Friday, December 31, 2010

Crossing Another Arbitrary Political Boundary!

Tunnel Falls--notice the trail blasted out
from the rock behind the falls. My
camera couldn't fit all of the falls, so
I pasted three photos together for
this "panoramic" photo.
August 26: I was really looking forward to today. I've hiked the Eagle Creek trail several times in past years, and I consider it one of the ten most spectacular day hikes ever, passing by a dozen or so major waterfalls, a super-cool 3-second bridge, and a trail blasted out of solid rock. The Eagle Creek trail is an engineering marvel, created to give the Columbia River Scenic Highway drivers a destination to be remembered.

The most spectacular waterfall of them all was also one of the first I'd hit--Tunnel Falls. Tunnel Falls got its name from the trail blasted out behind it. As amazing as the scenery is, however, the folks weren't particularly creative in naming landmarks.

High Bridge is no better in that regard. It's a short, 3-second bridge (the time it took when I dropped a rock from the top to hit the water below), crossing at a narrow channel. I was so excited at all the views, I completely forgot to check on the Eagle Creek letterbox I planted years ago. I was miles past it when I realized I forgot it. Do'h!

Nearing the trailhead, the number of day hikers increased dramatically. Dozens of them, and this was early in the morning on a weekday. This is definitely not the place to spend quality "alone time."

Once I hit the trailhead, I followed the Gorge Trail into Cascade Locks. It parallels Interstate 84, so I can't say it was particularly nice or pleasant. It's loud. But I watched traffic fly by at amazing speeds. It seemed so magical, these strange people, flying down the road at such incredible speeds. Lewis and Clark would be amazed. It took them two years to cross the country, following the Columbia River in canoes to the Pacific Ocean. In their defense, they also went back the same way. It only took just over a year for them to reach the Pacific. It took me four months to reach this point on foot.

The Columbia River Gorge is spectacular, but it's also historic. It also marks the Oregon/Washington boundary. Washington state was out there, just on the other side of the river. That river, however, is a big one. The second largest in the country, in fact, and probably a mile wide in most places. Fording was not an option. Road builders built a bridge across at a particularly narrow point, naming it Bridge of the Gods. It's a grand name for, to be perfectly honest, an ugly bridge. This is no Golden Gate beauty. It's plain, unadorned, and functional. But seeing it off in the distance was thrilling. That bridge would marked the end of the Oregon and the beginning of Washington.

The view from inside the tunnel.
Kind of wet and creepy, actually.
The bridge is built at the edge of Cascade Locks, a small town and a major resupply point for hikers. I would not resupply, though. Not yet, at least. I planned to meet Amanda the next day and still had plenty of food to get me through. It wasn't even noon when I arrived into Cascade Locks, and I could have just checked into a motel and waited until her arrival the next day, but I'd have plenty of time to rest when she arrived. No, I didn't need to sit around for an extra day doing nothing. I'd push through and keep going.

Well, I did stop at Charburger, a restaurant near the base of the bridge. It was lunchtime, and it sounded a heck of a lot better than anything I carried in my pack. Yes, I could stop for an hour (maybe two!) at Charburger for lunch. I looked around to see if any other thru-hikers were around, but it appeared that I was the only one. I picked a seat at the window, overlooking the Columbia River, and ordered a western burger along with a cherry pie. Pie... umm.... =)

A short while later, I saw Red Head walk in and waved him over to my table. I last saw Red Head in Sisters and we talked about the trail. Red Head told me that he, along with a couple of other hikers, had started the road walk around the wildfire, and had even completed most of it, before a shuttle system picked them up. This was the first I had heard about a shuttle getting hikers around the fire. Apparently, they were some of the first hikers to make use of it. I'm not exactly sure who was running it, but it hadn't started when I went through because "they" still needed insurance before they could shuttle hikers. Once that went through, a regular shuttle started transporting hikers from one end of the closure to the other.

The trail blasted into the side of a cliff.
Hold on to that little cable they
strung along this stretch!
I'm rather glad I didn't even have that as an option when I passed through. I'm not sure if they were requiring hikers to take the shuttle or not, but every single hiker I talked to later who had the shuttle as an option told me they took it. One hiker told me he was told he had to take it. I'd be really bothered if I had been forced to skip a section. I'm not sure how those hikers justified the skipped section in their head. Red Head said it was the first and only section where his footprints weren't connected, but he's not too disappointed about that since he was actually picked up at a higher latitude than where he was dropped off again. He hiked through all of the latitudes from the Mexico border to Cascade Locks, and that was good enough for him.

It sounds like Red Head was close behind me on the trail then--he had already hiked much of the road walk before the shuttle went into service. There were a lot of hikers behind him, though. What about them? How did they justify the skipped section? Those that were picked up at the trail closure and didn't do any road walk at all missed some latitudes. Maybe it was justified as there was "no choice in the matter."

Red Head also told me he had heard that the fire closure had later been extended even further south than where we hit it, but details were sketchy since Red Head hadn't experienced the extended closure personally. (I'd hear more about that from other hikers later.) It sounds like a lot hikers skipped as much as 30 or 40 miles of trail to get around the fire, and they all hated the ride in the shuttle--a ride that took hours on bumpy dirt roads. It wasn't until I started hearing these stories that I realized how lucky I was getting through when I did. Yeah, I had a road walk, but my footsteps were still connected. So far as I could tell, I was actually the last hiker to get through and keep my footsteps connected.

Seriously, if you're scared of heights,
this is NOT the trail for you!
Red Head also told me that he was suffering from giardia, and consequently wasn't feeling very well. Bummer. I decided not to tell him that I don't treat my water except in the rarest of rare circumstances. =)

He had a friend in Portland who was driving out to pick him up for a couple of well-earned days of rest, and was chilling at Charburger eating lunch until his friend arrived about ten minutes later, who then joined us and we told war stories of the trail.

The girl, who's name I now forget, asked what happens at the Canadian border, and I started explaining about filling out the paperwork in advance and mailing it to Canada for permission to enter Canada on foot along the Pacific Crest Trail. They stamped it and mailed it back to me, which I had my mom include in the maildrop at Timberline Lodge. I didn't know when or if I'd use anymore maildrops, so I figured it was better just to carry the Canadian paperwork (and my passport) the rest of the way.

Red Head shook his head and said he'd turn around at the border and hike back to the nearest trailhead on the US side. "Why?" I asked. The trailhead in Canada is far closer than the trailhead in the US. Why would anyone voluntarily choose the longer route back into civilization.

The view looking down from High Bridge--
a 3-second bridge across this very
narrow chasm.
"They denied my application," he said.

"Denied? Really?"

"Yep. I'm not allowed to go into Canada."

"Why? What did you do?"

Red Head got a little wishy-washy about that, shrugging it off saying he didn't know. I didn't believe that for a second. If Canada doesn't let you into their country, you're going to know why! I strongly suspected he probably had some sort of criminal record involving pot--he told me that he ran a "medical marijuana dispensary" back home in California--so I wouldn't be shocked to learn he had a criminal record of some sort, but whatever it was, he clearly didn't want to divulge any details and I let the matter drop. But damn, I was curious! I wanted to know!!!

He asked me about the monument at the end of the trail--did I know if it was actually at the border, or at the end of the trail in Manning Park in Canada? Because he told me he was going to get a picture of himself at the monument even if it meant entering Canada illegally and hiking back into the United States illegally. (As a side note, there is NO legal way to enter the United States on the Pacific Crest Trail. A lot of hikers seem to do it, but technically, it's illegal, and lord knows what the border patrol would do if they catch you. So if you cross into Canada illegally, you pretty much have to get back into the United States illegally too.) I assured him that the monument was at the border and he would not have to enter Canada illegally. But he could still spit on their soil if it made him feel better. =)

Punchbowl Falls
Red Head left with the girl, and I was, once again, alone. I made a phone call to Amanda to coordinates meeting up with her the next day, and called my mom with an update to tell her that I'd be in Washington state in a few minutes. Then I picked up my pack and continued on.

The trail crosses on the Bridge of the Gods, a toll bridge, but thru-hikers can cross on foot for free. Woo-who! The woman manning the booth told me to walk on the left side of the bridge into oncoming traffic. Better to see which car kills you than have it make a stealth attack from behind.

The bridge is not at all pedestrian-friendly. There is no protected walkway. The roadbed isn't even a road--it's a metal grate that you can look through down to the cold waters of the Columbia River far below. And when I crossed the bridge, the wind was strong enough to blow a person off their feet. The bridge was narrow enough that only one car could pass me at a time--it wasn't wide enough for two cars and a pedestrian.

It was, in a word, exhilarating! =)

It looks all calm and tranquil along the
Gorge Trail, but Interstate 84 is a mere
stone's throw away on the left.
This bridge was exciting. It first opened in 1926, and Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis under it. (At least according to a post card I read at the Charburger.) The center of the bridge marked the Washington border. I dashed across to the right side of the bridge to get a picture of the sign welcoming drivers to Washington as the bridge rattled with every vehicle that drove by. Two states down, one to go! =)

The rest of the day's hike was largely uneventful. I checked up on a letterbox I planted years ago a little past Gilette Lake, but found nothing. Probably missing. The log I hid it behind was so badly decomposed, though, I didn't feel 100% confident that it didn't just disappear into the mass.

The trail crossed through logging country, and while the clear cuts were ugly, at least I could get some light and views along the way. Dark skies started rolling in, and rain seemed likely. Ominous, to be sure, but just being in Washington made me happy. Nothing to get me down! =)

I set up camp at a road crossing, just over 13 miles past the Washington border. While cleaning my pot of the spaghetti dinner, I accidentally spilled gray matter on my sleeping bag. *grumbling* I always felt it's best not to soak one's sleeping bag in food odors, but I put that thought aside so I wouldn't imagine every noise I heard during the night was a bear mistaking me for a burrito.
This mural is painted onto a column supporting the
Bridge of the Gods.
The view from my table while eating lunch at Charburger. (In case you noticed the faint "ghost" image,
that's just the reflection from taking the picture through a window.) The Columbia River marks
the boundary between Oregon and Washington, and the trail crosses on this bridge.
I made it to Washington!!!! Woo-who!!!
Bonneville Dam could be seen from a distance, along with Interstate 84 just behind it.
The skies grew increasingly more threatening as the afternoon progressed.
Nearing sunset.... must find place to camp....

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Boring Day in the Woods....

This would be what the view looked like
pretty much the entire day. Nice,
but kind of boring, all things considered.
August 25: In my journal, I had this warning for myself about the day's adventure: "You'll have a tough time filling in today. It was, by all accounts, an extremely boring day. Mostly walking through woods with very few views." It's hard to spin that into something exciting or interesting. =)

Late in the day I was starting to wonder if this would be the first time I'd not see another single, living soul for the entire day. Not seeing northbound hikers was becoming a regular occurrence, but it was still unusual to hike so far without seeing any southbound hikers either. I didn't see my first living, breathing person until a few miles from where I camped, at about 5:30 in the afternoon. A couple of guys hiking up from Eagle Creek as I was hiking down. An hour later, I passed one last person for the day.

Eagle Creek isn't official PCT tread--the official trail climbs up and over Benson Plateau, a dull, forested route with no views. Almost all PCT hikers take the Eagle Creek route instead for the spectacular waterfalls along that stretch. I've done both routes in the past and had nothing to prove either way and decided for the more scenic of the two options.
The one downside about so few people
on the trail, you get to break a lot
of cobwebs on the trail. Not fun....

I set up camp at the first campsite I came across along the creek, just before reaching Tunnel Falls. I didn't like the campsite much. It's really a great place to camp--next to a pretty creek and readily available water source--which is the thing I like least about it. It means a lot of people have camped there in the past, and rodents tend to be much more problematic at such campsites. It was also under a thick forest canopy making the site much darker than it would have been if it was out in the open. It felt positively claustrophobic compared to most of my campsites. So I can't say I was particularly thrilled about the selection, even though I could understand perfectly well why such a location would be so popular. I guess I just follow a beat of a different drummer.

During the night, I did find a mouse trying to get into my bag. It seemed most interested in my Wheat Thins, which I then strung up in a tree where I thought it would be less accessible to rodents. The rest of the night went by without incident, and no more of my food had been pillaged by rodents. I hate camping in popular locations.

One of the view places with a view, but only because they cut down the trees for these power lines.
Which really doesn't improve the view much. This is Mount Hood, now well behind me.

No idea what these are, but they sure are bright!

One short section with a genuinely good view! This was my first view of Mount Adams from the trail,
and the first major mountain the PCT hits in Washington state.

Wahtum Lake

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge

Trail magic! It was so early in the morning, I
even needed a flash to get this photo.
August 24: It only took an hour of hiking, if that, to reach Highway 26 where I found a cooler and stopped to read the register and drink a Coke. It wasn't a pleasant place to stop for a break, though, since road construction was happening on the highway. The huge road machines, those guys have.

I hoofed it up the rest of the way to Timberline Lodge by lunchtime. Along the way, Wyoming and Otter caught up with me during a short snack break. Wyoming, I hadn't seen since I saw her hiking southbound near Lake Tahoe, but Otter I had never met before. I wasn't entirely surprised to see them--I knew they were ahead of me from a southbound hiker I had met the day before. So I knew they were close, but I couldn't predict exactly when I would cross paths with them.

We compared notes about the fire closure. Wyoming seemed extremely annoyed about the detour, even now that it was behind her, saying that the road really wore her out. They took alternate route #1 the whole distance. I told them about my little shortcut through the woods that cut the detour in half. I think Wyoming was a little disappointed she didn't think to do that herself. Otter just seemed happy to be alive. I could imagine him wearing a tie-die T-shirt and smoking pot (not that I saw him do either--he just had that laid-back, hippie kind of feel to him). Wyoming said that best as they could tell, they were the first ones who had to walk around the detour. Best as I could tell, they created the footprints I followed out to Highway 42.

The trail followed alongside Barlow Road,
the first road built over the Cascade Range.
I went on ahead to Timberline Lodge. The last part of the trail went through thick layers of sand, and it was like walking on a sand dune. Very difficult, and sand poured into every hole in my shoe. The shoes were seriously falling apart by this point with enormous holes in the sides of them. Two day hikers who saw me couldn't believe I was actually hiking in them. "Don't worry," I assured them, "they just have to get me another mile or two further up the trail. I have new shoes waiting for me at Timberline." =) I thought the shoes would last, but it would have been easier to walk had they not been filling up with sand with every footstep. The shoes were already about a hundred miles past their expiration date by my judgment.

As I came in from the backside of Timberline Lodge, I passed multiple people wearing ski gear, finished with skiing for the day. It's still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that people are skiing in the last half of August. I could see little black dots racing down the ski slopes high up the mountain. Yep, they were skiing!

I saw four thru-hikers getting back on the trail as I was getting off: the Walking Sisters, Boat, and the last guy looked familiar but I couldn't think of his name. I was a little surprised to see them--I thought they were still behind me. The Walking Sisters seemed to make a habit of showing up along the trail unexpectedly. I think they're magic. I'm not sure exactly what their magic power is, but it's the only logical explanation I could think of.

Bears inhabit these woods, so I was a little surprised to find
this mess at one of the trailheads. It was a regular garbage
can, which does nothing to keep out animals. I don't know
if a bear is responsible for this carnage, though. Could
have been a racoon or something for all I know. But still,
I would have expected animal-proof trash cans around here!
I asked how they got around the fire closure, and they told me that they got a ride from a friend of a friend of a friend or something like that out of Sisters. They had heard about the fire and just skipped the entire section, saying that they planned to go back after reaching Canada and complete the section they missed. Perhaps they did, but I'm always a little suspicious about people who claim they are going to return to parts they missed. Some hikers I'm sure do, but I strongly suspect that the majority of them never do. It's rather a hassle. And in the end, the detour wasn't that big of a deal. An extra 15 miles of hiking involved, and not particularly fun hiking either, but the road walk in Southern California was a heck of a lot worse. And what if the fire damaged the trail so badly that it doesn't reopen again for hikers until next year? Would they still come back to hike the section they miss and end up having to do the detour anyhow?

It certainly explains how they caught up with me so easily, though--they skipped about a hundred miles.

I headed to the Wy'East Store, where my maildrops were waiting. The shoes were critical. I seriously needed new shoes, and they had arrived just fine. I also picked up the food I sent myself from Sisters. My shoes were still filled with sand, so I went outside with the maildrops to empty my shoes of the sand, pouring it out into a big pile. It looked like the sand added at least a full pound to my shoes. Astonishing how much sand managed to get into them.

Mount Hood, up close and personal!
I didn't put on my new shoes just yet--I put on my camp shoes and repacked all of the food into my pack. While repacking everything, I chatted with a section hiker with his dog who had started at the Three Sisters Wilderness and was now waiting for his dad to pick him up right there. Wyoming showed up at about then as well, asking if I had seen Otter. "Sorry, but no. Wanna go for lunch?" =)

Wyoming was good for lunch but had a maildrop to pick up as well. I pointed out where the store was and threw my old shoes in a nearby trash can and waited for her to catch up. Then we headed into Timberline Lodge to find some lunch.

Timberline Lodge you might recognize from The Shining. At least the exterior of the hotel you'd recognize. I don't know where the interior shots were taken. Probably some soundstage in Hollywood or something. But the exterior shots are Timberline Lodge. It's a beautiful building, built during the Great Depression. FDR made the trip out in 1937 to dedicate the new hotel, but much of it today was covered with scaffolding. Seventy-three years after it was built, $4.3 million of the stimulus fund was dedicated to renovating the lodge, once again providing jobs during times of economic hardship.

Looking south, I could see Mount Jefferson and smoke from the fire that
forced me into a detour. It was definitely still burning! I could see another
fire burning far to the west (probably the Bull of the Woods Wilderness)
and a heck of a lot of smoke to the east from an otherwise unseen fire.
Fires burning everywhere!
We settled on the Ram's Head Bar on the top floor. All of the tables were crowded with people, so we took our seats at the bar and chatted with the Austrian bartender for a great deal of the time. I ordered the meatloaf sandwich, which was good, but a little expensive. Actually, everything seemed a little expensive. You have to pay a little extra for the "ambiance." =)

After we finished, I put on my new shoes and we headed back to the trail. Miles to do. Canada wasn't getting any closer!

We parted ways on the trail. I hiked at a faster pace than Wyoming did, and we chose to hike at our own comfortable pace. I caught up with Otter talking with a couple of day hikers on the trail and passed him by as well.

Between Timberline Lodge and Cascade Locks, there are several routes available. The first decision point was to head to Paradise Park or not. Horses aren't allowed at Paradise Park so the official PCT skips it. The detour is a bit longer, but so much more spectacular, and so I chose the Paradise Park route. From the park, I saw my first good views of Mount Saint Helens and even Mount Rainier far in the distance. Washington was just around the corner!

These shoes went about a hundred miles more than
they should have, but I'd never wear them again.
Notice the large hole in the side where the stitching
came out?  (You can see the clean, new shoes
peeking out in the background.)
The next decision point came at Ramona Falls. The official PCT doesn't actually go to Ramona Falls, a tragedy I can only imagine happened because horses aren't allowed at the falls. It's about the same distance as the official PCT, however, and I think most thru-hikers choose to take the falls route. I chose that route.

I would have been happy to camp right at the falls--it was getting late in the afternoon by the time I arrived--but camping there wasn't allowed (even though I did see a few backpackers--not thru-hikers!--camped nearby), so I just took a short break. I filled up with water at the base and checked up on a letterbox I left there nine years ago. It has the first rubber stamp I ever carved in it and the original logbook. And nine years later, the box is still alive and kicking, getting--on average--one or two visitors per year. Actually, a few of the people who logged in were on their own thru-hikes of the PCT as well. Maybe I should have started the clues from the Mexican border instead. =)

I followed the trail another quarter mile or so away from the falls and set up camp on a slight hill bare of trees. It wasn't a very big clearing, but it gave me a small view of the night time sky in this otherwise heavily forested terrain. I didn't see Wyoming or Otter again. I wasn't sure if we had somehow passed each other and didn't realize it--perhaps taking different routes around Paradise Park and/or Ramona Falls. So I couldn't be sure anymore if they were ahead of or behind me. Well, it didn't matter. I'm sure I'd cross paths with them again somewhere along the way. =)

Wyoming poses in front of Timberline Lodge. The scaffolding is part
of a renovation project paid for by your stimulus dollars. Once again,
the government is using this lodge to stimulate the economy.

The Magic Mile ski lift is one of the oldest ski lifts in America, and at the time it was
originally built, the longest in the world. And you can ski all year long!

Look at that beard on me!

See those two hikers coming down the trail? I passed them just up on their side of the river a minute or so
after taking this photo. While going around them on the trail, my foot seemed to have gone a bit too
far out, and I slid several feet down the slope. Hurt like hell and I scraped up my arm a bit!
Over the noise of the river, though, those two hikers didn't even realize that I almost fell completely
off and into the river. =) Ultimately, it didn't turn out to be a big deal, but it's surprising how
quickly a serious injury can strike with little or no notice! I certainly didn't think I'd draw
any blood less than a minute after taking this photo, but I did!


Paradise Park--well named!







This waterfall is HUGE--but looks so tiny compared to Mount Hood....

Sandy River certainly seemed well named, but the bridge
across it looked a little sketchy....

My flash caught the spray from the Ramona Falls, in case you were wondering
what those little dots in the photo are.

video

One of the few videos I took with my camera. I had trouble getting all of Ramona Falls into a single photo, so I figured a video where I could pan around might work better. You decide! =)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Entering the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
I knew there were wildfires burning in the
reservation, but fortunately, not on this section!
Even a major holiday like Christmas won't slow this blog down. (It's slow enough already, don't you think? The stuff I'm posting about happened on August 23rd!)

To continue on with our story, I had finally made it around the fire closure and was back on the PCT about a dozen miles up from where I left. It was a long day of hiking to cover a mere dozen trail miles, and I felt an urge to hit the trail as early as possible to help make up for lost time. I figured the fire detour put me almost an entire day behind my expectations, and a day late to check in with Amanda and my mom. I didn't want them to worry about me by not being able to contact them when I predicted I would.

So I left before Eric and Tracy even woke up in their tent. I could hear Ramsey poking around, though.

The day's hike was pretty boring--most of it was in the trees with no views. The trail skirted along the edge of Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and much of the area along the trail had clearly been logged recently. Some of the time, I could even hear chainsaws rumbling in the distance. Not a particularly impressive section of trail.

Once again, I saw no northbound thru-hikers. I did pass some section hikers heading southbound, and I warned them about the fire closure they would soon experience and suggested options for how to hike around it. I wasn't sure how applicable my suggestions or advice would be--situations can change over time, after all. I let them know that there was generally plenty of water sources available along the road walk so they wouldn't have to carry large amounts of water like I did, assuring them that the longest stretch between water sources was about five miles. All of the southbounders had already heard that there was a fire closure, but none of them had any solid information about the closure or the alternate routes. I wasn't even exactly sure where they blocked off the trail for southbound hikers--I never passed any trailheads that showed the PCT as being closed after I reconnected with it. The official closure must have been somewhere south of it--probably on the road near Olallie Meadow where I nearly left a gap in my footprints, and southbound hikers were expected to walk out on the road like I did.
The views all day pretty much looked
like this. It wasn't very interesting.

At the end of the day, I set up camp directly on the trail, on a steep slope with an incredible overlook of Mount Hood. After sunset, once it started getting dark, I could even see the lights of Timberline Lodge and, presumably, the headlights of a snowcat grooming the snow field above the lodge. Timberline Lodge is the only ski area in North America that offers skiing year-round. Late August, and the ski slopes are still open! Incredible!

The overlook was also the first place I could finally use my cell phone, so I called Amanda and my mom to tell them about my fire detour and not to worry since I was well past it now and all was well. 

Because so little happened this day and there's so little to write about, I'm going to talk a little about my diet on the trail. =) Breakfast would usually consist of cereal, while dinner usually consisted of Hamburger Helper or mac and cheese, or some other easily prepared meal that can be thrown in a pot and heated. Neither of those have changed much in all of the long-distance hikes I've done.

For lunch, I'd usually eat various snacks throughout the day, and that has had some significant changes with every hike. On previous hikes, Pop Tarts were a usual staple. On the PCT, I started carrying Pop Tarts, but by Warner Springs--a mere 100 miles into the hike--I grew to loath them and hadn't had a single Pop Tart since then. That's right--over 2,000 miles of hiking without eating a single Pop Tart! Incredible! =)

But I still needed to eat. On the Florida Trail, I started eating a particularly large number of M&Ms, and I was still eating those, but I had grown a little tired of them as well and started adding more Skittles to the mix. But then I started growing tired of the Skittles until I started buying several different flavors of them and mixing the multiple flavors together. The one downside of Skittles is that I could never eat them early in the morning. It was too cold, and chewing them felt like eating rocks if the temperature was cold. When I did eat them early in the morning, I'd sometimes just suck on them for a minute or so before I started chewing them to give them a chance to warm up first.
A creek crossing. I loved drinking this water. =)

The other candy I started eating on a pretty regular basis were Jelly Bellies. I know exactly why I never ate these in any large quantities on earlier hikes--they're so darned expensive compared to other candy options!--but I always enjoyed them. Now that I had a fairly stable income from Atlas Quest, even while hiking, I threw caution to the wind and splurged on Jelly Bellies every opportunity I could. They weren't as prevalent as Skittles. In many of the smaller towns I couldn't get Jelly Bellies, but I'd try. They had a couple of other advantages over Skittles. Early in the morning when it was cold, they didn't feel like rocks in my mouth. I could actually chew them! =) I also liked the fact that there were dozens of flavors in every bag. The sheer variety of flavors kept my interest longer than the relatively few Skittle flavors. The one flavor of Jelly Belly I did not like at all was the black licorice. I'd pop a mouth full of Jelly Bellies and if there was even one of those in it, it would ruin the whole bunch. I started picking out the black Jelly Bellies. I'd eventually eat them anyhow--I paid for them and carried them all this distance, and I wasn't about to dump them out on the ground--but I'd pop a mouthful of that one flavor. Which I didn't enjoy, but then I'd follow it up with a mouthful of flavors I did like. =) The Jelly Bellies also seemed to fill me up better than Skittles did. I'd eat a bag of Skittles and still feel hungry a half hour later. Jelly Bellies seemed to have more punch in them and filled me up better.

Because of the hardness of the Skittles early in the morning, I tended to follow a pattern that I'd eat Jelly Bellies before noon, then eat Skittles the rest of the afternoon.
A stroll in the woods.... You can't tell
in this photo, but perhaps a 100 feet
off the trail, the area was clear cut.

I also started carrying Wheat Thins on a pretty regular basis whenever I left town. Wheat Thins are brittle, though, so I usually put them in a ZipLock bag and put them in a pocket on the outside of my pack, near the top, where they wouldn't get mooshed up. And that would be the first thing I'd eat coming out of town. Skittles would keep. Wheat Thins would not. They held up remarkably well, though--much better than I would have expected.

And I became a huge fan of Clif Bars along the way. And I definitely had favorites and non-favorites. My least favorite of the most commonly found flavors was the chocolate chip ones, although strangely, I still liked the chocolate chip peanut butter variety. I don't know why, but chocolate only seems good to me if it's mixed with peanut butter. *shrug* And crunchy peanut butter was also pretty good.

Those three flavors I could find almost anywhere, so I tended to eat a lot of the chocolate chip peanut butter and crunchy peanut butter ones. I'd still eat the chocolate chip ones if that was all that was available (sometimes happens in those small trail towns that hikers can clean out trail food inventory pretty quickly), but it was my last choice.

When I had a larger selection of flavors available, I'd never take those three "standard" flavors. As much as I liked them, they still got old after awhile. So I'd try all of the other flavors. I remember biting into that first black cherry almond Clif Bar and being in heaven. Wonderful! Amazing! I'd probably have grown sick of it if I ate it all the time, so it was just as well I had trouble finding that flavor in most towns. =) White chocolate macadamia was also a regular favorite when I could get my hands on it.
This is an old trail marker. This style of
marker isn't used anymore, which is a
little sad to me. I kind of like it. =)

Early in the hike, I tried carrying Red Vines, but they tended to disintegrate in my pack over time. On a lark, I switched it Twizzlers. I didn't enjoy them quite as much, but I wanted to see how well they held up to trail abuse, and the Twizzlers were absolutely indestructible! Probably not a good sign nutritional-wise, but after that, Twizzlers become a much more regular part of my snacking regimen. 

Individually wrapped cheeses were also popular with me. They seemed to last longer when they were individually wrapped, even though I hated carrying the extra wrappers afterwards as trash. I'd eat those first thing after leaving a trail town--they would go bad if enough time elapsed. Skittles, Jelly Bellies, Clif Bars, and Twizzlers would keep.

And another common item I started carrying was hunks of salami. I sometimes carried beef sticks in the past, but after Tomer shared a slice of salami with me in Southern California, I realized he was onto something. The salami just seemed to taste better. Juicier. And if I was feeling hungry, a hunk of salami (or beef stick, when I couldn't find salami in a town) sat in my gut and seemed to digest the entire day. It filled me up.

I'd also eat tortillas, but usually not until several days after leaving a trail town. I'd buy tortillas for burritos while making dinner, but only after running out of burrito makings would I resort to eating the "extra" tortillas as snacks throughout the day. Which is why I never ate them immediately coming out of a trail town. I had to finish the burritos first. I didn't necessarily know how many tortillas I'd need for burritos, so I'd buy more than enough to handle the situation, then eat the extras later as snacks. Sometimes I'd put cheese or salami into it, but usually I just ate them plain. =)
This was one of the best views all day--
but only because they clear cut the
area around the powerlines. =)

Motor carried a bag of popcorn when I saw her near Lake Tahoe which inspired me to buy my own bags of popcorn on a couple of occasions. The popcorn held up remarkably well, but it would be one of the first things I'd eat coming out of a trail town since it was so bulky. Very light, but very bulky.

And that probably covers about 90% of my lunch menu, most of it quite different than what I consumed on previous thru-hikes.

One of the more elaborate structures marking a trailhead.
This was along Road 42, near Clackamas Lake.

A lot of people are fascinated by springs. "Just water coming right out of the ground?" It almost
seems like magic. This spring bubbled out on the side of the trail and immediately drained into
the creek behind it. Since I almost never treated my water, I always preferred getting water from springs.
It certainly doesn't guarantee that the water is safe to drink, but it's probably a lot safer than
water taken from creeks. Less opportunities for it to become infected with something bad.

Timothy Lake

Sounds like a nice place! I wondered where The Graduate was. He was far ahead of me on the trail at this point.
I stopped to camp at this overlook on the trail. I didn't realize it until after I finished the trail while
going through my photos, but this is the EXACT same view as the photo used in the
trail magic note from the previous photo!

A close-up photo of Mount Hood. You can see the groomed ski area near the middle of the photo if you
look really closely. Timberline Lodge is just below that (at the timberline!), but it wasn't readily
visible until it got dark and I could see the lights on.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Search of the PCT

And the road walk continues....
I was on the trail and hiking shortly after sunrise. My goal for the day was simply to get back to the PCT. I wasn't sure if I'd make it or not--the officially suggested fire detours would have required about 40 miles of hiking which was quite a stretch, even for me, but I hoped to shorten the distance some either through illegal or cross-country travel. Maybe both. We'll see.... =)

Highway 46 was a bit further away than I expected, and I turned left at another dirt road before I even reached the highway hoping to cut off a small corner from the suggested route. That went well enough, but I found myself wishing I hadn't stopped as early as I did the night before. I could have easily gotten in another mile and still had a great place to camp alongside the dirt road. I could have been that much closer to the PCT when I started this morning. Oh well, there's nothing that can be done about that now.

Finally I hit Highway 46, a river of asphalt blocked by a barricade of tape. The boundary of the fire closure. And I was on the wrong side of the boundary. I went under the tape and read the posted signage about the fire closure, where I finally learned that the fire closure was put up the day before I reached it. If only I was a day earlier, I could have walked through on the PCT instead of taking this stupid detour. I grumbled a bit, but again, there was nothing I could do about that now.

I didn't stop long, though--just long enough to read the sign. The day was young, and I still had a lot of road walking to do before I'd get back on the PCT.
I finally reached Highway 46, but I'm still on the
wrong side of the fire closure! Not for much
longer, though.

Highway 46 was open to traffic, but there wasn't much of that. Every ten minutes or so a vehicle would drive by, and about half the vehicles that drove by were fire trucks rushing off to some place or another. I didn't know where they were going--clearly not up the dirt road where the PCT had been closed off since I saw nobody at all along that stretch. Guess there must have been another fire somewhere to the south--that's the direction all of the fire trucks were traveling.

The road walk was immensely boring. I couldn't wait to get off it!

Highway 46 eventually intersected with the Forest Service road 4690, which is where the two suggested detours parted ways from each other. Route #2 headed down 4690, which is the direction I went. I was pleased to note that this road seemed less used than Highway 46 as well, but vehicles would still pass by every now and then. Occasionally it would pass an intersecting road that would be closed due to the fire closure--I was now traveling around the northern boundary of the fire closure, basically hugging the boundary the entire distance.
This truck was also sent to help battle nearby wildfires,
but I'm not really sure why it pulled over to the side
of the road here. I'm glad it did, though, because
all of the trucks that drove by were gone before
I had a chance to get my camera out.

Road 4690 eventually turned into dirt after several miles, which also pleased me since it was easier on my feet than a paved road. I noticed that the road seemed unusually wet considering that it hadn't rained since several days before, but that mystery was solved when a fire truck drove by spraying water on the dirt, and I dived into the woods so the water wouldn't hit me. =) I was a little puzzled by the water truck, though. There was no fire around here. If the fire burned up to the edge of the road, whatever water was laid down to impede the fire would have long since dried. Why was it out here spraying water on the roads when it should have been putting out fires? (Later, while talking to some of the personal fighting the fire, I learned it was simply to keep the dust down for the vehicles used to fight the fire. The water had nothing to do with controlling the wildfires--not directly, at least.)

My maps for the area weren't especially good--my maps covered the corridor along the PCT--so I was constantly doubting myself with every road intersection and trying to figure out exactly where I was. At some point, I knew, this dirt road would intersect with another road. To the right would head into Olallie Lake, currently closed due to fire, and to the left was the continuation of the detour, and a mere mile away, if I went straight through the trees and brush, I'd hit the PCT. I needed to figure out exactly which of the road intersections this was. It looked like it happened at a sharp hairpin turn in the dirt road, and I found what I thought must be it. The road to the right was closed off with tape--it must have led to Olallie Lake. Nobody was around and it would be easy to sneak in to hook up with the PCT, I thought, but I was still a little bothered at the idea of sneaking into an area closed due to fire. Even if there was absolutely no fire visible anywhere. I decided to follow the suggested detour a bit more and check out the cross-country option which would allow me to avoid the closure completely and actually shorten the distance I had to walk as well. The brush and trees didn't look too bad for traveling cross country.
Always danger on the trail!
Even the road walks....

I arrived at another intersection a short way further up the trail where a dozen or so cars were parked with people milling around. Hmm..... What is going on here?

I walked into the group of people and was told that the road to the right was closed due to the fire. Most of the people there were campers who had been evacuated from the campground at Olallie Lake during the lightning storms several days before and had to abandon all of their gear at the campground. They now had permission, for the time being, to go back to the campground to retrieve their belongings, but they had to be escorted by fire personnel and immediately leave the area again. They were waiting for their escort.

This was also the first fire personnel I could actually talk to and get information about the closure from an actual source. I had been trying to use my cell phone and e-mail all day, hoping to get a connection to the outside world to find out more about the closure, but I had stayed annoyingly out of range of cell phone towers and my devices were utterly useless. Now here was someone with first hand information!

There was a woman controlling access to the road to the right, who told me that she was pretty happy when she got the call for this fire the day before. It was Saturday (today was Sunday), and that meant overtime for her. Ca-ching! She said she'd been expecting a call all week ever since the lightning storms went through Monday night.

I also learned there was a wildfire burning in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness area, which concerned me at first since I thought the PCT went through that area. When I tried to get more details about that fire closure, though, I realized that I mistook it for the Bull Run area which is Portland's water supply. The trail does go by Bull Run, but Bull Run had no fires burning in it. So I at least had confirmation that once I got around this fire closure, there would be no more through the rest of Oregon. She didn't have any information about fires burning in Washington, though.
Road 4690 to Olallie Lake was very well marked!

I was a little bothered by the road that was closed, though. That was the suggested alternate route. That was the direction I needed to go, and I really didn't want to backtrack a dozen miles to take alternate route #1, and I wondered if I could talk my way into the "technically" closed area. I'd just barely graze into the closure, then pick up the PCT and hike right back out. The fires were burning deep in the interior of Olallie Lake so I'd be well away from any area that would have been dangerous. And I'd be on foot so there wouldn't be a vehicle to get in the way of the fire trucks that were working up and down the road.

Ultimately, she gave me the okay to get a ride with the campers going to retrieve their belongings, and they'd drop me off at Olallie Meadow where I could pick up the PCT. Yes!

I jumped in the van with the campers and we formed a convoy that drove into the fire closure. Almost immediately, I realized I had made a big mistake. I thought I had already walked past the road to Olallie Lake and I'd get a ride back to the intersection, but I was wrong. It was the wrong road. No, they drove through the closed road that the was where all the cars were parked. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

They dropped me off at Olallie Meadow, perhaps a mile away, and I sat down there trying to decide what to do. My footsteps were broken. This really bothered me. I had left a trail of unbroken footsteps from Mexico all the way to that intersection, and now there was a gap of about one mile in my footprints I hadn't walked. But it was just ONE MILE! I tried to justify it in my head. It was a situation out of my control. It's not like I had ever planned to hiked every step of the PCT. I had already followed two official detours in Southern California due to damage from wildfires, and I lost the trail so many times in the High Sierras that I lost count. It's not like I was ON the PCT that entire time.

But despite all that, my footsteps had always stayed connected. $#!^! My feet had covered that entire distance, even if it wasn't always strictly on the PCT. Was it such a big deal if there was a one-mile gap in my footprints?
Here the pavements gives way to
gravel. I much prefer walking on
gravel. The gravel seemed unusually
wet, though....

I looked around Olallie Meadow, knowing that the PCT was supposed to be somewhere on the other side of the meadow. I so wanted to be able to dash on over there and be back on the trail, but I couldn't. My footsteps were broken. I had to fix that.

I picked up my pack and started walking back out on the road I came in on. I got back to the intersection with the lady controlling access to the fire closure, and when she saw me, she had a look of concern. What was wrong? What happened?

"I couldn't do it," I told her. "I couldn't break my footprints. I need to keep them connected."

We got into a somewhat philosophical discussion about hiking and connected footprints. I was the first thru-hiker she had seen on the trail, and she didn't realize that there were some of us out here who had hiked in all the way from Mexico, so she asked me a few questions about that and about how heavy my pack was. I pointed to my pack and said she could pick it up if she wanted to feel its weight, which she did, and said it was lighter than she would have expected.

I knew there were hikers ahead of me--I had seen their footprints while hiking out to Highway 46--but if she hadn't seen any, I assumed that meant they had taken the suggested alternate #1 route. I was the first thru-hiker to reach this point on this detour.

In any case, I needed to connect the footprints.

"So it would have been okay if you walked to Olallie Meadow and reconnected with the trail?"

"Yes."
A water tank keeping the dust down. Thanks! =)

And ironically, I had now walked that gap, but now I was back at this intersection and not at Olallie Meadow where the trail could be found. I didn't really want to walk back again, and there weren't any campers milling around anymore waiting to get in. I decided to just go cross country instead.

I pulled out the maps I had and asked the lady about my idea. Did she know what the terrain was like where I proposed hiking cross-country back to the PCT? No, not really, but she did study my topo maps closely and agreed that it was quite doable, and completely outside of the fire closure. It looked like the trail approached the road closest about a mile further up the road to the left, so I told her that was my plan. I'd continue walking north on the road for about one mile, then cut cross-country a mile (perhaps a mile and a half depending on the terrain) until I hit the PCT. I told her exactly what my plans were. If I somehow hurt myself and went missing, I wanted someone to know where to start searching. She would know. Not that I expected there to be any problems, but better safe than sorry.

Then I picked up my pack and started hiking north along the road again. After a mile or so, I pulled out my compass, hung it around my neck, and dived into the forest.
Olallie Meadow. The PCT is somewhere
on the other side of that meadow!

The compass was absolutely essential. The sky was still overcast and I couldn't identify directions from the location of the sun. I couldn't even tell where the sun was located. The forest was full of tall trees that obscured all views, so I couldn't sight my compass on some distant point then follow that landmark. The only landmarks I could use were trees that were maybe 50 feet away. I wound my way through the brush and trees, over logs, and around thick, densely packed trees that would have been too difficult to get through. Its easy to lose one's sense of direction in such conditions, and I'd have to check my compass every couple of minutes to make sure I was still headed in the correct direction. Usually, after just a couple of minutes, I was heading approximately 90 degrees off in the wrong direction.

It was astounding how quickly I'd lose track of which way I was headed. Without the compass, I could have wandered around in circles for days never making any progress. I never really understood how people who get lost end up walking in circles, but it really hit home with me after this experience. I've traveled cross-country before, but it's always been when visibility is good and I could sense my direction from the sun or identify distant landmarks that I would head towards. Without those indicators, though, I was completely and totally dependent on that compass. "Go east, young man," I told myself. "Just go east. Eventually you'll hit the trail."

Almost an hour later, I reached a small creek flowing through the woods. Yes! While analyzing my topo map, I noticed a small creek running mostly parallel between the road and the trail. It was called Small Creek, and I expected to cross it at some point. This must be that creek, I thought. Confirmation that I was still headed in the correct direction! (Besides the confirmation from my compass, that is.) I stepped up on a log crossing the creek, crossed on the log, then stepped down on the bank on the other side. My foot immediately sank a foot deep in the mud, which took me by surprise. The bank had looked pretty solid!
This is the precise location where I left
the road and started to travel
cross-country.

I jerked my foot out, mostly a knee-jerk reaction, and the mud sucked my shoe right off my foot. $#!@! I need that shoe! I put my foot back into the hole, trying to catch the shoe with my toes, slowly working it back out of the mud. Once extracted, I tried to rinse it off a bit in the water and reestablished it on my foot. Stupid mud. Where is the PCT anyhow? Shouldn't I be getting close to it? I couldn't wait to be on the trail again.

I wondered if anyone had ever stepped foot on the ground I was currently walking on. It was far off the beaten path. Maybe hunters or explorers come through at some point, I thought. I felt like an explorer myself. The creek was named, so clearly people knew it was there. A couple of minutes later, I walked into an area that had clearly been clear cut. Loggers, of course. None of this area is virgin. Loggers have probably covered every square inch of this forest at some point or another.

About an hour and 15 minutes after I headed into the forest, I fell out again. I was only about five feet away when I finally saw the trail. It's amazing how close it can be while having no idea it was even there. YES! The trail! I made it! I'm back on the PCT!!!! I whooped it up, danced a little jig on the trail. "Hello, my friend! How are you?! I've missed you!!! Don't ever leave me like that again!"

I was pretty happy with myself. I had cut the suggested alternate routes in almost half. I missed about a dozen miles of PCT trail, which required about two dozen miles of walking to get around. But I was back on the PCT!

Though admittedly, I wasn't entirely sure exactly where on the PCT I was located. I knew roughly, probably accurate to within two miles, where I was on the PCT, but until I could identify a specific landmark along the trail, I couldn't be certain exactly where I was located. If I started hiking north, the next definitive landmark I should hit would be Lemiti Creek. Then everything will be back to "normal." I estimated it to be about three miles away, but I could be off by as much as a mile.
Terrain typical of my cross-country jaunt.

About a half hour later, I reached a campsite, which even had campers in it. This was it! Lemiti Creek! Given my speed, I had probably come out on the trail about two miles away. I walked up to the campers--I wanted to talk about the fire closure. If they were traveling southbound, they might not even know about it. If they were traveling northbound--well, that didn't even seem possible. The only way they could have legally gotten to this point traveling northbound was if they did the cross-country stunt that I pulled, and the lady controlling the road access into Olallie Lake hadn't seen any other hikers pass by, much less any crazy enough to travel cross country.

The trio introduced themselves as Eric, Tracy, and Ramsey (the dog). I told them about my adventures getting around the fire closure, and they told me that I was the first person they had seen all day. Not surprising since the trail was closed to the south. I wouldn't count on any others coming through anytime soon either. I set up camp nearby and joined them around the campfire. They were out for the weekend, leaving for civilization again in the morning. They had also packed in way too much food and fed me dinner with lemonade. =) They wanted to set up a lemonade table for passing hikers out in the backcountry, complete with a homemade sign with the backwards E. I heartily approved the idea. =) They also had a guitar which they played all night long. I entertained them with stories of Sam McGee and such.

We were in the trees at this location, but we could see a small patch of the night time sky overhead. I had made a passing comment about how I usually like to camp out of the trees so I can enjoy the stars, pointing straight up and mentioning that the bright star overhead was Vega.
I found the PCT! YES! I made it!

Tracy sat up a little taller. "You know that's Vega?" She apparently knew that too, but was stunned to discover that someone else would know that. It's not a star that most people can identify.

I was still a little skeptical that she really knew that information, though--I know how rare it is to find someone who can identify such specific objects in the night-time sky, but she was already excited about it, then pointing out it was part of the Summer Triangle, along with Altair and Denub.

Holy cow! She really does know this stuff! An astronomy geek! Cool! =) I think Eric started tuning us out at this point. It all appeared to go over his head.

"Wait a minute," I told her, running off to my gear. I pulled out a laser pointer I had been carrying--easier to point stuff out in the night-time sky--along with my latest issue of Astronomy magazine. Astronomy geeks--you gotta love us. =)

The magazine didn't really do us much good since we really couldn't see much of the night-time sky from our location. Even the other two stars that made up the Summer Triangle weren't in view. But Tracy really liked the laser pointer, pointing it at trees and at Eric. I don't think she knew that laser pointers could be used to point at stars in the sky. (Well, she knew you could point AT them, but not that you could actually SEE the beam of light and precisely where it was being pointed.)

I think we agreed that ultimately, I was the bigger astronomy geek, but just barely, and only because I had the laser pointer. =)
Tracy, Eric, and Ramsey, enjoying the campfire.

I stayed up late into the night chatting with the two, way past my bedtime, but I really enjoyed their company. =) I had forgotten how much fun it can be camping with others--it seemed like most of Oregon and Northern California I'd largely been hiking (and camping) alone. I suddenly found myself excited to have others nearby to chat with, even if it would only be for the one night.

But eventually, we all went to sleep. The day was over. And I was back on the PCT. =)