I was starting to get the picture of the PCT through Oregon – a long string of prominent peaks. They were all volcanic features in different stages of their life cycle. Brown Mtn., Mt. McLoughlin, Crater Lake… next on the list was Mt. Thielsen. It looked like some massive force had taken a regular pyramid-shaped mountain and carved away all the slopes, leaving only a barren pillar of rock. The trail ascended the base of the mountain and worked its way around to the north side. The clouds were just begining to break up, but there was a steady stream of them covering the top of Theilsen. As I rounded the north side of the mountain, I passed a trail which led to the top – 9182 feet. I really wanted to go up, it was not supposed to be a technical climb. But the crummy weather and my sore shins convinced me to just keep going down the PCT. I did see some people ascending the mountain though, it looked like a mother a father and their little kid. The kid couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. I looked up there and wondered what they were thinking… it didn’t look like a fun day to climb the peak. I shrugged my shoulders and kept going. About a minute later, I ran into another vertical snowfield. I had picked up my ice axe again at Crater Lake… what a perfect opportunity to use it! I spent about 30 minutes chopping steps into the icy snow. I was darn proud of my work, but there wasn’t anyone around to share it with. Oh well, I figured the hikers behind me would appreciate the effort.
I headed down over more snowy slopes to Thielsen Creek. The upper part of the creek was still completely covered in snow. Walking on the snow was not a big deal, but it greatly aggravated my shins. I couldn’t really control the slip and slide of my footsteps, and I was forced to strain the muscles in my legs even more. I kept going up. Before long, I was at the highest point of the PCT in Oregon – 7600feet. Not too high in an absolute measure, but high enough to prevent the snow from entirely melting. I sloshed through miles of forested snowbanks, my shins throbbing with every missed step. By the end of the day, I was out of the snow, but I was in serious pain. All I could do was wince and shuffle my feet along the trail. I finally made it to a flat forested ridge and called it a day.
The next morning, my shins started out in pain. I knew they were only going to get worse as the day rolled on. On the bright side, the sun had returned. Narrow shafts of light made random patterns on the forest floor. I scooted along the trail. I came across a group of people who were out for the day. They were visiting a local peak, on which were the scattered ashes of a lost friend. We talked for a little while. Before we parted ways, they gave me some huge grapes and a snickers bar.
I had changed the way I was walking to alleviate the pain in my shins. Now, my “funny walk” was causing pain in my feet. It was about 25 miles to the next stop – Odell Lake, and the trail still had to go back up to the snow around Diamond Peak then back down.
I caught up to Gordon and Scott, a couple hikers who were hiking large sections of the trail this year (they’d both thru-hiked before). They were taking it easy – forcing themselves to adhere to a schedule which had them doing about 15 miles a day (It can take a lot of discipline to stop at 2PM and goof off all day…). They were taking an alternate route to Olallie Lake which stayed out of the snow and cut about 8 miles off the total distance. This sounded like a good idea, so I adopted their plan. I quickly got ahead of them (even with my hobble), and stopped for dinner at Bingham Lakes.
A group of 3 wildlife biologists were camped at the lake – they looked like they’d been there for quite a while. I talked to them while I cooked my meal. One of them was working on her PHD thesis. She was trying to determine what the introduction of fish to a previously fish-less lake did to the local ecosystem. This lake was previously fish-less. They had been studying the lake for a couple years, and had just introduced the fish a couple days ago. They said one of their first observations was that a local Bald Eagle was having an easy time catching fish out of the shallow clear lake. The subject of my sore shin came up (my left shin was the one causing most of the problem). They were happy to finally have a use for their comprehensive first aid kit. They gave me an ace bandage to wrap my shin. I figured I’d try anything at this point. The difference was immediate and incredible. The pressure of the bandage relieved the swelling and I could walk with only a little pain. I thanked them as best I could, then hiked on a few miles more. I finally camped at tiny little Pinewan lake. The sunset was pretty. It got a lot better as the evening wore on, but I was already in my tent and didn’t want to brave the mosquitoes for another photo.
The next morning, my shin felt better, but I was still determined to take some time off at the next stop for healing. The trail weaved among the trees and passed by a campground popular with equestrians.
I was seeing more and more horse-packers. For the most part the horses didn’t bother me… sure they dug up the trail and crapped all over the place, but the people riding them seemed to be decent people. My only complaint about horses was that they’re incredibly stupid animals. I don’t know how people picked the horse to “fall in love with”. There had to be some better animal. All summer I heard stories about horses who’d fallen down gullies, freaked out in the snow, thrown their riders, refused to follow commands, gotten spooked by birds… you name it. It just didn’t seem like a lot of fun, more of a mental stress-out than anything.
By about noon, I made it up to pretty Diamond View Lake. Like most of the mid-sized lakes in the area, it was cold, shallow and totally clear.
The trail followed a forested creek all the way to Odell lake and Shelter Cove Resort. Shelter Cove appeared to be a weekend mountain get-away for rich city-folks. Most of the guests spent their time sitting on the lawn, fishing from the docks, or fiddling with their boats. The resort store had a great porch. I sat there for hours at a time, munching on junk food and watching the jays and squirrels get seeds from the bird-feeders. I spent the night at the nearby campground and most of the next day back on the porch. A slow stream of hikers arrived and left. The sunny skies were welcome and warm.
I wanted to take more time off, but there wasn’t any restaurant nearby. I decided to head out at 4PM the next day. Elk lake was only 3 days away, and had a restaurant… I could take my “full day off” there. I walked on the forested trail around large Odell Lake, and headed up to Willamette Pass.