Day 2.95-100: North, My Northwest

Big Lake Youth Camp to Cascade Locks
Mile 1998 – Mile 2144

Special guests on the trail!

I miscalculated my departure from Big Lake Youth Camp. I thought I only had 4.5 miles to Santiam Pass where the PCT crosses Highway 20. It was more like 6 miles which would not have mattered except for the fact my son Connor and his girlfriend Lindsay were meeting me there at 10am. They had been spending the week on vacation at a resort near Bend, OR and we had hatched a plan to meet up. The promise of beer, doughnuts, and family sustenance provided all the extra giddy up I needed to arrive just past the hour.

Hanging with Connor

2000 miles, before and after

We enjoyed a great visit, sitting in chairs(!), and Connor appeared duly impressed by my capacity for massive quantities of carbohydrates. Connor and Lindsay had also picked up an online order for me at the Bend REI- new trekking poles! The lava fields were the final straw for my original sturdy companions.

Three Finger Jack

Jack’s backside

Four beers and three monster sized doughnuts later, I think I wandered off into the noon day sun to climb up and around Three Finger Jack. Despite views from all angles, I never quite figured out how the mountain earned its name.

Hello Mr Jefferson

Flower dappled meadow

The succession of peaks continued the next day with picturesque Mt Jefferson. First appearing small and distant, a day’s worth of steady walking and the impressive mountain soon dominated all sight lines. It took the better part of another day to travel its western flanks where unfortunately last year’s destructive Whitewater Fire had burned. The entire Mt Jefferson Wilderness had been closed requiring, in some cases, 135 mile road walks to circumvent. Fortuitous timing and beneficent weather make all the difference on this crazy trail. Thankfully the fire spared the pristine meadows north of the peak and I again enjoyed waltzing through a profusion of wild flowers.

First glimpse of Mt Hood

Starting to look familiar

A steep climb over a neighboring ridge revealed my first view of distant Mt Hood. Seeing a familiar landmark thrilled me with the knowledge I was getting closer to home. Although it would be another whole day of hiking before I’d glimpse Mt Hood again, I noticed the forest transforming into what I deem to be quintessential Pacific Northwest forest. I felt at home among stately Douglas firs and the teeming undergrowth of verdant moss, sword ferns, salmon berries, thimbleberry, huckleberry, devil’s club, vine maple, and Oregon grape.
Adding to my growing sense of arriving back in the Northwest, I emerged at a trailhead just south of Mt Hood that I had visited two years ago. Katrina and I had been on a ski trip to Mt Bachelor with our friends and Sonjia. It was three months before my first attempt at the PCT and I convinced everyone to stop briefly, eager to get my boots on the trail. I remember wondering how I’d feel walking out of the woods ‘for real’ at mile 2084. Suffice it to say I was highly gratified to close that loop.

Now I’m in the ‘Hood

Timberline Lodge

A delightful repast

I also knew that I was approaching Timberline Lodge on the southwestern flank of Mt Hood. A historic and storied place if ever there was, my interest this visit was more culinary. A hand tossed pizza accompanied by a pint or two of cold IPA transported me. I was also surprised to find some fresh Kettle Corn and banana bread in my resupply box from Lisa and the kids who must have just been to the ballpark. Amazed by my ability to just keep eating, down the hatch it all went.
I wandered only a few miles up the trail and scored one of my more epic tent sites.

Now that’s a tent site

High on the western flanks of Mt Hood I fell asleep watching the sunlight slowly fade from the upper glaciers.

The distant mountains of Washington

Eagle Creek trail closure

I spent the next day navigating Mt Hood’s rumpled northern foothills until I came upon a sight that renewed my thrill of getting closer to home. Off in the distance stood Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainier, and Mt Adams all from the same viewpoint. The mountains of home beckoned and I heard their call. Soon afterward I came upon the closure of the popular Eagle Creek alternate trail. The tragic Eagle Creek wildfire last year, caused by a woeful 15 year old boy throwing fireworks into the canyon, burned a large swath of steep hillsides immediately south of the Columbia River. A Herculean effort by PCTA volunteers managed to reopen the PCT just a couple months ago. Recent news of the $36 million dollar judgement against the teenager cannot undo what has been wrought but hopefully a message has been sent.

Last year’s burn

Roll on Columbia

I completed my time in Oregon arriving at the fabled ‘Bridge of the Gods’ mid morning on my 100th day. I chose the celebrate the occasion with my 5th night in a bed along with a shower, laundry, food, and an afternoon of not walking! Since most of the services were located in Cascades Locks on the south side I opted to make my crossing the next morning. All that remained was to find just the right music to accompany the momentous event.

Farewell Oregon, hello Washington!