Sunday, December 15, 2013

To Portland and Beyond

After a restful few days in Packwood, I hit the trail heading south, straight into one of the most rugged sections on the PCT, the Goat Rocks Wilderness. In addition, I was on a deadline- I was planning to catch a bus into Portland that only runs on weekdays. I started at 10:00 AM on Monday morning and had 112 miles to cover by Friday at 4:00 PM- eek.

The first day I climbed a few thousand feet to a knife-edge ridge where it was sleeting and gusting at more than 40 mph. There's supposedly quite a view from this ridge...

This pretty much sums up the day:

It sleeted all night, rained all the next day, and continued the following day. Sigh. Wednesday morning it was still raining, until suddenly Mt Adams popped into view- the first time I had seen it in more than 85 miles!

I also documented another phenomenon I encountered throughout my hike: really big mushrooms.

And this wasn't even the biggest mushroom I saw (just the first one I remembered to take a photo of). 

The rain slowed my pace, so the following day was a monster- my longest of the trip at 32.8 miles. Ouch. I started to have some serious achilles problems toward the end of this stretch. I did at least get a special treat (other than good weather): my first view of Mt Hood, 45 miles to the south.

Friday I started hiking at 4:00 AM to ensure I caught the bus- fortunately instead of walking down the road the last seven miles like I had planned, a wood worker from Portland picked me up and gave me a lift to the bus stop (thanks Paul!). 112 miles in 96 hours. And my body felt it. 

Luckily, I had some very gracious hosts in Portland in Marta's (who I live with senior year) parents, who live near Portland. Three days of great conversation, home-cooked meals, and ice packs was just what I needed, not to mention getting to see beautiful Portland (and the end of the Oregon Trail!). Very special thanks to my Mark and Greta for sharing for their home and time with me:

I switched to trail runners in Portland to try and ease the strain on my feet, and enjoyed some Portland delicacies:

Sadly, my time in Portland had to come to an end, so four days later I took the 7:00 AM bus back to the trailhead, where I crossed the lowest point on the PCT: 140 feet at Bridge of the Gods, the border between Washington and Oregon.

After crossing the Columbia River, I climbed a thigh-destroying 4,000 feet (the bad part of starting at the lowest point on the trail), and spent the next three days hiking around Mt Hood. Unfortunately, I never saw Mt Hood- I spent my time trying to stay dry and looking down at my wet feet. Confession: I resorted to music to get myself going in morning...

I knew Mt Hood was towering above me but instead I just saw this:

Picture an 11,000 foot mountain right in the middle of the picture here. While I was disappointed not to see Mt Hood, I had my eyes on the prize- the famous (at least among hikers) all-you-can-eat buffet at the swanky Timberline Lodge.

Yum. The staff loves the hikers too- it turns out no one is more gracious than thru-hikers. As I settled in for my third Belgian waffle, I did at least get this peek at Mt Hood:

While I was at the Lodge, I found out that a huge storm was moving in, a storm that was supposed to bring more than ten inches of rain and snow to Mt Hood as well as 70 mph wind gusts. Keen to avoid (more) rain and snow, I decided to try my luck further south in Oregon. I booked a bus back to Portland for the next morning and then a train ticket from Portland to tiny Chemult in southern Oregon, about fifteen miles off the trail. In another act of kindness, a couple stopped and offered me a lift as I walked down toward the bus stop to camp for the night, saving me about six miles of cold walking. 

Before I knew it, I was back in Portland. And then gone again.

South through Salem and Eugene, across Grants Pass, and then into Chemult that night at 9:00 PM. I started walking up the road toward Miller Lake and the PCT that night and arrived at the lake the next day around noon (after a helpful lift from some mushroom-pickers). It turns out the area is a Matsutake hotbed. If you're curious for more info:

I actually met the guy featured in this video while I was in Chemult (the article came out three days after I finished). 

The crazy thing about Miller Lake- the state poisoned the entire lake in the 1950's so that they could restock it with trout ( native species were reintroduced in the 2000's). Talk about a different era. You might also note that the weather doesn't look particularly promising...

I was hoping to continue hiking south, around Mt Thielson, through Crater Lake National Park, and on to Ashland, Oregon, but I didn't make it very far before I was foiled:

In addition to the two or three inches of snow on the ground, the forecast called for more snow and a wicked cold spell (low of 16) for the coming week. I traveled south to avoid the storm but had no luck- I was followed. I made the tough decision to turn around, head back to Chemult, and catch the train to San Francisco. An emotional choice after 365 miles on the trail:

I have nothing but respect for people who hike the whole trail- I only made it about 1/8th of the trail, and it took everything I had. A few lessons from the trail:

Most Important Lesson: The humanity of people. I received more generosity from more different people than I ever could have imagined- meals bought, lifts given, homes shared. The hike restored my faith in people. So, thank you.

Other lessons:
     - Pack less
     - Don't hike alone
     - Learn more songs to sing
     - Stretch more
     - Learn to love the rain (you'll have to)
     - Meet people different from yourself
     - Practice makes perfect
     - Let go (this one is the hardest)

I'm not totally sold on hiking the entire trail, but I definitely want to give it another go. I'll never forget mu first time on the PCT.

Though, I have to confess- it sure was good to be back in California.

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