The Unspoken Ugliness of Thru Hiking

We all like to romanticise our adventures on the PCT and share mostly the positive side of the journey, like the incredible views we enjoy; how rejuvenating being out in nature for long periods is for the soul; the awesomeness and comradely of fellow hikers; the kindness of trail angels and complete strangers alike.

For the most part the PCT hiking community is truely awesome. PCT hikers and trail angels are some of the most kind, sharing, intelligent, genuine people you will come across in life.

Unfortunately there are elements out there that bring us all down from time to time and this is my rant about them.

I can not compare to previous years, I’m sure there are complaints about hikers every year, however it is evident from the increase in negative social media posts from businesses and trail angels regarding PCT hikers, that there are more than a few bad eggs in the class of 2018. I’ve witnessed questionable behaviour on multiple occasions myself and called it out. Perhaps it’s time to start naming and shamming and have the whole trail community pull the few into line.

Here are just a few examples that we don’t talk about.

Calling trail angels and arranging lifts from trail to town and then standing them up for a hitch. Trail Angels go out of their way and a completely volunteer basis and with nothing but love for hikers to help people out. When they travel out to pick hikers up and they are not there they will only question the next request for assistance and perhaps stop offering any services.

One thing I really despise about quite a few of the thru hiking crowd is how cheap skate they are. While at Shelter Cove I heard many boasting about camping just outside the resort for free to save the $10 fee, all the while they are happy to ship and pick up their resupply boxes here, spend up on beer and cigarettes, charge their mobile devices, dispose of their trash, take condiments and use the facilities like they are their own. Grrrr… Seiad Valley was another example where big numbers of hikers decided to do similar.

Room stacking hotels. This is where one person will pay for a hotel room and then invite others to stay and split the cost. At Cajon Pass I knew of one group that stacked a two person room with 9 people. This is not only disrespectful to the business, it is basically out right stealing from the business.

There seems to be a bunch of hikers with such a sense of self entitlement and superiority that they think they can say or do anything. Disparaging day hikers, gear shaming other PCT hikers, loitering to steal power to recharge mobile devices, the list goes on.

At Shelter Cove again while I waited in line to pay for a few resupplies there was one female hiker picking up a resupply box that basically blew up at the cashier over razors. The small store didn’t stock them. “You should really stock razors you know! Some of us girls like to shave on trail.” said the girl with the hairiest armpits ever. I had to call her out in front of everyone and said, “Perhaps you should have sent a couple in your resupply box or carry one, they don’t weigh much.” The cashier appreciated this, the hiker not so much.

Another pet hate of mine is coming across trail magic and opening a cooler to find it full of trash left by hikers, not just the wrappers and cans from the trail magic itself but a hikers entire weeks worth of trash, left for the trail angel who put the magic out in the first place to carry the garbage out. Fuck that. It you can carry that shit in, you can damn well carry it out.

Leaving junk in hiker boxes is another peeve for me. A hiker box is a box where hikers can leave unwanted gear or food for hikers behind to have free of charge. The problem is that many hiker boxes become trash cans. Leaving a clean pair of pants because one has lost so much weight I can understand but leaving beaten, stained or ripped clothing? Come one people. Shoes are a big one – dirty, smelly, obviously well worn shoes with no tread – who is going to want them? Better off in the bin along with the 1/4 full jar of peanut butter and unspecified grain in the ziplock bag. Throw that junk out where it belongs – in the bin, not the hiker box.

Lots of businesses and trail angels are reconsidering their willingness to assist hikers in the future, mainly due to lack of respect and leaving places in appalling condition.

Time to lift your game class of 2018 to ensure that future hikers are afforded the same opportunities that you have enjoyed.

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Day 98: Washington is Close

Mile 2096.9 to mile 2123.8

A bunch of hikers were hanging about outside the Lodge in anticipation of the breakfast buffet. Joining them I caught up with Mr Giggles and Tunes. At this stage of the game we are all running on calorie deficits and dreaming of a massive feed. We know and talk about what we will eat even before the doors open.

We are ushered to ‘the hiker table’ and expertly waited on with ice water and hot hot coffee poured straight away. They know what we’re about, experiencing the hiker herd for days on end each year through the hiking season.

It was a strange mix in the restaurant. Mainly cashed up guests who can afford the $350+ a night stay at the lodge, neatly dressed and smelling nice; in amongst a few tables of hiker trash decked out in dirty clothes and a fair lack of personal care. Like many similar places to this they stare at us, we don’t give a toss about them with only one thing on the mind – load up plates and get stuck in.

1st course of eggs, bacon, sausages and home style potatoes. 2nd course of pancakes topped with berries and smothered in syrup and cream. 3rd course, pastries, fresh fruit and berry smoothies, accompanied by lots of apple juice, water and coffee of course.

I don’t want to bang on about food all the time but it does preoccupy our minds quite a bit heading towards the end of this journey. I’ve lost a lot of weight, not sure how much and it will be interesting to weigh in at the end.

With full stomachs there were a few options kicking around. Most hikers will sit on their butts for half the day and let food digest, hiking out later, some hanging around for the lunch buffet as well. I was feeling great and was keen to get moving, choosing to walk off breakfast by hitting the trail.

Loading my pack I had to loosen the hip belt slightly for the first time in a long while.

Heading out the trail was up and down all day with a major descent first off and the straight back up again. It was hard work. Even with a later than usual start there was enough time in the day to get in 25 miles or so, placing me 3/4 of a day from Cascade Locks.

Typical for a lot of Oregon the trail stayed mid slope in the trees and didn’t offer up any real views. There were loads of Huckleberry and Salmon berry all day. Stopping to pick and snack fresh fruit is always nice.

I had 25 miles in by 6pm but didn’t have enough water with me to camp at a popular spot half way between Timberline and Cascade Locks so had to hike on. Finding a small trickle of water a few miles later it took around five minutes to fill a litre from the small seep, 15 minutes to have all my bottles filled. With water for the night and following morning I pressed on. The next marked camp site is 7 miles further on and there was no way I was going to get there. Positioned on a side slope there was not really any flat ground to setup a tent either. Another 2 miles or so I found a really small clearing right on the edge of the trail with just enough room for my tent without the fly. If I set the fly up it would have been pegged into the trail itself and there are always hikers walking through at night.

Sure enough, bedded down and on the verge of sleep a couple of hikers came walking past in the dark, head torches bouncing along to light the way. Just about every night there are hikers walking by into the dark. I don’t get this strategy at all. I’d much rather start early in the day and walk to just before last light allowing enough time to cook dinner and setup camp.

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Day 97: Timberline Lodge

Mile 2075.8 to mile 2096.9 (21.1 miles, 33.9 km)

Oregon is meant to be be flat right? The trail started out flat around the shore of Timothy Lake and brought me to Little Crater Lake. A small lake, or hole rather, filled with the clearest blue water imaginable. Whole trees fallen into the water lie suspended on the bottom. The early morning light wasn’t the best for photographs given the phones focus on the surface reflections and not into the water beyond but I post a few anyway to maybe get the idea. It is way more impressive up close and personal.

From here there were a series of step ups through the day, small, steep climbs. Mostly through tree cover so not really any views although the occasional glimpse of Mt Hood did present through gaps in the trees. I’m not great on tree species over here but we have moved out of pine country and now into more Firs, Spruce and Cedar.

The hardest climb of the came late in the day towards the Timberline Lodge. Exiting the tree line the trail became a path of deep, fine grained, granitic grey sand and was truly like walking up a steep sand dune. The payoff was the reveal of Mt Hood itself. It’s been hidden most of the day and grew bigger on the rate and small glimpses through the trees, only now to be shown, uncovered in all its glory. More smoke is also evident around the hills.

There is a small camp in amongst the trees just near the Timberline Lodge and being earlier than most, quickly found a prime location and set up my tent.

Being a shorter day and only early afternoon I had the rest of the day to play. I picked up my resupply box and had a good poke around the Timberline Lodge. Famous for a few things, the Lodge was part of the post 1930 depression era public works and probably best known for the location of the film The Sinning…. redrum, redrum… you know the one… with Jack Nicholson going crazy and wielding an axe. The axe is on display and you can handle it and get a photo if you like. I left my phone in my tent, maybe tomorrow.

Opening my resupply box I realised I forgot lunch items. Luckily there is a bus that quickly had me in Government Camp but it wouldn’t return until after 7pm. So I had a couple of hours to spare in the small village. What is one to do in these situations? Find a bar of course and sample the local brew. Recognising I’d be back to my tent and gear late I grabbed some dinner and topped it off with icecream. Good times.

It is great having full cell service in my tent and planning ahead for the next few legs of this hike. I’ve managed to assemble some food resupplies ahead online, secure a room in Cascade Locks for a zero, get this blog up to date and touch base with Vicky for a possible zero right towards the end.

Looking forward to the breakfast buffet tomorrow morning.

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Day 96: Ollalie Lake / Timothy Lake

Mile 2039.9 to mile 2075.8 (35.9 miles, 57.8 km)

Reaching Ollalie Lake early, at around 8am, I was a little disappointed. For some reason I thought this place had a lot more going on and I was sort of hoping that I could zero here. Well there is zero happening so I won’t be. There was a small, but well stocked, store which I scanned and quickly threw together a resupply to get me through the next two days. The store itself has no power, was dark inside and it’s a cash only job. A gas powered fridge did offer up cold cans of Coke and Gatorade. With my resupply done I was out of there and on towards the Timberline Lodge. It’ll take two days to get there. I’m looking forward to the hiker famous breakfast buffet the following morning.

The terrain from Ollalie Lake is reasonably flat and it is between here and the Timberline Lodge that many hikers take on either a 50 mile challenge or 24 hr challenge. They either hike 50 miles in a day or see how far you get in 24 hours. I had no interest in either of these figuring that you need a full day to recover after both and I want to be able to keep walking. I did however think that if there is a chance to break 40 miles, this would be it.

With the flat terrain there were no views all day and more of the green tunnel type affair. So it was head down and smash out the miles for me.

There were so many south bounders today, 25 to 30 must have passed by. I guess we’ll be walking into the SOBO herd for the next week.

Towards the end of the day I teamed up with Tunes who I met at Big Lake Youth Camp. She was trying to get in 30 for the day.

I ended the day with 35.9 miles but just didn’t have the extra 4.1 in me. I’m sure I could have dug in hard and walked into the night but what can I say. Maybe I’m getting too soft. I was more than happy with the distance. It sets me up with a smaller day tomorrow. Pushing 40 miles I would have had shattered feet, sore muscles and need extra time off for recovery.

We ended up at Timothy Lake in a small camp on the edge of the water. After a hard days hiking there was only one thing to do – jump in for a swim. The water was amazing and just what we needed to wash the muck off bodies and cool tired muscles. The first couple of metres required tentative steps with the jagged volcanic rock but once the deeper water was found it was brilliant.

It should be an easier day tomorrow and I’ll hopefully get into some cell service.

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Day 95: Mount Jefferson

Mile 2010.9 to mile 2039.9 (29 miles, 46.7 km)

A run of the mill sort of day today and not a lot to write about.

Lots of ups and downs today.

The mighty and impressive Mount Jefferson dominated the landscape right through the day.

Many awesome views.

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Day 94: Sisters / Jefferson Wilderness

Mile 1995.1 to mile 2010.9 (15.8 miles, 25.4 km)

Camped by the lake with only the tent inner setup I woke to a saturated quilt. You’ll always get cold air settle down low over night, especially adjacent to lakesides, creeks or out in the open. I should have expected this but given the pain in my ankle last night all I wanted to do was get horizontal and rest it so I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

No worries though. Breakfast isn’t served at the Youth Camp until 9am so there was plenty of time to dry my gear in the morning sun, do my laundry and inventory my food so I knew exactly what to buy in Sisters.

I had my laundry set out front of the washer as there was already a load going and during breakfast someone combined their load with mine and had the washer going. In turn I put the whole load in the dryer after it was washed. However, after the dryer cycle I pulled the clothes out to find that the other persons washing was already gone. Perhaps they were keen to get going for the day or preferred to dry them in the sun. Who knows? Anyway, I found that they had inadvertently taken one of my two pairs of socks. They did look similar to their socks so no suspicious motives involved I’m certain. Oh well. I was headed to Sisters and just had to add that to the list of things to do – buy a new pair.

This was fortunate as after hiking out to the highway (by the way my ankle came pretty good overnight which is great, I was worried I might have to take a couple of days off) and getting a quick hitch into town, it brought me to Hike n Peaks outdoor store where I met the lovely store owner Sharee. This is a new store, only 12 months old, and slowly showing up on PCT hikers radar. Straight away I was offered a free beer, shared great conversation whilst I sipped away. Apparently I’m the first Aussie of the season to come through the shop. Behind the counter is a map of the world and pins showing where all the other hikers coming through call home. There is now a solitary pin over Australia marking Gippsland. I got my socks as well.

I moved on to grab some pizza and a milkshake for lunch and hit up the supermarket for a quick resupply. I didn’t need much for it’s only two days to the next resupply location. Very happy to have a lighter pack without four or five days food.

Returning to the highway I only had to wait around 10 minutes for a hitch back out. A class of 2016 PCTer who was driving by after trail angelling a couple of friends up near Mount Hood saw my “To PCT” sign and pulled straight over. I forget his trail name – something about trouble.

Back at the Santiam Pass trail head at around 2:30pm I had enough time to get in another ten miles or so but didn’t want to push things. I was keen to take it easy and test the ankle.

Initially, this morning I was going to take half the day off in Sisters but reaching town I found there was a music festival on and all accommodation was fully booked up. I wasn’t keen to camp in a tent in town, preferring to hike out and camp in the hills if I had to camp at all.

The afternoon was great. Cooler temp, sunny with a bit of breeze. The terrain was easy enough and I had no ankle issues whatsoever.

I ended up doing just ten miles and was completely happy with that. I found a campsite not marked on any of the apps or maps and it’s perfect. Perched up high in some limited tree cover in amongst another burnt forest, I have spectacular views over Wasco Lake below.

As I write this I’m enjoying dinner while watching brooding storms and rain out to the east and another amazing sunset. Where else would you rather be?

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Day 93: Fields of Lava

Mile 1967.9 to mile 1995.1 (27.2 miles, 43.8km)

Today started out amazing but ended up being a nightmare afternoon.

Only about three miles in for the day I entered into the limited entry Obsidian area. A geological marvel. Huge areas of obsidian littering the ground. The reflective black surface shinning in the morning sun took on the look of glistening water. Rivers of glass. Obsidian is formed when extruding lava cools so rapidly that crystal growth is limited, forming natural glass.

This whole area is volcanic in nature, carpeted by scoria and lava flows. The Three Sisters, all volcanic plugs dominating the horizon and amazing views across to Mt Washington and the lava fields beyond.

The afternoon can only be described as horrendous. I’ve walked on many different surfaces in my hiking life – knee deep mud for days on end, hill sides of shale, deep sands and railway ballast fuels of rock. Never, ever have I encountered anything as difficult to walk on than lava.

Lave sucks. Nice to look at the huge fields of the stuff, horrible to walk on. It is sharp, loose and odd shaped. Every single step causes ankles to twist at unexpected angles and grind so grippy, catches the shoes to trip you up. It’s hot, exposed and unrelenting.

Catching a shoe I tweaked my right ankle pretty bad causing some minor strain in the ligaments on top of my foot. I had no option but to keep walking and the modified stride then moved the pain up into my shin muscles. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I had obviously caused some damage and need to rest my foot but couldn’t do it here. With little water and nowhere to camp I had to press on another 6 miles to the Big Lake Youth Camp, a summer camp that welcomes PCT hikers.

And boy do they look out for us. They have a new building entirely for thru-hikers with a lounge area, full kitchen, wifi, showers (with towels, soap and shampoo) and free laundry. Plus for a donation they provide meals – all vegetarian and very healthy.

It was great to make it to the camp and be able to put my foot up and give it a good massage.

While they do all this, hikers can’t camp on the property however they do have a 15 min trail leading to a secluded cove on the edge of Big Lake where hikers can camp.

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