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by Brian Schrader

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Posted on Sun, 19 Jul 2015 at 10:59 PM

I've always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Last week, a part of that dream came true. Last week, two friends and I hiked a section of the PCT, from Klamath Falls, OR to Crater Lake, OR. It was a trip long awaited, and it meant a lot to all three of us. Sean, I'd known from Scouting, and Nathaniel, I'd known from college. The three of us had talked about the possibility of doing a trip like this back in November of 2014, the weekend of Thanksgiving, and last week it finally happened.

What follows is an account of the journey

Day 1: Once everyone had arrived, Sean on the train, and Nathaniel and I on a plane, and no one from a car, we set off, with smiles on our faces, on a shuttle from Klamath Falls, OR to our starting point off Hwy 140. We'd spent months planning to get here, and we were all thrilled to get started.

The Gang's All here!

After being dropped off by the shuttle, we started hiking.

The Trailhead

At the trailhead I found a walking stick that someone had left there. The tip was covered in charcoal and the handle was already worn; someone had used and loved that stick, and now I was its next holder. It served me well.

Setting out

Needless to say, the trail was gorgeous.

Hiking Day 1!

About 3 miles into the hike we came across the first sign that we were actually on the right track. As we took a short break in the clearing, a hiker came up the trail from the south. He was about our age, on vacation from Germany, and had been hiking the trail since April. He told us that he'd been averaging 30 miles a day and that he planned to be done by July's end. He didn't stop long before setting back off again up the trail. We never saw him again.

A sign!

After 10.5 miles and at the end of a long day, we set up camp, and went to sleep. We were all exhausted.

Day 1 Camp

Day 2 was filled with amazing vistas and high ridges. Early that morning, as we were breaking camp, another hiker approached from the south. She asked us if we'd seen a blonde, German guy. "We saw him yesterday," we said.

"What, yesterday?! I hiked with him for 2 days, but he said I was too slow and he went on without me," she replied. This was the first of many times that another hiker would ask about "the German guy". Apparently, he was a legend.

The trail forested 1!

As we climbed up the side of a ridge, we took a break and admired the scenery. As we climbed, the cover of trees broke and gave way to some really beautiful vistas.

Resting on a ridge

Surprisingly, we had cell service up here in the middle of the Oregon wilderness

Ridge view

A bit further, we found a spectacular campsite at the top of the mountain.

Day 2: Camp

It had been a long, mosquito filled day. We cooked ourselves dinner, and, from our high perch, we watched the sun go down, mantling the mountains in the reddish-purple haze of evening light.

Day 3 would prove to be the day of our highest highs, and lowest lows (literally and figuratively). We would reach the tallest peaks, feel the best we had in days, and end on the worst note of the entire trip.

The day started off on an off note as we entered the what remained of the forest after a recent fire.

Burned out forest

Traversing such a breathtaking and scarred landscape was something none of us had ever done before, and it was an experience I recommend, if only for its wonder. The utter silence is, at the same time, both captivating, and deeply unsettling as no sound of birds, or buzzing of mosquitos broke the ever present silence.

After the journey through the silent, dead swaths of burned out forest, we found ourselves on the top of a hill. A perfect retrospective of our progress thus far.

Looking back

That mountain in the back, Mt. McLoughlin, was where we started 2 days prior.

After a short break, we found ourselves traversing some rocky ridges on the way to our highest high.

Rocky ridge

At this point, we'd finally ascended Devil's Peak, 7,329ft above sea level, our highest high.

Devil's Peak

As a bonus, the peak came stock with a most spectacular view to the west.

view from the top

The way back down would greet us with 5 water stops in the span of 2 miles, which we heartily enjoyed. Today had been our best day by far... at least until now. We had one mile left to go.

During that last mile, Sean slipped and fell in a stagnant, mosquito filled pond, and I received a lovely gift from the microbes in the river water. All of that, coupled with that last mile being the most mosquito filled section of the trail, so far, had beaten us down when we finally settled and set up camp for the night.

Unfortunately, as we all knew, the next day would be a hard one: it was our first of two whole days without the ability to fill our water stores. Whatever we had now was all we'd have to last 2 days. We'd known about this section of the trail before setting out, but this 20 mile section was devoid of water until we reached the campground at the end, Mazama. After a short discussion, we elected to try to cover the entire 20 miles in one day, double our so-far daily milage. The prospect of being left high and dry, and with another night between ourselves and a burger at the Mazama cafe, was too much of an incentive.

Day 4: I only have one picture of day 4; it was a long one. We did it though, all 20 miles.

The trail took us over more ridges, through more burned, and scarred terrain, and onto some lovely vistas, all of which are left to the imagination of the reader. We didn't have much time to stop and take pictures, we were on a tight schedule.

I do have this picture though, taken just after the 3 of us arrived at Mazama, 12 hours of hiking, and after covering a total of 20 miles.

At Mazama

We didn't last long that night after this. We showered, ate microwave burritos from the convenience store, and went to bed.

Day 5: We literally did nothing all day. Exhausted from the day prior, and a day (actually 2) early in the schedule, we took some time to relax, play card games, and eat the burger we earned the day prior. Once again, we encountered a hiker who, as they set up camp, asked us if we'd seen the German guy. When we said that we'd last seen him 3 days ago, he was impressed but not too surprised.

"He was really moving," was all he could say.

Day 6 and 7: For the next two days we bounced between Mazama and our final destination because of logistical reasons. I'm combining these days because, really we spent them in the same place, Crater Lake.

Crater Lake

There were other happenings during the day like how it rained on and off, or how we were left behind by the trolley and had to hike the 5 miles back to our camp site that evening, but really the majesty of Crater Lake blew all that out of the water.

Crater Lake, again

Crater Lake, again, again

At the end of the day, we spent time at the lodge, and at the meadow next door overlooking Crater Lake and all its immense glory, but as these things usually go, it was soon time to get back on the shuttle and head home.

Before that, I needed to leave something behind. It was time to leave my walking stick in a place akin to where I'd found it, at a trail marker on the PCT.

My hiking stick

On the shuttle ride home I found myself in a somber mood. All of that awe-inspiring scenery, the grand wilderness, the epic feeling of exploration, and the grandeur of Crater Lake were all behind us now. We'd had an amazing time together, but it had come to an end, and now here we were, flying home to our respective lives, all right where we left off.

My hiking stick

Until next time.

Afterword

This was my first excursion down a small part of the Pacific Crest trail, and I don't know when my next will be, but it can't come soon enough.

Well, maybe it can wait until after my bug bites heal. Yeah, that would be good.

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