Three Days on Mount Jefferson

Around 11 years ago, in the summer before my 8th grade year, my dad looked at his map of the Jefferson Wilderness Area and pointed thoughtfully at one of the trails. “I think,” he said, “I want to try out this Breitenbrush trail this weekend. You wanna come?” he asked.

Of course I wanted to go. So we packed some snacks and sunscreen and, knowing my dad, left well before the crack of dawn. The hike was lovely and became one of our favorites, but perhaps the most life-changing thing that happened on that trip was me seeing a sign for the Pacific Crest Trail.

“That goes from Mexico to  Canada,” Dad explained when I asked what it was. That was the day that I decided I wanted to attempt a thru-hike.

The sign for the trail we took that day

Even though my thru-hike was thwarted by a lame knee, I still approached Jeff on my section hike with a sense of excitement and returning to where it all began. We arrived in the Jefferson Wilderness Area the day that we left Big Lake Youth Camp.

On day 1 in the Jefferson Wilderness Area, the PCT climbed up through bleached burnt forests and the baby firs that are trying to take their place. Purple wildflowers and red Indian Paintbrush were in bloom, even though by the end of the day we would camp among viny maple that are already turning red. Huckleberry bushes provided snacks for us at every break. It was warm, but a stiff breeze cooled my neck and played harmonica with the trees.

Hiking the South side of Three Fingered Jack

We passed on the South side of Three Fingered Jack, just above the treeline. A couple of hunters were glassing the screw field for mountain goats, and I might have felt bad for scaring away their quarry if they’d bothered putting a leash on their two dogs. For about a mile we could look up and see the changing shape of the boulder. Despite nearly circumventing it, we never figured out how it got its name. 

Suddenly the trail in front of us turned a corner. “Cue the Lord of the Rings music,” I said, so Braids and I broke out in winded orchestral impersonations. We broke over the hilltop to find our first close-up of Mount Jefferson. Perhaps just because this is my favorite mountain, I felt like I was home. Jeff was a king surveying his cloudless domain, bleached acres of burnt trees nothing more than his white robes to match his snowy crown.

Me and Mr. Jefferson!

After a few requisite pictures, we continued on to where we could see a few other hikers resting across the canyon. The trail led us to a spur just a few hundred yards from the boulder atop Three Fingered Jack. There, we had a snack and listened to a couple of weekend hikers tell us what badasses we are. I didn’t feel like one at the time, but it was a nice encouragement. We also meet Hot Tamale and Moon Train, who camped with us and the weekend hikers that night at a pond a few miles later.

Snack breaks are the best breaks.

Three Fingered Jack in the evening.

Day 2 in the Jefferson Wilderness Area was also a long uphill climb, though there weren’t as many burnt areas. At one point we stopped for a rest after only a mile–well, my hiking partners did. I stopped twice in that mile. My Poptarts called to me.

Just before that I was zoning out, listening to music, on a grueling shale hillside, trying to remember why I’d thought this would be fun. I heard a noise behind me. Apparently, when startled, I have the capacity to react in much the same way as a pirate being challenged to a duel. I spun around, trekking pole raised against the threat, shouting an unintelligible warning–only to find a rather attractive hiker standing frozen and alarmed on the path behind me. I gasped an apology as I let him pass. Safe to say we can probably scratch him off my list of potential soulmates. As it turns out, Braids fell down when he tried to pass her, so he was probably thinking PCT girls are really weird during that mile, anyways.

We camped that night by Milk Creek. We got there when it was almost dark, and all the campsites were full for a few miles around. Too tired to walk the three miles to the next marked campsite, we threw our sleeping bags down 2×2 on a side trail and hoped not to regret our tentless state.

Milk Creek. Also in the evening.

The final day we climbed 6 miles, passed the spot where I first learned of the PCT, ate lunch in Jefferson Park, and then climbed another 2 miles up Jefferson Ridge. There, I could look back at Mount Jefferson, then turn 180° and see Mount Hood, Adams, and St. Helens ahead. We ate more huckleberries here.

Captain Hook! Oh, wait…it’s Hood. Nevermind.

Our goal for the evening was Ollalie Lake Campground. I was craving a burger and needed to call my mom. Unfortunately they had neither burgers nor cell phone reception. However, I invested in a bag of Doritos for dinner. Basically the same thing.

Just before reaching Ollalie, I had one of the most peaceful moments on trail. I paused by Upper Lake to lay down and rest a few minutes. The sunshine glimmered off the water. As I looked up, I saw a strand of spider web caught in the breeze. It reflected the sunlight as it floated above the lake and into the open air.

Mount Jefferson and Jefferson Park from the north.

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A Vacation State

As Fire Ant, Braids, Miguel, and I make our way through Oregon, we tend to have the same conversation with fellow hikers at every spring and shady lunch spot we find.

Us: We’re really loving Oregon.

Them: Oh yeah. It’s great. I can’t believe it’s gonna be over so soon.

Us: Yeah, crazy how time flies.

Them: I know! I’ve got four days of food in my pack and then I’ll be in Cascade Locks.

Us: Yes…four…

Them: I mean, you can do 30, 35 miles a day here, easy.

Us: Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Them: Well, see you up trail.

Us: Yeah, see ya.

Them: *walks away*

Us: We’re definitely never seeing them again.

Going roughly half the speed of many hikers, though, we’ve come to accept the mantra, “Last one to Canada wins.” The trail angel Legend gave us this saying a few days ago: “When I hiked in 2013, I set two records: I took the longest to get to Canada, and I had the most fun.”

We met Legend and another trail angel, Coppertone, just after crossing highway 242, North of the Three Sisters. We had had a late start to the day, so we hiked 2 miles across lava fields in the gathering darkness, my headlamp and high-top boots sparing my ankles some nasty turns.

As we reached the first available campsite, we noticed a group of other hikers sitting in lawn chairs. “Welcome!” Coppertone said. “Would you like a root beer float?”

The correct answer to that is always yes, so we stayed up a few more minutes to drink our floats before finding a spot to throw down our stuff. I cowboy camped for the first time, not so much because I wanted to, but because I was too lazy at that point to set up my tent. I slept well, though.

The next day we woke up to Legend cooking pancakes, and we had a delicious breakfast before setting off again. Backpacking is no picnic. But, in this case it actually was.

Bad at math, too

I used to be decent at math. However, in the first week on trail, I managed to mess up some fairly simple equations, resulting in us all arriving at Shelter Cove with practically enough food to make it to Cascade Locks.

The miscalculation began at Fish Lake Resort. Just as Miguel, Fire Ant and I were about to leave, some Australian people eating breakfast informed us that they’d heard we would probably be turned back from Crater Lake due to the spread of the Bybee Creek Fire. That sucked. None of us wanted to miss Crater, and we really didn’t want to be turned back and have to walk two days with only half a day of food left.

A call to the ranger station didn’t help. All I learned was that fires are unpredictable by nature, and they could neither confirm nor deny the possibility that somebody might be turned around in the next few days. I hung up slightly discouraged.

We rapidly formed a new plan, though: the three of us, along with another hiker we’d met named Shakespeare, would go into Klamath Falls, stay the night at my dear friend’s house, and catch the 9am shuttle to Crater Lake on Saturday.

Best trail Angel ever!

On the shuttle, we met Mike, Mike, Michelle, and Joe. They had just flown in from across the country and were heading out for their first section hike. “Do you guys need some food? We packed way too much.” It so happened that their food was really great, so even though we had 3 days of food in our packs and another 5 waiting for us at Crater Lake, we took it.

The shuttle dropped us off at the Rim Village. We really wanted to go to Cleetwood Cove on the opposite side of the lake, but there was no bus service to get us there. All day long, as we ate a fancy meal in the lodge restaurant and filmed a lip sync video near all the other tourists, we would casual-loudly say, “Man, I wish I could get to Cleetwood Cove. If only we had a ride there so we could fulfill our lifelong dreams of taking a boat ride and jumping in the lake. Ah, to have a ride there.”

Me, Fire Ant, Shakespeare, and Airlift

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Around 3, though, someone did offer to take us to Mazama Village, where we were to camp and pick up our food. He was a former thru-hiker, having done the trail in ’86 and again in ’01. His first time, they only had 9 resupply points, and had one stretch with 21 days of food. I’m real glad I live now and not then.

The moment we arrived at Mazama, we heard some astounding news: far from planning to turn people back, the forest rangers had come into camp and told the backlog of 28 hikers that they planned to open the Rim Trail at 8am the next morning.

This was fantastic news, except that we had spent most of our lunch trying to figure out exactly how much food we would need to go from Highway 138 to Shelter Cove–4 days, we guessed. We hastily redid the calculations, adding in about 45 miles and concluding that we were now 6 days from Shelter Cove and our next resupply. 

No matter; we had the food. I even gave away a few Snickers bars and tuna packets because I had so many. The next day we took the trolley back to the Rim, so as to skip a 4-mile uphill hike. We arrived at the Rim at the same time as the purists, who were loudly praising themselves for not being like those cheating trolley-riders. Considering I already skipped 3 months of the trail, I don’t think hiking up Mazama would have won me cool points with them, anyways. We left the Rim with 5 liters of water each, for a 16-mile dry stretch. 

The view of Crater Lake

“Anything from the trolley, dear?” Fire Ant, me, and Steven, who was in the greyhound to Ashland with me.

The hike was gorgeous. We unfortunately lost Shakespeare to a bum knee a couple miles in, but apart from that it went well. A cold breeze kept us cool as we hiked and forced us into our puffies when we stopped to eat. We circled the lake for about 5 miles before the trail dropped into a long flat stretch, on which we did 3 miles in 49 minutes. Yes, I did feel like a bit of a badass after that.

Mount Thielsen

It was only when we reached Highway 138 that evening, as opposed to the next, that we realized how bad my calculations had been. When I had said we needed 6 days of food, I was going off the mileage for the official PCT. However, the Rim Trail is about 9 miles shorter than the PCT section it bypasses. Furthermore, the 4 miles we cut with the trolley, plus another 8 later in the hike as we took the Oregon Skyline Trail instead of the official PCT, meant we rolled into Shelter Cove after only 4 days, with approximately enough food in our packs to get us to Canada.

Standing at the highest point on the PCT (in Oregon and Washington…we don’t count those darn Sierras.)

Ah well. We met Mike, Joe, and Michelle again, who had lost 4 toenails and the other Mike, and were battling shin splints. They had decided to cut out early. They offered us the rest of their food, which we gladly picked through despite our plenty. Swedish fish and beef jerky–I guess there’s always room for more.

Diamond View Lake. Beautiful campsites 🙂

On the trail again with a new name!

After leaving the PCT due to my knee injury, moping for three months, and finally abandoning hope of getting to rejoin it this summer, I received a text from Miguel.

“Hey. You wanna start in Ashland with me in August?”

Umm, YES!!!!

So I packed my bag and a few resupply boxes and booked a ticket to Ashland.

My first three days back on trail have been wonderful. A few tears, a few annoyances as I realized I made some tactical errors in packing, but for the most part I’ve felt great.

They told me to wear a hat. They never said it had to be stylish.

We were joined yesterday by Fire Ant, a girl who had taken an ill-timed nap and been separated from her group. Together, she and Miguel gave me my new trail name: Netflix.

It happened while I was resting against a log. Miguel trudged past me, glanced back, smirked, and said, “You spent too much time watching Netflix this summer, didn’t you?”

When I confirmed that I had, in fact, watched the first three seasons of White Collar while all the other thru-hikers were having adventures and struggling through the Sierras, he started laughing. But considering how much I’ve made fun of him for his trail name, Airlift, I probably deserved that.

Piped spring near mile 1753. Delicious water.

That afternoon we met a weird guy who tried to give me a trail name within the seconds of meeting me. “Let’s do this…what’s your favorite movie?”

“Lord of the Rings,” I answered. “Or Captain America: Civil War.”

“Hmm. Lots of good strong heroes in those.”

But considering half the people on the trail are hiking because they love Lord of the Rings, I’m not sure that’s a good enough basis for a trail name. There can only be so many Galadriel’s, after all.

By evening, we’d met Fire Ant, and she and Miguel had decided Netflix fit me well. I think my friends back home would agree. So, until I accidentally get airlifted or bit by a rattle snake, Netflix I shall be.

Walking over lava rock: not the easiest on the feet.