Santiam Pass to Ashland, OR

Highlights: This long section in Oregon has been quite flat, and so we have been trying to hike many miles to make up for lost time up in northern Washington due to snow.  This section has been less scenic than previous sections, except for Crater Lake, which was an unbelievable sight.  From right before we arrived at Crater Lake until several days afterwards, we have experienced many electrical storms resulting in wild fires throughout the area.  At Crater Lake, we just managed to pick up our mail at the store before an electrical storm caused the entire area to lose power.  We left without showering, doing laundry or getting any “real” food.  We pushed to make it to Ashland by Friday, August 15th, before the Post Office closed for the weekend, and in doing so, averaged 30 miles per day for 5 days straight.  I honestly never thought I’d be able to say that.  After we arrived in Ashland, we were confronted with grim information on what lay ahead: many more fires in Northern California, with several sections of trail closed.  Piecing together the open sections seems almost impossible, and there are almost no alternative trails to choose from.  We will consider our options, but most likely we will have to skip a large chunk of Northern California, giving up our hard-earned continuous footpath from Canada.

Day 35: Santiam Pass to McKenzie Pass, 18 miles

August 5th:

After finishing up some chores and eating breakfast with White Jeep and Seminole, we headed back to the trail.  Right at the road, we met a couple of hikers, and stopped to say hi.  We said we were southbounders, and they looked at us with wide eyes, almost in disbelief.  “We’re southbounders too!” said Metric.  Metric and Sticks started their hike on July 9th from the Canadian border, and had been right behind us for quite a while and didn’t think they would catch up with us so quickly.  With a couple of slower days due to our stop in Bend, they had managed to catch us.  “We were told there was a couple named Dirt Mouse and Door Stew somewhere ahead…” Metric said.

They were sitting next to a cooler someone had placed by the side of the road, and we asked them “was there any trail magic in there?”.  They told us it was just full of trash, but that there was a message inside the cooler that read something like this:  “These sodas are for Pacific Crest Trail Northbound Thru-hikers.  If you are not a Northbound Thru-hiker, we won’t stop you from taking one, but please consider the northbound thru-hikers, who have hiked nearly 2000 miles to make it this far.”  We were all deeply offended, but slightly amused at the same time.  Southbounders almost never get trail magic, and if we do, it’s because we’re passing the Northbound “herd”.  People don’t even consider that people hike the trail in the opposite direction.  Metric and Sticks hiked off to Big Lake Youth Camp to resupply, and we hiked on.  We crossed the Lava Rocks, which everyone told us were arduous, hot, and hard on the feet, but we found them quite interesting, and not too bad.

Trail through lava rocks, with one of the Sisters in the background.

Trail through lava rocks, with one of the Sisters in the background.

White Jeep met us at McKenzie Pass to test the GPS rig, and we decided to spend another night in town so as to make a few resupply boxes to send to ourselves in the Sierras.  We wound up getting to bed late, but having done quite a lot.
Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

Day 36: McKenzie Pass to mile 1973, 16.5 miles

August 6th:

After eating another large breakfast with White Jeep and Seminole, we made it back to the trail and thanked them profusely for driving us back and forth so many times.  We continued to hike on the lava rocks and cinder fields, and we were very happy we had our umbrellas for shade.  The day was clear unlike previous days, and we had beautiful views of the Sisters.  Dirt Stew had been talking since before we started our hike about the Obsidian Trail, where there were very interesting volcanic rocks.  This trail passed the PCT, and we could make a little loop to regain the trail further along.  I went along with the idea, but the trail was not worth it.  We wound up doing several more miles, a lot more elevation change, and it turns out that the rocks were also along the Pacific Crest Trail, and we actually wound up going back on ourselves on the PCT to get to the Obsidian Water Fall.  Oh well.  We camped next to a lake buzzing with mosquitoes.

Day 37: Mile 1973 to mile 1944, 29 miles

August 7th:

Another sunny day, but there were more trees, providing us with some shade.  The terrain was very flat, and we passed more lakes than we could count.  With all these lakes, come mosquitoes.  We’ve started passing more and more northbounders, and once in a while we stop to chat with them to exchange information.  An elderly couple stopped to chat with us, and we introduced ourselves.  “You’re Door Mat and Dirt Soup?” the half-deaf elderly man replied, turning his ear towards us. “no, no, Dormouse and Dirt Stew…” We grew tired of introducing ourselves to so many people we would never see again.  For them, passing a southbounder was rare, but as we go south, more and more northbounders cross our paths every day.  They’re quite a bit nicer than the early-birds, but spending 5 or more minutes talking with each one and making any forward progress is almost impossible.
The trail has been so dusty, and we are covered in a layer of black dust.  Our feet are completely black, and our legs are starting to look the same.  We are happy that we are currently carrying way too much food, and so we are constantly gorging ourselves.  Having bought probiotics in Bend, my stomach is doing much better.  We camped by a spot called Cougar Flat.  We didn’t get eaten by cougars, so we must have gotten lucky.

Day 38: Mile 1944 to mile 1917, 27 miles

August 8th:

Today was an easy day, as the trail continued to be quite flat.  As we came to a road crossing, we found a note left behind by a northbounder saying that a ranger had told him not to hike north of that road due to a fire.  We must have managed to hike past this fire without knowing it, and we were glad to be headed south.  We took a long break at a surprisingly bug-free lake, and continued to eat tons of food since we were still carrying much too much.  We found another surprisingly bug-free lake to camp beside, and fell asleep very fast.

Day 39: Mile 1917 to mile 6 on alternate trail, 21 miles

August 9th:

We got up late since there were only a couple of miles to Willamette Ski Lodge, which apparently had a restaurant only open on weekends, and it was a Saturday.  We slowly made our way there, only to find that in fact it was closed all summer due to low business.  Irritated with having slowed down to hit this spot, we continued on to Shelter Cove.  Shelter Cove was basically an RV camp with a small store, coin operated showers, and coin operated laundry.  It was crawling with Northbounders.  We barely had a spot to set our stuff down, and stuff our resupply food into our packs.  The showers were $1.50 for 3 minutes.  It was impossible to get clean in 3 minutes, so when the water ran out, we spent some time just scrubbing ourselves before adding more money.  We decided to hike out, taking an alternate trail called the Oregon Skyline Trail which had more water available than the PCT in that area.  As we were on this alternate, we ran into Sideways D and Moonshine, two hikers we knew from the Appalachian Trail in 2010.  We knew they were also on the PCT this year, but had no idea when we would run into them.  It was just chance that we both decided to take the alternate.  We traded stories and talked about our various aches and pains.  It turns out Sideways D was hiking on a stress fracture in her foot, and she had similar muscle spasms in her neck as I do.  I am hoping that getting a more sturdy backpack will help with the muscles in my neck.
Appalachian Trail 2010 reunion!  Sideways D, Dormouse, Moonshine and Dirt Stew (from L to R)

Appalachian Trail 2010 reunion! Sideways D, Dormouse, Moonshine and Dirt Stew (from L to R)

Later that day, Metric and Sticks caught up with us, and we camped with them.  They told us they wanted to make it to Ashland by Friday before the post office closed for the weekend.  We had asked Don and Jenny, our wonderful resupply people to send my new backpack to Ashland, and I realized that if we wanted to send my current backpack back home, we probably should also make it to Ashland before the Post Office closed.

Day 40: Mile 6 on alternate trail to mile 1856.5, 33.5 miles

August 10th:

We hiked to the junction of the alternate and the PCT, and crossed paths with Halfmile, who is also carrying a custom GPS rig to log the trail, going northbound.  We sat with Halfmile and discussed logging campsites and water sources, and other details before continuing on.
Dirt Stew and Halfmile with their custom GPS rigs.

Dirt Stew and Halfmile with their custom GPS rigs.

Later on in the day, a very fierce thunder storm hit the area just as we were approaching the Oregon highpoint for the trail.  We wondered why it was that we were always in sketchy places when storms hit.  We decided that it had more to do with the areas we were in, more than timing.  We basically ran over the exposed highpoint and down the other side of the ridge to the safety of trees, and coverage.  With a view of the valley, Dirt Stew and I both saw a huge lighting bolt hit a spot in the trees below.  Almost instantly, smoke began to rise.  We caught up to Metric and Sticks at a water source, and told them about the wild fire we saw get started, and further down the trail, we saw it again, and realized that there were in fact now several fires in that valley.  We kept hiking to get away from the area, doing a few too many miles for our poor feet, and camped in a safe spot.
Day 41: Mile 1856.5 to mile 1828, 28.5 miles

August 11th:

We got up early to make it to Crater Lake in time to do chores and eat restaurant food there.  We also wanted to spend some time looking at Crater Lake itself.  We took the Rim Trail, walking half way around the lake to the other side.  The lake was incredible.  Much bigger than I was expecting, and absolutely stunning.  It was hard to imagine the huge mountain that must have been there before it blew.  We gazed down into the lake from the Rim Trail, and admired the geology.
Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Tons of tourists to take pictures of us in Crater Lake  National Park.

Tons of tourists to take pictures of us in Crater Lake National Park.

So happy to see Crater Lake!

So happy to see Crater Lake!

As we looked up towards the sky, however, we noticed more ominous clouds moving in.  We couldn’t waste too much time at the rim, and get caught there in a storm.  We found the trail down to the Mazama Store, and followed it down.  We got to the store before 5pm, and grabbed our mail and resupply boxes, and found a corner to pack our stuff in our bags before heading to the restaurant.  We found Sticks and Metric also hanging out by the store.  They had sent their box to the wrong place, and were trying to figure out how they were going to get enough food for the next section.  Luckily, we had too much food, and there was some other leftover food in the hiker-box (place were PCT hikers can leave items they no longer need, or extra food), so they were able to piece together enough to make it to the next town.  Suddenly, the electrical storm was on top of us, and before we were able to pack up, the electricity in the entire area was out.  We rushed over to the restaurant to see if we could get in and get food, but they were closing down already.  We rushed back to the bathrooms to see about getting a shower or doing laundry, and they were being closed as well.  I checked my cell phone in order to call home, as I had promised from Shelter Cove, and there was no cell phone signal.  It started to rain, and we huddled under an awning trying to figure out what to do.

Sticks showed up with a big bag full of food, and we asked her where she got it from.  “A ranger brought it over to the hiker-box. Apparently someone left it in one of the bear boxes next to the campground, and they have to clean them out once in a while.”  We sat there and ate peanut butter on bread, apples and cookies, and discussed our options.  Metric and I decided maybe it was smart to try to get a ride out of there and find a hotel.  We stopped some people in vehicles to ask about leaving Crater Lake, but it seemed that everyone was spending the night in the campground, and the nearest town was quite far.  It would be difficult for us to get back to the trail in the morning.  A man came over and said that he was missing his food that he had put in the bear box, and what we were eating looked very familiar to him.  We all felt instantly horrible, and guilty, and gave him everything we could that we hadn’t already devoured, and offered him money for what we had eaten.  We couldn’t believe that the ranger had somehow taken food from someone who was still at the campground and given it to us.  The man didn’t seem too upset, turned down our money, but he did want his peanut butter back.  I felt really bad, but the damage was already done.  At least we got some food.  As the man said, we probably did need it more than he did…  Once the rain subsided, we all decided there was nothing left for us to do but hike out.  Only slightly fed, still totally dirty, and not having contacted anyone at home… we walked back out into the forest.

Day 42: Mile 1828 to mile 1798, 30 miles
August 12th:

We woke up to the sound of thunder.  The thunder storms kept following us all day, and we soon found ourselves in some sketchy areas on open ridges.  Half way through the day, we passed a northbounder who turned around and said to us “oh, by the way, there’s a tree on fire about 3 miles back”.  This guy looked like he was on drugs.  He had a wild look in his eye, and we wondered whether we should believe him.  Having felt like we had just met Moses, and not sure of what to do, we just kept pushing forward.
Soon enough we passed some more northbounders, and asked them if the story was true.  Yes, it was true.  At roughly mile 1804, there was a small forest fire about 20 ft from the trail.  They had made it past, but that was over an hour ago, and who knows if it had grown in the meantime.  “Hike your own hike, die your own death” one of the hikers said to us as we kept on towards the fire.  As we kept moving, I started wondering if we were making the right decision to keep going forward.  At this point we were on an exposed ridge, and the electrical storms that had been in our vicinity all day were almost on top of us again, and the immediate concern was getting to a safer spot, even if it meant heading towards a wildfire.  We kept on.  As we went, we kept making sure we had a plan of escape in case the fire expanded towards us.  We finally saw it from afar, with a small plume of smoke blowing with the wind.  It didn’t look too big.  When we got to the fire, it was much less scary than I had imagined.  It was about 20 ft from the trail, and it just looked like a bunch of undergrowth and dead trees on fire with much more smoke than flames.  We took some pictures, and kept going.
New wildfire, 20ft from the trail.

New wildfire, 20ft from the trail.

Soon enough, another storm passed through, and pea-sized hail started falling from the sky by the bucket full.  Finally, we got to a flat area, and camped.  A few lingering mosquitoes were there to welcome us, and chase us into our tents for the night.

Day 43: Mile 1798 to mile 1766, 32 miles

August 13th:

We woke up to the sound of soft rain.  The thunderstorms subsided, and the rain also eventually stopped, and we were thankful to be off of exposed ridges, and out of wild fires.  We got to an area of lava rocks, and the trail through the rocks was absolutely amazing.  I could not believe the amount of work that must have gone into making the trail as flat and easy as it was.  It was covered in some small red rocks, and I wondered where those rocks came from because all of the other surrounding rocks were grey.
We got to a side trail to a shelter which is where we planned on stopping to get water since they had a well, and inside the shelter there was a hiker register.  As I signed the register, I noticed that Sadie had been there earlier in the day.  We had almost caught up to her!  We pumped some reddish water out of the well, and Metric and Sticks walked up to the shelter and chatted with us for a couple minutes.  We made plans to stay with them in Ashland to split the cost of a hotel room.  We were tired, and the miles were going slowly, and when we passed some northbounders playing 20 questions, we decided that was probably a good way to pass the time.  “I’ve got something” I told Dirt Stew.
“Ok, is it eatable?”
“Yes”
“Is it like a main dish?”
“Yeah”
“Is it a hamburger?”
“Yeah….”
We cracked up laughing.

Day 44: Mile 1766 to mile 1736, 30 miles

August 14th:

Today the trail was quite boring compared to previous days.  Without thunderstorms, or wild fires to run to or from, we lost motivation to hike quickly.  Our energy levels were very low, having not had a proper meal in town for over a week.  As we dragged our feet, we decided we needed to try to eat every hour.  We took out most of our snacks and stuffed them in our side pockets for easy access.  After many hours of eating 200-300 calories every half hour to hour, we finally regained some energy and started walking at a reasonable pace until the end of the day.  We heard from northbounders that the trail up ahead, south of Ashland would be closed for us.  We knew we would need to research alternatives once we got to town.  At the end of the day, while trying to set up our tent as the sun set, I noticed that one of my trekking poles was missing.  I had hiked all day using only one of my poles so as to be able to hold my umbrella in the other hand, and we decided we must have left it at our last campsite, 30 miles back.  I was very sad.  There was no way we were hiking back to get it, and that pole had been through so many things with me.  I fell asleep thinking of all the hikes I had done with that pole.  It probably had well over 3,000 miles of use.

Day 45: Mile 1736 to Ashland, OR, 10 miles
August 15th:

We got up early with the intent on making it to Ashland early in the day.  The sunrise through the haze was quite stunning, and the hills were quite beautiful.

Nice sunrise over some beautiful rocks during our walk into Ashland.

Nice sunrise over some beautiful rocks during our walk into Ashland.

We had a lot of chores and errands to do and most importantly we had to figure out a way around all the upcoming fires.  After getting into Ashland and taking a look at the PCTA website, we realized working out a way around these fires was going to be really tricky.  As we made our way to a store that carried maps, we ran in to Cheeseburger, another old friend from the Appalachian Trail.  After buying a map of the area, we sat down at an ice cream shop and chatted with Cheeseburger, trying to relax for a moment.  We then tried to find a computer to do research on, but the Library was closed on Fridays.  So we tried to piece together information that was given to us while making phone calls to various agencies.  We caught up with Metric and Sticks, checked into our hotel and attempted to do laundry and take showers.  The laundry at the hotel failed to wash our clothing, so we dragged our dirty clothes half way across town in search of a laundromat and dinner.  We found dinner, but no laundromat.  As we ate our Thai dinners with our pile of stinky clothes next to us, we decided to simply complain at our hotel and have them try to fix the laundry machine there.  That proved successful, but we went to sleep much later than we had anticipated.

Day 46: Ashland, OR, 0 miles
August 16th:
After much research and particularly with some help from White Jeep and my dear mother, who were able to do some research on a computer, we decided we were going to need to skip ahead by at least 200 miles.  We were very bummed that we would need to give up our continuous footpath from Canada to Mexico, but the only way we could avoid that would be to walk on interstate I-5 for nearly 90 miles.  I was not going to do a 90 mile road walk on an interstate.  I’m not that much of a masochist.  So, assuming we could find a ride down I-5 for 80 or 90 miles, we could pick up the PCT again south of most of the fires.  The last fire, the “Hat Creek Rim” fire, we were told was no longer keeping the PCT closed.  So the plan is to skip ahead to Dunsmuir, and rejoin the PCT there.  This may be a blessing in disguise, as we are in a rush to make it to the Sierras before the snow starts, probably by early October.  We decided to spend another night in town to rest.  Today and tomorrow will be our first non-hiking days since we started a month and a half ago.  We had managed to average over 20 miles a day for 45 days up until this point.  Time for a day of rest.

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2 thoughts on “Santiam Pass to Ashland, OR

  1. Wow, what a trip so far! I can’t believe the a: crappy northbounders and b: all of the fires! Glad y’all ran into Moonshine and Sideways D. Been keeping up with them too.

    I can almost ‘feel’ your hunger through the computer…may you get more trail magic down the way!

    Like

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