Monday, July 30, 2018
P18.13 Crater Lake to Cascade Locks, 325 PCT miles
Due to the fires, trail closure, and smoke in southern Oregon, after finishing the Sierras, I decided to get back on trail at Crater Lake, temporarily skipping ahead of Dunsmuir, where I would have restarted to continue my 2018 hike with an unbroken foot path. Christine, my wife, volunteered to drive me up to Crater Lake; we enjoyed the drive together, and I felt some relief as well as we sped by Dunsmuir where the thermometer was pegged at 104 degrees in the early afternoon. Christine dropped me off at the campground and I stayed overnight at Mazama Village, at the base of the crater that forms Crater Lake.
Getting back on trail after a break is always an adjustment, and I was feeling a little sluggish climbing out of Mazama Village up to the rim of Crater Lake. On the way up I surprised a small bear who climbed a tree while barking at me, which woke me up a bit. By the time I got to the rim, the restaurant at the historic Crater Lake Lodge was open, complete with an espresso machine and formally-dressed wait staff. After a breakfast of Eggs Benedict (yes really), I felt fortified and launched back into my hike.
The trail along the rim of Crater Lake goes from one dramatic viewpoint to the next, giving hikers stunning views of some of the bluest water in the world. As you will see in the photos, there was a slight haze from ongoing Oregon fires, but it was still spectacular.
This section of the trail is punctuated by relatively frequent lake-side resorts, giving opportunities for resupply stops as well as an occasional cooked meal. The trail is also mostly "fast trail" through forests, trending up or down but usually not too rocky or steep. As a result, my mileage was higher than usual, averaging 25 miles per day, even with resupply stops. I visited Shelter Cove, Elk Lake, Big Lake Youth Camp, Ollalie Lake, and Timberline Lodge, which is on the shoulder of Mount Hood, rather than at a lake.
Since I skipped ahead of the fires, I also skipped ahead of the "bubble" of thru-hikers, seeing as few as one other northbound thru-hiker in a day, and never more than a handful. This made for a more-than-usually meditative hiking experience. The PCT in northern Oregon passes through some interesting mountains, especially the Obsidian and Shale limited entry areas, and the Three Sisters and Mount Hood wilderness areas, which showcase their respective mountains. At the same time, the primary view, for hour after hour of hiking, is simply forest, which looks very similar for hundreds of miles. Hiking along, there is the rapid but barely perceptible rhythm of your heartbeat, the much slower rhythm of breath, and interposed between these the rhythm of your steps. It's sometimes an experience of walking meditation, and at other times I plug in my earbuds and listen to an audiobook, podcast, or music. During this section I listened to the topical "Fire," by Sebastian Junger, and "Diamonds Are Forever" by Ian Fleming.
The biggest surprise for me in this section came in walking through forested areas that had burned just last year. A hot forest fire kills everything in it's path, with temperatures reaching at least into hundreds of degrees. After the spring melt, some scattered grass germinates, but the ground is otherwise completely barren. The forest is silent without insects, birds, deer, or even chipmunks. When you approach a small stream, you can often begin to hear the water a long way off, and the contrast of the life-giving stream and the desolate landscape has a discordant quality. The trail dust is mixed with ash, and your legs get even more black than usual as it sticks to your skin. Even the air remains tinged with the smell of smoke, which will take another season to clear completely. Hiking through miles of these fresh burns was fascinating and wonderful, although it was also enough for one season for me.
When I reached Cascade Locks, it was satisfying to me to have achieved my goal of hiking the entire PCT. Between my hike in 2017 and my hike this year, I've hiked all 2,650 miles of the trail. While I'm still continuing my hike in 2018 with the intention of thru-hiking (doing the entire trail in one season), hiking the whole trail was always my primary hiking goal, so I'm happy to have achieved that. Right now I'm taking a day off in Portland at the home of good friends here, and will get back on trail tomorrow, headed north through Washington.
Photos are at this link: Photos for Crater Lake to Cascade Locks