PCT SOBO Journal: Elk Lake to Mazama Village & Crater Lake

In this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon, I hike 30 mile days, hit up some more hiker friendly resorts, deal with some rude people, and finally make it to Crater Lake National Park.

As usual, another trail and fundraising update:

I’m doing very well, physically and emotionally, although I’m down from ten toenails to just seven. I’m not concerned however, as this is very common for me and caused me no pain whatsoever. I’m eating quite a lot and still seem to be losing weight, so I haven’t quite figured out the perfect trail diet yet. I do talk about eating junk food a lot in my posts, but I promise that I’m eating nutritious foods as well.

As for fundraising, my campaign with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention just surpassed the $2000 mark, as of publication; a very special thanks to the anonymous donor who helped me to reach this goal! And a shout out to all who have contributed so far, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means the world to me.

If you’re enjoying the trail journals of my thru-hike of the PCT, please consider donating to my campaign to prevent suicide and make mental health a priority in our communities. 100% of all funds raised goes directly to AFSP National. My thru-hike is funded by myself only.

Donate here:

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

Thank you and much love.

Taco sauce makes life better

Day 37: NERO at Elk Lake Resort, then to Stormy Lake, 18 miles

The three of us, Chance, Cheesy Puff and myself, have a relaxed morning in which we sleep in to the very late hour of 6 a.m. We have a few hours before the resort opens, and when we can get our showers and breakfast, so I spend my time catching up on my journal and getting my resupply in order for our stretch between here and Mazama Village in Crater Lake National Park. Chance cracks open a beer and laughs devilishly from inside his tent.

I finally get my shower when the front desk opens at 9, and even though the shower room is as damp and grimy as a cave, I enjoy the hot water and smell of soap as it rinses the sweat and dirt from my body. After we’ve all had our turn and finished some sink laundry, we order breakfast burritos and fresh coffee from the cafe. Both are huge and delicious, and don’t disappoint.

Once all of our affairs are in order, mainly packing, repacking and groaning a bit, we head back to the PCT a little after noon and just as the day is becoming unbearably hot. The side trail back up to the PCT is completely exposed and dusty, and covers us all in a layer of filth that quite possibly proves that showering is a lost cause while thru-hiking this trail.

The trail winds its way in between lakes and through pine forest for much of the day. We needn’t worry about a long water carry today, as the lakes are a regular sight about every mile or so. Surprisingly, there’s little to no mosquitoes, although several clumsy horse flies have circled and tortured me emotionally.

The terrain is mild and easygoing, and by the time we reach our camp for the night at Stormy Lake, a breeze has picked up and cooled things off significantly. For dinner I eat a bag of sugary Capt’n Crunch cereal with powdered milk, and then enjoy a beer as I watch Cheesy Puff wrestle with her tent and inflatable sleep pad in the wind; it’s solid dinner theater at it’s best.

Finally, a cool night in which I can actually get some decent sleep.

Day 38: Stormy Lake to Shelter Cove Resort, 30 miles

It’s downright cold when I wake up; the wind has continued to blow through the night and into the morning, moving smoke from the nearby wildfires into the basin of Stormy Lake. Thankfully, the smell of smoke fades away as we begin our day on the trail.

It’s an easy walk first thing, comfortably cool and a gentle trail leading us along the banks of blue-green lakes. We’re hitting the NOBO crowd head on now, with some who are friendly and want to chat about trail life, while the others look shelled, barely move aside when you pass and don’t mutter a word. It’s a strange thing when you smile at someone and the only thing they offer up is a hollow stare.

We meander through forest for nearly the entire day, with the exception of a quick break in the canopy to hike through an old burn area. The wildflowers are coming back here, and with the cooler temperatures, it’s not that bad.

The trail descends down, past a ski hut and to Lower Rosary Lake, where we stop briefly to fill up on water and admire Pulpit Rock on the opposite shore. From there, we rush the next few miles into Shelter Cove Resort, where there’s promise of pizza and beer.

Shelter Cove is a fancy campground and fishing resort, where people in million dollar RV’s hole up for a couple of weeks in a site that offers full amenities, including cable TV. The resort is welcoming enough to hikers, albeit overpriced and overhyped in my opinion. Upon arrival, we learn that they are no longer serving pizza for the day, as they limit the amount of dough that they make. A fiery look overcomes Cheesy Puff, whose thoughts have been strictly on pizza for a few days now. I order a burger and corn dog, then pop over to the store to buy a tall beer.

After we eat, we sit in the grass for a bit, soaking in the sun and consuming a couple more beers each. As evening sets in, we linger around the hiker tent they’ve provided, sign the register, and do some sink laundry. We head back to the trail as night falls, not wanting to pay the fee to camp at the resort. We settle in to cowboy camp just across the train tracks and in a small clearing in the woods, just as a loud diesel locomotive crawls past.

There’s a meteor shower on this night, and the sky is clear for viewing; I count eight shooting stars before fading out, and the rumble of the train can’t keep me from sleeping.

Lower Rosary Lake and Pulpit Rock

Day 39: Shelter Cove to Six Horse spring, via the Oregon Skyline Trail, 26 miles

The best resupply

I’m in and out of sleep all night; between the train and having to pee, it’s been a rough rest. Why did I have to drink all those beers?

We decide to do a bit of Blue Blazing today and take 20 mile Oregon Skyline Trail, which runs nearly parallel to the PCT, has more water along the way, and stays relatively low in elevation. We get a later start than usual, likely from the effects of a poor sleep and beer, and then begin a gradual climb through the forest and following a rushing creek.

It’s an easy enough day at first: we stop off at the first lake to grab some water, and I devour two Clif Bars and some Doritos for breakfast. The air is cool and a breeze has carried away any evidence of a wildfire close by. We easily crush the first ten miles, and make ourselves comfortable on the beach of Crescent Lake with some other picnickers and sunbathers for our first round of lunch. We also use the other luxuries that the area has to offer: potable water from a spigot, trash bins, and most importantly, toilets!

The rest of the day doesn’t go as smoothly, however. It gets incredibly hot, very quickly. And the dust that we stir up as we walk is thick and irritating. Not only are we caked in filth from head to toe, but the dust has made its way between Cheesy Puff’s eyes and her contacts. There’s no escaping the sun, as the scrawny lodgepole pines offer only a sliver of shade as we pass.

We stop for a short break on the shores of Windy Lake, where we get water and eat Doritos like voracious animals. I’m dreading the rest of the day from here on out. When Dante was talking about the inner ring of the seventh level of hell, he surely must have been referencing the Oregon High Desert during August.

Mother Nature, please take pity on us dirtbags.

When we reach the junction that ends our Skyline trek and takes us back to the PCT, we collapse beneath the shade of some trees near a huge water cache. There’s a few NOBO hikers lingering about, and they have some rather strong, and negative opinions, about the SOBO crowd. One hiker, in a flashy Hawaiian shirt and flamingo print shorts, is peacocking before a young woman.

“SOBOs are only doing 12 miles when I’ve already done a 25 mile day,” he brags. “I asked a SOBO if there was camping ahead, and he said there wasn’t, but I found one anyway. Never ask them anything, ’cause they don’t know.”

“Never trust a SOBO,” she giggles.

Cheesy Puff and I look at each other, confused, annoyed and a bit disgusted. Did they seriously not see which direction we just came from? And what’s with this senseless dislike of a group of people heading the opposite direction from you? Seems childish and very odd.

We fill up on water from the large tubs in the cache, trying to block out how obnoxious the conversation is. More SOBO hikers have arrived, and we’ve congregated into a small patch of shade. Bella, one of us ‘untrustworthy’ SOBOs, asks about the water cache 20 miles to the south. Flamingo Shorts nervously answers, realizing his shit talking was in front of the wrong crew, and Cheesy Puff is quick to respond.

“Well, you know what they say: never trust a NOBO.”

They’re silent a bit, and Flamingo Shorts stumbles over his words.

“That’s what you just said about us,” she quips before he can form a sentence.

Cheesy Puff: the hero we need.

We gradually climb through more forest, arriving at the train junction for Six Horse Spring. I make camp, intending on cowboy camping again, and then volunteer to go fetch water from the spring for everyone. It’s a long drop down to the water, via switchbacks through dense forest. At the bottom, there’s another NOBO filling up. He’s much more pleasant, and I get a serious and polite reply to my question about the next water cache.

Back in camp, I watch a bit of Netflix on my phone as I’m snuggled into my sleeping bag, then fall asleep to the unfortunate sound of mosquitoes in my ear.

Day 40: Six Horse Spring to the Park Boundary for Crater Lake NP, 30 miles

It had been a rough night for me, having been tortured by mosquitoes trying to eat my face and the terrifying sound of a determined wasp buzzing about camp. At some point, I had resorted to wearing my bug net over my face, creating a stuffy and claustrophobic feeling as I tried to rest. There’s a chill in the air this morning, and I have a difficult time leaving the warmth of my bag. After we finally get going, the day begins with a descent through dark forest.

The more the day goes on, the more the forest thins out and the air fills with the haze of wildfire. More NOBO hikers trickle past us, sometimes in huge groups. Late in the morning, we come to the high point for Washington and Oregon, and it’s underwhelming in comparison to the jagged peaks we had previously traversed through Washington. Atop a dusty, round hill in Oregon, lies the high point, with no sense of epicness to it.

We stop for lunch at Thielson Creek, a frigid and clear glacial stream, where I eat chocolate and Doritos for lunch, rinse out my clothes, and wash away the dirt and fatigue from my feet.

Thielson Peak

From the creek, we haul a few heavy liters of water up a hillside via switchbacks. The blueness of the sky is disappearing and giving way to a color that resembles a boiled chicken thigh, and the smell of stale smoke fills my nostrils.

We find another water cache at a dirt road crossing and fill up, and have a rest to eat an early dinner. Wasps pester us relentlessly, desperate for a sip of water or a salty bite of our dinners.

Evening falls as we trudge through sickly beetle infested pine forest. The trees all show signs of rot, and are suffering from some rather grotesque tumors. The three of us decide to camp in an unremarkable spot within the trees, in an area just short of Crater Lake National Park border. I had originally planned on cowboy camping, but hoards of flies and wasps quickly put that idea out of my head. The ground is soft with ash and sand, and staking my tent is more laborious than I’m in the mood for. I finally crawl into bed just as the woods become dark, and fall asleep immediately once my head hits my lumpy pillow.

Day 41: Park Boundary to Mazama Village, Crater Lake NP, 16 miles

We rise with the sun, and I pound down my cold soaked coffee and eat a meaget breakfast of granola bars with almond butter as we set off. There’s a chill in the air, which has left my tent heavy with moisture and dampered the once hazy air. The morning is clear, and the sky has returned to it’s glorious blue hue.

She classes this joint up.

We cross into the National Park, leaving the PCT behind in favor of the Rim Trail instead. The official PCT is closed due to wildfire, but we would have chosen this route regardless. The trail climbs rapidly, above the forest and then leaving us gasping for our breath on the edge of Crater Lake. The bowl of the sapphire lake still has a haze of smoke that has stubbornly settled, but the views are stunning, nonetheless. We take our time meandering the rim, peering down into the sparkling and impossibly blue water of the lake. The first sailing of the tour boat to Wizard Island leaves a trail of lacy white wake as it goes.

The Rim Trail dips in and out of car parks, stifling with noise and stinking exhaust. We scurry past, avoiding contact with the tourists and their strangely loud and sluggish behavior that has become foreign to us. We’re feral now, and we fear the things that were once normal.

Once we arrive at the Rim Village, we’re able to push aside our wildness aside long enough to shove hot dogs and ice cream into our dust crusted faces at the cafeteria. A man at the table next to us sits transfixed on us as we savagely eat, and I wonder what he’s thinking. Is he appalled or curious? Perhaps both.

We leave the bustling parking area behind and disappear back below the tree line, taking a side trail down towards our camp and resupply for the evening in Mazama Village. At the village store, my resupply box can’t be found, and the clerk calls the post office to see if it’s there. It is, and I’m informed to meet a white van by the Park entrance kiosk along the highway in 15 minutes. I stand along the highway as instructed, after drinking a couple of beers and throwing down some more junk food into my ravenous stomach. The sun is fierce as I wait, and a white van arrives on time, with the bearded passenger hurling my box at me as it slows to a crawl.

After making camp in the $5 hiker site, we all take advantage of the free showers and then head to dinner at the restaurant in the lodge. We eat copious portions of food, from the salad bar, to a fried appetizer plate, to our respective main courses. More beer is poured, and we write post cards home to our loved ones. We walk back to camp in the dark, and the night brings more cold temperatures that undo the stuffiness of the blistering heat from midday.

Full and slightly drunk, I lay down on my feathery bed and drift off.

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5 Comments

  1. Edward Anderson

    Love reading about another of your epic journeys — and i hope cheesy puff eventually gets her pizza. Keep up the good journey – glad it is going well (even with only 7 toenails).

    Like

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