a journey of 2,652 miles
THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
starts with a single step.
Miles 1180 to 1198 (18 Miles) Fitzhugh Gulch camp to Little Trees camp
We know, that the trail will take us 13 miles all uphill to the top of a mountain. Knowing what will await us, our motivation isn't as high as it could be and we sleep in until 06:30. At least the annoying mozzies are still asleep and don't attack us from all sides.
At 7am we are ready to go. The climbing starts in around 3 miles. Until there, the terrain is rather easy and not too steep, but it is always in the woods and the air is still fresh and cold. After a while we warm up and soon reach a lovely camp spot next to a quite big and noisy river, where we have breakfast. I prepare breakfast, in the meantime Maya goes down to the river bed to collect more water.
After some time she comes back and the expression on her face tells me right away that something happend. Then I see it, her shoes are completely soaked. She tells me that she had slipped on one of those super slippery rocks and nearly fell into the river. Luckily she was able to prevent that from happening, but her shoes still got wet! I didn't hear a thing because of the constant and loud noise from the river. By now the sun is out and Maya dries her shoes and wet socks in the sun.
After half an hour we continue and the climbing really starts now. But suddenly Maya realizes that she is not wearing her sunglasses anymore. And they are important out here when you are exposed to the sun all day long. Shit! They must have fallen off her head when she nearly fell into the river. That means hiking one mile down again, looking for those glasses and then climbing up again...But what can you do? It reminds me of when I lost my glasses right in the beginning of Washington. I had no clue where they would be and had to hike back for 2.5 miles, so 5 miles round trip!
So Maya starts her sunglass rescue mission and is back within 20 minutes, her sunglasses on her head. Very good! So now we continue our climb. It is a very exhausting 9 miles climb, temperatures are high today, it is a bit humid as well - a happy day in a mozzie's life and at the same time a not so happy one for us.
We both listen to audiobooks, that helps to distract us from all that climbing. Maya is attentively listening to Michelle Obama's biography called "Becoming" while I'm listening to the Ken Follet's second book of his century saga called "Winter of the World", which I totally recommend to anyone interested in history. Other than that not a lot is happening while we climb. At some point we see some deer, the usual amount of deer and then we are on top of this fucker. Here we take a smaller break, eating M&M, salted pretzel sticks and sour patches. We see some more NOBOs (hikers hiking the opposite direction of us, thus from south to north). They all warn us about an allegedly major snow patch coming up in about 10 miles from here. We have heard several stories about this stretch, most of the people are warning us, some even told us to take an alternate route on an overgrown dirt road while others tell us that the snow wasn't a problem at all... So again, all is relative and since we already hiked around 40 miles in harsh snow conditions without there being anyone else in this section, we are not too concerned about the upcoming snow. And after all, that's not a problem for today, let future Maya and Dario handle that.
From our break at the top of the mountain it now is 5 more miles to our designated camp site. It now is more or less flat (it is still the PCT, apparently real flat doesn't exist on this trail), but it still takes us a bit more than two hours to reach the camp spot, since we need water and therefore have to go off trail to collect it from a small creek.
For dinner we have pasta and watch two deer searching for salt (they usually get attracted by our sweaty trekking poles) right next to us. Then we call it a day and fall into a deep sleep...
Miles 1156.7 to 1180 (23.3 Miles) Mt Shasta view camp to Fitzhugh Gulch camp
Longest day yet. But oh my feet! I don’t recall having these issues with my feet last time. Correct me if I’m wrong. I was complaining about shoulder pain a lot. And sure, tired legs and the occasional blister. But this is becoming a real problem. I’m not sure it’s still the aftermath of the roadwalk out of Etna, or wrong shoes, in any case 20 miles are harder now than last year, and not because I’m not up for it, but because the pain in my feet is excruciating.
But let’s back up a bit. We get up nice and early and are ready to hike by 6am on the dot. Mt Shasta is already glowing with the rising sunlight and we are hoping to catch some sun soon too. It’s really windy and quite cold this morning! But no luck. We have to hike uphill for 6.5 Miles and until 08.40am to finally find a sunny and flat spot on a deserted dirt road. Now we are looking forward to some hot chocolate and coffee along with the pastry we bought in the store yesterday. This is nice.
We spend the rest of the day in the forest and meet a lot of fellow hikers coming from the south, and even two southbound hikers like us, Gravity and Happy Feet from Canada. They were taking a break by the river when we passed them, so now we know we have someone hiking behind us and hope to run into them again at a later stage. We don't really take a lunch break because a) we don't feel like eating the food we packed in any longer and b) it's cold within the woods and there are loads of mosquitoes around. We just take a short break to dip our feet into an ice cold stream. This helps reduce the pain I'm experiencing in the feet. I really hope it will get better soon.
After 23.3, our new record this time around we finally reach the creek where we planned to camp. We pitch the tent right next to the creek in record time because the mosquitoes are already attacking again. We are at the very bottom of a tiny valley, it's rather dark down here and we are completely alone, feels like.
We make a couscous dinner and realize that we must have put 3 packets into our ziplock bag instead of 2 packets, but only have one sauce as usual, meaning that dinner turns out completely dry and not tasty at all. Suddenly, as we're in the tent with the rainfly on (it is cold down here by this creek), we hear something big charging past our tent. As of now we still don't know what it was. I don't think it was a bear as it looked paler than a bear. A deer probably. They do like to hang around camp in this area hoping for some pee they can drink or some sweat residue they can lick off our hiking poles.
Tomorrow the first 13 miles are all uphill and according to the daily NOBO news we will encounter some more snow. But first, let's sleep and rest our feet.
Miles 1151.9 to 1156.7 (4.8 Miles) Castella campground to Mt Shasta view camp
We sleep in and it feels amazing not having to get up before dusk. Not like we have been doing that lately, but whatever. We wake up because the sun is shining directly in our face and because it’s very windy. This is partly the reason why Dario did not sleep very well last night, as he was very worried about potential trees crashing down on us.
We are still in the tent when a lady in a small golf cart comes driving over to our campsite to let us know that we have camped in the wrong spot. There is a designated campsite reserved for PCT hikers and we are in the campsite next to it. However, she is very nice asking us if we would like some tokens to get a shower and if we would like a cup of coffee. How amazing! Her name is Mary and she is very interested in the PCT and in us. She comes back with two real towels, a lot of tokens which means a long shower, and with coffee and almond milk, which is delicious by the way.
We take down our tent and then I go and have a shower. Whilst I shower I also wash my dirty clothes. Then it is Dario‘s turn. After our showers we wait a bit to let our clothes dry and then make our way down to the highway to catch a ride. We don’t have to wait long, in fact, we wait for about five minutes when Max stops, an elderly gentleman from Carmel in Big Sur, visiting his daughter in Portland for her birthday. He says that he has been driving for many hours and has been very bored and hoping to be able to collect some hitchhikers to talk to. He is a bit disappointed that we are only asking for a ride to the next town, Dunsmuir, where we hope to get a delicious breakfast and an efficient resupply and hopefully fuel. He drops us off in the middle of town and first we make our way to a restaurant. It’s called the Wheelhouse and it's fabulous. We order two breakfast burritos and they turn out to be the best I have ever had. This is something we have to take home with us: how to make breakfast burritos.
We wait for a long time for our clothes to dry off completely outside and charge our electronic devices some more inside the restaurant, and catch up with friends and family through voice messages. We are not really in a rush because we only plan to do about 4 miles this afternoon. After a couple of hours in the Wheelhouse we make our way to IGA to buy groceries. Somehow we still have a lot of food left from the last stretch and therefore don’t need to buy as much. We just stock up and get some ice cream and go outside of the store to organize the resupply. Oh and we also got gas by asking in the Facebook PCT group if anybody knew where to buy fuel in Dunsmuir.
Now all we need to do is catch a ride back to Castella and start hiking. As people have already asked us previously, if we needed a ride we figure it’s probably easy to get out of Dunsmuir and make our way to the highway entrance. However we end up waiting for at least 30 minutes until a car pulls over and agrees to take us to the trailhead. This time our driver is a former PCT hiker called Grillman. He says he needs to do a couple of stops before dropping us off, which of course is not a problem for us. When he drops us off we quickly say our goodbyes and start hiking. Up, up, up we go. We are back in forest, the sun is shining bright, everything is green and blue around us. And the going is easy. We reach camp by about 6.45pm and do our usual set up routine, this time filming it to always be able to remember those daily routines we tend to forget the earliest.
Now we are in the tent and I am dictating my blog post on my phone. It’s very interesting and I don’t think I will be doing it again. Good night.
1132 to 1151.9 (19.9 Miles) Ridge Forest camp to Castella campground
Another restful night, but painful morning when the alarm rings. Everything hurts, what is going on??? Damn roadwalk!
But when we are finally up and about we realize it was worth getting up early We are still up on a ridge and the morning light touches all the peaks around us. The atmosphere is indescribable and it just keeps getting better when we pull around a corner and are greeted by the Castle Crags, a breathtaking rock formation. Today should be easy as we are hiking down for most of the time and will reach civilization at the end of the day. But it has happened before that we underestimated the gradient of the trail here in NorCal, so let's hope it will be as easy as we'd hoped.
Which of course it's not. In between the descents we have to climb up quite a bit and the slopes are rather steep and exposed. We only eat our breakfast once we reach the next water source as we didn't get any water last night. Honestly, we are so tired of our food already. I want some real food!
This is why today we really try our best to hike as fast as we can. We want to reach Castella and have enough time to go to the store to get some sandwiches. Or just anything that's not oatmeal, Roni pasta or ramen noodles. We are so done with this kind of "diet"! But here comes a distraction in the form of the most perfect creek to dip into. We sit there for about an hour, washing our feet and relaxing in the sun. Another perfect moment on the PCT.
Refreshed we are ready to tackle the remaining miles to Castella. Castle Crags State Park is just a beauty. But our feet are getting really tired now and we are very much looking forward to getting into camp. We decided to stay at the Castella campground tonight as it's the cheapest and easiest option and we want to head out straight away tomorrow without spending too much time in Castella, or Dunsmuir, or Mt Shasta. So hopefully we can do a full re-supply in in the gas station in Castella. We finally reach the junction to the campground at about 5.30pm and quickly make our way down. The campsite is a bit of a disappointment on first sight because there are a lot of mosquitoes and it’s too shady for my taste specially since the sun is still shining. We also don’t have an option to shower because we need tokens for that and don’t have any. We try to order a pizza from Dunsmuir but unfortunately they don’t deliver outside of town. Instead Dario walks to the gas station to get some dinner because we don't have any fuel left to cook dinner (and are looking forward to eating something else for a change). In the meantime I charge all of our electronic devices and set up the tent and everything. He comes back right when I am done and we settle into a cozy night with sandwiches, chips and even a bottle of wine. Now life is good again. We can even sleep in tomorrow as we'll have to go into Dunsmuir to get fuel as they didn't have any at the gas station. And since we're already going into town we might as well have a good breakfast there. With that thought in mind we finally go to bed.
1113.4 to 1132 (18.6 Miles) Parks Creek Trailhead Camp to Ridge Forest camp
Yep. No way we can get up early today. No way we are doing a 30 mile day like we previously contemplated for a minute there. Our bodies ache badly. Let's just snooze a couple more rounds.
We start hiking at 8am. Beautiful weather, fresh air, green meadows and forests, blue skies, snow covered mountain peaks. A dream. Our breakfast break is an extended version today and lasts 1.5 hours. Don't worry, we also filter the water in the meantime, so that's our excuse. This is not going to be a 30 mile day.
We keep crossing Nobos all day. High mountains, gorgeous ridges and crest walking. Loving it. And there's Mt Shasta, well hello there! We love Mt Shasta! Last year we couldn't spot it being in the town of Mt Shasta itself, the smoke was so, so bad. And here it is while we are still a couple of days away from it.
There are snow patches here too, but they are definitely manageable with our micro spikes and ice axes. It's really hot, the snow must be melting fast.
We also need to take a lot of breaks today, the roadwalk from two days ago completely destroyed my feet. Will this ever get better? I don't remember ever having feet issues like this?
We settle on a campsite and take up speed to reach it fast. Then we realize we haven't seen a water source for quite some time. A quick check on our Guthook app reveals that there won't be any water on trail before our designated campsite. This is bad as we aren't carrying enough water for dinner and the night, much less for tomorrow morning. But then we find out that there is a source located about 0.3 miles off trail, all the way down this ridge. Not great, but we don't have a choice but to get down there. When we reach the junction we are at a loss. The trail down to the water source is completely covered in snow. Like 10 feet of snow on a steep slope. No way we are going down there. We will have to resort to another solution. Melting snow is it. Luckily we have a plastic bag in which we now spoon snow into. With some kilos of snow we quickly make our way to our camp where we melt snow and have another blister popping party. Melting snow requires a lot of gas and we are worried we might not be able to make dinner. Luckily it's just about enough and we enjoy another lovely pasta dinner prepared by the master chef, Ratatouille. We didn't exactly pull a 30 today, in fact, we hiked a bit over half of that, but who cares. This time we're not here for the miles, we're here for the smiles. And we had a great day despite all the bodily pain.
1092.9 to 1113.4 (20.5 Miles) Scott Mountain Summit Campground to Parks Creek Trailhead Camp
We slept reeeally well, but just can't manage to get up in the morning. After we've hit the snooze button a couple of times we finally get up and start hiking at 07.15am. Finally back on trail, this feels soooo nice! First we hike uphill and are already running into some northbound hikers. This is new, but we expected to be meeting way more hikers now. With the Sierra Nevada still completely covered in snow most hikers skipped up north to Chester and have been hiking north ever since. That's why there are here really early in the season. So, lots of hikers, lots of water sources from melted snow, and some wildlife. After 3 hours on trail we run into our first bear on trail. He's really close to us, it's a cub and it's so cute! But always upon seeing a cub by itself we start to wonder where the mum is, and then quickly back off. The cub quickly disappears before we have the chance to take a photo.
We take our breaky near a creek, in the sun. We've got hardboiled eggs this time - that's a first - which we eat with our Swiss mayonnaise and Aromat. Best idea ever.
But oh man, my feet hurt. This roadwork was the worst idea ever. Luckily the terrain isn't too demanding today, and very pretty. We are getting some beautiful and expansive views. This looks very different from last year, when there were no views for many weeks due to the smoke of wildfires. So this is really nice.
So even though the terrain is easy we take many breaks. I think I broke my feet while hiking on the road yesterday. They cannot deal. I've been swallowing ibuprofen all day long. It's time we get into camp. But it's only noon. But we're not hungry at all. So time for a siesta in the shade. This is amazing! We are both asleep instantly.
We are back at listening to podcasts and audiobooks. This helps a little bit to keep us going. The miles crawl by especially slowly towards the end of the day. We are taking soon many breaks! But we make it into camp eventually, and even get some reception to listen to some voice messages from friends.
Couscous and The Great British Bake-off for dinner. We reached camp late so we only go to bed at 9.30pm today. We are destined for a late start tomorrow. What a vicious circle.
1053.4 to 1092.9 (13 Miles) Etna to Scott Mountain Summit Campground
7am. We pack our bags, deal with some administrative stuff and call family back home, informing them of our plan to bypass the Trinity Alps and do the road walk. They approve, relieved we're not getting ourselves in a potentially dangerous situation. By the time we leave it's 09.30am, a bit later than planned. And we still need mosquito spray. This is very very important. We need a way to stay clear of the mozzies out there. Being eaten alive is not on my bucket list.
We start our roadwork at around 10am. It's very hot by now and down here in the valley there is hardly any shade. This is going to be interesting. This is too hot and too demanding for my feet. Asphalted roads really are the worst. Within a matter of minutes I feel that my feet will be the victims of today. But so far hitching is not an option. We are hiking this thing. 13 Miles straight to Callahan on Highway 3, and then 8 miles and 2500 ft (800 meters) uphill from Callahan to Scott Mountain Summit . This is not recommendable unless you plan on ruining your feet. I complain the whole time and need a lengthy break every 1.5 miles. We are slow. In addition to the aching feet the back is also complaining. We are carrying a lot of water due to lack of water in the area, and food for 5 days to get us to Dunsmuir. We weighed our packs today: My pack weighs 17 kg or 37 pounds, Dario's pack weighs 24 kg or 53 pounds. It's safe to say we are suffering. Soon we have to admit that this was the worst idea ever. It's no fun, there are no views. There is just pain. And a lot of it. We still need our feet and decide to call it quits in Callahan and hitch up to the trailhead. Therefore, after 13 miles by 4.15pm we get into Callahan, get something cool to drink in the store and then get back on the road to find a ride. Not even kidding, after roughly 20 seconds, the first car pulls over and lets us jump into the back of the pickup truck. The ride takes about 20 minutes, we're in the back of this red truck. Wind and sun in our hair, legs stretched out. This is way better.
It's now 5pm and still really really hot. We decide to camp at the campground here and set up the tent, without the rainfly for the first time this season. It would definitely be warm enough. What's better than to be sleeping right under the stars? You tell me. Cooking dinner and blogging followed by a pasta dinner with fresh tomatoes. We're back on the PCT. The love we have for this trail is indescribable. Just try it for yourself, you'll see.
Etna Summit to Etna (10.6 Miles Roadwalk off trail)
Since we only plan to hike 10 miles from Etna Summit back to Etna today, with no backpack on (slack packing in hiker slang), we decide we might as well sleep in a little bit. Feeling very rested we join Cate out in the patio and hand here over our shopping list for dinner. She is going to Walmart today and will buy everything we need to make a delicious eggplant parmigiana and some other super delicious food! Our next stop is the bakery where we get some sweet and savory pastry for today's hike. We leave the store, walk on the road for some minutes and then hear a car approaching. Thumbs out! Two minutes later we are sitting in John's car. John is Canadian but lives in Tarent, Oregon out here for a 2-day hike. After a 15 minute ride we reach the top where we say our goodbyes and start our walk back to Etna. More than one person driving by stops and asks us if we need a ride. Yeah. People don't get that some people do this for fun. Well, not exactly fun. But we are committed to hiking from Mexico to Canada, so no, thank you very much, we will keep walking.
After almost 3 hours we are back in Etna. We saw a bear on the way down! Back in town we grab our towels and head over to the community pool for a dip. It's really hot today. We were here last time. This feels a bit weird. But in a nice way.
Then it's time to get cooking! We head back over to Cate's and start making dinner for 8 people including us. Eggplant Parmigiana, Pasta, Puff Pastry rolls with pesto, mustard, sour cream and ham, Tiramisu. At 7pm the guests come, Cate's dad with his partner and their niece, Chris and Cate. Cate found three more hikers from Germany in the park and invites them over too. They decide to spend the night with us in the garage. While they go grab their belongings in the park we prepare their beds. It's nice to have new company!
What another great day in Etna comes to an end. Tomorrow we will get up at 7am and do a 21 mile roadwork back to the PCT. Let's finish the last 300 miles, let's finish this thing!
Zero in Etna
Sleeping in till 8am, amaaaazing! After video-calling Tanja and Dani I organize our stuff while Dario plants 2 blueberry bushes for Cate, our trail angel and host. Then we're off to get some breakfast, breakfast burritos - our favorite, followed by a brief visit to the post office to collect our two boxes we had shipped here from Sisters. While Dario is napping I take care of the remaining resupply at Ray's Grocery Store and have a lengthy phone conversation with Anja. Then we head out to the library to work on our CVs. Dario doesn't have a job yet back home while I will go back to my former workplace for a couple of months before looking for something else. We are very focused and time passes by really quickly. Before we know it the library closes at 5pm and we walk back over to Cate's. By now we are the only hikers there, everyone else left this morning, headed north.
We join Cate and her sister Chris out on the patio and just end up talking about literally everything. Somehow our Swiss mayonnaise and mustard come up and I bring them out for them to taste. We end up doing a mayonnaise tasting, comparing the US kind to the Swiss kind. Both of them absolutely love our Swiss one and we promise to ship some over once we get home. We spent a great evening with the two ladies. Cate takes out her Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Mask and we play some games, drink wine and beer and just have the most fun evening.
We found out yesterday from NOBO hikers that the Trinity Alps are still impassable due to snow and sketchy traverses which leaves us with a 31 mile roadwalk to a PCT trailhead further south. It means we won't get to hike out of Etna, but instead will hike that part on the road in the valley so as to hike continuous footsteps instead of just skipping this section. As there is no camping along the road we decide to hike the first 10 miles from the Etna Summit trailhead to Etna, and the remaining 21 miles to Scott Mountain trailhead the next day. So tomorrow we will get up early, get a ride to the trailhead and then walk back down to Etna where we will have enough time to hang out another afternoon, and maybe go to the pool and cook dinner for the two sisters and their families. It also means we will be doing a near-o tomorrow and get to enjoy one of our favorite trail towns Etna for another day.
Miles 742.4 to 745.2 (2.8 Miles) Lower Rosary Lake Camp to Highway 58/Willamette Pass, hitchhike to Etna, California (Mile 1053.4)
At 6.45am we hear our alarm clock going off. Oh wow, today we will leave Oregon and finally enter California again! We will have to see how easy it will be to get to Etna, a small town just south of the Oregon/California border. It is roughly 350 miles away. And we need to hitchhike there... But getting to another place by only hitching is always a bit of an adventure as well. So we are kind of excited, too.
In around half an hour we are all packed up and ready to go. It is an easy 2.8 mile hike all downhill from our camp site to Highway 58. In less than one hour we are already standing at the highway crossing. It is right here, where we had to leave the trail last year to get me to the hospital in Bend for treating my giardia disease... It all looks so familiar and suddenly there seems to be no or only little time passed between those two moments.
We know from last year that getting a ride from here is far from easy, since there is not a lot of traffic on this section of the highway. But today we are in luck. After only twenty minutes a pick up truck with a boat in the back slows down and signalizes us to hop on. It turn out the lovely guy who gives us a ride is called Dennis, is around 65 years old and is driving to Reno in Nevada to spend some days on his boat on the lake there. We tell him that we need to get to Chemult, a small town 30 miles south of here where we hopefully get another hitch, which should then bring us closer to Klamath falls, close to the California state border. Dennis agrees to take us to Chemult, since he has to drive through this town anyways. Shortly before we get there, he suddenly says, I decided to take you to Weed, I am not in a hurry and I don't mind making this little detour for you two. Awesome! Weed is already in California and only a one hour drive away from Etna, our final destination.
After a while we make a stop at a gas station, Dennis fills the tank and the two of us get a coffee. Then we continue our drive, when suddenly the engine loses power. And the car is getting slower and slower and eventually stops.
We are not too far out of Klamath falls, so still in Oregon, but right here there is literally nothing. So Dennis gets out of the car, opens the engine and assumes that the fuel pump must have broken. He tries to restart it several times, but the result is always the same. The car is dead and we need to call a towing service. At least they arrive within 20 minutes and tow away the truck including the boat, and Dennis.
We were already wondering, that this hitch was waaay too easy.. .so now we stand here, next to the highway, in the middle of nowhere and have to find another hitch - and it is hot today, very hot! But if we've learned something in South America, then it is to always stay "tranquilo", regardless of the shitty situation in which we're in. What else can you do? So we try and try to find a hitch but the few cars that are passing by wouldn't take us with them. In the meantime Maya calls her sister who just got engaged (congratulations again Dana and Andri). But then after almost 2.5 hours, another pickup slows down, lowers his window and says: Hop on guys! Yaaaay, finally!
This time it's Ken, a former military and now construction company owner from Lake Shastina. Ken is a very interesting guy in his best years and still single! And he is currently looking for a new relationship, but hasn't found anyone interesting yet. So anyone interested in getting to know him, we will make arrangements :)
For around two hours we drive and talk with Ken, finally pass the state border to California and eventually reach Yreka (which is pronounced Why-reka), Etna's neighboring town, which is less than an hour's drive away. Here we invite Ken to have lunch with us in a delicious burger place and then say our goodbyes as he has to go shopping for groceries and needs to go home afterwards.
So now we need a third hitch for the last remaining miles. And this time it's Leslie, a lovely woman with Swiss ancestors from Basel (a born Burckhardt), who agrees to takes us to Fort Jones where she lives. Arriving there she changes her mind and decides to drive us the whole way to Etna to our host, Catherine who runs the R&R (which stands for Rough and Ready, the town's former name) bunkhouse. We say thank you very much Leslie and hopefully see you one day in Basel. It is now only 5pm and we already made it to Etna! Wow that was way faster than expected.
The R&R bunkhouse is a place where you can stay for work - the deal is one hour of work per person per day gets you one free night in the nicely equipped bunkhouse there. It turns out that Catherine is the most amazing host ever! She deeply loves old arcade games and has several machines hikers can play with. There is a kitchen, laundry, showers, Netflix and even a Oculus Go to play with. And the work we have to do? Planting two small blue berry bushes in her backyard, a task that doesn't take 2 hours, but more like 10 minutes. Awesome :) There are two more hikers already staying here, Xena - named after the warrior princess - and Adam with his dog Betulla, who just started his PCT adventure two weeks ago and is the first toilet-paper engineer the two of us have ever met.
After talking to our new friends for a bit, we decide to get dinner at the local pub, where we have a delicious Caesar salad for dinner. And they have dog puppies here - a mixture between Border Collie and Australian Sheppard. Maya instantly falls in love and won't stop playing with them. And with this another day of our PCT adventure passes by. Good night.
Miles 728 to 742.4 (14.4 Miles)
Charlton Lake to Lower Rosary Lake
Today we allow ourselves a sleep in because we only got into camp late last night and don't have a big day ahead of us. We deserve this. :) We wake up at 6.45am and our mozzie friends are already waiting for us outside the tent. Very loyal insects. But we are not in the mood for a blood donation and decide to pack up everything in the tent first and then work our way outside, applying deet first thing. Unfortunately our spray is almost empty, and it still has to last us another day. We are slower at packing up this time and only leave at 8am. We are not really motivated today. We know that today we will be running into snow again as we are to climb yet another mountain. Where there is snow and snow melt, there are usually thousands of mozzies. Another thing we're not particularly excited about.
The first part is easy, but then the snow starts and we are lost before we know it. There is also a dangerous creek crossing as a snow bridge has formed above it and it takes us forever to figure out where we can hike through. It really takes us forever to reach the top where we finish our last breakfast items since tomorrow morning we will finish this section and will definitely eat a nicer breakfast somewhere OFF trail. Our next package with Swiss mayonnaise and Co. is already waiting for us in Northern California!
As we descend again we eventually leave the snow behind and take a foot bath break at Lake Bobby, a short distance off trail. This lake is beautiful! There are dark clouds forming on an otherwise lovely day and the colors of the lake portrait all kinds of different shades of blue and green.
Our next ascent has us dreading the upcoming snow again, but we are in luck! No more snow! It's very steep, but we are rewarded with amazing views. From the top we can see all the way south to Lake Odell where Shelter Cove is situated. Shelter Cove is the place where we got off trail last year to get Dario to the hospital in Bend to treat Giardia. In front of Lake Odell are the Rosary lakes. We quickly hike down and pass the first two lakes before setting up camp at Lower Rosary Lake. It's only 5pm, the sun is still out and we decide to jump in again. Warming up in our sleeping bags in the sunshine we later make our last pasta dinner in Oregon. Tomorrow we will hike 3 miles down to Highway 58 and hopefully get a ride south to California. Tomorrow's goal would be to reach Etna in Northern California, zero there tomorrow and start our last section of the PCT the day after. But when hitchhiking you never know what's coming, so we are looking forward to finding out. 3 more miles tomorrow, 3 more miles in Oregon and then we can say that we hiked the entire length of Oregon and Washington. California, we are coming for you!
Miles 705.9 to 728 (22.1 Miles)
Dumbbell Lake Peninsula Camp to Charlton Lake
We want to do a lot of miles today so we get up fairly early, feeling refreshed from our dip in the lake last night. It turns out though that we shouldn't stay in those lakes for too long before going to bed. After a while we started to be really cold and had trouble warming up. Eventually it was fine, but we learnt to limit our time in Oregon lakes at this time of the year. Bye beautiful camp spot, we loved you!
Sun, no snow, easy terrain. The PCT can actually be straightforward sometimes, that's new! There are so many lakes we pass in this area and we look forward to having our breakfast near one of them. But then we don't find a sunny spot and after about 6 miles just decide to take a break on the trail directly, there are no people around anyway! It's sunny here, but there are loads of mosquitoes. Luckily we carry deet and the mozzies soon let us be.
After breakfast the trail starts ascending again, looks like the easy part is already over... It's not exactly steep, but with the elevation gain the snow starts again, and it's just really really annoying. We are postholing a lot, falling into holes, losing the trail - this is frustrating and our bodies are aching! We take a short break at Stormy Lake. There is no water to collect here, only ice.
We want to reach Lake Brahma for lunch and therefore soon get going again. There are so many lakes here, it's amazing! And it's really hot today too - 36 degrees Celsius - so the minute we reach Lake Brahma we jump in again! This is fun, we could get used to jumping into several lakes a day. We wash our socks and underwear and then prepare lunch, only I am not hungry. Or better, I can't stand the food we carry anymore and rather just eat nothing. I miss Swiss food! Italian food! Fresh food! Homemade food! Did I mention we are excited to go home and, basically, just eat the whole time?
After an hour well spent we pack up. We know another big climb is coming and we are spreading the snow that usually comes with elevation gain. Hiking in snow sucks! But the next mountain turns out to be a burnt area, meaning that the sun could reach the ground and melt all the snow. This is a fabulous surprise! On top we even have cell service and I find out that my little sister got engaged! Congratulations Andri and Dana, you two lovebirds!!! And, it was about time :-)
On our climb down I am hurting. My shoulders ache, my feet don't want to carry me anymore. After what feels like an eternity but are actually 4 miles we reach our designated camp site. We jump into yet another lake - Charlton Lake - and then hop straight into our sleeping bags, feeling really cold again. We are both not hungry and skip dinner again. While inspecting our feet I realize that I've developed quite a few larger blisters under my feet, so Dario pops them and puts some cream on them. Hopefully I will be able to walk tomorrow. Then, from the comfort of our sleeping bags we watch the hundreds and hundreds of mosquitoes outside our mosquito net. This is crazy! But you can't touch us, so who cares...
Miles 690.1 to 705.9 (15.8 Miles + 2.4 Miles to and from Elk Lake Resort, Total Miles: 18.2)
Mesa Creek Camp to Dumbbell Lake Peninsula Camp
We manage to get up really early and hit the trail at 05.30am. It's freezing cold, but wow, this silence, the deep blue sky not yet illuminated by the sun... it's magnificent. And worth getting up for before the sun.
The snow is hard, the next climb will definitely be easier than if we had done it yesterday in the afternoon. It turns out to be a very steep climb, straight up the mountain instead the relentless switchbacks we are used to. There is no point in following any trail, it's easier to just take the most direct route up there. We reach the meadow on the top and marvel at the beauty surrounding us. All we can see is a blue sky, the snow covered ground, grey mountains and green trees. It's so so peaceful. This meadow, we later find out, is called Wickiup Plains and the next couple of miles are just incredibly beautiful. We are hiking in snow, it's crunching beneath our feet, we make good progress. Those plains to me instantly become one of the best parts of the whole PCT. We can see many footsteps here, some of them really deep. It looks like we would have needed to do a lot of potholing in softer snow, and are so relieved we are doing it in the morning when the snow is still hard and icy!
Eventually the trail leads back into the woods where we have to once again look out for the trail. It's not so easy to follow it because it's never straight, always like a snake winding through nature. The last real climb of the day and then we finally reach the top where we planned to have breakfast. And we have cell reception, yaaay! I realize I've got some messages from my best friend. Listening to them we find out that her soon-to-be-husband had a terrible bike accident and is currently in surgery. I call her immediately and am relieved to see that she's doing okay, that Dani will be fine. Still, what a shock this close to their wedding! Well, we are very happy to know that he's not in a life threatening condition or expected to suffer from this accident longterm. A lot of broken bones and ribs, but this is fixable and he will be fine. Get better soon Dani! I can't stomach any food now, but Dario is more than happy to eat my share of breakfast. After a while we get up and start our hike down to the Elk Lake Resort. Food! Drinks! Ice cold water! Bathroom! Lake! The trail is snow free on this side of the mountain and before we know it we reach the junction to the resort. Another 1.2 Miles and we reach it, order water, cokes, burgers and a caesar salat right away, and dig right in.
While we dry our tent in the sun we lie down as well and have a nice, long nap on the lake shore. Sooner rather than later we decide to hike back to the trail before we get sucked into the vortex of chilling and hanging out with locals on their weekend. After filling our water bottles and buying a new fuel canister we hike another 5.4 miles and reach the most picturesque lake ever! Dumbbell lake is absolutely incredible! There is a peninsula in the middle of the lake where we decide to set up camp, surrounded by water on 3 sides! We set up, take our clothes off and jump straight into the ice cold lake! Finally we (and our clothes) are having a wash, it was about time! We're still feeling pretty full form our generous lunch at the resort and just watch some Netflix before going to bed rather early. What an awesome day!
Miles 679.6 to 690.1 (10.5 Miles) Lost in the Woods Camp to Mesa Creek Camp
The alarm wakes us at 6am but we pretend not to hear it. Leave us alone! Our bodies are aching so bad, we were (ok, I was) cold all night despite the hot water bottle, the liner in the sleeping bag and it being June!!! But that‘s what you get for sleeping surrounded by snow. Our tent surrounded by a big cold white fridge. So alarm, leave us alone, we need to sleep some more today.
At 6.45am we finally manage to get up somehow. Our calves are hurting like hell! Hiking in snow is so incredibly exhausting! And it‘s most likely not going to get better today either as we will be staying above 6000 ft almost the entire time.
Ok, we are now ready to attack, but first let‘s find the trail. Found it! Awesome, off to a good start! The trail soon leads us out of the woods, thank you very much, and onto a beautiful snow covered meadow. Meanwhile the Middle Sister (or is it already the South sister?) makes an impressive appearance. Well, hello there beautiful!
The snow is still frozen and easy to walk on. The beauty surrounding us makes it easy for us to actually enjoy this morning. Sure it‘s exhausting, calves are already burning, but the silence, except for the snow crunching beneath our micro spikes - krch krch krch - is meditative, the fresh air so healthy and the sun already there to greet us. We feel like we are the only people on the planet right now. This part of the PCT will be crowded in a couple of weeks from now, and we‘ve got it all to ourselves.
After about 2 hours, or 3 miles - yes, the going is very slow - we stop for breakfast in the most amazing spot. One of the sisters (talking about the mountains here) is straight ahead of us, the sun is shining in our faces and warming us. We hang our sweaty clothes and shoes out to dry and have a delicious breakfast with the usual: oatmeal, toast with mayonnaise, cenovis, mustard, cheese and summer sausage, coffee and hot chocolate. Life is good.
After an hour we finally take off again. We still hike on either snow covered meadows or in snow covered forest. Yes, we haven‘t seen the trail since yesterday morning. Yes, it‘s annoying and quite challenging to keep following the one set of foot steps of our unknown hiker friend and continuously check on our Guthooks app if we are still on the right track. I hike with my ice axe in the left and with my phone in the right hand, a trekking pole lose around my right hand wrist. Not exactly professional mountaineering style. I probably look quite ridiculous. Dario is always about 50 metres ahead of me, following the foot steps or adjusting his direction based on what I tell him from Guthook. He postholes quite a bit, falling or sinking deep into the snow. I actually think by now the score of who fell more times is even, if not in favor of Dario. ;-)
Suddenly we hear a voice! Crunchmaster, a hiker we‘ve been in touch with regarding this section is standing down there! We‘ve been expecting to run into him any minute now because we knew he was coming towards us from the south. Before we started this section we tried to find out about the snow conditions and to see whether there were going to be others hikers in this area, for safety reasons. So there he is! Crunchmaster from Tennessee is on his third attempt to thruhike the PCT this year, and has already successfully hiked the PCT twice, as well in 2018, but we never ran into him last year. We tell each other all about the upcoming parts and he assures us that it’s not too bad for the next 20 miles, but that the trail will still be covered in snow for most of the time. So nothing new there. We talk for about 20 minutes, make him promise to come visit us in Switzerland. And off we are, back in the woods, but only for another half an hour and now with an additional set of tracks to follow, yaaaay!
It finally gets easier, less traversing in steep forest slopes and around trees. We are back in a beautiful plain and finally in lower terrain. Hello trail! It's good to actually see you again!!! We take a short lunch break to stuff our mouths with Sour patches and Twix. We aren't really hungry, but need the calories, the energy. We pass a burnt area, encounter some ski tracks, but slowly make our way down the mountain with the help of our microspikes, ice axe and most importantly, our trustworthy Guthook app. Thank god for Guthook. We finally reach the valley bottom, it's only 4pm but we decide to call it a day. There is another ascent coming up and we don't want to risk having to sleep on snow. Plus, tomorrow morning the snow on the ascent will still be frozen. Plus, this meadow is beautiful!
We find a lovely and dry spot to pitch our tent, right next to the Mesa creek. The sun is shining right into our tent, it feels warm and cozy. We make a pasta with fresh cherry tomatoes for dinner and go to sleep at about 8pm, what an exhausting, but beautiful day!
Miles 669.4 to 679.6 (10.2 Miles) + 6.5 Mile Roadwalk to trailhead (Total 16.7 Miles).
Sisters to Lost in the Woods Camp.
Today we head back to the trail! Finally, yaaaay! The bad weather front finally disappeared and we are ready to go!
A few days back Maya found a trail angel called Fred in the PCT Facebook group who kindly agreed to give us a ride to the trailhead or basically to the furthest possible point on the road towards the trailhead. As of now, the road going up to McKenzie pass is still closed 6.5 miles before the pass because of snow - which basically means that we will have to walk that part as well…
At exactly 6.30am Fred shows up in his red Subaru Crosstrek to pick us up. What a nice guy he is! It turns out we are the first PCT hikers he ever helped out! Fred spent his youth in Germany so he still speaks it pretty fluently! Very cool. So next we drive by a coffee place, get three coffees, off we go.
As we drive up towards McKenzie pass the landscape and surroundings suddenly feel very familiar – we drove the exact same road a year ago. But last time we continued our hike north of McKenzie Pass all the way to Canada. This time we are hiking south. So after a drive of around 15 minutes we reach the barrier from where the road is closed. Fred parks the car and a lady walking her dog takes some pictures of the three of us. Then we say goodbye to our new friend Fred and start our next section on the PCT. We heard that the snow line starts at around 5'500 feet (~1'700 meters). The pass itself is only 5'300 feet in altitude- so basically we should be fine with snow.
The hike up isn't too bad and in around 2.5 hours we reach McKenzie Pass. There are some minor patches of snow left, but not a lot. Otherwise the pass is beautiful, kind of "surreal lunar surface"-looking with all the lava rocks.
Only problem is that the pass is just the entrance gate back to the PCT, which then will lead over the Sisters mountains and therefore is most of the time above 6'000 feet - snow is a guaranteed certainty.
A previous post to the PCT Facebook group revealed that we are most likely the first hikers in the season hiking those mountains from north to south. But there is another PCT hiker called "Crunchmaster" going from south to north, whom we should cross at some point in this 40 mile stretch.
The air is super clean and fresh, but cold as well, we are both a bit nervous, but excited at the same time. The first 3 miles are relatively easy, there is some snow left, but nothing major. We make our way through a big lava field, then a stretch through forrest follows. Now we start getting higher in altitude, Soon we reach 5'700 feet and the snow kicks in. Now we are glad Brad made us buy those ice axes - they come in very handy by now. We have to traverse a wall covered under 6 feet of snow and on the side the wall goes down steeply for some 600 feet at least. There is no room for error now... We put on our micro spikes and slowly make our way across this dangerous part to the other side. This was not easy, but doable. For the next couple of miles the terrain becomes flatter, but snow is getting a bigger issue by the minute. After a while we have lunch on a snowless patch next to a beautiful lake. There is not a single cloud in the sky and the sun is shining with all its power. This results in countless reflecting drops of melting snow in the tree branches over and next to us. It is like rain on a bright sunny day!
From here we continue through more and more snow and after a while the trail is completely covered under 6 to 10 feet of snow. Now it is essential to have a GPS to still find your way through this winter/summer wonderland. Of course we don't try to stick to the non-existing trail - instead we just cut through it and take the easiest way. At some point we glissade down the mountain and later we find a PCT sign that is almost completely covered under snow.
By 7pm we finally find a more or less snowfree place to pitch our tent for the night. There was no water accessible for the last hours so we need to melt 2 or 3 kg of snow. The water tastes terrible, like burnt water, but it is still water. And so we cook dinner and crawl in to our sleeping bags. Today was very exhausting, but at the same time exciting as well! The adventure continues tomorrow when we will reach the high point at 6'500 feet. But for now we turn out our lights and within seconds pass over into a deep sleep.
3 Zero Days in Sisters
We sleep in and wake up well rested. This campground is really lovely: lots of room, a creek flowing right next to our site, clean showers and restrooms and a five minute walk away from the town centre.
First thing we do is prepare the boxes we plan to ship to Etna because we had shipped way too much stuff to the Timberline Lodge and are still carrying that huge box with us. While Dario drops the boxes off at the Post Office to have them sent to Etna I go to the grocery store to get some cherry tomatoes, cheese and a fuel canister. Now we're all set, ready to head out. Except for breakfast! We've been looking forward to a real American breakfast burrito and look up online where we should go. The "Hop and Brew" it is, right around the corner from the campground. And it's delicious. We are sitting outside, downloading some maps and checking the weather forecast. To be honest, it really doesn't look good. Bad weather is one thing, snow covered mountains another thing. Those two combined - probably not so much fun and possibly a bit dangerous. Are we up for this? Not really. Are we in a hurry? Not at all. Then it's decided, we will stay in Sisters and let the bad weather roll through the mountains while staying dry down here. We now have three full days in this cute little town where a big event is coming up - the Sisters Rodeo, one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the US!
The next couple days are filled with an unusual amount of reading, relaxing, eating good food, talking to interesting people and blogging in the library. One night we go to the Sisters Saloon for some burgers and a Caesar salad, everything is being prepared for the rodeo and the atmosphere is great! This is America like in the movies. It's kinda cool and we are definitely enjoying ourselves. In a month from now we will almost be back home after almost 15 months and we appreciate still being out and about, feeling free and flexible.
After three days of rest, many delicious breakfast burritos, a lot of hours spent in the library and restaurants we pack our stuff on Friday night, ready to head out the next day. The weather will be perfect again - warm and sunny! Tomorrow morning a trail angel called Fred will pick us up at 6.30am and take us to the trail head up at McKenzie Pass, or at least as close as possible since the pass is still closed for traffic. We missed the trail and can't wait to head back out there tomorrow!
SOBO Mile 551.4 to 555.7 (4.3 Miles)- Mt Jefferson View Camp to Timberline Lodge
It's 5am. Time to get up if we want to have at least a slight chance of reaching the Timberline Lodge in time for the famous breakfast buffet. We are both feeling a bit nervous not knowing what the conditions are like ahead of us. According to Jerry, our informant :), we should be running into snow immediately and all the way up to the Timberline Lodge. 4.3 miles of snow. Make it 1 mile per hour progress, we should get there by 10am or 11am, and no breakfast buffet for us. So let's hope for the best while preparing for the worst. This is also our system when it comes to microspikes and ice axe. As long as we wear that stuff we are likely not to run into snow. As soon as we take them off is usually when the snow starts. Murphy's Law is what they call it, no?
So off we go, microspikes on our shoes, ice axe in the left, trekking pole in the right hand. Not even two minutes into the hike a pine cone gets into my spikes and before I know it I am laying face down in the ground, my knee bleeding, my hand hurting. What a great start to this day! Let's hope it only gets better from here. We take off our spikes and eventually reach the river down in the valley. Snow free so far. So far so good. We are feeling really lucky. So far it really is better than yesterday.
The river crossing is the first challenge (expect for staying on our feet and trying not to fall again). And it is once again pretty challenging. It's good we're crossing really early in the morning, because the snow melt and amount of water coming down gets way worse later in the day! But still, it is quite a challenge to cross on the rocks. Dario is feeling confident, jumps over to the other side, leaves his pack, comes back to collect mine so that I can cross pack-free. I manage, but not without getting my feet wet.
Onwards we go, up up up the mountain. The last climb to Timberline Lodge where the breakfast is calling us. In the beginning it's almost snow-free, but eventually the snow patches become more and more common until we are completely hiking in snow. But before we know it we are up on the plateau with 360 degree views all around us. And it's just breathtaking. We don't mind hiking in snow as long as it's not on a steep mountain where we have to traverse all the time. But this, this is fun. And then, the first signs of civilisation: ski lifts! Ski lifts running in June. Welcome to the Timberline Ski Area!
Another 30 minutes later we make it! There's the lodge, what a great moment to be back here! And to actually see the beautiful scenery where the lodge is nestled into. Last time we were here it looked like this:
Now it looks like this:
Much better. Much much better.
The breakfast buffet tastes better this time because we don't feel as deflated and demotivated as last time. We then call our parents to let them know we made it. Talk with them some more. Always great to talk to family. <3
We then collect the box we had shipped here and consider our options. The next stretch is from McKenzie Pass near the town of Sisters to Shelter Cove at Lake Odell. 75 Miles. It's Tuesday today (we arrived 1.5 days earlier than planned!) and we know that the weather will turn bad on Thursday. We also know that this section will most likely be 100% snow covered. We don't want to be doing these miles in bad weather. It will be challenging enough with the sun shining. Maybe we should get a room at the lodge and stay here for the night before hitching to Sisters? We're not really in a rush... or we hitch to Sisters and try and gather some local intel. Maybe it won't be as bad? While we are debating what to do, a woman approaches us asking if we're PCT hikers. Yes we are, and so is she. Carmen is a Kiwi, and hiking with a Dutch couple: The Duchess and The Flying Dutchman. There are thruhiking this year but have been finding it really rough to find snow-free sections this year! It turns out they also just hiked here from Cascade Locks and the footsteps we saw and that helped us out immensely belonged to them! They will continue south from Highway 26 to Sisters and will take the bus down to Government Camp from where they are hoping to catch a ride to the trailhead. We decide to join them on the bus and hitch to Sisters. Staying at the Timberline Lodge is just too expensive (and overrated according to our 3 new hiker friends).
The bus soon shows up, we pack our packs and our huge box into it and get a ride down to Government Camp. Now to find a hitch for 5 people (because as it turns out, we all need to head west from here on Highway 26). And we're in luck. After about 10 minutes a lovely couple in a truck stops for us. Not only will they take the other three down the road to the trailhead, but since they are headed to Bend they can take us almost to Sisters!!! It's like a 2h drive, so we are really lucky! We were counting on taking at least 3 different hitches to get to our final destination today!!!
We are all bundled up in the back of the truck, exchanging phone numbers and having a blast. Sooner rather than later the other hikers get off and we jump into the front of the truck. Steve and Cathy are a great couple from Vancouver, WA and time passes by really quickly while we tell each other all about our lives. We are dropped off past Redmond and soon get another hitch by a young local couple. They drop us off at the Sisters Campground.
As we are still not sure if we will hike out the next day or not we decide to get everything ready in case we are hiking out the next day. This means doing laundry and getting some new carton boxes for shipping. We skip dinner because we aren't hungry at all - that breakfast buffet really has got you covered for the whole day (Dario did eat 4 plates packed with eggs, sausages, ham and frittata)!
So for now we are ready to hike out the next day and brace the worsening weather. We should be able to reach Elk Lake in 2.5 days, this would give us a shelter while it's raining, and possibly snowing on us. But nothing is set in stone, we'll just wait and see in the morning. But so far we are right on schedule!
SOBO Mile 534.2 to 551.4 (17.2 Miles) - Windy camp to Mt Jefferson View camp
When we hear the alarm clock going off at around 5.30 in the morning, we realize that our bodies still haven't quite adapted to hike 10 to 12 hours a day, and in a rather dizzy state or as I would call it, "my zombie mode", we decide to snooze for another hour.
But what a good night we actually had! Totally different to the one before. So now we feel kind of recovered again and pack up everything in again less than 40 minutes!
We calculated that now it is only around 22 miles to the famous Timberline Lodge, the place where they shot "The shining" with Jack Nicholson in 1980. Which also happens to be place where we had to take a cab to Cascade Locks the year before, since we felt so miserable of being snowrained on for the last couple of hours and not being allowed to dry all of our wet gear in the lodge. If you would like to have a more detailed reminder of last year's Timberline experience, here‘s the link to our post of September 12 of last year...
As I mentioned it is only 22 miles, but Jerry King, who works for Search and Rescue in the area, told us that there is still a lot of snow at elevations over 5400 feet, so the last 7 miles of the trail are supposedly all covered under 4 to 6 feet of snow, which is equal to 1.2 to 2 meters of snow... yaaay... and you wonder, why he knows that? Well, Iwas asking myself the same question. Turns out that he and his team had to rescue 2 hikers from a terrible situation the weekend BEFORE. That didn't sound very promising, but Jerry calmed us down and assured us that they were two 19 year old guys and were rather inexperienced and furthermore they got caught up in really bad weather.
Another hiker we spoke to about this only said: "And after all you are from Switzerland, so you should be familiar with snow, right?!" Ahhh right, we deal with lots of snow back home, especially when we are going to ski in the mountains. Oh and of course, there is this annoying snow layer of five centimeters for two days in December, which makes your feet wet when walking to the bus station!
So in short, it is one thing to have been skiing in snow in a resort and a complete different thing to be out there in the wilderness with no signal and only your phone to navigate your way through ice and snow. But we are confident that we can do it. And thanks to Jerry we know what to expect, which is really helpful! Thank you so much, Jerry!
Right now in the morning there are some clouds in the sky, but in the afternoon we are expecting blue skies - so all good for our first real snow adventure. As we continue our hike we are rewarded with some beautiful views of Mount Hood in the South and Mount St. Helens, the famous volcano, which erupted in 1980 (apparently didn't stop Jack Nicholson meanwhile chopping the door in the Timberline Lodge saying "here comes Johnny!"), Mount Adams and Mount Rainier in the North.
At about 11am we stop under a powerline (it was the only place with a little sun, that's why) and have a late breakfast accompanied by the monotone buzzing of the powerlines. We still enjoy our breakfast, finally again as much Nutella as I want, without worrying about all the calories!
We hike on for the next 3 hours, enjoy it lot and suddenly the sun is out again and temperatures start to rise. After descending to the deepest point on this stretch (only to ascend three times the amount later) we cross a bridge over a small creek and rest for some time. It is so beautiful out here! Everything shines in this lush green and looking so fresh and new and there is still no snow! From here it is supposed to be about 6 miles until we should hit the first snowy patches. Hard to believe but we are at the lowest point, so yes, it makes sense. From here we split up, we agree to meet again in around 2,5 miles next to a river we have to cross (no bridge according to our navigation app aka Guthooks). I go ahead and soon lose sight of Maya. From here we start to climb again (really...) and after a while the trail branches off to the right towards the river. And of course from here it is all down... again!
Soon I reach the river and meet two guys having late lunch there under some trees. They tell me that they just came down the mountain to here, so they know exactly what the two of us will encounter. I ask them "how was it?", both of them answer "oh it was terrible! Still a lot of snow, we couldn't find the trail most of the time and had to check all the time using our gps. But you can follow our footsteps now." It took them 9 hours to do the 8 miles or so from the lodge to here, pretty much all downhill for them. That's going to be...interesting. And above all we have to go up, not down like they did. A couple of minutes later Maya also arrives at the river and has the same talk with the guys.
But problem number one for now is how to cross that river! There is no bridge and the water is raging, especially now that it is already later in the afternoon and the sun is melting snow fast. We go up and down the river shore and finally find a more or less promising spot to cross it. There is a small log, around 3 meters long (9 feet) but not very thick. I go first and use my poles to slowly balance my way to the other side. Here I take off my pack, go back on the other side and bring Maya's pack to the other side. So now it is Maya's turn. She slowly balances over the log and with a big jump gets to the other side as well.
Cool, no we are ready for the big climb towards the snow. And we still haven't eaten any lunch. But that is okay, we first want to do the big climb.
And indeed it is a rather big climb. For the next 2 hours we climb and climb and... climb. Soon we encounter pine trees covered in old men's beard, a moss that is acid green and grows up to 2 meters in length. We take some funny pictures of me with my new green beard. Kind of reminded me of one of my favorite commercials as a child, starring an Alp-Oehi (basically an old, beardy guy living in the Swiss Alps), wearing glasses and saying with a very Swiss accent it's cool man! Here, it's this one.
So now we continue and reach the first snow patches. Not very big ones but from here it starts. And after another 10 minutes the snow becomes deeper and deeper. But at least we don't sink in the snow as it is still pretty compact. But from now on the trail is covered in snow and we hardly see any footsteps. The sun must have melted them away by now. It now gets really sketchy. We pass a steep face covered in snow and have to traverse it. Maya doesn't pay attention for only half a second and slides down the snow fast... luckily only for a couple of meters into another tree. But still it is dangerous now and we now realize we HAVE to use our microspikes and the ice-ax. So now things are going a bit better and we eventually reach a small creek where we have to get water from. The creek is mostly covered in snow as well. And again it is Maya who slips while trying to cross over a snow bridge. The bridge collapses, she screams and falls into the creek still wearing her pack. I immediately run over to her and finally we manage to get her out of the very cold creek. Luckily only her butt got wet and she managed to save the phone from falling into the water as well.
From here on we continue and are now a bit scared to even find a spot not covered in snow to pitch our tent. Also navigation is not easy, almost none of the trail is snowfree and it’s a lot of up and down in the snow. But somehow me manage. And then we suddenly are not sure where to go, left or right? I start going right, Maya goes left..and booom, she falls again. This time it is a hidden tree that created a hole in the snow, in which she fell into. Luckily she is also fine this time, and for now takes the clear lead in numbers of falling.
We discover in Guthooks that there is a potential campsite only half a mile from here and it is all downhill now. We are hoping so much that the site is free of snow and it turns out our wishes are fulfilled. There are two tent sites looking west on top of a very steep wall, which is going down for 200 meters. Not only does it provide an amazing view of Mount Jefferson and the sunset, but it is also snow free! Jackpot! We pitch our tent, cook dinner dry our soaking wet shoes and enjoy a spectacular sunset! What a day and tomorrow we only have to do 4.3 more miles. But the trail also passes the exact place where the two guys had to be rescued the week before... Oh boy... But that is a problem, future Maya & Dario can deal with... at least for now :)
SOBO Mile 514.5 to 534.2 (19.7 Miles) - Woods Camp to Windy camp
Well. Not the best night's sleep we've ever had. Considering how beat we felt last night walking into camp we were expecting to sleep like babies. But I guess it takes getting used to, to sleep outside, so far away from other people. Every noise you hear could be a potential predator. Not really. But still, the mind can go crazy places when you feel so far away form civilization.
We get up at 6am after hitting snooze for a while. By now the sun is out, the birds are singing and it's going to be a great day! We pack up and hit the trail after 35 minutes. We're still as fast as before, that's unexpected!
Luckily we've hiked the entire 4400 foot ascent yesterdat so now we get to ridge hike for a while and enjoy the views up here. We find the most perfect breakfast spot after 2 miles and while eating our oatmeal, nutella tortillas and mayonnaise/cenovis/mustard sandwiches we watch a small plane flying over our heads multiple times. What a perfect day for a scenic flight around Mt Hood. Because yes, Mt Hood, the destination of our first section is right there, ahead of us. Completely covered in snow, looking majestic.
We pack up after 40 minutes and start hiking again. Finally I get some cell reception and contact our families to let us know we're doing fine and haven't run into snow at all yet. I also receive a text from Jerry King, who's part of the Search and Rescue Team in Portland and has been providing us with information about the snow in the area. Before hiking out we tried to gain as much intel about the snow conditions as possible. The PCT Facebook Group is a great source of information and is also where Jerry got in touch with us after I asked if anyone in the group was familiar with the conditions. So the text we receive from him is about a missing hiker in our area! He asks us to stay on the lookout for him, which of course we are happy to do. Hopefully the hiker is fine! Now the plane we saw earlier shines in a different light. Is it a SAR plane looking for the missing person?
The views keep getting nice as we head more and more into the wilderness. From up on the ridge we discover Mt Adams, Mt Rainier and Mt St. Helens, volcanoes in Washington we hiked on and around last year! And Mount Hood just keeps getting bigger right in front of us. So close and still a couple days away. We hardly meet any other hikers, this is definitely not like last year. The main reason being that the hiker bubble is way further south, now going into the Sierras or going around the Sierras in an attempt to evade the snow. But from what we've been hearing, there is snow all over the PCT this year. And we should hike right into it in a couple of miles.
My shoulders really really hurt. This is nothing new, they hurt almost every day last year too. But just before it gets intolerable we stop for lunch at Lake Wahtum, but not before running into some people from Search and Rescue, looking for the missing hiker who now has a name: Thomas. They still haven't found him, and neither have we. I really really hope he just got lost, but is fine otherwise.
We take a looong lunch break by the lake, soaking up the sun, eating ramen noodles and Roni pasta, a favorite of mine. When it's eventually time to start hiking again our bodies are aching. We are not used to this anymore! This is hard! My feet also hurt even though I love these shoes! I hope it's going to get better soon.
And then finally, we hit the snow. It comes in regular patches, so every couple of meters we run into another patch. They are relatively easy to go over or across, we're not worried yet. But we are also aware that there will be more, we have not yet made our way to the highest point. These snow patches we enjoy. It's kind of fun to walk in the snow, makes it all the more adventurous.
We had planned to hike 16 miles today, but every campsite we get to, we find that we don't like it. It's either too exposed and windy, or too far down off the trail. So we keep walking. After 19.7 miles we finally call it a day. Wow! Almost 20 miles on first full day. We never expected that!
We even have some cell reception and find out that they have found the missing hiker, who got lost as it turns out. A happy ending on a happy day. This is great news! We watch another episode of our favorite baking show (and only baking show that we watch) while eating our couscous with Indian curry. Yummy!
SOBO Mile 505.6 to 514.5 (8.9 Miles) - Cascade Locks to Woods Camp
We slept wonderfully. The weather is beautiful, perfect for hiking. This is the day we've been waiting for for a really long time. We quickly pack up everything, say our goodbyes to Jamie and dogs and head out with Brad. After a quick breakfast stop we are on our way to Cascade Locks. We are both feeling elevated and nervous, lucky and a bit emotional. This is a big deal for us. An almost 15 month trip, starting and finishing it with the PCT. Being back here after having experienced so much in the past year.
And then, finally, here we are. Cascade Locks. Last time we were here the weather was awful. We had gotten an Airbnb apartment with BigBro and enjoyed every second being able to be inside, in a cozy home. It feels like we've never left. It feels like this is the exact place where we are supposed to be. The sun is shining, the temperature is rising, no snow to be seen anywhere. Brad is in no hurry which means we take a lot of pictures together in front of the PCT marker there and, as it is National Trails Day here in America, talk to the two women under a marquee promoting the trails in the area. We feel in no rush to leave, take our time to drink a few liters of water each, finish off our coffees, go pee like 4 times each, talk some more, pee some more. And around noon, at last, feel ready to start hiking. We say our goodbyes to Brad. Thank you so so much for taking us to Cascade Locks, for letting us stay with you, for being just the best friend. We can't wait to see you again in Switzerland!
And off we are into the wild. Back to where our heart and mind long to be at the most. And it's beautiful, beyond magical. Even though we have a 4400 foot climb ahead of us in the next 10 miles, the hiking feels easy, natural. There are a lot of day hikers around as the weather is beautiful and it's the weekend. Soon enough people already start asking us if we're hiking the PCT, and we tell them our story. That we hiked over 80% of the trail last year. That we are back to finish the sections we missed.
Soon we are alone. Most day hikers left at a junction headed to some water falls. We don't see anyone else for the rest of the day. Up, up, up we go. But we are motivated, hardly stopping for any breaks. After 4 hours it's time for lunch. We are already way up high, eating our lunch with a stunning view of the Columbia River below. Wow. This is it. This is what we missed so so much. It's really hard to describe this feeling. But there's just something about sitting in the middle of nowhere, knowing we walked here. Being surrounded by remote wilderness and beautiful nature, All alone. And eating Swiss Mayonnaise & Co. A perfect moment.
We hardly need to check our water report because there is water flowing everywhere. Snow is melting fast. We skip the first campsite as it is occupied (there is someone else out here, that's a real surprise!) and hike another mile to another spot. It's still light out, the sun only sets around 8.45pm. We set up camp, surprisingly quickly, cook pasta with fresh cherry tomatoes and then settle into our sleeping bags to eat and watch Netflix. I found a Christmas version of the Great British Bake-Off that I downloaded. Let's watch that. In June. Whatever. It feels incredibly good. It feels perfect. It feels- like home.
Thursday and Friday, 30/31 May 2019
As I‘m writing this we are somewhere up in the mountains of Northern Oregon, back on the PCT.
Yes, this is Day 1 of Round 2. We are filling in the gaps, piecing the puzzle together, mile by mile, step by step.
Why? Well yes sure, we remember the hardships we endured in Washington, hiking in rain, and eventually snow, for days on end, just wishing to be in Canada already. Or in the Caribbean. Anywhere but here. I know that this is how I felt a lot during the last days. But I also felt an era was coming to an end. An era of a great life spent outside, of meeting the most beautiful and amazing people, of discovering how much we are capable of if we just pull ourselves together and do it.
We have been travelling for 13 months now, going on 14. Our travels took us to Canada, then Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia and finally Hawaii. Our trip after the PCT cannot be summarized in one blog post only, but let‘s just say it was the best year of both our lifes. We feel extremely privileged to have been able to embark on a journey like this. To live in a country where you can save up for 1.5-2 years (not even on a huge salary) and travel for almost the same amount of time. Looking back I feel truly grateful.
We missed the PCT, always. Lying on a beach in Colombia our conversations went back to the trail, climbing volcanoes in Ecuador reminded us of hiking. The mountains in Patagonia, strikingly beautiful, we compared to the PCT. We visited many trail friends in Australia. In short, the PCT was constantly on our mind and in our heart. So much that we decided that we will come back. We still have some unfinished business! Those miles we skipped: now we want to do them. We want to be able to say that we hiked every single step from Mexico to Canada, once across the length of the US. Also, we just want to have that trail life back. Life in the purest form. Eat, hike, sleep - repeat.
So after a week in Hawaii and mostly camping on the beach we land in Portland on May 30, 2019. Brad, trail name The Prodigal, a dear friend who we met on our first day on trail and have hiked with for quite a few weeks back in the desert and in the Sierras, picks us up at the airport and takes us to our hotel. Thank you so much, Brad! It's so awesome to see you again! Brad also brings with him two boxes that we had shipped to his place: 2 new pairs of trail runners (the beloved Altra Superior 3.5's for me, the HOKA One One Stinson ATR 5's for Dario, AAAAND a package from home. Dario's awesome parents sent us a box with Swiss mayonnaise, mustard, cenovis (like Vegemite, but so much better!) and Swiss chocolate. And yes, little hygienic dispenser bags, the best dirty toilet disposal system ever (I apologize if this is too much information). Anyway, thank you again so so much Phads and Mutz, this is the best resupply ever!
We get changed and then drive on to a Thai restaurant ‚Eem‘ where we are joined by Potluck, another PCT friend of ours whom we know from desert times. Both guys live in this super cool city. We have so much to catch up on, time flies when you‘re in good company. ;-) Later we get some beers, listen to some live music and eventually head back to the hotel at 2am to start packing for the next day. We plan to leave the city the very next day in the afternoon after getting all the usual chores done (resupply, ship boxes at the post office and pay a visit to REI, our favorite outdoor equipment store ever!)
The next day we do our stuff, feeling a bit hungover. And of course we underestimated everything we have to do! It soon becomes apparent that there is no way we will be able to drive to the trailhead at Cascade Locks and start our hike today. Brad suggests we stay at his place for the night and we are happy to spend some more time with him. So first things first. A real American breakfast. Dario has been dreaming about this for months, and ends up finishing both Brad and my plates as well! He's living proof that pre-hiker hunger is also a thing.
The day flies by while we head to REI and spend like 2 hours there, organize our resupply, ship two boxes to the Timberline Lodge (with resupply) and San Francisco (with all our stuff for home that we don't take on trail with us) in literally the last minute before the Post Office closes for the week and make a delicious pasta dinner. Brad's housemate Jamie joins us and we all share stories and laughs during dinner, sitting outside in their backyard sipping wine, joined by their two dogs Lucy and Stella. What a fabulous last night in civilization!
Tomorrow we will finally be back on the PCT. We're both feeling nervous and excited and anxious. Anxious because we know there is still a lot of snow around and we are not exactly well prepared for it. In fact, 2019 has been the highest snow year in the Western US mountain ranges since like, they started recording. In this much higher than average snow year every terrain above 5000 feet is still covered in snow and, guess what, a lot of the terrain we will be hiking through is above 5000 feet. Brad had us convinced to buy ice axes, so this does give us a sense of security (even though we don't really know how to use them). So before we go to bed we watch some youtube videos to learn how to use the ice axe. Let's just hope we don't have to use them to self-arrest.
Alright, time for bed. We blow up our air mattresses and go to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.