August 13, 2015
Hwy 62 – Mazama Village (1829.5) to Forest Road 961 (1853.1)
23.6 PCT miles today, 1 non-PCT miles today
1895.4 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 2,374 ft, – 2,771 ft
As it turns out, all the confusion and concern surrounding the fire and whether we could hike today was greatly influenced by a subtle misunderstanding between us thru-hikers and the Forest Service and Park Rangers. The word on the street ever since we arrived at Mazama Village yesterday afternoon was that the closure of the PCT was imminent and that it would be reckless to head out on the trail since the fire had recently come within 3 miles of it. That seemed convincing enough to us, and we were ready to come up with a Plan B this morning once we heard definite news that the trail had indeed been closed. What we hadn’t understood, and what the people calling the shots hadn’t thought to clarify, was that the only trail in danger of being closed was what us hikers call the “equestrian trail”, not the “hiker trail” that we had all intended to take in the first place. The “hiker trail” is the “unofficial” alternate that everyone takes because it walks along the rim of Crater Lake and offers a full day worth of views. So in the end, our trail stayed open and we were able to hike on, after being delayed a mere 4 hours in the morning. It turned out to be a memorable and picturesque day of hiking along the somewhat steep rim of Crater Lake, gawking at the incredible pool of blue to our right and the large plumes of smoke off to our left.
We woke up this morning to delicious coffee and fresh fruit, courtesy of our wonderful trail angel hosts. We hadn’t bothered to set an alarm, but were up by 6 nonetheless and ready to hike (or hitch if need be) by 7. We headed over to the general store to try and gather any incoming news, and spent a couple hours there waiting around with a bunch of other antsy, eager hikers. At first we were told by one employee that at noon today the trail would close from Lightning Spring to Hwy 138. Since we still all assumed we were talking about the hiker PCT, we prepared to skip. Eventually, we spotted a phone number on the previous day’s fire update and I called it on a whim, hoping to perhaps get something more concrete. I got a hold of a woman and she confirmed the closure, but said it would only be to where the “Rim Trail met the PCT” and finally clarified that it was only the “official” trail getting closed, but the Rim Trail would stay open. I thanked her profusely and hung up the phone, eager to spread the good news. Within minutes, people were shouldering their packs and hiking out. Pickles and I returned to the trail angels’ camp to deliver the news and thank them one last time (words are never enough to fully express our gratitude) and then we were off.
We’re starting to feel less surprise when our hiker friends skip or hitch portions of the trail. It was about a 5 mile hike on the PCT from Mazama Village to the Rim Village, but it wasn’t very flat, and Pickles and I were 2 of only a few hikers who walked every step and didn’t hitch or take the trolley to the start of the rim trail. I had never seen Crater Lake before today and I was duly impressed when we alighted on a paved road and a massive expanse of royal blue shimmered in the late morning sun. After filling up on water and doing a little people watching (it goes both ways, since apparently we stick out at these all-American tourist traps), we headed north along the western shore of the lake.
The miles flew by quicker than usual since we had such beautiful views and many unique distractions. Once we got about 5 miles up the rim, we looked to our left and saw the Crescent Fire that had closed the “official PCT” in all its glory. It’s a relatively small fire, but it seemed to grow even throughout today, and it was clear why it had shut down the trail much further west of us. Fortunately, we were well out of harm’s way, and we managed to hike along its length and then north of it without any problems. We did get some smoke this evening as we neared camp, and there was even some ash falling from the sky that reminded us of snow, but it only made for a peaceful environment and never felt dangerous.
Looking back, we are so incredibly grateful that we were able to continue our hike uninterrupted. It feels nice to be back on trail and to be doing what we know best, hiking north and slowly making our way to Canada. We came very close to being forced off trail, and it is reassuring to realize that this is indeed where we want to be and what we want to be doing.