Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sisters to Cascade Locks

It was 11:30 am, we were all packed up, and it was time to check out of our Sisters Inn. As I was putting on my 2nd shoe, I hesitated. Em noticed and asked me what I was thinking. I looked up and said to her "Wanna take a zero?" A smile appeared on her face, and I knew at that instant we had just decided to take the day off.

Sisters is a faux-western touristy town, but a great layover for a thru-hiker. It has all the amenities we need and love: a motel with a hiker rate ($50), a huge grocery store complete with foods (trail mix) sold in bulk, a microbrewery, a movie house, and a little downtown with many restaurants and pizza places.

Along with fun things like window shopping, taking in a movie, and lazing at the motel, we did have some errands to run as well. We had to find denatured alcohol for our stove. Before the last section, we were almost out so we were forced to build fires to cook. How primitive! Also, Em had to get herself an eating utensil. She bought that spork back in Ashland but lost it somewhere on the trail, probably during lunch one day. She spent 3 days eating with a spoon (more like a spatula) that she whittled from a stick. My wife, she's pretty crafty. And lastly, we needed to figure out a way to treat our water, since I had broken our filter a few days prior. Broke the handle right off the thing. We ended up researching it online and found out that bleach would do the trick. Until we can get to an outfitters, that's how we're treating our water.

Tuesday morning, we caught a ride back up to the trailhead with a Bend trail angel named Lloyd. He's hiked the entire PCT, but in 45 years! During the 20 minute ride, he educated us on things like the forest fire that came through here last year, why Three Fingered Jack, a local mountain, was named that, and even some interesting stories of the Lewis & Clark expedition. I must say that one of the great things about hiking this trail is the people we've met.

It was 148 miles from Sisters to Cascade Locks... 6 days of hiking. Mt Jefferson (10,497 feet), named for President Jefferson by Lewis & Clark in 1806 as they were headed back east, and Mt Hood (11,249 feet), were the focal points of this section. Along with beautiful vistas of these, we walked again through dense Oregon forests, on a trail that got a bit harder as we moved north. We dubbed the miles between Mt Jefferson Wilderness and Mt Hood National Forest the Little Sierras, as the gradient steepened, and we even had a snow field to traverse... in August! Huckleberries lined the trail at times, so we noshed on these as we made our miles, again having our biggest day yet at 31.6 miles. We got lucky too, with our camping spots, setting up our tent 3 consecutive nights along the shores of a lake: Shale, Jude, and Timothy respectively.

On the 4th day, we came to Timberline Lodge (setting for "The Shining") and the start of the Hood to Coast relay. Instinctively migrating to the Clif Bar booth, Ty the Clif Bar rep unloaded dozens of these bars on us when he found out we were thru-hikers. Sweet! Dinner and pitchers of microbrews at the Rams Head bar in the Lodge that night, and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet the next morning filled our bellies. Rooms were too expensive here so we stealth camped up the slope a little ways with our pals Willie and Hungry. 2 more days of walking, and we found ourselves in Cascade Locks, directly across the Columbia River from Washington. Holy cow, 2 states down.

So, here at 2155 trail miles, we have only 500 to go. As is obvious, we surpassed 2000 miles in the last section (Em forgot to mention this in the last entry), which makes us feel pretty good. Making it to Washington also gets us excited. Some mileage math I did in my head recently on the Trail:
  • It took us 66 days to walk the 1st 1000 miles. 51 days to walk the 2nd 1000.
  • To hike across California: 101 days. Oregon: 23 days.

Into Washington we go.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Willamette Pass to Sisters

Our friends Neil and Andrea dropped us off at the trail head well-fed and well-rested. Meeting these wonderful people has been one of the highlights of this trip, and I truly hope we're able to repay their kindness and hospitality someday in Boston. Needless to say, it was tough to say goodby.

We started out with expectations of low mileage for the day. Rosary Lake was the first distraction, we just had to stop for a skinny dip only a couple of miles into our hike! Delicious. Then, only 20 minutes later, we found a breezy spot between two more lakes that we just couldn't pass up as a lunch spot. Capping off our delightful day at a mere 16 miles, we camped well before sunset at yet another lake.But there is no rest for the thru-hiker. To make up for our lax day, we woke up at 5:30 the next morning to attempt our first 30 mile day. It was another nice day- we've been really lucky with the weather-and the trail took us past lots of water. However, these "lakes" were usually small and murky and much smaller than Farm Pond, where my Granny lived in Sherborn, MA. It took us all day to cover 30.4 miles despite favorable weather and gentle terrain and short breaks. You would have thought we had walked 40 miles with how tired we were at the end of the day! Still, it is a satisfying achievement to log so many miles in one day for the very first time on this trip!

The next day we churned out 29 miles through the lovely Three Sisters Wilderness named appropriately after a trio of mountains known as the Three Sisters. There's a whole "family"of peaks in this area of Oregon- Little Brother, Wife, Husband, and even Mt. Bachelor. We traipsed through fields of shiny, black obsidian rocks and miles of crumbly lava beds that twisted ankles and slowed our progress. Rumors of Trail Magic at McKenzie Pass proved false, leaving us a little lower on water than we would have wanted. But the trail head was still a nice place to camp for the evening, flat ground between piles of lava. We woke in the middle of the night to cute little sage rats scampering and climbing all over our tent - that's a first, at least they weren't inside the tent!

Another early morning start the next day but we had to fore go coffee because of our water situation. Coffee is one of the many luxuries we allow ourselves on the trail in addition to iPods, pleasure reading books, and peanut M&M's. We made it to Santiam Pass 17 miles later by early afternoon and we got a hitch right away from a cool Bend, OR resident named Luke. He was so cool, in fact, that our first stop wasn't a hotel in Sisters but a local Brewery! We all enjoyed a couple cold brews before he dropped us off at the Sister's Inn for a night of gluttony in front of the TV. After a couple of long days, town time is especially appreciated. We also are looking forward to our vacation from our vacation- a Parker family gathering in less than 2 weeks!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crater Lake to Willamette Pass

We left the Crater Lake Rim Village Lodge overcaffeinated and overweighted: 6 days worth of food and 4 l. of water each. The Trail took us along the rim for about a quarter of the lake's circumference, so with it being Sunday, there were lots of tourists to talk to at some of the overlooks we walked by. Also, the dozens and dozens of vistas occupied our time, snapping scenery pics and looking for that perfect setting for our upcoming Christmas card (oops, I spilled the beans). By midafternoon the Trail veered northwest and we said goodbye to this beautiful body of water, and vowed to come back another day. Some quick facts:

Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902. The lake rests inside a caldera formed over 7,000 years ago when Mt. Mazama collapsed after it erupted. It is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet and is considered to be the cleanest body of water in the world. Its water comes from rain and snow only (no rivers or streams), and because its rate of evaporation is almost equal to precipitation amounts annually, the lake's water level basically remains the same. Its intense blue color is a sight to be seen.

Shortly after leaving the park, we entered Mt. Thielsen Wilderness and continued to follow the apparent elk tracks we'd been seeing on the trail the last 100 miles or so. Why would an elk be walking the PCT? Dense pine forests and a well-graded undulating single track made for pleasant hiking. Mt. Thielsen, known as the "lightning rod" of the Cascades, tempted us but we stayed on the PCT and finally figured out the tracks. They were 2 llamas! They were being used as pack animals for two section hikers from Trout Lake, WA, one of the trail towns further north. After talking with them for a bit and taking some pictures, we moved on. We met 2 more southbounders (hiking from Canada to Mexico) which makes 7 now. One girl, trail named The Tortoise, was low on food, so I gave her some extra stuff I was carrying: 2 hiker staples - Snicker bars and Ramen. Later, although the mosquitoes became thicker, and the blowdowns more abundant, we were rewarded with a sun-soaked cove of Summit Lake, a perfect spot for a swim/bath. Shortly after, some unexpected trail magic in the form of food and drinks by a 2008 thru-hiker further brightened our day. The remaining 20 miles of this section were in Diamond Peak Wilderness, traversing the foothills of the massive Diamond Peak, and Mt. Yoran, and ending at Willamette Pass. There, our friends, Neil and Andrea, pulled us off the trail for a 1/2 day of pampering at their relatives' vacation home. Back on the trail tomorrow, but first some history of the PCT through Oregon.

The very first link in the PCT was actually here in Oregon. Before the idea for the PCT even came about, there existed a trail from MT. Hood to Crater Lake, named the Oregon Skyline Trail. It was built by the U.S. Forest Service and finished by 1920. In the early 1930's, it was extended at both ends, and in 1937 PCT trail markers were designed and posted from the Canadian border to the California border. ( In Washington, the Cascade Crest Trail was used). Since then, mainly beginning in the 1960's the trail through Oregon has gone through some changes. New trails were blazed to get it off roads, move it closer to the actual crest of the Cascade Mountains, and make it less steep by way of switchbacks. It now extends 457 miles across the state. -Sunfish

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ashland, OR to Crater Lake National Park

Ashland treated us very well. Chris already mentioned how amazing our Bed & Breakfast was with our plush king sized bed, jacuzzi bath tub and a separate shower, even two elegant chairs that we lazed in while we sipped wine. We are deeply grateful to my sister, Adrienne, and brother-in-law, Jeff, for such a treat! The Winchester Inn was so nice that we decided to stay another night!

So, after a heavenly breakfast at the Inn, and a leisurely morning in our room, we set out on the usual town errands. First stop, an outfitter. I replaced my spork (an implement that's a fork/spoon combination) since I'd been using a nub for a week or so after snapping mine. I also got socks to use with my sneakers that will carry me through Oregon, the newly resoled boots will be back for Washington. Chris got a pack cover for rain protection, some socks, water purification tablets and fuel for our stove. The awesome staff even gave Chris replacement nose pads for his sunglasses-free! Next stop: grocery store where we didn't need much thanks to the outstanding care packages from George and Susie and Carla. Lastly: Internet at the Library. Our productive day in town inspired us to treat ourselves to dinner (Indian food) and a movie (Julie and Julia) with Neil and Andrea. They joined us in our room for some wine afterwards, capping off a spectacular day.

We'd already decided to spend the next day in town and hop on the trail before dark. We wrote postcards, did some more Internet chores and even watched part of a Red Sox game over a couple of beers. At the bar, we met the author of "Soul, Sweat and Survival", a book Chris read about the author's experience running the PCT in the 8o's. Bob Holtel was charming, even if he is crazy. He's planning to run it again next year at 80 years old!

Neil and Andrea dropped us off back at the trail around 7 pm and we made it a whopping 1.9 miles before camping within earshot of I-5. The next couple of days blended into each other, a steady stream of eating, water filtering, walking and camping. We were feeling a little slow after own town stop so we haven't been putting in long days. Instead, we've been walking only 20-25 miles per day, enjoying longer meal breaks and camping early. One evening we camped by a small reservoir and actually had some daylight to watch some sort of aquatic mammal trolling the waters and splashing its tail. a family of Canada geese beach themselves for the evening, a long necked blue bird roost in a tree and a pair of osprey making their rounds looking for food. The next evening we found a cosy hut where Chris and I rolled our sleeping bags out on a wooden counter for a warm, dry night's sleep. Out trusty tent treated us well for the rest of this stretch, per usual, as we cruised into Crater Lake National Park in time for an AYCE (all you can eat) buffet lunch at the campground. Our bellies thoroughly stuffed, we loitered around the camp store for a couple of hours digesting and chatting with other hikers until it was too late to get back to the trail. We convinced the group to join us at a flat spot just a half-mile down the trail where we drank some beers and laughed around a campfire until late into the evening...that's only about 10:30pm on the trail.

While sitting around the fire lamenting on the miles we didn't walk, we all reminded ourselves that it's important to do fun things on the trail-not just churn out the miles. Such moments of reflection got Chris and I thinking about why we are out here. A lot of people must be wondering the same thing! -Beetle

So, in our own words, here's why we are hiking the PCT:


"On the suggestion of a fellow thru-hiker, I came up with the top three reasons I'm hiking the to remind myself during blue moments. 1) I want the physical and mental challenge-will I have the stamina and the mental grit to walk 2,650 miles, sleep outside for 5 months, and push through the down times? 2) I am excited to explore new aspects of my relationship with Chris, to hone our communication skills, practise patience and teamwork, and to experience this adventure together. 3) I want to see this beautiful and varied country up close and personal, from desert to the rugged High Sierra to the lush forests and all the interesting people in between. So far, this crazy adventure has been everything I've hoped for."


"First and foremost for me, it's the athletic challenge of walking the entire trail that inspires me to be out here. I like testing my body's limits, which is part of the reason why I run marathons, I suppose, (the other part is my addiction to running). Secondly, I love camping. In fact, we both agree that the best part of the day is arriving at camp every evening, even if it's only to pitch the tent, eat dinner and climb into our sleeping bags with our books. Thirdly, there is something very primitive about carrying all of your belongings right there on your back, and that can be quite appealing. Also, I am always eager to see new things and visit new places, and hiking across three large states feeds this wanderlust. I'm not just talking about the trail here either, but the towns along the way. Town time I enjoy a lot. And lastly, the best part is that I get to share all these things with my wife."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Etna to Ashland, OR

Well, we did it. We made it into Oregon! It took us 101 days to walk the entire state of California, all 1700 miles of it on the PCT. Our original schedule had us crossing the border on the 100th day (17 miles per day), so we're only a day behind schedule. This is great for us, because less than a month ago, we were over a week behind, and a bit nervous about that. We made a goal to catch back up by Ashland, basically by taking no zero days and moving north at a steady pace, hiking longish days. It helps too that walking 25-30 miles per day is pretty easy for us now, not just because we're in better shape, but because the trail is easier too.

Ashland, Oregon. It's a pretty awesome little town, so we decided to treat ourselves to a zero tomorrow and a nero on Monday. My amazing sister-in-law Adrienne and her husband Jeff (he's also amazing I must admit) got us a room at a swanky Bed & Breakfast a block off of Main Street, a perfect place for some time off the trail. Thank you J&A!

So, a recap of the section between Etna and Ashland. It was 121 miles of pretty nice trail, and some welcome cooler weather. We left the Hiker's Hut mid-morning on Tuesday, and caught a ride from the owner Dave, along with Bo, their friendly dog who befriended Emily on the way up to the summit. Back on the trail at 10:45, we entered the Marble Mountain Wilderness and made it 20 miles before looking for a flat spot to camp. We found flat ground, along with a few piles of firefighting gear and water. We saw no firefighters, but we did see blue smoke in the near distance, apparently caused by a controlled burn. The next morning, we walked through it, and saw smoldering underbrush and stumps, curious how they are able to pull this off without burning the forest down. Moving on, we passed a peak named King's Castle, which well, really looked like a castle actually. Just after, a hawk flew over us, with prey in its talons. We imagined what it must be like to be plucked from the ground and flown high up while being pierced by sharp claws. Not a fun way to go I bet. Later in the day, we saw our 4th bear, a large dark black one that high-tailed it as soon as he heard us. Still no picture. As we descended to Grider Creek, the sky became dark and rumbly. Not 2 hours later, we were getting poured on, along with a brief hailstorm (hail the size of marbles) and plenty of thunder & lightning. Scary, but we could do nothing but keep walking. We made it to Grider Creek Campground just after darkness settled in, and were greeted by our friends Neil & Andrea! We weren't expecting to see them until the next morning, so we were pleasantly surprised! We caught up a bit, then disappeared into our tents, excited about breakfast in the morning.

Up early at 6 am, and we walked the 6 miles on a dirt road to the Seiad Store, where they have a pancake challenge famous to thru-hikers. 5 pounds of behemoth pancakes - no way we were going to make this attempt. We did have a hearty breakfast though, and enjoyed a few hours of conversation with Neil & Andrea, and got back on the trail just after noon. 4,500 feet up to Lower Devil's Peak, but it was overcast and cool, so it wasn't too bad. At the top, we pulled out all of our sopping wet gear from the storm the night before and laid it out to dry while we had a late lunch. The rest of the day was along rolling ridgeline, and we pitched camp early at 7:30 at a pass, where N&A, who had driven right up and over this pass to get back home, left us a couple gallons of water and a bottle of wine... thanks! They also got our mail in Ashland and left it at the B&B for us. Opening the door to our room and seeing a pile of boxes and mail was like Christmas morning. Again, thank you to everyone who's been sending us such wonderful care packages and correspondences. We really do appreciate it immensely.

Friday the 7th. It was cloudy all day, but luckily we were never rained on. At 5:30 pm, we crossed into Oregon! To savor the moment, we broke for dinner here, read the trail register and sipped on red wine we hiked in. It was a very surreal moment, finally reaching this border after over 3 months of walking. A milestone indeed. We pushed on a few more miles, and found a vacant open-aired shelter to spend the night. We were completely stoked to see 2 picnic tables to sleep on! After realizing that we actually got excited about being able to sleep on wooden planks, we decided that maybe we've been out here too long.

We were up early the next morning, with only 21 miles to Ashland. 9 miles in, we were very happy to find a cooler full of sodas left by a trail angel, since we were low on food. The trail was nice, and there were day hikers out, it being Saturday, so our moods were high. By 4 we were out of the woods and while contemplating our next move, a car pulled up and offered us a ride to Ashland, 9 miles north on Interstate 5. How lucky!

And here we are. Life is good!


Monday, August 3, 2009

Castella to Etna

Someone mentioned in one of the PCT Guidebooks that Castella marks the end of the overgrown section. For the most part, that statement is true. In fact, Chris and I very much enjoyed this section of the PCT. We started out in the Castle Crags State Park with their granite spires towering over the trail. In and out pine forest and meadows, we continued through the Trinity Alps and Russian Wilderness areas and all the while being treated to stunning vistas of Mt. Shasta and surrounding granite peaks and valleys bristling with trees.

One reason the hiking has been so pleasant may be our light packs. Water is fairly prevalent so we don't need to lug too much around with us. As Chris has mentioned before, we continue to unload gear and luxuries - like extra tent stakes, playing cards - in order to save weight. And, we also have lighter food bags because of the slim pickings from the gas station mini-mart. Chris made up for the junk food fare by filling his belly with fresh made burritos for three meals in a row- dinner, breakfast and lunch.

Another reason we've loved this section is that the weather finally cooled down some. After a sweltering climb our of Castella through the Castle Crags, we camped on a sandy ledge overlooking a valley. A welcomed, cooling breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay as we watched the sunset behind the ridge, silhouetting the pine trees keeping watch over the area. It was truly a magical spot - these moments are why we are out here.

That cool breeze continued for the next couple of days. For the most part, there wasn't a cloud in the sky except for one evening midway through this stretch. Clouds rolled in after dark covering the nearly full moon and heat lightening lit up the night sky. The light show did not phase Chris,
who was dead asleep, but I did manage to put the rain fly on before a light rain started to fall. By morning, everything was dry again.

We caught a hitch into Etna with one of the 20 residents of Sawyer's Bar and we are enjoying the warm hospitality of Dave and Vicki at their "Hiker's Hut". It's a dorm-style hostel with internet, showers, laundry and VCR. Now it's onward to Seiad Valley with it's restaurant known for one pound pancakes and then the Oregon border!

One last side note: I thought some folks might be curious to know what we do all day long while hiking. It can get boring putting one foot in front of the other for 10 or 12 hours a day. Sometimes we can waste a good hour or two talking about the cats or why the Toronto Blue Jays should be moved to North Carolina and be renamed the Durham Bull Sharks. Sometimes we listen to our iPods. Very often we daydream. I've already figured out what color we're painting the kitchen chairs and what we're going to name our dogs that we'll adopt someday down the road. And always, our dear family and friends are never far from out thoughts.

Thanks for your support and well-wishes, all! We miss you... -Beetle