August 22, 2015
Rockpile Lake (2022.2) to Tentsite past Breitenbush Campground (2049.7)
27.5 PCT miles today
2095.6 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 5,501 ft, – 6,124 ft
If there is one thing backpackers are very good at, it is delayed gratification. I have a feeling that people who like quick rewards and immediate solutions wouldn’t like this activity very much at all. Much of the time that we’re out here we are struggling with pain, weather, exhaustion, poor trail conditions, or some other difficult challenge. In the moment we may be uncomfortable, but we push through it with smiles on our faces, knowing that at one point or another, we will be rewarded for all our effort. Eventually the wind will stop blowing, the mosquitos will disappear, and we’ll turn a corner to find one of the best views of our lives, one that we know we could have only reached after days of struggle on our feet. We believe in these moments, and even if they sometimes feel few and far between, they’re always worth every step it took to get to them.
This morning Oregon offered us our long-awaited gratification. My first thought when I woke this morning was that it smelled strongly of smoke, and sure enough, the skies were filled with smoke from far-off fires for most of the day. For the first couple miles, this made for some seriously magnificent views. The rising sun was red and it cast the mountainside of stark white burnt trees where we were walking with a golden glow. Behind us, Three Fingered Jack was wrapped in purple smoke, and ahead of us, Mount Jefferson stood splendidly lit by direct sunlight. We walked toward Jefferson, taking in the 360 degree views like kids at a theme park. This was why were out here. Until today, Oregon had been quite modest compared with California’s bold scenery and majestic mountains, but today it was Oregon’s time to shine.
The morning flew by with alternating tunnels of trees and grandiose vistas of the ever-growing Mount Jefferson. By the time we took lunch, we were on the Western edge of Jefferson, the peak of the mountain looming so high above us we had to crane our necks to see it. We spent the afternoon passing glacial streams, even fording the especially full and fast-flowing Russell Creek. Eventually we entered the colorful and lush Mount Jefferson Park, and when we thought to look behind us for the first time, we were once again left breathless by Mount Jefferson’s imposing beauty.
In the late afternoon, as the smoke grew increasingly thick, we climbed a steep mountainside toward Mount Hood Wilderness and couldn’t help but glance back at the entirety of Jefferson after every few steps. We finally reached the top, said goodbye to that beautiful mountain one last time, and prepared for what we hoped would be a great view of Mount Hood. What we didn’t expect was that the smoke would be twice as thick on the other side of the ridge. Any hope of seeing Hood was immediately dashed, so we buckled down for a few more hours of somewhat unsatisfying hiking until we made it to camp. The memories of all we witnessed today served as our motivation, and the unrelenting faith that nature will reward us again in the days to come keeps our feet moving and our backs strong.