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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!