Oregon E

June 28, Tues.–20.1 miles–Oregon E

Tues. June 28   Miles today: 20.1      Total so far: 845.1        Oregon E, and begin Section F

Last night I listened to the rain for a long time before I fell asleep, because I kept hoping it would stop.  Instead, it just got heavier.  But we were well-protected in our grove of trees, and the rain never did turn into more snow.  Unfortunately, I was so tired when I was putting gear away before going to bed, that I did not cover my wet pack with a plastic bag, and as a result, the wet pack got the foot of my sleeping bag all wet, and that translated into COLD feet.  I put on more socks to compensate, and even put on my fleece jacket, trying to get warmed up.

We were up at 5:00 am to a cold, rainy world, surrounded by snow all around the tree grove.  Brrrr!  We broke camp, shouldered packs, and as usual, we prayed before starting our day’s hike (only this time, the prayer had the “added bonus” of “Lord, please help us find the trail again!”).  Bill took compass in hand, and said, “OK, north and a little west it is,” and off we went. 

Steep, snowy hillsides

Steep, snowy hillsides

The first “leg” took us down a very steep hill, through the forest, and so did the second.  Bill was ahead of me, looking for a tree or rock to use for his next “compass fix” and didn’t even notice that he had walked right across THE TRAIL!!!  I was behind him, doing MY usual job of looking for signs of trail, and I could hardly believe my eyes.  We had been walking only 15 minutes!  “Bill, stop!   The trail, the trail!”  I shouted.

To put it mildly, we were overjoyed, and we fervently thanked God for guiding our steps right to the trail so quickly.  I must admit I cried a little bit as we turned to follow the nice clear trail.  We know God did not do this for us because we somehow deserve it.  We are frequently foolish, selfish people.  But we know that when Jesus died on the cross, it was OUR foolishness and selfishness for which He paid the price so now we can freely come to God for help at times like this. 

 We were so happy to be back on TRAIL, that we almost bounced along, following the PCT  through the forest and up a long climb to the pass we’d been searchng for yesterday.  Eventually we came down again into an open area with a creek, right next to a lava flow.  A very cold wind was blowing, and it was still raining, but the big lava flow rocks made a somewhat sheltered place where we could rest, and the creek provided breakfast water.

Then it was up ‘n over another pass that included some more losing-the-trail-and-finding-it-again, whenever we hit a large snowfield.  I wished somebody would put up a row of those nice posts like we saw the day before!  And Bill’s bootskiing was really getting good.  He could just whiz down a hillside!  That was definitely a help when we were beating around looking for where the trail went.  We were still in cloud and could see no landmarks, and another difficulty was that several times when we’d found the trail again, and followed it to a junction, there was no trail SIGN to tell which trail was which, or where either trail went.  The junctions were “marked” by just a big pile of rocks.  So at each of these places, we simply took whichever trail headed north, and hoped it was the PCT.  I strenuously disagree with the purists who think trail signs should be eliminated!  If that’s the case, then there shouldn’t be a trail, either!

Lava & snow

Lava & snow

Tortured, twisted lava rocks

Tortured, twisted lava rocks

Eventually the path entered a very desolate, eery, twisted lava flow area.  There was a series of short, tight switchbacks that led up the end of a canyon.  Awhile after that, we lost the trail again for a little while, but during that time, suddenly some of the clouds lifted, the sun shone, and we were able to see North Sister towering above us.  Wow, beautiful!  What a sight!  But a few minutes later, back came the clouds and that was it.  I found the trail, and from then on it was a steady downhill, with no more snow.   Finally, in a field, we came to the first PCT sign that we’d seen in a long time.  What a huge relief!  Now we knew we were going the right way.

Bill and mountain hemlock "bonsai"

Bill and mountain hemlock "bonsai"

Down, down we went, crossing steaming pumice fields and going through very colorful lava.  I was impressed with the way mountain hemlock can grow even out of lava.  Very few other plants seem able to do that.  And then after a few miles of “green tunnel” forest—there it was: a “Sisters Wilderness” sign.  I don’t think that many other thru-hikers besides ourselves have made it all the way through Sisters yet this year.  We stopped and thanked God again for helping us make it OK. 

The trail eventually came out of the forest and began winding through lava beds.  It was tedious going, picking your way along a trail made of ankle-twisting, wobbly, rough rocks.  We did meet a couple who were very enthused when they found out we were hiking the PCT, and they were a lot of fun to talk to.  Finally we reached Highway 242, the end of Oregon Section E!

OREGON SECTION F

Across the highway, the “lavawalk” continued, and we went till we were out of sight of the road, then we stopped to hold a thru-hiker “garage sale”.  Every bit of our gear ended up spread all over the lava in the nice warm sun, while I cooked lunch.  We were just sipping hot mochas when three jolly, friendly old guys came by.  They were just dayhiking for fun, but told us that the new lightweight backpacking methods had made it possible for them to go backpacking again, after having had to give it up. Their comment about PCT thru-hiking was “If I were doing the PCT, I would start at Campo, hike till August 1, then go to Washington and hike to Canada, then go back and hike south from Cascade Locks.  That way you miss most of the bad weather and cold.”  Sounds good to me,  but hopefully we will have reached Canada by August 1, and then we’ll be back on California PCT.

Knarly tree

Knarly tree

By the time we finished lunch, the wind and bits of sun had done their work–most of the damp gear had dried, and our poor wet, cold feet were warm and comfortable.  We packed up and continued picking our way through the lava, toward one of the forested “islands” up ahead.  What a relief to get there and have nice soft DIRT under our feet!  We walked past impressive Belknap Cinder Cone, and got to normal forest at last!  I did notice one particularly gnarly,interesting tree. 

 We were now in the Mt. Washington Wilderness, but Mt. Washington itself stubbornly kept its had stuck in the clouds.  We stopped for supper in a meadow where we could watch for the mountain if the clouds moved out of the way, and suddenly no clouds, and there it was!  We continued hiking around it.  

Beargrass! We really ARE in Oregon!

Beargrass! We really ARE in Oregon!

Beargrass ready to bloom lined the trail, and it took awhile before  we finally found a flat campsite.  No need to hang our food tonight–we had no food left.  We set up camp with “help” from the local mosquitoes, and realized that actually one “benefit” of being lost for a couple of days was that there were no mosquitoes up there in the snow!  I debated which was worse–being lost in snow, or dealing with mossies.  I think I’ll choose the mossies.  It is only by God’s grace that we are not still lost in the snow.  We wondered what had happened to Jacob and Brandon, and prayed that God would take care of them and help them make it safely through, too.  And we were looking forward to a “people food” breakfast at Big Lake Youth Camp tomorrow morning!

June 27, Mon.–24.9 miles–Oregon E

Mon. June 27     Miles today: 24.9    Total so far: 825.2       Oregon Section E

Bill geared for rain--note SNOW in background!

Bill geared for rain--note SNOW in background!

Brrrrr!  It ws a rainy, cold, 45 degree morning. Packing up was tough–everything was wet.  We said goodby to very pretty Sisters Lake and began our hike in the cold rain, usually able to find the trail easily in the ever-increasing snow, and we even found a nice big sheltering tree for a breakfast break. 

 At the next trail junction, while we were checking our maps, a small flock of birds came by and stopped to stare at us.  I don’t know what kind of birds they were, but they were sort of ruffianly-looking.  We continued on through some areas of lovely mountain hemlocks.  Yesterday I was doing a bit of mental grumpng about “hiking through miles of green tunnels.”  Today I take it all back! It’s the “green tunnels” where the trail is free of snow! 

Sisters "foothills" in the rain

Sisters "foothills" in the rain

The trail continued north, out of the trees, into some wide-open places which normally would have great views.  All we could see were clouds and misty-to-regular rain.  Some of the really large open zones had wood posts to indicate trail.  (I fervently wish they had more of these-it would have saved us a lot of rouble later!)

Creek & meadow--still raining

Creek & meadow--still raining

Finally we got to the first big lava flow, and it was as dramatic-looking as I’d anticipated.  Imagining the scene when it was being formed was like imagining Mordor in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.   We crossed a pretty creek and filled our water bottles there, wishing we could see the “great view” which the guidebook assured us was there, somewhere behind the clouds.

Bill trying to rest his sore foot

Bill trying to rest his sore foot

But from that point on, we began having serious problems finding the trail, which was increasingly buried under snow, and finally lost it altogether.  Rather than waste any more time hunting for it, we just gave up looking and used the compass to head north till we hit the trail again.  It was tough going.  Bill’s foot and leg were really hurting.  He kept taking more Motrin and trying to rest when he could.

Where'd the trail go?

Where'd the trail go?

Meanwhile, the rain came down harder, and it was still very cold.  I was in “full raingear” with warm layers underneath it, and carrying my umbrella to protect my head and the top of my pack.  Again we lost the trail, hunted for it, gave up hunting and “compassed north”.  Bill and I work as a team on finding the trail with a compass.  He concentrates on locating a landmark at the correct compass bearing, and focuses on heading for that landmark (usually a certain tree, or a rock).  I simply follow him wherever he goes, but put my concentration on looking for signs of a trail.  I also pray A LOT while I am doing this…”Father, please guide Bill and his compass.  Help us find the trail again.” 

A CROSS in the snow!

A CROSS in the snow!

We had been just compass-following for some time when far below in a valley, silhouetted clearly against the white snow, there was a CROSS!  (Well, actually, a signpost!)  It was the first indication of any trail we’d seen in quite awhile.  With great rejoicing, we headed for it–Bill “bootskiing” and me doing the best I could.  Turned out it wasn’t a trail junction sign at all.  It said “No camping allowed near Obsidian Falls”.  Other than the sign, there was no trail visible, but at least we now had some idea of where we were.  The frustrating thing was having no distant landmarks.  If it had been a clear day, we would have had no trouble finding our way.  But everything was hidden in low clouds and rain.

We decided it would be worth hunting for the trail at this point, so we spent some time searching (and praying like crazy!) and hurray, there it was!  We happily followed it for a pretty good distance, and at that point two young guys named Jacob and Brandon caught up with us.  Turned out they had been following our footsteps and using the same basic strategy–“When you can’t find the trail, just head north.”  Then we ALL lost the trail again, and had a bit of discussion as to what to do.  Jacob and Brandon headed north again, but Bill took a slightly different course.  He chose a compass heading of north and a little west.  Over hill and dale in rain and snow we went, praying a lot–and again, the trail!  Each “trail find” was another opportunity to thank God for His loving patience and guidance.

For awhile, all was well, then we totally lost the trail AGAIN on a long uphill snowfield. “Oh, if only we could SEE landmarks!” was our constant frustration.  We saw what looked like it might lead to the pass we were searching for, climbed up, and–nothing, just more snowy mountainside. 

Sure is good to have a "home" even when you're lost!

Sure is good to have a "home" even when you're lost!

 So again, we gave up trailhunting, and went back to “compass north and a little west” till 7:00 pm, when we came to a nice grove of trees among some rocks.  We stopped and decided it was no use going on.  We’d had nothing to eat since breakfast, we were totally tired out, and just ached all over.  Setting up camp in the rain was not fun, but we got it done, and Bill went straight into his sleeping bag.  It was very cold–you could see your breath, and it was still raining, but I was nice and warm with all my layers on plus raingear, so I sat outside under my umbrella and cooked dinner–hot mochas followed by Lipton noodles with bacon bits and dried tomatoes.  I figured that to just go to bed hungry, cold and tired was not a good idea, and hot food would help us stay warm and sleep better.  I did cheat a bit, though.  When we were done eating, I left the dirty dishes out in the rain to “rinse clean”!  THEN I put on warm dry silk longjohns and wool socks,crawled into the sleeping bag and wrote some notes.  I concluded with this: (written by headlamp, since it was dark already)

     “The rain is getting heavier as it gets darker.   Tomorrow we will “compass” either to the PCT or to Highway 242.  The Lord has been so gracious today–so often helped us find the trail.  He will go ahead of us and watch over us.”