Hiking with F-Troop: Northern Oregon Pacific Crest Trail
The sky was the funny purple-gray of early morning in the mountains when I opened my eyes after far too little sleep. I could almost touch the front bumper of my car from my sleeping bag, so close had I thrown out my bed for the night when I rolled into the Santiam Pass parking lot at 1 am. My watch told me that it was not yet six o'clock. The cold air told me to stay in my warm sleeping bag instead of putting on my hiking attire. But, I had friends to run down, and they had at least a day's head start on me. The F-Troop, that loose conglomeration of hikers from the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003, had started two days before at MacKenzie Pass, 16 miles to the south of Santiam Pass. I wasn't entirely sure who compose the F-Troop this time around, but given their slack nature from 2003, I was sure that a 35 mile day to Jefferson Park would do the trick.
August 15-20, 2005
I hadn't spent much time with them when I hiked in 2003, as I started several weeks behind them and finished quite a bit earlier than they. I had met Freefall, TeaTree, Chance, and The One for the first time at the ADZPCTKOP in April. I met Northerner and So Far in Mojave for a day. it didn't matter. Common, shared experiences formed bonds. As did all the beer we consumed at wonderful Lake Morena in the Springtime.
My plan was a simple one: Run down the F-Troop as quickly as possible, then hike with them to Timberline Lodge, just below Mount Hood. Two hikers from 2003 were getting married on Saturday in the Gorge and Freefall, a Lutheran pastor, was officiating. I wasn't going to attend, however, and was planning to get a lift back to Santiam Pass from Steel-Eye, who had responded to a plea that I sent out on a mailing list. Easy Oregon hiking. Too bad it was so cold in the morning as I set off through the burned out forest.
A week or two after I passed through in 2003, the area burned and forced most of the hikers in that year to detour around on roads, missing Jefferson Park, one of the best parts of Oregon. I was surprised at how extensive the burned area was. It went on and on and on, with a dusty trail and only minimal plant life for most of the first climb. Being the Oregon PCT, the trail can't really be said to climb, ever, but it was a little slanted and my data book indicated that I was, indeed, going up. Mount Washington and the North and Middle Sister loomed in the south. I remembered the Three Sisters Wilderness with extreme affection, as they were the first pretty area north of Crater Lake, a distance of 150 miles, more or less. Even better, the plague of mosquitoes that had been hounding me for more than a week died off there and I could sleep out in peace.
The sun came out and warmed my blood, but I had long since warmed up: The very act of walking through a land filled with happy memories was enough. The summer of 2003 was a powerful moment in my life and I held it in the sort of reverence that is normally reserved for Biblical figures or really beautiful women. Almost two hours had passed before I looked at my watch for the first time. I had been lost not so much in the past as in the feelings from it. No thoughts, no mind. Just a remembrance of the feeling of serenity that I had had in those days. Serenity that I had once again. After rounding a spur of Three Fingered Jack, I got my first view of big Mount Jefferson.
I found a place to sit, a place with a view, and thought Old Jeff looked a little naked without all the snow from 2003. If it wasn't for Mount Hood, Jefferson would be the prettiest mountain in Oregon. Of course, the Three Sisters could claim the title as well on a good day. And then there was the needle of Mount Thielson way in the south as well. I took a final look back to Three Fingered Jack and set out once again, wanting to keep moving along the path that had led me so far.
Brilliant Wasco Lake appeared below me, inviting me to swim in it. If only I didn't want to run down the F-Troop, I could sit by the banks until the late afternoon, when the sun would have warmed the waters to a perfect temperature. A swim, a camp, a delight. But I wanted more than what Wasco could offer. I wanted human companionship and had to move forward, though with some notion of losing an opportunity.
Walking along through the dust, time shortened and I found myself on the last bit of the climb to Rockpile Lake, wondering where the time had gone. It was nearly 7 miles from my last break to Rockpile, but the time had gone by in an instant. It wasn't that I was asleep while hiking, but rather that time no longer had much consequence. No more than the rocks that I was passing. I snapped back into the mundane as I remembered how thirsty I was in 2003 when I passed by this way. It had been hot then, as it was today, and I had run out of water. The slog to Rockpile seemed interminable then. Today, it was a pleasure. Despite it being only 11:30, I stopped by the far bank of Rockpile to fill up on water and eat lunch, knowing that I should at least try to conserve some strength for the latter part of the day. Assuming that F-Troop camped here last night, and they would be fools not to [They didn't as a climb of Three Fingered Jack slowed them], then twenty mile day would put them at Jefferson Park tonight. That would be a thirty five mile day for me. Do-able, but I would be tired by the end of it. And so I lounged in the shade and drank water and ate jerky.
After an hour I resumed my hike and almost immediately ran into a group of men and boys out for an overnighter. They had seen the F-Troop and hour ago. Cheered by the fact that F-Troop couldn't be more than six miles ahead, I set off at a lope, cruising through the last of the burned area, which at least opened up many views that I had not had in 2003.
In particular, I could see quite a bit of the barren landscape, colored deeply with minerals and shattered by volcanic explosions of the past. This was not Sierran granite or frozen Rainier or the Angelic Canyon. This was simple raw power, coming from the bowels of the earth.
An hour rolled by. A second. I began to feel my legs more and more. An equestrian couple told me that the F-Troop was only a half hour in front of me. Jefferson beckoned in the distance. Shade would be nice, though. Rest would be good. I was 20 miles from Santiam Pass, and it wasn't even 2 pm yet. I still had 15 to go. A shady lane on the side of the mountain I was traversing called to me too strongly to resist and I sat for a bit. But only for a bit.
Not ten minutes from my resting spot, I passed a woman with a dog, hiking south to California, who told me F-Troop was up at Shale Lake, another ten minutes up the trail. My pace quickened and I barely had the sense to look down the steep mountainside to the impossibly blue lakes below me. I entered a short forest and on the other side was the lake. On the other side were FreeFall, So Far, and Chance, sitting comfortably after a rest and a swim. My effort, and sacrifice at Wasco Lake, had paid off. Almost without fail, long distance hikers are good people. Moreover, it is rare to meet a boring on. Everyone has a story to tell, either from the trail or from life at home. What makes the stories even more interesting is that I know them already. Only details change. For, I've had the same experiences and can tell the same stories. I was back with my Tribe and couldn't have been happier.
Northerner, TeaTree, and The One had taken an alternate route that ran by the lakes I had spotted below me and were planning to meet up with the rest of us at the Milk River, five miles distant. Chance sprinted out ahead and So Far straggled with a bad knee, far behind, leaving FreeFall and I to hike together down to the river. I had tried hard to run FreeFall down in 2003, but he moved quickly and had quite a head start on me. I missed him by an hour at Donner Pass when he went into Reno to give a presentation on AIDS in Africa connected with the charity he was hiking for. It didn't matter much, however, that we barely knew each other. The PCT was a universal enough experience that bonds were there between people, regardless of how much time they had spent together. The longer the time, of course, the stronger the bonds.
Just before reaching the Milk, we waited for So Far, who turned out to be only a few minutes behind, despite a very sore knee that reduced his walking to a sort of one legged hobble. Chance was resting in the shade at the river, but the others were no where to be seen. The Milk had a very small flow, which wasn't surprising given the low snow year and the warm weather. The four of us nestled into what shade we could find and rested while we waited for the other three.
Our wait turned out to be a rather than hour or so before the others caught up. They had apparently gotten lost on the alternate route. And stopped for a swim under a waterfall. Tired, sweaty, they looked beat. Although camping at the Milk was possible, it wouldn't have been particularly pleasant. The One was ending his hike here and was planning to walk out to State Highway 22, on which he would hitch hike back to Portland. I lamented this fact quite a bit as The One, was a really good, intelligent talker, even by distance hiker standards. After a bit of discussion, we crossed the Milk and began the climb up toward Jefferson park, though there was no chance of us reaching it tonight. My legs were glad of that fact.
I quickly found myself alone on the climb up through the forest, as the others dallied behind eating ripe blueberries and huckleberries from the bushes that lined the trail. At a trail junction a mile and half up, I looked at my map and spotted a small pond not much further up the trail. Despite its puny appearance on the map (and in real life), the pond, as I found a few minutes later, was a delightful campsite. With Jefferson overhead and plenty of clear ground for camping, it was perfect. I sat on a log and waited for the others to show.
I had a celebratory swig of rum, and a second. And then a third. Chance and So Far showed up and seemed to approve of the location. Chance offered some advice on general health and then set out to forage for more berries. The rest showed a few minutes later and also approved. The six of them settled into the main area just above the lake, but I preferred a spot in some gravel right next to the lake itself. While this violates the words of the Leave No Trace ethics, it certainly doesn't violate the spirit: The gravel and dust that I was camping on wouldn't show much trace of my presence. Besides, this way I'd have a better view of the stars and would see Jefferson in the early morning sun. Being August in Oregon, no one bothered to pitch a tarp or a tent. Nothing but Tyvek and silnylon ground cloths, along with foam pads, for the bedchambers.
As I cooked dinner, FreeFall, Northerner, and TeaTree went for a swim. Chance could be heard moving through the brush. And the sun began to glow on the flanks of Jefferson, lighting it up with a dreamy pink, fading to orange, then a powerful, deep red. I ate my noodles and gawked at the sight in front of me, characteristically wondering why the lake wasn't over run by others. There was no admission fee and all you had to do was go for a walk to get here. I always thought such things, but was always surprised nonetheless.
The light faded and the others retired to eat as well. I tried to write for a while, then tried to read a bit of Babbit, but couldn't. My headlamp made the stars disappear, and the stars were now the main show. The Milky Way began to come out for all to see. Everyone, that is, that was living in the outdoors tonight. From this little lake, I could look out onto an entire galaxy. I couldn't do that from any city on earth.
There was a lot of pain to go along with the condensation in the morning. I felt strong and drank tea, but there were several injuries up on the hill. So Far's knee was in bad shape and TeaTree had some ridiculous blisters on her feet. Once the sun came up from the other side of Jefferson, someone declared that it was now okay to start hiking, and off we went. I walked behind Chance and So Far for an hour, mostly listening to the conversation taking place, but occasionally adding to it. Chance had hiked in 2003 and then again in 2004 and had spent a lot of time thinking about how society was organized. While I didn't agree with him on many of the political topics, his assertion about the nature of Command-and-Control structures was spot on. Long distance hiking, and the pure freedom that it is, gives people, as he had written in the past, a different view on liberty. What we take as rights and as liberties are really just different forms of permission granted by society. In a voluntary organization, such as the community of hikers on a long trail, this becomes starkly apparent.
After a brief climb, we joined FreeFall at a crossing of the glacial Russell Creek. Although it might be a ford earlier in the season, and later in the day, it was an easy walk over today. We sat about in the sun waiting for Northerner and TeaTree to catch up, at which point I took off on my own as I was anxious to get to Jefferson Park, just up the hill.
Jefferson Park showed itself eventually, though it seemed an eternity while I was in the forest. The area sits at the base of Jefferson and is hemmed in by that peak and a wall of lower mountains to the north. Flat, amply equipped with lakes, and picture-book beautiful, Jefferson Park was a justifiably popular destination. It was a short walk from a road trailhead, which meant that people didn't have to work very hard to get here. But there was no one here today, just as there was no one here in 2003 when I passed through. During the week, most people have to work.
After checking out nearby Scout Lake, I found a place in the shade next to the trail, and waited, hoping the others would really dawdle. I loved my seat in the shade, but I wanted to hike with the others even more than stay in the park. Fortunately, they didn't come by for half an hour, which was just enough. We traversed through the park to the start of the climb out of it, where they rested at a creek and I thumped on up. I passed a father and daughter out for a day hike, and near the top encountered two backpackers heading in for the night. My anticipation grew to monstrous proportions as I neared the top. I have a good memory, but the view from up high was even better than I remembered. Mount Jefferson and its glaciers dominated the green park to the south. To the north stood majestic Mount Hood. I could even make out Mount St. Helens, all the way in Washington.
And so I sat and gawked, like some complacent tourist who never goes anywhere farther than the beach in a sheltered resort. I had been to hundreds of places like this. And still I gawked. The volcanic lands giving way, finally, to the green forest running up to Hood, where Vulcan once again wrested control from Diana. When I got cold, I shifted over to a rock in the sun. When I was too warm, I retreated to the shade. I sat on top for nearly an hour, and still the others had not shown themselves. I was almost out of water and needed to get down a few miles to a river to refill. I had to leave. I took solace in the fact that I'd come back to such places in the future.
As I began the descent down to the river, I ran into a large group of day hiking Boy Scouts, who had apparently been clever enough to set up a campsite in Jefferson Park that I had not been able to spot. Full of grins, these Scouts were having the time of their lives. I wished I could have bottled up their enthusiasm to bring back and spread around the Puget Sound area for others to enjoy, but this wasn't possible. People had to go for a walk to get it. Just a walk. Nothing more.
After an hour of walking, I found myself almost out of water pondering the dry river in front of me. Although almost out of water, I had forgotten my thirst and decided to have a sit in the shade and eat lunch. Olallie Lake, which I doubted we would go past today, was only a two hour walk from here, and the others were nowhere to be seen. I spent forty five minutes eating lunch and drying out my sleeping bag from the condensation of the previous evening before moving on again, alone. For, only a half mile up the trail was a great shallow lake in which I could swim and frolic for a bit. The lake was as nice as I remembered it and I couldn't figure out why, an hour earlier, I had decided to lunch by the side of the dry river. As I swam I spotted Chance and FreeFall passing by and called out to them from the middle of the lake. Chance motored on, but FreeFall came over to gather water and wait for me.
Suitably refreshed, and with a body clean of salt and dirt and grime, I set off behind FreeFall, who set a furious, four mile per hour pace. Up and around we bounced, yakking all the way, until a large stunning lake appeared out of nowhere. It surely had a name, and even more surely it should be swum in, but I stopped only for a photo before we set out again. Besides, I could swim in Head Lake, right next to Olallie (where swimming is banned because the lake is the water source for a "resort" there).
FreeFall and I rolled into the resort and headed straight for the camp store at the resort. The resort was just a collection of rustic cabins and a boat launch. Not much of a resort, but that was what it called itself. Working the desk at the resort was the lovely Whitney, with whom we chatted briefly before beginning the long porch sitting session that we assumed would be required, for the injured among the F-Troop were not doing well, according to FreeFall. However, I was barely through my first soda when they came in a little before three in the afternoon. Apparently the lure of beer was just too much. We spent a few hours sitting about drinking beer, sometimes on the porch, other times in the picnic area. Chance hiked off, wanting to be alone for a while. So Far called his father in Lake Oswego and arranged for a ride. More beer was consumed over dinner, at which point all injuries were forgotten.
Indeed, smiles were out in full force, just as they should be in the outofdoors.
As the light began to fade, we realized, through the beer, that we needed some place to camp for the night and that the picnic ground was not it.
We said our goodbyes to So Far and walked down the PCT looking for some place to throw out our ground clothes. With only the faintest of light still left, we found a nook in the forest twenty feet off the trail that was just large enough to throw out in. I made some faint, pathetic effort to write and didn't even bother to open up Babbit. The stars were already out in full force, and I wanted to take in something of the evening show before closing my eyes on the day.
Something was most definitely wrong in the morning, but it took me several minutes to figure out what it was. My tea was almost ready when it finally came to me that the grey skies overhead were not the normal mountain things. Indeed, in the distance to the west, there were actual storm clouds. Rain clouds. It seemed colder than it really was. I packed up and walked the few feet over to the others, who were up and discussing what to do. Someone had forgotten their rain gear, which wasn't good. On the Appalachian Trail in the summer time, rain gear is almost unnecessary as it is warm enough to hike in the rain comfortably. But this wasn't the Appalachian Trail and a cold rain in 50 degree temperatures is almost perfect hypothermia weather. Olallie was only two miles behind us. They had coffee there, I mentioned. That was all it took for our retreat to begin. What we would do at Olallie was rather unknown, but that didn't really matter. All of us had time on our hands and had nothing to prove to anyone.
It was cold enough at the resort, with the wind sweeping across the lake, to require more clothes to go along with the hot coffee. The lovely Whitney was not working, but there was a friendly fellow behind the desk who was planning on walking the coast down to Los Angeles later in the summer so that he could catch a cheap flight to India, where he was planning living for a year. Or two. Or three. He had saved some money and life in India was cheap.
Deciding that cocktail hour began at 9:30 am, I poured some rum into my coffee-hot chocolate mixture. The others followed shortly after with drinks of their own. We still had no plan for the day. Hike on, hitch out, take a zero (technically, as we had hiked this morning, it would really be a nero).
Someone remembered that The One was back in Portland with a car and that the store had a cell phone. Sure, he'd pick us up. Only it was a three hour drive from Portland to Olallie. This gave us plenty of time to lounge, and for the lovely Whitney to make an appearance.
Around noon the sun came out and I worked on my tan while sipping on beer from the store. Squirt guns came out and we amused ourselves shooting ants and chipmunks with them, laughing riotously at ourselves. The One showed as I was nearing the point of being a bit loaded and we set off for Cascade Locks on the Columbia. Cascade Locks is a great town on the PCT, complete with Walking Man beer, brewed just across the river in Washington. Moreover, the local Best Western has a hot tub. When we reached Estacada, however, we got sidetracked when we spotted a sign for the Fearless Brewery.
Although The One was scrubbed clean and wearing fresh clothes, the rest of us were quite filthy and it was a good thing that the brewery was almost deserted. The beer was good and plentiful, made on the premises, and the food, including cheese stuffed tater tots, was satisfying in the way that only someone who has spent a few days in the woods can understand.
After our pints and burgers and tater tots, we raced off to Cascade Locks, but found the Best Western full. Fortunately, directly across the street was a nice hotel with a room that slept five people. The place stunk instantly, even though we showered and scrubbed and did our best. I ran out to the store with The One, and on the way back stopped at the Salmon Row pub and got in a pint of Walking Man IPA just at closing time. There was one other person at the bar, drinking a can of Hamms and talking with his girlfriend, or wife, on a cell phone. She had apparently just confessed to having an affair. The others, back at the hotel, were more fun.
I awoke to find FreeFall scrambling around the sleeping sofa on which I spent the night, apparently rumbling for breakfast. Dehydrated and hung over, I pulled on my rain jacket and pants and set out for the only place in town to get something mild to eat. I found FreeFall outside the postoffice talking with a bearded man with long, rambling hair and a miniature pack. Definitely a thruhiker. Matt was originally from Port Orchard, near where I live, though he had been bouncing around Washington for the last few years. Having started his hike in Mojave, Matt was almost, in thruhiker terms, with his trek. A mere 540 miles separated him from Canada. However, he had a plan for the end that was more interesting than most, which he revealed over breakfast.
Rather than simply hiking into Manning Park and catching a Greyhound home, Matt was planning to touch the border, then detour west along a trail through the Pasayten Wilderness and reach the northern end of Ross Lake. From there, he was planning to build a raft and sail across the lake to the western shore, from which he'd pick up another trail heading west where he would meet some friends. Oh, and climb Mount Baker along the way.
After breakfast we found out that the hotel had a check out time of 10:00, which meant we were forty minutes overdue. We packed quickly, then drove out to the Eagle Creek Recreation area for a hike up to stunning Tunnel Falls. Although not on the PCT, almost every hiker takes the Tunnel Falls route instead of the official PCT. Because of some treacherous terrain, and a tunnel behind a large mass of falling water, equestrians are not allowed on the alternate route and so the official PCT swings well away from the beautiful falls. Being a Thursday, this most popular of Gorge trails was almost deserted, with only a few lucky people out for the day.
Although the falls are quite large, the winding trail, blasted out of the rocky mountain side in places, prevented me from hearing them until I was almost upon them. After gawking with the rest, we moved around and through the tunnel that was blasted, and then chipped, out of the rock, directly behind the falls.
Plunging down more than a hundred feet, the water, even with the low flow that August brought, the water sprayed out in a fine mist and crashed with a thunder below.
We speculated for a while whether or not someone had ever jumped off the top of the falls, for there was a deep pool beneath them. After acknowledging the tendency of the collective gene pool, we decided that people probably had and the conversation switched to one of survival.
Northerner and FreeFall scrambled down to the pool itself to take a few photos while the rest of us lounged and waited and starred. It was hard not to be impressed by the falls, but when I came through the last time it was a Saturday and the place was mobbed by tourists. I hadn't spent much time then, but I did now. Eventually, however, the two aspiring photographers scrambled back up from the pool and we had to head back down to the car.
In true F-Troop fashion, however, we made it only twenty minutes down the trail before a pool over a bridge attracted the attention of the more adventurous members of the party. Northerner dove into the water to check out the safety of the pool, yelping as he entered the very cold water. I had no such intentions of getting in and instead took a few pictures of rocks and such.
Having found the pool not quite deep enough, plans for the bridge jump morphed into a hop from a rock instead.
I thought that the three leapers were pretty tough for braving the cold water, but the goosebumps on their skin indicated that I had made a good choice in staying dry.
After an hour long break at the pool, we finally set out for the car in earnest. The One and I talked about math and quantum mechanics and cryptography and such topics, which seemed to leave FreeFall a bit mystified. It helped pass the time on the walk down, where The One discovered a voice message from Chance. It turned out that Chance had hiked another fourteen miles on the day we stopped just outside of Olallie Lake, and had then put in a monster 45 mile day to reach Timberline Lodge late on Wednesday. He was now staying in the bunkhouse at the lodge and was trying to co-ordinate a pickup. Alas, this meant no Salmon Row Pub tonight.
Re-united with TeaTree and Northerner, we sped off to Timberline Lodge to meet Chance and eat some dinner. His time alone had brought visible happiness to his face when we met him in the lodge and moved upstairs to dinner. After his big day, Chance explained, he had been so tired that he had just moved some brush and rocks away from the base of a tree and gone to sleep without getting into his sleeping bag. Over the course of the cold night, he would wake up and manage to get part of the way in. Every few hours, a bit further. Forty five miles in a day is a long way, even in Oregon.
With the end of dinner, our time together was up. The others were heading into Portland for a pre-wedding party and I would not be joining them. I could take solace in knowing that our paths would cross again, and that I had a day to play around Mount Hood, but I still felt a pang of sorrow when I shouldered my pack and walked through parking lot, alone, heading for a clump of trees, my home for the night.
A hundred feet from the parking lot, I found an area that had clearly been camped in before, possessing as it did a fire ring, and simply threw out my ground cloth and sleeping bag. A large rock sheltered me from the wind and I had a view of the stars and Mount Hood. As I watched the stars come out, muted by the lights of the lodge, I did not feel the isolation that had so crushed me on the CDT earlier in the summer time. I did not feel alone, despite being separated from my Tribe once again. I felt connected, instead, with everything around me. I felt free. I was happy.
It was the sun that woke me up. The gentlest alarm clock possible, the soothing warmth on my face brought me out of sleep, nudging me to begin my day. I stayed in my bag and brewed tea, watching the sun bring the world to life and wondering what I should do with the day. Whatever it was, it would be lazy. Exactly what was unclear. At least, unclear after going to the wonderful breakfast buffet at the lodge. After drinking down my tea I packed and walked over to the lodge to engage in one of the delights of hiking the PCT in Oregon. Fresh squeezed orange juice and quality coffee greeted me. Scrambled eggs with red pepper and onions piled onto my plate next to the rosemary potatoes. A stack of thick cut, pepper laden bacon went on top, and I even found room for several sausage links. One of the staff brought me a complimentary beignet, coated in powdered sugar. I ate and drank and read the newspaper, and then ate and drank some more. One last run to the pasty table and a cup of coffee to go ended my breakfast. In all my travels, I've never found a breakfast buffet that could match the one found at Timberline.
I retired to a stone porch and finished reading my newspaper. I decided to walk out to a view point that I remembered from 2003 and set off on the two mile walk, surprised by the number of people out walking on the paved pathways leading up toward the mountain. Tourists usually don't do much in the morning. Once I reached the PCT, all traffic ended and I had the place to myself.
I walked slowly and patiently, following the twisting path as it ran around the mountainside and eventually entered the Mount Hood Wilderness. A sign indicated that I had to fill out a form to help the Forest Service manage the area, or pay a $200 fine. $200 for taking a walk on public lands without filling out a piece of paper.
I crossed over the quite dry Little Zigzag river, but was fortunate to find a spring to fill up my water bag shortly thereafter. Memories flooded back to me as I traced along the mountain, eventually climbing up to a ridge where a clear, unobstructed view of Mount Hood and its glaciers could be had.
This was my place. Although still pleasant, the day was heating up and I would need shade for my afternoon laziness. A tree twenty yards up the ridge provided it, and I settled in for a long break from my difficult day. I wrote in my journal now that the stars were not out to distract me. I wrote and wrote, the words flowing, spilling out of me in a way that they had not while I was with the others. Words seemed so meaningless when there were interesting people about. Interesting was the key. For, I could hear people coming and going below me with some regularity.
With all the words out of me, I read Babbit for a while and then took a nap in the shade of the tree. My little bed on the gravel, scented with pine, was perfect for thirty minutes, but I awoke cold and had to move into the sun and work on my tan instead. I boiled up some tea and watched the people below me congregating. Some day hikers, some backpackers, some families, some friends. They all stopped at the viewpoint. They had to, just as I had to. I didn't like to see massive groups in the backcountry, but it was their experience, not mine, and they could ruin it if they wanted to. A group of eight backpackers were followed shortly after by a group of twelve, the limit in a federal wilderness. I munched on jerky and wondered.
I stayed on my rock for an hour. And a second. With three o'clock approaching, I decided to head back to the lodge to get a soda and have an afternoon cocktail. Buying a soda was more difficult than I had imagined, as Timberline mysteriously did not seem to have a general store of any sort, and the vending machines were difficult to find. A cherry coke provided a nice mixer and I sat in back of the lodge in a comfortable chair, watching a wedding party form and unform. The bridesmaid's appeared at about the time in Babbit when good old George F. begins having an affair. The bride showed up, looking radiant, as Georgie's real estate business began to suffer from the effects of his not toeing the middle class line. I put the book down and watching the wedding group, wondering what lay ahead for the bride and groom. Babbit was simply too depressing of a book to read when so much happiness and excitement was taking place fifty yards from me. I uttered a prayer that the bride and groom would not turn out to be Myra and George. A prayer to whom I did not know. The wedding group went inside, prompting me to adjourn to the bar inside for a few beers and a pre-supper salad.
I spent several hours in the bar sipping on beer and writing more in my journal. I had no difficulty finding the words for the subjects that I wanted to write about, no problems with expressing those thoughts and feelings about which I wanted to expound. Words, however, have a limit and I thought it better to leave the bar while I could still walk and, after paying, headed into the twilight to find another camp site. A bit beyond my previous one, I found another clear area and decided to take it. It was perfect, as the previous one had been. Soft duff and pine needles were quite cush and my thin pad was needed only to insulate me from the cold of the ground.
My little bedroom had a grander view of Mount Hood than any, I suspected, that could be obtained from a room in the hotel. I had no walls crop the imagine, no distorting glass. The free air of twilight was perfumed with the smell of the forest, not the chemical smell of disinfectant mixed with air freshener. I had neither loud neighbors nor tramping feet marching down a carpeted hallway late at night. There was no idiot box, no telephone, no hum of electricity. The world to the west glowed orange and red and purple and blue, providing a lightscape more appealing than any Monet. These were my amenities, the luxuries of my room, and there was no amount of money that a person could pay me to stay inside the lodge. The delicious fact that my room was free, not just free of a fee but also free to all, was not lost on me. Some of the people inside might have something that I lacked, and that hurt a bit, but I had something they lacked as well. My superior surroundings against the warmth of another person. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered if it was really possible to have it all, to have everything. To be complete. It was something to think about some other time, however.
From Lakewood, drive I-5 south into Oregon to the Salem area. There are two distinct ways of getting up to Santiam Pass. From I-5, take State Highway 22 through Detroit and up to the pass. This is the easier way and the route that trucks take. Or, continue south on I-5 and pick up US Highway 20 up and over Tombstone Pass and eventually to Santiam. This is a twisty, winding road and it takes a long time to drive. There is a parking area, and a sign pointing to it, for the PCT. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass or other such item (like a Golden Eagle Passport) to park in the lot.
To make your way along the PCT there are two books to have: The Oregon-Washington guidebook and the data book, although this last item isn't really necessary (just useful). Olallie Lake Resort can be reached by detouring off of State HWY 22 on a forest service road (you'll want a map). The road is narrow and eventually turns to gravel, but is easily negotiated by passenger cars. The hike from Santiam Pass to Olallie is one of the finest in Oregon and is about 48 miles in length, with very manageable elevation gain. Assuming that one can arrange a shuttle, it would make the best beginner hike on the entire PCT.