trail

In which my obsession begins…

This post is a little longer, an 8- to 10-minute read. It captures three days in 2014 that started my love affair with backpacking. These are journal entries from the Pacific Crest Trail.
And no, I hadn’t read “Wild” first. :-)

August 16 // Saturday

I’m coming to the end of a great vacation with my extended family on the Oregon coast. Cousins, aunts, uncles, my husband and kids… we’ve spent a wonderful week relaxing, eating, laughing and walking the beaches.

forest_tree_foreground_fogThis all seems like a warm-up, though, for the main event. I have planned a 3-day extension to this family vacation to be able to do some hiking in the Oregon mountains. I had packed all my gear into two of our big suitcases, and I keep sneaking down to my room in our vacation rental home to go through it and double-check that I have everything I need.

I spent the rainy afternoon on a 5-mile walk by myself on a rainforest-like trail, which summited some nearby cliffs. It was a challenging, steep path covered with ferns and fallen trees. I came back sweaty, soggy, soaked and grinning from ear to ear. I think my family suspects I’m crazy. I can’t wait for Monday.

August 18 // Monday

Noon – I drove to Cascade Locks, along the Columbia River, after dropping off Chuck and the kids at the Portland airport and making a quick stop at REI to get bear spray and some other essentials. I’ve scoped out a 30-mile loop hike that first follows a trail well known for its many waterfalls. Then I’ll take a connector route that will bring me to the Pacific Crest Trail. I plan to follow the PCT back into Cascade Locks, and end where the PCT meets the Bridge of the Gods.

1:30 pm – I parked at a laundromat on the Columbia River Highway, and got the okay from the owner to leave my rental car there for a couple of days. There was no way for me to fit all my gear into the small-ish second hand backpack I had, but it had abundant loops and buckles, so I strapped several items on the outside of the pack, including my tent and water jug. I hoisted my heavy pack on with some difficulty and set off in the midday heat.

After half a block, I felt the tent knocking loosely against my hips… I needed to readjust and move it to the top of my pack. In taking off my pack to do so, I broke one of the hip belt buckles. Dang!!! Fortunately, I had duct tape wrapped around one of my hiking poles for emergencies; I was able to repair the buckle and it lasted the rest of the trip. Smug with my McGyver-like problem-solving, I continued on.

Following the map, I found what looked like it could be the starting trailhead. I saw a grizzled old mountain man with a walking stick, long gray beard, panama hat and khaki shorts who was resting at a picnic shelter. I asked him if the trail was nearby. He shrugged, grunted, turned away and didn’t say anything. Turns out the crabby old guy was right at the end of the trail, where I’d emerge 3 days later. Thanks for nothing, Mountain Man! Smile and wave, smile and wave.

I got my bearings, then walked about a mile along a path that followed the busy highway.The path was the historic original Columbia River Highway, built for sightseeing back when cars were first invented. Blackberry heaven! Bushes were overflowing, and I ate my fill as I walked.

It was an unusually hot, sunny day. The asphalt reflected the heat and I was sweating like crazy under my overly heavy pack.

Got to the Eagle Creek trailhead and used the public restroom (last restroom for 3 days!), setting my pack and poles down for a few minutes. I packed back up, fastening my full water bag with a big carabiner to a loop on the top outside flap of my pack. It flopped around loosely, another rookie packing error.

I got about a half mile down the path and realized I was dropping stuff. Crap! The water bag was heavy and, bumping around, it had yanked the outside pocket down and I had dropped several items. I backtracked almost all the way back to the trailhead, and had the sudden awful feeling that one of the things that must have dropped out was my phone charger. Never found it. I stopped again, rearranged my stuff one more time and set off. FINALLY on the trail!

5pm – I stopped at Punchbowl Falls, after a mildly challenging 2.5 miles of uphill hiking. This was a beautiful trail, but I’m already tired and ready to camp. According to the map, though, I need to wait until after High Falls to find a campsite. Still have a couple miles to go. Took a quick break to get my feet wet in the falls – the mountain-melt water was awesome, sweet COLD.

Sun is dipping behind the trees now. I hope I can make a little better time.

7pm – I set up camp just north of High Falls at a gorgeous site on a ridge above Eagle Creek Trail. After the day hikers passed me during late afternoon, a solitary chipmunk is the only companion I’ve seen. The trees are ENORMOUS. Blue sky above when I look straight up; sound of rushing water in the river a hundred yards below. I felt no fear or apprehension, just peace.

I claim this place as HOLY GROUND. Please keep me safe, Lord.

August 19 // Tuesday

6am – I woke to dim daylight, aching all over!! My sleepmat is leaky. The sleeping bag was surprisingly comfortable, though. Glad I brought my summerweight one; the night was warm.

I’m having some tea and oatmeal, journaling for a few minutes in the quiet, and then I’ll break camp. I’m going to try for Wahtum Lake by midday (10 miles), then another 2-3 miles by nightfall. If I can do 12+ miles today, tomorrow will be 14 or less.

I am in desperate need of a shower already, after less than 24 hours. I STINK!!! I guess stink comes with the territory when backpacking. (An understatement, perhaps?) Amazingly, no blisters yet! These Coleman hiking boots from Farm & Fleet aren’t very good, and the rock paths yesterday felt like they were beating up my feet at each turn.

Thank you, God, for the incredible gift of physical healing that has made this trip possible. My back surgery was only 2.5 years ago, and my right toe surgery only 10 months ago! I’m amazed at how you have carried me along through all my physical and emotional challenges. I know you’ll carry me through this short one as well. :)

Thank You for safe passage and the solitude, and this wonderful opportunity. Please keep my feet steady, my mind alert, and Your hand upon me. I ask you to bless this day and all it holds. 

“Be still, and know that I am God.” I just found that scribbled on an earlier page in this journal — from a year ago, when Pam was helping me work through some overwhelming stuff in my work life. I just looked up and saw the blue sky, framed by huge evergreens, and not even a breeze rippling through. STILLNESS. And the sound of the mighty, ancient river below reminds me that YOU ARE GOD and created all things, and I cannot stand in Your way any more than a boulder in the stream can stop the water. Thank You for letting me experience the flow of being part of the water, rather than being a boulder in it! :) 

This experience so far makes it very appealing to plan a longer stretch — the Appalachain Trail next year, maybe? :)

Right after I left my campsite, I came to two spectacular waterfalls, including Tunnel Falls, which fell at least 3 stories and had a tunnel cut through the rock to pass behind it… amazing! I wish I had enough phone power to photograph it, but without the charger, I opted to play it safe and preserve my phone’s battery in case of emergency.

Shortly after Tunnel Falls, as I sat to take a quick break, I saw “God with us” written small on a rock near me. I picked up a flint and scratched a cross above it on the rock. Just before that, prior to reaching High Falls, I saw a handwritten sign that said “You made it!” If only that had been true! The day was just beginning.

1pm – Indian Springs Campground

Wow! The past 5 hours could have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! It took me that long to cover 2 miles of steep UP on the connector trail which brought me to a deserted mountaintop campground wherethe Pacific Crest Trail passes through. The handful of hikers I passed this morning — all going the opposite direction! — commented on the steep climb I had in front of me. They weren’t kidding! There were long stretches where I was climbing with my hands and feet, grabbing tree trunks and saplings to help me forward. With the altitude, I had to stop every 100-200 steps (I counted them!) to catch my breath. Crossed a stretch of rockfall and had a hard time finding the trail. I cannot believe how hard this has been.

Now a brief rest, lunch, then on to Wahtum Lake to find a campsite. Thank you, God, for the sure footing and endurance I needed to get here… like “hinds’ feet” in high places! <3

[Right after I wrote the above entry, a doe stepped into the clearing where I was sitting!!!! Unfazed by me, she walked within 10 feet of me, nibbling the branches. On my way to finding the PCT junction, I saw her two fawns in the brush. It was AWESOME.]

Over my lunch break — which I ended up extending long enough so my sweat-soaked clothes could dry in the sunshine — I examined my blisters. I realized my big toe nail was raised by about 1/8″ off the nailbed by a blood blister. I got out my emergency first aid kit and popped it with the scissors, applied antibiotic, then wrapped it in gauze to cushion it.

I eased into my now-too-tight boots, and it hurt like blazes to walk. But that was just one more pain to add to the mix! My glutes and the bottoms of my feet were BURNING from the morning’s uphill climb! After reviewing my maps, I figured out that I had climbed two miles in five hours. I’ll have to look up the altitude later, but I was amazed that I did it.

All morning, I kept thinking that surely I would crest the mountain around the next turn in the trail. But Indian Spring Campground was at the very top of the mountain!! Counting my steps seemed to make time pass faster. I’d count to 100, then start over. I usually couldn’t make it past 100 or 150 before I had to stop for air.

That’s so like You, God: You shield me from the challenge around the corner until I’m already making progress through it, one step at a time.

The campground was deserted and unused, at the end of a long fire road, but it had a sweet, fresh spring where I drank my fill of water and refilled my bottles for the rest of the day. I sweat out every drop of the gallon of water I drank during the morning. And still I didn’t need to pee! Not good…

August 20 // Wednesday

I am SO glad I bought a long-sleeve shirt before leaving. I needed it last night! Chilly night, weird dreams. In the last one, I dreamed I was one of several people chosen at random to get on stage at a comedy club and perform a 5-minute act. Thankfully I woke up just before it was my turn to go on stage! LOL

Good morning, Lord! Thank you for a safe, uneventful night in the wilderness. That’s what this is. I haven’t seen a single soul since Indian Springs, and I know this is a less traveled section of the PCT because of Halfmile’s guide notes. In spots the trail is almost overgrown with low-growth ferns. Gorgeous! But also a little scary, as it’s evidence that I am COMPLETELY alone here. I am so glad to be doing this, but I think for future trips I want to make sure to camp at night with a friend, even if we’re separated during the day.

As I prepare to make the last leg of this short journey, Lord, can I ask you please to bless this day and all it holds?

I woke up this morning in a fog. No sounds all night long. Made breakfast and tea while bundled in my sleeping bag. It got really cold overnight; down to 45 degrees. Pooped in the woods for the first time after breaking camp. WOOT! :) I know, TMI.

After I hit the trail around 7am, I immediately started descending, and continued to do so for the next 6 hours. Shortly into the day’s hike, I realized I wasn’t in the fog, but had camped in the clouds! I looked back and could see the trail disappear into the cloud above me. WILD. I’m headed for the Columbia River Gorge now, at sea level far below me.

I stopped on a windy pass to video the clouds and mist blowing past me. I turned my phone on, and a bunch of texts came through. Then it went from about 35% power down to 0 and shut off. So no pix from the last day! :( I pray I don’t have any emergencies today.

The cedar trail today is soft underfoot. For much of the morning I was able to jog downhill, making good time. I could see the river in the distance, so I thought I’d surely be there in an hour or two. But NO! The trail kept winding in switchbacks down and around the mountains, with about 3 miles of up-and-down in a beautiful woods at the end, with several little creeks and streams. The only wildlife I saw was 11 slugs. I counted. Ick.

I finally emerged from the woods at the Bridge of the Gods, although I didn’t pay the fee to walk out on it. I was too tired anyway. :) When I finally got back to the car, I found the phone’s power pack in the back seat. [Thank You, God! You are SO good!] 

Found a cheap Motel 6 room, stopped at Dollar Tree for detergent, then Walmart for $1 flipflops for my sore feet. While in line at Walmart, my cousin Jeff texted asking if I wanted to get dinner with him and Colleen. ABSOLUTELY. I was starving!

Drove down to Oregon City to meet them and see their homes, visit my Aunt Teri briefly, then go to dinner. Oregon City is a cool little town. It was great to catch up with them.

August 21 // Thursday – flying home this afternoon

 

What’s been awesome about this journey has been the constant dialogue I’ve had with You, God. Maybe it’s been a monologue. I seem to do all the talking. :) But You answered my prayers by filling my mind with hope when I start thinking ugly thoughts and steer my mind back to safer pastures.

And You prompted me to choose the right places to camp, and when to stop, and look around. The view yesterday as I came out of the cloud was unbelievably awesome! I wish I could have captured on camera the vistas. Help me remember them so I can write about them later. :)