My first real interest in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail began the same year I had my daughter, 2013. I was living in Sandy, Oregon at the time which is about 45 minutes from Mt. Hood and the PCT. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I had hiked all around the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood National Forest, as well as Central Oregon, but never had much time on the PCT. With a baby in the pack and my wife wanting to get fresh air again, we set out on hiking portions of the PCT. We began with day hikes, all out-and-back around Mt. Hood and actually finished the Mt. Hood section from Lolo Pass to Timothy Lake in two summers. I power hiked/trail ran from Lolo Pass through the Eagle Creek Trail totaling 25 miles, and this was my first one-way experience on the trail utilizing a much-appreciated shuttle service (thanks honey!). I accepted the fact that a thru-hike was out of the story being self-employed and a new dad, and honestly, after being a wildland firefighter for two summers, the thought of long bouts plowing away on the trail didn’t seem as enjoyable to me compared to looking forward to experiencing new sections year-after-year.
Fast-forward to 2018, and I have only skipped one year, 2016, where I didn’t log any PCT miles. I ended up doing the Loowit Trail around Mt. St. Helens and summitting Mt. Adams instead.
This year, I had planned on completing from McKenzie Pass to Clackamas Lake, which is just south of Timothy Lake, however logistically a shuttle from that area proved inconvenient for us at the time. So, my first portion of PCT section hikes for 2018 was 13 miles of section E starting from the Devil’s Lake TH and finishing at the Six Lakes TH. I ended up hiking 4 miles into the trail and 6 miles out, which was convenient for a day trip and the family could easily pick me up and spend the rest of the day at Elk Lake. This section of the PCT was beautiful passing through Sisters Mirror Lake, Koosah Mountain, and Dumbbell Lake (where I took a much-needed swim). I totaled 23 miles with a light day-pack and felt prepared for further distances later in the season. I got lucky with minimal forest fire smoke this day even though the neighboring city of Bend was fairly hazy.
The second day-trip I took was part of section F starting from McKenzie Pass. I used this hike to train for the following one-night backpack trip headed South from Six Lakes TH to Odell Lake. McKenzie Pass to Santiam Pass is 18.5 miles long with the first 6 miles consisting mostly of lava rock and loose sand. The visibility was clear of fire smoke, thankfully, with great views looking North of Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and the tip of Mt. Hood. Black Crater, Belknap, and Black Butte were also clearly visible. I took a 20-minute lunch break around 9:45 am at mile 9 in a cool meadow and a view of Mt. Washington, then finished the section by 12:45 pm before the heat of the day. After getting picked up, we took a snack break and dip in Suttle Lake then went to pick up my car at the Lava Camp Campground off McKenzie Pass.
The third trip of the year, I headed South on the PCT to finish section E. I started at Six Lakes TH and finished at Highway 58 at Odell Lake totaling 44 miles. I started hiking at 6 am on a Sunday morning and reached the PCT junction by 7:40 am. I headed South taking short pauses at most of the mountain lakes to soak in the view. The trail wound its way through dense pine forest and low mountain brush that was already turning into fall shades of orange and red. I kept up a steady 3.2 mph pace and stopped for an extended first lunch break at Stormy Lake around 15.5 miles.
After about 20 miles, the trail climbed out of the trees and into an old burn area which was decorated with bright wildflowers and young fir trees. I had a hazy panorama of the nearby Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor.
After seeing the landscape and feeling the miles, I decided to continue on toward Charlton Lake, with Bobby Lake as my goal for the day. I had initially looked at camping around 24 miles near Lily Lake, but the day was still early and it seemed very dry, so I pressed on. A sign at Lily Lake posted that Bobby Lake was 11 miles away. The farthest I had ever hiked in a day was 32 miles, which was around Mt. St. Helens, only carrying a daypack pack. The challenge was calling me and the fact that the following day would only be about 12 miles to Odell Lake sealed the deal. More family time and a new mileage goal!
I stopped at Charlton Lake around 25 miles and took a cold submersion bath to soothe the achy muscles, refilled water, had a quick snack, and made the ruck to Bobby Lake. Instead of being 6 miles away, Bobby Lake was 8 miles and it was a long hard press to get there before dark. I arrived at 6:40 pm after hiking 33.6 miles, set up camp, ate some food and hydrated then passed out by 8:45 pm. I slept solidly until 5:20 am until my body was ready to get moving feeling pretty sore and achy. I knew the movement would help.
The next day was a smooth trek in lush mountain terrain similar to what I grew up hiking in throughout the Mt. Hood National Forest. There was some climbing up to the Maiden Peak Saddle to a great viewpoint of the three Rosary Lakes, Odell Lake, and Crescent Lake, with Diamond Peak to the Southwest.
Rosary Lakes was beautiful and reminded me of a smaller Alpine Lakes. I made a note to come back and camp here with the family. Overall, the trip was a great experience. I pushed my body to 33 miles which was awesome to know that I could log some distance without over-straining and opened the possibilities to completing some of the longer Southern sections in less time. I enjoyed the time away from routine in the city and also stopped to chat with the last group of Northbound thru-hikers trying to make it to Canada before the first snow.