Monday, August 31, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 126: Sandy, Muddy, Cranky

DAY 126
August 28th, Thursday
2107.3 to 2131

We woke up early that day, disoriented by the roof over our heads. We packed up quickly and heading down to Timberline Lodge’s lobby. Only then did we discover the actual main room: a massive circular area, its soaring roof supported by a central pillar, with tall windows all around and an upper deck featuring a bar and beautiful Cascadian artwork. A expensive but luscious breakfast buffet was going on, but we felt a little glutted as it was and just had some of the free coffee and juice. We wandered around the glassy area and sat in the overstuffed chairs, taking it all in.

The view out our window

View from the front of the lodge. See Mt. Jefferson?
Gary joined us at about 10:00. We thanked him for the room— I knew we couldn’t properly thank him for the first roof over our head in almost two months— and then the three of us stepped outside into a dewy, fresh morning.

The trail led us along Mount Hood’s shoulders, often in barren alpine areas, sometimes in groves of huckleberry bushes. Every time the shoulders of the mountain parted to reveal a waterfall or an impressive valley, Gary stopped and said, “Whoa,” staring out at the gorgeous scenery. By this point I had gotten a little jaded, so a fresh pair of eyes was really helpful— he helped me take a step back and realize that, hey, this landscape was breathtaking!

We crossed a couple glacial-melt streams, then delved into the woods, chatting as we hiked along through the pines and moss. 

Gary ended up walking almost nine miles with us, which was impressive considering that he had to turn around and walk back! It was early afternoon by the time we stopped at the sandy, rocky banks of the suitably-named Sandy River, a torrent of glacial melt that could be a dangerous crossing in high snow years. We sat on some smooth stones and decided to have lunch. 

Another somewhat failed attempt at a Strader family photo.
Gary wanted to head straight back, but we convinced him to stay and share our mashed potato meal. He was a little reluctant to eat instant potatoes, but when we served it up with chunks of summer sausage, he was surprised at how good it was. Zach and I had eaten mashed potatoes about three nights a week for the past four months, and we still weren’t tired of them!

After the meal, Gary said goodbye and high-tailed it back, promising to hike up the trail tomorrow to meet us. Tomorrow we’d be reaching the Oregon/Washington border, which was hard to believe. California had taken us 103 days to complete, but Oregon, even with two zeros, was over in 24. 

Now that Gary was gone, Zach and I scrambled over to the ford to see how bad it was. It was torrential, but narrow, so at worst we were afraid of getting wet. We edged over the thin logs that someone had laid over it. The path involved stepping on a slick slightly-submerged stone, and I nearly lost my balance, resulting in flailing arms and a spike of adrenaline. But then I was safely on the other side, having barely gotten my shoes wet.

We set off on what appeared to be the trail, but we soon lost our way in the tangle of boulders, rocks, and river-saplings. We backtracked, checked our GPS, wandered around some more, bush-whacked through some immature cottonwoods, and at last found ourselves back on the trail.

Almost immediately after, we decided to take a little alternate to see Ramona Falls, which were reportedly beautiful. The trail itself was pretty, with moss and ferns covering everything. We ran into some photographers and other day hikers as we walked, and soon we found the falls, a lacy curtain of water that tumbled down a black cliff face. 

Now we walked on the smooth dirt trail with a carpet of thick moss on either side. Soon the trail split, and we followed our GPS track to the right, walking down an increasingly-unkempt section of trail. At last we found the river crossing, and discovered a demolished bridge lying on its side in the middle of a wide, muddy torrent that cut through the gulley (called the Muddy River; people in Oregon name things in a straightforward way). We groaned, tried to determine if there was any way across, but the bridge was tilted so that it offered no flat surfaces. We decided to backtrack to the other path.

Now we were both thoroughly grumpy and tired, and sped back to the fork and took the left path. Soon we ended up at the Muddy River again, and this crossing looked not much better than the first. The water was narrower here, but the huge log across the river required gymnastics to get across— its ten-foot tall root ball on the opposite side was a barrier that required some expert scrambling/climbing. If I hadn’t had my backpack, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But a 30-pound bag on my back would make it nearly impossible for me, with my skinny little arms, to climb anything. 

For whatever reason, this upset me way more than it should have. I began shaking I was so stressed about it. Zach tried to convince me to try the log, but I kept imagining myself falling off and breaking a leg. At last, snapping at him in my stress, I said I was going to try to cross the river on foot. Zach said he’d take his chances with the log, and handed me his trekking pole.

Using one pole for support and the other as a plumb line, I waded into the muddy water, which was so icy that it sent shocks up my leg. I walked carefully, braced against the swift current, but the river only came up to my knees, and soon I was on the other side. I watched Zach edge across the log and complete some impressive gymnastics that at last resulted in him half-climbing, half-falling over the far side of the root ball. Then we both stood on the opposite bank, him with a few scratches and me with icy soaking feet. I was not in a good mood.

From here the trail took off in a massive uphill climb. As I squelched along in my wet feet, I kept telling myself that this was good training for Washington. A lot of people had said that Washington was nearly as hard as the Sierra, and we had adjusted our expectations accordingly. In Oregon, 24-28 miles was a good day. In Washington, we had agreed to be happy if we could get in 20 a day.

Zach was feeling weak and I was feeling grumpy, but we both pushed through. “Why are you being cranky?” Zach asked.

“I hate my wet feet,” I said.

He nodded, since the complaint made sense to him, and his acknowledgement made me feel like having a better attitude. We chatted with some other hikers, raced along furiously higher up into the mountains, and tried to keep each other’s morale up. 

Whenever we caught a glimpse through the trees behind us, we saw Mount Hood’s sharp peak receding into the distance, although it would be our companion for a couple more days since we were hanging out just across the border for a weekend music festival.

Near the end of the day, we abruptly realized that we were running out of water, and there was nowhere to get any. Annoyed at ourselves for making this mistake again, we hurried onward, zigzagging up some switchbacks. At last, when we were hiking in the dark with our headlamps, we decided that sleep was more important to us than cooking water at this point. We were skirting a steep ridge that fell away on our right, but we scanned the woods to our left with our headlamps. After nearly half an hour, we finally spotted a somewhat flat opening in the trees and settled there. According to our GPS today we had made 24 miles, even with all the setbacks, so we couldn’t complain. We split a Clif bar for dinner, sipped a bit of our remaining liter of water, then flopped down on our sleeping pads and passed out.

I was way too excited for this photo op. Minecraft players will understand.

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