Day: Thursday, September 1st 2016
Miles: 1972.3 – 1992.6
White Branch Remote Camp 1972.3 – Big Lake Youth Camp 1992.6
September 1st! Oh my, oh my. There is so much left to do.
It was an eventful night, with a lot of rain and an animal of some sort mooching around my tent during the night. I was almost nervous to open my camp door in case a sloppy wet morning would greet me, but on the contrary the clouds were drifting and the sun was making a valiant effort to fight off the dampness. I had some peculiar tracks outside my tent and to this point I’m still not sure if it was a bear, a deer or something else, but a bunch of scratch/hoof marks now existed about 3 feet from my front door, so something was taking a look at my camp during the rainstorm!
I was certainly a little achy in my knees and feet after yesterdays excitement, so I popped a precautionary Vitamin-I with my breakfast. I really don’t like popping pills, and this was the third time in 5 days so I figured I would probably try and do more stretches and see if I can in some way avoid the need for anything extra. As I was packing up, both Outro and Breakaway passed me by, so I had a grasp on where my people are finally!
I hit the trail at 9AM once my tent had dried out a little. I did not realize when making camp, given the limited visibility, but I had camped right at the entry to an incredible pumice field, with miles and miles of craggy, sharp black rock extending in all directions like some kind of static river. Some stubborn trees managed to grow here and there in places, and as the mist gracefully blew through I couldn’t help by be awestruck by the sudden scene that presented itself. A moonscape, just feet from green and vibrant forest.
I was completely amazed by the views this morning, and as the cloud began to dissipate, views of Middle and South sister presented themselves at each turn. The clouds only added to the drama, and once again my progress was impeded by the simply desire to stop, stare and enjoy the spectacle evolving around me.
Looking back, the enormous snowfields on the Sisters north-faces came into view, a further beautiful sight against the sky.
As I moved northwards, I then came to one of the most magical views of the day, as the snow finally cleared ahead, exposing a region of stark black rock, with the sky punctuated by the noble sentinals of Mt.Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt.Jefferson and Mt.Hood far to the north. I gazed at this view for an extended time as the cloud slowly unveiled the peaks. I spent a long time speaking to a day hiker from near Sisters, OR, who was out with his fun little dog. These are the views I came her for I thought to myself!
Descending towards McKenzie pass, the trail departed the pumice fields and re-entered the forest for a time. I passed many day hikers around this point, and was really feeling like a celebrity once again, as they high-fived me and wished me happy trails. I guess I really do look like a thru-hiker these days!
Crossing McKenzie Pass and OR Route 242, I was hoping that some of my high-fives might translate to a lucky encounter with some trail magic, but as is the way – when you expect it, it never comes! I crossed the road and started the long climb through the pumice fields towards Mt.Washington, passing some more day hikers. Eventually Breakaway caught up to me having been leap-fogged back at the pass where he took a break. We hiked together for a while, before meeting a really interesting gent walking southbound who signed that he only spoke ASL. We beckoned good-dues to him and hopefully he had a good day – one of those moments where you realize how a disability could enormously impact your experience on the trail.
Approaching Mt.Washington, the clouds once again began to settle on the peaks, and despite enjoying a packet of skittles, I couldn’t help but think there was rain and no rainbows in my near future. I hoped to make it to the Big Lake youth camp where Breakaway was resupplying and hopefully I might be able to find a sheltered place to camp. There was some rumors on the trail that good timing and a donation might bring some supper in the way of a hungry hiker so there was additional impetus to the evenings enthusiasm than just a rain shower!
Passing two other hikers, I eventually caught up to Breakaway just at the trail break-off for the youth camp. The area was obviously subject to an enormous forest fire recently, with forest stands in all directions burned right up to the entry to the youth camp. I realized this was not just any way-point on the trail, when an enormous sign welcoming PCT hikers greeted me at the camp center. It was around 5:30PM when I arrived and I spoke to two volunteers who gave me an ice cream and welcomed me to Big Lake! I was pointed to the ‘hiker camp’, which was one of the camp dorms under-construction. As I arrived I met MacGwyer, Breakaway, Outro and a bunch of other hikers, all in varying states of resupply, laundry and repacking. It was quite a sight and good to see some familiar faces.
Deciding that I should do some laundry, given the opportunity arose, I popped a load in along with Breakaways laundry (renewing our incessant sock-swap conundrum as we all use DarnTough socks in the same size and design). I then went down to the food hall to be presented with an enormous spread of food being prepared, along with a large staff of volunteers and motley hikers sitting at tables. Speaking to one of the volunteers at my table, I got a great background to the camp. Built by the Seventh Day Adventists, the camp is used over the summer, and at the end of the season, volunteers descend to undertake repairs, upgrades and generally prep for the winter. I had lucked out and dropped in on one of their last weeks before closing up. The experience prompted me to look up some more about the Seventh Day Adventists, certainly an interesting group and a cultural addition to my PCT experience that I really never expected! As dinner was served, and grace was said, I knew that we’d enjoy a large vegetarian spread in the company of some very interesting, selfless and generous individuals. The food was delicious and nobody went hungry. I sat at a table with a volunteer who worked for a church-associated organization named Maranatha. He had worked all over Africa on charitable and public works projects for many years and shared many many interesting stories. He also knew two hikers whom I had spent time with back in the desert, and was eager to know if they would make it through before they closed up. It was a real pleasure to spend the evening dining with such an esteemed grouping.
As we wound down after dinner, and realizing it had started to rain heavily outside, attention turned to camping and where to put up our tents. At that time one of the volunteers suggested that one of the empty dorms would be available if we wanted to rest indoors from the rain, what an amazing offer! We went to the suggested dorm and quickly made ourselves at home, setting out for a comfortable night as the rain came down outside. It was like having a slumber party at camp!