Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon Border to Snoqualmie Pass, Days 1-5: The Dry Cascades

"These were four days of my life I won't get back," Flash said. We sat in Trout Lake, Washington, and contemplated the first days of our PCT hike in silent agreement. For example: How do you know you are on the PCT? Because you cross a logging road every few miles. Also, you have to carry water. And: it's about 100 degrees.

The Cascades are dry? Who knew? After crossing the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia, trying not to get taken out by the RVs hurtling full speed towards us, we started a long climb, burdened with 4 liters of water. Which, by the way, weighs a lot if you are also carrying five days of food.

"What does poison oak look like?" Map Girl wondered. As I traversed the brushy trail in a skirt, I had to wonder also. Despite having gotten a poison oak rash before, I wasn't sure. We would ask the first southbounder we saw, we decided. Except we kept forgetting, because there were so many other things to figure out.

The southern Cascades were dry. Bone dry. We rushed toward water at Panther and Trout Creeks for salvation, filling up for long water hauls and dry campsites. We walked under powerlines and clear cuts. You had to look hard to find the beauty, though it existed in small doses.

Our second night, having walked 21 miles, we were peacefully lying in our tents at hiker midnight (9 pm), surrounded by thru-hikers doing the same, in a campground by a road.  A car drove by, horn honking, and fishtailed back to us. "HEY!" the driver yelled. "Anyone want to get stoned?" Nobody did. Of four campsites, three were next to roads. Logging trucks thundered by. This was the PCT?

But after the stoner, things got better. We hiked into the Indian Heaven Wilderness, a little slice of paradise with sweet gem-like lakes. Things were looking up, even though we were forced to camp at the aptly named Mosquito Creek.

Mount Adams!
82 miles to Trout Lake and we finished them in four days, ready to regroup for what lay ahead. TL was a place to linger, and I could feel myself slipping into the vortex of the place. But it was time to move on. Mountains were waiting. I could feel myself slipping back into the trail life, one of the few places I feel completely happy.

As we hoisted our heavy packs at the trailhead, we realized: we still didn't know what poison oak looked like.

To be continued....


  1. Yeah, the PCT in southern WA is a little bit disappointing, with all the logging roads and clear cuts. But Indian Heaven wilderness is a true gem. I love hiking there - and huckleberry picking is great in late August. Can't wait to hear about the rest of your adventure!

  2. Been wondering how the PCT was going for you, MB. I'll look forward to the next chapter. In which the question of poison oak is, ahem, cleared up??

  3. I found myself hiking along with you Mary, thanks? Everything we have been doing this summer has been taking our old Rv way back in the woods, tent camping back some long forgotten forest service road, and spending time on my husbands clients mountain property above Lagrande. Backpacking is on hold for the time being, we'll pick it up again some day. I miss the backcountry so much, I look forward to your next chapter.

  4. That's the thing about thru-trails ... in between the amazing terrain are less-than-amazing connections. Still, as you mentioned, it's wonderful to settle into the simple life of backpacking (or bike touring.)

    I had to chuckle at your poison oak reference. I get asked this question occasionally from casual hikers in California. How do you describe it really? It's a subtly shiny wavy leaf that turns crimson red in the late summer. But really the old adage works best. "Leaves of three, let it be."

  5. Poison Oak was one of the first plants I learned how to identify for certain when I first started hiking in the CRG (Columbia River Gorge) many years ago. John McGilvra

  6. The contrast between where the PCT encounters roads, logging trucks, and stoner access with Indian Peaks Wilderness was a great example of " Why Wilderness."

  7. Ugh poison oak. After getting that stuff in not-so-comfortable places (I get it when I hop off trail to pee), I learned in a hurry what it looks like. Pretty much avoid any oak shaped leaf that doesn't grow on an actual oak tree and you'll be good. It would totally suck to get it on a long backpack trip, you could spread it everywhere (even ingest it) before you know what happened.

    1. And it would be in your sleeping bag until you washed it!

    2. Oh no! Please say that's not what happened?! That would be awful.

  8. At some point in the past, I just decided that I was immune to poison oak, and so far the positive thinking has worked! I do however avoid shiny leaves of three just to be safe.


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