toilet. I drop my pack and take advantage of the pit toilets. Sitting on a toilet beats digging holes in the woods any day.
What I didn’t take into consideration was that the closed pit toilet heats up really quick in the morning sun. I soon have to rush out to get fresh air as the inside of the toilet turns into an oven with the scent of poop. I sign the trail register at the trailhead, shoulder my pack and start walking again. Feeling little lighter after the quick “pit stop”.
Better than digging holes in the woods.
The scenery doesn’t look anything like I thought Oregon would look like. Instead of green, everything looks burned yellow. I feel like I’m back in the desert hills again.
The trail goes in and out of forests, climbs small sunburned hills, and dips back into a forest. The monotonous scenery is made worse by the ever-present smoke that blocks the visibility further than few hills ahead and I’m having a hard time staying motivated.
Smoke and sun burned hills.
Around midday, I find a small lake with a dam and decide to take a lunch break in the shade of some trees next to a stream. Sam soon arrives there as well, I must have passed him at some point. We eat lunch and talk with the few fellow hikers who stop to get water from the small stream coming from the dam.
The dam with the lake behind it.
After lunch, we get back on the trail and I fall behind again. Not feeling like talking I just walk while listening to some music. Before leaving for the trail I thought I synced a massive amount of music to my iPhone. For some reason only a few artists actually synced and I’m getting tired of listening to the same songs over and over and over again. One of the only artists whose entire collection did sync is Iron Maiden and this means every third song I listen to is theirs. I generally listen around 10 to 14 hours of music per day so that’s a lot of Iron Maiden.
The only bright spot of the day is seeing a message from Cannonball and Storyteller on one of the trail registers. While I was supposed to be only a few miles behind them, spending an extra night and day in Tahoe meant I’m now at least two days behind them. Sadly, as we’re all doing around the same mileage each day, that means they’re too far ahead for me to catch up by hiking.
Message from Cannonball and Storyteller.
Rest of the day consists of walking in a green forest. While this means fewer sights, it’s a bit cooler in the shade of the trees. I make good mileage on the soft trail and catch up to Sam late in the day. We decide to stop for a camp a bit earlier as there’s a good spot in the shade of some trees and there’s a water source close by. This way we also get to go to sleep a bit earlier today.
To our surprise, there are already many people sleeping in their tents this early. They must be super early risers as I don’t think we’ve ever gone to sleep this early in the evening. We try to be super careful not to make any sound and quietly go to sleep. The ground is nice and soft, it’s going to be a comfortable night.
Date: August 19, 2017
Miles: 8.9 miles (14.3km), from mile 1,716.7 to mile 1,725.6.
Health: Feeling fresh after having laundry and shower in town.
We try to sleep late but the habit of waking up early every morning wakes us up not long after sunrise. We eat breakfast, play around with the dogs, and then pack our packs. Switching back to clean trail clothes feels strange as I’m so accustomed to them being dirty all the time.
I try to backflush my filter but quickly come to the conclusion I need a new one. I’m getting tired of taking forever to filter water at every water source.
Rick and Sam at the trailhead.
After saying goodbye to Sue and thanking her for all the hospitality, Rick takes us first to Walmart so I can get a new filter and then to In-n-out burger to fill our stomachs one last time before getting back on the trail.
We visit the Post office one last time and this time my charger from Etna has arrived. Huge thank you to the Post Master in Etna for repackaging and shipping it for me. The box with all my valuable rain and thermal gear is still missing. I’m not going to need it yet but we’ll be in Washington soon and I don’t really want to buy new gear to replace gear I already own.
After Post Office Rick drives us to the trailhead and after saying goodbye and thanking him for all the help and time, we get back on the trail. It feels good to hike with someone again. Hiking alone can get pretty boring at this point.
As it’s already late we only hike for a short while and once we reach a beautiful spot next to a flowing spring on the side of the mountain we decide to call it a day.
We set up our shelters and eat a little. We’re still close enough to the town to have cell reception so I try to work on my blog. Before I get too far I fall asleep. I’m still sleep deprived and need to catch up on my rest. We should get to Crater Lake in three or four days.