My feet are overjoyed today – zero miles! And a bed. And a shower. No 5:30am alarm call.
After 4 days of no phone signal and contact with the outside world, we took the opportunity to check emails, the news, and catch up with messages to friends and family. It felt good to hear from people. Mostly it was amazing to Skype my mum, albeit for a short time as a power outage in the village cut the call short!
Sitting in the darkness of our cabin, we worked on our plan for the next section. Up until now our focus had just been getting here. We now need a plan. We want to push on, but the next section starting around Crater Lake’s rim trail has a massive 26 mile stretch without any water sources. Except maybe snow! That’s a bit scary for us novices.
After sorting out our food resupply box and donating surpluses to the hiker box, we sat outside the store talking with the other hikers. One lady and her dad were waiting for a very expensive taxi to arrive to take them back to Klamath Falls. They have had enough. Jessie, the guy we met briefly at Hyatt Lake pulled up in a car – he had skipped from Fish Lake. There is still no sign of Brandon and Maya. I do worry about them.
Whilst enjoying not needing to be in a rush for a change I took some time to reflect on what I have learnt in the last 10 days…
I mustn’t wear a retractable penknife on the outside of my pack in the future unless I want to stab myself (again)!
Carry more deet
And more water
A kindle is not an essential piece of hiking equipment
Our exit from camp came fast today – it helps when you have no fuel to cook anything. We were also motivated to make lunch at Crater Lake!
The packs are finally feeling a lot lighter – containing just a day of food and 1 litre of water. We hiked as fast as we could but we’re both experiencing jelly legs. They were just non-responsive! I think it was largely dehydration. I was stumbling all over the place. We need a rest.
It felt good to enter the park boundary a mile in, but we were still a way from anything. At 5.5 miles from our destination I threw myself down into the dirt of the trail and just laid there. Conrad came and sat with me. It was a low point! We stopped more than every mile after that to eat small bits of food for energy. We were the walking dead.
Snow and trees remained our nemesis. Those and the mosquitos who love the snow melt. The snow got more plentiful and softer the closer we got, to the point it felt like we were walking through sand. They were the slowest miles despite the effort we were putting in! When we finally saw highway 62 ahead I exhaled. A small van was parked across the street and a girl from it started walking over to us as we looked at the map. I was sure she was about to offer us a lift into the campsite village, but no, they had broken down and was asking whether we had phone signal!
So off we trudged for the last stretch off the PCT into Mazama Village. It is not actually much of a village, but just the sight of the two small wooden buildings made me want to cry with happiness! We had made it. Hot food and a shower awaited us!
After a satisfying lunch of burgers, we were told our cabin was not ready yet. So we joined a small group of hikers sat outside the camp store, including our new friend Dave. Dave was loitering around drinking beer – I’m not sure what time he had started drinking but he was very animated. I found him intense in my fragile state. Maybe hiking alone can drive a person a little crazy? He referred to our collective group as ‘Hikertrash’. He can speak for himself – we may smell, but we’re not there yet!
We met two friendly ladies called Lori and Vicky who have hiked the Californian section previously. They told us that Alfred ‘Speedball’ had arrived the day before and quit the trail. He said it was just miserable. We were completely shocked as he had been so confident, had a super light pack, and was very well-built. They also revealed that in their opinion this had been the toughest section they have ever walked because of the conditions. This made us feel some solace.
Whilst sitting in the sun wearing our hot rain gear (clothes in the washer), Dan from Kentucky arrived following his 2 days of road walking. He looked very tanned. He was joined not long after by Jesus lookalike Habit, who brought further news from Fish Lake that Dirty Hippy had pulled out. Another shocker! This guy was a determined 19-year old about to join the marines who was making record time from Mexico. He was even climbing further mountains on the side with an ice axe just for fun. His reason for quitting? He had got bored.
Thanks to Chris and Leslie in hiking HQ we received our first resupply box of food and essentials. What a relief! With it we retired to our cabin to shower and take a nap.
Later in the evening whilst waiting for a pizza, Micah and his parents walked into the restaurant. He actually was barely walking. Conrad called him Sheriff! He had walked solid to complete the section in 2 days. I thought that we were broken, but he showed us! He had counted 803 blow-downs since Fish Lake! His parents were there to take him home. He was out. I hope he enjoys some time away and maybe rejoins us at a later date. I don’t blame him. It is disheartening to see so many of the hikers we have befriended opt out so early on.
The last 10 days have been brutal. I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but I also wasn’t expecting this. The combination of blow-downs, snow, and mosquitos have taken their toll. We will rest tomorrow and plan our next section with a clear head. Thanks to everyone so far for all your support.
I slept much better last night because I just passed out from exhaustion! The icy cold spring water made for a refreshing wake up ‘shower’. Filtering water out here is a chore but it tastes great. I also appreciated our camping spot more in the morning seeing as we hadn’t been eaten in the night. It was idyllic.
We left camp with wet shoes that we had been unable to dry out after our snow escapades. My butt was also causing me discomfort following a particularly invasive mosquito bite. Since then I have now lost all self-respect as Conrad stands behind me whilst I pee to swat the little critters!
Although we hadn’t said it out loud at that point, we were both secretly hoping we could pull a miracle out of the bag and hike the 23 miles to the amenities of Crater Lake today. After 4 miles we realised it wasn’t possible. Along the way we met the first person we had seen in days – Dave the professional traveller. He was relieved to see that we had found his foam sitting pad which he had left on a log a few miles up trail after leaving in a hurry due to the mozzies. He referred to them as ‘maddening’. He did seem quite mad.
After the last possible place we filled up with 4 litres of water each. This was to last us the next 16 miles, including an overnight camp. We had to seriously ration. Thanks to the heavy bags we had to stop and rest more often today. Twice we took our shoes and off and put our feet in the snow to numb the pain. Conrad is suffering from a nasty blister on his toe. He even had the nerve to accuse me of secretly filling his bag with firewood as it felt heavier every time he put it back on!
I’ll be honest here – today was not very enjoyable. We didn’t stop often to admire the scenery and take lots of photos. We were purely trying to clock off the miles. Spirits were low.
The trail kept taking us from damp forest areas with lingering snow mounds, where mosquitos were rampant, into dry arid areas. In these places long stretches of older forest fires meant we couldn’t escape from the sun. Today’s burn zone showed new grow pines spurting up. In the Oregon desert we caught our first glimpse of Crater Lake’s famous rim peaks still sprinkled in snow. It looked far away as we were zoning out daydreaming about ice-cold fizzy drinks and real food.
After another day of 11 hours on the trail we reached a flat enough area to camp on Goose Egg ridge. Only after setting up the tent did we notice all the scattered animal bones nearby. Those mountain lions had better stay away – I’m in no mood to be messed with! I started cooking a dehydrated pasta meal only to discover our gas canister ran out before the water could boil. At this point I wanted to cry. We really could have done with a hot meal. Instead we ate some jerky and another snack bar. We both can’t wait to reach Mazama Village tomorrow for food and a shower. Looks like Conrad is going to have to deal with me without my morning coffee!
The alarm woke us at 5:30. We were desperate to fool the mozzies and make some miles before it heated up. We had a 15 mile stretch to face with no water stops, and yesterday’s hiking pace was around 1.5 mph! That’s a long day with just 4 litres each. The mozzies were unfortunately awake.
I felt particularly sluggish as we slowly filtered water at Christi’s Spring before setting off. I hadn’t slept well last night because I had been busy scaring myself with the noises of the forest. At around 1am and 3am I had heard animal footsteps close by, most likely deer. I know it’s irrational, but in the pitch black of night the wilderness can be a frightening place!
Leaving the spring we were startled by 2 skinny tall guys walking towards us. They were thru-hikers already here from Mexico who have been averaging 37 miles per day. They are machines. It made me envious to know they would probably reach Crater Lake today, whilst we still felt so far from away.
Continuing on through Sky Lakes Wilderness we were plagued by the same tree and bug issues as yesterday. This was compounded by the heat. It’s the climbing over trees that was killing us. Doing hurdles with the weight of a small child on our backs, or taking pointless detours that then required us to look for the trail again sucked.
I started feeling a real sense of what ‘wilderness’ really means. Unlike earlier in the trail we now crossed no forest service roads and met no day hikers. There was no phone signal, only trees and mountains in the horizon.
After lunch we sat on a log at 6500 feet, the views started opening up. As we rounded the western face of Luther Mountain we hit our first challenging traverse of steep icy snow. Obviously professional kited out in nothing but trail runners we had to take it very carefully. One slip would have taken us over the cliff. Conrad was very patient and progressed slowly cutting foot wells into the snow for me to follow. He coached me along and provided reassurance, evening making me laugh by saying that he should tie us together so that if I go over he comes too so he wouldn’t have to answer to my mum!
Ice walk over, we came to a section of trail along the Shale Butte ridge which had recently experienced a very destructive forest fire. This made for great views, but blazing sun. Wilting away we found patches of snow to fill up our hats and sit in to cool down.
Late afternoon and the amount of snow began to increase. We pot-holed a few times. My jaw dropped when we reached the north summit of Devils Peak. People had warned us of the snow, but I had mistakenly thought we had just passed through it. The PCT was invisible. The only way down was straight over the edge of the icy facade. Conrad led the way on his butt. I was terrified, but turning back at this point was not an option. I went down behind him gaining more and more momentum. It ended up being scary but exhilarating and definitely cooled us down – we were now wet and freezing! When I turned around to see where we had come from I couldn’t believe how steep it was!
The final mile to camp was navigated purely by looking for faint prints and GPS bearings. Were they bear prints I could make out?! We made camp at around 6:30pm near a stream where the mosquitos joined us. It was heartbreaking to make such little miles. This likely means another 2 nights of camping to reach Crater Lake. I need a shower!
On paper today should have been pretty straightforward. Only 11 miles would take us from Fish Lake to Christi’s Spring, an important water source. Easy right?
At Fish Lake over a last hot breakfast we were feeling eager to get back on the trail. Mostly we felt excitement at the prospect of reaching out first milestone and official resupply point at Crater Lake. My feet were also improving.
As we left the resort’s owner Pam gave me a hug and warned us to be safe. A number of their guests including two young girls called Tori and Michelle had decided to come off the trail and bypass this next section due to the reported conditions. It was uncertain as to what lay ahead exactly as we hadn’t met any hikers coming southbound. A US Forest Ranger pulled up as we were leaving and gave us more confidence because his only warning to us concerned bugs! Surely the actual trail was all good then?!
Once again Jan and Scott kindly offered is a ride back to the trailhead. It was sad to say goodbye to them as they are now driving up to Crater Lake. I hope our paths cross again. We started hiking at 10:15am. We reached camp completely broken at 6:15pm!
The first few miles climbed only gradually through damp forest, but the heat and number of tree blow downs made it incredibly slow going. We had to make it to Christi’s Spring as that was the next water source. 2 hours in and we had moved just 3 miles! And they were tough miles. Climbing over and around trees with a full, heavy pack felt like torture. It was hard on our knees and feet.
The ranger hadn’t been kidding about the mosquitos! They were not playing to the usual rules here. Despite being covered in deet and wearing long clothes Conrad had has face stung and our bodies rapidly became covered in bites. They don’t even usually like me, especially when Conrad is nearby. By mid afternoon we were navigating in head nets which was less than ideal! At camp that evening they really stepped up their game and made every little task unbearable. I have truly never experienced anything like it before.
About 4 miles in we took a wrong turn thanks to some awesome signage and ended up on the amount McLoughlin trail. We realised 20 minutes in. At this point we had a decision to make. Either turn around and walk back up the hill we just came down, or reroute on to Fourmile Lake where we could get some water. The fear of running out of water won.
Walking down a forest service road to the Lake the heat was bad. Thankfully after a mile just as we were beginning to regret our decision a truck came up behind us. Without even thinking about it I stuck out my thumb. He stopped! Rick was heading to the lake with a truck full of camping and kayaking equipment but offered us a ride if we could squeeze into his tailgate. We bundled on and hung on for dear life!
Once at the lake we found a great spot on the shoreline to rest. A gourmet lunch of wraps with peanut butter, Nutella, and cheese was served. And crisps. Sad times. I had been hoping there might have been a campsite store.
From the campsite we took the Twin Ponds trail, stopping by a water pump to refill. Off we went up a completely deserted path back into the wilderness. At one point we noticed what seemed to be some paw prints which resembled exactly what I would expect a mountain lion’s prints to be. I made lots of extra noise after that!
Once we reconnected to the PCT we had added only 1 extra mile to our day – thanks to Rick. I don’t think I could have done much more and still made it to the spring. The forest felt deserted. This was to be our first solo wilderness camp. I was spooked. It felt unsettling to be so alone.
This we agreed without doubt has been our toughest day yet. Conrad has coined the phrase ‘Fackered’ to describe it. The mosquitos have certainly taken their toil too. We retreated into the tent as quickly as possible.
Today at breakfast talk was dominated by snow. It could prove an issue. It just doesn’t seem to be melting fast enough. Sharing a breakfast table with Alfred and another new hiker Dan, we were shown a photo taken a week ago of a section of the trail 150 miles north. All you could see was snow!
Dan plans to road walk to Crater Lake, leaving tomorrow. I think this is nuts. We are here to hike the PCT and see all it has to offer. Road walking is a killer on the feet too – which are still delicate. Alfred is a very bravado kind of guy and shrugged it off. He left later in the day. We therefore decided that we would try to press on and just see if we can get through. Before we do this though we needed to change out some gear so we are better equipped.
Queue fate once again. Whilst still at breakfast another couple – Jan and Scott – heard how we needed to get to the town of Medford 45 minutes away. They had intended to hike up to Crater Lake but had instead decided to rent a car and drive up. Jan has some foot issues so understandably they didn’t want to risk the snow. They had already booked a cab to the car rental place in town and offered to split it with us! Hurray!
Whilst in the cab we were hatching a plan to stay in a hotel in Medford for the night (hot shower/ bed!), but this all depended on securing a ride back to the trail. We tried calling a trail angel, and asked in town but it wasn’t to be. When we arrived to a cab fee of $125 we decided to take up Jan and Scott’s kind offer of a ride back to the resort today. Shame we had already taken the tent down!
We were back to where it had all started, in the local REI branch. Boy we can’t seem to stay away from that store. Entering it is like a time-warp. Joe who works there was amazingly helpful. And in the near 2 hours we were in there we changed out our cooking system for gas and got a bunch of other stuff to carry in our packs. Most important for me were fancy Superfeet insoles – let’s hope they work!
During all this time Jan and Scott from Walla Walla (yes it’s a real place), had come to the store and waited for us! I could not believe how patient they were. We have met incredible people so far, but these two have trumped them all! We all lunched at The Mongolian BBQ – I finally ate some vegetables!!! They then drove us to Safeway and the post office…hiking HQ in Concord can expect another package of our stuff for storage soon.
Highlight of the day, actually of my week, was a trip to Cold Stone Creamery…
Back at Fish Lake I treated myself to a $2 shower today. That probably brought me an extra 30 seconds. Whilst in the rather gross shower I couldn’t help but laugh to myself – if only my mother could see me now!
Micah, Brandon, and another family they have teamed up with had now arrived in camp. They plan to stay here tomorrow and are expecting a trial update from us, so we can be the Guinea pigs!
We should now arrive at Crater Lake if all goes well on Wednesday 29th. This is because the next 4 days of hiking distance are dictated to us by the limited availability of water sources! Wish us luck!
Greatest achievement today was cadging a lift off a nice trio so we didn’t have to waste miles road walking. Biggest failure is harder to pin down. Maybe my lingering swollen feet. Maybe the bitter disappointment at not getting a bed at Fish Lake for the night.
It was a cold camp this morning so we were sluggish packing up. We always take longer when there are other people around to talk to and Loren was in no hurry. He really left a lasting impression on me as a very kind person. He is responsible for maintaining a stretch of the northern PCT from Harts Pass. At nearly 65 he is a far more accomplished hiker and outdoorsman than the two of us.
As we were just about to leave I was startled by a tiny dog at my feet. Park Explorer and his chihuahua Ari were already 6 miles into their day! Ari didn’t strike me as the obvious choice of hiking dog. I asked his owner if he worried about the mountain lions. Apparently the raptors are a bigger threat – from up above Ari looks like a rabbit! Poor little tyke.
For the first time we found ourselves hiking in long sleeves, it felt that cold. Within a couple of miles we reached the lava fields which form of base of Brown Mountain. Walking on the solid rocks I treaded gingerly. Each step felt like I was walking over hot coals. My feet pads are very swollen – this did not help! The lava was visually striking, the stark anthracite boulders contrasting against the lush green forests below. In the distance stood a snowy Mount McLoughlin, yet another volcano I hope does not decide to erupt anytime soon.
By noon it had really heated up. Just after climbing over yet another fallen tree we met a local trio who were enjoying their lunch. It was at this point that we were delivered the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU! We were beyond shocked. Pat, Joan, and John were about to turn around and head back to their car on Highway-140. They offered us a lift for the 2 miles along the road to Fish Lake Resort. We had both been hoping on reaching there before lunch ended at 2pm. This was fate!
Before you think it, catching a lift off the PCT is notcheating. We will start right back where we left off and it saved my nasty feet a harsh tarmac pounding!
We were beyond grateful for our first ride. What kind people they are. We arrived elated and just about made lunch. Excited to be told that the last ‘rustic’ cabin was vacant, we paid for the night and lugged our bags to the room. Wow. The place was a dirty shed. In the middle of the room stood a full garbage bin. The carpets were stained and the bed – a bare dirty mattress – looked like it belonged in a crack den! For $75 with no bathroom we sadly returned the key and headed for the small PCT campsite.
There will be 5 tents with 7 people on our little site tonight. These include Park Explorer and Ari, and Alfred ‘SpeedBall’, a very matter-of-fact maths teacher. Laundry complete – we smelt ripe – we got to enjoy a 3.5 minute luke-warm shower each for 6 quarters! This was grim. My clothes were also not quite dry so that put a bit of a downer into going to bed, but luckily I am so tired I am past caring!
There are a lot of people ‘zeroing’ here tomorrow to rest up and give the snow ahead a chance to disappear! We are tired now so will consider our options over a hot breakfast and gallons of coffee in the morning.
Firstly I am happy to report that Conrad has not dropt dead following his suspected tarantula bite!!! Whatever is biting us though it not very considerate.
Camp departure down to 1.5 hours today, we made some good first miles whilst still cool. On the way uphill to the first spring a number of fallen trees had been freshly logged to maintain the trail. We thought all the horror stories we have been hearing about the down trees would therefore have now gotten ‘sorted’. The issue seems to be that this part of the US has experienced 2 years of draught, followed by a heavy snowfall last winter. The result? Well we witnessed it in abundance later in the day! Hiking uphill, with a large heavy pack on the back is difficult enough without having to keep climbing up/ under/ circumventing fallen trees. They are a real pain. This slowed us down somewhat. I would also like to point out that today’s mileage does not reflect the ‘extra’ miles spent walking around this debris!
On the final 2 miles of the day we passed a couple from Ashland who were foraging for mushrooms. I personally hate mushrooms. However, thanks to them if the time comes when we are desperate for food we have something to fall back on!
At 4pm we arrived at South Brown Mountain Shelter. This is a small RUSTIC wilderness shelter kindly built in 1993 by the National Guard. We gave it a little inspection and decided to put our tent up outside! I’m sure the wooden benches would have been real comfortable, but there were lots of insects inside and so far our track record of being bitten is not good. I’m also scared of mice. Inside there is a wood burner to heat the place and a PCT register so we spent time reading the comments of the hikers who have come before us. Unfortunately no one has come southbound so there is no trail info on the conditions up there.
enjoying the picnic table luxury
We were not alone for long. Whilst sitting outside trying to address my foot issues (on a wonderful picnic bench no less) people started swinging by. Firstly the mushroom couple arrived to take a look at the cabin. They were real chatty! Then a female couple called Teach and Chong (trail names not real) who were section hiking stopped by. Finally an older gentleman from north of Seattle named Loren arrived for the night. He is out to finish his section-by-section hike of the entire trail ending at Timberline Lodge. He is twice as fit as us!
That evening Loren was good company. He is full useful hiking advice, kindly going out of his way to share tips and show us pieces of kit and food. From talking to him (and others) we have added a few extra things to our shopping list. We especially want to switch our stove to a gas one as everyone else has always finished eating before we can even boil water.
I enjoyed our evening in camp with the Yurt Man, despite the cold. I was a little unsettled going to bed though after his story of seeing a local mountain lion, and of a male marathon runner who was recently killed by one in southern California!
In the PCT world, today was what is known as a ‘nero’ – near zero miles. The reason for this was two-fold. Firstly we thought we would stop at a proper campground at the next lake to enjoy a shower. More importantly we had pack issues, having just filled them with a 5-day food supply. Food is heavy! Even dehydrated rubbish. I blame the trail mix (contentious inside-issue). Having woken in the comfort of a cabin we had a hot breakfast and borrowed some scales to review the damage….
My pack was 30lbs. This did not include water. After I made a circus of hoisting it onto my back for the first time I wanted to cry. How could I possibly carry this to Canada?
We plodded along the lake slowly, reaching the campground a mile away in what felt like an eternity! There we found Micha, Brandon and Maya situated in a nice little spot with what looked like a very comprehensive camp set up – it must help carrying 70lbs! They are staying put for another day to rest and enjoy the lake. I felt jealous as we trudged on.
The trail was very quiet today, we didn’t see a single person. We did disturb some deer at various points, but otherwise our world was silent. The tranquility try was only broken by a mid-trail ‘discussion’ between us on pack weight. I will not go into details, but it was resolved. Due to the discomfort of the bag on my shoulders and feet I probably didn’t enjoy the trail as I should have. I did think towards the end of the day that it would have made for a really great day hike – minus the pack. I was consumed in my agony. Why am I so weak? I have to tell myself to take this day by day and hope that it starts to feel easier soon.
We reached Klum Landing, a state campground at an early time of 4pm. This was welcomed as it gave us time to unwind. It was strange though, as not a single other campsite was occupied. We could hear a few boats out on the lake, but otherwise nothing. It became quite eerie after dark when we were still alone – you don’t expect that in such a place.
Just before dark we had met just one person. A fellow hiker who had driven around from the other side of the lake with her dog Oscar. I wanted to adopt Oscar. He could be our trail companion and mascot. His owner had been up hiking near Fish Lake where we are due in 2 days and warned of mosquitos and snow in the Sky Lakes Wilderness – basically the stretch to Crater Lake. This is not the first warning we have had saying similar. Back at Hyatt Lake we had been told the same, but reports are sketchy. A Crater Lake Ranger told us they have over 200 trees down in a 4-mile stretch, but couldn’t elaborate on if the trail is still passable. They haven’t seen any thru-hikers yet, so remains to be seen. This may be an issue. We will see once at Fish Lake.
The day ended better than it started with a campfire, s’mores, and a very starry sky. It was really windy by the lake though and I eventually fell asleep to the pounding on the tent.
We are under no disillusion that so far we have been very fortunate. For a start it hasn’t rained! Secondly, we have just enjoyed the last 2 nights with access to a shower and somewhere to sit. Much to my surprise I actually think that having a picnic table is even more useful than a shower as cooking and eating on the ground sucks. This is a very rare amount of amenities so close together on the PCT, so things are set to get much tougher.