Day 4 Down to the Muddy Crossing
It’s a funny thing about going SOBO. While I am out there, I meet most everybody on the trail who are heading north. I cross paths with NOBO hikers, and there are a lot of them. I get to ask what’s ahead. I also get to hear a variety of reports based on their individual perceptions, opinions and confidence level. My first clue this may be a problem, was the woman who warned me about the narrow Eagle Creek ledge. I kept looking for a part that was so death defying, I’d have to take off my pack and push it ahead (like she did). I never found that part.
Now when the Seven told me of the upcoming Muddy Creek crossing, they said it was no big deal and there was even a rope to hang onto if I was worried. So, I put it out of my mind and focused instead on the Sandy River. This one they said was more, well, sketchy. A bundle of narrow trees was the one and only bridge; they crossed by getting in the water and hanging on to the bridge for support. This seemed like a good fall back position so while the crossing had me worried, I tried not to focus on it. Well, not too much. Even though I was recognizing I was getting a variety of perspectives on the crossing, I did continue to ask for the opinions of many of the thru or section hikers coming my way. Like, most all of them.
And then, there was today. Where I learned much more about being in the moment and paying attention to where I was actually at, as opposed to where I would be in 11 miles down the trail.
When I get to Muddy Creek, I am taken aback. It’s a silty, glacial, roaring torrent of a creek! The water was much more than the “walk in the park” I had imagined when I arrived after an eventful and long trail. I stood on the bank and looked at the 20 foot wide stretch of white water. It was moving fast so I dropped my pack and tested the crossing. I took my shoes off and barefoot, used my trekking poles to probe the depth. It wasn’t too bad at 2:30 in the afternoon and I got half way across before I retreated back to contemplate my next move. Camp or cross? Camp on the other side, or continue on? After everything that had happened, I just wasn’t sure, it seemed too early to stop for the day. Hungry and tired, I sat under a tree by the log crossing and ate. I was surprised by the strength of the creek and suddenly, I was overwhelmed with fatigue so I lay down and took a nap. The noise of the water drowned out my thoughts, the sun was warm, the grass was soft and I was just so tired. I felt like Dorothy in the poppy fields (Wizard of Oz reference here).
Some time later, I awoke and decided to try the log crossing… just to see if I could. Across the creek lay some seriously large trees. Amazingly, they had fallen over right at the edge, they bridged the creek and they were level! A natural bridge of two big logs with exposed roots on one side (that you’d have to climb over), then using the rope on the top log, you could walk on the bottom log right across. Easy, right? Shades of Eagle Creek, right?
Wrong. Imagine if you will, very large trees, and when you crawl out on the bottom one, you notice the rope you are clinging to is frayed and somewhat rotten. Added to that, the top tree is so round, it pushes you away from the log in an arch…. and you are carrying a heavy pack AND you have fallen 3 times already today so you doubt your surefootedness.
After my nap, I thought I would try it without the pack. For practice. Did I mention how these logs are at least 10 feet in the air above the creek? Fear of heights? What fear of heights? I got to the logs, walked out away from the edge about 5 feet and was scared by the drop. And the weak rope and my own weak grip. No way I’d do it with a pack on. I’d have to lean out over the bulge of the log and all the stubby branches too. Dear GOD! I got back to safety and stood at the end of the root side as a young hiker approached the logs from the south side. He was thin and tan, his long light hair swung about as he nimbly leaped on some lower downed logs. He was wearing neon yellow running shorts to go with his lightening print gaiters. Then he came over to the double log rope nightmare. He tested the ropes, walked easily across and right up to where I was standing at the root ball.
“Are you a thru hiker or a section hiker?” he asked.
“A section,” I replied, shouting a little over the noise of the rushing creek.
“Cool,” he said, then asked, “How far?”
“I’m going to Crater Lake.”
His level gaze was unsettling. I stammered, “You made that log look easy! It’s too scary for me, I’ll have to ford it.”
“Well, I can take your bag across for you if you want,” he offered.
I took a split second to ponder this offer and I did not turn it down! “Really? That would be great! I was just trying to decide if I should go over now or in the morning.”
He looked at me seriously. This was one serious kid. He said, “Well, you’ve got to cross it sometime.”
We talked a bit about campsites and he said there were some on the other side but they were expecting people to be coming in later and if I went now, I’d get to pick my spot. Well, there was no denying this young man’s logic. He scouted about while I put my pack in order and then he hefted it up and nimbly waltzed across the top of the log like a squirrel.
I made my way down to the ford and took my shoes off again, tied them together and draped them around my neck. Taking a deep breath, I began to wade. The water was higher from when I first got there. I didn’t think that much time had gone by, but what had been up to my knees was now pulsing up mid thigh and seemed even stronger. I used my poles, trying to find the shallow places, the water was white with silt, I was stabbing blindly, feeling around the submerged rocks. My focus intensified to one step, hunt with my pole, another step, shift my foot. Then the next step. Then a deep drop off, hunt again, there, upstream it was shallow… step forward then over and then, finally, a few more steps and I was out. Phew! I was so glad someone had been there, just in case! But when I turned to look, my trail angel was gone. My pack was there to greet me, but I was alone.
I laughed a little at myself, I’d heard you should never cross alone. But just knowing someone was there boosted my confidence. Looks like I could cross a creek alone if I had to. It helped that I didn’t have the pack though… that thing had already tossed me about enough today. My heart was pounding when I got to shore and I sat down on a rock to put my shoes back on.
I shouldered my pack and climbed up to the south bank campsites. The forest was lovely, moss covered old growth trees in a grove of soft moss bedding that stretched up along the creek. I found a wonderful place to pitch my Ultra Light tent and while I did, my trail angel and his friend came over to visit. They were two High School students from Southern Oregon. The tent was admired and stories were shared. I was impressed that two young men were on the trail together. They hadn’t even finished High School yet. What an adventure for them!
Earlier today, while on the trail, I vowed to “stop telling my story”. Everyone does it, ‘where are you going? Where are you from? ‘ It’s become a right of passage, or, your ticket into the trail club. I think about it and wonder why. I feel like my ego is getting off on this whole trip. “Here I am! Here’s what I’m doing! Yes, I’m going solo! Yes, all the way to Crater Lake!” Which I already feel weird about since I had intended to go to Ashland, but now my trip is truncated. And sometimes I even add that in the story, for what reason I don’t know. I get to practice this vow and break it over and over… frankly, my lack of self restraint is bothering me. I found myself narrating my tale again to this new audience, then later feeling annoyed at myself for yet again, breaking my promise.
This morning I got on the trail early, skipping breakfast because I knew I had 11 miles to cover. I went 4 miles in 2 hours, past a logging operation, past the sizzling high voltage towers, past the car at Lolo pass who’s back window had been shattered and presumably its’ contents ransacked.
I was walking along and eating “second breakfast” when I tripped and flipped forward into the huckleberry bushes. There are bushes everywhere along the trail, the berries are at their peak and have been a big part of my breakfast/snack routine for the past few days. I crash right into them and roll onto my poles. I’m okay, but a little shook up. It was such an utter surprise, I did not see it coming, nor could I stop it from happening.
I climb a few more miles when I cross paths with a 70 something woman and her younger companion who were hiking all of Oregon and Washington. You GO girl!! She was inspirational… I wish I’d gotten her trail name. She teases me for eating all her berries, I tease her for eating all of mine. I was glad to meet a hiker who was taking the time to enjoy the wonderful huckleberries, they really were everywhere and so worth a pause here and there. I climb on before finally hitting the ridge then down into the Muddy Creek basin. I was thinking to myself I was making such good time, I could cross the Muddy and continue on. I felt great! And then, before I knew it, my foot slips, my hip rolls and off I go, pitched right off the trail and into the pine needles along the side of the trail. WTF? Again?! I’m glad it’s a soft landing but my ankle rolled a little on the way down. I’m stunned that it happened so fast and for the second time. I think of all the sketchy places where a fall like this could mean very bad things. Places where there is no side of the trail to land. Probably need to put my personal locator beacon, the INREACH…. actually in reach!
I also think about how the previous night, talking to my camp-mates, when they say they are scared of cougars… I reply with this nugget:
“You’d be lucky to see a cougar. The things to be scared about are falls, spraining your ankle, maybe even lightening. You’re much more likely to encounter one of those fears.”
So prophetic. Well off I go again, I focus on the trail and tell myself I had better just stay at Muddy and rest up before crossing. Then, in a few more miles, I begin to think about how much ground I’m covering and how I’ll get over the creek and get closer to the Sandy when, WHAM! A rolling rock slides out from under my foot and this time I went down on one knee and the PCT has her payment as blood is drawn.
“Okay! Okay! I get it! I’ll stay at the Muddy! I promise!”
You can bet I was focused on the trail after that. Every single footfall. I made my mind stay on the present moment, And having focused so intently, I was so very tired by the time I reached the Muddy. My body was tired and told me so in the only way it could. Just because it was early didn’t mean I could push past 11 miles. I hadn’t really rested, just a quick stop or two all day. I need to take it easy and stick to my plan. My body needs to rest, it’s having some issues with the trail. Tomorrow is some major elevation gains, another 3 thousand feet, and now my ankle is a little tweaked.
Anyway, SO GLAD that is over! I went back down to the creek before bed and it had rose even more. Tomorrow is a two mile hike to Sandy. Gulp. I will be getting to it first thing, so it should be easy to ford. I keep hearing how the logs are narrow and sketchy and even slippery and wet. But, as wonderful as that sounds, I will leave it for tomorrow. Right now, I’m all cozy in my tent. I don’t have a problem right now. I trust in the Universal energy to make my way smooth, the trail do-able. I’ve been learning about the power of NOW (reading EckhartTolle lately) my mind is not in charge. So, there, mind! You and your fears can just step aside for now.
Day 5 Crossing the Sandy (lived to tell the tale). And finally, a solo camp!
I know I am sometimes all over the map chronologically, so today I will do my best to be sequential. But wow… what a day!
I awoke just as it was starting to get light, the birds were singing their first song of the day and I was eager to get the Sandy River crossing over and done with! I packed up as fast as I could and this time, made a hot breakfast to fortify me for what I saw as my greatest challenge so far.
My mind had been entertaining me with looped songs the past few days, yesterday it was Sarah Bareillis’s “Brave”, but today, out of nowhere, came an old Neil Diamond song from the Jonathan Livingston Seagull album. This is an old soundtrack from a movie, circa 1973. The movie and the book it was based on, was a favorite of my mother’s. If ever there was a spiritual theme that resonated with her, it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. So to have Neil Diamond in my head, first thing, and that particular song… well, I felt my mother’s presence so deeply that morning. I felt she was watching over me, she was there to help me face this river.
I was the first hiker out of camp that morning, it looked like tent city right down the trail from me, but no one was stirring. I was on the trail by 6:50 and it felt good. The air was crisp and Neil was singing:
LONELY LOOKING SKY
Lonely looking sky
And bein’ lonely
Makes you wonder why
Lonely looking sky
Lonely looking night
Lonely night, lonely looking night
And bein’ lonely
Never made it right
Sleep we sleep
For we may dream
While we may
we dream , for we may wake
One more day
Glory looking day
Glory day, glory looking day
And all it’s glory
Told a simple way
Behold it if you may
Glory looking day
Lonely looking sky
He was right there in my head, the violins, the piano, the horns, the whole orchestra pulsing around me. I didn’t walk far before I began to cry. Quiet tears of joy, of love, of the sheer beauty of the world that was waking up all around me. I watched the sun kiss the top of the canyon as I took the Ramona Falls bypass up to the Sandy River, just 2 miles away. And I felt my mother, who had passed away 4 years ago, I felt her presence… she used to be so scared of my wilderness trips. But now, she wasn’t scared any more of any thing, finally at peace and lending me her strength. Somehow, I knew I would be across by 9, just a few hours from the start of my day. I’d be across and I’d be safe and all was as it was meant to be.
On my way to the falls, 2 crows stopped to shout “Caw! Caw! Crrook! Crrook!” I stopped to “Crrook !” right back at them. I’ve always felt crows to be messengers for me. My mother’s bird of choice has always been seagulls but that would have been something very strange indeed to see a seagull up here. I asked the crows if they were sent to watch me, in keeping with the magical theme of the day.
“CAW! CAW! Crrook! Crrook!”
I told them, I would take that as a yes and continued on to the falls.
I spent a little time at the falls, but mostly I walked in a blissed out state up and around until I came across 3 hikers who warned me of the crossing and jolted me right back into reality. They talked about the logs, and how they had wanted to ford the river but it was too cold. Startlingly cold.
I’m starting to think I am suffering from “too much information” anxiety! But as I leave the nervous hikers behind, I slip back into listening to Neil Diamond sing and focus on the moment as it unfurls before me. And then there is the Sandy.
I inspected the narrow logs. They did not look very supportive so I tested out a ford by sticking my poles in as far as I could. The water was swift and deep at that spot so I began to walk upstream looking for an alternate crossing. Last winter I read a blog by an Oregon woman who had hiked the same trail solo. When she came to the Sandy, she walked upstream until she found a safer crossing and in messages, she advised me to do the same. Now last year, it was a very low snow pack year, so the strength of the rivers were not quite what I was seeing. But still, sound advice. I kept testing along the way, until finally I came to a bend in the river where a gravel bar jutted out into the stream and the water fanned out into a shallow channel and one short narrow stretch. It was an easy stroll across the shallows and the short part was not as deep. I found my crossing!
I unhooked my pack and loosened the straps a little so if the worst case situation arose, I could get my pack off. I took the time to attach my phone (in a waterproof bag) and location beacon to my body and tucked it into my shirt. Crystal had done the same thing at this point and I thought it was a very wise idea. I left my shoes on so I’d have better traction. The Sandy seemed to have more volume than the Muddy and the day was going to be sunny and warm. Better to have wet feet than a broken ankle.
I stepped into the channel and noticed the water wasn’t as cold as the last hikers had thought. Cold, yes, but teeth chattering cold? Hardly. One foot after another, I thought heavy thoughts and planted myself firmly with each step. The river was swift and strong and pushed back at me, wanting to uproot and sweep away. No time to be anxious, I was in the midst of it all and there was no where to go but across. It was narrow at this point, so just a few steps and I was scrambling out the other side. I made it! Hurrah!
“WOO HOOO!” I shouted out loud and danced in a little circle. Another solo crossing. I snapped a few pictures and noticed the time. 9:01
After my celebratory dance, I filtered water from a clear stream (glacial silt streams are not good for water filters) and prepped myself for the 3 K climb to come. It would be another short mileage day, but that was how I had planned my trip.
Mileage and elevation and fitness were a consideration when I was sitting at my dining room table thinking about where I would camp and how many days I would need to hike. I then made reservations at Timberline Lodge, Jefferson Park, Obsidian Limited Entry and Crater Lake’s campground at Mazama. These dates gave me structure to what seemed to be a major undertaking. Like rocks in a creek, they served as stepping stones along my path. But, like a random creek crossing, they also wound up being too far apart or too close. It became hard to adjust as I was mid-stream. Adding in the friends who wanted to meet me, the zero days and additional hotel accommodations for such a short segment of the PCT (all of the PCT in Oregon is only about 450 miles), I wound up tying myself to a timeline that soon felt constricting. It’s hard to be in the moment and “see how you feel” when you have to meet a deadline. Sometimes I gave myself too much time, other times, not enough.
But on this day the 6 miles seemed just about perfect. Pack adjusted, I stepped on the steep trail with my wet shoes and immediately came upon a crow feather. It was soft and black and just waiting there for me as if to say, “see, you made it!”. I smiled to myself then noticed Neil had quit singing in my head. I was alone on the trail once again.
Alone, but not lonely. Loneliness is not something I usually experience, I’ve always been quite content in my solitude. Maybe it’s because I feel connected to nature, the world around me, the stillness I find within. But the handful of times I’ve experienced loneliness were always the result of being with people who wanted nothing to do with me, not necessarily in a malicious way, but more of an “insider” vs “outsider” fashion. So it’s interesting that I would experience this on my first day out and yet, not feel lonely. Just different. I don’t always notice the ways in which I feel different from others, but really, deciding to hike solo across Oregon… yeah, how different is that?
For the first time, I put in my earpiece and listened to Radio Lab podcasts as I hauled my pack up the ascent. I was climbing Mt. Hood proper now, the views below of the river canyons and glacial washes affirmed I was up on his flanks. And since I started at sea level and was going to be spending the night at above 6 thousand feet, it was pretty much a climb in my book. Not a summit, but definitely a climb.
Mt Hood is a big, beefy mountain. Called Wy’east by the natives and given a masculine gender, I felt that big, tough guy persona. He’s one impressive dude and he got my attention at all the best places. It was quite the haul up and my feet squished along in my wet shoes. They felt a little cold and good on that warm day. I had had some issues with my shoes, actually and had been taping my heels every day to ward off blisters. So far, so good but I wondered how long my luck would hold out. Blisters seem to be a normal part of trail life and something I was trying to avoid. Much to my surprise, the wet shoes actually molded to my feet as they dried and became a better fit as I went along.
I remembered a day hiker I saw, she was limping down the Eagle Creek trail, a shirt tied around one foot, a running shoe on the other. She apparently lost it while exploring one of the waterfall pools. Well, that’s what happens when you play in the water, which is why I had tightened my laces before I crossed the Sandy. Miles and days from a trail head, I did NOT want to suffer the same fate. Wouldn’t that have been a bummer of a tale?
The wildflowers began to show themselves in abundance, a mile from my destination, a hummingbird zoomed past me after feasting on the Indian Paintbrushes. I marveled at it, as I had named my pack Hummingbird with the hopes it would be light and fly down the trail. At this point however, Hummingbird was still heavy and weighing me down.
The views continued to be glorious and I followed the trail from one wonderful place to the next. I met many hikers along the way. Most everyone was friendly and feeling those high mountain vibes. One guy had managed to hike all of Oregon in 13 days. He was averaging 35 miles a day and looked pretty wrung out. Another was on his way south after pretty much mountaineering his way through the Washington snow. It’s been a late season for snow. Just as I was about to look for a camp in a level bit of topography, two hikers came down the trail. They were a couple of guys around my age and once again, the credentials were exchanged. “Two Guys” asked about water, they were running a little low, and they wanted to know about the upcoming trail. I asked if they had the Half Mile app for their phone, as it lists all places for water along the PCT. Guy #1 said they did, but he was proud that they had yet to use it on their entire trip across Oregon. They were relying entirely on maps which were buried in their packs. And apparently on other hikers to fill them in on things like, well, where’s the water? You know, unimportant things like that.
Now, I love maps as much as the next person. Well, maybe even more as I went back to school a few years back for surveying and mapping and actually worked as an intern in my local county’s cartography department for a year. So, yeah, I get maps. And I have them and they are accessible. But I also appreciate new technology, the apps and GPS on my phone are pretty dang impressive and helpful. Especially in situations such as these.
I gave Two Guys instructions about the upcoming trail and water. Guy #1 asked me again, the same question. I repeated my instructions. Again. He chatted on about where they had been and what they were doing… maybe just in case I had missed how important his story was? Then he asked again about water. WTH? How have these guys made it this far with this short of an attention span? I gave him the shortened version of what I had just said, twice and moved on down the trail.
“Okay, bye. Have a good hike!” and I left before my face could contort itself into a shape that said, “Dude, you have got a problem.”
Two Guys moved on and I slipped off the trail and down a path that led to a frequently used campsite. I moved deeper into the wilderness, still looking for that elusive solo camp before settling on a lesser used spot tucked away behind some fallen trees.
That night, no one stopped at the communal site… it wasn’t listed on the Half Mile app, so I guess it wasn’t on the thru-hiker radar. And finally, I had my solo night. It was peaceful, beautiful in it’s solitude and the perfect end to an absolutely epic day.