Day 10 Return to Trail! August 9, 2016
I’ve made it to PCT mile 1974 (northbound mileage), just shy of the Minnie Scott Spring. It’s been a lovely day; sure, there was some amazing wind and the other hikers looked pretty blown away but things died down and by the time I got to camp, it was quiet and peaceful. I only went about 8 miles today, my first day back since getting Giardia. I’m glad it wasn’t my backwoods skills that had me getting sick but instead my dog’s love of rolling in nasty poop. We are both much better and even though I lost a week at home with recovery, I have re-evaluated my hike and have come up with an alternate plan.
It seems I was not destined to hike this Oregon section end to end. Before I even got on trail, circumstances came together so I had to cut off the end of the hike. So, then I was heading to Crater Lake. That was fine… still a long hike. But with all the fires and the PCT closure at Crater Lake, I wasn’t sure what would happen once I got down there. Had I gone northbound, I would have had to re-route and skip that part. Plans for a long hike have to be flexible. Getting off trail for a week changed everything.
I’ve skipped the Mt. Jefferson secion but I still had a pass for Obsidian Limited Entry area in the Three Sisters Wilderness. I also had a Bed and Breakfast suite that was pre-paid and waiting for me in the town of Sisters. When the husband started talking about going backpacking with me again, I opted to skip the last leg all together. The new plan was to take a slow trip down to Charleton lake where friends were planning on meeting me with a resupply, then catch a ride home. I’d re-sort my pack, put together a pack for Joe and together we’d hike in to Jefferson Park. From there I could pick up my missed hiker box from Ollalie lake and check out the Russell Creek crossing that had been the subject of many a PCT hiker discussion. I wouldn’t have to actually cross it, but knowing what it looked like would help me in the future if I ever wanted to redo this entire section.
Originally it had been planned that my friend would pick me up at Hwy 20 and we’d spend the night at the B & B in Sisters. Since that was scrapped, we instead drove up, did the tourist thing and then she dropped me off at McKenzie pass early the next day. It rained that night so I missed the wet conditions, but the clouds were heavy and hanging low as I left the lava fields at the Dee Wright Observatory.
I began the slow trudge up to South Matthieu Lake, stopping to talk to trail volunteers along the way. There was a large group doing trail maintenance and I got to be the first hiker to walk the refurbished tread. I thanked them for all their work and was given huge smiles in return. Apparently some of the workers were former PCT thru-hikers and they seemed very glad to see me “doing my thing”. I guessed the guy with the beard was probably a thru-hiker as he was grinning madly, giving off those good hiker vibes. At that point, I am so happy to be back on trail I am open to all the good vibes I can get so I absorb his cheer like a sponge.
I like this portion of the trail as it winds through the lava fields, open sandy washes looking for all the world like a desert with rivers of pumice sand. There are wildflower meadows and peeks of North Sister, AKA, Faith. I like that the Three Sisters are named Faith, Hope and Charity… these names are so much more meaningful than North, Middle and South. Faith is the roughest and the oldest, her spires point a toothy smile into the gray sky. She is showing her age and I am feeling mine as my heavy pack has me pausing after each uphill climb. I’m carrying 8 days of food and after a dose of Giardia and a week off, I am not as tough as I was before but I don’t really care. I’m so thrilled to be back here I am singing in my head and sometimes even out loud.
I enjoy every mile and even take a short break off trail, exploring a fold of a lava meadow. It’s quietly still down here and the sun begins to shine between clouds. I take off my pack and lay on the pumice sand, absorbing it’s warmth after being blasted by the winds as I rounded Yapoah Crater. I stare up at the cliffs in this little canyon and also at the flowers and plants that eek out a living on the dry soil-less earth. There doesn’t seem to be much nourishment in this volcanic sand, it’s so porous and fragile, but I know that volcanoes belch up minerals from the earth and are fertile grounds for growth. I’m literally on the rim of the Ring of Fire on the Pacific Rim and seeing first hand the results of tectonic instability. Our lives are such specks in the grand design, no where else shows this to me more blatantly than the spine of the Cascades. The mountains are teeming with deep, thrusting energy… the volcanic release point for that big Cascadia subduction zone off the Oregon coastline.
But today all is quiet and calm in my little fold of lava. I relax before shouldering the heavy pack and moving on. Just short of the spring I come across a PCT hiker campsite. You can tell these are thru-hiker made as they are right off the trail and well used. I think about staying and drop my pack to explore my options. I have decided that this portion of my trip will be as quiet and possible. I know this wilderness very well, having camped here off and on for 30 years. I can’t believe it’s been that long, but it has; I’m not your typical hiker. I don’t see many women over 50 out solo-ing the trail, I feel like a rebel. I also I feel like I’m home, even though I haven’t seen this particular part before. As I wander about the campsite, a group of hikers stroll by, chatting and announcing their presence long before they come into view. I stand motionless and they never even see me there, so absorbed by their conversation and the trail in front of them. I feel like a deer, invisible in plain site. This is also somewhat how I feel in up-country life now that I’ve hit the half century mark. I’ve been the focus of masculine attention since I was 15 and I learned how to harness that power to my advantage from an early age in a “use what you got” philosophy. But women of a certain age fade from view and while it’s taken a bit of getting used to, I now enjoy my super power of invisibility.
After they leave, I bushwhack in a northeast line, moving about a quarter mile off trail. I want privacy and alone time out here. Being so close to the spring, I’ll be seeing and hearing other hikers if I don’t do some back country stealth camping. I pay close attention to my surroundings and note landmarks to help me return to the trail. I have the ability and skills to navigate by compass, but I prefer to follow the sign posts of tree, rock, hole or brush. I stop and turn around every 50 to 100 feet, noting what my “trail” looks like in the reverse direction. My love of maps and navigation comes from a love of “off trail” exploration and a healthy fear of getting lost. I like to see new things, find corners of the land where no one but the local animals have gone before. Following a game trail to see where they drink, where they bed down, where they live and sometimes even where they die. I’ve brought home skulls and bone, feathers and fur, the last remnants of a life lived off the grid and free. The trail name of Pathfinder is quintessentially me in every way.
I find a meadow and scout about for a flat spot. There are many to choose from but I want something that won’t trample the vegetation or leave an impact on this fragile timberline environment. I find the remains of an old campfire… a few stones blackened and only a lump or two of charcoal. I kick apart the ring and take the time to toss stones randomly as I don’t want another hiker to use the site one day. Not that it will happen, all evidence suggests this place hasn’t been used in decades, but still, it’s my way of taking care of the wilderness. A small bit of housekeeping as it were.
I set up my tent, lay out my gear, fluff up my bag. It’s all so familiar now and this small ritual is comforting and adds to my contentment. I like feeling settled in camp. It’s quiet in my corner of the world. I eat, read, write in my journal musing over personal relationships. This is my last entry about other people for days as I release all tensions and issues. Being a highly sensitive introvert takes it’s toll at times, I can emphatically absorb other people’s pain and it takes effort to let it go. It’s draining. Time spent in nature charges my batteries. Being in the wilderness revitalizes and super charges me… it’s like getting an upgraded operating system and back up charges. Once I dump all the words out of me and on to the page before me, I feel ready to take in all the energy the earth has to give me.
Day 11 Opie to Obsidian and BEYOND!
Obsidian Area, off trail near an unnamed lake.
Four miles so far, I’m moving at a snail’s pace! It’s 1PM and I started from the spring at 10 AM even though I was packed up by 8:50. I had to get water once I got to Minnie Scott Spring, so it took a little while to filter a few liters. There are lots of good camp sites all around and I spent time wandering about looking at the interesting terrain. No hurries today.
After getting water, I cruised up the Opie Dildock pass and hung out, looking at the place I had lunch last year with Scout. She was not a happy camper on that trip, who knew she’d be such a princess in the wilderness? She’s such a good trail dog, but she doesn’t like tent life. I’m not missing the dogs, the horses or anyone for that matter. It’s nice to just take care of myself and not have to be “on” with my alter ego persona . I’m a friendly upbeat person if you meet me, I don’t like sour puss people. I figure if I can act in a pleasant manner even if I don’t feel it inside, then everyone else can too! But seeing this in print has me considering how dishonest that is. Not that I plan on showing my inner grump. Ever. Oh, it’s so complicated being a human being!
It was a short hike to the limited entry area and I am thinking about skipping my earlier planned Obsidian zero day. I’m not ready to park myself yet. The 2 mile hike is lovely with epic views and glittery bits of volcanic glass everywhere. Last year I stayed here 4 days with Scout and worried about her cutting her paws as she ran about off trail. No such worries this time.
Still nice to have some daylight hours and lots of nice territory ahead. It’s 6 miles to the next creek. I could do another dry camp if I don’t want to go that far… but for now I’m hanging out on the lake shore, considering a swim and a wash but really, not feeling that either. Without a goal I feel somewhat like a rudderless ship. Just happy to be here taking the trail with a lot less pressure this time.
Also, I am still of the mindset of listening to my body. What does it want? If my mind can’t figure things out, then my body can decide. Maybe I’ll take my zero at Mirror Lake, or cut my miles down to more bite sized portions. That 13 mile day at the end does not sound like something I want to do. I keep telling myself not to even think about that, just hike to suit my body, but I haven’t yet learned how to quiet my inner comptroller.
Day 11, continued. 8.5 miles
What a DAY! I opted not to swim. I ate lunch at the lake-ette and after journaling the above entry I finally realized that I really didn’t want to blow off a day waiting for my permit date to stay at Obsidan. What I wanted to do was to go down the trail! So, that’s what I did. I got to the Sisters Creek and filled up on water so I could opt to dry camp wherever it suited me. I carried 3 liters of water the rest of the hike… ugh.
As I was finishing up, a thru-hiker stopped to chat. We had such a nice visit! He even sat by me in the shade and we talked about existentialism, of being in the moment and why we are out there hiking… big picture stuff. He said he’d hiked 1500 miles before anyone even asked him WHY? He told me about a word he’d been mulling over for a few hundred miles: SONDER. It’s an “Obscure Dictionary” word meaning, other people’s lives are as complicated and convoluted as yours. (While writing this part at home, I looked it up and found this very short but compelling video titled Sonder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkoML0_FiV4)
I introduced him to “surrender” as opposed to “letting things go” and how it’s a word I can get behind and actually practice. How “letting go” always seemed so impossible, as if the verb usage of “letting” was undo-able. Surrender however, is about acceptance. I can do acceptance.
My hiker/philosopher’s name is Mowgli and he’s a high school science teacher from Massachusetts. I told him I grew up in New England and we compared notes a little about the east coast. It was refreshing to talk about the deeper aspects of trail life and how it will change your soul. How to even find the words to explain what it all means is, well, maybe not even necessary. I said words were just a pointer, but not the actual thing so don’t get too hung up on trying to explain what the experience means to you. He liked that.
“I can’t take credit, that’s from Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now.”
I talked some about what I had been reading and how just this morning I had been reading about the ‘anxiety gap’. This is the concept by which you are so afraid of a future event that has yet to arrive that you are unaware of your present moment. That all we ever have is the present. We talked for at least an hour, maybe it was more? It seemed timeless but eventually we parted ways. I headed south and he continued on, bound for Canada.
On the trail again, the day was magical and so beautiful. The lupines were blooming and scenting the air with sweet perfume, it was like incense to my blissed out state of being. I talked to everyone I passed, the thru-hikers are really thick on the trail and most of them were having the time of their lives. Of course, the setting was awe inspiring, it seemed to affect us all with smiles and joy, everyone was brimming with such happiness. We were all ‘high’ at 6000 feet.
I chatted with a large red-bearded hiker about his cuben fiber pack, it looked like it was made of Tyvek! Too ultra light for me, I’m liking my structured Osprey pack even though it weighs about 4 lbs. It’s all broken in now, fitting better than ever. I’m even fond of it’s eggplant color and shape. Red Beard liked my Chrome Dome umbrella too, I used it all down this part of the trail as I was exposed to the altitude and sun. He liked my hands free paint roller set up, we both agreed we disliked wearing hats when it’s warm.
The thru-hikers I met were loving their time in the Three Sisters Wilderness. I heard so many complimentary comments, like this was the most beautiful place since the Sierras! Wow! So nice to hear.
The “girls” were in good form and the weather was cool but sunny. I stopped to look down on Linton Meadow and thought about one of my favorite hidden spots down among the lakes below. I’ll return another time, for now, I didn’t want to leave the PCT. There were so many new parts to see. I continued to listen to my body, after an almost 3 hour stay at the Obsidian area I hiked on until 6:30 PM. It was the latest I’d been on trail, usually I was all snugged down by then, enjoying a long evening of relaxation. I passed a hiker and asked about the upcoming creeks weighing the distance against another dry camp. I could use up all my water that night if I knew it was a short haul to water the next day. That system worked well last night and I was about to find a campsite when a young woman passed me, all smiles. I asked if she was a solo thru-hiker but she stopped to explain that she was hiking with the guy I’d just questioned. She asked if I was going SOBO, I said yes, on my way to Crater lake (I was cagey about my destination, I guess I still wanted to believe my trip hadn’t changed and I was going to finish… I don’t really know why I said that, but it was a good thing because it triggered something in her!) She looked at me pointedly and asks if my name was Sky.
I stared at her… what the?? “Uh, yes,” I said.
“No, really… not your trail name. Your name is really Sky?”
“Yes! It really is!” Now my mouth has dropped open and I am wondering what’s going on. A Facebook connection?
She yells, “Amira!”
I’m still dumbfounded. This girl’s name is Amira? How do I know TWO Amira’s?
“I’m friend’s with Amira! She talks about you!”
OMG, this is the thru-hiker that Amira was telling me about! Her sister’s close friend, they went to school together. She has come out from the mid-west and had been hiking since April. We start laughing and hugging and it’s like she’s my long lost cousin or something. Raven had been thinking of me the past 2 days wondering if I was out here and then out of the blue she asked ME if I was Sky. She’s not even sure why as she couldn’t even remember my name until she saw me. She had no idea where I was on trail, how old I was, what I looked like… just a solo woman in Oregon. ‘Heading to Crater Lake’, must have been the trigger!
The guy hears us hollering and comes back. After we tell him what happened, he wants to know, “How do you know Amira?”
“She’s living at my house while I do this!” and I wave my arms out expansively.
He wants to know how Raven even thought to ask who I was. She shrugs but I say, “That was a nudge from the universe.” We all nod in agreement, another serendipitous trail magic event.
We laugh and visit for a bit before they move on north. We get our picture taken for proof and posterity, I will text it to to Amira ASAP. And suddenly, no more cell service. It will have to wait. Oh well, such is trail life.
A quarter mile later I am hunting up a site. It’s almost 7PM and the latest I’ve set up camp on this trip, but what a day I’ve had!
I’m on a little rocky ridge with South Sister out one window of my tent, and Middle on the other! It’s a dry area but for some reason there are mosquitoes giving me a reason to hang out inside the shelter. I figure out how to put my stove just outside the vestibule and cook while I stay safely out of biting range. (It’s a system I come to love and use for every morning and evening meal afterwards.) Dinner was a gorgeous meal of home-dried pasta, olives and zucchini that was so damn good I take time to write about it in my journal.
I’m content to have done 8.5 miles today. The trail feels different. Welcome. Happy… just like home. It feels good to walk and see my beautiful, beautiful 3 Sisters, I feel complete. Why go anywhere else?