Friday, August 7, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 110: Curse of the Mazama

DAY 110
August 12th, Tuesday
1807ish to 1821

We woke up early the next day (Zach was fortunately feeling better), and I hounded him to get up so we could get walking. I was excited to reach Crater Lake today! As previously mentioned, I had always wanted to see it, not least of which because my parents had hiked a small section north of the PCT from Crater Lake in 1981. Their trip was a disaster in every way— they went too early in the season on a high snow year, crippled by 80s wisdom of packing everything but the kitchen sink in their bags. Faced with waist-deep snow, freezing rain and hail, they turned back much sooner than they had expected, and all agreed that the trip was a failure. 

Before we left for the PCT, my dad hugged me and said, “Do it right, for us.” Today, I felt a strong sense that I was carrying on their legacy, hiking the hike that they had wanted to but couldn’t. They had both faced health issues and could no longer hike on such a scale, but I could. I had to finish the trail, for them.

We hiked for a while with Stumbles, and sat and ate a snack together. We chatted about musical theater (since we were both drama kids in high school) and trail memories. It was so nice to have paced Stumbles these past several days— talk could turn to different subjects than fires and gear comparisons. Eventually we pulled a bit ahead of her, but said we’d see her in Mazama Village, at Crater Lake.

Soon we saw the sign: ENTERING CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK. I felt a surge of joy as I took a picture, and we wound through a flat area, wondering which ridge rising around us was the rim of Crater Lake.

We were about a mile from Mazama Village when it began to rain. Zach and I ducked under a tree and pulled out our umbrella, and just then it began to hail. Bean-sized ice cubes spattered down from the sky and peppered the trail with white. Zach and I stood under the tree and looked in wonder as an icy wind whipped around us. 

I took a video, and in the background, you can hear Zach saying, “This is probably what it was like all the time when your parents were hiking.” Then I sang, “Hailstones Are Falling On My Head” for the camera.

We debated whether to try to walk in the hail or not, but after a few minutes it subsided, the icy wind died down, and the hailstones started to melt into the mud. Zach and I hurried along, trying to make it to Mazama Village before the next wave of weather.

We popped out onto a paved highway, turned right, and followed it toward the village. We soon saw that the village was in a valley, not on the rim, so we wouldn’t see the lake itself until after we had resupplied and hiked about six miles to Rim Village, at the actual lake.

We saw a wisp of smoke rising from the woods near the village— a small wildfire. Even with the on-and-off rain, the fire wasn’t fazed. 

We turned left and found ourselves in one of the hubs of the national park, with uniform buildings made of brown-painted wood. We walked up to the main building, a lodge/restaurant, but soon discovered that there was no way we were buying any food there— a 12-inch thin-crust pizza was $12, and the menu got more expensive from there. A bit disheartened, we headed to a smaller building near the back of the complex, a convenience store.

We saw about six backpacks huddled out of the rain under a small porch, adjacent to a laundry room where all the hikers were washing their clothes and staying out of the rain. The group in the unofficial hiker room was packed in tightly, sweating in the sauna created by washers and dryers running.  

A guy whose name I can't remember and Stumbles
The convenience store had a hiker box, and it was a jackpot! Zach and I grabbed half-eaten convenience food as fast as we could. Cinnamon toast crunch? Yes please! Graham crackers and marshmallows? Heck yeah! We bought some milk to go along with it, and a beer for Zachary, and had, as I record in my journal, “Cereal, beer and graham crackers for lunch.” 

About that time, the power went out. It flickered a couple times, then went out for real. The washers stopped, full of soaking wet clothes. The convenience store could now only accept cash. All the Crater Lake employees groaned— apparently this had happened yesterday too, and lasted several hours.

The hikers, however, were just happy to have a warm, dry place to hang out, so we all crammed in. Soon Happy Nomad and Butterfly were there, along with Stumbles, Was, and a host of others. We all sorted our resupply boxes, shouting out what we had available and bartering them off. Stumbles gave us some of her precious dark chocolate cherry Larabars that her boyfriend had sent her. I felt so special!

Butterfly, Happy Nomad, Was, and Stephen
We all sat around in the dark room, dimly lit by the gray windows, and chatted, all of us in quite good spirits. Hilarious stories were swapped. At the junction of a highway, a couple hikers had come across a cooler right by the side of the trail. They opened it to find a pile of popsicles! Ecstatic, they each took one and sat there to eat dinner. Assuming it was trail magic, they encouraged each hiker who passed by to take one of the frozen treats. However, half an hour later, a Mormon girls’ youth group came hiking in and, gasping, asked why the hikers were eating their popsicles. The hazards of leaving coolers within PCT hikers’ grasp!

A couple girls also told us about how some trail angels they met had made them incredible potato pancakes— and told them halfway through their meal that the cakes were fried in weed butter. The girls got higher than kites and could barely walk twenty feet. They said that crossing a tiny stream was like leaping over a raging river, and they had to camp for the night right there. One of the girls rolled her eyes. “We hiked out the next morning, but all our friends just went back to the highway and hitched to Crater Lake! So now we’re trying to catch up with them.”

Outside, the rain continued to patter down. Zach and I didn’t want to hike out in it, so we hung around, waiting to see if it would let up. Late in the day, the power finally came back on, and all the hikers began their laundry again.

Butterfly, sitting on a dryer on the back wall, was looking at her phone. She had paid the fee to get Wi-Fi for the day. “Oh my god,” she said, then looked up at me, since we had both grown up in the St. Louis area. “Did you hear what happened in Ferguson?”

“No,” I said, worried by the tone of her voice.

“Some kid got shot by a policeman, and it’s causing riots.” She scrolled down on her phone. “They brought military police in and tear-gassed some civilians.”

“What?!” I exclaimed. “I go to church in North County! Half my friends live up there!” Ferguson, a quaint old suburb with its historic downtown. Ferguson, where I had performed in plays all through high school, and then afterward went to the Whistle Stop for frozen custard and sat on the patio and waved at the trains that rumbled by. Riots? Tear gas? Military police? I felt like the world had flipped upside down.

However, we had no cell reception, and so I could only pray that everyone was okay, and then keep hiking. In the wilderness, it was all we could do.

The rain let up for a minute, so Zach and I threw our things together, said goodbye to everyone, and hiked out, trying to at least get to the junction of the “Hiker PCT” that would lead us up to the Rim Village. 

Just a couple miles later, it began to rain again. Thunder rumbled and lightning began to flash, both uncomfortably close. We sped up, as if moving faster would save us from lightning. The lightning was now directly overhead, with no interval between it and the thunder. I reviewed everything that I’d ever read about lightning, and tried to reassure myself that we were reasonably safe here in a forest of similarly-sized trees. But still, when lightning was flashing literally over our heads, it was hard to keep my cool! My heart was racing and every muscle felt tense.

Finally we found a campsite in a tight circle of tall trees, and frantically set up camp. I was trying to calm down, but out here with the ear-splitting thunder and blinding lightning all around, I could not be calm! We jumped into the tent, not bothering to stuff our pads into our sleeping bag. Then we laid down and tried not to freak out at the storm raged uncomfortably close above our heads.

We kept sliding off our pads all night, and water gushed into our tent, making us damp and cold and miserable all night long.

Zach had a theory about my parents and me: one of our ancestors must have done something seriously bad to the Mazama tribe, and now we were cursed. 

“Tomorrow,” Zach said, “we’re going to look through the pouring hail and see an old Indian chief staring at us through the mist.”


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