Sandy provides a final update on our PCT progress, highlighting our time in Oregon.
The Pacific Crest Trail spans three states as it travels from Mexico to Canada: California, Oregon and Washington. The Oregon portion of the trail is the shortest of the three states, covering a distance of 455 miles. As we trekked closer to the California/Oregon border we heard all kinds of stories from other hikers. “Oregon is flat, and you can easily hike 25 to 30 miles each day,” one person told us. “It’s a “green tunnel” of shady forests with not many mountain views,” said another. All we knew was, after over 1,300 miles of hiking in California, we were ready to tackle a new state.
On Friday, July 29, we crossed the border from California to Oregon. A day and a half later we were outside of the town of Ashland. After an afternoon of resupplying and a night in a hotel, we were ready to continue our trek through the rest of the state, allotting a little over three weeks to complete the distance. As we walked, we passed through some forested areas, but had our share of ridge hiking, with views of Mount Shasta, now to the south of us. So much for the talk of no mountain vistas.
Our plan of completing about 20 miles a day continued, but we soon ran into many downed trees from the previous winter, which greatly slowed our progress. One hiker we spoke to counted over 400 trees that we needed to walk, climb, and sometimes even crawl under in one 40-mile stretch. The slow-going made us frustrated and resulted in taking all day to covered our scheduled distances.
Another unexpected nuisance were the mosquitoes. We already had our share of them in the Northern Sierras, but were surprised to encounter so many mosquitoes in early August. Locals told us it was the worst mosquito year in recent memory. The conditions made camping uncomfortable, and we were even affected while hiking, as the mosquitoes would attack us as we walked. Our DEET spray and head nets greatly helped.
As we moved closer to Crater Lake National Park, we heard that a fire had started close to the PCT and that the trail had been closed. The only alternatives were either to road walk 25 miles around the affected area or to be driven to where the trail opened up again. When we arrived at the park at around noon on a Saturday, we confirmed that the trail was still closed. Disappointed, we made arrangements with a volunteer to be driven around the closure the next morning. We spent the afternoon doing laundry, showering and unpacking our resupply box. In the late afternoon a ranger came by an area where many hikers were congregated to inform us that the fire had subsided and the trail would be open again in the morning! We were happy to be able to continue walking through Oregon without any interruption.
The next morning we hiked up hill to the rim of Crater Lake. Created as a national park in 1902, Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the United States, the second deepest in North America and the ninth deepest in the world. The lake is known for its intense blue hue, and the vibrant color was apparent as we hiked along its rim.
The trail we walked on was designated as the hiker PCT until 2014, when the official PCT was moved inland to the equestrian alternative of the trail. However, most hikers still walk on the rim trail, since the official PCT has no views of the lake. Not only did we have clear lake vistas, unhindered by the fire, but the park roads were still closed to car traffic, so all the trail viewpoints were deserted, except for the other hikers on the trail with us. Our day along Crater Lake was one of our favorites of the entire PCT.
Southern Oregon was dry, with many 10 mile sections without water, and even one 21 mile dry stretch near Crater Lake. The result was that the camping options were limited, making it imperative that we did not hike too late in the day, or we would risk having to walk in the dark to find another site, perhaps several more miles away. Some nights the camping areas resembled small tent cities as hikers jockeyed for a place to set up their space for the evening. We did get the opportunity to meet and talk with more people in Oregon than anywhere else on the trail, which we both greatly enjoyed.
The water situation improved as we continued north of Crater Lake and past a series of Cascade peaks. In successive days we hiked around Mount Thielsen (9,183 feet), Diamond Peak (8,743 feet), the Three Sisters (10,047 to 10,358 feet), Mount Washington (7,795 feet), Three Fingered Jack (7,844 feet) and Mount Jefferson (10,495 feet). Contrary to what we had heard, there were plenty of mountain views, which held our interest as we hiked. Unfortunately, we also encountered significant fire damage along the trail.
Near the Three Sisters were several sections of lava fields. The rocky trails were tricky to walk on and resulted in Darren dropping his cell phone and cracking the screen. Fortunately his phone still worked. We also encountered some of our steepest climbs while hiking through these areas, counter to what we had heard about Oregon being relatively “flat”.
Once past the lava fields, the mosquitoes subsided and we came upon a series of stunning lakes. We enjoyed camping next to several of them. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the trail was around Mount Jefferson. We hiked through the Mount Jefferson Wilderness and were treated to gorgeous lake and mountain scenery. After climbing out of a valley and walking through our final snowbank in Oregon, we camped next to Olallie Lake. The view of Mount Jefferson at sunset was breathtaking.
Our days of hiking alternated between mountains, ridges, and the “green tunnel” forests, sometimes with a few blooming flowers. The forest sections were my favorite, as I never tired of seeing all the shades of green under the canopy of trees.
Throughout our time in Oregon we continued to eat as much as we could to slow our weight loss. Darren, who had not lost much weight in California, was now losing significant pounds, as evidenced by his baggy clothes. At one resupply point we bought a block of cheddar cheese. That night we cut half of it up and melted it over our dehydrated chili. It was tasty!
About halfway through the state, I began hiking one morning, only to discover that I had a terrible pain in my right shin. I had developed a shin splint, probably caused by day after day of 20-plus mile distances while carrying a 30-pound pack. It was painful and got worse if the trail went straight up/down or was rocky. Fortunately, the next few days of hiking were on mostly packed dirt tracks with no steep ascents or descents. We still needed to cover our daily distance, so I gutted it out, sometimes almost in tears. Several times I considered quitting. I needed a goal, so closed my eyes and thought of the Columbia River ahead of us, marking the boundary between Oregon and Washington. That vision kept me going day after day.
We also had an appointment we wanted to keep near Mount Hood (elevation 11,250 feet), the tallest and most northerly of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Our daughters Lauren and Kristen, along with their boyfriends, wanted to drive from Seattle to see us along the trail. We agreed to meet them at the town of Government Camp, a short distance from the PCT, and they booked a condo for all of us to spend a Saturday night together. We had a wonderful time with them, catching up over dinner and breakfast the next morning before rejoining the trail.
When we met our daughters, I asked Kristen to bring her scale so that we could weigh ourselves. We were surprised to learn that Darren was 30 pounds lighter, which was more weight than he had lost on the Race Across USA. Even more shocking was that I had lost 40 pounds! We expected to lose 20 to 30 pounds during the entire PCT and immediately became concerned, since we were not even finished with Oregon yet.
By the time we reached Government Camp, I had walked about 170 miles on my shin injury, and it wasn’t getting any better. Looking at the Washington elevation profiles, we knew there would be very steep sections of elevation gain and loss, with many uneven rocky trails. I couldn’t imagine walking 20 miles a day through Washington’s 505 miles under those conditions. Moreover, I was having some dizzy spells and stamina issues, making me exhausted at the end of each hiking day. And we couldn’t take a significant break or slow down because we would risk running into bad weather in Washington’s North Cascades.
Finally, while in Oregon, I began to experience some hair loss during those infrequent times I could take a shower and brush out my wet hair. An Internet search returned several results stating that “starvation” dieting was a possible cause. We read that, when losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time, the body may sense that starvation is not far behind. As a protective mechanism, the body directs its energy to essential needs, such as preserving muscle, and hair growth can be compromised.
After discussions during our family visit, as well as conversations between Darren and me, we came to the conclusion that it was not prudent to continue into Washington this year. With 55 more miles to hike from Government Camp to the border of Oregon, we could end our trek there, in three days’ time.
During the final three days we came across several streams that required some of the trickiest crossings since the Sierras.
On the second day of trekking after leaving our daughters, we set out to cover 21 miles, with over 4,000 of elevation gain. It was our last big day of hiking, and the weather was cold and windy. Late in the afternoon we paused for a break along a ridge. Ahead of us we could see three mountains: Mount St Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. For the first time it dawned on me that those mountains were in Washington, and we would not be hiking there this year. I began to cry; partly because we could not continue and partly because I was grateful we had made it so far.
We woke up to clear weather on our final morning of hiking. After lingering over coffee and breakfast at our campsite at Wahtum Lake, we began hiking the final 16 miles to the Columbia River and the town of Cascade Locks.
The trail descended over 5,000 feet, and I was worried how my shin would hold up. Luckily, there were not many rocks, so I was able to hike without too much pain. As we continued downward, we got our first glimpse of the Columbia River below us. It was hard not to become emotional again as I looked at it. Even though I was still in pain from my shin, at least we could complete Oregon on our own terms. We had both been through so much during the past four months, as we hiked through the Southern California desert, portions of the Sierra Nevada Range, and the volcanic peaks of the Northern California and Oregon Cascade Mountains.
I was relieved to be finishing our trek, but it was bittersweet and sad not to continue. We were thankful to complete more than 1,800 miles of the 2,650-mile trail, gaining over 300,000 feet in the process. During 129 total days, we only took eight full rest days. And on those days we hiked, we averaged 15.5 miles and 2,500 feet in elevation gain each day.
While Darren had the mental and physical experience from running across the country last year, I did not. Instead, I faced my own set of difficulties from the hike. I am not the fastest, or the most gifted hiker, and have a real fear of heights and narrow ridges, making the trail a real challenge for me. Crossing raging streams and hiking along precarious ledges continually tested my will, and I felt great satisfaction in completing almost 70% of California and all of Oregon this year.
After reaching Cascade Locks, we spent the next 2 1/2 weeks traveling around the Pacific Northwest, first to Seattle to spend more time with our daughters, then on to Vancouver, British Columbia, to relax for a week in a rented downtown apartment. We delighted in sleeping in a real bed, having great food and taking daily showers, compared to our previous life on the trail.
Our travels concluded with a 35-hour train trip back to Southern California. While on the train, we sat in the dining car finishing our dinner and looking out the window at the Oregon scenery. We had already seen Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson earlier in the day, and the train was passing through a dense forest as the sun was beginning to set. The track took us next to a beautiful lake, and we both paused to look out the window. I opened the Google Maps app on my phone to see where we were. I was surprised to discover that we were traveling next to Odell Lake. We had hiked on its opposite side just a few weeks earlier, on our way to a resupply point at Shelter Cove Resort. Viewing the lake triggered a flood of memories and emotions, as I already missed the beauty and simplicity of the trail.
Our hope is that we will be able to complete the 290 miles that we skipped in the Sierras, as well as the state of Washington, at a later date. In the meantime, we are so appreciate the experience that we had, and the support from all of you following our latest Trekking the Planet journey.