Tuesday, July 19.
The third day of our hike started with one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. It’s another one of those moments that I just can’t describe, and photos would not be able to reveal.
I sat on a rock, just outside the shelter we stayed in, clad just in shorts. I felt the cold wind whipping off the mountain, watching the sky turn from orange to bright white and then blue. It was then that I got a look at the residents of the shelter. A couple of small, but very fast, mice scurried over the rocks to the GORP I had left out last night. They acquired a nut or two, and then went back under the stones by the shelter.
Oops was packed up first, and since she hikes slower than I do, we decided she would just go ahead and start while I was finishing up. We were above timberline and climbing, so I could see her for a while. I took a picture of her in the distance, drank some water, stuffed the pack, and bid the stone house good day.
The walk to Lamberson Spur, the highest point on the trip at 7300 feet, wasn’t as bad as the walk up to the stone shelter. It was rocky and uphill, but not too uphill. We crossed a couple of 10 yard wide glaciers, the first snow of the hike, and then crossed the spur. The next few miles were straight down, it seemed. I would think twice about walking the opposite direction. What a climb that would be. We spent the time singing They Might Be Giant songs. We walked around Lamberson Butte, along Gnarl Ridge and down to Newton Creek, which was rushing pretty well. We almost got lost at this point, as the cairns people set up led in the wrong direction, and the one cairn that was set up for the REAL trail was just a couple of stacked rocks. I suppose that’s part of the fun, right? Losing and finding the trail.
Newton Creek was surrounded by rocks, but a little too deep to jump rocks. Since I had lost my sandal I still wanted to jump, and so did Oops, so since there were plenty of large rocks around, I started throwing them into the creek at the narrowest point and eventually there were enough that we could rock jump over the creek.
The next section was one of my favorites. Heather canyon and Mt Hood Meadows Ski area. Heather canyon is semi-out of bounds, double black diamond skiing (although there is a chair lift out of there now), but I had never seen it in the summer. Wow. The north slope was bare sand and rocks, which was boring (and kind of dangerous hiking), but the rest of it was lush and green. There were at least three streams coming down with falls all around. The flowers were blooming and it was crazy beautiful. I’d go there again easily, but probably just a day hike out of Meadows.
Walking through the Ski area, I was struck by just how big it really is. Skiing is one thing, but you are usually going pretty fast. Walking took an hour and a half at least. It was here I saw the only trash on the whole trip, as well as the only marmot on the whole trip. Cute, large, and loud rodents.
After Meadows, the rest of the hike was a lesson in determination and overcoming adversity. It was hell. I knew that we needed to gain some elevation to be where Timberline Lodge was, but instead we descended fast, about 800 feet in elevation change. Ugh. If that wasn’t hard enough, the White River valley floor was about 3 or 4 hundred yards wide and covered with rocks and boulders.
That was when Oops made the final oops of the trip and turned her ankle. Ouch. We sat down for a couple of minutes, and she was pretty mad because she knew she was tired and wished we had just cut short at the Meadows parking lot and hitched back to Timberline. But there we were, and I have to admit I am impressed that she got up and without much complaint finished the hike.
I scraped myself up pretty good getting down to the stream over rocks and slippery sand. The last three miles to timberline were some arduous uphill miles. The last two after it connects back up with the PCT, were some of the sandiest of the trip, making the uphill that much more difficult.
But, at last we made it. I’ve never been so happy to get to the car as I was at that moment. We dropped packs at the car, used the facilities, got some ice for Oops’ ankle, which was pretty sore by now, and made a trip to the gift shop for the folks watching the house and the kids.
In the gift shop I met another PCT hiker named Peace and Love (that’s his trail name). He also has an on-line journal, which you can read here.
From the mountain we drove to Sandy, Oregon, to Calamity Jane’s. Jane’s has some of the best burgers around, and we took full advantage of them, as well as an oversized pint of beer. Yummy!!! Nothing like a hiker appetite.
Post hike thoughts
I found backpacking this trail a bit harder than I would have thought. However, I think that we took it a bit too fast and planned a bit too aggressively. Next time I would plan an extra day to enjoy the trail more and take more stops. One interesting habit I found myself engaging in was the adjustments. I was constantly adjusting the packs and reevaluating what I had brought and what I hadn’t. I imagine that every hiker does this, but it was amplified by this being the first big pack trip I’ve taken since childhood.
As tired as I was coming in on Tuesday, the next day I found myself walking to lunch and to work and enjoying it. It was partially because I was walking without my house on my back, but my legs were getting conditioned, and they were ready to go again. I think I see how the long distance hikers keep going. Their legs just want to keep going, despite the soreness.
I’m not sitting at work, thinking about being out on the trail again, seeing the spectacular views, smelling the thousands of alpine flowers, appreciating the little things, like running potable water. I’m already thinking about the next one.