PCT Day 3 – Lava fields

July 26
Miles hiked: 26.6
Total trip miles: 63.8

We get an early start today to try and beat the heat. We hiked almost 24 miles yesterday! Woo hoo! The trail started out looking like this — in fact, a lot of the PCT in Oregon looks like this: nice, soft trail; tall, tall trees, dappled sun and shadow.

People complain of the “green tunnel” in Oregon—the miles upon miles of lodgepole pines or spruce. But I find that I love their cool depths. You can physically feel the dip in temperature that occurs when you pass from sun to shade. I love the way the trees whisper to you with their branches, advertising a cooling breeze a few seconds before it arrives. I love the tall silence of these forests. I have the distinct feeling that I am walking in the shelter of a single, great, benevolent being.

IMG_1858Before long (well, 8 miles on) we come across the spur to South Brown Mountain shelter, where there’s supposed to be a well with a pump. Sitting at the picnic table in front of it is the couple we met last night. The pump is there, and it’s working.

Trail names Brownie (aka Betsy, a high school chemistry teacher) and Dizzy (aka ?, an IT professional) from Connecticut, they’ve been hiking since May 7, starting in Campo down by the Mexican border. The PCT has been a dream of theirs for 40 years, and Dizzy’s retirement proved just the occasion to hit the trail.

Dizzy is depleted, though, making forward progress difficult. It’s hard to consume enough calories to fuel these long mileage days. If you’re only out for a month and you have sufficient fat stores (*cough* …gazes at navel… *cough*) this is not a problem. But the months have caught up with Dizzy, and he looks gaunt and exhausted. They’re hoping to meet up with their son and daughter-in-law at Fish Lake and take a much-needed break. As it is, they skipped over the snow-packed Sierra and plan to circle back in the fall to finish that leg. We enjoy our conversation, and head back out.

We soon encounter lava flows. In fact, we seem to be skirting the base of a big lava-spewing beast. I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like as a live event.

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Marc’s the little blip in the middle here:IMG_1864

We leapfrog with Brownie and Dizzy a couple more times, as we eat lunch and take breaks. Just before the turnoff to Fish Lake we see a couple of guys with a chainsaw and thank them for all their work clearing the trail. If we had known then what we were to discover a few miles down the trail, we would have thanked them much more profusely.

At mile 1771 the trail crosses highway 140 and there’s a big lovely creek. We decide to stop and eat our dinner there, and then hike on for a few miles once the heat of the day has passed. We wade in the cool water, filter water for our bottles, and despite the heat, a hot dinner actually tastes great. The next on-trail water is 8 miles away, so we’ll likely “dry camp.”

When it’s this hot out, I don’t like camping away from a water source. I don’t sleep well when I feel sticky. Dry camping is like dry heaving, I complain. OTOH, you don’t want to waste valuable filtered (and carried!) water washing your body before bed. But it’s only 4 pm, too early to stop for the day, and this creek is right next to a busy road. Terrible campsite. We will hike on.

And so at 5:30 or so we head out, uphill. After a couple of miles, we start to notice that there are trees across the trail. Lots of trees. Some of them in jumbles so big that little side trails have been worn in the forest floor going around them altogether. Some of the logs are so big it’s a challenge to get over them.

Soon we’re being pestered by mosquitoes in a big way. That’s the problem with evening hiking, it turns out. We dig out the Deet and tell those little Mofos to stay the hell away from us. I see a small brownish furry thing barrel across the trail in front of us while we’re plastering ourselves, and think we’ve reached the campsite marked on the app and there’s someone with a dog up ahead. A “true-thru” hiker going a zillion miles an hour catches up to us, saying he’s been trying to outrun the mosquitoes. We spray him with Deet, too. I mention the brown blob, which by this time we know is not a dog because there are no humans other than ourselves anywhere in the vicinity. It must have been a bear cub. No sight of mama bear or cub as we hike on, but all three of us clack our poles to make noise, just in case.

Once the insect harassment abates, we find we’re enjoying the cooler air of evening, especially since there aren’t as many trees across the trail. Since the campsite on the app is already occupied by some other hikers, we keep going. There’s a lake just 0.5 miles off the trail at the Twin Ponds trail junction at mile 1779, and someone has added that Squaw Lake is “gorgeous and full of water.” We get to the junction late, after 7 pm, but it’s a quick hike down and soon the water appears between the trees, and lo and behold, a perfect flat spot right next to it —no one else there, plenty of water, gorgeous little lake. It turns out it’s not Squaw Lake after all, but a little “pond” — but the water is clear and cold, and we’re tired. We set up the tent, brush our teeth, hang the bear bag and call it a day.

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