Day 87: Swinging from highs to lows, and back again…

Day: Wednesday, August 24th 2016
Miles: 1782.4 – 1810.2
Christi Spring Remote Site 1782.4 – Remote Site 1810.2

I awoke this morning at Christi Spring in a buoyant mood. I had a feeling that today I would make it to Crater Lake, one of the greatest milestones on the entire Pacific Crest Trail. It would be a long day, but worth it. I could wake up tomorrow to the glory of one of Americas finest and most unique natural spectacles. I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal (I’ve now learned to mix 1 cup of flavored oatmeal with 1 cup of original so that its not a gigantic hypoglycemic sugar bomb), with a cup of coffee, and watched other hikers camped at the spring making a break both north and southbound. It was very cold once again, and whilst my thermals would have been a help, I quickly warmed up as I set back on the trail. It was 7:10AM when I hit the dirt, and in 36 miles I would be at Mazama Village, entry point to Crater Lake.

What immediately hit me as unusual this morning however was the number of mosquitoes in the area. I have been blessed with virtually no bug issues since the Sierra Nevada meadows. The entirety of Northern California was virtually bug free, and Oregon thus far has provided me with none of the hellish swarms of mosquitoes reported by the southbound crew. Timing is everything as they say. Unfortunately however, today my time was up, and I had to don my bug net to keep the irritants at bay. My quick step was dented by the mosquito surge, but what I never anticipated was the impact that the blown-down trees would have on my morale today. Having started around 7AM, by 4hrs into my day, I had made pitiful levels of progress. This was a very remote area, difficult to access and far from any roads, and whilst the trail crews had made a heroic effort of clearing trail elsewhere, this was one of those low-trafficked areas that simply had so many trees to remove, the crews had not been able to clear them yet. Each tree required ducking, climbing, walking around or generally scrambling to get past. Given my sore feet and the bugs, I was getting more and more frustrated with every few hundred feet. Even a final glimpse of Mt.Shasta way to the south could not raise my spirits when I rose to a height at one point.
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My last ever view of Mt.Shasta, far to the south.

After battling with the trees for the entire morning, and with my feet in extreme pain, I finally broke on some level. I was bitten, tired, sore. I had covered 5 miles today in the time that I could normally have covered more than 10miles. I was unprepared for how a few small things could impact my mood and it all surged into a mindset of ‘screw everything’, as I muttered profanities at every blown-down tree I came to. Screw the trail, screw this, screw that, screw me, why am I here, what am I doing….the list goes on, of the rhetorical questions I mused on this morning. I even at one point shed a few tears as frustration fed sadness and even loneliness. I have experienced bad days before, but this was tinged with frustration of a magnitude I had not experienced. I think that the trail can be funny at times, in hindsight I think that the magnitude of frustration was amplified by not knowing how much *more* of this terrain I would have to deal with up ahead. The effect of dealing with an endless challenge solo was also a factor, given at this point I had lost Flint and had no seen Breakaway or Flyby in a few days.
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There’s a trail in there somewhere.

I eventually broke the relentless and challenging forested terrain, only to be presented with a momentous view to the east, to the Klamath Lakes area, along with pristine views to the west, where the distant fires were still pushing smoke from the horizon.

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My mindset finally broke out of its lowly swoop, as I started to laugh at how the morning had gone. I think I met a point that was ultimately positive in terms of my PCT experience. It gave me an awareness of the environment, of being alone, and of some aspects of my plan which I imposed on myself that mandated onwards progress, isolated from real-factors of trail/terrain and to the detriment of hiking with friends. Maybe I needed to lay off the gas a little, and take these challenges without the pressure of irrational time constraints, which I had set on myself for no good reason whatsoever. As I entered a recent burn-zone, I decided that I should hold back and not attempt the long-haul to Crater Lake, to enjoy the journey and not focus so much on the destination. I learned a lot today. I don’t mean for it to be a cliche, but I learned a lot about myself.
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Looking back to Mt.McLoughlin, the first view of it since seeing it from the south-face of it yesterday afternoon.

After admiring some of the drama of a burn zone above a pretty lake on the east side of the trail, I bumped into a couple resting in the shade, and recognized a face from all the way back in the desert, none other than Nightcap, whom I last saw back in Warner Springs. It was great to see him, and hear his stories from the trail, something that definitely raised my spirits. Its such a unique feeling, to see an complete stranger from the trail, hundreds and hundreds of miles from where you last met them! As I crested the high-point for the day, I enjoyed an amazing view of Mt.McLoughlin and eventually, ahead towards Crater Lake. It was difficult to make out where Crater Lake was situated however, hidden from approaching angles by its southern rim, but Union Peak was easy to find among the peaks to the north.

As I descended from the high point, to one of the myriad of small babbling streams in the area, I finally bumped into none-other, than Breakaway enjoying his lunch by a stream. I was excited to finally meet up with some of my trail family once again, and happy to hear that he planned to camp a little ways short of Crater Lake. We agreed to catch up along the trail, so I ventured further, knowing he would probably catch up to me. I used some Ibuprofen at one point (probably my third time on the entire trail), so my feet were feeling better as the evening crawl dragged on.
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I filled up with water at Honeymoon Pond, possibly named as such thanks to the hundreds of frogs swimming around. Prince Charming’s, in waiting.
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It was hot in the evening time, as the trail began another series of switchbacks towards a height in a burn-zone. I was tired and the day was emotionally and physically draining in every way but the evening views and light were spectacular. It was also unusual as the first place that I saw new growth pine trees in a recent burn-zone, their bright green color a distinct and unusual view in the blacks and browns of the burn.
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Water was sparse at this point, and reports that Jack Spring was either difficult to find or dry were circulated from some south-bounders. The use of a number of ponds close to the trail was thus advocated for those stopping short of Crater Lake, and so I met up with Breakway once again at the sorry tadpole filled ponds just above the trail around mile 1806. Getting water out of these was pretty tricky, given they were almost dry. This necessitated a gauntlet run along fallen trees, across the mudflats to where the gunge filled water was still liquid. I borrowed Breakway’s cup to try and siphon some water but as soon as you pulled a cup across it however, the green gunge was circulated and effectively filled the space you were pulling water from. Once you actually had pulled enough of the green filth out of the pond to filer, it inevitably clogged your filter, necessitating multiple runs to the pond, and back-flushes of the blocked filter. It was hard work for a liter of water!
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I think that this picture says a lot. I couldn’t even muster a smile.

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Easy tread for the evening haul.

Beyond the ponds, the trail was quite pleasant, with a nice tread and cooling evening breeze. We ascended a number of switchbacks in the darkness to the camp that we identified on the map (beside Goose Egg mountain). I shared my fuel canister with Breakaway, before chatting about the past few days events and generally catching up. It was good to be back with company once again and I treated myself to a hot chocolate before bed. The saddle unfortunately was not all it promised to be, there wasn’t actually any views, despite reviews as such, although in reality I was probably too tired to care, as I settled in to bed, with a cool wind blowing. A day of highs and lows. But tomorrow, I WILL get to Crater Lake finally, just 8 miles ahead.

One thought on “Day 87: Swinging from highs to lows, and back again…

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