Ashland, OR – Sisters, OR

August 1 – Four months on trail. From Ashland the trail winds through deep dark forests that let no sun through. In between these forests are beautiful meadows that remind me of the pastures in southern Virginia. The heat wave has passed and I’m left with a high of 85 for the day, not too bad compared to the last few days. I walk alone, everyone else was sucked into the vortex of Ashland which I decided not to do. I can save some money this way and also I’m really ready to see what Oregon has in store. Everything is changing again but I don’t wish to fight it anymore, I’m in a new state with new things to see and new people to meet. It’s only 19 days until “PCT Days”, a celebration held at the Washington border where I’ll see all my friends from miles past. I feel sore today and see hardly anyone except for at lunch when I eat with someone who clearly knew me but I have no recollection of meeting. So many people out here to keep track of. There’s not much water on the trail today, and so my campsite options are limited. I’ll have to do at least 22 miles to sleep near a river, and with a late start this morning I know I’ll roll in at dark. I sit down two miles past my lunch spot at a beautiful spring in a vast meadow, the last water for 11 miles. When I stand back up, I suddenly feel much better and the miles go by quicker. I cruise downhill for five miles and then the sun starts to go down and the air is cool. I reach the river with plenty of daylight left and enjoy my dinner thoroughly. I’ve found a slightly more expensive pasta side type meal that’s so much better than the usual knorrs, and I’ve been carrying cheese for a while now which makes any meal to die for. It’s 250 miles until the next real town, this will be every night for the next two weeks.
Aug. 2 – it’s cold this morning, much too cold to motivate myself out of my sleeping bag. I eat breakfast in my tent while the sun comes up, something I usually do about five miles into my day. The trail slopes gently downwards through the forest for ten miles. It stays nice and cool under the shade of the trees, and even without them it’s nowhere near as hot as it has been. I still feel sluggish for no apparent reason, I slept great and even slept in. I think the monotony of the trail is still affecting me. Oregon so far hasn’t been the drastic change from NorCal I expected, but the forest is constant now and although I can’t quite put my finger on what something about it is different. The trail wants to test me. It wants me to push on even when I’m tired and bored, it will reward me if I do so. I just have to keep walking.

The big climb of the day is 2000 feet of elevation over 6 miles which is nothing. The trail is flat and I wonder if I’m gaining any feet at all until suddenly I’m at the spring which is at the top of the mountain. Rants and Camel are eating lunch and I join them, then cheese and Rainman show up as well. I’m not the only one who forewent the Ashland vortex! the next 18 miles are flat and I feel much better after my break. Eight miles in there’s trail magic at a cabin one tenth of a mile off trail. Cookies and fruit and m&m’s are exactly what I need to push out ten more miles to the next water source. I keep hiking and then I turn a corner and everything changes. The landscape turns volcanic, but it’s different than the volcanic areas I’ve already walked through. Small red rocks that look like their from Mars make up the trail as it stretches like a velvet carpet through fields of black boulders. Mt. McLaughlin pops into view every now and then, the first view of the day. The new scenery is interesting, there’s many campsites that I probably would have stopped at but I’m so excited by the change I don’t even think about how sore I am and make it to the water source at the highway where I find Short Shorts, Camel, Rants, and a bunch of other hikers I’ve yet to meet. The best part, trail magic! Pizza and beer. The trail had finally changed. I hiked 32 miles today. I am satisfied.
August 3 – Cold again this morning! I headed out around seven which has been the norm so far in Oregon. The trail was flat but endless downed trees created an obstacle course all day long. They both slow me down and take more energy out of me than normal. It’s eleven miles to the first water source and when I get there I smell smoke. In the nearby campsite I find a fire that someone has just left going and hiked on. I feel angry at whoever it was as I douse the flames which were now burning even outside the fire ring, it’s a good thing I showed up when I did. Short shorts, Camel, and Rants show up as well as three people I met last night, Scabs, Mogli, and ReggieRocket. We all eat lunch even though it’s early, this is the last water source for 14 miles. After a game of Monopoly Deal we each hike on, all walking separately but thinking the same thing. “I hate trees!” Towards the end of the day everything changes much like yesterday. We rise above the tree line for the first time in this state and walk along a beautiful rocky ridge. Behind me is Mt. Mcgloughlin and ahead Mt. Thielson, still far in the distance. I can see smoke rising from the nearby Bybee Fire at Crater Lake, where I’ll be tomorrow. We all pray the fire doesn’t ruin our CraterLake experience as it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful sights on the trail. By the time I reach camp I’m beat, the blowdowns really take it out of you. Camel and Short Shorts camp with me but the mosquitos are horrendous so we each retreat to our tents as the day is turning to night. Tomorrow I’ll be in a restaraunt eating real food and I have a package waiting for me too! Only twenty miles.
August 4 – the mosquitos are still rampant when I wake up. I battle them as I take down my tent as quickly as possible, and then speed walk down the trail to find a safe zone. The walking is flat through lush green forests until it’s not as I climb up through a burn area. I see no smoke from the top of the mountains but soon pass a southbounder who tells me that the rim trail around the lake is now closed and I’ll have to hitchhike around the park. Short shorts, Camel, and Rants have caught up at this point and we’re all equally bummed about it. Without any other options, we hike on, soon entering Crater Lake National Park. The forest is alive and well again, the trail flat. I soon make it to Mazama Village where I pick up my package and figure out my options. There’s a trail angel named devil fish (no relation to bad fish) who is giving rides around the lake, and I quickly take up this offer, but not before hitting up the taco salad buffet at the nearby restaurant where I find Short Shorts and Hangman who I haven’t seen since Around mile 900. I ride with Kingbird, Hummingbird, BGT, and Camel around the closure. At the trailhead we are dropped off at I still get my view of crater lake and it’s absolutely stunning. The water is a deep blue in a bowl surrounded by jagged peaks and sheer cliffs. In the middle is wizard island, the new cinder cone to Mt. Mazama, a ginormous volcano that blew up thousands of years ago and then filled with water. Now it’s Crater Lake. I soak up the views before hiking another three miles to a designated campsite, it’s illegal to camp elsewhere in the park. Kingbird and Hummingbird are here, Camel has pushed on, and everyone else from the past few days is still back at Mazama Village. As I hiked here the forest turned to shady meadows, with seemingly endless volcanic peaks stretching before me. Thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow. This hike is changing yet again. 
August 5 – it’s cold enough when I wake to start the day hiking in my base layers, something I haven’t done in many many miles. The trail is flat, the air is cool, and I feel great as I begin hiking through the magical forest of Oregon. I have a package arriving on Monday at a place called Shelter Cove which is less than 60 miles away now, so I plan to take it easy for this section and hike twenty mile days. Without a schedule to keep the walk is quite enjoyable, I take many breaks which I normally wouldn’t. By noon I pop out at the road that marks the northern boundary of Crater Lake National Park. It’s hot now, and I can see the storm clouds building up above me. I hike on planning to hide in my tent at the first drop of rain. The trail is climbing through an old growth forest now but it’s gradual as Oregon is, only about 1000 feet in five miles. As I near the top the trees break and I get stunning views of Mt. Thielson, a jagged cone of rock jutting into the sky. A side trail leads to the top of this volcano, and with only two more miles to water and camping I drop my pack and head up. It’s a steep scramble up reminding me of some of the mountains in New England, but the view from the top is totally worth it. Diamond Lake spreads below me and in other directions many more volcanoes that I couldn’t identify. Plus LTE connection! I hang around here for a while, eventually being joined by Mogli and Sweetpea, a girl I met at Mazama yesterday. Back on the PCT the scenery gets incredible. We circle the volcanic structure before dropping to Thielson Creek. The crystal clear water flows through a meadow with Mt. Thielson providing a dramatic backdrop. This is the first water on trail in 29 miles, 20 for me because of the closure, and also the last until Six Horse Spring in sixteen miles. Oregon is great but I’m really ready to get past these waterless stretches. Two miles later I camp with Sweetpea, Mogli, a section hiker named Easy Riser, and a new face whom I haven’t gotten the name of yet. We have a fire, my first in ages, and sit around telling stories until the day turns to night and we all retire to our tents. I’m happy about going slow the next section, this was one of the best days in a while.
August 6 – another relaxing slow paced day spent walking through mostly forest. No words today!
August 7 – I wake up in the dark, wondering why I’m so cold. It’s cold outside, but not this cold. After patting down my sleeping bag I realize I’m soaked. Did it rain? No. Condensation. The weather patterns are changing. There is moisture in the air here. It gets cold and it will rain sometimes. No more cowboy camping, I decide. I’m on the trail before the sun rises because of this, the only one I see is Early Riser and then Section Hiker who is passed out along the trail. I’m climbing, steeper than usual but still easy enough. The forest is lush, and between the trees I can see the sky turning colors as the sun comes up. Soon I’m up on the ridge, the mountains below me undulating like waves in the ocean. The sun touches my skin and I bask in it for a while. I’m still on my slow schedule and I’ve already hiked 5 miles. Oregon has brought about a sense of peace that has been forgotten on this trail. There are no real challenges here, it’s mindless walking, something the PCT doesn’t have much of. The miles come quite easily here, and in turn a schedule is quite easy to keep. This is the time to sit and just be in this beautiful landscape I call home. 

The trail heads down for miles to Summit Lake. There’s an island in the middle and I can see walls of granite covered in snow sticking up on the other side. The water is cold and crystal clear but the mosquitos are rampant. It’s always a bummer when you get to a nice lake and can’t even enjoy it because of the bloodsuckers. They should be going away as August goes on, I sure hope they do. I hike another few miles and find a sunny spot to eat a second breakfast while I dry out my sleeping bag. Afterwards I climb into the Diamond Peak Wilderness. I wind my way around the lake about halfway up to the granite walls I had seen before which I assume to be Diamond Peak. The trail then traverses a ridge with this wall of rock towering above me. Fir trees scatter the alpine meadow I’m walking through, patches of snow cover the trail and pristine snowmelt creeks flow throughout the land. It looks like the Sierra’s. The mountains are becoming more and more dramatic as the trail goes on, I know it’s leading up to the end. I stop amongst one of the alpine streams and sit, doing nothing but taking in the beauty around me. There are about 700 more miles to go, which to anyone other than a thru hiker would seem like a lot. To a thru hiker, however, 700 miles is nothing.

I leave this place which now seems sacred to me and walk across the ridge with gusting winds. There are dark clouds rolling in above the mountains, but they’re moving fast and so I don’t think it will rain. The fear is still there though, I’m no meteorologist. I wonder what it would be like to walk in the rain, even though I did it for nearly six months last year. I imagine how cold I would be, what a mess my gear would be. I hope it doesn’t rain. I hike on and on but there are no spots to camp and so I’m stuck walking through a thick tangled forest that looks like something from a prehistoric age. Eventually I reach the turnoff for Shelter Cove and turn down it before finding a campsite only half a mile from the resort. There are many section hikers here talking loudly about nothing, a girl complaining about how her dad doesn’t love her enough. Trains blow past my tent all night long. Tomorrow I’ll be at Shelter Cove, waiting all day for my package. The only place I want to be anymore is on the trail.
August 9 – I wake when it’s still dark and drizzly out, but start packing up anyways ready to get hiking again after an unplanned zero at Shelter Cove waiting on my package. The sky spit out a few drops of water overnight and now it looks like it’s going to do a whole lot more than spit. Rain is nice on the east coast during the summer, but out west gray skies just make it super cold and windy. I hike in all my clothes for much of the morning. Every time I think about stopping for breakfast it’s much to cold to do so. I walk around Lower, Middle, and Upper Rosary Lakes before a patch of sunshine comes out which I bask in as I stuff my face with a honeybun. The trail then climbs 1000 feet to an amazing view of the chain of lakes I just passed, all positioned in a perfect line against the backdrop of Oregon’s skyline. The sun shines more and more as the day goes on, by noon it’s beaten out the clouds and it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day. I pass many lakes as I hike into the Three Sisters Wilderness. Water seemed so scarce a few days ago but now it’s everywhere, as are the mozzies. At Irish Lake I stop to eat some euro chocolate that Red Riding Hood gave me before walking on another two miles to Brahma Lake where I set up camp and meet two other hikers, swag and ziprocket? The mosquitos are fierce here so after dinner we all retreat to our tents. They’re still trying to get me but can’t seem to figure out that I have a wall of netting protecting me, stupid creatures but I guess by forcing me into my tent they’ve won for the night. 
August 10 – The sun shining through my rainfly wakes me up near seven. I roll out of my tent to find I’m the only one still her but also the sky is blue again! I watch a thick fog roll over the lake as I pack up and then it’s off down the well graded trail I’ve grown so used to in Oregon. Even with the sun out it’s cold in the morning hours, I think about Washington and how much colder it will be. Time to get there. The trail slopes gently downhill for 13 miles past many lakes. The forest is green and tame, it’s a perfect peaceful walk to start the day off. I push all the way to the last lake in the chain, Dumbbell Lake, before stopping for a long break. It’s beautiful here, there is a peninsula with many campsites which I lay on for a while before hitting up the water for a swim and to wash my socks which are covered in a thick unidentifiable black slime. I’m about to head out when Red, Shaggy, and Lars show up which of course is reason enough to stay a little longer(ok maybe a lot longer!) We all decide on just another 12 miles but we will have to climb up and over a mountain to reach Sisters Mirror Lake where we plan to camp. As usual the climb is a joke. It will be tough to transition into Washington where the terrain will likely get much more rugged again, but for now I’ll just keep enjoying these cruisy days in Oregon. At the lake I lay out my sleeping bag in a sunny Meadow to dry and then we all play cards until the day is dark and the night is cold. I go to retrieve my bag and find it to be victim of condensation even after such a short amount of time! The top is soaked but I don’t think any of my down inside got wet so it will be at most a slightly uncomfortable night, it sure is cold though.
August 11 – the condensation is a nightmare in the morning. The walls of my rainfly literally seem like they’ve been dunked in water. On mornings like this, you just have to pull yourself out of your sleeping bag and stuff wet things in your pack until the sun comes out and you can dry said things. It’s a miserable task especially at 530 in the morning when it’s still freezing out, but I manage to get it done and by 6 I’m walking through a large Meadow with the volcano known as South Sister directly ahead. The sun kisses only the tips of the mountains this early in the day, where I’m at it’s shaded and cool, moisture clings to the plants along the trail, a thick fog hangs low in the valley. A wall of black rock is the border of this meadow, but soon I begin to climb up into a slightly more forested area. I hike around South Sister and then Middle Sister is revealed, a bit taller but strangely similar in appearance. I hike around these two beasts all morning until entering the Obsidian Limited Entry Area where I come across Sister Spring, a large stream of water flowing directly from the base of the mountain. “Am I worthy to drink from this?” I wonder as I cup my hands into the water and drink without filtering. It is the purest water over ever had the chance to taste, ice cold and crystal clear. I feel as if I’m drinking from the pool of eternal youth. There’s only 12 miles left until town so I bask in the springs glory for a while, drying out all my gear as I take in this landscape fit for a god. What did I do to deserve to be here? I did nothing, except for wish it to be so. In this world where we are all collectively creating our own realities, you can have, do, or be anything you want if you wish it to be so.

I turn a corner and there is the final highlight of my day, North Sister. It looks much different than the previous two peaks, it is jagged and snowy and the trail leading around it is extremely volcanic in nature. Shards of obsidian make the earth sparkle amidst the red rock of this area. The trail alternates between pointy loose rocks which jab my feet with every step and loose sand which I slip in with every step. The miles are slow but there’s no rush, town is just at the bottom of this mountain. I continue descending and then am smacked in the face with one last unexpected view for the day. I’m surrounded by volcanoes, seemingly encased in them. To the north Mt. Washington, Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, and finally Mt. Hood stretch on in a perfect line. This is the path I will follow to Cascade Locks, where I will leave Oregon and enter Washington. It is glorious, and I can not wait to see these mountains close up. I make it to a side trail which leads to a parking lot around 530. I section hiker shows up and offers me many mountain house meals, weed Rice Krispie treats, and a ride to the town of Sisters, all of which I graciously accept. I grab some McDonald’s before heading to the city park where pct hikers camp but other than Lars everyone else here is a biker. Tomorrow I’ll be in my first real hotel since Sonora Pass at mile 1000! I will have a real bed and my own shower and pizza and beer and tv and it will be glorious. 

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