Stretch 17: Cascade Locks to White Pass

Early in Oregon, it began to feel like the fires were dictating my hike. We were road walking/hitching around stretches of trail. Boxes couldn’t be sent to their planned destinations. And closures were changing every day so we had to constantly monitor fire reports. Breaks were no longer about resting, resupplying, and blogging; we were constantly thinking about logistics and contingency plans. Oh, and smoke everywhere, everyday.

In Cascade Locks, about to enter WA, I felt like I was in the home stretch though. There was only one more fire closure ahead, north of White Pass (150 PCT miles away), too distant to make a plan yet because things always change. It was the day after I stayed with Maddy and Kathy in Hood River; I was hanging around a trail angel house, Shrek’s Swamp. I blogged, went swimming in the Columbia River, did some weeding for Shrek; it was pleasant, the third clear day in a row.

That afternoon, I noticed a giant column of smoke billowing up from behind a very nearby ridge. It was close to where I knew the Indian Creek fire was burning, but that fire would have had to have a very sudden surge in size and strength to make that much smoke. For a few hours hikers and others watched the smoke billow, not knowing how close the fire really was. Eventually news got around that this was a new fire, only 4 miles from Cascade Locks, that was growing quickly.

I had been thinking of getting back on trail that afternoon, but my friend Atlas (who had done the 130 mile road walk detour around the fires in Three Sisters Wilderness and Mt Jefferson) said he would arrive that night so I had decided to wait for him. Because of the fire, though, many hikers in town were getting across the river to Stevenson even though official evacuation orders had not been issued. Then I got news that hikers on the trail were stuck between two fires and being held overnight to be evacuated tomorrow. Atlas was probably up there. He would probably not arrive that night, but I would wait until the stranded hikers were evacuated.

I went to bed. I woke early that morning to a couple surprises. First, Atlas! He did not want to wait to be evacuated- he had told me he would get to Cascade Locks that night. Also, if he was evacuated, it would break his continuous footsteps he had really suffered to maintain between Mexico and there. So he found a way to get to Cascade Locks via some poorly maintained (but still open) trails and walking on the highway. It was a pretty terrible night for him, so I was helping him to set up his tent and get some rest when the fire crews came by and told the trail angel that we were under Level 2 evacuation. The fire had crested the ridge and was slowing crawling down towards Cascade Locks. We all had to leave.

So, at 4:30 in the morning, Atlas and I (and other hikers camped at Shrek’s) packed up and  stumbled across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington, the mountains being consumed by flames behind us. Not how I had envisioned entering Washington. From here, hikers hitched the couple miles into Stevenson where the Red Cross set up an evacuation center. We put up tents at the evacuation center housed at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, with a direct view of the burning mountains across the river.

Atlas needed to rest, do laundry, and resupply. We were focusing on these when we got some more bad news. There was a new fire ahead, burning on the trail in the Indian Heaven Wilderness 50 PCT miles north. Almost 20 miles of trail were closed. It would take extra time to research all the detour options and find maps. The feeling of being ‘in the home stretch’ was shattered. I felt like I would be dodging fires until the very end. I had also learned about a fire that was very close to the trail in the final stretch.

Thankfully, my friends Lydia, Polaris, Ladybug, and Rhino were at the evacuation center as well and they are the best at making plans. We got maps from the visitor’s center, current fire information from the Skamania County Sheriff who visited the evacuation center, and came up with a few options for getting around the East Crater fire in Indian Heaven Wilderness.

So finally, the day after we were evacuated from Shrek’s Swamp, Atlas and I got back on the trail in the afternoon. The air was dry and as heavy with smoke as I have experienced. Even at 4, when the sun was still pretty high in the sky, you could look directly at it, a red disc through the gray smoke. The light that shone through was orange, making a very eerie atmosphere in the forest. It felt like a different planet or our world in a different time, perhaps after the apocalypse.

From the place that we camped that night, we could see the flame engulfing the forested ridge across the river. We ate bread and hummus and cheese, and I discovered that the  Steripen was broken. For the rest of the stretch I would have to use my backup Aquamira tablets to sterilize my water, or Atlas’ gravity filter.

It was so hot it was hard to sleep that night. The low was 70. The next day was also pretty sweltering- a steep climb before 9 had me sweating heavily. The smoke was still thick, and it was very windy, conditions where fires spread rapidly. Another north-bounder told us that the fire had jumped the Gorge into Washington. I had some cell service- the fire report confirmed this, but I couldn’t tell how close to us it was. All we could see was thick smoke.

I was pretty spooked. Out of all that I had experienced- extreme heat, dehydration, and water scarcity in the desert, treacherous passes and raging creeks in the Sierras, even being evacuated from Cascade Locks- I was more scared there than any other time on the trail. But no matter where the fire was, moving forward, north, was definitely the safest thing to do.

Eventually the trail took us below the ridge into green forest where the smoke was not so oppressive. I started to feel more relaxed. We had a nice long lunch break near a pretty creek. That afternoon, the south-bounders we encountered carried news that there were new closures ahead and we would have to get off the trail before we thought. This was surprising- I had checked the closure again the night before. But I had no cell service to check then.

That night I had some cell service, and there was nothing about new closures. Thats the nature of things once you get on the trail- lots of rumors. But when we got to Windy River Road, ~15 miles before we planned to start our detour, a local couple was at the trailhead giving information to our friends, Lydia and crew, about a new fire, as of last night, that closed forest road 60, which we had planned to walk on around the fire. There was no service but they said they confirmed with the Sheriff on their landline.

We changed the plan, instead detouring on forest road 30. This would mean just over 30 miles of road walking. But the road was scenic and very lightly trafficked. Atlas and I decided to keep pace with Lydia and friends. It was easier to digest new information and make plans with them. They walk faster than us, though, so we saw them just during breaks and making camp.

This road walk was really not too bad. The folks at Carson National Fish Hatchery let us fill us water and use their bathrooms. I restarted my Hungarian education- learning an important new vocabulary set: ‘I’m cold’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘I’m tired’, etc. And then, ‘My legs hurt’, ‘My feet hurt’, ‘My knee hurts’, etc. I found an engraved sterling silver spoon on the road. Lydia found a beautiful fish hook and lure. We camped at a roadside sno-park with pit toilets and a picnic table. See, it was a really exciting time.

Even so, we were not at all disappointed when we got back to the trail the next day around noon. We had made such great time that we decided to do 14 more miles, making the whole day’s miles over 28.

From there we had a bunch of beautiful terrain ahead. The first morning after the road walk we were meandering through berry fields when a black bear popped out of the brush and scampered away from us! It was pretty cute. We climbed through long-ago burned forest now full of berries and dying wildflowers, eventually reaching a ridge with a spectacular view of Mt Adams.

The next day we entered into Goat Rocks Wilderness, known to be one of the prettiest parts of Washington. Unfortunately, around this time I started to not feel very well. My stomach was unsettled at first, but roiling by mid afternoon. It started to become clear that it wasn’t just going to pass. I felt terrible. But we were on the fifth day of the stretch, with 30 miles to go before White Pass. We really wanted to get there the next day, especially if I was sick. I took a break and Atlas took some heavy things out of my pack, but we needed to keep walking.

Meanwhile, as I felt more and more ill, the skies were darkening. The thick cloud began to let out a mist. It felt like the clouds themselves falling on us. We were damp. I couldn’t see through my glasses. The rain slowly got heavier. Everything changed gradually but at one point I fully realized my situation- It was raining, cold, windy, and getting dark soon. The nearest tent site was a couple miles away.  I was cold and wet, I felt sick and possibly feverish, but stopping would put me in an even worse spot.

I just had to grit my teeth and take my small slow steps. The terrain was difficult, rocky and steep, and I couldn’t see more than 30 feet in any direction. Eventually we did make it to a spot to camp. I don’t want to think about how awful it would have been without Atlas. He set up the tent and fetched water and approached other hikers, asking for toilet paper (as I had used all of mine) and gave me diarrhea medicine and when I couldn’t get warm covered me and my sleeping bag with his. All I had to worry about was getting up to make miserable cat holes in the dark and rain- which was pretty awful.

Generally we always hoped for rain for the fires, but that morning we were very grateful when we woke to clear skies. We had ~22 miles to get to White Pass. I felt better than the night before, but still not great. I wanted so much to get to White Pass to go to Packwood to have a bed and a toilet, but I was not sure I’d be able to make it.

Atlas carried everything heavy in my pack so I could wear it with no hip belt. I didn’t eat or drink very much to try to keep the very uncomfortable feeling of imminent diarrhea at bay. And that day went as well as it could have. The weather was great and the trail was stunning, as beautiful as anything in the Sierras. I only felt a little sick- mostly just weak from not eating. I got a little bit of cell service to get in touch with my parents who helped us reserve lodging in Packwood. We made our way slowly but taking only short breaks, very aware that it would be very hard to hitch to Packwood if we got to White Pass after dark.

We made it to the trailhead around 7:30, after the sun went down over the mountains but before it was entirely dark. As we got there, a minivan was about to drive away. The window rolled down. It was Taylor- he (Front Seat) and his Swiss friends, Type II and Glacier (known to many as Taylor and the Swiss), were getting a ride to Packwood with his mom. They stopped and made room for us. What luck!

When we got to Packwood, 30 minutes away, we realized that Atlas had lost his phone and it was probably at the trailhead.  Finding a ride back there so late was not what we wanted to be doing, but we did and found the phone and by 9:30 we were finally back in Packwood, exhausted and so glad for a shower and pizza and the zero day we would have.

Man, what a stretch that was! Here are some pics.


Stretch 16: Ollalie Lake to Cascade Locks

After 3 amazing months of having a buddy to share in every adventure, I knew I would have to adjust to hiking solo again. Most of that would just happen in time, but one part I could tackle right away, in Bend: gear changes. Louise and I shared an almost 4 lb tent, a massive 11 oz Tyvek groundsheet for cowboy camping, a solar charger, and an integrated stove/pot weighing together 1 lb.  That may not sound too bad- and it wasn’t shared between 2 people- but for one person, this is pretty heavy.

So. I got a new stove and pot- less bulky and lighter- weighing 7 oz. I ditched the solar charger because between smoky skies and tree cover, we were never able to use it (though this didn’t really save weight because I added a hefty power bank). A groundsheet and tent is just too luxurious for one person, so I nixed the groundsheet as well. The alternative to my 2 person tent is my tarp which was back in Seattle, so I was stuck with the tent, for then at least. I also took Louise’s steripen for sterilizing water- it is much more convenient than my squeeze filter.

After sorting through my resupply and completing the gear shuffle, it was time to get back on the trail. Because of the size of the fires around Three Sisters Wilderness and Mt Jefferson, almost 90 miles of trail were closed north of Elk Lake, where we exited before Bend. I would need to get back on near Ollalie Lake, nearly a 3 hr drive. Leaving Bend in the afternoon, my hope was just to make it to the trail by nighttime. I was really fortunate- I got there with three hitches. First, a young couple who did the PCT as their honeymoon a couple years before AND I got to sit next to their adorable sleeping baby (: They could only take me 15 minutes, to a better hitching spot, but it was less than 15 minutes of waiting before I was picked up my a nice woman and her teenage son and daughter and adorable pup! They got me close, to Detroit, where I was very lucky to run into another hiker who’s mom was driving him straight to Ollalie Lake.

Even with this great hitching luck it was still getting dark when I got to the trail, and I was very glad I hadn’t waited any longer to get moving. A few other hikers were camping there and I had dinner with them, breaking in my new stove.

This stretch felt odd at first not only because I was missing Louise, I was also missing every other hiker who had been near us for the past month. I had taken a couple zeros in Bend and got passed by some this way, and the huge detour really scattered everyone. People were getting back on the trail at different places (many hitched to Government Camp, 50 trail miles north of Ollalie) and some (like Atlas, Ladybug, Arvid, Lydia, Rhino, and some other Swiss friends) were walking around the fires on the highways. So I saw few hikers at the start of this stretch and none that I already knew.

Walking by myself was so different. Choosing my pace was nice. I think I could let my mind wander more easily. I listened to music. Still, sometimes I was bored- and fidgety, as I had started using my poles less. Out of all of these elements came something new and interesting: trail crafts!

The section I was traveling through had a lot of Old Man’s Beard (moss hanging from trees that looks like beards), and I began spinning it into rope or twine as I walked. With that I could make other stuff. This was so fun- it gave me a creative outlet I had been really missing on the trail, but it also slowed me down a bit, so I couldn’t do it all day.

So sometimes spinning moss, sometimes listening to music, and sometimes just plain walking, I made my way through bearded woods and by some lovely lakes in Mt. Hood National Forest. After two days I was camped just 5 miles from Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood, an iconic lodge known by all hikers for the breakfast buffet.

It turned out to live up to the hype, at least for me. The building was so cool, with an amazing view of Mt. Hood. And they were very nice to through hikers. Approaching the fancy Cascade dining room, even in my cleaner and less stinky sleep clothes, I felt out of place. But despite the fact that the tables were almost all full, the host directed me to my own table, as if I was any other customer. At some hiker-frequented eateries, I’ve been lumped with other hikers, whether I knew them or not. I was then greeted by my server and told I could hit the buffet as many times as I wanted. It was bliss.

Afterward, I found a nice spot to charge my things and blog in the massive main lobby, and by mid afternoon I was ready to be on my way. Cascade Locks, my next resupply, was 50 miles away and I just wanted to get there before 5 two days from then. That would be easy to make, so I just shot for just 10 more miles.

The next couple days, I enjoyed some amazing views, something I had been missing most of Oregon, both because of less dramatic terrain and the smoke. The day before I got to Cascade Locks I saw my first clear blue skies since I got to Oregon. In one segment of trail I was able to see Mt Hood behind, and Mt St Helen’s, Mt Adams, and Mt Rainier ahead. I was also able to see plumes of smoke from the Indian Creek Fire and the helicopters toting massive 340 gallon buckets of water from nearby Wahtum Lake to dump on the flames.

Finally, around noon the second day after I left Timberline, I arrived at Cascade Locks, a small town on the Columbia River. I was very excited because Louise had gotten me in touch with her friend Maddy and her friend’s mother Kathy who live in Hood River, very nearby, and they had graciously offered to host me.

Kathy picked me up from Cascade Locks and took me home and treated me to a thru hiker;s dream visit. Shower, laundry, food, sitting on the couch, tv, food, a bed…. and then the next day all these things again. And not just food but pancakes! The best pancakes I’d had all summer. I was so spoiled. I was also lucky to be there on a night when Maddy was singing at a nearby fancy hotel. I borrowed a dress and got to go watch and hang out with half the adults in Hood River- Maddy’s friends parents and Maddy’s parents friends- who all came to watch Maddy sing.

At Maddy’s house I was also able to finish my gear shuffle, having received a package with gear from home that Louise sent. My tarp, a different sleeping pad, and more cold weather clothes. After a whole day off, I was dropped back off in Cascade Locks, ready to get back on trail once I had completed another blog post. (Getting back on trail ended up taking much longer but I’ll save that for the next one)

Stretch 15, Fish Lake to Elk Lake

Before Louise and I even arrived at Fish Lake we had scrapped the plan to make it to Sisters by the eclipse. That decision became moot as we learned that the trail was closed starting at Elk Lake, 50 miles before Sisters, due to fires in the Three Sisters Wilderness. We still had a lot of options to consider. Getting to Elk Lake before the eclipse would require nearly a week of consistent 30 mile days. Something I know we are capable of but it would not be fun- certainly not how we wanted to spend our last days on the trail together. And even if we made it to Elk Lake, we still wouldn’t be in the range of the total eclipse. And we didn’t want to brave the roads (even by hitching) the day of or night before the eclipse.

We decided not to make it anywhere special for the eclipse- we’d see it from somewhere on the trail, still very close to totality range, without any hubbub. And then we would make it to Elk Lake and from there to Bend where we’d eventually split.

Super. Once we had this long-term plan figured, we could focus on the trail (and closures) directly ahead of us.


Morgan and I left Fish Lake, 2 useless left shoes strapped shamefully atop her pack. We planned to take our time during my last week.. make it to Crater Lake and and eventually Elk Lake in no rush.

We were 30 miles from the last exit point before the Blanket Creek fire closure. How most people were getting around it: taking the Sevenmile trail for 2 miles, walking on a forest service road for about 5.5, then 4.5 miles on a very sparsely trafficked road running straight between cow-dotted fields to Ft. Klamath… all that before even getting to the highway 62. The day of the detour we had 8 miles of PCT to do before the junction. We made great time, cruised past the Sevenmile junction and down the forest service road. As we walked between the vast ranches, able to see miles ahead down the straight paved road, Morgan put on Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumors, and it felt like a soundtrack of some film about an adventure starring us.

When we finally hit Ft. Klamath and consequently the highway, Morgan and I decided to grab snacks at Jo’s Motel. Her organic cafe had a surprisingly varied selection of fancy foods and drinks from around the country. We got little cups of ice cream and some fruit. Morgan loves mango and I love watermelon, so we each emerged holding our favorite fruits and plopped down on the picnic tables outside the motel.


Some hikers with a purist philosophy about the trail were intent to walk the whole detour, including the 14 miles on highway 62. We were not so stringent. We stood outside the motel with thumbs out for maybe 30 minutes while cars drove by.

We decided to start walking. A few more minutes of cars flying by and I was losing hope of getting a hitch. I mentally prepared myself for some road walking, suncreening my nose and ears, and of course this is when a car pulled over.

We’re headed to the National Park, I told the driver. Hop in, he said. We met Greg, a ranger at the park on his day off. We really hit the jackpot here. Ranger Greg turned out to be not just a clutch hitch but also a gracious host for us in the park.

He took us to a great viewpoint on the way in, then to the general store for a small resupply, and then was gracious enough to let us shower, do laundry, cook dinner, use wifi, and sleep in his apartment! On top of all that we were fortunate enough to have arrived on the last night of the Olympic Games put on by he and some friends who work at the park. We got to meet and hang out with more park employees and even participate in that night’s event- the beer mile.

The next day Greg was nice enough to take us to the post office so I could send home my left shoes and then to the start of the Crater Rim Trail, a much more scenic alternate to the PCT for about 10 miles. Normally most PCT hikers would be using the Rim alternate anyway, but this year everyone was as this section of the official PCT was closed from the Spruce Lake Fire.

The Rim Trail was open but the fire was still near enough that smoke blanketed the area. Despite that, the view across the lake was breathtaking. We couldn’t actually see the other end of the lake but it looked mysterious that way. Perhaps because of the smoke, few people hiked the Rim Trail, after a mile past the Rim Village we only saw other PCT hikers. We took our time and made camp early, shortly after the trail stopped hugging the rim.

The next day we realized that the eclipse was happening in the morning of the 21st and we would only reach Shelter Cove Resort, where our mom had sent a care package with goodies and eclipse glasses, if we started really movin’. So we did 31 and 28 miles the next days to give us the whole morning before the eclipse to do the remaining ~10 miles to Shelter Cove. We made it in time and got to eat cookie bars made by mom and watch the eclipse through our glasses with a bunch of other hikers.

We hung out at Shelter Cove most of the day, as long as we could and still make it the 9 more miles to the Maiden Peak Shelter, an awesome hut that functions as a ski lodge in the winter and is open for anyone to use in the summer.

We got there a bit late but with some light remaining. Someone was leaving the hut headed towards the woods. We only saw the back of him, but we thought we recognized Rhino, who we hadn’t seen since VVR, before Mammoth (over a month earlier!). As we neared the hut we heard a voice with what sounded like Ladybug’s distinct Swiss accent. Yes! Ladybug, Arvid, Lydia, and Rhino traveled together in the high Sierras, at nearly the same pace as us for a couple weeks. Arvid and Lydia are brother and sister from Germany, maybe our favorite sibling pair.

We entered the cabin and sure enough, there they were. It was so fun catching up and their brother sister banter is ever-amusing to us. After much talking we decided it was time for bed. We climbed the ladder to the loft and set up our sleeping pad and bags, making two lines of down slug-shaped lumps.

After the solar battery powered lights went out we laid in the dark, finding comfortable positions and maybe a couple of us dozing off when we saw a headlamp light shining through the windows. A minute later the door opened. All we could see was a light shining in our eyes, but we heard a , ‘Hi’ in Atlas’ Hungarian accent. He caught up!

It was late so he shuffled around in the dark and eventually joined our line of down lumps in the loft. I’m the morning we took our time before leaving, learning all about his travels and sharing our own.

Elk Lake was an easy day and a half away. So the day we left the shelter was Louise’s last full day on trail. We made it fun- stopping to pick as many berries as we pleased and ending the day after only 23 miles because there was a pretty spot by a pond.

The hike to Elk Lake went by fast with Louise at the helm- she booked it. We surpassed the standard 10 before 10 benchmark doing 10 miles before 9:40- even though we got a late-ish start. Louise loves those morning miles…