PCT Week Four
BIG LAKE TO BRIDGE OF THE GODS
07/26 to 08/07
We had walked over three hundred miles to get to Big Lake and Misha! Now he was with me, his leash hooked onto the waist strap of my backpack. Hiking life back to normal.
We left Big Lake and hiked toward Santiam Pass picking up a thick cloud of mosquitoes as we went. We hadn't had to deal with them for three days and we were beside ourselves as they swarmed and buzzed again. Rather than stopping to apply Deet and our head nets, we ran our butts off. We never could tell how long cell service would last when we had it. I stopped once to place an order on Amazon.
A word of caution. Never EVER order clothing from Amazon while standing in the middle of a trail in sun glare with mosquito’s divebombing your face. I thought I was ordering some cute purple running shorts, but when we picked them up at our next resupply, they were bright blue, knee length boys' basketball shorts.
We left the mosquitoes behind when we crossed over Santiam Pass and entered the Jefferson Wilderness into more burned forest. The sandy trail wound upward through small Lodgepole pines that offered little shade. By noon, the trail was hot to the touch. Misha and I ran from one piece of shade to the next to give his paws a break.
We had planned shorter days so that Misha could acclimate to hiking again. We wanted to go about five miles on the first day to a pond on the south side of Three Fingered Jack. As we climbed, the ground fell away to our right and we could see ponds far, far below. We hiked on and on in the first real heat of our journey swilling water until we realized that we had less than a liter left. The situation quickly worsened when we could not find the pond. We took a faint boot path and began a steep descent. This seemed wrong, so we retraced our steps and tried another path. We soon realized that we had two options. Waste time and energy on trying to find the elusive pond or continue hiking. We decided to keep going. We had a long climb ahead and at least six miles to the next water source. We realized that we had to save the little water we had for Misha.
This was one of the worst moments of the hike for me. I wanted to lie down and kick and scream. I wanted water more than anything and I felt that I could not go on. I began to see black patches in my vision and to feel dizzy. I stripped off my pack and tore everything out of it looking for something to put in my mouth. I had a bag of chewy Lemonhead and Friends candy that I put in my pocket and as I dragged myself up steep switchbacks, I showed piece after piece in my mouth. While this made me thirstier, I felt a grim satisfaction in eating every piece.
At last we met a day hiker who mentioned a patch of snow up ahead. Hope flooded us and gave us the boost we needed. Sure enough, we found a small patch above the trail on a steep hillside. Kirk climbed up and sat with his heels dug into the dirt to steady himself. He held the stove and tried to fill it with snow. The grade was intense and as soon as he began to chip away at the hard pack, mosquitoes swarmed around his head.
Mosquitoes can and did hatch in the teeniest patch of snow. The Aedes mosquito lives its short life on plant juices, but the female is crazy for blood right before she lays eggs and apparently, it was that time.
As soon as Kirk finished filling the stove, I climbed up and grabbed it. Something told me to take it down the trail to a flat spot where I could light the stove and melt it while Kirk tried to pack our water bottles with snow. Misha and I went about twenty yards. Miracles do happen. We discovered a 10' x 10' pond. We wrapped ourselves in our headnets and Misha in a shirt to protect us from the bugs while we filtered our water. We filled every bottle we had despite the climb ahead. No way we were going to let that happen again.
We climbed around Three Fingered Jack, stopping to take pictures of the rugged striated edifice. Unfortunately, due to the afternoon lighting, none of the many photos that we took really show the rich colors of the mountain. We climbed down the long, shale switchbacks. Misha did a great job on the rough terrain, but vertigo hit me as it often does when I am walking down the side of a cliff. I felt like I was being pulled toward the edge where I would inevitably fall. I cannot walk and enjoy the view. I have to keep my eyes on the trail or stop to look around.
After Three Fingered Jack, we headed toward Wasco Lake which was in a heavy burn area. The burn area was resplendent with ponds, most small and full of weeds and muck without a suitable place to put a tent. My feet were throbbing. 1.5 miles short of the lake, we found a flat spot for our tent in a dry, dust bowl across the trail from a small, murky pond. The sun seemed attracted to the spot, as if we were in the center of a magnifying glass. But I felt as if I could not walk another step.
Kirk dropped his pack and walked a little farther to see if he could spot something better. Misha paced and whined as we waited for Kirk to return. He hates it when his pack is separated. The pain in my feet no longer subsided when I sat down. I wondered how I would make it another 140 miles. Kirk soon returned. He had found a large pond with a hard mud-packed shoreline just big enough for our tent. We grabbed our stuff and rushed down the trail as fast as we could drag our weary bodies. We knew that other hikers were close on our tail. As so often happened during our hike, we slipped in just before trickles of other hikers began to flow by, stopping to top off water and to stare wistfully at our tent site by the pond. I always felt a little guilt sprinkled with relief.
In the pond we spotted a black snake with a long yellow stripe on his back gliding in the water near the shore. I had read on our trail app, Guthook, other hikers’ comments about a snake that lived in a pond near Wasco Lake. Now, I realized that this must be the pond and the snake of legend. All through Southern Oregon, I had hoped to see a rattlesnake, in fact, I had worried that I would see them at every turn. But this was our second snake of the trip and both were common Garters.
The next morning, we passed Wasco Lake sparkling down below the trail, unperturbed by the devastation surrounding it.
We looked back to Three Fingered Jack lost in its own cloud in an otherwise bright, blue morning.
As we hiked on, Misha and I pulled ahead. We saw figures approaching from the north, three or four middle-aged guys outfitted in camo and gear, armed and marching in step. I glanced back hoping that Kirk would hurry and catch up. I didn’t like their solemn expressions or the way they stared at me without moving their heads. Misha and I stepped off the trail, even though we had the right-of-way. Something told me that they weren’t going to deviate for us. The hair on the back of Misha's neck rose and my arms broke out with goosebumps. They descended in perfect file, a weird and disconcerting site on the PCT in the middle of nowhere.
Since we had cut short our zero day and hiked much farther than we had intended, we planned to stop early and take a half day at the charming Rockpile Lake. When we first approached, we saw a small mucky pond right where Guthook had the lake. Our hearts sank as we took in the weed choked water and soft muddy shore.
"This can't be it!" I said, thinking of the 15.5 miles that separated us from our next campsite. "I refuse to believe that this is it!"
I didn't stop. I kept going and sure enough, just a few yards down the trail we found Rockpile Lake complete with charm. We got there just before noon and we spent the day relaxing in the sun.
When we left the next morning, Misha started to limp. He favored his left rear foot until I wrapped it in gauze and tape. Then he seemed fine walking on it. We struggled to keep it covered as every which way we taped it, the bandage would work its way off, and Misha would limp again.
Sometimes we would round a bend in the trail and see a magnificent view spread out before us, such as this first glimpse of Mt. Jefferson's south side.
The day after Rockpile Lake we hiked 15.5 miles to Jeff Creek, a small stream in the middle of a burned forest. We had intended to stay at Shale Lake, but we didn't realize that we needed a permit. We hiked 7.0 miles farther than we had planned and had to cross Milk Creek, which was our first swollen, roiling river crossing of the trip. It looked as if we would be able to rock hop across, but the bank that rose high over the water on the other side was a fragile shelf of snow. We couldn’t climb onto the shelf. The snow would have broken off and plunged us into the water. We studied the opposite bank to find a place where we could make it to the solid snowbank. We headed upstream trying to talk above the roaring of the creek. We finally found a spot where we would not break through.
Once again, we found ourselves in a fire zone, unexpected since it had burned after the publication of our guidebook. We tried to come up with better options, but against our better judgment, we had to set up camp in the middle of the skeletal forest. We had to pray that none of the weakened trees would fall on us. We were a few feet from the creek where life flourished on its banks in sharp contrast to the soot and charcoal for miles on either side of us. We were filthy. It is impossible to get cleaned up in a burned area.
In the morning, we crossed Russell Creek, boiling and raging from Jefferson's snow melt, but we crossed it early and without mishap.
We hiked into Jefferson Park, one of those places of beauty which cannot be captured in a photo. As we rounded the mountain on its west side, the views were more striking with each step.
Mt. Jefferson is the second highest mountain in Oregon, at 10,502 feet compared with Mt. Hood's 11,250. It is long which makes it seem lower, but it is so rugged, especially after the smooth prominence of South Sister that we had encountered the week before.
When I hike, I take a small bottle of Larry's ashes with m and when I find a splendid, worthy place, I leave a bit of him. Devil's Peak, Crater Lake, Wickiup Plain, Jefferson Park...Now he is there, making those places even more beautiful.
We had to drag ourselves away from the park and endure a horrendous climb on loose scree. We didn't take one picture, but we don't need pictures to remember stopping every couple dozen steps to rest, although we were now in the best shape of our lives. We came to a high meadow crisscrossed with paths and streams and wildflowers.
As we climbed up and around, we kept turning back for that final shot.
As we climbed up and around, we kept turning back for that final shot.
But soon, we were looking ahead as Mt. Hood grew in the distance. Mt. Hood was home! Sure, we would hike past home, but a few days later, we would leave the trail and return to our soft beds. We had about a week to go.
After the long descent from Jefferson, we began to climb in the Breitenbush area. We found a pond where we took a break and replenished our water supply. When we unharnessed Misha, he rolled and rolled on the grass to wipe away the feel of his backpack. Then he stretched out in the sun to engage in an intense grooming session.
Our next stop was Olallie Lake, where friends were meeting us with our resupply and where we planned to take a zero day. We were a day ahead of schedule and that felt good.
We had a lot of hot trail after the pond with no shady spots to which we could run, so I ended up carrying Misha so that his feet would not burn. Misha weighs a bit more than my backpack, so I had to rest often.
I have little to no memory of hiking the rest of the way to the lake. I can tell you that the last mile before every resort seemed like a torturous eternity as we fantasized about food and drink and any other amenities that we knew awaited us.
Olallie had the least amenities of any of the resorts we hit along the way. No showers or laundry, no flush toilets, restaurants or any of the other “luxuries” for which we longed.
They had a store. We realized too late, that the store only accepted cash. We had $57.00. We spent every penny. Due to the inflated prices, we didn't get a lot for our money. (Example: It cost thirteen dollars to buy the bread, jelly and peanut butter for sandwiches.)
We stayed at Head Lake, a short walk from Olallie. Camping at Head Lake is free. There isn't a lot of access to the water, but we climbed down some boulders onto a raft that was attached to the shore by a rope. We did our laundry (and I tried not to notice the layer of grease riding atop the water, suntan oil from a family playing in the lake.) We rested in the sun. That evening, some friends of Kirk's from his mail route drove down to meet us.
The Offers and two of their friends brought us our resupply box and fed us; they BBQed steaks and fixings for Kirk and made a vegetarian alternative for me! Real food after so long!
An exhausted Misha lounged on one of the camp chairs. His back foot was still bothering him, and he looked pathetic wrapped up in a blanket. Jerry and Ruth wanted to take him home with them. They didn’t know what they were suggesting. To say that Misha is challenging is an enormous understatement, but that night he did nothing but doze in the chair and accept bites of steak, pretending to be so calm and cuddly. After our zero day, he seemed better. He began to bark at people as they dared to walk by his tent. We carefully examined his foot for a wound, but we couldn’t see anything. We had learned that a Band-Aid and some tape did the trick and kept him walking normally.
We left Olallie on the morning of 07/31/19 and hiked into the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. The PCT winds through the reservation for about 25 miles and has a narrow right-of-way corridor. It is mostly easy, but viewless hiking.
It is amazing how even in tall trees, much of the trail is directly in the sun. I ended up carrying Misha like a suitcase. Not only did he not mind, he seemed to like the rides.
We camped at Lemiti Meadows on the reservation. The site had a log to sit on, and a table made of stumps and a long flat board. What luxury. We were close to a stream that was still flowing but would dry up before long.
After we established ourselves, we began to see some things that made us nervous. Just across the trail, we found a log that had been torn to pieces and had bear written all over it. After this we tried to hang a bear bag, our first one since Crater Lake.
Have you ever tried to hang a bear bag, to attach the rope to a weight, most likely a rock and then try to throw it over a high branch? The bag is supposed to hang off a branch far enough from the trunk so that if the bear climbed the tree, he couldn't reach it. We didn't see many branches that met these parameters and were big enough to support a bag. As happens sometimes, the rope ended up wrapping itself around the branch several times, and try as we might, we could not retrieve it. We triple bagged our food instead.
And then we noticed other things. A persistent squeak, that sounded like the swaying of an old playground swing, soft sighing, a baby's cry (cougar?). Then we noticed the downed trees. Dozens of them. Of course, they had been there the whole time, but we it wasn’t until we looked up at the standing trees that we started to really worry. The trees were all dying! The wind began to blow high up in the canopy I opened Guthook and read that just a few days before another hiker had had to a tree crash down next to her tent in the night.
I left Kirk and Misha at the camp and in the dimming light, I scouted up the trail for somewhere else to stay. But as far as I went, I saw the same thing, graying pines with drooping branches, either diseased or infested by beetles. We had to stay and hope for the best. We prayed. I decided it wasn't worth worrying about and fell asleep. When I awoke around midnight, the wind had stopped blowing and all was still.
The next day, August 1st, we saw our first signs of autumn.
And our first sign that we were really, really close to home!
We also saw our second sign of bear. Unmistakable course brown hair caught on a shredded post.
We saw an old-school diamond-shaped, baked enamel Pacific Crest Trail sign. Most of these have been replaced by the new Reuleaux triangle signs.
The day before, we met a couple hikers who told us stories of a lady who had sandwiches and sodas for hikers at Clackamas Lake Horse Camp. We would just catch her, as she was planning to leave the next morning. I feigned indifference but hiked furiously anyway from Lemeti Meadows covering almost twenty miles to get to the camp. We were weary and footsore when we saw a sign pointing the way to food.
At last we saw a meadow that borders Clackamas Lake. Although, we didn't see the lake itself (a small, shallow affair per the guidebook), we stopped to take in the meadow. The photo cannot capture the stunning yellow of the waving grass.
Connie is a warm and welcoming presence on the PCT. Every year she brings supplies to the lake in her horse trailer. Along with her horse, and her giant dog, almost the size of her horse, she brings tables sets up a shelter. Inside she puts out bread, various meats and cheeses, chips, sodas, candy and more. For a week she feeds hikers. While she does have a donation box, most of the money comes from her own pocket. She recycles cans throughout the year to help fund her efforts. She loves meeting people from all over the world and she says this is her primary reason for doing it.
Kirk and I literally ate the last four slices of bread. We drank sodas and stuffed our pockets with candy. We had borrowed some cash from our friends at Olallie Lake (the place that only takes cash), and now we donated the balance of our meager supply.
Refreshed from the food and sitting in comfortable lawn chairs, we hiked on to Timothy Lake, and made it a 21.2-mile day. Misha's record! It felt so good to be at Timothy Lake. Every day we were a little closer to home.
We shared our sloping campsite with a man and his daughter from Kansas. We had seen them a few times along the trail and had chatted with them. The dad looked tired and seemed to be having some issues. They were trying to make plans to go to Government Camp and then catch a ride up to Timberline to avoid the long, sandy climb to the lodge. Cell service non-existent at the lake. They left the next morning, but we saw them when we arrived at Timberline, waiting in line for the bus that would take them to Portland and then to the airport. People come and go on the trail as you "hike your own hike" which basically means go at your own pace and don't feel pressured by others. Sometimes you meet up with people you never thought you would see again and at other times you smoke others or get smoked.
Home sweet home!
Misha was content to stay deep in the covers until we took the tent down around him. Then I would wrap him up in my down jacket while he waited for us to pack. His foot didn't seem to bug him anymore. We didn't have to replace the bandage again!
At the last minute, we would slip the straps of his pack over his head and then he would be more than happy to get going.
Just north of FR 58, we found the most important sign of the trail. Fortunately, huckleberries abounded which made us feel a little safer as we walked.
We had planned to take a zero at Timothy Lake because we were ahead of schedule by a day. We ended up moving on, but we stopped early at a charming, little spring that boasted about five comfortable tent sites. We had the place to ourselves most of the afternoon and early evening, but as dusk drew near, we were descended upon by SOBO's (They were south-bounders, but not true south-bounders. They had started at the Mexican border but couldn't get through the Sierras due to late snow melt. So, they skipped ahead and flipped to walk south.) They descended on us like locusts, cramming at least twenty tents into the small camp, so tight that the tents almost touched.
They had the collective identity of an unruly mob. They wouldn't speak to us. When Kirk took Misha out to let him relieve himself, they stopped their loud talking and stared. They had a swagger from the 1000 miles they had hiked and we, as section hikers, were well beneath them. I doubt they would have spit on us, had we been in flames. They built a fire and shared stories about how much they hated Oregon and one-upped each other as they discussed mileages hiked. Even after they finally made it to their tents, the night was filled with rustling, breathing, snores and the unmistakable shifting of bodies on plastic sleeping pads.
We were more than thrilled when we parted ways with that group of SOBO's the next day. We got our first close-up of Mt. Hood. We could have reached Timberline that day, but we planned to stop just short to spare Misha's feet. We had climbed the last mile to the lodge in the afternoon, the year before when we were hiking around Timberline and it was hot work. We hoped to make the climb early in the morning before the heat.
We crossed highway 26 and soon after, highway 35. Just past 35 we hit our 400-mile mark and Misha hit his 100 miles! Four hundred miles is a lot of steps. With mixed feelings, we realized that we were almost finished.
It is so hard to capture elevation gain in a photo. This path looks almost level, but really tough climbing.
From the tent site, where we slept, to the lodge is a mere 2.4 miles, and about a thousand feet of gain. One mile of that is through deep mountain sand. Think about what it is like to walk through deep sand at the beach. Now think about steeply climbing through deep sand at the beach with a thirty-pound pack on your back. Despite leaving early, the sun beat down on us and the sand, while not blazing hot, was already very warm.
I physically could not carry Misha as we climbed. We were back to looking for scant pieces of shade or sometimes stopping and putting him on a one of the low, hardy shrubs for a minute to give his feet a break from the heat. It took us 45 minutes to do that mile. (Miles usually cost us about 20 minutes.)
Kirk's mom and brother met us at Timberline. They treated us to lunch and brought our final resupply. We had wondered if it would be hard to go on from Timberline what with our own beds a short hour drive away! But we were both ready to press on.
In the evenings, we would handwrite our journal and at each resupply, we would take pictures of the pages and chuck the paper. Instead of throwing it away, the last hundred miles we incorporated the journal into a letter which we photographed and sent from the lodge. Our friend ended up with 47 pages of detail about our journey mailed at the lodge, in an envelope that we had carried for over 400 miles.
As much as we loved South Sister and Mt. Jefferson and basically all the mountains we had climbed up and around on our trip, it was nice to be back on our mountain. Hiking out from the lodge to ZigZag Canyon was old hat for us. We had done it twice before together and I had hiked it with Misha before that.
So, it was astonishing that we GOT LOST on Mt. Hood, on the trail that we had hiked so many times before, in broad daylight on a pleasant, warm afternoon in August. We found ourselves wandering through a flowery meadow in search of a trail that seemed to be nowhere. Not even Misha's nose-brain could find it and he is usually quite a professional trail finder.
For a while, we all wandered around. We all hoped to find the trail and be the hero. The kid and his dad found it, a faint, narrow path that made a sharp turn into the canyon and crawled along the steep loose canyon wall. It barely even looked like a trail. I could hardly believe that we wouldn't have remembered it from our other experiences. These are the things that make me wonder if I am losing my mind. Must have blocked it out.
Back on track, we started to descend to the Sandy, one of those unpleasant long elevation drops that we would have to re-climb on the other side of Ramona Falls. The huckleberries that had been so plentiful the year before, were sparse and withered. AND we noticed increasing fly activity. But we had a few distractions, such as these huge shelf fungi.
We stayed at Rushing Water Creek just above the Sandy. The guy with his son passed us, but soon returned. The Sandy River was ripping this late in the afternoon and they hadn't been able to find a safe crossing. Tent sites on Rushing Water Creek were few. We had to hike back up a half mile or so and pitch our tent high above the creek. Fortunately, we found a small spring flowing across the trail near our tent site, so we didn't have to worry about conserving our water.
In the morning, we tackled the Sandy which was still bigger than any of the previous times we have crossed. As usual, Misha pulled hard against his leash and whined anxiously as we scouted for a good crossing. Kirk tried to cross on the narrow poles, but he was top heavy and fearful of losing his balance on the slippery wood. We found some rocks to hop. Kirk went first. As soon as he crossed, he turned back and reached out as far as he could. I tossed Misha’s leash to him and when he had it, I sent Misha across. Then I followed. When we were all three safe Misha began to lap and bark with relief.
We took the Ramona Falls alternate, because the trail along the creek was so scenic. We stopped to rest and water up before our long, strenuous climb to Top Spur trail junction. Massive andesite cliffs rose high on the other side of the creek.
The climb to Top Spur trail junction seemed as if it would never, ever end, especially with the increasingly aggressive fly population. The flies made it hard to stop, the climbing made it hard not to. But we both agreed that the flies were better than the mosquitoes.
We had planned to meet some friends at the top, but somehow, we missed them. We waved at their car as we walked by at Lolo Pass. After the pass, we climbed again looked back at the mountain through smoky haze. The smoke stayed with us for the rest of our journey, but we never learned the source.
On the night before our last night we camped at Salvation Spring. The spring, located between Preacher's Peak and Devil's Pulpit, created a shallow, stream. Someone had made a clever spout from an ovate leaf under which one could hold their water bottle, a natural spigot.
The next day, near Indian Mountain Trail, we ran across a poor little bunny. He spotted us and became so confused that he made a mad dash down the trail toward us. He skidded to a stop, turned and ran back to the rocks. He found a rabbit sized slit and sprawled flat in it before realizing that his port side was exposed. He leaped out of the rocks and stood stark still on the path, trying to devise a plan. Misha didn't react to him for a while. He lived with a rabbit for several years and for the most part, the rabbit chasing part of his psyche was curbed. But at last, he snapped to attention. This clarified for the bun what he must do. He turned on his heals and fled.
The last two and a half days were strange to say the least. We went slowly, in part because we wanted the adventure to last longer, but we both seemed to fall into a funk. My feet hurt so badly that I just wanted to collapse on the trail and never move again. I didn't even take a picture of the closed Eagle Creek junction as we passed, the way we would have gone had the fire not destroyed it in 2017.
Wahtum Lake is a popular place to camp for PCT hikers, and we longed to stay, but we wanted to shorten our last day so we could meet our ride, my son Codi, midday as planned. We ran into a volunteer cleaning around the lake. He asked us if we had a permit, the one and only time we were asked. We didn't. It is good to take advantage of the self-issued permits, even when hiking long hikes. Safer, but also the area’s funding is based in part on the number of visitors.
We saw a couple of women in shorts and seriously inappropriate sandals and we wondered how close we must be to a trailhead.
After the lake, we found our first Columbia River sign!
It is hard not to rush the account of the last few days. If you have stuck with us thus far, you know that we have been long-winded trying to preserve the details. But the details of the last hours on the trail are blurred. We were all three hot and tired, in pain. Kirk and I were both irritable as we sunk into depression. For 400 miles, the weather had been sunny and mild. The last three day were hot and humid.
We crossed the Benson Plateau and at last we had our first glimpses of the gorge far below us. We began to see the scars of fire. As we descended a long, narrow ridge flanked by blackened trees, I sank onto the ground. MY FEET HURT SO BAD! Pain shot through the bottoms with every step and throbbed with sharp bursts of pain as I sat still. So many miles hiking on flat sandals, so many miles carrying Misha. And somehow, I had a deep bruise or stress fracture on the top of my left foot. We realized that we finally had cell service. I called my daughter and let her baby me for a minute with her ohhh’s and ahhh’s of sympathy.
It didn’t matter how much I hurt. Short of an airlift out, I had to walk.
The last night, we stayed high atop the ridge, just before the beginning of the long descent, that, according to our guidebook, is "a plunge equal to descending from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River." This is a drop of 3000 feet in four miles.
Kirk hiked steeply down 0.4 to Teakettle spring, almost dry, and then climb back up with our water while Misha and I set up camp. We were joined by a man with his daughter who set up next to us and then an older gentleman who hiked out into the burn, close to the cliffs to camp.
The man and his daughter from Canada and had hiked the north half of the Oregon PCT, set to finish the next day too. The man proceeded to build a fire. I wanted to go over and say to him, “Will you please take a look around at the devastated Gorge and then decide if you really need to make a fire!?” But I am sure that he is unaware of the sensitivity we feel about the destruction of our beautiful gorge.
In the morning, our last day, we dressed slowly. We were so dirty; we were so gross. We had such mixed feelings about wrapping it up.
I had an emotional, grueling descent. Pain! Pain! Pain! with every step. Kirk was hiking behind us and Misha kept stopping to wait for him. I just wanted it to end. Then, as the terrain eased a bit, I began to recognize it. I saw the Herman Creek Pinnacles, which are 50-foot basalt formations. Larry and I had hiked to the pinnacles, just a month before his death, his last hike. Thinking of this tore into my already raw exhausted body and mind.
Kirk was frustrated because the hike was ending and frustrated that he had to do this painful descent. "For so long it seemed as if we had so far to go," he said, when we paused for a break. "It seemed almost not doable. But a few days before Timberline, everything seemed to speed up. And now, it is suddenly over."
When we walked into the Bridge of the Gods Park in Cascade Locks, it seemed so anticlimactic. We were early, so no one was there to greet us and celebrate our achievement. But we used the flush toilets which did seem like a celebration.
It wasn't long until Codi arrived, with Squirts, potato chips and Doritos. We stood in the parking lot and ate half of the chips. Then we strapped on our backpacks to walk across the bridge. Codi planned to walk with us. As soon as the concrete turned to grating, which is the primary material of the main deck, we could see the ground far below. We weren’t even over the water yet, but Misha stopped and refused to go forward. I picked him up, but I didn’t think I could carry him safely across. Codi took Misha back to the truck and they drove together across the bridge to give us a ride back.
The wind was blowing so hard that we had to hold onto the rail to keep from blowing out into traffic. It was blowing so hard that it felt dangerous to take our phones out of our pockets, as if they would blow out of our hands and into the water below.
I literally struggled to bring my phone up to face level to take a selfie of us, but the wind disfigured our faces and you will thank us that we didn't post those pictures. When we were almost to the other side, Kirk grabbed his phone in both hands and pushed it up against the wind to take this bridge shot. We stepped from the bridge to the parking area on the Washington side. We were finished! We couldn’t wrap our brains around it.
After the bridge walk, we went to the Eastwind Drive-In for ice cream cones (a tradition with PCT hikers), fried and burgers. As we finished our cones, it began to sink in that we were truly finished. But as we drove home, I caught myself thinking that the break had been lovely, but that we really needed to get back on the trail and do our miles for the day.
Someday soon... Washington calls….
“A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”