Thursday, August 20, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 119: Big Lake Youth Camp

DAY 119
August 21st, Thursday
1195 to 2018

We woke up early the next morning, feeling thoroughly rested and ready to bust out some miles to get to the Big Lake Youth Camp at mile 2002. We packed up quickly and set out through the volcanic landscape, soon delving into a forest, and then a massive burned area that stretched as far as the eye could see, undulating over the hills.

We followed the trail down toward a valley, where Big Lake was tucked. We paused to take a photo of some stones arranged on the trail, marking the mileage at, “2000.”

It was hard to believe that we had come this far. It was hard to believe that I now knew what it was like to hike two thousand miles. 

“It’s weird,” I said to Zach. “This thousand miles seemed a lot shorter than the last thousand.”

Being able to make a statement like that was even weirder.

At last the burned trees changed to live ones, and soon after, we saw the detour for the Big Lake Youth Camp. Run by a Christian organization, the camp allowed hikers to come and mill about with their youth in what is possibly the biggest lawsuit waiting to happen ever. But Zach and I were excited at the idea of getting a cheap meal and access to a hiker box, so we hurried on.

We checked in at the camp headquarters, and the girl at the front desk brought us two resupply boxes (food and shoes), as well as a card from Zach’s sister Ivy! Ivy had sent us a card with encouraging notes and some cash. We were really excited now.

The girl showed us to the laundry station, then said that we could shower at the cabin shower house (again, this seemed to be asking for a lawsuit, but we didn’t argue). There was even an entire cabin set aside for hikers, featuring a leather couch, a power strip, a table, and a massive pile of hiker boxes.

Zach and I went into the hiker cabin and said hi to everyone, rifling through the boxes, amazed at what we found. We ended up scoring nearly twenty energy and candy bars, both from the boxes and fellow hikers who were sick of them, and we ate ourselves silly on energy bars and candy.

We took showers, trying to keep them short to conserve water. Standing in my rain jacket and shorts and flip-flops in the girls’ bathroom, I brushed my hair, feeling very clean.

A young teenager walked in, looking at me curiously. “Are you a PCT hiker?” she asked, a bit shyly.

“Yup! I just took my first shower in two weeks.”

“Wow.” She grinned, a twinkle in her eye. “I just brushed my teeth for the first time in two weeks!” Then she giggled and scurried off.

I went outside and found Zach, wet-haired and self-consciously walking around a youth camp wearing only a rain jacket and long underwear. I teased him about causing young Christian girls to stumble.

We were able to get our laundry before we went to eat lunch in the dining hall, fortunately, so Zach got decent again before we entered into the crowd with all the young teenagers. We ate turkey sandwiches, chips, and lemonade. Zach and I sat at a table mostly full of hikers, although a couple kids joined us as well. We chatted with Zen Dawg about meditation and his hometown of Ashville, NC, and also talked with one teenager who was curious about the PCT. She had been horseback riding earlier today, and the horse had gotten scared by some hikers and thrown her to the ground. Oregon horses just seemed to have a poor track record.

We returned to the hiker hut and began opening our resupply boxes and sorting our food. When I unpacked our shoe box, I stared in horror.

I knew that I was getting boots this time, rather than trail runners. However, in my memory, the boots (an adorable shade of purple) had been small and lightweight, perfect for backpacking. But now I stared at them, compared to the trail runners I’d been wearing the past 2,000 miles, and they looked impossibly huge and bulky. They looked like something a day-hiker would wear.

All the other hikers stared in horror as I pulled them out. “They’re huge,” someone said.

“They seemed so much smaller when I packed them,” I said. I put them on my feet and laced them up. They were comfortable enough (and looked really cute), but it felt like I had lead weights attached to my feet. I laughed it off, remembering how uncomfortable my new shoes had seemed back in Kennedy Meadows, but I decided to hang onto my old beat-up trail runners, just in case.

We hung out for a while longer, but as usually, I felt antsy and ready to get back plowing through miles. After chatting with Zen Dawg some more, we packed up and headed back to the trail. Timothy Lake was getting within striking distance, and the thought of meeting family there was motivation to hike steadily. We checked out at the desk, dropped some cash in the donation box, bought an Italian soda, then hit the trail.

We wound along a dusty road for a while, at last rejoining the PCT as it cut a narrow track through flat woodland full of meadows. There were maps of the area posted periodically, but they were obviously meant for skiers because they were all posted about ten feet up on trees or poles. There were also signs at every trail crossing that vehicles were prohibited, even when we were out in the middle of the woods. The trail was dusty, and my boots, although heavy, kept the dust out quite nicely. I was still uncertain about the boots, and walking with them was more difficult, but they seemed okay.

The trail took us along the edge of Three-Fingered Jack, often with breathtaking views of plains and volcanic cones. We crossed over a shoulder of the mountain with ragged jutting peaks to our right, then switchbacked down into a pleasant valley, and then delved into another huge burned area.

At last we decided we had gone far enough for the day, and decided to camp near a couple small lakes. They were surrounded by burned trees, so we tried to find a place least likely to be smashed by a falling trunk and set up camp near the edge of the lake. There was a deer there (not a mule deer, I noted— its ears were too small) chewing on something, and we discovered that some poor soul had left behind a whole bag of trail mix and a copy of Harry Potter. The former had been chewed up by the deer, so we buried it beneath a heavy rock to discourage wildlife from eating it.

We could see Mount Washington from here, shrouded in clouds, and Three-Fingered Jack’s jagged peaks. Clouds were rolling in everywhere, so we put on the rainfly and decided to eat our mashed potatoes in the tent, forgetting the blustery world outside.



  1. Hope your shoe's work out for you. Nice photos

  2. Hope your shoe's work out for you. Nice photos

  3. Worried about the shoes...not good to change midstream (mid-hike) but your feet will tell you!!