Day 133 22.07.18 – 18 Miles / 29km
After the recent warm weather it was a shock waking up to a cold morning. I’d grown accustomed to being comfortable and happily getting up, but instead this morning I procrastinated and did as much as I could while still in my sleeping bag.
Feeling stiff from a day and a half in town (Ashland) we slowly started down the road from Mazama Village to the trail junction. With now warm joints we picked up to our usual pace and everyone was off, racing to the much anticipated Crater Lake, but more importantly, trying to outrun the mosquitoes. We arrived after just a few miles, refilled our water bottles and waited for the ranger station to open.
As per our usual National Park tradition we joined the Junior Ranger Program and learnt about Crater Lake through the educational kids workbook. Ross gave me a run for my money on the finder word, but I still remain the champion.
After learning all about how Crater Lake is the deepest, highest and purest lake in the US we finally went to the lookout for some photos and started on the rim trail which is now the compulsory PCT alternate after last years fires.
It’s a busy trail full of day hikers meaning most people only have day packs, if that. Passing an older hiker in what appears to be some kind of club we have the following conversation:
Day Hiker: “You’ve got a lot of gear there, where are you heading?”
Day Hiker: “oh no way, have you been given a name out here? I hear that’s a thing”
Me: “yeah, I’m River”
Day Hiker: “oh wow” he then shouts to his wife ahead “Mary, Mary I’ve found one of those hikers, she’s going to Canada! You should come and take a photo!”
Mary: “Wow, does she have a name out here?”
The interaction continued like this for a while until I politely excused myself.
Going by the majority Crater Lake images from last year and even this year we were extremely lucky to have a clear view. The sky was still hazy with smoke from the fires in Ashland but the island was visible and the water was blue. For the whole day I walked distracted by the Crater below us, stopping to take photos and take in the view at every opportunity. Lucky for me the others did too, meaning I didn’t have to play catch ups in the afternoon.
The day was predominantly a dry stretch with rumours of a water cache at the highway. A general rule of thumb is to never rely on water caches, however Guthook comments suggest this one is regularly and recently maintained by trail angel Devilfish, so we took our chances. As suggested there was plenty of water at the cache and Devilfish even swung past to check on it while we were there. He hiked trail in 2014 and was now rehiking sections this year while helping trail angel. It was awesome to meet him to be able to say thankyou…and to confirm the cache at our planned campsite was also full.
It was now 4pm and we still had 15kms (9miles) to camp. We all put headphones in and powered through the flat section covered in fallen trees. The last 3mile grind to camp dragged on but eventually we made it to the smoky tentsite lit up by an omenous red sun.
As the list lover I am I’ve created an internet list for when things to look up in towns when I have service. Sometimes it’s important things like fire updates, and other times it’s to fact check those random little questions you have as you hike and explore you brain. Today’s big question for the internet list: “What’s Macklemore’s real name?”
Day 134 23.07.18 – 24 Miles / 38.5km
Waking up to lingering smoke in the campsite we pack up and starting on the decent climb ahead. Once at the top Ross and I stop to rest and drink as much of our water as we can seeing there is a creek in the next few miles. A squirrel joins us digging holes nearby and then gains enough courage to approach us and chew on my poles next to me. Super cute with the potential to be super destructive.
Reaching the creek we filter and filled our bottles ready for the next 20km (12mile) dry stretch on a warm day. Just as I was about to leave I heard familiar voices shout my name and looked up to see The Frenchies. I was ecstatic to see the bubbly couple, especially since last time we saw each other it was as we crossed paths walking Southbound. I stayed for an extra 10mins talking them, happy that Ross is slowly getting to meet some of the awesome people I’ve come to love out here.
After a long slow uphill stretch we reach the long anticipated and totally underwhelming highest point of the trail for Oregon and Washington. It lacked in views and anything memorable aside from a sign. Having reached the highest point does not at all mean we have an easy trail ahead, in fact the Northern Cascades in Washington change so much in elevation that we’ll find ourselves climbing day in day out to the finish. But for now, heres the photo of us at the sign pretending we don’t need to climb any more hills.
Ross convinced me to follow him an extra mile from the sign to a tent site for lunch in the shade. I complained the whole way about a new blister that showed up on the pad of my foot which I then treated with a needle and thread once we finally stopped. While eating Leg Day caught up to us and we lazed in the sun for an hour and a half before we started hiking again.
On the last mile to camp I passed a section hiker who seemed overwhelmed by hiking. He said todays 23km (14miles) was the furthest he had ever hiked and had no idea how he would make it back that distance to the car. He also had a dream to hike the distance of the earth, but admits he had no idea how hard hiking was. I offered some words of encouragement that trail fitness picks up quickly and in a few weeks he’ll be feeling great.
Settling into camp I grab my bottles and head off to get water. Reading the comments on Guthook the spring is 700m (0.4miles) off trail down a very steep path. Walking past the exhausted section hiker I grab one of his bottles and fill up a litre for him as well, knowing it was the last thing he wanted to do. Hikers helping hikers is standard out here, and section hikers are no different.
The Frenchies, Ross, Four Eyes, Leg Day and I all eat dinner together looking at maps and discussing an alternate route option for the following day which offers more water and less elevation gain. We opted for the Skyline trail and take photos of Four Eye’s paper maps to follow the next day.
Day 135 24.07.18 – 22 Miles / 35.5km
Treating ourselves to a 7am sleep in Leg Day and I eventually leave camp at 7:30am and head towards to the Skyline Trail. An hour after later we find the last water cache and take time to sit down, drink more water and refill our bottles. Here we chat with a section hiker who has walked Oregon eight times now. He was very familiar with the trail and gave us some insights of what its like ahead.
Being off the PCT Guthook was not in use for the day. We felt naked not being able to check our exact milage, read comments on water ahead or double check we were on the correct trail. Though it was a good chance to get back to reading a map, taking in our surroundings and noting our average milage to have an idea of how far we’d come. We eventually reached the anticipated public campground where we laid out our mats for lunch by the lake. Right in time for number 2 I got to use a toilet and laughed at myself when appreciating a real bathroom, then realised just how much my standards have dropped when acknowledging it was just a pit toilet.
We ended up spending two hours swimming, doing laundry and relaxing in the sun to the sound of waves rolling into the sandy shoreline of the windy lake. I’d forgotten how soothing I find the ocean and for the first time on trail, I felt homesick. It’s officially been too long away from the beach.
Walking along the road to reconnect with the PCT a car pulls over and a couple ask us if we are PCT Hikers. We say yes and they offer us a bag of fresh cherries they had left from their picnic. We chat to them for a while in appreciation of their trail magic, answering their many questions and surprising them that Leg Day and I only met a week ago but were hiking together.
Homesick conversation kept us entertained for the rest of the day talking about what our future plans are for work, home, adventures and how to treat ourselves for our first week off trail. Arriving at camp by a mirrored lake we share the cherries leaving Four Eyes in disbelief at my trail magic luck.
Day 136 25.07.18 – 10.5 Miles / 17km
Eager to have breakfast at Shelter Cove Resort we smash the first 8km (5miles) of the day to get there. It was well worth the effort. I ordered a burrito that was the size of my head and find a breakfast beer in the hiker box along with a bunch of other goodies for my resupply. Since we’d already started other hikers buy some beer and share another can leaving me feeling GREAT!
Ross and Leg Day do their resupply from the resort but Four Eyes had shipped her box to the neighbouring town Willamette. Choosing our next campground to meet at the boys stay back with beer and burgers while I go with Four Eyes, fulfilling our pact to never let each other hitch hike alone. We were immediately lucky with a lift the 3km (2Miles) to the highway but then spent 45mins trying to find a lift to the next town. This is quite a long time for us, so we kept ourselves entertained encouraging all the trucks to honk their horns as they went past. Eventually a lady our age picked us up on her way home from a camping trip.
Willamette didn’t have much to offer so I scrounged up a basic resupply from the gas station consisting of hotdog buns, a tub of peanut butter, a bag of chips, and ramen. It wasn’t all that different from my usual shop really, though I’m glad I got oats from hiker box. Four Eyes and I hyped ourselves up on slurpys then stood by the road to get a hitch back to the trail. Striking up a conversation with someone at the gas station Four Eyes scores us a ride in the back of someones ute (truck) and we take off down the highway. Once at the trail junction we drop our heavy pack full of food for the next 5 days and Four Eyes explores the nearby bushes for berries. Successful in her efforts she calls me over and we both laugh hard as I slide down an embankment nearly braking an ankle.
8km (5miles) later we reach the boys at camp by 3pm. Leg Day advises us not to swim in the lake because the wind strategically picks up as soon as you get out, leaving you cold and wet. We spend the afternoon relaxing and creating wild scenarios where I record custom ring tones for everyone in my wonderful singing voice. It’s more of a threat than anything good, but keeps us thoroughly entertained as I rehearse.
Day 137 26.07.18 – 31 Miles / 50km!!!
Today was our biggest day yet on trail, aiming to hit 50km (31miles). Ross surprised us all leaving first at the crack of dawn to get a head start on the day. Four Eyes followed soon after since she’s not used to being beaten out of camp. Eventually Leg Day and I followed, hiking together since that seems to make me faster.
We passed a group of section hikers who I (as usual) stopped to chat to. I was amazed to learn they were a family aged 82, 77 and 56, and had been out here hiking small sections of the PCT every year for the last 20 years. I think to myself “thats the way to do it” since they’ve prolonged the “Now what” crisis that we’ll all go through once we finish the trail.
We make surprisingly good time and reach the halfway point at midday for lunch by a lake. We play leapfrog with some ultra lite hikers who are also aiming for the same camp. They eventually get ahead but I felt good keeping up for at least the first half of the day. The afternoon started to drag on and we were taking breaks every 5km (3miles) to rest our now sore joints and feet. I blast one hit wonders of the 2000’s through my headphones and try to focus on how good it will feel to conquer this distance.
We find Four Eyes at a site just a mile before our anticipated destination. She missed the memo that we were pushing to hit the 50km mark, so we continued on planning to meet again the next day. Arriving at the next lake over we find Ross, who beat us by almost 2hours (I blame our fatigue and his fresh legs…despite my hundred of miles practice). He was exhausted, but proud of himself. We were also joining the group of UL hikers, making it the busiest site I’ve slept at so far. As we arrived they joked “Welcome to Hiker Heaven 2.0).
Limping around camp I soak my chaffed feet in the water to try and bring down the swelling from the day and clean off all the dirt. I double up my dinner portion for the night and grin over my Mac and Mash before falling fast asleep.
Day 138 27.07.18 – 20 Miles / 32km
Even though I walk every day, I still woke up sore from our huge milage from the day before. My glutes, calves and feet all feel it and I’m glad I remember to take ibuprofen before getting up. Starting slow we warm our bodies up to normal pace again and walk to the 16km (10miles) to Elk Lake Resort. In an attempt to keep our minds off the pains I play eye spy with Ross and Leg Day.
Me: “I spy with my little eye something starting with G”
Ross: “Is it Green?”
Ross: “You can’t choose a colour Heather…”
Me: “Aww, but you know me well enough to still get it first go”
Elk Lake had the burger I’d been craving, along with an awesome summer holiday vibe. Kids were playing in the water and families were out enjoying lunches together…then theres a bunch of stinky hikers in the corner.
After the big day prior I was now starting to feel the familiar pains of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), something I’ve always been particularly susceptible to, especially when dehydrated. Anticipating this would eventually happen I took the Ural I carry in my first aid kit and we start up the hill to the trail.
Leg Day was hitching into town to meet up with some friends for the weekend so Ross and I said goodbye and walked together for the first 8km (5miles) up the daunting hill.
Climbing in the heat and sweating all afternoon left me feeling particularly shit. I just wanted to call in sick. I needed to call in sick. But I couldn’t. Ross and Four Eyes were both ahead, I’d have to at least catch up to them to let them know if I was to head off trail or take a day rest. I walked through the beautiful Sisters mountain range hating my life, cursing the trail, and wishing for nothing more than to be back at home, comfortable, relaxed and rested. Here I am with chaffed toes and hips, covered in a layer of dirt, bug spray and sweat, walking up a hot exposed hill, simply wanting to be anywhere but there. I remember how this is the journey I chose, and the challenge I wanted, and the way I wanted to push myself, to see the beauty in the pain and the experience. Breakthroughs don’t come from pleasent experiences right? What I would give for a weekend though.
Arriving to camp Four Eyes was in a worse mood than I was, frustrated by a noisy scout troop and having to wait for me to get to camp, instead of pushing on which would have been her preference. After both letting out our frustrations I give her the orange and can of soft drink I packed out from Elk Lake for her, and we commit to communicating our needs and preferences better.
I went to bed grumpy, sick and the most homesick I’ve ever felt. It caught me totally by surprise. But today was my twin sisters baby shower back home, and I’m finally recognising that I’ve gone almost 4.5months of walking 3,000km (1865miles); I suppose I should have seen the fatigue coming. I take some time to reflect:
I never wanted to admit to being homesick. When I have somewhere as incredible as the trail to be experiencing here and now, why would I ever want to be at home? Especially since I know I’ll be back there eventually. But as I now start counting down the days and miles to end of this trail, I find myself also thinking often of my life back home and what I’ll be returning to. Thankfully, it’s a good life that I’m looking forward to, with so much potential to mould it into a great life. It has me excited to get going. To spend time with the people I love and miss. To work on projects which will inevitably take too much of my time, living up to the values I’ve learnt mean so much to me. It’s ironic that in that time I’ll be left longing for these days on the trail….the same days I wanted to be back home.
This countdown to my Visa finishing, and getting to Canada in time has me realising there’s no balance in what I’m doing out here either. There’s no healthy breakdown between rest and hiking. There’s no spare time to chill by all the lakes. Spare time is extra miles which you could shave off your last month of stupid long days based on your expected average to reach your goal date. I knew there was thousands of miles to be walked, but somehow I still expected this to be a stroll in the woods. I knew it would be hard work but was still shocked when I had to step up on a long day, week and month.
I’ve loved and hated the trail life. How can you love something so much, but also be so inconvenienced by how much of an effort and pain in the butt it is. I guess many could say the same thing about marriage or children. I suppose it comes down to choosing our battles, and in the end love always wins. My love of nature, freedom and rising to a challenge.
Day 139 28.07.18 – 20 Miles / 32km
Entering the protected Obsydian fields shiny polished shards of rock cover the ground, all a result of volcanic activity in the area. Sticking together for the day Ross and I passed multiple groups of day hikers who had come out for the weekend. Most were friendly, some were not. One was carrying a gun, though he didn’t look overly threatening.
We checked out the Obsidian Falls, I had a bandana shower at the spring and miles of lava fields ate away at our shoes. The hard ground made for sore feet and ankles, and a very slow pace as we tried not to break our ankles. Regardless, I was mesmerised. For as far as I could see there we were surrounded by thousands of tiny black rocks. Mounds show were the lava flowed when it was liquid. No plants grew in the area, and small patches of snow were still present on surrounding slopes. It was an alien landscape.
Due to the lack of water in the area we opted to stay at Lava Lake Campground, a free public site which was rather busy with weekend trippers. Most people had caravans, and kept to themselves.
Arriving in good time we set up in the site that Four Eyes had been protectively reserving (first in first served) then we head to the lake for a swim. I felt extremely average. My UTI was still lingering, worsened by the hot exposed lava fields, and my feet were swollen and sore from the terrain. Soaking them in the lake helped a lot.
Making the most of my last hotdog bun I add extra water to my mac and cheese for dipping purposes. Having a dinner roll is a rarity and brings me pure joy on an evening that I’m feeling otherwise flat.
Despite our neighbouring caravan campers being party goers I slept through the entire night, exhausted and sick from the heat. Four Eyes envies how well I sleep.
Day 140 29.07.18 – 14 Miles / 23km
Four Eyes and Ross got much less sleep than I did so we had a lazy morning acknowledging how tired and sore we were. It was cooler than usual so we avoided getting up, and Ross kept us entertained walking around camp in his sleeping bag with the foot well open. As per usual Four Eyes beats us out of camp, and Ross and I spend the day walking together. Ross reflects “I’ve followed you for so long now you’ve just become a talking pair of ankles”.
Noting on the maps there is an observatory just a few hundred meters off trail we decide to go check it out. It was awesome, the structure was built out of the lava rocks and had peek holes showing and naming the surrounding mountains. I’m really pleased we decided to check it out. As we were leaving Glamourpus (fellow Australian) and Wifey arrive. In a whirlwind of conversation we catch up with each others trips and get excited to meet again in Cascade Locks for PCT Days.
The walk to our next resupply at Big Lake Youth Camp dragged on forever. Rumour had it they serve a free lunch to hikers, which finishes at 2pm. We power walked the last 2 miles and make it just in the nic of time for a fresh salad wrap. Ohhhhh man was it good. The youth camp has provided a cabin for hikers, accommodating showers, power, laundry and parcel storage for us to pick up our posted resupplies. The camp was also right next to a phone tower so had the best service I’d had in a long time. I took the time to video call my sister in an attempt to relieve my recent home sickness and catch up on the details of her baby shower.
One parcel I’d been particularly waiting on was the replacement tent pole section. Since I had to bounce it from Ashland I’ve now used the broken section for a month and realised its holding together just fine with the sleeve. I’ve decided to carry the spare section and hopefully not need to use it, replacing it once I’m home. Partly because I’m lazy and fixing tent poles is effort, partly because I want to get as much life out of this current section as I can.
I drink as many litres as possible to help flush the still persisting UTI, we stay for a free dinner of nachos and then head out up the trail at 7pm finding a flat tentsite just a mile up the dirt road. The luxury of the youth camp tempted us to stay, but we knew we’d never leave if we allowed ourselves to stay the night. Taking advantage of a rare night with phone service I look up and book my flights home for September in a small gesture to comfort my homesickness. I now have a date to count down to.
Day 141 30.07.18 – 17 Miles / 28km
Waking up to a momentus day we hit the trail with a spring in our step. We’d hardly been walking an hour when Four Eyes made an exciting discovery…huckleberries! Our pace slowed down considerably as we frequently stopped to pick and eat plump juicy berries, arriving at the 2000 Mile Marker (3220km) with blue stained mouths. In surreal disbelief we took photos, videos and celebrated how far we’d come. My mind was boggled trying to process how far we’d come, but my body truly felt every mile we’d walked.
I posted my usual 500 mile marker video with the following message:
PCT Day 141 – My feet are chaffed, blistered and callused. My hips are raw and scared from pack rash. I take ibuprofen 3-4 times a day to manage the aching in my legs. We hobble out of our tents each morning then hike another 40km day. I’m constantly amazed by how far we can push our bodies and minds, and today, I officially crossed the 2000mile /3218km mark. I’m on the home stretch now with just 650miles/ 1045km left to Canada. Wooo hoooo!!
Reaching the highway we said goodbye to Ross, his 3 weeks with us was up meaning he was hitching into to Bend to start the long journey home. I was sad Ross was leaving, maybe even a little jealous. I wanted to go and see everyone back home who I missed, and to get started on all the exciting things I’d been thinking about. But, I was also extremely grateful I didn’t HAVE to go home, that I GET to stay on trail and living this awesome life in the wilderness. I was just tired and ready for a rest. But alas, we said goodbye and kept walking, leaving Ross behind at the Highway.
After another hour of walking I catch up to Four Eyes taking a morning tea break so join her. We don’t feel like walking, so take some time in the sun chatting about how our bodies are begging us to take a week off. It’s nice to know it’s not just me feeling like this. We procrastinate, listen to a podcast then get moving again. Four Eyes turns on the jets and leaves me in the dust.
Filling up my water hiker Seeker catches up with me. I introduce myself and he reminds me we met when I was southbound. I still don’t recall after passing most of this years hikers during our flip. We chat for a while hiking today in the heat. I was managing until we started uphill and I felt myself rapidly dehydrate, worsening my UTI. Getting my period that morning seemed to tip me over the edge and I was starting to doubt if I’d make it to camp. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, I was so uncomfortable, crampy and sick.
I eventually make it to the next lake to refill my water and to my relief I find Four Eyes waiting for me. She said I looked as shit as I felt so we decided to make camp so I could rehydrate and go to bed. Turning on my Garmin InReach to track my location I find a message from home. My best friend had just found out she was pregnant. This was the pick me up I needed, but also contributed to my homesickness. I cry, message her my estatic congratulations and fall asleep.
Day 142 31.07.18 – 15 Miles / 24km
Waking up at midnight I get up to pee and can hardly move with a throbbing pain in my side. Ohhh my god. Have I given myself a kidney infection? I lay terrified in bed and consider my options. The closest town is 20km (13miles) back where we left Ross. I need to see a doctor. I wake up Four Eyes and tell her I’ve gotten worse so we decide to turn around in the morning and both fall back asleep.
While I pack up in the morning Four Eyes chats with a fellow hiker camped across the lake who is a nurse. Once I eventually join them the nurse looks at me and said “You’re not turning around today hun – I’ve got your antibiotics and I’m giving them to you.” I’m in disbelief, and accept while thanking her with all my gratitude. Out here there’s a saying “The trail provides”, and in the greatest act of kindness from another hiker, today it truly did.
Opting for a half day due to my condition Four Eyes and I identify a tent site to meet at. I chip away at the miles and eventually reach our location at 2pm, shocked to find myself in the middle of a fresh burn from last years fires. There was no life, everything was burnt, even the soil was sooty. There was no shade, and hardly a clear spot for tents. The only sounds are of a busy woodpecker and the creeks and cracks of burnt trees in the breeze. It’s hard to think this place was alive with life just a year ago. It’s a depressing afternoon.
Four Eyes: “Any chance of pushing 5miles (8km) to the next site?”
We nervously look around shaking the trees surrounding us to see if they were safe. It’ll have to do. We set up camp and spend the afternoon in the shade of our tents, sweating and watching the ash appear from nowhere and smear into our skin. We both sleep on edge listening to branches fall from trees throughout the night. I’ll never sleep in a fresh burn again.
Day 143 01.08.18 – 15.5Miles / 25km
Packing up our gear it becomes slowly apparent that we’ll have soot in our gear for weeks after this. My tent was stuffed into my bag as usual, with the floor leaving me and anything it touched in a layer of black dust.
To my surprise I wake up actually feeling better as the antibiotics started to kick in. I felt perky for the first time in a week, could keep a good pace and even sang for a while. Then disaster struck. Stopping to appreciate the view I pooped myself a little. Just as I took a photo my body yelled “NOW” and despite my best clenching, some still squeezed out. It was a disaster, thankgod I was alone. I drop my pack where I was and walk into the burnt out field to dig a hole and start the clean up efforts, hiding behind a skinny burnt pine. I really wasn’t expecting the antibiotics to make things…softer. So anyway, here’s my #poopwithaview photo.
Carrying on I reached Russell Creek passing the dead horse in the water who had become somewhat of a local celebrity.
The water was moving fast so I explored upstream until I could find a suitable rock hop crossing, not wanting to enter the white water and end up like the horse. Full of adrenaline I cross safely and continue hiking.
I reflect on the last week and wonder why I do this to myself. The effort, the full body ache, the UTI, the heat. Why am I still hiking? Then I see Mount Jefferson and my questions are immediately answered. To see this beautiful place.
I eat huckleberries for the last mile into Olallie Lake and arrive with a spring in my step seeing Four Eyes and amazing lake views behind her.
Me: “Wow Four Eyes look! Canoes! Quick, jump in and I’ll paddle us around the lake! Man I miss the water”
Four Eyes: “Oh, you seem better….I was just telling Maddog here how sick you are, and why we need to get you to town”
Me: “Oh, yeah, well, huckleberries…and Mt Jefferson…and canoes! I also pooped myself today.”
Maddog: “Alright, I’ll give you girls a lift to Government Camp”
Town was much further than we thought, so after over an hour of keeping Maddog entertained with chatter we finally arrive and insist on buying him dinner to thank him. He’d hiked the first half of the PCT previously but had to get off trail with shin splints so likes to help hikers out now.
We checked into the Government Camp Ski Lodge (basically a hostel), did a quick resupply shop, showered and went to bed exhausted.