I woke at 4, went back to sleep, and started getting up and eating in the dark around 5:30, including a little blog work. I was working by headlamp until past 6:30, and I decided to stitch a couple more holes in my gloves. Found the ear tip for my headphones in my tent while packing, but probably won’t be using them much anyway to save battery. Since there weren’t any random people or deer in my campsite this time, I got started hiking by 7:30. It was light out, but just barely. The sun was on the other side of the mountain and I was in the shade all morning.
On the other side of Milk Creek was a long climb up Woodpecker Ridge, and it was only a couple of miles before I entered the burn zone. I met a solo section hiker right off who’d camped in Jefferson Park and was on his way out to Jacks Lake and his car by end of day.
A little further up, I came upon three ladies in which succession all working on finishing the PCT: Shepherd, bearer of the magpie tattoo, who was hiking with Early Burger, an Australian working on the same section, followed by Sky, who was a lot like me: finishing up a short little section she had skipped because it was closed. In fact, she had driven to the trailhead and was doing an out and back because the section was only 18 miles. She dropped her stuff in Jefferson Park and was slacking the last five miles.
She also told me the saga of all the PCTers just walking through the closure all summer and rationalizing it as fine. Once work crews started coming through and noticing all the illegal hikers, rangers were posted to stop them, fine them, and take their long distance permits. So they started walking through the closure at night, and a night guard had to be posted to stay up nights and catch those people too. The section is pretty sketchy to do at night–I know.
Everyone I talked to said that Jefferson Park, just after the burn zone, had been untouched by fire and was beautiful, and I found out myself when I crossed the bridge at Whitewater Creek. It was lush and green, tall trees and lots of shade. I immediately found a nice log to take a pretty lengthy snack break before heading on.
It was indeed a gorgeous area with a bunch of side trails to lakes all down in the basin (which I didn’t have time to explore) and majestic views of Mt. Jefferson up close and personal. The views got even better as I began the grueling climb up the side of Park Butte. It was 1.9 miles of steep climbing, frequently exposed to the hot sun and littered with large rocks. It took a solid hour to reach the ridgeline and I was desperate to eat and drink the whole time. But I promised myself I would reach the top first. I stopped at what appeared to be the last shady spot before going over the ridge and had lunch, finally. For being the longest steep climb I’ll have to do on this last leg, it really wasn’t that bad.
The descent wasn’t a cake walk though. It was nothing but rocks all the way down. I kept nearly rolling my ankles and stumbling repeatedly for the next three miles down to the Breitenbush Trailhead. I was less than a half mile from it when I rolled an ankle hard and couldn’t find a landing spot for the other foot, stumbled forward, and ate dirt. At first, I just lay there. Even after I sat up and got my feet under me, I just sat there for a couple of minutes collecting my thoughts before standing up and moving on.
Anyway, I took a break there at the road junction. There was stagnant water in the culvert, but I decided to walk on to Upper Lake with the little water I had left to save weight. I expected to be there by dinner time.
I climbed a small hill and entered the Lionshead burn zone proper. Nothing but dead trees all around. I passed a couple of small ponds and arrived at edge of a cliff, but there was too much haze for a good view, and besides I soon came out onto the mountain side, crossing rock slides and picking my way over large rocks sticking upwards of a foot up above the trail. It was level trail, but it was never not rocky. The stumbling continued apace.
At 5:30, I had 1.9 miles to go to Upper Lake. At 5:45, I had 1.2. Just after 6, I had another 0.4 to go. There wasn’t that much to look at in the burn zone, and I had to look at my aching feet anyway to not fall again, so time stretched on eternally. Finally, I came up on the lake at around 6:15 to find a little log bench someone had made. I fetched some water and began cooking supper. A bit after 7, I was ready to go again, 2.7 more miles to get to Olallie Lake and its small pocket of living trees that were safe to camp under. The sun was gone and I had to turn on my headlamp less than a half mile in.
It was again level but rocky walking the whole way, and it was a whole lot easier to misjudge rocks in the trail under headlamp light. Stumbling intensified, but concentration increased to match, and I managed to make it to the road without falling again.
I rolled into the parking lot beside Olallie Lake Resort around 8:30. I looked, but no one was around. There were cars parked, one of which was assuredly Sky’s, and dim lights in one of the buildings, but zero activity. I knew the place had closed for the season the day before, but I thought there might still be a caretaker around to direct me to a place I was allowed to camp. There was no one.
But just as there was no one to help me, there was also no one for me to bother by getting it wrong. There was a trail into the woods on the right and there were picnic tables, fire rings, and flat tent sites there. I probably wasn’t supposed to, but how was I to know? The only signs I had seen at the resort had been one noting a ban on motor boats and one with information about the fire closure. Again, it wasn’t going to hurt anything either–there wasn’t a soul around.
So I found a flat spot in the woods and set up. I got to bed by 9, and only by 9:30 had it cooled off enough to get in the sleeping bag. From arrival until I fell asleep, it was eerily quiet out. No wind at all. The dull, quiet roar of distant jets. A lone crow occasionally calling. A single tree branch cracking once. The silence was almost oppressive.
With the section more than half done, I saw no reason not to get another early start. I wouldn’t have any trouble sleeping after a day this long.
Trail miles: 18.4
Distance to Frog Lake: 40.9 miles