Day 35 – 39 (Highway 26 to MacKenzie Pass – near Bend)
Miles hiked this section: 109 ish
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 to mile 1990
Total miles hiked so far including blue blazing etc: 680 ish
Groucho’s sore throat wakes him up throughout the night. He takes Aleve but is still feverish at dawn. I get up at 8:30 and eat/read at the picnic table nearby – I just checked out Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me” from the online Seattle Public library.
Around 9:30 Groucho gets up and although we could hitch 6 miles to Government Camp and get a hotel, he’d rather hike on to the next water source and see how he feels. Thankfully the terrain is flat today.
At 11:30 we reach a cold toad-filled spring. Martin is there taking a break- we join him, and enjoy water and snacks.
A few miles later we break again at Little Crater Lake – a tiny crystal blue pool, 40 feet deep and 34 degrees, fed by an underground aquifer. Groucho jumps in as local teenagers and dogs gasp in wonder. The water invigorates him and he dries off in the sun.
The afternoon is lazy and flat flat flat as we walk the shores of Timothy Lake. I listen to Groucho’s archive.org download of public domain essays and texts. Notably, a Librivox recording of Life Without Principle by Henry David Thoreau. I feel I am connecting with a brother from another time hearing a voice reading:
“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!”
I feel very scholarly. We pass at least six equestrians. Until now we’ve only seen evidence of horses, now we see the huge wonderful beasts and I am allowed to feed one called River a “horse cookie.”
We enter a blessed huckleberry patch and lazily eat our way through the next few miles. I begin to anthropromorphize the berries, wondering if there are two hung aside each other, if I should pick both so they won’t be lonely.
We pass NOBO’s Indy and Brethless who deliver a message from Martin that he is camped 3 miles ahead. He’ll do happy hour at Ollalie Lakes with us tomorrow. An hour later we confirm the plan in person at camp, right next to a creek teeming with tiny fish.
We wake up at the same time as Martin and walk out of camp together. It’s our first time hiking with another SOBO. Our goal today is to walk 20 miles by 4pm so we can enjoy a beer at the Ollalie Lake Resort store. Martin, who works in Sweden as a sled-dog trainer, loves huckleberries as much as we do and there are plenty so they are joyous miles getting to know our new friend.
We stop at Jude Lake, hoping for a quick swim around 3:00pm, but its all silt so we hike on, arriving at the Lake around 4:30.
The store is great for a simple resupply and has a fridge full of beer and soda and a few NOBO’s lounging on the porch. We are not allowed to swim in the lake, but enjoy a couple hours of snacks and a few beers while noticing a growing cloud of smoke by the looming Mount Jefferson… definitely in the vicinity of the trail, but maybe about 50 miles ahead, so it’s hard to tell. No one knows anything about it.
Some campers pul up in an extra American super-truck with a full plate of ribs and some fresh fruit on hand, and we watch in amazement as Martin eats 5 lbs (2.2 kilos – he’s Danish) of BBQ ribs.
We cautiously set off around 6:30, stopping for a swim at the first lake we get to, and then walking another hour to Upper Lake where we hope to camp. We see no fewer than 10 tents, so we hike on, coming to a beautiful meadow great for cowboy camping. Martin has packed out the fresh fruit and a beer for each of us. We go to sleep just as dark arrives and the cloudless sky is bright with stars on the new moon.
Today it feels as though we pass a million NOBOs. We’re beginning to hit the edge of the wave and we wonder if it’s actually a tsunami coming for us as we reach central and southern Oregon.
We begin the day with a climb up to Jefferson Park and the view of Jefferson makes for a great lunch spot. We spy a lake from the ridge and an hour later are swimming in the lake. So beautiful and clear and bug free.
We pass a series of glacial creeks and rivers. Milk Creek makes for an especially tricky ford as far as not getting your feet wet, but I succeed by making a spiderman style jump across some rocks. Lady section hikers applaud me from the sidelines.
This day ends in a long climb uphill to Shale Lake. At the lake we pass another handful of NOBOs one of whom thinks they recognize us from the Appalachian Trail 2 years ago, when they were also a NOBO and we were SOBOs. We hike on a few more miles where the guidebook app promises “a camp site with a *view*” and indeed there are plenty of flat spots to cowboy camp with a view of Jefferson in the North now. We point our sights on the Eastern sky, willing the dawn to wake us. We have a big day planned tomorrow.
We have heard about the famed Big Lake Youth Camp for months and today is our day. The Seventh Day Adventist Camp caters to young people, but is notoriously generous to hikers as well, offering donation-based showers, meals, laundry and services. Today our goal is to hike the 27 miles by 4:30 so we can enjoy dinner and a shower with these fine folks.
Groucho and I wake at 5:00 and hike out. These early mornings pass so quickly and quietly. As I round a bend, I see the sunrise pinkening the clouds on the horizon, and because we are walking thru the site of the 2011 Jefferson wildfire, I am able to spy, way down in the valley, a plume of smoke rising from beside a lake. A wildfire? I check the compass on the Guthook app and determine that the fire is far enough off to the west that we won’t cross it. At the junction for Wasco Lake, where we take our morning break, we see a taped off side trail to Marion Lake, closed for fire. Now at least we know where it is.
We are back on trail by 9:30 am, already 10 miles into our day. As we begin a 3 mile climb uphill, the terrain becomes more and more sparse. The sun is also reaching full strength and we miss the shade from trees, so we pull out our trusty Chrome Dome umbrellas. I am eternally grateful for the possibility of creating my own shade. The last 14 miles of our day are all flat or downhill, but all through the 2011 wildfire zone. Burned and blistered branches. Silvery naked trunks of trees. Lush green undebrushes of berries and grasses. And the penetrating sun streaming thru a pure blue sky. It is beautiful and haunting.
We reach the camp at 4:30! And it is as awesome as everyone says. The vegetarian meal is humble but filling, and we enjoy wifi, showers and a fantastic hiker box in their little hiker hut. (A hiker box is like a free grab bag of whatever other hikers don’t want. This one was a treasure trove.)
After dinner, we hike on another hour and camp about 10 miles from McKenzie Pass where we plan to meet our friends from Bend, Jim and Rita, tomorrow morning at 10am.
We wake at 5am and despite 7 miles of old burned area, and 3 miles of shadeless lava rock, the whole morning flies by. The morning really is the best time for me to hike. The mind is alternately peaceful or sometimes dreamily active, but I am not burdened by heat, or aching muscles or goals or miles. It is the most absolute pleasant calm… miles to go until I sleep, and no worry about when or where that will be.
We arrive at the pass and walk east, up to the observatory which is super beautiful with views pointing toward all the many surrounding mountains. We feed an already fat little chipmunk some of our dried blueberries. Jim pulls up around 10:30 and we are shuttled the 40 miles to Bend OR where we resupply, shower, do laundry and errands. Then we rent bikes, order pizza and begin our real break. 36 blessed hours to do normal vacation things, eat, bike, write, read, and watch movies. Thank you Ratcliffe Family!