August 20, 2015
Large pond past Hinton Creek (1972.3) to Big Lake Youth Camp (2001.5)
29.2 PCT miles today, .8 non-PCT miles today
2046.6 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 3,676 ft, – 5,320 ft
I know I said that we’d be taking this section easy…doing shorter miles, listening to our bodies, and not worrying about when we made it to Portland. That’s still all the case, but sometimes you’re forced into a certain mileage when water becomes scarce and you have to hike far distances between each source. We made the mistake of not looking ahead yesterday before making camp, so last night before going to bed, when we began to plan today, we realized that our only options were to either hike only 16 miles, carry water for 10 miles, dry camp, and then have enough water left for another 11 miles, or to just hike 29 miles and then take a side trail to a youth camp where we could get water and camp. We chose the latter out of process of elimination, and that is how we ended up hiking a very long and challenging 30 miler in 2-day-old shoes and over miles and miles of lava fields.
Considering today’s distance, it wasn’t a bad day. Two big reasons for that were the unique terrain we walked through and the reappearance of photo-worthy, pain-distracting views. We began our day at the foot of South Sister, and from there it was like a huge game of hopscotch from one mountain to the next. We hiked quickly in the morning, enjoying views along the western edge of Middle Sister and then North Sister to our east, and what seemed like the whole rest of Oregon to the north and west. I enjoyed getting to know the 3 sisters in all their unique glory. South Sister is a bit of a mess, with huge chunks missing and at least 5 different colors of dirt and lava covering her surface, but she is the mountain most people climb because of the relatively easy trail to the top. Middle Sister has that classic volcano shape, with dark grey volcanic rock covering every surface. According to my map, she is the tallest of the 3. North Sister, nestled up close to Middle Sister, looks angry and sharp, with a “blown top” look and lots of black rock on the surface.
As we hiked toward McKenzie Pass, our view took in 4 great mountains. We could see, from left to right, Mount Washington (which we’d end up traversing around in the afternoon), 3 Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and behind that, the only other snow-covered Northern Oregon volcano that we know of, Mount Hood. We spent at least a few hours speculating about whether it could really be Hood we were seeing (after all, we were over 100 miles away from the mountain by foot), but we came to the conclusion that it must be, because there aren’t any other mountains it could be. Once we realized this, it was a pretty cool feeling to realize we had hiked to a view of Hood from Mexico…just one more landmark we know and love.
After collecting our last water for the day (16 miles in), our trail neared McKenzie Pass and we began the difficult task of walking across lava fields. We had looked forward to crossing this pass for a while now since it is the same pass we went over while on bike tour, and we remembered it well. When we got to the road, we felt a bit like we were crossing paths with old ghosts of ourselves, our current selves marveling at how much can change in 3 years time. After crossing the road, we walked about a half mile more and then stopped for a nice long lunch break.
When we stopped for lunch I heard voices up ahead and saw on the map that there was a dirt road and campsite coming up, but I just figured it was other hikers having their lunch. After about an hour of downtime, we finally packed back up, walked about a tenth of a mile, and were surprised with 8 other hikers sitting around some truly impressive trail magic. Split and Two-Step thru-hiked the PCT a couple years back, and they were performing magic on their way to a friend’s house in Idaho. They knew exactly what they were doing. As much as we knew we needed to get hiking in order to get in our mileage, we weren’t about to pass up good bottles of ice cold beer, donuts, fruit, homemade cookies, and bagel fixings. We went for the donuts and beer and had a great time getting to the know angels and some fellow hikers whom we hadn’t met. 45 minutes later we forced ourselves to leave the food and hike on, incredibly grateful for the boost in calories and energy.
After another 5 miles or so of lava walking, we final made it back to dirt. The lava had taken a lot out of our feet and the final miles were a serious test of endurance. We got to Big Lake Youth Camp just after 7, and were pleasantly surprised with the camp’s size, cleanliness, and immense generosity.
This place has it all. A huge beautiful lake with boats, sandy beaches, and a blob, tons of cabins for the campers and their families, bathrooms with hot showers and a cafeteria where they serve food. And the best part of all is they share it all with us hikers. We signed in upon arrival and were told about the “Hiker room” where we could hang out/rest and go through the hiker box, and then were told where to camp near the water, and what times we could take showers, do laundry, and come to meals. What!? That’s right, they’re going to feed us! The whole place is “by donation”, which makes it even more impressive. This would be the perfect place for a zero, but I’ll just have to keep that in mind if we ever hike the PCT again, haha. We spent the evening foraging the hiker box before setting up camp and getting ready for bed. We have 4G here too, but are too tired for a movie. Tomorrow morning we’ll sleep in and then grab breakfast here before heading back out on trail, hopefully for a more reasonable number of miles.