At precisely 11:44 am on September 6th, I stepped forward into the unknown (unknown by me anyway) onto an adventure of which the depths I was soon to discover. I had a general idea on where I was going according to my map. I was walking 1/2 mile from the drop-off spot to the PCT, then I was going North (the direction AWAY from the shining Sun). The first part of the trek was quite surreal. Here I was, all by myself with a big bag on my body which had all my necessities for survival, taking a walk that would lead me well through over 250 miles of outstanding wilderness terrain. No big deal, right?!
The beginning part of the trek was through a thinned out treeline area, and when I came up to the PCT Trail, I took a big deep breath in and smiled with a friendly greeting of hello. This trail would be my friend and home for the next couple of weeks at least. It was the path that would lead me to my trekking destination, becoming my grounding source and my comfortable companion.
About five miles in, I had an incredible Southern view that enabled me to see the entirety of what used to be Mazama. I had wondered how big this mountain could have been, so I took my two trekking poles and held them up at angles aligning them with the Eastern and Western edges of the Crater and realized that Mazama was a monster in the skyline. What a sight to behold after exploring all around Crater Lake the two days prior.
The trail maps indicated a water source at Diamond Lake which would be a side trail to the PCT. As I was already fully stocked, I continued past the Diamond Lake trailhead heading towards Mt Thielsen. Mt Thielsen is a beautiful treeless, jagged, rocky, pointed mountain peaking out at 9182 feet. The map clearly showed that I would be going past the West side of the mountain. As I came closer to the mountain, the trail I was on was bearing more and more to the East and I began to wonder, Did I already miss a trail maker? The PCT, though marked well at trailheads, is not very identifiable while on trail. The PCT Crest was no where to be found where I was standing, and the nagging self doubt began to play a doleful tune inside of my head. Okay, I’m smart, so I take out my maps and attempt to find my location, and according to what I can make out, it looks as though I got onto a trail that would bring me over the peak of the mountain. What to do, what to do… I could go back to see where I missed the trail, or I can embrace the challenge and know that on my first day I will be climbing a mountain. I decided, that since I was fresh and ready, I would bear forward and do the climb. What’s a little adventure without a little adventure!
Well, don’t you know, as I approached the mountain, the trail took a sharp turn West and drove me all the way around the West side of the mountain. When I got to the Western most part and found myself at the Thielsen Trailhead, I took out my map and had another look. Yup – I was on the PCT the whole time, and the line I had mistaken as another trail was actually the county dividing line that went over Sawtooth Ridge, painted red on the map just like the PCT. Rookie mistake, now I know what I’m looking for in terms of trails and the map. Whew!
I saw my first two humans at the Mt Thielsen Trailhead. They were coming down from towards the summit on a day hike. They were both extremely fast paced in their mannerisms, communication and energy. They reminded me of folk who like to walk with intensity because people will notice that they have a purpose and therefore will feel important. They were busy bodied, and busy minded. Wow, what a judgmental prick I can be. It is amazing how willing the mind is in creating stories about events, places, and people with which we have absolutely no standing with. It is also amazing how accurate those intuitive interpretations can be. What I did not know, and soon came to realize, was that I would be meeting two very different types of hikers throughout the PCT Adventure. There would be busy day hikers who had a single purpose of quick fulfilling accomplishment, and there would be distance hikers who had a relaxed and inviting demeanor. The latter of the two would be the ones I would come to know on trail.
Just after leaving the busy bodies, I ran into a Southbound PCT hiker. An older retired gentleman from Vancouver, BC who was section hiking from the Three Sisters to Crater Lake. He had already done most of the PCT and was hiking through spots he wasn’t able to do previously do to diversions from wildfires. He was almost done with his trek and was very much looking forward to getting back to his new found discovery of investing in American Blue Chips, sailing on his boat and waiting for his wife to retire in January.
Around Mt Thielsen I continued and on the North side of the mountain was a beautiful campsite that was screaming my name for an overnight, but as it was still quite early in my day, I continued on past hoping that my evening destination would hold so much beauty. Very shortly after, I passed Thielsen Creek which delivered a stunning sun shining water flow where I took my first “pack-off-the-body” break. I hung out in the sun for a good 10 minutes and ate some trail mix and looked over my maps to make sure I had my bearings correct.
From here I began a long and steady ascent towards Howlock Mountain, past the OR/WA High Point on the PCT at 7560 ft. One of the most satisfying experiences I would continue to have is when I could pinpoint my location on my maps. It was a self-confidence boost to be able to self-monitor my location and bearings based on my foreign surroundings and a piece of paper with colors and lines on it.
Just past the OR/WA High Point I started to make my way up and around Tipsoo Peak. I was dug into the trail with my thoughts like a tick into a body and didn’t notice the Southbound hiker named Scout (a very friendly and happy black lab) bounding down towards me. As he caught me off guard and all I saw was black, I jumped and squeaked like a little girl in a scary movie, being jostled out of my zone with the initial thought of “It’s a Bear!” Fortunately for me, it was no bear, but a loving pooch and his happy hiking owner.
The evening came in and my legs were tired and ready for a break, and just as you are ready to unwind a magnificent spot for camping arrives. Now, one of the crazy parts about camping along the PCT is that you are really just a few short human strides away from the trail when you’re pitching your tent. There is no campground, there are not “designated” camping spots, but there are camping spots along the way that have been created by the abundance of trekkers that have walked that path before you. For them, and for the PCT Association who maintain the trails, I am grateful.
My camp spot for the evening was on the edge of a ledge, with a wonderful view of some lakes and hilltops. I set up my REI Chrysalis, dug out my sleeping gear, set up my food cooking station and prepped dinner (Stuffed Peppers and Trail Bread). Yes Please! Along with my daily food, I also had a sip from the flask of 14 yr old Scotch which was given to me by a client for the trek, and a one-hit-wonder.
11:45-6:45, 7 hours – 16 miles (mm 1852-1868)
Coming Soon: PCT Hike – Day 2