Day 88: To Crater Lake and beyond…

Day: Thursday, 25th August 2016
Miles: 1810.2 – 1836.7
Remote Camp 1810.2 – 1836.7
Wow, what a windy camping spot. After night fell, a wind blew up and rattled my tent through to the early hours. I’ve been incredibly lucky regarding wind and precipitation, I’ve experienced just one night of intense wind (after Tehachapi) and maybe an hour or two of rain. That does of course mean that I’m a weather lightweight, and it doesn’t take very much to disturb me. I was surprised at how much of a beating my Solplex was able to take without even a whimper. The trees rattled all night but I was pretty cosy tucked up in bed.
I was excited this morning. After yesterday, a day walking in the gloom and doom of mental fragility, I was really feeling back in my A-game. I filtered some more of the truly gruesome water I had collected from the ponds yesterday, before having breakfast with Breakaway. I hitting the trail around 8:15AM.
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Today was an emotional day for me (in a good way). On a solo trip to Oregon two years ago, it was at Crater Lake that I crossed a bunch of signs for the Pacific Crest Trail in my rental car, only to muse at the idea of hiking from Mexico to Canada and what an adventure it would be. I never expected that over the following months, the idea would manifest as something that I would attempt. Never mind making it this far. That being said, a big accomplishment on a solo trek can be emotionally taxing. I played with a lot of thoughts in my head, pondering the remoteness of the trail on an emotional level and its impact on friends and family, or lack thereof (at times when you’d like to celebrate). I wrote one note in my trail notes at a break-stop, ‘you should hug your mom because sometime you’ll want to, you won’t be able to’. Maybe thats a good takeaway from the day.
The 8miles to the road crossing near Mazama Village, the commercial center of Crater Lake National Park was an easy hike and covered in a short time, crossing some nice meadows and with occasional views of Union Peak and the surrounding ranges along with and regular crossings with different trails. My pack was light, my feet felt good and the morning was cool, it was a beautiful time.
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I finally reached the road around 11, with a short walk along the highway and a fun little shortcut down a steep bank that dropped me right into the parks buzzing core.
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I immediately met a bunch of hikers including Stripe and SoftServe, Flying Dutchman, Breakaway and some others I hadn’t met, lazing about at the shower area and laundry block. Speaking to them, it sounded like I had missed ActionJackson by just a few minutes, as he jumped on the bus to the rim already. After 4 days of hard graft in hot and dry conditions, the idea of a shower and clean clothes was blissful. I quickly pooled my laundry with Breakaway and a generous southbounders haul, before getting my resupply box and starting the familiar task of loading, unloading, swapping supplies and generally taking a rest with a can of ice cold Dr.Pepper!). After a quick shower, I was a new hiker! A daytripper named Billy from Portland approached us at one point, asking about the trail and how our progress was going. Afterwards he gave me some of his left over camping supplies, chocolate, orange juice and some other candy – trail magic right at Crater Lake!
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It was around 3PM when I started to haul out of Mazama Village. We had confirmed that the trail to the rim was open, and that Lightening Springs, a campground, was likely to open that day if required. Both trails were impacted with a recent fire, so I accidentally timed it well, arriving when everything was reopened. I had a loose agreement with Breakaway to meet at the rim for dinner, then aim for Lightening Springs as a possible resting point for the night. We had also found out about an interpretive night-hike from the Watchman peak which we may try to catch if time allows.

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I was given a pack of Oreos from a couple hiking down to Mazama from the rim
The trail to the rim wasn’t as steep as I expected, so I made some good time, arriving to an incredible expansive view of the entire basin. What an incredible sight.img_3617

I had managed to lose Breakaway in the last 10 minutes of the ascent, so I wandered to the historic lodge at the eastern end of the Rim Village. I had hoped to grab dinner, but seeing the prices I had a little reality check so I took a seat on the porch and ordered some Quesadillas and a Black Butte porter (my favorite) from the bar. I briefly chatted to some of the fellow patio diners for a while and enjoyed being somewhat of a celebrity for a moment in time. Keeping an eye on the clock however, I was aware that I had no idea where Breakaway got to, and that he may have aimed for the Watchman night-hike across the lake so I hit the rim trail around 6PM. The evening light was glorious, blues on blues and deeper immersive colors than any picture can justify. I spent a lot of time just taking it all in. The park was not very busy surprisingly, and I seemed to have the entire rim trail to myself as I set off westwards around the lake.

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Eventually arriving to the Lightening Springs trail-head, I decided to press on further. At this point I wouldn’t make the Watchman Peak in time for the interpretive walk, but I was enjoying the evening and the view more than I ever imagined and wanted to keep it going. In all directions the colors were descending into blues, purples, lavenders and oranges. The shadow of the rim gradually worked its way over Wizard Island and the far side of the lake.

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Miles distant I could make out Mt.Shasta, a barest outline of dark blue, with McLaughlin and Union Peak to the south, and a new sentinel to the north, that of Mt.Thielson, the so called ‘lightning rod of Oregon’.

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As I passed the Watchman Peak (far too late to join the night-walk), a girl from Beijing approached me heading southbound and asked where she could get water. Unfortunately she was out of luck as the next water was quite a few miles back to Rim Village. She mentioned that she had no maps, which seemed pretty foolish to me. Regardless, it was none of my business so I bate her happy-trails. I was down to my own minimum of water and not in a position to share, based on the known cache a few miles ahead being filled (as reported that morning).

Its was 8PM on the button when the sun finally set, and I stopped to enjoy the spectacle. The views to the west were momentous, and the sunset was one of the best. A long line of cars at one of the viewpoints began its steady crawl out of the park at this time, the stream of lights looking magical in the dusk.

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As I finally departed the rim, I spoke to a photographer who had set up camp near one of the viewpoints, awaiting the Milky Way with a giant lens and a plan to create some time-lapse pictures. Given its against the rules to stay on the rim overnight, he expected to be moved on by park rangers at some point, but had a beautiful perch above the lake until that happened. I was jealous that he would get to spend the night there, but I had to press on to the Grouse Hill camp a few miles further on.

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The evening light was incredible as my march continued to the outer edge of the park. There was no animals, in fact that was something that I had remarked on, even the critters had been minimally visible lately during the day, but the silence was incredible at this spot. The trail followed an old road bed, before descending into a valley of meadows, where the Grouse Hill camp was situated. I hiked long after dark, and visited the known water-cache on the Crater Lake entry-road bear-bin, for a small top-up, before making my camp a half mile back on the PCT.
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In camp at 10PM, I had a quick dinner before retiring, after a thoroughly magnificent and memorable evening at Crater Lake. I didn’t idle as long as I could have, but when an evening as pristine as today’s presents itself, you have to grab the opportunity.

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