Days 30-35 on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon: Sisters to Cascade Locks

Hiking the PCT from Sisters to Cascade Locks, Oregon

Big Reflections:

  • The double-edged sword of town stays. It’s important to rest for recovery during a long-distance hike. But we are acutely aware that we lose momentum when taking zeros in town. They often remove us from the daily rhythm and routine of thru-hiking which can make it difficult, mentally and physically, to restart. In our theme of balance, we constantly need to check in with ourselves and consider what we need in the moment—momentum and flow or rest and recovery—and make decisions with that awareness.
  • Noticing glimpses of no thought. Cultivating the non-thinking mind is an important aspect of mindfulness for both of us. Spending time in the moment and experiencing our sensations and emotions as they arise without processing things intellectually is a phenomenon we’ve experienced minimally in off-trail life. However, immersed in physical movement with less distraction and more contact with nature, we noticed this was happening with more frequency and ease. Perhaps the conditions of long-distance hiking are optimal for these occurrences. We hope that our commitment to mindfulness practices will help us experience these glimpses of no thought in our lives after the trail as well.
  • Answering some big questions about long-distance hiking. After the AT, we wondered: Will we experience the same benefits on a long-distance backpacking trip that we did on a thru-hike? And if so, when will we reap those benefits? How many miles or weeks on trail will it take? Well, we’ve realized that the benefits seem to come by 500 miles, which is great news for us because it means long sections can be as impactful as thru-hiking in many ways. This knowledge helps us feel that we can cultivate a balanced lifestyle which includes both adventure as well as stability.
  • Gratitude for our bodies carrying us so far. One of the most rewarding parts of backpacking is seeing a mountain or natural feature in the distance and then getting to it knowing your body took you there. We feel like we’ve been hopping from one volcano to the next up the Cascade Range. These prominent markers on the landscape show us just how far we move each day and how much we’ve grown physically since we started hiking in earnest just 6 years ago.
  • Shifts in how we celebrate along the way. We no longer get as excited when we reach 100 miles, 200 miles, etc. Perhaps that is because we’ve now hiked so much that those numbers are no longer the “biggest” anymore. Instead, we look forward to celebrating landmarks, features of the trail, towns/cities along the way and other aspects of hiking that we’ve highlighted here (moments when we notice increased joy, mindfulness, and presence).

Day 30, 7/22/23: Sisters (Santiam Pass mile 2001.9) to Rockpile Lake (mile 2016.4)

14.2 miles, 2,800ft of elevation gain

A big realization for us is that while town stays are nice, we tend to feel a loss of momentum when we return to trail. Mentally, it’s harder to get back into the swing of things after so much town/city stimulation. Today was no different, but we were much kinder to ourselves when we felt a bit out of it. Our hotel bed was so big and comfortable and we slept until 8-9am. After lounging through the morning, we picked up fuel from a local gear shop then got pizza for lunch (half of which we packed in a ziploc bag for dinner)! Margie, a trail angel we connected with on a Facebook group drove us back to trail around 12:30pm. Right as we were about to start hiking, a couple started chatting with us, one of whom thru-hiked the PCT previously and just wanted to chat with other hikers again! He gave us these little compressed paper towels he uses for toilet paper. They were about the size of a quarter and expand when you add water. Only with other thru-hikers do you talk about what type of toilet paper you use within 5 minutes of meeting.

At 1:30pm we finally started hiking and it was hot and exposed through the burned sections. The loose sand and gravel along with blow downs for about 5 miles were some of the worst we’ve dealt with and they really sapped our already low energy! The highlight of the day was hiking beneath Porcupine Peak’s jagged and prominent summit with a little lake in its glacially carved cirque. It felt like something from another continent; the United States has a ridiculously wide range of landscapes. When we got to the lake to tent we were so happy we had packed out pizza which meant no cooking tonight!

Day 31, 7/23/23: Rockpile Lake (mile 2016.4) to Ollalie Lake (mile 2048.3)

31.9 miles, 5,400ft of elevation gain 

Our longest backpacking day to date! And, we are officially over halfway through our trip. We’ve hiked 625 of our planned 1,200 miles. Unfortunately, to hike such a big day, we had to set our dreaded alarm. We woke up around 6:15am, which for most hikers isn’t even early, poked our heads out of our tent to see that everyone else had left already, and then started hiking by 7:15am. The first 12 miles passed quickly and consisted of beautiful wooded trails with some mild undulation and intermittent views of Mt. Jefferson. We passed Hike and Bike, filled up water at the bottom of the descent, then geared ourselves up for a sustained 11 mile climb around the shoulder of Jefferson and up another pass. Even though it was hot in some burned sections, we really enjoyed the day and, in sharp contrast to the day before, felt really “in it” while hiking. The views of Jefferson were spectacular and we felt so connected to nature as we drank water from streams fed by melting snowfields and glaciers high above us.

When we got to the highest point of our day, Mt. Jefferson loomed large behind us and Mt. Hood beckoned from the hazy distance to the north. Now on the northern facing slope there were some easily managed snow patches. Otherwise, it was mostly barren rock up top. The loose scree was tough on our already tired feet, but we felt prepared for the more difficult terrain from all of our experience hiking in the rocky White Mountains of New Hampshire. On the descent, we walked through more burned sections, many from the recent 2021 fire. We could tell because there was so little regrowth, just a few teeny tiny starts of shrubs returning. Late in the day, the sky turned an eerie red/orange and the sun was covered in a trail of drifting smoke, indicating to us that there must be a fire fairly close by. We opted to stay at Ollalie Lake Resort, a little unburnt oasis run on 1 solar panel that lets PCT hikers camp for free. We got there just in time to buy a cold beverage before the store closed (a Spindrift?! What a treat)! Then, some people staying in a cabin at the resort gave us extra salad and pasta from their meals. We sat around a picnic table chatting with Iron Will and Stop and Go and felt really proud of how we handled such a big day of hiking.

Day 32, 7/24/23: Ollalie Lake (mile 2048.3) to Tentsite (mile 2,080.5) on Timothy Lake

32.2 miles, 3,050ft of elevation gain

Oh wow, our feet were achy this morning! To be expected after such a big day, we suppose. We both stretched it out gearing up for another 32 mile day. The smoke from the recent fire seemed like it dissipated overnight and the lenticular clouds hovering over Mt. Jefferson were pretty spectacular. We started walking around 7:20am and our feet could not have been more grateful for such gentle wooded terrain. Throughout the day, clouds began rolling in and we felt a drizzle of rain for the first time in an entire month; it wasn’t enough to even wet the ground but it counts as precipitation. The clouds provided the first cover from the sun we’ve experienced out here. 

We also saw some horses on trail for the first time today. Unlike the AT, the PCT is open to foot and pack animal travel. Truth be told, while the animals can be cute and outdoor recreation should come in many forms, Stretch is not a fan of horses on the trail. We literally had to step in and over horse dung for miles in various sections, which was really unpleasant. Plus, over time, the horse poop combines with the dirt of the trail, all of which gets caked on our legs as we walk, and knowing that is pretty gross. 

At around mile 26 or so, we started feeling the fatigue of the day and, more than anything, just a bit of boredom. We reflected on hiking 30s and decided they’re not our jam. We pushed ourselves and could definitely do even more, but we’d need to change our hiking style and sacrifice camp time and that’s not what we enjoy while backpacking. While we haven’t reached our physical limits, there’s no reason to compromise the overall experience for a few more miles and shaving off a couple hiking days. The last miles of the day were flat and we walked as quickly as possible to get to our campsite on Timothy Lake in Mt. Hood National Forest. We set up camp next to a woman with a tiny dog named Einstein that took a liking to Stretch then ate dessert with our feet soaking in the lake as the sun set. Not a bad way to end another big day.

Day 33, 7/25/23: Tentsite (mile 2,080.5) on Timothy Lake to Tentsite (mile 2101.4) near Timberline Lodge

20.9 miles, 4,000ft of elevation gain 

Okay, so we were feeling the fatigue of hiking 64 miles in two days! We enjoyed pushing ourselves and testing the limits of our physical capacities. It’s pretty great to know that we could hike much further than 32 miles in a day, but that we are choosing to hike less to enjoy the experience more. Most of the hiking today was climbing up to the shoulder of Mt. Hood, a prominent volcano! Our goal was to get to Timberline Lodge, an iconic hotel and ski resort where the exterior scenes of the movie The Shining were filmed. To our delight and surprise, the ascent was not bad at all. There were plenty of winding switchbacks and hard packed dirt paths. The last two miles were more difficult because we had to trudge up a steeper slope on loose sand that had us sinking in and sliding back with each step. From a distance, we could see skiers cruising down the glacier. We wished we had our skis and snowboard to take a few turns with them!

When we got to the lodge, we beelined to guest services for our resupply package and spent the afternoon eating snacks, trying local beers, and enjoying the lodge. Oh yes, we also posed with the “here’s Johnny” axe prop! We need to rewatch The Shining now. The architecture and history of Timberline Lodge, constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, with lots of stone, wrought iron, and wood was really cool to experience. We spent an hour charging our phones and relaxing before Curt, Lotus’ friend/colleague met us (and ended up treating us!) for dinner. It was super nice to catch up with somebody from outside our little hiking bubble and he even brought us some extra KT tape for our feet. Around 7:45pm, all filled up from food, company, and a really rewarding hiking day, we hiked 2 miles out to a nearby tentsite. For the first time, there was an actual chill in the air and we wondered if we were leaving the heat behind and moving towards colder temperatures in WA.

Day 34, 7/26/23: Tentsite (mile 2101.4) near Timberline Lodge to Dirt Road (mile 2128.5)

27.1 miles, 5,000ft of elevation gain

As soon as Stretch opened his eyes around 7am, he said, “can we sleep a little longer?” The last few days of big miles and activities have caught up with us! We slept in a bit more and didn’t start hiking until 8:30am. The morning brought us down and up some ridges and ravines on the sides of Mt. Hood. Views of this formidable peak in addition to Mt. St. Helens in the distance appeared and disappeared throughout the day. We crossed a somewhat raging stream from snow and glacier melt in one of the ravines. Kevin was able to take a big leap across boulders and Kathy found some tree trunks to shimmy across. The trails were busy because the Mt. Hood area consists of a plethora of intersecting routes for day hikers and backpackers. We ended up taking a little detour to see Ramona Falls, which was absolutely beautiful with water plunging down a jumble of columnar basalt! 

The rest of the day had a deceptive amount of elevation gain: about 5,000 feet of wooded but steep incline. Towards the end there were a series of blowdowns that were just the right height to be tough to go either over or under. Lotus went under them and Stretch went over. Yet another example of how we approach hiking with such different body types.

Honestly, we felt a bit sluggish today, but as per usual, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Around 6:45pm, we got to our campsite on an abandoned old dirt road. A hiker named Found had given us a bottle of olive oil yesterday and we added it, along with Parmesan cheese to our ramen to make it more “Italian” and to get more fat and calories into us, which we both absolutely need. From our tent, we saw the sky turn a shade of magenta pink that was new to us. We just wish we had a clearer view! As we closed our eyes, tired from the day, we could not believe that tomorrow would be our last day in Oregon. It’s all going by so fast!

Day 35, 7/26/23: Dirt Road (mile 2128.5) to Cascade Locks

17 miles and elevation gain unclear, but mostly downhill 

We made it to Cascade Locks, which marks the end of Oregon and beginning of Washington across the Columbia River! What a chill in the air when we woke up. As we inch north, it’s getting colder and the air is thicker with moisture. We may need to nab some extra layers in town. Stretch had the foresight to send himself rain pants and gloves. Lotus did… not 😅. With the cool breeze, it took a bit more to get us moving this morning, but it was really nice to hike in more mild weather. Today we decided to take a “blue blaze” side trail off of the PCT that most hikers take as well because the trail passes under a waterfall at Tunnel Falls. 

The first part of the day went over a ridge with sweeping views. Then the blue blaze was relatively steep to start with lots of blow downs and purple fireweed flowers growing wildly. We descended ridiculously long switchbacks down to the water and then followed that along through the canyon it has carved over the years. We walked along rocky ledges admiring runs and falls along the way.

When we reached Tunnel Falls we were in absolute awe. The cascading water drops down the rock with a little carved tunnel in the cliffside for the trail to pass behind it. The rocky walls of the gorge were beautifully covered in moss and ferns. It felt like something out of a fairy tale and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there. 

At the trailhead we lucked out and got a ride from a local trail runner who was just finishing her morning run to the falls and back. She drove us into Cascade Locks and we checked into our lovely 1 star motel. We dined at a couple cool new breweries, resupplied, and got some rest. Ready for Washington tomorrow!

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

We'll send you updates when new content becomes available

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *