I made it down to a stream on the north side of Hwy 140. I stopped there for a break and a late breakfast. The climb up Mt. McLoughlin wasn’t going to get any easier if I waited though, so I soon started up. On this climb I had my first real taste of Oregon mosquitoes. I’d dealt with mosquitoes before, but these were somehow different. They seemed smarter, hungrier and more tenacious. They weren’t limited to little pockets here and there, they were evenly thick everywhere. My skin went on hyper-alert. Every little itch, the rub of cloth on my body, the hair on my neck, it all felt like a mosquito. Every 5 steps I was slapping my arm or rubbing my neck – brutalizing myself as I stumbled down the trail. I kept thinking they’d go away, but they never did. I swathed myself in noxious DEET. It helped for a couple hours. If poisoning my skin was the price for temporary sanity, I was glad to pay it.
I rounded the thickly forested mountain and finally stopped to cook at a little spring just off the trail. The clouds to the south had been coalescing all morning. Now, they were a deep, dark gray. I knew it was going to rain, it was just a matter of time. I cooked as fast as I could – aware that the rain could start up any moment. I could hear thunder to the south, it was getting closer all the time. I packed up my stuff and headed out. I looked at the sky, it was definitely raining where I’d been only a few hours ago. I wished I could outrun the rain. I passed a weekend backpacker. He was out of shape and out here “trying to quit smoking”. He’d left his map in his car and seemed generally disorganized and tired. I tried to give him some advice about the trails crisscrossing through the area, but it didn’t help much. What he really needed was a beer and a cigarette.
A half hour later, the rain caught up to me. I felt like a death row inmate who’s time was up (well, maybe not exactly like that… but you get the picture). I did my best to deal with it. I realized that it wasn’t going to go away quickly. Lightning was striking all the peaks around me. The entire sky was dark before too long. It was getting cooler. I knew that soon I had to climb up to the top of the ridge north of me. The lightning was warning me to stay away. I couldn’t see the ridge or the lightning strikes through the tall trees, but I knew it was ugly. Before long, the trail turned slightly uphill and became a river. The water on the trail was a few inches deep already, and it’d only been raining for an hour. There was no way to avoid splashing it, the short bushes on the side of the trail were too thick. It didn’t take long for me to just call it a day. It was about 5PM, and I knew it was only going to get worse. I didn’t want to camp on top of a ridge in a thunderstorm. So, I found a nice flat piece of earth nearby and set up my tent. I was already soaked, so I didn’t even rush to set up my tent quickly. I just took the slow and deliberate approach. I crawled in my tent, shed my wet parka, and put on my fleece and some dry socks that were buried in my pack. I felt better already. I snuggled halfway into my sleeping bag and pulled out some postcards that I had with me. I wrote one to just about everybody on my “list”. The storm lasted almost all night. The continuous sharp ticking of rain on my tent and the distant echo of thunder lulled me to sleep.
I was almost afraid to wake up the next morning, but there wasn’t any way to stop it. Luckily, the rain had stopped. I peeked outside my tent. Everything was freshly washed and dripping. I couldn’t even see the top of the trees through the mist. I packed up my belongings in my nylon carryall (…heard the porter call…) and headed up toward the ridge. It was misty all the way up. I walked along a barren rocky ledge and had no idea how far below me the bottom was, the rocks went straight down into the mist. I kept hiking up through this mysterious world until I finally broke out of the clouds on top of the ridge. Suddenly, there was patchy blue sky above me. The air was cool and crisp. I looked to the south and caught brief glimpses of Mt. McLoughlin. All the land below me was hidden under an ever-changing blanket of rough cloudiness. I walked along the rocky ridge, dipping just below the tops of the surrounding peaks. It didn’t take long for the trail to head down again. I skidded down a snow bank and back into mosquito heaven. The clouds were breaking up faster, and the sun was occasionally reaching the trees. It was just enough warmth to awaken the ravenous swarms. I just couldn’t get a break, it was either rain or bugs… some choice. Crater Lake was 30 miles from my last camp. I was hoping to make up for lost time the day before, and hiked at a furious pace. Sometime during my quest for quickness, my shins started hurting.
It started out as a sort of annoying pain, not debilitating, but always there. I stopped a few times to try and stretch and relax, but the pain just came right back after I started walking. Each step worsened the pain by only a tiny fraction, but once it was multiplied by 1000’s of footsteps, I was hurting. Still, I wanted to make it to Crater Lake that day. I was hiking through more tunnels in the forest. I couldn’t make out any landmarks, at most I could just see the next 75 yards of trail. Every few miles I’d cross a trail junction or a creek crossing and figure out where I was. Still 15 miles… still 10 miles… I crossed the border of Crater Lake National Park. 5 miles… By now, my shins were in pain. I still had a mission though. I could see the ridge which held Crater Lake in the distance. Large patches of unmelted snow started appearing. Up 3 feet on the snow, back down, up again… where’d the trail go? Oh, there it is… I didn’t have time for this. If I ever did have thoughts of stopping, the mosquitoes quickly changed my mind. Finally, I made it to a road. Mazama campground was only a mile further. I hobbled down the road, my shins throbbing with every step. I finally made it to the camp store and just as I thought, everything was better. I went inside, got some ice cream, sat down and ate. There were a bunch of hikers there at the same time. Each of them had their own “thing” going on – leaving tomorrow, staying for a couple days, going up to the restaurant, doing laundry, meeting a friend… Most of them were staying in the same campsite – G12, way down at the far end of the sprawling & filled car-campground. After eating my fill of junk, I did my last bit of walking down to the campground. I spent an hour or two sitting and chatting with the other hikers around a campfire which I later slept right next to.
I had already decided to take at least one full day off. My “shin splints” were pulsating. Ouch. Every time I picked my foot up, it was painful. I had to get this fixed, because healthy feet were a vital component of a happy hike. I realized that I had become rather lazy in my stretching routine. No doubt, my tight calves were pulling on my feet and aggravating my shins somehow. I spent the day sitting around with my feet up, stretching all the leg muscles I could. I hitched a ride up the the Crater Lake rim to see what all the fuss was about.
Wow. Crater Lake is one of those huge natural wonders that you can’t see until you’re right on top of it. The drive up to the Crater Lake rim is a wooded winding forest highway, it comes out to a giant parking lot near the Crater Lake Lodge. The Lake itself sits in a giant cauldron 1000 feet below. It’s 5 miles across, perfectly round, and completely surrounded by vertical cliffs. Pointy wizard island is thrown off to one side for a little added pizzazz. And the color! the lake is a deep, almost unnatural blue. But, you immediately know that it’s absolutely natural and pristine… this is how the lake is supposed to look. Crater Lake was formed some 10,000 years ago when a giant volcano (now referred to as Mt. Mazama) erupted, leaving a massive empty crater. Rain slowly filled the void over a few centuries, and the result was the deepest Lake in North America. Westerners had settled this area for years before Crater Lake was “discovered”. I can only imagine the jaw-dropping amazement that those people must have experienced. How could they possibly have described this place to the folks back home?
I caught a ride back down to the campground, hung out for a while, then realized I needed to go back up to the restaurant at the rim. They had an all-you-can-eat dinner. How could I pass that up? I hitched another ride up to the rim, ate all I could, and finally caught one last ride back down. I hitched a lot of rides in Crater Lake, and every person I met was wonderful- a single woman from out east having fun, a couple from the Chezk Republic who didn’t speak much english, a couple from Oregon, an older couple from Vallejo, CA. a young couple from Pennsylvania… and of course Sally, Denny’s (PCT hiker) fiancé.
My shins were feeling better by the end of the day, and I figured that they’d be good enough to hike on by the next morning. We had yet another thunderstorm that night, but I slept well.
I woke up to another cool misty morning. My original plan was to hike up to the rim and follow the “new” PCT route around the edge of the crater. There were so many clouds that I decided it wouldn’t be worth it. It would be cold, windy and viewless up there. So, I took the old PCT route around the base of “Mt. Mazama”. This route was essentially flat and followed a really old forest road. The tall trees were majestic as always, highlighted by the cool mist and occasional sunbeams. I looked ahead and saw two elk bucks browsing in a clearing on the PCT. They saw me and thundered off into the forest. 15 minutes later, I came across a whole herd of Elk does, they also ran off. I could hear the thumping of their hoofs when they were still a quarter mile away. I didn’t quite make it out of the National Park that night (the old route was 8 miles longer than the new route), and camped amidst a forest of Lodgepole pines. My shins were sore by the end of the day, but the pain was tolerable… only a couple more days to Shelter Cove, my next stop.
I had picked up two books at Crater Lake, one was “Understanding Northwest Mountain Weather” (which seemed practical) and the other was a Pacific Coast Tree identification book. Whenever I came across a new variety of tree, I’d stop and try to figure out what it was. I was mostly proud that I learned to tell the difference between pines, firs, and spruces.
The next morning, I woke up and quickly crossed Hwy 138, north of Crater Lake National Park. The highway was deserted, except for an older couple who had stopped to take a picture of a sign. I headed into the woods on the other side.