After I had walked two miles, a car pulled up. "Need a ride to the trail?" the people inside asked. Success and I hadn't even had to hitchhike! This trip was getting off to a good start.
This 45 mile section of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness was closed last year due to the Whitewater fire, and I seized the opportunity to hike it when I was in Bend for work. During the workweek, my co-workers and I stared glumly at the brown sky and checked the air quality index: unhealthy. Foolishly I ran in the mornings, passing other obsessed souls. This condition was prevalent last year, too. I feel like some areas of the West are basically becoming uninhabitable.
But by some miracle, by Friday the stars aligned. A brisk cold front swept the smoke away. I trotted along the trail feeling exuberant. There is just something about this ribbon of trail that does it for me. I am at the point where I am counting down the miles left instead of counting up. After this section, I would have only 350 left.
I passed numerous small lakes, taking a lunch break at a windswept View Lake. Waves of northbound thru-hikers passed, all smiles because of the improved air quality. With about six hundred miles to go, they are on the homeward stretch, but they also know they need to beat feet to get to Canada before the snow sets in.
And it feels like fall. Though the lakes were beautiful, it was much too cold to swim. I climbed up over Peak Ridge and down into Jefferson Park, a place of such magnificence that it was hard to keep eyes on the rocky trail. There's a permit system here, though, to camp near the lakes. And I had only come 12 miles, so onward I had to go, though I hated to leave.
|The intriguing Mount Jefferson|
The burnt forest went on forever, and the hours ticked on toward nightfall. I began to worry about finding a campsite. Night hiking is not my favorite. The trail wound down to a large stream crossing, and I was elated to find a ledge next to it. A private spot, the sound of a river, and it was still light enough to wash up. The perfect trifecta.
Scratch appeared and set up next to me, with several other hikers tucked into the bushes across the river. Thru hikers kept showing up and most continued on through the night, into the burnt forest. Not my idea of fun.
Eighteen miles plus two on the road walk. It had been a good first day. I couldn't wait to see what was coming up. I haven't hiked solo on the PCT for a while, and I was really enjoying the freedom. With the exception of Flash and Beekeeper, two great hiking partners, I couldn't think of a better way to do this section. I was meeting more people and having more fun than in years. This was turning out to be a perfect hike.
|Perfect campsite by Milk Creek with Scratch in the background.|