Hiking the PCT from Ashland to Sisters, Oregon
- Laughter, mindfulness, and adaptability have been essential for us dealing with discomforts integral to hiking which have increased 10 fold since getting to Oregon. Oregon in July has had the most relentless mosquitoes we’ve ever experienced. Being able to crack jokes, laugh at ourselves and each other when we are making absurd movements to get away from bugs, change plans as to where to camp and take breaks, and remain calm and present in the face of swarming mosquitoes has helped tremendously. Maybe laughter, mindfulness, and adaptability are just essential to living a content life?
- We are shifting our understanding of what it means to experience awe. Feeling a sense of wonder can occur not just in the presence of expansive landscapes, but in the small details of nature. It’s easy to look at a huge volcano or mountain and feel their majesty. But what about on days when we don’t get big views? How can we feel a sense of awe when noticing a tree growing from a rock in a barren landscape or a hummingbird buzzing around to different flowers? After listening to a Tara Brach podcast, we asked ourselves, can we love just what is? Can we accept even the mosquitoes with gentle receptivity? It is a tall order, but one to practice.
- It is incredible what our bodies can do. After taking a couple of weeks to readjust to hiking, our bodies have only grown stronger and our trail legs are here in earnest. In Oregon, we began comfortably hiking an average of 25 miles per day. It’s like our legs are on autopilot, they just move. We even did our first 30+ mile day and physically, we felt good. This didn’t happen overnight. It has taken years of listening to our bodies, giving them rest, and practicing.
- It’s surreal to experience such a stark contrast between the wet, green, and living forest to the barren, apocalyptic burned sections from recent fires. We are reflecting a great deal on the state of our Earth and how we as people contribute to her flourishing or demise.
- It blows our minds that we are literally walking next to and around volcanoes. As kids we learned about volcanoes, volcanic rocks, lava fields, etc., but it was always so difficult to envision what they would look like. When we were little, Oregon seemed so far away. But now, we get to experience these natural wonders ourselves. How remarkable is that?
Day 19, 7/11/23: Ashland to Horse Camp Junction (mile 1745.3)
23 miles (25.5 PCT miles) and 4,500ft of elevation gain
We are back on the trail! Spending 3 days in town at the Bard’s Inn felt like an eternity. Once Lotus could successfully eat a breakfast without feeling sick, we knew it was time to get back to hiking. Our Uber dropped us off near the trailhead and we started walking around 9am. It felt slow, as Lotus was still feeling low energy, but apparently we were moving just fine at our usual 3-mile an hour pace. A couple of miles in, we passed by Pilot Rock with a viewpoint of….Mt. Shasta! Yep, we can still see Mt. Shasta after over 300 miles of hiking.
Around 3:30pm, we rolled up to a dirt road with a beautiful tent set up and we knew exactly what that meant: trail magic. Along with Slider and Surplus we ate watermelon, grapes, and cookies, enjoyed cold beverages, and all reminisced about our respective AT thru-hikes! We ended up taking a road walk short cut that saved us about 2.5 miles and met back up with the PCT. After filling up water from a potable faucet over a horse trough, we camped at a dispersed camping spot on a hilltop meadow.
By the way, it is so dusty out here, no matter what we do, we are covered in dirt all of the time!
Day 20, 7/12/23: Horse Camp Junction (mile 1745.3) to Tentsite (mile 1775.8)
30.5 miles and 4,000ft of elevation gain
Our first 30+ mile day! Interestingly, it wasn’t the physical, but the mental challenge of staying present when walking for so many hours that was the tough part for us. Usually, we hike from around 8-5, but hiking from 7-7 just felt really long! We reinstated our on-trail book club (when we listen to the same book at the same time), which really helped us stay motivated. We started with Cat’s Cradle and well, Vonnegut gives us a lotttttt to discuss in the first half of that book. Colonialism, research, science, Truth, politics, religion, communism, you name it, it’s in there. And, well, we like being intellectually stimulated. Outside of book listening, we ran into Slider, got pulled into chatting with some local hikers who recently retired (we are glad that we seem approachable, but sometimes we want to just keep moving! We are terrible at disengaging in conversation), saw hundreds of baby frogs on trail, and enjoyed the gentle dirt paths of southern Oregon.
In the last 10 miles, we traversed some rocky lava fields of rough volcanic stones with views of Mount McLaughlin. The winding volcanic rock weaving in and out of the hillsides was quite picturesque, but tough on the feet. We set up camp at the first semi-even tent spot we saw after we hit the 30-mile mark, changed into pants as quickly as possible, donned our fashionable mosquito head nets, and ate dinner crossing our fingers that the mosquitos wouldn’t eat us alive.
Day 21, 7/13/23: Tentsite (mile 1775.8) to Tentsite (mile 1800.3)
24.8 miles and 3,700ft of elevation gain
Today started off a little bit rough. Lotus’ favorite sunglasses have seen their last days. We think that bug spray disintegrated the lens coating! The miles went quickly, but the trail was monotonous and the mosquitoes were really bad to say the least. We both put on our mosquito head nets, a ton of bug spray, and they still managed to bite us through socks and shirts! These swarms just add to the ever growing list of discomforts on trail. Moving was the only way to avoid them, so move we did. We hiked 12 miles by lunch, fueled by hatred of blood-sucking bugs and our audiobook Cat’s Cradle.
Miraculously, we found a relatively low-bug spot for lunch before the climb of the day. Our morale was a bit low, but when we got above the trees on our way toward Devils Peak, we were rejuvenated with a cool breeze and some diverse landscapes including rocky outcrops and lakes. We needed a change of scenery! It’s incredible how quickly your mood can change out here. We often say that long-distance hiking is a rollercoaster. At one moment you can be on the highest of highs and then next lowest of lows. It’s really about how we practice compassion for these impermanent feelings that we have learned so much about ourselves and each other. The rest of the day consisted of a rockier climb filled with views.
A bit tired, we decided to end our day a mile earlier than planned because we found a tentsite we couldn’t pass up. Right next to a water source and up high with a breeze and a view. Lotus painted and we played a game of cribbage in our tent while watching the sunset. We ended the day on a much higher note than we started!
Day 22, 7/14/23: Tentsite (mile 1800.3) to Mazama Village in Crater Lake National Park
21.8 miles and 2,450ft of elevation gain
Holy. Mosquitos. From inside our tent, we could see mosquitos gathering and waiting for us to emerge. We decided to forgo our coffee and tea, swallow down a quick breakfast, and break down camp as fast as possible to not get bit to hell! Digging a hole to do your business in the morning with swarms of biters around you is not a terrible way to start the day. They were awful for the first few miles of the morning and subsided by midday. We literally could not stop walking or else we’d get multiple bites. Around 11am, we entered a burn section where there were so many blowdowns and a lot of hot sun. We powered through the climbs and moved quickly knowing that the end of the day would mean we made it to Crater Lake National Park! The last three miles were back to bug hell because there was still snow melt. When we got to Mazama Village, a general store in the national park, we were greeted by many other PCT hikers lounging in shady patches by the charging station, waiting to do laundry and shower. We joined them, picked up our box (which had way too much food in it because we didn’t realize how fast we’d be hiking), set up our tent nearby at a designated PCT hiker area, then grabbed dinner at the restaurant with Slider and Surplus. Afterwards, we saw Gumption again! Thanks for those crispy donuts, they were a real treat.
Day 23, 7/15/23: Mazama Village in Crater Lake National Park to Tentsite (mile 1857.1)
22ish miles and 2,500ft ish of elevation gain
Crater Lake: wow. Getting to see Crater Lake was a huge highlight of the trip so far and a real mood booster. Known as Giiwas (and also a sacred place) in Klamath tradition, Crater Lake overwhelmed us in the best of ways. It was absolutely majestic and we felt the power of this special place. Our mileage and elevation calculations are estimates today because we took an alternate route called the Rim Trail because the PCT doesn’t actually overlook Crater Lake! And, like the majority of the other PCT hikers, we weren’t going to miss the Crater Lake views.
Around 8am, we got a hitch in a Sprinter van with a couple and their parents to the rim trail. From there, we hiked along the rim in complete awe of Crater Lake—the deepest lake in the United States formed by a volcanic eruption. The lake itself is made up of rainwater and snowmelt that has accumulated in the caldera over the years. The water was an iridescent blue and the more we looked at it, the more we saw multiple shades of blue and green. It was breathtaking. Along the rim trail, we stashed our packs in the woods and took a side trip up to the Watchman, which apparently is the highest point on the PCT according to Bad Kid. Whether that is accurate, we don’t know! But taking the 1 mile side trail was worth it. From above, we got a better view of Wizard Island and its perimeter, which was the most gorgeous turquoise color. And the panoramic views of the entire lake were stunning.
After we hiked along the rim trail with the many other National Park visitors, we got another hitch to get back to the PCT, which cut off a few miles and enabled us to hike 17 miles after 12pm on the hot dry trail. It’s so dry in Southern Oregon the water carries are brutal. We had to carry for the whole day today and we sure felt the extra weight. It was nice to grab an extra liter or 2 from a cache at a dirt road to get us through the rest of the day. We’ve never seen so much water in a cache! There must have been like 50 or so 5 gal jugs.
We ended the day at a gorgeous campsite in the shadow of a rocky cliff and just above Thielsen Creek. Oh, and we saw alpacas! They were super cute and hiking the trail before us. We ended the day chatting with Biggie Smiles and Bad Kid before the mosquitos made us all retreat to our tents and proceeded to buzz around us all night.
Day 24, 7/16/23: Tentsite (mile 1857.1) to Tentsite (mile 1884.8)
27.7 miles and 4,000ft of elevation gain
The refrain of Oregon so far: we hate mosquitos. They have no redeeming qualities. We made tea in our tent vestibule and carefully ate our breakfast in our tent because the sight of swarming clouds of mosquitoes outside was enough to keep us inside. Once we started hiking, it was bearable. We started with a climb up to the actual highest point of the PCT in Oregon and Washington, then paused at one of the few bug-free locations that had cell service with a view for a long break. For the rest of the day, we just cruised, really impressed with how our bodies were moving and dealing with discomfort. Our pace was fast and we felt in sync today in ways we haven’t yet during this trip.
Toward the end of the day, we came to a road crossing with about 6 hikers sitting in the shade around a huge water cache. YES! We had to lug about 20 miles worth of water today so the stack of water jugs was a beautiful sight to behold. A trail runner took all of our trash, we filled up water for the night and the next morning because again, water in Oregon has been hard to come by, and did the final climb of the day. Listening to books and podcast episodes (the Rewatchables from the Ringer network about rewatchable movies is a go to) helped us through the ascent and we ended at a beautiful tentsite with a view of lakes and the Three Sisters Mountains that we are headed for. To bookend the day, the mosquitoes were out for blood so we ate dinner as fast as possible and watched the sky turn pink from our tent. Stretch sacrificed himself to the bugs for a few pictures of the sun setting. These bugs are impermanent as is the itching from their bites. Also, our trail legs are here. We could both just keep walking and walking as if on autopilot.
Day 25, 7/17/23: Tentsite (mile 1884.8) to Shelter Cove
22.4 PCT miles, 1.5 road miles, and 2,200ft of elevation gain
Another morning of mosquito avoidance! What broken records we have become. We used deet wipes and they seemed to work a bit better? At least there was a great moving undercast this morning which really lifted our spirits and motivated us for the day. For the climb, we started listening to Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. It’s a nonfiction written by David Epstein arguing for how people should not specialize too early in their lives (like Tiger Woods with golf), but should instead explore more, sample more, then narrow one’s later using their broader knowledge and experience to be successful, particularly in “wicked” or complex learning environments. According to Epstein and his research, generalists are more creative and able to make connections between domains and be strategic in ways that specialists cannot. We are really enjoying the book so far, especially how the writer brings together multiple bodies of research and literature. Much of what Epstein discusses resonates with how we have both been thinking about teaching and learning in our respective complex contexts. Listening to the book helped us power up the climb.
Just on cue at 12pm, we found a beautiful spot underneath Diamond Peak with a view for lunch. Following, we hiked to Shelter Cove, a lakeside resort that has amenities for PCT hikers like showers and free camping. There was an entire designated section for PCT hikers to charge their phones, unpack their resupply boxes, and hang out. We caught up with many other hikers like Burps, Slider, and Gumption and also met new hikers like Whirly. The biggest surprise of the day: a hiker came up to us and addressed us by name. He goes, “you don’t remember me?” And we said no, we really don’t. Then he said that he hiked the AT. It dawned on Stretch first that we met this guy, One Pole, randomly on trail on the AT last year for maybe 1 minute. He asked to video interview us for his YouTube channel, to which we said yes even though we didn’t know him! We hugged, couldn’t believe that we ran into each other again and he video interviewed us again. What a small thru-hiking world. Unfortunately, there was also a very inebriated hiker who made a lot of people, particularly women, uncomfortable. Luckily, hikers told management and we all disengaged from the hiker so that nothing escalated. In moments, we had the best and worst types of interactions that can occur. After, we migrated to the store/restaurant at Shelter Cove, ate our share of chicken fingers and a burger standing up while chatting with other thru-hikers, then made our way to the designated PCT camping area where we set our tent up in the sea of other tents. By the way, we are now calling our tent “the villa” in reference to the one and only Love Island UK reality tv show. Just because we like books, nature, and hiking doesn’t mean we don’t also like trashy pop culture references.
Day 26, 7/18/23: Shelter Cove to Tentsite (mile 1934.2)
26.55 PCT miles, 1.5 road miles, and 3,400ft of elevation gain
Hiking 25 mile days seem to be a norm now. We are in constant amazement of what our bodies are capable of. By the last three miles, Lotus’ heels were screaming and the mosquitoes were horrific, but as a whole, today was such a lovely hiking day. The first 7 miles of ascent passed through the most beautiful forest of trees with dangling moss from the branches. It felt otherworldly. We walked, meditated, and felt the benefits of forest bathing. For most of the day, the ascents and descents were just as peaceful and gentle. After a snack break next to a lake in the mid to late afternoon, we hiked through a recently burned section from a forest fire 2 years ago. It felt like we were on another planet, a warzone, or a desolate wasteland. All scorched trees, nothing green, super dusty. The stark contrast between the burned trees and the healthy living trees showed us where the fire line was and where it was contained. Beyond this section, a range of volcanoes including Mt. Bachelor and Broken Top stood tall in the distance. The last two miles were mosquito hell! We practically ran to our tentsite where we promptly set up our tent for Lotus to hide while Stretch braved the monsters for a quick swim. We ate while moving around and wearing long sleeved clothes to cover our bodies. It was so unfortunate because the lake we were at was so picturesque! Seems like we need to come back to Oregon in a different month when these bugs are less ruthless.
Day 27, 7/19/23: Tentsite (mile 1934.2) to Tentsite (mile 1959.8)
25.62 miles and 2,900ft of elevation gain
We woke up so tired today! Apparently hiking almost 30 miles the day before can do that. As has been the norm in Oregon, we made tea and coffee in our vestibule and spent as long as we could in our tent to avoid mosquitoes. Lotus didn’t stop moving for anything. Even when brushing her teeth she paced in circles so that the bugs wouldn’t land on her! The morning passed quickly with more forest bathing and walking meditation. Around 1pm, we found an elusive low-bug pond to have lunch and lounge at. Afterwards, we both appreciated the easy miles before the climb of the day. At the peak, we saw how much closer we were to the volcanoes we saw in the distance the day before! We descended the 1.5 miles quickly, chatting about our top 5 Disney and Pixar movies. Oh the time you have to discuss such serious matters. The mosquitoes at our campsite by the lake were horrific and we spent a ton of time in our tent to avoid them.
Day 28, 7/20/23: tentsite at mile 1959.8 to tentsite at 1985.8
26 miles and 3,800ft of elevation gain
Continuing to lose the war against the mosquitoes, we hurried out of camp. At the top of the first climb, VOLCANOES! We were immediately regretful that we didn’t walk a mile further to camp in the massive meadow below Mt. Bachelor. You win some you lose some. Where there are burned sections from forest fires there are inevitably a ton of fallen trees and blowdowns to navigate around, over, and under. It definitely made hiking more tiring when you have to stop and climb over obstacles! For the middle chunk of the day, we stayed high in the mountains and walked beside Middle Sister and through an obsidian section. The shades of black rocks shone bright in the sun and chunks of obsidian littered the trail. Apparently they are sacred to the local indigenous population and camping was not allowed in the obsidian section for respect. After, we entered into a lava field! The rocks were rough on the feet but like something we’ve never seen before. It was just a field of black rocks and boulders. At the same time, smoke from a forest fire started filling the air and all of a sudden we couldn’t see mountains in the distance—super eerie! When we got service, we found out that our plans to stay with a friend in Bend fell through (Covid strikes again), so we spent about an hour readjusting plans, finding new rides and a new place to stay. It’s always hard to figure logistics out on trail, especially when we have unpredictably limited service. Nevertheless, we figured it out and continued on about 7 more miles until we found a campsite next to the lava field. We ate dinner on the lava rocks and felt like we were characters in the Lord of the Rings on our way to Mordor. Which one of us is Sam and which one of us is Frodo? 🧐🤔
Day 29, 7/21/23: Tentsite (mile 1985.8) to Sisters, Oregon
16 miles and 1,700ft of elevation gain
Wait, did we really start a day off with no mosquitoes? YES!!! We sat outside of our tent to make breakfast and it was such a treat. It’s the little things! Within the first few miles, we took a side trip to see the lava tubes next to Mt. Belknap. It was so cool and well worth the extra time. Our feet were definitely feeling the roughness of the rocks, but we powered through to Big Youth Lake Camp, a camp that has an entire building and services dedicated to support PCT hikers. We picked up our box with Stretch’s new shoes, some KT tape (thank you past selves for knowing our feet would need some extra love and tape), and toothpaste. While we did laundry, we chatted with a few hikers we hadn’t met before: Pinecone, Hike and Bike, and Stop and Go, a lovely Canadian who talked extensively about air traffic control 😂. After 2 hours of chores and eating a bagged lunch the camp provided us, we booked it 5 miles to a road where two trail angels picked us up to take us to Sisters, a nearby town. They dropped us at the grocery store where we resupplied, then we walked to our hotel through town, only stopping for ice cream and Chinese takeout! We made it to our bed just in time to watch the USA vs. Vietnam women’s World Cup match.