5 soul-boosting reasons to hike the PCT

Die-hard “thru-hiker” or aspirational backpacker (like myself), a trip along America’s infamous Pacific Crest Trail has much to offer. Here we explore 5 reasons why hitting the trail is a no-brainer. Could a call to the wild be just the life-altering experience you need?

1. Fresh air anyone?

With 2,650 miles of primitive trail snaking all the way from Mexico to Canada, one thing the PCT has in abundance is space. In epic proportions. Rarely will you find yourself crossing a road or treading tarmac of any kind. How refreshing it is to walk a path absent of crowds and wafts of other people’s cigarette smoke. Whilst you’re enjoying this new-found clean air, expect to repetitively utter the word ‘awesome’ to describe the surrounding scenery, in a totally non-ironic way. Take for example, Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. Home to the oft-photographed “Knife’s Edge”, where you will inhale lungfuls of frigid mountain air as you scale across its perilous ridge. The remnants of an eroded stratovolcano, these sharp, serrated peaks resemble a Stegosaurus’ spine, perfectly sandwiched between deep valley drainages – vertigo-sufferers be warned!

2. The opportunity to finally disconnect

Unsurprisingly, the wilderness isn’t known for its high-speed data connectivity – in fact, good luck if you find any mobile signal out there at all! When was the last time you didn’t sneak a peek at your phone’s captivating screen for more than a couple of hours? Yet, being forced to switch off those swiping reflexes and tap-out of the bombarding online world is invigorating. It may take a few days to adjust, but once you do it’s incredible just how far your other senses are heightened. You will begin to appreciate your surroundings in a whole new light, the small things we otherwise miss, such as the vibrating tones of circling hummingbirds, or the fragrance of evergreen pines so indicative of Christmas. Call it mindfulness, a digital detox, or whatever you like, but clearing your headspace of over-stimulation to get in touch with your more intrinsic-self should be on everybody’s To-Do list.

3. Trail Magic

I probably shouldn’t even list it here, because the whole point of “trail magic” is the unexpected element associated with receiving a gift of unsolicited kindness. Yet, the PCT is renowned for attracting just this. Total strangers – with no hidden agenda – time and time again aid hikers by providing free rides into town, food donations, and even sometimes hosting them in their homes. At my lowest point on the entire trail, having hiked through rain for three days solid, a chance encounter with an American-Irish family reunion saved me. Welcomed into the fold, within 24-hours of being fed, laundered, and provided an actual bed, I hiked out not only stronger, but with a restored faith in humanity. You will undoubtedly meet a plethora of genuine people from all walks of life on the PCT. Often known solely by a playful trail meme, many a colourful character will become a life-long friend.

4. Appreciating simple things

There’s nothing like an extended trip along the PCT for highlighting the simple things we often take for granted. With an average of five days living in the wild standing between any facilities or food resupply, you will begin to appreciate things like never before. Take for instance, being able to drink clean water straight from a tap – without the need to source and filter it first. Simply mind-blowing. Not to mention how good it feels to remove days of sweat and grime with a steamy shower, or the pleasure derived from a hot meal that wasn’t once dehydrated. The modern world has desensitised us from the wonder of such utilities. Reaching them becomes an exciting, tangible goal. One that holds with it an unparalleled sense of achievement because let’s face it, it requires sheer grit and determination in the face of mental and physical hardship to make. After all, there’s no Amazon on call when you’re days away from the nearest extraction point.

5. Freedom

It’s human nature to lust after a sense of freedom. We didn’t always live crammed into cities after all. So where better than the vast American wilderness to embrace your liberty? Nowhere else have I ever experienced the thrilling delight of marching to the beat of my own drum. Gone were the days of bus timetables, clocking-in, and struggling to figure out my tax obligations. Life sure is liberating when the usual mix of daily worries are dissolved into a simple but variable rhythm: Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. What’s more, no two days are ever the same. Each morning I would awake – slightly sore from sleeping on the ground – to pumping of adrenalin supplied purely from the exhilarating anticipation of facing the unknown. Who knew if I would be mauled by a bear or fall into a ravine? I can’t say that ever happens to me in London.

If the above sounds tempting, but you find yourself short of the circa five months required to attempt hiking the entire PCT, just pick a section. Whatever section you choose to discover, one thing’s for sure: the trail will embed in your soul a vivid collection of images and memories that will last a life-time. So, why not try it for yourself? I am living proof that even the unlikeliest of backpackers can not only survive, but be completely moved by the wild.



For more information on hiking the PCT see: https://www.pcta.org
Free trail maps can be downloaded from: https://www.pctmap.net

Lessons from the PCT: Why People Quit

Mauled by bears.  Eaten by mountain lions.  Shot by poachers.  Murdered by a rogue driver whilst hitch-hiking.  These were some of the many fears that accompanied me onto the PCT in 2016.  But you know what?  During my travels through Oregon and Washington I never met a single person who departed the trail for any of the above reasons.

A wealth of information already exists regarding why thru-hikers quit.  I shall not attempt to cover the same ground.  If you want to read more about the PCT specifically, I recommend Halfway Anywhere’s annual thru-hiker survey.  The latest survey for 2017 showed a 52% drop-out rate* – based on 556 thru-hiking hopefuls who responded to the survey.  Of these, the top 3 reasons for an early trail exit were: Injury (29%); Snow (14%), Fires (14%).

*It’s worth noting that the number of people who actually quit is far greater.  Based on the number of thru-hiker permits the PCTA issued in 2017 (3934) versus the number of people reported to have completed the trail (461), the drop-out rate is closer to 88%!  But as a lot of people never report back after receiving their permits and there is no turnstile at the end of the trail, we can’t say for sure what the true success rate really is.  Most guess-timates average between 50-60%. 

Hard times

Year-after-year the stats identify obvious trends, but from my own trail experience the personal stories of those who didn’t make it to Canada were sometimes surprising.  A lot of this boils down to the diverse range of people hiking the PCT to begin with.  The vast majority of trail stories and images seen on social media are posted by young, fit, thru-hiking hopefuls which makes for a misleading representation.  Not everyone on the trail are thru-hikers.  And many are older, with different backgrounds and motivations for being out walking.  Let’s face it, your average 30-50 year-old with kids can rarely quit their job to go hiking for months on end!  There is also a wide variety in skill levels.  From your TOTAL amateur – such as yours truly – all the way to 80-year olds who have been backpacking and camping in the woods their entire lives.

I only set out to complete a 900-mile section of the northern route, so I mostly met long-distance section hikers on my travels, but there were some encounters with thru hikers who had endured everything that California had to throw at them only to call it a day once conditioned.  Some stories highlight human error or poor preparation, but others prove that not every obstacle can be mitigated against.  I’m a big advocate for believing that while completing a full thru-hike is a highly impressive feat, it’s more about the journey than the destination.  Meaning perhaps the rationale behind a persons decision to join the trail doesn’t actually require the completion of 2650 miles for the experience to be deemed ‘successful’.  Here are a few tales from the people I met who decided to head home short of their original goal.  I have changed or omitted people’s names to protect their dignity…

Our most challenging day: Leaving Crater Lake with a huge water haul and still having to sit besides the road melting snow to get enough hydration. I wanted to go home so bad.

Larry – was a veteran hiker and PCT advocate who spends a large amount of his retirement in the mountains.  Over the years Larry has been gradually completing the PCT in sections – a great idea I thought – and was very close to completing the entire trail when we met one afternoon in central Oregon.  Larry reminded me of a full-grown Boy Scout.  He had all the gear and knew how to use everything, which I found both entertaining and highly informative.  I learnt a lot from Larry from just a single shared camp, and I was sure he was about to smash the few hundred miles he had remaining.  But not everything is a dead-cert.  Within three days of saying our goodbyes I received an email from him confirming he had given up.  He described the ‘negative fun’ of his experience brought on entirely due to those pesky little fuckers: mosquitos.  Yes, their blood-crazed persistent attacks had transformed his solitude into a constant battle, one which he simply wasn’t happy to endure.

Zoning out from the mozzies

GI Joe was an 18-year old adrenaline junkie hoping to join the marines after completing the PCT.  We met him in Fish Lake Oregon, as he stumbled into the resort with a bleeding head and cut up legs.  Within minutes of his arrival the resort’s owner was on the deck with Joe’s mother on the phone in a frantic state wanting to report her son had an accident nearby and couldn’t be reached on his cell.  After being patched up from the blow to the head he sustained whilst climbing over a fallen tree in a lava field, Joe decided to quit.  Strangely he didn’t attribute his decision to the accident.  Instead he declared he was simply ‘bored’.  I was shocked at the time – his adventure had included ice-climbing summits on the side just for the fun of it, and he was still far ahead of most thru-hikers so he obviously possessed exceptional fitness, but conversely he had underestimated the mental grind.  Maybe Joe’s hike didn’t came with high stakes.  Maybe giving up made no material difference to his life.  Maybe he got a better offer for spending his summer.

‘Ultra-lite’ Lucy was a lady from Alaska with years of hiking under her belt – in fact she had previously hiked the entire trail when I met her travelling south-bound through Washington.  She presumably therefore knew what she was doing.  But after meeting her in 2016 another hiker told me about what happened the year before.  In 2015 Lucy set off her emergency beacon after getting lost in a snow field and had to be airlifted off the mountain.  You see in going ‘ultra-lite’ she had made the mistake of not being adequately prepared for cold temperatures: remember what the Boy Scouts say about being prepared?  She also elected to not carry a GPS which could have been used to navigate her way out of such pickle.  Maybe she was over-confident in her abilities, but hyperthermia actually happens in the wild so it’s best to do whatever you can to protect yourself and carry the necessary provisions.

Photocredit: Marc Fendel

The Drifters.  Trail life seems to attract some transient-types.  Not every person who sets foot on the trail does so for the physical challenge.  Some individuals who are perhaps a bit lost in life turn to the trail for solitude or companionship, uniting with strangers through the common hiking path.  We met one such guy on our second day in Oregon who certainly didn’t resemble your typical hiker.  He stood perhaps 3 stone over-weight – not that I’m judging – and never seemed to be in a rush.  The verbal trail grapevine later reported how the big guy had made it as far as Fish Lake before getting talking to an elderly couple in an RV.  They offered him some casual yard work at their home so he left with them just like that.  Another drifter made it to Crater Lake (where he started from I was always unclear), before getting so smashed on $1 cans of beer that no reports showed he ever re-joined the trail.  We left him in a drunken stupor in the middle of the free PCT campground ranting away incoherently, totally oblivious to the mosquitos.

Nature boy was out section-hiking through Oregon when he stood on a piece of glass in camp and had to hitch-hike out to hospital.  Shame he hadn’t thought to put some shoes on.

Stevo was off to college in the fall.  Beforehand, he and a group of buddies decided to hike through Oregon and Washington, inspired so it seemed by the legalisation of recreational pot in these two states.  But his buddies were not committed.  For them it was one big party which had lost its appeal by the time they reached Timberline Lodge.  They waited until Cascade Locks though to inform Stevo they were not going any further.  Stevo found himself in a dilemma because he, unlike them, was relying on the hiking experience for material inspiration for the college submission essay he still needed to write.  When the others departed for Portland Stevo persevered, crossing the Bridge of Gods into Washington alone.  This was it, he would show them.  But in less than 100 miles he realised camping alone was not for him.  It wasn’t what he had signed up for, in fact it made him very anxious, so he shared camp with us for a few nights before getting a ride back to Seattle.  I hope he managed to write that essay.

We had to get over Devils Peak somehow…

Snow. Those set to hike the full PCT will expect to inevitably encounter snow somewhere along the way, but those on shorter hikes may not.  Surely by late June one can enjoy a hike on the PCT without snow – right?  Well this wasn’t the case in Oregon when we started on 20th June.  An ‘exceptional’ snow year, meant that areas typically snow-free by then were still buried.  This caught a few people out, and not prepared for the white stuff they decided enough was enough.  These included an older otherwise care-free couple, who drew the line when it came to the possibility of loosing their tracking on Devil’s Peak, but also a young and highly experienced hiker.  He lived in Oregon and was familiar with the mountains, but his ‘downfall’ if I can call it that, was over-ambition.  You see, not anticipating how much the snow and tree blow-downs would slow him down, he overestimated his daily mileage and therefore hadn’t packed enough supplies.  This motivated him to walk a 14-hour day to reach the next resupply stop at Crater Lake, which by the time he made it his legs had seized up and he was walking like a robotic Bruce Wayne.  He admitted defeat and called his parents to pick him up.


Finally – and especially for any thru-hiking hopefuls out there – completing a long-distance hike often requires a large degree of luck.  Take this last hiking year for example.  In August, wild fires began blazing near Mount Rainer National Park closing a 70-mile section of the Washington PCT.  These closures lasted long into winter.  By March 2018 the PCTA still couldn’t comment on the resulting damage or say whether detours would be required in the months to come.  So following miles of pain, sweat, and blisters, one may have to accept the heartbreaking reality: it can all suddenly end thanks to Mother Nature.

Image credit: tokkoro.com

Day 36: Last day of Oregon!

Monday 25th July

Start: Bushcamp, Eagle Creek mile 7.2

End: Cascade Locks, mile 2144.5

Miles: 8

We woke at 5:30 today intent on reaching the tiny town of Cascade Locks before the heat.

The Eagle Creek trail continued to be spectacular.  We were following the river through the rugged canyon, rich with waterfalls and hugging sheer cliffs.  We crossed bridges and streams, including logs besides the infamous tree-wrecked bridge.

A handful of day hikers started slowly passing us as we got towards the trailhead.  This made me wonder what they do for a living that enables them to be out here on a Monday morning!  I need to know!  What a way to start your week.

On High Bridge (it’s early morning!)

When we reached the trailhead parking lot we were happy to partake in restroom facilities!  What a luxury.  Before heading on I got phone signal and received a message from Dan.  He had caught a ride last night from where we were standing into the town of Hood River 20 miles east.  He was now enjoying a zero day in a hotel there, and about to do a grocery shop in Walmart!  I felt bitterly jealous.  So we camped last night and are hiking 8 miles today (3 that he skipped), whilst he had his feet up!  This lowered my spirits as we hiked on.

The final 3 miles followed the Gorge Trail which transepts the Columbia Gorge just above river level.  It wasn’t particularly scenic, running parallel to the fast highway, and kept heading up and down for no apparent reason.  It was growing increasingly hot and we were plodding along counting down the miles.

The Gorge Trail
So close!

Reaching Cascade Locks it was apparent that the ‘town’ was more a small strip of tourist conveniences.  We checked into our glamorous motel, and headed straight out to see what nourishment we could get our hands on.  This came in the order of a hotdog (Conrad), an ice cream (me), some fish and chips, washed down with large espresso frappes, and that was just lunch.  Later in the day we followed up with burgers in the Locks Alehouse.  Oh and a trip to the river-side Thunder Island Brewery.

The Bridge of Gods straddling the Columbia River

It was really good to finally get to speak to my parents, who are still surprised that we have hiked this far!  Tomorrow we embark on the next leg of our hike.  Oregon has brought us 429 miles closer to Canada and has been tougher than we ever imagined.  Washington to Manning Park is another 514 miles, and will start with a 4000 foot climb back into the mountains tomorrow.  So time for a shower and a bed.  And some Ben & Jerry’s!

Fuelling our hike

Day 35: Eagle Creek Trail

Sunday 24th July

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2116

End: Bushcamp, Eagle Creek mile 7.2

Miles: 16.3

Waking up this morning my body did not feel good.  I had the aches and pains of an arthritic grandma.  For the first 8 miles I was on auto-pilot.  We slowly climbed up and along the ridge of Preachers Peak, and through more forest.  I kept my head down.  There were a few blow-downs in this section, which I cursed.  Such wasted additional effort.

Looking into Eagle Creek’s canyon

On Waucoma Ridge a special view opened up before us.  The rocky path fell away steeply to the valley below, in which the huge mouth of Eagle Creek opened.  In the far distance we saw a giant crater-topped mountain.  Then a few minutes later another more pointed one appeared, also covered in snow.  Then almost immediately one more.  We were catching our first glimpse of Washington’s giant peaks, and in a couple of days we would be passing them!  The mountainside was covered in wildflowers, with bees and butterflies floating through the air.

Washington peaks on the horizon

As we reached the old abandoned Indian Springs campground my heart jumped.  A man, a dog, and a huge pickup truck was setting up an epic cookout.  Could this be a well-timed trail angel I thought?  Turns out it was Paul, the brother of one of the seven women camped at Salvation Springs last night.  On their 3-day hike he had driven up a dirt road to bring them a feast.  And not to mention the portable shower he had set up!  So we sat at the solo picnic table filtering a few litres of water chatting to him whilst he waited.

Now I know I sound very ungrateful, but as we left Indian Springs I couldn’t help but feel massively disappointed.  Paul had offered us some berries.  That was it.  He seemed like a really nice friendly guy as we chatted.  He had gallons of water for his shower, but had watched as we slowly filtered some spring water to drink.  He had two giant cool boxes, and not one, but two grills.  I was really starting to feel resentment towards those women!  I mean, an on-trail shower on a 3-day camping trip (and they were hiking less than 10 miles a day)!  Ok, rant over, I must try to be a better person and be thankful for what I have.

The 2-mile trail which departs from the campground and eventually connects to the Eagle Creek Trail was horrible.  It was one of my worst sections of the entire hike purely because it lost so much elevation so quickly.  I have never suffered with my knees, but they were straining under the downward pressure.  We had to keep stopping.  The PCT is well-blazed and often employs switchbacks to make life more enjoyable.  This trail did not.  We also really began to feel the hotter temperatures the further we progressed.  We should have listened to Joel’s advice and walked a few extra miles to avoid this section!

The crazy Indian Springs trail is much steeper than it looks here

The Eagle Creek trail once we reached it was wonderful in comparison.  A much softer graded trail that wound further down the canyon in a sea of green.  It was similar scenery to that in Ramona Falls yesterday – lots of moss, ferns, and water trickling down the mountain.  Mushrooms and other fungi grew.  Because we had sat on a log to eat lunch at the trailhead after the rapid descent, I was now walking like a robot.  My legs had seized up!  Conrad was very tired.

By late afternoon we were at only 1000 feet.  This is by far the lowest point we had been since we started the hike, and it was sweltering!  Having crossed a number of small waterfalls and streams whilst walking through what felt like a jungle, we stopped at a spot about a mile upstream from Tunnel Falls.  There we stripped off our shoes and went paddling in the river.  It was so refreshingly cold, and very fast-flowing, forming rapids that soon (we realised afterwards) cascaded into falls.

Ice clear water
Feeling clean after his wash
Twister Falls maybe?

Continuing on, we admired the height and rainbow forming across Tunnel Falls.  The trail leads through a narrow stone tunnel behind the falls, and continues to follow the fast-flowing river beneath it.

Tunnel Falls

Behind the falls

We probably hadn’t drunk enough that afternoon given the warmer climate, and started to feel the worse for it.  So knowing that we could easily arrive in Cascade Locks as planned in the morning, we decided to camp at Wy’East camp.  We think that is where we were – the PCT apps do not show much information for alternative routes like this one.  But it was flat, and very close to the rushing river.  We arrived by 5pm, and it was our first camp to date where it was warm enough to sit outside and write this blog until it got dark.  Usually we are huddled in the tent long before that!

Our first snake, and it was red so probably deadly!

This is not what it looks like!

Day 34: Mammoth Late One

Saturday 23rd July

Start: Timberline Lodge, off mile 2094.5

End: Salvation Spring, mile 2116

Miles: 21.6

Well we nearly camped at Salvation Spring tonight.  Having (probably foolishly) decided to hit the breakfast buffet as soon as it opened at 7:30am, we didn’t set out from Timberline Lodge until 9am.  Dan had skipped breakfast and left at 6:30am.  Very wise.

Mount Jefferson hidden in the clouds
Rejoining the PCT behind Timberline Lodge

We felt sluggish with such full bellies, as the hike led us in and out of Mount Hood’s western canyons.  The day seemed to be full of either long descents, – which are a killer on the knees, or steep climbs.  I don’t remember any flat bits!  In total we gained 4000 feet, and lost 6000.

Early on in the hike as we rounded a downward switchback I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was Joel (aka Scout Master), the guy we met on our second day on the trail.  He had left us in his dust that day leaving Hyatt Lake Reservoir, set on hiking Oregon in just 20 days.  We never expected to see him again.  It turned out that he was now hiking southbound from Cascade Locks to where he had left the trail at Shelter Cove. He hadn’t been enjoying the early part of the trail, much like us and everyone else (recap: blow-downs, snow, mosquitos), so had decided to take some timeout.  It was great to see he is still just as cheerful.  We wish him well.

Trail-side reunion with Joel!

On another positive note, we successfully managed two fast river crossings without falling in!  Firstly the Sandy River, which carves out a canyon in Mount Hood, and is the colour of sand.  Secondly, we tight-roped along a log to cross Muddy Fork.  Thirdly, we had cold pizza for lunch!  What a winner.


The highlight today was the 2-mile Ramona Falls alternative trail.  It transported us into a vividly green world that felt like it belonged in a fairytale.  I was half expecting to see pixies!  The route took us firstly past the falls, which were medium-sized, and had a few day hikers out taking photos.  Further on we were all alone in a lush moss- covered, fern-filled oasis.  For most of the time the creek flowed beside us, so we could hear the soothing sound of water.  We took lots of photos, but they really failed to do the place justice.




Due to our late start we had planned our day to reach a campsite marked on the map 17 miles in.  Unfortunately when we reached it at nearly 7pm, it was on a steep slope and there wasn’t any flat enough space to realistically erect a 3-person tent.  We had a dilemma.  Turn around and walk half a mile back to the last site, or push on to the next which was nearly 4 miles out.  The sensible thing would have been to turn around.  But how could we possibly walk extra distance away from Canada?

Late afternoon Mount Hood is behind us

Feeling fatigued, we seriously stepped up the pace for those last 4 miles.  I was scared that if we didn’t we would be hiking in the forest in the dark!  And that’s most likely when the cougars would get me.  By 8:15pm we arrived at Salvation Spring only to discover that the place was filled with tents.  There was a large group of women there out for the weekend, and their extensive array of stuff littered the entire place.  I could have cried.  Not really interested in a chit-chat at that point, we hurriedly collected some spring water and left.  Turns out we did get to go backwards after all!  Nearly a quarter of a mile back we pitched our tent in the fading light next to Dan’s.  Luckily we didn’t wake him.  We didn’t eat dinner either.  We were done.  It was dark by the time we zipped up!

Day 33: Timberline Zero

Friday 22nd July

Start & End: Timberline Lodge

Miles: 0

I am writing this post from the comfort of my bed.  It is 4:30pm.  My body is very happy for the rest and does not want to move for another week!

We are very thankful to have arrived here when we did as last night brought a storm to the Cascade region.  The temperature today has been noticeably chilly, so we have enjoyed being inside for most of it.  Only the immediate tree line is visible out the window.  Otherwise there are lots of clouds.

Skiers in July!

Timberline Lodge is a great place to find oneself for a couple of days.  I’m sure there are lots of great hikes in the vicinity, and we already know that we could go skiing – if we could be bothered to do anything!

The Lodge was opened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937.  Its creation had formed part of a New Deal Program, enlisting local people much in need of work to build and furnish it in only 15 months.  The level of craftsmanship is stunning.  There is hand-crafted woodwork, unique art, and intricate ironwork all over the place.  The wooden pillars supporting the central hexagonal area come from single tree trunks.  This central section has a 6-sided stone fireplace which is 92 feet high!

The exterior of the building became famous in 1980 when scenes from The Shining were filmed here.  I remember the little boy in the film climbing out of a 3rd floor window to escape, and sliding down the sloping snow-covered roof. That was this building!

A photo of The Overlook Hotel in the film
Here’s Johnny axe tourist shot

Having enjoyed the buffet breakfast with Dan, we have mostly relaxed all day.  Unfortunately our zero days do involve a load of admin such as sorting our food supplies, and planning for the next leg of the hike, but we are getting a bit better at this now.  That said, I did mis-calculate our arrival at Cascade Locks and booked the wrong night in a motel there, so I had to correct that!  Tonight we plan to share a pizza and have an early night, ready to finish Oregon.

Marina (the girl we met on our first day), and Sage the dog



Day 32: Timberline Lodge buffet calling

Thursday 21st July

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2084

End: Timberline Lodge, off mile 2094.5

Miles: 11

When the alarm sounded today my immediate thought was: 11 miles to real food!  We packed up camp in hast.  Foregoing getting the stove out, we wolfed down a craptastic breakfast of Poptarts.  They are awful.

Steep slopes
We knew we had some hard work ahead of us to make the lunchtime buffet.  Timberline Lodge sits nestled in Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak.  We had 3000 feet to tackle.  Feeling tired, we both put our headphones in, searched for some inspirational music and just walked.

Carved Oregon map

For most of the day the route took us through dense, shaded forest.  We seemed to go up and up.  Only in the last 2 miles did we reach a ridge and finally get a view.  And what a view!  Mount Hood was right before us, now so close.  Turning around to get our bearings, Mount Jefferson was in the distant horizon.  Hood is still half-covered in snow, and the other half is completely deserted of tress, unlike the surrounding area.  We were still going up, but now had the added effort of trudging through deep sand too!

What felt like forever later we finally caught sight of the historic Timberline Lodge.  It looked nice and close, but one check of the GPS and it was still a mile away!  My heart sank.  This was thanks to a canyon sitting between ourselves and our destination.  By now it was hot, and our water was very low.  We could see the ski lift going up the mountain from near the lodge as we rounded our way there.  Only when we were very close did I realise that it was moving, and tiny dots were gliding down the mountain!

Yes, it is the end of July and people are still skiing down Mount Hood!  I thought we had entered some kind of parallel universe when we crossed a patch of snow where skiers were removing their boots!  But no time to ponder, we had a buffet lunch to make.

Feeling disappointed that our room was not ready at 11:30am (we were exhausted), we instead hit the buffet as soon as it opened.  I highly recommend it!  Lots of different salads, a very tasty homemade cauliflower soup, meats, cheeses, Mac ‘n’ cheese, deserts… I ate half of what most people in the room did but felt instantly very bloated.  My stomach gets used to little and often on the trail, so it didn’t respond too well to such a feast.

We discovered that Mount Hood hosts the longest-running North American ski season, ending most years at Labor Day (the first weekend of Sep).  It is the tallest mountain in Oregon, with 12 active glaciers, and is considered as the most likely volcano to erupt in the State!  I will reveal more about the lodge tomorrow when I have nothing better to do.

For the rest of the day we did our laundry, collected our third resupply box (thanks Marshmeiers), ate, and showered.  Dan was mighty happy to get a room cancellation so he doesn’t have to camp tonight.  Time to hit the bar!

Day 31: We broke 20 miles!

Wednesday 20th July

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2062

End: Bushcamp, mile 2084

Miles: 21.67

It has taken a month, but we finally broke a 20-mile day!  21 miles may not quite equal a marathon, but we are carrying our lives on our backs.  I feel like a [painful] machine.

As Dan cleverly dropped his phone and ‘lifeline’, he asked if he could tag along with us today.  Beats getting lost I guess!  We always use the phone to double-check our location, especially in areas of snow, so I couldn’t imagine not having it.  So the three of us set out and covered a quick 8 miles before 11am.  Apart from a couple of miles at the very start it was a gentle undulating grade through shaded pine forest.

A nice hand-carved sign

Timothy Lake is huge and glistened as we rounded it towards lunchtime.  Most of our view was obscured by trees, but I could hear the soft lapping of water against the shore, and the odd motorboat in the distance.  By 1pm we were enjoying a well-earned lunch next to the lake.  Dan shared some pita breads which was a massive treat for us – we love bread on the trail, accompanied by jerky, peanut butter, and crackers: what a feast!

A small segment of Timothy Lake
I must remember this has been the best jerky so far – no idea where we brought it!

After lunch it was notably much hotter as we climbed a further 5 miles to the next water source.  The spring was virtually hidden in the campground, so we scratched ourselves bush-whacking to find it, only to realise that it was virtually on the trail!  We did originally intend to camp there, it would have made for an 18-mile day, but instead we put our stoves and water filters to work.  We all cooked an early dinner, then ‘cameled up’ as Dan puts it with 3 litres of water each.  It’s 1 night of camping and 12 miles of uphill until we next get water.

We had decided to help out our tomorrow selves and hike nearly 4 miles extra today.  This would mean we sacrifice a nice water-convenient camp for a makeshift dry one, but we would reach Timberline Lodge just that bit earlier.  The Lodge is famous on the PCT circuit for its breakfast and lunch buffets!  We also seriously need showers – this is the longest so far I have gone without washing my hair and it sucks!

Us and Dan a few miles from Timothy Lake

We found the last 4 miles really tough.  At least it had cooled down a bit whilst we had been eating.  To get through the uphill slog we just put in our headphones and listened to music, something that we haven’t done much so far (I’m usually busy listening for bears).  My anthem for the day was Cat Stevens ‘Wild World’.  I sung along just to warn the bears not to mess with us.  We were walking along a steep mountain face, when we finally caught sight of Mount Hood across the valley.  We both stopped in our tracks, a bit taken back by its magnificence.  It is Oregon’s greatest peak, and was shining right at us like a beacon in the late afternoon sun.

Mount Hood

When we finally reached Wapinitia Pass we crossed the road and I virtually fell into camp.  Dan had acquired a picnic table but was intending to set his tent up right by the trailhead car park.  We decided to go a bit further up the trail, away from any potential creepy truck drivers.

This has to be our worst camping spot so far, less than 100 metres off Highway 26.  We couldn’t walk any further.  The trucks are very loud – now I know what air brakes are!  This just leaves me with a blister to pop and a dose of ‘vitamin I’ (ibuprofen) to take before bed.

My feet are so screwed!

Day 30: Hiking with downtime

Tuesday 19th July

Start: Jude Lake Bushcamp, mile 2047

End: Bushcamp, mile 2062

Miles: 15.3

Finally we have found a stretch of trail that was relatively easy to hike.  Leaving misty Jude Lake behind us we enjoyed a pretty flat 5.5 miles to Lemiti Meadows. We arrived in under 2 hours!

Leaving Jude Lake behind

Whilst filtering water at the creek we met a guy camping nearby with his dog who warned us there had been a lot of animal activity last night.  Apparently because of the berries now abundant along the trail we are in bear territory!   Awesome.

Filtering again!

A few miles further on we passed through a short burn zone, but this one was different because somebody had gone to the trouble of logging the deadwood.  This meant no blow downs to tackle. There were a few tiny pine saplings beginning to poke out of the ground, showing regeneration was in progress.  At this point we started a fairly short climb up and around South and North Pinhead Buttes.

Blueberries or huckleberries?

Resting towards the top we met an energetic lady called Camelback, and her two Canadian hiking companions bringing up the rear.  In conversation it appears that she passed Dan (Throbbing Trill Hammer) , Vicky (Toaster), and Laurie (Smudge) on Sunday near Three Fingered Jack.  They must be so close behind us!  From that point it was a descent all the way into camp along a freshly maintained trail to Warm Springs River.  The trees nearby are much taller, (I think there maybe some Redwoods?), which created the feeling of dusk in the early afternoon.

We reached camp at the record early time of 2:45pm!  This was not intentional – we ideally would liked to have hiked on for a few extra miles, but have made the conscious decision not to dry camp wherever possible.   It is such a hassle to cook and wash without access to water, and we didn’t fancy hauling a load up the hill ahead.   Tomorrow we will start the approach to Mount Hood, so lots of climbing is ahead.   For tonight we will bathe our feet in the icy river and rest.

I forgot to mention that we saw the 3 Canadian hikers again around lunchtime, and I asked them about their tiny backpacks.   It turns out that they have help in this section driving their camping equipment ahead each day!  They therefore are carrying just water and some day snacks.  This is called ‘slack packing’, and I am very envious.  No wonder they moved so fast!  They did offer if we could shadow them to do the same for us up to Timberline Lodge.  This was obviously a great temptation, but we didn’t think that we could manage the 25 mile day it would have entailed to get to their pickup point by Timothy Lake.  If only we had some American relatives…

Conrad is very pleased with his self-assembled gravity filter