PCT SOBO Journal: Cascade Locks to Elk Lake

In this stretch of trail through Oregon, I live it up in Portland, indulge at Timberline Lodge, go to battle with the weekend warriors, crush 30 mile days, and walk across otherworldly terrain.

Hi folks! As always, I’m going to start this journal off with a quick update on things, particularly my fundraising campaign ‘Hiking for Hope and Healing’ with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I’d like to thank my most recent contributors, Ingrid, Pedro, Nora, Dr. Fly (from PCT Class of 2017), and the four anonymous donors as well. As of publication, I’ve raised over $1800, out of my goal of $2650.

Thank you to all who have helped me along and encouraged me on my second thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. If you enjoy reading my journal entries, please consider donating. More information regarding my campaign can be found at the link below:

https://afsp.donordrive.com/campaign/Hiking-for-Hope-and-Healing

As far as the thru-hike is going, all is well, physically and mentally. You may have guessed by my social media posts that I’m past Oregon and behind on my journals; I’m busy hiking long days and updating my journals is difficult at times, but I promise to keep at it.

So, without further ado, here’s my latest. Enjoy!

Days 28 & 29: Zero Days in Portland

We have two wonderful days off, thanks entirely to our lovely and generous host Breaks, and her pup Fiona, and Chance of course. We spend our time mostly eating, which includes tacos, a giant plate of nachos, and Korean BBQ, and somehow fit in a trip to the Portland Rose Garden.

After raiding the free box in Breaks’ laundry room and a trip to the thrift shop for town clothes, we hit up a vegan bar in ‘style,’ and it’s exactly what I’d expect to find in Portland. It’s entirely too hip for a dirtbag like me, but the beer and tapas plates are delicious.

Our last evening is spent eating a giant plate of nachos and then chilling on the porch of a dreamy house, where its tenant, Martha, has indulged us with tequila cocktails.

Other important errands are run during our time in Portland, of course, like the necessary evil of resupply, and with a few more beers in between for good measure. I get a new pair of Altras to replace my old ones, and stock up on some additional bug spray to deal with what was described to us by many northbounders as ‘mosquito armageddon’ through Oregon.

Fiona, my spirit animal

A trip to PDX is exactly what I’ve needed after hauling through Washington in 27 days, but I’m also excited about the next leg of my journey: Oregon, here we come!

“Oregon is flat, so you can easily do 30 mile days, no problem.”

– A Bunch of Asshole Thru-hikers, probably

Day 30: Cascade Locks to Windy Ridge Camp, 26 miles

Breaks drops us off back in Cascade Locks late morning after we linger around her quaint little studio a bit too long drinking real Bodum coffee and eating bagels with salmon lox on it. She’s become our trail mum in a way, and sent us off with zip top bags of pasta salad that has olives and cheese in it. We climb away from town, leaving civilization behind us again, but I’m already hungry just a few minutes in and dreaming of the pasta salad.

The recent burn of Eagle Creek is still heavy on everyone’s hearts, and the smell of charred wilderness floats on the breeze. The blackened forest creaks as you walk amongst its skeletal remains, a grim reminder of the irresponsibility of careless youth and the unforgiving power of wildfire.

I encounter several tourists on the trail, and I’m a bit unnerved by them. A couple asks me where the waterfalls are, and I tell them there are none on this bit of the PCT. They insist they had heard there were waterfalls nearby, and I tell them they must be thinking of the Eagle Creek route.

“Well, where’s that? We don’t want to go more than two miles.”

“It’s closed, because of the fire last year.”

They look confused, and I don’t have the patience to go on with them. I keep going, frustrated by my grim surroundings and irrationally angered with the tourists.

We have a massive climb in front of us, which we take on steadily. The weather is cooperating today, with a few sprinkles and cool air to keep us comfortable as we head up the switchbacks.

After walking along a densely wooded ridgeline, we enter the massive burn area from last year; the very one that broke the hearts of nearly everyone in Portland, crippled business in Cascade Locks, and saw a 15 year old boy punished with 30 million dollars worth of restitution. Amazing what a single smoke bomb and a split second of thoughtlessness can do.

The burn stretches on for miles, covering us in ash as we go. Thankfully, by the evening, we find ourselves back into the forest, with ripe huckleberries brushing our knees and a forceful wind carrying us to camp. There’s already several tents there when we arrive, but we manage to squeeze in just as the sun is sinking below the ridge. I eat a quick dinner, sampling a bit of everything in my food bad, including gummy bears, granola and chocolate. The wind whips through, and I bury myself into my bag for the night.

Day 31: Windy Ridge Camp to Timberline Lodge, 26 miles

We pack up early, with the wind continuing into the morning and pushing smoke from the distant wildfires into us and creating a crimson sunrise as we walk along a long, thin ridge. The sky is the color of campfire, and golden rays of sunshine are breaking through the trees.

We’re nearing Mount Hood, whose lovely face is peeking out over the trees as we climb via switchbacks through the shady forest. Cheesy Puff and I unintentionally pull ahead of Chance, and at a rather confusing trail junction, we accidentally go the wrong way. We realize our folly after a half mile or so, and rush back towards the junction where hoards of tourists have gathered. There’s no sign of Chance, and I hustle down the PCT after him.

I flat out walk as fast as my legs can go, winding down through dark forest and trying in vain to catch up to our friend. No luck, however, and when I ask passing day hikers if they’ve seen a tall man with fluffy hair, they act oblivious to their surroundings. Feeling defeated, I plop down on a log and wait for Cheesy Puff to catch up. When she arrives, I’m sitting sadly and nursing a bloody nose that’s come on suddenly.

The day has gone to shit very rapidly.

She tries to cheer me up with some fruit snacks, in which I eat them a bit too enthusiastically and then somehow (mildly) chip my tooth. What the hell is going on with me? I’ve lost all ability to function properly it seems, and I want to cry and scream.

We decide to take the PCT instead of the Ramona Falls alternate, hoping that Chance has gone that way and we can catch up to him. By midday, we still haven’t caught him, and we have our lunch near a small creek. After eating, we cross a silty river and begin another climb into the heat of the day. The blackflies pester us as we struggle up the mountain, and we rarely stop to even catch our breath.

We cross another glacial creek, and hit a massive wall of tourists that are shiny clean and smell of dryer sheets and sunscreen. The trail is downright overcrowded, like a highway during rush hour, and these weekenders lack any and all forms of trail etiquette. We try to politely pass people, and are met with scowls and nasty comments murmured under the breathe. My concern for their various rude interactions is void, thankfully, and I charge past them despite being sized up and looked down upon. I’m filthy, with greasy hair sticking to my face and dried blood on my knees and face, and apparently such a sight that I’m offending the casual Saturday wanderer.

I finally reach Timberline Lodge by late afternoon, and find Chance stealth camping in the patch of trees above the lodge. Cheesy Puff rolls in shortly after, and we’re so happy to be reunited. We set up camp and then head down to the lodge for some food and much deserved beer, and to gather our resupply boxes from the gift shop.

We order a pizza from the tavern in the basement, and we’re disappointed when our $20 pizza comes out to be a ten inch personal size. Seriously? Do they not realize how much we can consume? We call this an appetizer, and make our way up to the main lounge for a proper meal and another round of beers.

A wedding has made its way to the back outdoor patio as we’re heading back to our camp after dinner, and I lay in my tent listening to an interesting mix of 80’s and 90’s music. As I’m dozing off, I think I hear some Boyz 2 Men, and I have a little giggle before fading out.

Day 32: Breakfast at the Overlook Hotel, or Timberline Lodge to Timothy Lake, 22 miles

The whole idea behind camping next to Timberline Lodge was to stuff ourselves silly with food at the breakfast buffet on the morning, and we’re among a group of NOBO and SOBO hikers who are first in line at the dining hall first thing in the morning. Breaks has driven up from Portland to join us and see her sweetheart one last time before he reaches Mexico. I consume my weight in some very fine coffee, as well as fresh cut fruit, cereal, pastries, sausage and frittatas, and I feel like hiking may be an impossible feat with how full I am afterwards.

We gather in the parking lot post meal, where Breaks spoils us once again with a home cooked meal to go. This time it’s lasagna and salad, wrapped in zip top bags with special messages written on the outside. After some fawning over Fiona, a last minute panic by Cheesy Puff over her lost wallet (thankfully found again in the bathroom), and repacking our bags at least four times each, we start hiking again by 10:30.

We slowly traverse the ash laden and otherworldly trail below Mount Hood, putting the peak behind us as we descend into forest. We cross several roads, including two fast and somewhat scary highways. Our breaks are short too avoid the bugs, but we stop at a trailhead to savor our lasagna and salad lunch, and make use of the pit toilet.

In the evening, we skirt the large shimmering banks of Timothy Lake, and Chance is stung by a bee on his calf. It instantly swells and he begins to itch and turn several shades of red. Cheesy Puff and I offer him Benadryl and some comfort, but he wishes to be left alone, so we continue onward the next few miles into camp.

I set up my tent and retreat inside to eat my dinner of cheese and summer sausage in a tortilla, and the others head down to the lake for a quick dip. I’ve inadvertently made camp in front of a tree with a face carved into it, something I delight in at first. This quickly becomes an eerie presence as I keep catching its gaze through the dark mosquito netting of my shelter, and the expression of the tree becomes one of horror.

There’s bad juju here.

Chance is feeling better after returning from the lake and taking a dose of Benadryl. I curl up inside my bag, with the feeling that I’m being watched.

Day 33: Timothy Lake to Olallie Laker Resort, 30 miles

It’s finally a much cooler day, not the inferno we’ve been meandering and suffering through previously, and Chance is back to his chill self after suffering a nasty bee sting. We set out to do our first 30 mile day in Oregon, hauling up the trail through a forest of tall, thin pines.

The scenery is rather bland and uninteresting today, traveling almost exclusively through woods and offering up very few views until late afternoon, when we can finally see Mount Jefferson over the canopy of trees.

As we near the Olallie Lake Resort, I’m feeling tired and achy all over. We follow a shortcut down that the resort has graciously posted, and we throw our dust covered gear down on the front porch of the store. A trail angel stops by and invites us over to her cabin for tacos later, something we’re over the moon about. We shop a bit in the store, stocking up on a couple of cheap lagers, Doritos and other calorie dense goodies. We sit on the porch for a bit, snacking and taking in the views, when our personal space suddenly consumed by a large family on vacation. We’re delirious, and they’re giggly with excitement as they gather in front of us for a family photo.

“Don’t worry, you probably won’t be in the picture. No need to move.”

“We weren’t going to,” I quip, and they laugh nervously. They do various poses, people shuffling about and causing a commotion. They then ask one of us to take a photo for them, and none of us move or agree right away. We’re exhausted, totally shattered, and this is a request beyond our comprehension. Finally, Cheesy Puff stands up.

“Yeah, I guess,” she says with a heavy sigh.

I go purchase another cold soda, and the shopkeeper informs us that we can camp for free in the day use area, which we take her up on, and then go to claim our tacos. The trail angels are grilling up chicken tacos when we arrive, complete with rice and beans, and roasted peppers. We shove a few into our faces, thank them profusely and go collapse in our tents.

Day 34: Olallie Lake Resort to Rockpile Lake, 31 miles

It’s always hard to pull yourself away from the creature comforts of a town, or in the case of the Olallie Lake Resort, an off grid grocery shop and surprisingly clean pit toilet. Nevertheless, we pack up and start hiking early, trying to get at least ten miles in before it starts getting too hot.

We pass by some ponds first thing, with Mount Jefferson showing its glacier capped head over the pine trees. The trail then begins to climb, winding its way up into a large pumice field. It’s a rather cumbersome ascent; exposed and hard on the feet. Once I climb up onto the saddle, the mountain is in full glorious view.

The sky is hazy from wildfire smoke, from an ongoing fire to the south near Ashland, and then some new fires to the north in Washington. After a leisurely second breakfast near a creek, and meandering through bright alpine meadows, we enter a macabre burn area. The forest here is bare bones, and the earth is still charred and blackened. A sign warns of an animal carcass nearby, and to be aware of predators in the area. It’s as if it is a prelude to some awful horror film.

We ford a silty and rushing creek, continuing to climb through burnt forest. It’s incredibly hot now, and there’s no way to escape it.

We climb some more, leaving the burn behind temporarily to walk through lush meadow, and then along a ridge with grand views. It’s evening now, and the scarlet sunset is both lovely and end-of-days ominous. We pass through more scabby hills and ghostly forest, and finally reach Rockpile Lake as the last light of the day fades. There’s many campers here tonight, and a few curious deer stalking around the sites. I quickly pitch my tent, and fall into bed.

Day 35: Rockpile Lake to Lava Lake, 32 miles

When we wake up at dawn, the deer are still hanging around camp, likely looking for a salty trekking pole handle or pair of socks to munch on. They have a reputation of doing this, and hikers must be careful with their laundry. Deer, a hiker’s worst enemy. Who knew?

We get going as day breaks, skirting the lake as we leave camp and enjoying the brisk morning. We climb back up into the mountains, where we’re hit simultaneously with gorgeous views of the Three Sisters and thick smoke from the wildfires.

Cheesy Puff and I stop midday near a highway crossing to use the pit toilet and search for trail magic, but none is to be found. Chance keeps going, and we catch up to him again at a slimy pond. We have a long water carry ahead of us, and the extreme heat and lack of shade has me a bit worried.

A couple of miles further on, we cross a dirt road and find what we’ve been dreaming of: trail magic! A lovely couple is lounging in the shade of a tree, offering up chilled iced tea, snickers bars and apples.

“We came to stargaze, but there’s too much smoke. So we thought we’d do tail magic instead.”

We chug down the iced tea, and devour the candy and apples. It’s so refreshing and wonderful, I want to cry.

By early evening, we’re walking across lava fields that are rough and radiating heat. It’s a strangely beautiful landscape; almost otherworldly and as if we’re walking across Mars. My feet are in complete agony, but I power through.

As we near the 30 mile mark, the sun has set and darkness sweeps into the valley. We arrive in camp, at the appropriately named Lava Lake, in the night and quickly set up. I eat a meager dinner, then crawl into my bag and immediately fall asleep.

Day 36: Lava Lake to Elk Lake Resort, 31 miles

When we set off in the morning, it’s still dark, and a rather balmy day. The smell of wildfire smoke is lingering in the air as we stumble over more volcanic rock by the light of our headlamps. After a bit of a climb, we descent down a long lava flow of black pumice stones.

We stop for lunch at a clear lake, and eagerly jump in to cool off and rinse ourselves free of the sweat and ash buildup that we’ve accrued from walking through this place of ancient eruptions. I spread out my Tyvek sheet afterwards, and let the sun warm my skin again as I eat the rest of my snacks for lunch.

Back on the trail, we traverse the gorgeous Obsidian Wilderness, and it lives up to its name with a grand amount of shiny black volcanic glass scattered everywhere.

We walk across a scorched prairie, with no escape from the sun, and it feels like it takes eons to do so. My feet are swollen and my skin is red and overheated, so it’s a great welcome when we find another lake to throw ourselves into. We keep pushing on, despite our aching bodies, and finally reach the trail junction that will take us to Elk Lake Resort for the evening. After several 30 mile days, we’re more than ready for a bit of a break and a beer or two.

The resort is perfect, offering everything we could possibly want and we quickly forget the long miles we’ve put in to get here today. We take advantage of their hiker camping site and collect our resupply boxes from the unamused front desk clerk, and have long, luxurious showers at the marina. Naturally, we devour some burgers and a pitcher of beer, and then some ice cream for dessert.

Back at our tents, the car campers are loud and rowdy as we’re trying to fall asleep. It’s well past hiker midnight, and we’re completely spent. Don’t these people realize how tiring a 30 mile day is? Our neighbors are playing Yahtzee, and the rattle of dice in a cup is driving me to a slow insanity. Somebody please get a Yahtzee and end this madness.

I pop my earbuds in and finally doze off, listening to soft music to drown out the world around me.

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