After a quick goodbye it was back to the trail, having only been in town a few hours. I needed to make up ground and every hour that passed increased my chances of my group getting too far ahead to catch up to. Another reason I was anxious to get back on trail is the next stretch was regarded as one of the best of the whole PCT. The first two days are spent under the shadow of Mt. Adams and the next two are in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. As I rapped around the base of Adams it’s magnificent beauty stopped me at every viewing point. The afternoon I set out I got in 11 miles before dark and set up camp. Stories of one of the famous Washington rain storms coming was circulating on the trail. That night around 11pm the rain begin and as I awoke on the second day, the rain was still going. I tried to pack up as much of my stuff as I could in my tent before getting out but getting wet would be inevitable today. As I hiked, the rain/mist soaked me too the bone and hid the mountain looming close over me. It rained almost the entire day and by the time I got to camp I was still cold and wet. I quickly set up camp and crawled in my sleeping bag. Even though half of my time around Adams wasn’t what I hoped, tomorrow I would enter the Goat Rocks. When I woke on day three, the rainy mist was still there… Preparing for another wet day I started to hike. As the trail climbed I eventually made it above the cloud cover and was given a breathtaking view of Adams with dark clouds at its base. After going over a pass I entered the start of the goat rocks, the land was rich was green grass and alpine streams, all with aggressive rocky mountains looming in the distance. I took a side trail and climbed a close by mountain named Old Snowy. Taking side trips like this are uncommon while thru-hiking but I think it is rather important for the mental aspect to remind yourself that you are out here for fun. Not just to make big miles.
After my side trip I descended back to the pct and to a short section of trail known as “the knifes edge”. Accurately named, this trail walks along a thin mountain edge with massive drops on both sides. Being so high up I was still above the clouds on the knifes edge and the views continued to amaze.
When I reached town the next day I found my group. Sadly Lt Dan was leaving with new people after hiking with the group since the desert. I had to resupply and charge devises so I said goodbye to him and stayed with the others. Unfortunately Lt Dan was the one I was closest with so I felt like an outsider with these people. When I asked to sleep on the floor of their hotel and the said it was too crowded, my suspensions were conformed.
That night I slept on the porch of the hotel and planned to hike with them for only the short foreseeable future.
Old Friends and New States
The breakfast was everything I dreamed of. After lounging around for the better part of the day in a food coma, I forced myself to leave and get a few more miles in. I finished the last part of Oregon by myself. It was rather uneventful and my mind was on the state to come. Another thing that preoccupied my mind was that my friend Christopher Bitter and his dad and brother were meeting me at the border to backpack with me for a few days. Back home in the summer I pretty much see Chris every day so I was super excited for him to come out to the trail to meet me.
At Cascade Locks the Bitters pulled up in their Uber from the airport. Some negotiations went on between me and Mr Bitter about what gear they should take and then the next morning we headed off. Crossing the Bridge of the Gods, the Oregon/Washington border was a moment I had been thinking about for a long time. From there we hitched to the trial and started the hike.
Right after starting we were hit with a brutal 10 mile climb. I was rather used to these types of climbs but the Bitters were not. Despite their lack of experience with this terrain they all held their own. The first night we dry camped and I showed them a hiker favorite meal. “Hiker bomb” is instant mashed potatoes mixed with ramen soup.
The next day we got in 15 miles ending at Blue Lake. While thru-hiking it is easy to get into a type of funk, where miles are the only thing that matters. You don’t make camp fires or swim in lakes enough and it’s rather sad. With Chris I was able to slow down and truly enjoy the area around me. At blue lake we swam, rock climbed, fished and made a fire. It was a beautiful lake and our night there was one of the best.
The next day we hiked similar miles and ended at another lake. This time almost all of the camping was taken up by weekenders and we had to struggle to find a spot. We were all a little tired by the time camp got set up so not as many camp activities occurred.
We had originally wanted to finish our trek with a climb of Mt Adams but after learning about how much snow was up there, we decided against it. So without that in the itinerary we had an empty day. We knew we wanted to camp somewhere but our section of trail was ending and it seemed the only place to go was in town.
As soon as we reached the road a trail angel named Gary was there dropping hikers off. We talked with him for a bit and he decided to drive us to a camping spot on a river a few miles away. We all hoped in the couch in the back of his truck and headed down the road. The spot he took us to was super cool and a great way to spend our final night. Additionally the next day was Mr Bitter’s birthday. As it just so happened we did a fifty mile trek for his fiftieth birthday. A great was to celebrate if you ask me.
Gary picked us up the next morning and drove us into town where we all devoured some pancakes and french toast. From there I resupplied and the said my goodbyes to the Bitters. Having them was amazing.
While we were together my group got a little ahead so hopefully I will be able to catch up before to long. As for now I’m back on my own.
Noel Nelson (PCT mile 2192)
The 50 Mile Day
On the PCT there is a challenge to backpack 50 miles in a single day. When I started the trail I thought this was absolutely insane. That is the distance most backpackers do over 4-5 days. Trying to walking that far in a single day seemed crazy.
To a guy I was hiking with though, it didn’t seem so crazy. Lt. Dan was up for the challenge and because of my competitive spirit, I was sold on the idea fairly quickly.
The most popular place to do this from is Ollolie lake to Timberline Lodge. This might have something to do with the fact that timberline lodge is known for their incredible breakfast buffet. During the evening at Ollolie lake, Lt Dan and I planned out big next day.
At 1:15am our alarms rang and by 1:45am we were on the trail. Through the darkness we hiked for hours, only pausing briefly to look up and marvel at the stars. By the time the sun rose we had been walking for almost five hours and we hardly stopped till lunch. With 30 miles down we decided to take our big break. In the most magical act of trail magic I have seen thus far, a car camper just happened to be offering food to hikers at the exact spot we stopped for lunch. By this point I was already extremely tired and this made all the difference in the world. A hamburger and nap re-energized me and soon we were walking once again.
The hours faded by slowly and every mile seemed to grow longer than the last. By mile 40 I was exhausted.
The day was turning into evening and I stilled walked on. Feeling almost like a zombie, my brain stopped thinking and all I could do was put one step in front of the other.
To top it all off the last three miles of the day were a pretty decent climb.
In the darkness once again Lt Dan and I both kept on moving until finally, 19 1/2 hours of walking later, we reached camp.
This was by far the most difficult physical trial I have ever undergone and after finishing it, my pride in my accomplishment was substantial. My exhaustion was equally so though, so after a fist bump and a little dinner I crashed. Hard. With dreams of the breakfast that awaited me as my reward
Noel Nelson (pct mile 2094)
Where there’s Smoke
This time of year in Oregon is beautiful. They days are nice and long and up in the mountains the temperatures stay cool. The only down side is, it’s forrest fire season. This is a problem we don’t have to deal with in San Antonio, but it is a real issue out here.
From the church camp we hiked on noticing the increasingly smoky air around us. In the Mt Jefferson Wilderness that lay only a few days ahead a wildfire had been burning.
The fire grew quickly despite the forrest service doing all they could to subdue it. We learned that it had even reached the PCT so the trail had been closed ahead of us. An alternate had been set up, but for only 10 miles of trail being closed, the alternate was 40 miles of road walking.
As we approached the closure the smoke got so thick it cut visibility down tremendously and made breathing rather difficult. I had to put a damp rag over my face to breath comfortably and finally reached the trail junction where we split. As we approached, the forrest service said
they were going to close even more miles of trail because of how fast the fire was growing.
I hated having to miss the 10 miles but I was lucky to make it through before the closure got even bigger.
We arranged a ride to get around the alternate with Peanut’s boyfriend who lives close by. He brought us to where the trail resumes and that night we camped on a lake and he cooked elk stakes. A pretty good celebration of not dying in the forrest fire.
Noel Nelson (PCT mile 2042)
The Ground is Lava
For three days I hiked alone, after Jim dropped me back off at the trail. I was able to do longer days without having to stay on pace with others which was nice. I also passed through the “Obsidian Falls Limited Entry Area”. This area is highly protected and rightfully so. There are water falls and alpine meadows through the whole 8 mile stretch. At the end of it I even got my permit checked for the first time since I left.
When I made it to bend I was able to catch up with my group and enjoy an additional day of rest.
Hitching out of bend was rather difficult as it is a rather large city by PCT sandards , but after a little while someone who was familiar it the trail drove us the whole 40 miles back.
We resumed our hike mid afternoon at the correctly named “Lava Field Campground”. Hours were spent treking over hot, ankle breaking field of lava rock. Lava as far as the eye could see, distorting the views with the waves of heat it threw into the air. It made for a long slow day. Having heavy packs full of food from town didn’t help either and the moral sank low within the group.
As the first day back on trail continued, we noticed how we passed by a church camp on a gaint lake. We went there and were welcomed most graciously. They took us through the cafeteria line and we camped out on a sandy beach, watching the sunset over the lake. Lt Dan also plays the uke so we had a jam sesh and it cured all our aches and pains from the days hike.
Noel Nelson (pct mile 1992)