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Timberline Trail : Day Two

Timberline Trail: Day Two

Posted Mar 31

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By Marea Bartram
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In the morning, we broke camp and I immediately fell into a hole up to my armpits.


Misha and I had just crossed Muddy Fork River on two big logs that formed a bridge. I grabbed my iPhone as I stepped from the log, fumbling with the lock screen to open the camera. I saw the hole in front of me as I turned and stepped backward to fit Kirk in the screen. I was balancing on the edge, but the ground gave way under my body and the weight of my pack. I fell and pain shot through my right hip.

“Help me! I’m stuck!” I cried.

“How did you…?” said Kirk, shaking his head.

(These situations happen a lot.)

“Don’t you dare laugh. Just get me out of here.”

Kirk yanked me out by one arm. I was bleeding from a gash where my thigh scraped sharp roots on the way down. Several purple bruises were rising on my leg and arm, but I was not broken, thank God.


Misha is three feet of solid muscle. He and I have been hiking together since he was a few months old and we know each other’s moves. He pulls me up hills and lets me use him as leverage when we are climbing. Rivers freak him out. As soon as he hears the river, he pulls hard and whines. Sometimes, it is all I can do to stay on my feet when we are on loose river rocks.

As we switchbacked up through an old Western hemlock forest to a trail junction where the PCT continued north toward Eagle Creek, Misha did a lot of the work. Then the Timberline Trail turned east toward McGee Creek and we followed.

We were climbing up and over steep stairs of exposed and whitened roots like the skeletal remains of a ginormous animal. It was slow going, and hoards of black flies divebombed our faces and bit through our clothes. They seemed attracted by the 100% Deet that we had lacquered over our skin. They made it impossible to rest for more than a few seconds.

They attacked Misha who climbed with his tail tucked and his head down. Suddenly, something dark brown the size of a quarter flew at him. I heard its deep buzz as it lumbered through the air. I batted at it but missed. It swerved and circled for another assault. This time I knocked it into the brush and out of sight.

“Did you see that thing?” I asked rubbing the spot on my hand where I could still feel the impact.

“What was it?”

“I don’t know! That wasn’t natural,” Kirk said.

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Finally, we stepped out on the top of the ridge where the trees opened to reveal the first mountain sighting of the day. This had been a beautiful resting spot the year before, crowded with other hikers, eating or resting while drinking in the view. This time we were alone with the persistent flies and the mountain shrouded in smoke. We kept going toward the Ladd Creek crossing. Despite its name, Ladd Creek was another violent and roaring torrent of snowmelt (this one from the Glisan Glacier), which we crossed with careful, deliberate boulder hopping.

On the long, steep climb out of the canyon, I admitted to myself that my feet were hurting and not just trail sore. I had purchased wider boots, but they weren’t wide enough to keep my toes from smashing their tender bottoms under the adjacent toes with all the weight of my body and pack drilling into them. I’ve hiked with blisters and sore feet, but this pain was not like that. It was excruciating, debilitating. I finally stopped and wrapped each toe to try to keep it separated from its neighbor. I could hardly get my boots back on. I did my best to reassure Kirk that I would be fine.

We were in the skeletal remains of the forest where the Dollar Lake Fire of 2011 had destroyed 6,300 acres in the two months that it burned. Flowers rose from the ashes, Aster stars, Indian Paintbrush, Queen Anne’s Lace, Lupine and of course purple Fireweed, the first colonizer after a forest fire. There is something surreal and brave in a burned forest. It’s heartbreaking, hopeful and resilient all at the same time.


When we entered Cairn Basin, we decided to check out the stone shelter which had been built in the 1930’s by the CCC to protect hikers from brutal storms. It sits just off the trail, a stalwart little building with a sloped roof and stubby chimney. Inside the floor was packed earth. In one corner stones formed a small fireplace. In the center of the floor stood an overflowing bag of trash. (Perhaps left by the same person who defecated on the riverbank?) We had every single scrap of our garbage in zipper baggies in our packs. We were far from civilization; we couldn’t do anything other than hope that a good Samaritan day hiker would pick up someone else’s slack.

The Timberline Trail is all ups and downs, river canyons and ridges. On the ridge above Elk Cove we could not quite make out Adams and Rainier through the fire haze, but we knew they were there. We could see flat fields and bare rolling hills and we celebrated. We had walked to Eastern Oregon.

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As we descended to Elk Cove the hillsides were covered with Anemone occidentals. I couldn’t think of the name “Lorax”, so I just called them Dr. Seuss plants because of their fluffy white heads balancing on thick, long stems.


We took a break at Elk Cove to soak our sore feet in the icy water of Coe Creek. We were surrounded by bright Monkey Flowers in the shadow of Coe Glacier on the mountain above. The cold water hurt after a minute. As we nibbled our trail mix, counterclockwise hikers told us that the water at Cloud Cap Campground had been shut off. Eliot Creek was a steep mile below and the next source beyond that unknown to us. Unless we wanted to dry camp (we did not), we would have to find somewhere to camp before the Eliot.

We met up with a couple sitting on a fallen log, consulting a map. We told them what we had learned about Cloud Cap which made them change their plans as well. We leap-frogged with them for a couple miles and caught up with them again at Compass Creek where the water broiled and roared. I watched with a mixture of envy and scorn as the man crossed, dropped his pack and returned to get his wife’s pack.

“Whatever,” I thought.

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After Compass Creek, we had 0.7 miles until we would come to the second branch of Compass Creek. We pushed ourselves hard to get out of the canyon. We passed a campsite well below the trail with no water is sight, so we didn’t stop. Then we were at the top of the next river canyon with no clue what to do.

“Kirk, look,” I said nodding toward a small dusty ledge surrounded by squat pines.

I whispered it, as if the couple behind us would swoop in and take it like someone stealing your parking spot at the grocery store. Kirk didn’t hesitate. He stepped onto the ledge and dropped his pack.

“I will set up the tent, if you want to get water,” I said.

The tent just fit. We could barely walk around it, but it fit. Soon the couple came by and I waved to them feeling a wave of guilt as if I had stolen their parking space. They would have to backtrack to the site we had rejected and in the process of going that, the man lost his map. (We dubbed him “Map Guy”, of course. After a lot of searching his wife found it in his backpack.)

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We ate and packed up our garbage. The trees were so short that there was no possibility of hanging a bear bag. Kirk stuffed all the food in his backpack and lashed it to the branch of one of the trees behind the tent.

“A bear might get it,” he said. "But he's gonna have to work hard!"

Looking around at the low trees on the hillside behind us, the sandy soil beneath us and the boulders beyond, we were both thinking less about bears and more about cougars, although neither of us said this out loud. Kirk brought a rock, about the size of a grapefruit, but jagged on one side and put it into the tent. I didn’t object.

After a long day of lugging a third of our weight up and down steep hills, we could barely get in the tent. It hurt to bend, so we just sort of threw ourselves at the tiny opening of a door and hoping for the best. Misha loves tent time. He leaps into the tent and makes a nest with his sleeping bag and doesn’t move until morning.

Somehow, after we were all in, I caught my hair in the zipper. I began to thrash and tear at my head.

“You have to stop,” Kirk yelled slapping at my hands.

“Stop yelling at me!” I cried still trying to pull out my hair.

I got it together enough for him to work the zipper loose. Ten minutes later, he was still talking about the implausibility of getting my head stuck in the tent zipper.

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I am so claustrophobic that when I even look at a picture of our tent my chest constricts. I keep the fly pulled off my side, so I can see through the netting even when it is cold. But as the natural light fades and I can’t see outside, panic rises.

Kirk fell asleep. I rolled to my back to look for stars but felt exposed and nauseous. On my stomach, I started to itch. I popped three Benadryl and a half hour later, I popped three more. I told myself that I could not feel itchy. Then I started thinking about my wrists and my ankles and how sore they felt when I bent them, but I couldn’t stop bending them and I couldn’t remember what I usually did with them while I slept. Then I had to pee, so I groped for my headlamp, made a me-sized hole in the zipper and found a spot.


As the night wore on, I would start to relax, and my mind would rush with a jumble of incoherent conversations. I would jerk awake and try to control the panic. I’d throw myself out of the tent just to breathe. Every single hour, I had to pee. Then things escalated, and I had to take the shovel and scrape a hole into the hard ground with my back to cougar-land. This went on and on. I worried that we would have to bail again. I didn’t see how I could go on with my damaged feet and lack of sleep. I knew how much finishing meant to Kirk, so I desperately prayed for the strength to do whatever Kirk wanted to do.

“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”


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