Pacific Crest Trail Journals

Crater Lake to Wapanitia Pass

August 12 – August 19, 2010

Wizard Island Overlook is (unsurprisingly) popular with photographers looking for a good sunrise shot so I awoke well before dawn to the first sound of a car pulling into the parking lot just downhill from me. I hurriedly packed my things and walked to the handrail overlooking the lake to catch the rising of the sun. It was (unsurprisingly) phenomenal.

The scenic highs of hiking on Crater Lake’s rim were quickly contrasted with more flat, forested, viewless hiking as I dropped off of Mt. Mazam’s northern slopes and headed north. Traversing the west side of Mt. Thielsen offered a short reprieve from the monotony as well as the first on-trail water source since Crater Lake’s Rim Village, nearly 30 miles behind me. I took a break and tanked up on water at Thielsen Creek before pushing on to Tolo Camp before the end of the day. I arrived after dark, tiptoeing past several tents, and dropped my gear before dropping down to a sidetrail to get more water at a spring. I generally like to wake up and hit the trail right away so filling up on water before I end my day is usually preferable, even if it means doing so in the dark.

The next day took me out of the forest and onto the slopes of Diamond Peak and Mt. Yoran. The mosquitoes were horrendous throughout the day but were a fair price to pay for getting out of the trees for a bit. After a night’s camp just north of Willamette Pass I entered the Minks Lake Basin and spent the day hiking past an endless number of small, stagnant ponds nestled in the flat ridge line of the Cascades. I’d been leap frogging Boston and Cubby ever since running into them at Crater Lake and saw them again tonight right around dinner time. Around this time I was basically on flying towards my family’s cabin as quickly as I could – the sooner I got there, the more time I could hang out. So I’d been planning to skip going into Elk Lake resort but after running in to Boston & Cubby and talking about it I decided it’d be a nice stop to make. Based solely on how amazing Elk Lake Resort’s breakfast burritos were… it was worth it.

I hiked out of Elk Lake around noon and began a climb up to the Three Sisters Wilderness. After about 10 miles climbing through the forest I abruptly emerged from the forest and entered the Wickiup Plains that border South Sister’s western slopes. South Sister loomed above me for much of the rest of the day until I moved beyond it and into Middle Sister’s domain, eventually camping near the top of Obsidian Falls. It didn’t take long the next day for me to leave Middle and North Sister in my rearview mirror, cross McKenzie Pass and the Belknap lava fields, traverse Mt. Washington’s west side, and drop down towards Big Lake Youth Camp, the approximate 2,000 mile marker on the trail. I took a break at the turn off to BLYC, but didn’t actually visit, and celebrated the arbitrary milestone I had reached before pushing on. I camped on the south side of Three Finger Jack and had one of the best views that I’ve had from any campsite on this entire trip; the Three Sisters and Mt. Washington all loomed large right from where I lay in my sleeping bag and I saw them in both the fading sunset and the light of the rising sun the next morning.

When I got off the trail to spend some time at my cabin, my feet were not in great shape. The combination of consistently high mile days and Oregon’s gritty, volcanic soil had rubbed sections of my feet raw, leaving the skin exposed and tender. The day that I left my camp on Three Finger Jack’s south side was when they were at their worst. I dragged butt all morning until I eventually arrived at Mt. Jefferson. The views of the mountain itself were enough to lift my spirits some but the real change in my state of mind came while I was hiking on Mt. Jefferson’s west side. The day had started out with fair weather but as I descended to Milk Creek clouds began to roll in, quickly. They were soon followed by thunder, pouring rain, and then hail. I’d had almost perfect weather for the past 3.5 months and having to hike through a lightning storm stood out as a new and welcome experience. I threw on my rain gear for the first time in months and marched on. The trail had became a flowing creek and then, after the rain stopped and I climbed higher, a ribbon carpeted in pea-sized hail. I eventually caught up to Boston, Cubby, and Shanghai in Jefferson Park. Immediately north of Jefferson Park the trail ascends a ~7,000 foot, exposed ridge line that offered little to no protection against lightning strikes. Boston and Cubby elected to camp in Jefferson Park for the night while Shanghai and I, being young and male, decided to keep going to Breitenbush Lake. We crossed the ridge without incident and got out first look at smoke rising from ridges on Mt. Jefferson where lightning strikes had ignited forest fires. A helicopter circled the fires but didn’t appear to do anything other than observe.

As we descended to Breitenbush Lake we passed Pyramid Butte. The sun was setting and in the dimming light we could see flames flickering on the butte’s north side – a forest fire was burning openly on it! Very shortly after we hiked through this area it was closed to hikers. We were lucky to have gotten through and avoided a long road walk.

The next morning found Boston, Cubby, Shanghai and I all hanging out at Olallie Lake, eating chips, drinking soda, watching smoke rise from the nearby forest fires. We filtered out separately and the rest of the day was largely uneventful for me. I eventually camped alongside Warm Springs River with Shanghai. The next morning I knocked out an easy 8 miles to reach a paved road into Timothy Lakes and signaled for my dad to come pick me up. After a short wait my sister and dad pulled up and whisked me off of the trail to go take some time off at our cabin.

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