Shelter Cove to Big Lake Youth Camp

Day 117: Shelter Cove Resort (1906.6) to Rosary Lakes (1911.6)

August 4 // 5 miles

Slept in, no hotel bed could ever be as luxurious as the knowledge that I can get up as late as I want. Did nothing for most of the day, ate restaurant food for breakfast AND lunch, sat around at the picnic tables organizing resupply and talking to locals that have been coming to this resort with their family for generations. Raven and First Row have caught up to us again. Honeybee bought a fleece sweater to combat the new, colder nights we’ve been having. I got the idea to rent a canoe and go for a paddle around the lake but the supreme laziness that affects all of us when we aren’t on trail didn’t spare me. I kept insisting I would do it, but the day slipped by without me leaving my sunny spot at the picnic table and then it was time to hike.

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Bagels and I left around 2pm after PC texted us that he wouldn’t be back until later and he’d catch up tonight or tomorrow. We wandered back down the road to trail, walking together until it was back to the woods, where we drifted apart in an unspoken agreement like we always do. A slow uphill, meandered around Lower Rosary lake taking in the view. The woods were sparse but made up of tall lodgepole pines, my favourite camping environment. There were tons of families setting up around the lake edge, and I really wanted to stay but it had barely been an hour since we’d left Shelter Cove. I haven’t seen a lot of young kids on trail and it was strange (in the best way) to see toddlers sitting around stoves or carrying little backpacks. Makes sense to bring them here, it’s a beautiful place a few easy miles from road access.

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I dragged myself very reluctantly from Lower Rosary, but a couple miles later the camping options around Middle and Upper lakes stopped me again and I desperately wanted to spend the night. The sun was setting over the lake, making the water so blue it looked fake, the ground was covered in soft pine needles and there were plenty of spaces for all of us to camp without crowding. There was a family having dinner and watching the sunset beside their tent, looking like they were straight out of an LL Bean ad, complete with handsome young parents, two little kids in matching boots and jackets, and a golden retriever. I gave them their space and filtered water around the bend in the trail, wondering how difficult it would be to convince everyone else to stop here for the night.

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Bagels of course wanted to keep going, we’d only done 5 miles, but after some debate, he agreed to wait for the rest of our group and make a decision after dinner. I got my way, when Cream arrived were already low-key preparing for the night, establishing space for tents and she assumed we were staying without having to ask. Eli and Honeybee didn’t need to be convinced either and we all ate together on logs overlooking the lake before the sun was completely gone. Ate my packed out wrap and extra pizza from lunch and set up my little tent facing the lake. PC came wandering by around 8, surprised at our low milage today. Hands down one of my favourite campsites so far.

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Day 118: Rosary Lakes (1911.5) to Cliff Lake Shelter (1944.3)

August 5 // 32.8 miles

So many lakes today and I’m disappointed I couldn’t swim in all of them. Woke up to the view of Upper Rosary through my tent mesh, I think that if I could wake up next to a lake every single day, I would be perfectly happy. The trail went up and around the water, I could still see the bright blue of all three Rosary Lakes strung out through the trees behind us.

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I detoured slightly off trail with Honeybee to check out Maiden Peak shelter, a backcountry log ski cabin, but there was still a group of hikers waking up inside and we felt uncomfortable disturbing them, so sat outside to eat breakfast, swatting at mosquitos that have been making a slight reappearance.

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In the late morning I took a short side trail to Charlton lake, where the group had agreed to meet for lunch. Holy crap was it a find. The shore gave way to calm water surrounded by pine trees. It reminded me so much of home it almost hurt. We left our stuff in a small clearing and went for a swim. I stayed in the lake for over an hour, the water was very clear and I could see the bottom even when it was at least 15 feet deep. Eli, Cream and Bagels inflated their mattress pads and floated around. Best lake on trail hands down, sorry Miller Lake you’ve been replaced.

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Raven and Front Row arrived after we had bee there for about an hour and jumped in themselves because how can you pass by such a perfect place. I sat in the sun to dry off and made some ramen for lunch. I didn’t want to leave, but we’d been there well over two hours and it was time to get going. Mile 1925, there’s road access so future me: make sure you come on back here someday.

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The afternoon took us into Sisters Wilderness and it was just lake after lake after lake and I wanted to swim in all of them, but we had chosen right, none were as perfect as Charlton. The afternoon was just walking from one body of water to the next, and I liked reading their names on the map and stopping for water at the nicest options. Passed Irish, Brahma, Jezebel, Stormy, Winopee, Snowshoe, Desane, South, Mac and Horseshoe lakes, plus numerous unnamed small ponds. Saw our first couple SOBO hikers (Southbound PCT hikers coming from Canada towards Mexico) which was a novelty, we warned them about the smoke to come, while they said it had been relatively clear through the northern part of Oregon, yay.

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The whole crew was stopped for a late lunch and water-filter break, everyone lounging on the banks of a small pond and enjoying the warm afternoon. I haven’t loved Oregon so far compared to any part of California, but today has been great and even my headache has let up today.

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We had settled on Mac Lake as a campsite, but when I got there, ready to be done for the day, it was clear that there would not be enough room. There were at least six other tents set up, a mix of NOBO and SOBO hikers. Eli was waiting and told me our group was doing another couple miles and going off trail to an old shelter at Cliff Lake where hopefully there would be space for all of us to camp.

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Detoured a few miles later at Porky Lake and a little side trail led to a clearing overlooking cliff lake with a stone 3 walled shelter. Everyone was there, the clearing was big enough for all of us to pitch tents far apart. We shared the spot with two locals that have been coming here since childhood on fishing trips. We all sat in front of the shelter eating dinner, it was interesting to hear their perspective on the increase of PCT hikers over decades, both the ups (“the world would be a saner place if more people just went outside”) and the downs (“entitled hikers have been leaving their trash at this shelter and shit wherever they feel like it”).

Shared a tent with Bagels, after dinner I washed off near the lake which was hard to access, over a little obstacle course of fallen logs and boulders. Feeling a little off tonight and only ate half of dinner, the first time that’s ever happened on trail.

Day 119: Cliff Lake (1944.3) to Pond (1966.5)

August 6 // 22.2 miles

Condensation was everywhere this morning as always when we sleep close to water, the dripping on my face woke me up. Bagels was up but still in bed even though it was past 8, late even by my standards and when we got up Honeybee, Eli and Cream were gone. PC was leaving too and we packed up the tent quickly, shaking out the water as best we could. Bagels was gone right away but I had a hard time getting going, there was a piercing pain behind my right eyebrow that I’ve noticed sometimes towards the end of the day the past week, but this morning it was something else. So bad it felt like my vision was pulsing and sometimes everything would just be so bright white that I had trouble seeing what was right in front of me.

Hiking did not help, as it usually does when I feel off, got really dizzy and not taking in anything about my surroundings. Had to throw up which helped a little bit but then I found myself walking sideways off the trail, even when I was putting in effort to move straight. I stopped at Dumbbell lake to rest, sat against a rock down by the water and ate a couple of almonds for energy. I had a hard time focusing my eyes on a nearby squirrel digging around in the dirt, wondering if I should be more worried that I felt. I think I fell asleep for a little bit. Don’t remember much about the scenery or trail this morning other than the rest at that lake, but at some point I got myself moving again. On the way down, had my first glimpse of South Sister, the youngest and tallest of the three “sister” volcanoes. They’re the next in line in the Cascadian range that we follow North to Canada, that have so far included Lassen, Shasta and Mt Mazama/Crater Lake.

I really tried to appreciate the views, but felt unfocused and I wanted to get down to Elk Lake Resort as soon as I could, hoping my friends hadn’t left me too far behind. It had gotten hot and I was moving so slow, but it was downhill and I wandered off the trail, up a gravel road, across a moderately busy highway where a few PCTers were trying their luck at hitching. The resort was on a small lake and packed with people, the parking lot was jammed with large SUVs and huge groups unloading paddle boards and coolers and swarms of children running around in water wings and life vests.

Thankfully I found my group sitting on the deck outside the restaurant, finishing up their lunches and waiting for me. They were worried how long it had taken me to arrive and when I described my symptoms they all offered advice and advil. Honeybee suggested that maybe I should hitch to town to see a doctor, but it seemed like overkill after only one really bad day and there were plenty of opportunities to bail out in the next couple days if it got worse.

I ordered my favourite meal (breakfast burrito) for lunch but couldn’t eat very much and instead spent an hour people-watching the guests at the tables around us. It was mostly an older crowd, men wearing polos and huge watches and the ladies with updos and pastel dresses. Eli called them the yacht-club crowd (which made sense seeing as there were yachts lining the docks in front of the lodge) and they all gave us a wide berth when passing the table, even though we weren’t even that dirty. If I happened to make eye contact, they would look away quickly.

Everyone was ready to get going after their extra long break waiting for me but I still wasn’t really feeling up to hiking, especially since it was about ten degrees hotter down in the valley, I was sweating in the shade. PC wandered by with a cone of ice cream and that was the first food that appealed to me all day, so I stood in line on the deck of the lodge for 15 minutes to order a lemon sorbet cone. Eating ice cream helped my head the same way it used to when I was little and got carsick on long drives. Maybe I’ve just tricked myself into thinking it’s a (delicious) placebo, but not complaining as long as it keeps working. I was last to leave Elk Lake but felt way better than this morning and did okay on the uphill, even in the 90+ degree heat.

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The afternoon blew the morning away, the trail was flat and easy, opening up into a wide plain of grassy meadow and wildflowers, with perfect views of the South and Middle Sisters. The wind picked up and cooled off the sunny day. Passed by a couple of riders taking a break while their horses drank from a creek lined with brightly coloured pebbles and I tried to remember to enjoy hiking on days like this instead of feeling sorry for myself over a headache.

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Caught up to my friends stopping for a dinner break at our last water for the day, they wanted to knock out a few more miles and dry camp which was fine by me after our low miles yesterday. After eating we hiked together in a line, taking it slow and checking out potential campsites off the trail until we found one we liked, a large space in it’s own little nest of trees, under the shadow of Middle Sister.

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I managed to eat some dinner with the group but I’m very tired in my tent even though it’s barely 8pm. The headache has made a reappearance and I’ve taken a ton of advil in hopes it will be gone tomorrow after a long sleep.

Day 120: Pond (1966.5) to Big Lake Youth Camp (1995.1)

August 7 // 28.6 miles

Woke up and immediately felt disappointed that the headache was present as ever. It’s really starting to wear me down, hard to enjoy anything on trail when the pain is constantly there, pounding away behind my right eyebrow. I have no idea what’s causing it, I’m drinking plenty of water, eating salty food and electrolytes, getting more than enough sleep. I didn’t have any of the blurry vision or dizziness from yesterday though, so maybe it’s on the upswing.

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Left camp at 7, views of middle and north Sisters. There were tons of little campsites scattered around where we had spent the night, and everyone was emptying out at the same time, making the trail feel crowded. Managed to lose most of the people on steep spikes of uphill, weekend hikers can’t really compete with our months of built up calf muscle. The trail was covered with obsidian- a very shiny black rock smooth as glass and reflective, making the ground sparkle in the sun. There was a tall waterfall crashing over the black rock looking like an absolutely beautiful break spot but I wanted to catch my friends and keep ahead of the mini hiker bubble behind. Stopped at Spring just above falls and had a breakfast break with Eli- I was hoping a double shot of caffeinated Mio added to my water might clear up the headache but no luck.

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A steep uphill, it felt like doing a mini Sierra pass but replacing the white granite with black lava rock. I could see Eli straight above me working his way up the narrow switchbacks and then disappearing over the top of the climb. After reaching the end, there was a short ridgewalk with views behind to the Sisters, and Mt Washington ahead.

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Stopped for another break with Bagels at a gorgeous little spring, I could see tiny water bubbles rising up from a crack in the ground, disturbing the pebbles around it. No need to filter from a source like that and the water was ice cold and delicious. Shortly after, at South Matthieu lake, Honeybee, PC and Eli were having lunch and I went for a quick swim to cool down after the others hiked on.

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The last water before Big Lake Youth camp was a stagnant pond in the middle of another burnt out forest. It smelled a little funky, but that’s all there was for the rest of the day so I put my filter to work and drank as much as I could. Crossed into Mt Washington Wilderness and the woods gave way to a five mile stretch of lava field. It was just hill after hill of black rock as far as I could see without one single bit of vegetation. At first the alien landscape was a novelty, but after a few hours in the sun without any shade, I just wanted to be done and back in the woods. I pulled my crumpled hat out from the depths of my bag, where it’s been sitting untouched for months, to try and escape a little bit of the heat.

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During the long dry stretch I had to ration water and so of course that’s when my head started really pounding. I did my best to stay positive but all I wanted to do was find a patch of shade to lie down in and try and sleep it off. Uphill for two miles, the entire time I saw one lone little pine tree somehow managing to grow straight out of the black rock. Even with my slow pace and frequent breaks I didn’t see anyone else out in the afternoon.

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Left the lava field behind but the woods were burnt and bare and seemed to go on forever, come on Oregon. I was starting to feel nauseous and at one point stopped halfway while climbing over a fallen log and just sat there with on leg on each side for almost a half hour, resting and willing the pain to stop. I started crying a little bit until I heard a SOBO hiker came puffing by and wiped up any trace of tears. He gave me a strange look and asked if I was okay, I told him I got stung by a bee and we carried on in separate directions.Getting seriously worried about the frequency and intensity of these headaches, I can’t imagine hiking the rest of the trail like this. Forced myself to eat a little bit of protein bar for dinner but didn’t have much of an appetite at all.

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In the evening after my miserable afternoon, it finally got a little cooler and I made decent time down through the woods to Big Lake Youth Camp. I arrived dirty, thirsty and tired, and was directed by a couple teenage campers to a little building set aside just for hikers. It was a trail paradise, with stacks of resupply boxes lining the floor to ceiling, a little kitchenette, laundry and showers and charging outlets on just about every surface. The money for the cabin was a donation to the camp by a retired lawyer that enjoyed section hiking this area. It was perfect and everything that I needed, but I was cranky and tired and couldn’t appreciate anything.

Neither my resupply box or the new shorts I’d ordered (mine are getting dangerously ripped through the crotch area) had arrived and that didn’t help my mood, but the laundry machine and shower definitely did. My group knows me well enough that they gave me space to cool off which I appreciated, it only makes me feel worse when I take out my bad moods on them.

Dinner was a buffet in the hugely cavernous mess hall that echoed when the hundreds of teenagers sitting in long rows of wooden tables sang their pre-meal prayers. I made myself eat a couple potatoes and some salad, my appetite has diminished completely today but low blood sugar isn’t going to help with the headache. I’m splitting from my friends tomorrow, they’re heading into the town of Sisters before attempting the 24 hour challenge to Timberline Lodge, which if successful means that they’ll hike 64 miles in one day without sleep. I want to go with them just to see if I can do it, but with the state of my head, I know pushing myself like that is the last thing my body needs. If I don’t go to town tomorrow, we should all end up at Timberline on the same morning but it’ll be lonely being apart from them for so long. Feeling sad and unmotivated and I can’t help but think that I’m being left behind. Irrational, but once I’m into a mood I have a bad habit of continuing to wallow in it until it burns itself out.

Got my laundry and made my way down to beach where PCT hikers are supposed to camp, away from the kids. It’s a sandy little peninsula surrounded on both sides with water and a volleyball net, with little colourful rows of hikers setting up their sleeping bags. Cowboy camping as carefully as I can, trying not to get sand in my quilt. A really low point on trail for me, hopefully tomorrow will be better.