On Being… A Trail Journal Part 3

Day 6   Quick miles to Timberline Lodge

It was an easy hike to the lodge, even with the climb out of Zig Zag canyon. Since I knew I had all day, I woke up late, took the time to do my yoga stretches. Had a nice breakfast and even a second cup of coffee. I read a little in my Power of Now book and packed up slowly. I was on the trail by 10, stopping here and there for pictures. At the Paradise Trail turn off the signs were oddly placed and I found myself heading down a side trail. Before I went too far, I checked my trail app and it said I was on the PCT. I continued on, but a few minutes later, I paused. The trail didn’t look like the PCT. It was narrow and brushy and just didn’t feel right. I checked again, and now my app said I was 400 feet off trail. Huh! Somehow, I missed a turn.

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Here’s where I missed the trail. Too busy taking a picture, I guess.

Back up I went and discovered my error. The PCT had a switch back right at what I thought was a picnic spot with a view. I didn’t even see it. I must have checked the app when I was so near the PCT, it showed me on trail correctly. Well, good thing for technology but also for listening to one’s instincts!

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Bear Grass along the way.

Before I left for my trip, I’d been reading a book called “Awakening Intuition” by Mona Lisa Schulz. She talks about listening to your body and using your intuitive, gut feelings for insight and clarity with your life. If you rely solely on your mind, you loose touch with what your body is trying to tell you. I’m trying to get more in touch with my intuitive network on this hike, that’s why I listened to my body when I fell the other day. My mind was trying to say, you got this, go on! But my body was saying, hey, we need to REST, alright?

My ankle is a little sore and swollen, I feel it mostly when I am doing my morning and evening stretches. So I try to baby it a bit and even taped it up for yesterday’s climb. I’ve taken a couple of ibuprofen, but for the most part, I’m doing fine without the need for medication. I’d like to keep it that way.

I meet more hikers today, there seem to be more and more people on the trail the closer I get to the lodge. Most are just out for the day, or heading towards Paradise Park where the flowers are spectacular, or so I hear. I thought about checking it out, and I had the time, but it was another 1500 ft. elevation gain (and loss) and after day 2 and day 5, I just couldn’t do it. I really get why people go NOBO… the climbs have been a killer way to start my journey.

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The Zig Zag approach.

I drop down into the ZigZag canyon, not a bad descent but at the very bottom, the trail was a steep, rocky, mini cliff, just perfect for messing up your day. I tread lightly and make it. There are planks across the water and suddenly there are people in abundance. They seem to be milling around the water, taking pictures, doing God knows what. As soon as I cross, I meet a couple with their shiny, new, clean packs. I say “Hi” and I must look trail hardened, because the woman begins to ask me all sorts of questions. The regular credential questions to start, then when she learns I’m on my way to Crater Lake, she gets super excited. She congratulates me and says how brave I am to go it alone. I say, “I don’t feel alone, look at all the people on the trail!”

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The Zig Zag crossing and the slide down into it!

Now, while there are solo women on the trail, there aren’t very many my age. Actually, in the 6 days I’ve been out, I have yet to seen one out by herself. I seem to be an anomaly, but I also seem to be approachable so the day hiker continues to ask questions. I squint in the sunlight as we stand there with the hot sun bouncing off the stark canyon walls making everything too bright. People are streaming around us as they head for the plank crossing. Her husband smiles then talks trail… questioning where I’ve been, sharing where they’ve been. The inquiry comes to a close and I start up the other side.

It was nice to meet some enthusiastic wanna-be’s. Most hikers are very nice but as I got closer to the lodge, the tourists start to pepper the trail. Some were oblivious, standing in the trail taking pictures. One guy with a big pack stepped to the side but his pack was totally in the narrow trail. I said, “Uh, I still can’t get by.” Then he turns his body, swinging his load off the trail. Some day hikers come at me on narrow portions and don’t seem to realize we will have to pass and I am carrying more than a water bottle in my hand. They hog the trail and are surprised when I stop in front of them. I won’t risk a crumbling edge with this 30 lb pack (down 5 lbs from the start!). I figure I have a long way to go and if I’m going to get hurt on the trail (again) it’s not going to be from being overly polite. Usually though, I anticipate on-coming hikers and step off onto a safe spot so they can go by. It’s easier that way.

The most surprising tourist to me was the malicious “mean girl” who encouraged me with “You’re almost to the top! The lodge is just just around the next switchback!” then laughingly flounced down the trail. I was working my way up out of the Zig Zag canyon, carefully hauling my pack up another 1200 foot gain. The mean part was, I had just started the climb and I knew (because I studied my maps) that the lodge was 4 ½ miles away. No where near “around the next switchback”, so it was a very weird thing to say. Hard not to see it as just plain mean, really. I felt sorry for other hikers who might have fallen for that false encouragement.

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A little spot off the trail for a rest, a snack and a view!

As at Eagle Creek, there were the under-prepared day hikers with flip flops and no water. The women clutching purses, the smokers and the baby carriers (and by that I mean the people actually carrying babies… not wearing baby packs… which seems like a dangerous thing to do).  The middle age spread set and the slathered-in-sunscreen-vampires. After 6 days on the trail, the day hiker tourists really stand out.

 

Tomorrow night I have a room booked at the lodge and Joe is meeting me. We’ve never been to Timberline Lodge and it seems like a cool thing to do, a bit of a late 30th Anniversary celebration. We actually spent our 30th at the Olallie Lake resort where I dropped off a hiker resupply box since I couldn’t mail anything to the remote “resort”. I use quotes there because Olallie is a resort of rustic cabins, no electricity or running water. We stayed in a yurt and had a wonderful time. By comparison, Timberline will be a palace.

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Timberline Palace

But when I get there, as impressive as the structure is, the place is swarming with people and noise and too much energy. I feel out of place and everyone looks wealthy and clean. Regardless of my sudden discomfort at being in a real resort, I walk right in like I own the place, my trekking poles tucked under my arm. I wander about gawping at the architecture and the richness of it all. The beams and timbers circle a gigantic multi-sided stone fireplace in the center of the lodge. Everything is of a scale that makes me feel small, but it’s also rustic and old and a real ski lodge.

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Even the furniture is sturdy and unique.  Most everything was built on site!

I spent many a day in ski lodges during my New England youth, so I find a great deal of familiarity and comfort being in one right now. There is a beat up edge to Timberline, something that comes from decades of abuse at the hands of hard equipment, snow and outdoorsy people. I circumnavigate the center fireplace and stop when I get to the circle of couches taken over by a trio of thru hikers… or “hiker trash” as they are often called. Ahhh, now here we go!

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A PCT hiker and her pack taking advantage  of the great 4G signal and the ability to recharge in comfort.

Hello boys!” I say with familiarity, though two of the boys may very well be older than me. 

“Hi there!” they reply.  I stop to chat with the trio, one of which is waiting for the delivery of an ice cream sundae from the dining room. After about 30 seconds of back and forth I say,

So… Boston?” It’s so obvious, he has a wicked accent.

His eyebrows raise, surprised. “Yeah!”

I point to myself, “Nashua!” Which is the closest New Hampshire town, about 45 minutes north of Boston and where I went to school. I sit and talk to the guys, trail names are exchanged but for the life of me, all I can remember is “Boston” and not his actual trail name.

Trail names, by the way, are hiker nicknames that are bestowed upon one (or adopted) in lieu of using your regular name. Usually they are accompanied by a funny story, so that’s always an additional amusing twist. My trail name of Pathfinder was given to me over 20 years ago by my backpacking buddy because I was the map reader, and general which-way-er as we hiked. I am always taking short cuts down deer trails and pretty much ‘finding the path’… so it was a name that made sense.

My new hiker-dude friends for the moment were Fly-Fisher from Germany and “The Man In Black”, TMIB for short. Fly was talking about wanting to fish more, not enough time while hiking the trail. He had a Visa that said he could come back again so he had dreams of buying a F-150 pick up and traveling America, camping as he went. And fishing, I presume. We talked about hiking in Europe and the novelty, to him, of these long, long trails. He was soft spoken and serious and kind to say that my Oregon hike was still a very big deal. Considering he was finishing up a 2600 mile trail, my little piece didn’t seem to be that much but he put it in perspective. There were no trails at all (in Europe) that were even as long as what I was attempting. “Don’t ever say “just” 400 miles!” he admonished me. I had to agree… the word “just” is a bad habit. But distance is relative. I bequeath upon him, this choice bit of wisdom: “In Europe, a 100 miles is a long distance, in America, a 100 years is a long time.”  Fly Fisher nods in agreement.

TMIB was, well, dressed all in black. Which seemed like a hot choice given all the exposed parts on the trail. He was most enthusiastic about being at the lodge, he and Boston were actually a bit loopy from the trail… or from all the sugar they were ingesting, but they were laughing so much at times, it was hard to follow what they were saying.  It was noisy in there, but perhaps there was more than just sugar that had them grinning and giggling like naughty school boys. 

TMIB asked if I had any trail questions, and so I asked about the upcoming Russel Creek in the Jefferson Wilderness. This would be my last sketchy glacial creek crossing and I had heard some stories already. The lively narrative that followed had Boston running over the snow bridge that spanned the cliffs above the creek. But when TMIB and Fly-Fisher got there, no tracks were seen and they decided the snow bridge was unsafe. They jumped from rock to rock, avoiding the rushing waters but TMIB fell and a rock crushed his foot. He was glad he hadn’t broken it and pulled out his phone to show me pictures he had taken immediately afterwards. That’s when I noticed the time stamp, it had happened on Monday, just 4 days ago! These guys had been doing some serious miles!

Which means just 4 days ago the snow bridge was still intact. And that the creek was still, as TMIB said, seriously dangerous and I’d have to judge for myself when it came to crossing it. That bit of information was disconcerting to say the least.

I bade farewell to the dude-bro hikers. Fly-Fisher was cool to chat with, but the other two were getting ramped up. Between them and the loud, packed conditions of the lodge I needed to get outside and find a place to park my tent. We took pictures to commemorate the event and wished each other good luck on our journeys.

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Evidence: me and my gear are at Timberline.  We walked there, together!

A cheerful, ice cream filled Boston exclaimed, “Bye Nashua!” as I hefted my pack and threaded my way through the rich tourists. I heard some of them whisper, “A hiker!” in my general direction. It kinda was like TMIB said, we were rock stars! Dirty, scruffy and looking a little like homeless people, but I felt eyes on me as I wandered about, people wondering where I was going and what, maybe, I had seen.

Above the lodge, near the PCT was the ubiquitous communal hiker site where scores of hikers had waited out for the trail famous Timberline Lodge all you can eat epic breakfast. This breakfast is so well known, it’s down as one of those “must do, must see” trail moments. Right up there with climbing Mt. Whitney. I would have one of those breakfasts, with the hubby, before I headed back out onto the trail. Though being vegan is tough… most breakfast food isn’t made without eggs or sausage or some kind of porky goodness. I miss the taste, but I don’t miss anything else about animal food. No judgment, its a personal choice.

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I find a spot away from the communal camp, I’m still craving some personal space, but the whole area is noisy with people, cars, equipment. Its hard to settle down. I set up in a hillside of lupines. They are purple and beautiful, I take pictures then hide out in my tent and write in my journal.

I looked at my maps and think about where I am going next. The information about Russel Creek bothers me, I figured the snow bridge would be gone by the time I got there, but didn’t know the rock leaping was difficult. I think about how just today, as I was leaving the wilderness boundary, there was a huge sign about river crossings next to the self issue permit kiosk.

Apparently, the sign was placed by the family of an experienced hiker that had died crossing the Sandy River! So glad I hadn’t seen this until after I had crossed. That’s all I would have needed to ramp up my own anxiety.

Going alone has that drawback of feeling more vulnerable to dangers. I have to be extra cautious as I don’t have anyone to rely upon for emotional support if nothing else. Well, I won’t attempt a crossing that seasoned thru-hikers who have braved the mother fucking Sierra’s, think is dangerous!

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Lupines surround my tent.

But then again, as I have learned, there are all levels of perceptions on the trail. Some say it’s cold, it wasn’t. Some say it’s easy, it’s not. Some say it’s hard, and it’s a piece of cake. Conditions on the trail change all the time. The Seven warned me of all the blow-down I’d have to climb over and under. I had heard that a crew was clearing trail. Well, they’d heard that too, but that wasn’t their experience. I did the same trail, the very next day and the crew had been out and cut every blown down tree all the way to Timberline. They must have been right behind the Seven the whole way.

I’ve had a great 4G signal on Mt. Hood, there’s a big tower near the lodge, so I call home. The horses are fine, so are the dogs. Except for Scout. She’s not eating her breakfast and is depressed. Not like her at all. News from home takes my mind off the creek crossing and I eat my solo dinner (homemade smokey pea soup, yum!). I have too much food still left in my bag, I’ll have to do a better job packing for this next section.

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Nite Mt. Hood and all!

I get ready for bed and jot some final random thoughts from the trail in my journal:

Breath is life… focusing on breath is a powerful connection to the spirit within.

Being overly critical of yourself or others causes one to doubt and question their abilities.

Place your feet carefully as if your life depends upon it. Because out here, sometimes it does.