Reflections on reflections

I had something happen a few weeks back that took me aback.  By that, I mean, I wasn’t myself, I didn’t even recognize myself and my reaction. It’s not like me to get so distraught, the level of my reaction didn’t match what was actually happening, and so, being the introspective seeker I am, I had to reflect upon it.  While I was processing this, I was working on a painting I had started prior to the incident.  Now, you may be wondering what happened, but let me assure you, the actual event is not important to my story… it in itself, is inconsequential.

What is important is what I learned about myself in regards to my emotional reaction. I knew all this before, but  apparently I needed the reminder. In the Zen-mindfulness state I’d been working on, I’d forgotten what it was like to live through a downpour of emotions. My reaction had me pondering it’s cause, so I made a list of stressful events in the last few months and came up with a good dozen crises that, at the time, I’d rolled with just fine, until this last thing that suddenly seemed like life or death. Making the list helped me remember to be kind to myself and give myself permission to be human. It’s really okay to make mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

I also realized that oftentimes, people in your life are a reflection of yourself. By trying to have them change so that you can feel better is like reaching out to a mirror and brushing it’s hair. When what you see is messy hair, try brushing your own head, not the reflection that you see.  The problem wasn’t really what I was seeing… the problem was me.

Ironic that I’d be working on another Women of the Wilderness painting at exactly this moment, and that it would feature a reflection of the Three Sisters in a snow melt pond.  The painting helped sooth my ruffled feathers and as I reflected upon the reflection, it all became clear to me.

The mountains are beautiful, majestic and bold as they march across the blue sky, jagged edges against a perfect day. Below, the trees tumble down obsidian cliffs and spread out on the lava and pumice strewn soil. It’s a nice image, but its composition lacks interest until you get to the almost perfectly round pond. It reflects the peaks, but it shows just a riffle of wind, reminding you, it is not the thing you see, but merely a reflection… a mirror.

Just like life, the thing you see in a mirror isn’t the thing at all. You can’t climb a mountain in a mirror; if you are going to climb mountains at all, you’re going to have to tackle the real one.

Reflection on a Reflection

My Three Sisters

I love the Three Sisters Wilderness.  It’s my home base wilderness.  It’s where I go to reconnect to the divine in a very deep and real and magical way. I’ve been hiking there for the past 32 years, so I call them “my girls”.  They are so beautiful, with their lava flows and cinder strewn meadows of wildflowers, an oasis of magnificence in central Oregon. For those who don’t know, they are named North, Middle and South Sister; AKA Faith, Hope and Charity.  Three characteristics that are well worth some effort.

I like that the girls have AKA’s, because I do too!  I rarely use my birth name and  since I’ve had three different last names in my lifetime, I don’t have a deep connection to the names given to me. I’ve chosen my name and my place in the world.  And I’ve chosen my totem mountains.

Which, by the way, are one of the very few mountains (named by the white man) with a feminine name.  Interestingly enough, they are rarely called by their “proper names” but are instead referred to by their relationship: The Sisters. Why do you think that is?  What does that say about our culture, or, our culture of the past, that a mountain could not have a woman’s name, nor be named after one?  Or if they did, it was best that we reference them by their family associations. Was it, that in the old days, men liked to label things that stuck up and out of the landscape as masculine? By that line of reasoning, then all canyons should be named for women, right?  Well, I’m doubtful as to that kind of reason, but that’s research left for another day.

Through my Facebook group, Women of the PCT, a sister hiker contacted me a year ago to buy the painting of Charity (South Sister) but the email was lost in cyber-space until I unearthed it and replied.  Did she still want the painting?  She did, but alas it was too small.  So, we negotiated a larger version to be commissioned and off I went, happy to oblige! I was thrilled to have an opportunity to paint my darling girls. To paint for a “hiker chick” was a bonus.  This is yet another trail painting in my series, The Wilderness of Women, only this time, it was a personal request and that made it even more special.

I chose several photos and compiled an image that doesn’t exactly exist in reality, to get them in this order, I had to squish them together a little bit.  I’ve used my “artist’s license”. You may not see this exact scene from a spot on the trail, but it exists in my heart.  An appropriate sentiment as that is where “my girls” will live forever. And when I am gone, please spread my ashes here, so I can be a part of them as they are for me.

Now, here we have it, My Three Sisters:

My Three Sisters
Oil on Canvas
2′ x 3′

Gone Girl Comes Back

I’ve been thinking about my blog and how I’ve neglected it for so long.  Poor blog!  The longer I stayed away, the harder it got to make myself sit down and write a post.  I’ve been painting, and I’ve been writing, I just haven’t been putting it HERE!

So here’s a brief update:  I hiked in Sedona… and painted this:

Red Rocks of Sedona

Sedona was magical, I came home with a renewed love of the desert and so many more images to put onto canvas.  This is the first, but won’t be the last.

I hiked in the Three Sisters Wilderness with my dear friend, Amira and painted this next image. I struggled with capturing our faces and still feel out of sorts whenever I look at it.  But, I decided to add it to my blog so you can see that while I may personally have trouble with some of my work, I’ve learned that other people LOVE them!  And pieces I love, other people feel somewhat “meh” about. Who am I to say it’s good or bad?  It comes down to your own taste.

Cold July Camp

I was commissioned to paint a beloved family member.  Elkton was an older dog, and his photo’s didn’t do him justice.  I managed to shave off a few years and pounds and drop him into a regal hunting pose.  Here he is, surveying his kingdom:

Elkton the Wonder Dog

And I painted a portrait of my son and his girlfriend.  He was heading out for a job interview and Karen sent me a quick shot of their morning and a glimpse into their thoughts as she titled the photo.  I loved this selfie she took; I had to capture that smirk!

Dressed for Battle

Then I painted a view of my willow that seemed poignant, yet crisp and quietly vibrant. I hung it in the newly remodeled guest bedroom to bring a bit of the outside, inside.

Winter Willow

Followed by a few fantasy images to get in touch with my feminine side and to reflect the deep introspection I had been exploring of late.  I sustained an injury the previous fall that just managed to get worse over time. When you are dealing with chronic, long term pain, it helps to spend time listening to your body.  I kept asking that question…  what are you trying to tell me?  I think my body just wanted me to sit down for awhile.

The Hermit Girl Meditates

Connections of Love

Besides these images, I’ve tooled around with some odds and ends art projects and did some remodeling on the house.  I’ve had to readjust my life in the past year as I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury that really set me back in my activity level.  You wouldn’t know it by the new flooring and slate tile I managed to lay down, but still, 2017 has been my year of recovery.  I couldn’t ride or hike or do my normal kinds of things, so instead, I took my “Wilderness of Women” paintings on the road.  Literally.  I created a presentation about my art and hiking, how each one influenced the other and gave my lecture/slide show at REI stores from Portland to Medford. It was inspirational for me as well as for others and after it was over, I began to focus on a writing project that germinated from this dog and pony show.  I’ll devote another post to it, later, but for now, this one will have to do.

I think it’s time for this hermit girl to come on out of her cave and say  hello to the wide world of life.

Hello world!

Trail Magic

Good Morning South SIster

Good Morning South Sister!

Trail magic is when you find something you need or suddenly someone is there with food and water or even an ice cold beer.  It’s incongruous things that seem to be provided magically.  “The trail provides” is an oft bit of shared hiker wisdom, but I think it’s really life that provides.  If “provide” is the right word, really.  It’s just that on the trail the need that is provided for is seen so clearly for what it is, it doesn’t get lost in the chaos that is most people’s day to day struggle.  But trail magic happens all the time.

The other day I had misplaced my keys.  As I was searching for them, I found a letter that had fallen under a table.  A letter I needed because it contained key information about a project I was working on.  Immediately after finding the letter, I found my keys.  Coincidence or “trail magic”?

I could probably come up with a list of these kind of serendipitous moments, but really, they’ve become so common place I just go “ahah!” then move on with my day. However, their common place-ness doesn’t detract from their wow factor.  They are for me the exception that proves the rule, with the rule being, life is an amazing and magical place.  We are here to remember our connection to the magic, the universe, the “god-ness” of it all.  These little markers are our verification that that kind of energy exists and we are a part of it.

The above painting is from the day after my own magical day on the PCT.  The day I met Mowgli and Raven and blissfully walked  from the Minnie Scott Spring to this exact spot.  I set up my tent just outside of the above image and took the snapshot first thing in the morning as I got back on the PCT.  South Sister was indeed that blue in the morning and I was full of joy and happiness as I made my way to Mirror Lake.

It seemed fitting that it was my very first painting after I returned home from the trail and this seems exactly like the best spot to leave it in my running commentary/transcription of my trail journals.  I still have a few more days to put together, sadly however, I recently lost most of my photos from the last leg of my journey.  A crappy SD card is to blame, but I managed to upload some images to the cloud so I am still able to illustrate my journey.  For now, I thought the painting would do, along with a reminder that trail magic is all around.  It doesn’t exist solely on the trail. You just have to notice that it can be anything from a stranger’s smile to that $20 you found when you were hungry.

On BEing…. a trail journal part 7

Day 12  Onward to Mirror Lake

August 11, 2016       9 miles

Awake by 7 and on the trail  by 9:30.  Mosquitoes and condensation slow my packing up as I dried my rain-fly before stowing it in the pack.  I don’t want to carry any more water than I need to! Eventually I am on my way and I tell myself it doesn’t matter that it took me 2 and a half hours to get on the trail.  What difference does it make?

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

I wonder what marvelous things will happen today?  I am amazed at this part of the PCT, I’m on new ground, and it’s simply wonderful!  There are great views, nice campsites and a neat unnamed lake that had me very tempted for an early stop.  Alas, the surface was buzzing with mosquitoes so I go on by after taking a few pictures.  I run my battery charge down by taking too many panorama shots, a phenomena I suddenly notice for the first time. No wonder my phone was so inconsistent with holding a charge.

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn't find it, but I will one day!

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn’t find it, but I will one day!

I cross paths with an older solo woman hiker by the name of Honey.  We nod and keep walking, not even exchanging a word. I only learn her name later from 2  women I meet further down the  trail when we stop to talk about how unusual we all are (they were older too). I encounter few solo women, fewer still the ones who are closer to my age. There seem to be lots of 20 something guys, in pairs or alone.  Sometimes they are with a 20 something woman/girl/gal… chick?  I don’t know which term to use to describe a female 20 something… all my choices seem wrong.  Old fashioned or condescending, a product of a misogynistic culture that I am only recently becoming very aware of.  I don’t know how I’ve missed this part of the world around me, I guess I just never paid attention.  Maybe if I had taken a woman’s studies class in college it would have opened my eyes a bit wider to the injustice of it all, but I seem to be making up for lost time.  In the past few years I’ve been studying this subject most intently.

I remember being 17 and sitting in my mother’s living room as she and her girlfriend groused about life. As divorcees with children and no career options  in the 1970’s they had something to grouse about, life had not been easy for them.  “It’s a man’s world” said mom’s friend.  Being the know it all I surely was at 17, I completely disagreed.  “It might have been for your generation, but it’s not for mine!” I said ‘wisely’.  They were kind enough to let me figure it out for myself, but damn, it’s taken  me a long time.  I must have believed that the woman’s movement had changed everything and leveled the playing field, and I went on with my life as if it had.

For decades I thought it was just me if things were unfair.  I never saw it was because I was a woman… if some of the unfairness was because of my gender, I was blind to it.  I didn’t notice discrimination. Hell, I never even saw the blatant sexism in a job where the men used me as bait for customers!  I was an uninformed idiot, truly, and being unaware meant I could be manipulated and used. At some point I felt so used up, without even knowing why, I just wanted to hide in my quiet country life and not interact with the world at large.  As for gender roles, well,  I always just did what I wanted to do and didn’t think who’s “job” it was.  I was proud when I could run a skill saw or build something  better than my husband. He was proud of it too and gave me support to try all sorts of things.  I never heard messages that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.  The day my girlfriends teased me about being more of another “man” around the place because I did things that their husbands usually did, (such as mowing, splitting firewood, building fences, sheds, a barn, my studio!) was the day I started to really wonder why they had limited themselves to traditional domestic chores. How had our society reinforced these kinds of roles? I see much of our cultural bias as restrictive but I think the things I’ve done fall under the category of “I didn’t know what I couldn’t do” more than a conscious rebellion against sexism.

As I write this it’s two days from a critical historic moment for my country.  I feel the sexism and misogyny here has reached a height that is surprising to say the least.  The persecution of a woman candidate who has dared to be herself and who did not play a submissive game and thus has felt the wrath of our media and any political hack who could post on the internet for not fitting the mold, is beyond belief.  It has been hard to hold on to my center, to my peace of mind, to my surrender.  The recharge that the trail gave me has been drained as we’ve gotten closer to this election process… but it’s no wonder as I’ve been taking some sweeping political panorama shots.  I’ll have to go hiking again as soon as possible for another charge of my emotional battery!

I cruise down the trail, happy and content in my solitude.  I’m glad I haven’t let my age or my gender stop me from doing what I wanted to do.  I preen a little when I come across a group of 7 women who are circumnavigating the Three Sisters together and they all admire my bravery.  I walk on feeling a little like the kid who got a gold star on their schoolwork. But my self satisfaction doesn’t last long as I consider how I was being proud of something that wasn’t really that hard for me. I figure it’s not really bravery if the emotional cost is low.  Courage is facing your fears and doing it anyway.  Hiking alone doesn’t worry me…. my brave moments were crossing the rushing glacial waters of the Muddy and the Sandy.  Both events witnessed only by myself and the universe.  I’m proud of myself for doing that. But hiking along this section of the PCT?  It’s a privilege in so many ways.

The women’s group offers me trail bars and food to help me on my way, but I decline, I’m carrying way too much as it is.  I need to lighten my load, not theirs!

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

I listen to Carrot Quinn’s interview on Real Talk radio  (listen here) and learn that she often cache’s food and only carries 4 days at a time.  I’m thinking this is a very good idea.  8 days of food is too much.  I’ve tried to eat more but that’s not always easy to do.  The trail falls easily downhill and I hike past a darling mini canyon surrounded by lava cliffs with a flat grassy floor.  The only way into the box canyon is to push your way in between a narrow grove of fir and spruce. I force myself in, I want to see this little canyon I had glimpsed from above as the PCT dropped down then veered off. I walk the perimeter and think about how this would be a good horse camp, you could practically let the horses go and they’d be corralled in among the lava walls.  The whole canyon is about 2 acres and is exactly the kind of side trip thing I’m glad I have time to explore. No water, so not a perfect camp, but I admire the secret space among the expanse of towering mountain views.

I get to Rock Mesa creek by noon and settle down for a rest/lunch break.  I was supposed to stay here after camping at Obsidian but again, it’s too early and when I look at the map again, I realize Mirror lake is only 4 miles away.  I’d rather end my day there and zero at the lake than stay here.  Not that I need a trail zero, but I wanted a day where I didn’t have to pack up… a day to just BE in a place.

I wander about, looking at an area near the creek where I camped over 20 years previously.  It’s odd to be at these spots full of old memories, I recall sitting out an afternoon of thunder and lightening in a very small tent with two large, wet dogs.  The places haven’t really changed much… the trees in the high country don’t grow like they do in the valley.  But they do grow and so too the brush.  The camp spot was still there, I recognized it immediately.  And 20 years later I see what a crappy little spot it was.  It had been much more remote… now there was a trail nearby, following the creek downstream. All those years ago we bushwacked our way down a half mile to the waterfall that was hidden below the Mesa Creek crossing.  Now, there’s a bridge on the PCT and trail heading downstream.  Who knows, 20 years from now, it could be forgotten and grown over, a faint line leading nowhere.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

After about an hour rest, I hike out and avoid the large group of thru hikers who are congregating in the sunny meadow.  They are laughing and full of fun, but I’m still in my solitary zone.  I don’t really want to interact right now so I wave at them in acknowledgment and move on. Some wave back.  The southbound trail is busy… perhaps I’d have had a better chance of hiking all day in my alone-ness by going north, a better chance of getting in a solo bubble and staying there. Oh well, that’s not what’s happening, so I surrender and accept.

Later, I meet a gal and her barnacle… I nick-name him the barnacle because she tells me he started hanging out with her and she hadn’t been able to get rid of him since the California border.  We exchange trail names, but I promptly forget them as all I can think about is the barnacle phenomena.  Earlier I met a hiker, Sweet Pea, who also had a tag-a-long dude.  I wonder if the guys are hoping for more or maybe the girls are liking the security and friendship?

Then I meet Safe Bet, a Brit who quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could hike the PCT.  He was carrying too much water, because he likes the safe bet… hence the name.  I climb up the Rock Mesa and laugh at how I used to think it was so hard (I’ve climbed it 4 times now).  After climbing up out of the Gorge, nothing seems as difficult.  SOBO Mt. Hood was a real bear of a section but the views were absolutely stunning!

I get mistaken for a SOBO thru a lot… one gal says I look so serious.  But I’m not sure if it’s my outfit or the determined look on my face she is referring to.  I hope it’s the outfit since I’m totally blissed out on the trail.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

The views as I hike are not as steep and epic as Mt. Hood,  but the Sisters have their own charm.  Rock Mesa continues south along the flanks of Faith (South Sister).  It’s open and arid and beautiful to travel the Wikiup plains which stretch way out into the distance.  It was hot by the time I got there but with my umbrella I did just fine.  I was listening to another hiking podcast, Sounds of the Trail and it was so perfect because it was all about how the hard days cause us to question why are we out here.  These challenging days cause us to rise above the hardship and release our inner grit.  And when you’ve risen to the challenge and have beaten it, then you are stronger.  Mentally as well as physically.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

Today was that mental challenge for me.  The unrelenting heat on the plains, well, I had some doubts that I should be venturing out.  I’ve had a few bouts of heat stroke, so when it hits 90, I try not to do anything physical in the sun. But under my personal shade, it was fine. Slogging along, I thought of my days in endurance riding.  Sometimes you are in the doldrums of the race.  It’s hot, you’re tired, your horse is tired, you just want to get to the next vet check or you think longingly about the end of the ride and never going through all this nonsensical torture again.

Looking back at the way I've come. Hello South Sister!

Looking back at the way I’ve come. Hello South Sister!

But you can’t quit.  You are in the middle of nowhere and you have got to press on.  I’ve had some hard moments on the endurance trail and sometimes you kind of hit a wall but you still… just…keep…going.  And then, you round the corner and you are done.

I trudged across this sandy desert of a plain and then, I was in the forest again. Ahhhh, shade!  On I march, now I’m listening to Amira’s book, (how cool is it to have an author as a house-sitter?) the second in the Seeds Trilogy.  The resistance fighters are turning to guerrilla tactics as well as infiltrating and destroying from within.  Listening to these stories keeps my mind occupied as I march through the miles in the heat of the day.  I save them for times like this and they transform the trail into something different from what I’ve experienced in the past.

I’ve been a backpacker for over 30 years now, before cell phones and the internet.  (Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  HA!)  Technology has changed the wilderness experience, true.  I no longer feel so remote or out of touch.  But listening to a story or a song, lightens my load in the same way my hiking poles help me on the trail.  They are tools however, and not a crutch.  I still have to do the work out here, they just make it easier.  Sometimes I listen and sometimes I’m quiet and in the moment. It just depends on what I want to get out of that part of the trail.

I cross paths with a hiker who has her phone pressed to her ear.  She steps aside as if we were meeting in the cereal aisle at Safeway rather than on a remote trail in the wilderness.  She’s calling Elk lake to say she forgot something and would they…. at this  point, I’ve moved out of range.  I still think it’s odd to have phones in the wilderness, it’s so incongruous.  I forget I even have a phone… I think of it as a camera, an audio player and a GPS but then I remember and stop to check my own signal.  4G!!  Hurrah!  I turn off airplane mode and the Galaxy begins to ding.  Messages are checked (there are a few well wishes from my family) and I send out a few of my own.  Now people once again know where I am and the world feels a little smaller and definitely less remote.


I used my umbrella to shade my tent while I lounged about inside after my swim.

I cruise into Mirror lake and walk it’s perimeter before I settle on a site on the far side, tucked up into a stand of young pine.  The mosquitoes aren’t too bad, but I do get stung by a yellow jacket when I was bushwacking between possible camp sites.  I’ve taken 2 Benadryl but think maybe one more might be a good idea.  I’m glad I don’t have to hike any more today as Benadryl sleepiness will soon creep up on me.  It’s the only thing that will minimize my reaction to wasp stings which seem to have gotten worse the more times I get stung.  I hate to say I hate yellow jackets, but I kinda do.

I’ve got a nice little spot among the trees, the lake is a short walk away across the soft mud flats and I’m far enough away from the usual camp sites that I’m alone even on a well used camping lake.  I do my laundry and take a good long swim across the lake where I haul myself out on a rock in the middle and sun myself like a turtle.  I feel so good!  Another 9 miles down and now I can take a zero.  Finally, my first zero on the trail.  The hotel thing was nice, but not quite what I was imagining when I put this whole trip together.

Later, I have a wonderful meal, another one of my homemade dried creations.  Curried sweet potato, vegetables and rice, so delicious.  I thank my past self who made this  for me now and chuckle at the concept of time.  There was a Sky in the past who cooked, dried and packaged this meal and then here I am, opening and re-hydrating this little packet of nourishment and love.  It feels complete.

Time… I’ve been thinking about time on this leg of my journey.  Reading the Power of Now will do that to you but being away from my normal time centric life also puts these concepts and ideas into the forefront.  Everything happens in the now… even planning for a future event is something you do in the now.  Ruminating over the past happens in the now.  I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of time travel.  As if one could leave the present now and actually zoom forward or past and actually make that your now.  But in a way, when we project or remember, we are time travelling!  In our minds, we leave the present now to visit these memories or imagined futures.  Problems occur when we cannot see the difference between what goes on in our heads with what goes on in our NOW.

I’m getting it… slowly.  I keep re-reading these concepts and each time, it becomes more and more my reality as it reminds me how to focus on the now.  How to be kind to myself as I learn, how to withhold  judgments of others and  judgments of myself.  The more I release these pains and sufferings, the more I surrender, the greater (faster?) my growth.  My peace, my understanding… my accountability to my soul.  The less ego, the less mind…  the more integration of my body, mind and spirit.

That’s a lot to digest for one day.  I step out and take pictures of the setting sun.  The sky is on fire with the end glow of another glorious day and I feel immense gratitude for my place in the world.20160813_055903

On Being… a trail journal Part 6

Feeling better and ready to GO!

Feeling better and ready to GO!

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.

Leaving South Matthew lake heading south on the PCT.

Leaving South Matthieu lake heading south on the PCT.

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.

North Sister (Faith)

North Sister (Faith)

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.

This trail volunteer was sawing a dead tree by hand so it would't bump a horse's pack as it went by. Very conscientious!

This volunteer works at removing a dead tree that may fall onto the trail.

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.

Yapoah crater on the right.

Yapoah crater on the right.

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.

On the way to Minnie Scott Spring.

Lava flows on the way to Minnie Scott Spring.

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.

View from my off the beaten path stealth camp. Not too shabby!

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.

On the way down the Opie. I used this pic from last year with Scout so you could see the scale of these switchbacks.

On the way down the Opie. I used this pic from last year with Scout so you could see the scale of these switchbacks.

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!

Just in case you missed how adorable this dog is.

Princess Scout, the unhappy camper.

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.

Obsidian cliffs.

Obsidian cliffs.

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

Feet at the bottom... I sense a theme.

Feet at the bottom… I sense a theme.

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:

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.

The scene of my existential conversation on the PCT. Great setting, awesome conversation.

The scene of my existential conversation on the PCT. Great setting, awesome conversation.

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.


Sheer bliss!

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.

Hands free shade. No hat needed.

Hands free shade. No hat needed.

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?”


We magically found each other on the PCT! What are the odds?

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.


It doesn’t get any better than this.

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?