PCT Journal: Days 186-194 (Oregon Pt. II)

Day 186-188

Zero in Bend, OR

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1925.6 NoBo

The first additional day we stayed in Bend we woke up with the intention of getting back on trail, but last minute we decided against it. We did the math and realized how early we were going to be in Portland. Staying in a motel in the city is more expensive than the current one we’re in, so it made sense to stay here. Then one more day turned into three more days.

We relaxed in bed the majority of the time, researching apartments and jobs for myself, and watching movies like American Psycho, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Titanic, and Ghostbusters. We told ourselves we wouldn’t spend the money to dine somewhere so we mostly snacked on the groceries and fast food, with the exception of one Hawaiian restaurant.

Day 189

Bend, OR to Mile 2001.7

Daily Mileage: 0.8

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 2001.7 NoBo

We finally checked out of the motel after four or five days. We were productive though and by the time we left there was clear weather in the forecast. We knew it would be colder in the mountains, but we were motivated by being so close to the finish. We took a bus later in the day to Sisters, the closest town to Santiam Pass where we would get back on trail.

After grabbing a snack from the general store we tried to hitch further West. Within minutes a young guy from Colorado picked us up. He was working at Black Butte Ranch so he took us halfway to the pass. Hitching from there proved very difficult. An hour passed and even with a decent amount of traffic, no one cared to stop. While still trying, we started scouting out spots in the forest to camp. Finally, just before dusk, we were picked up by a guy headed to Portland who has section hiked some of the PCT in Oregon.

We started hiking as it grew darker. We were in a burned area so all of the trees appeared white from our headlamps. It was a little spooky after having watched a few Halloween movies a few nights ago. After almost a mile we found a cleared area right to the side of the trail and setup the tent. Even with the wind it was much warmer than it was last time we were on trail.

Day 190

Mile 2001.7 to Milk Creek

Daily Mileage: 25.9

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 2027.6 NoBo

After a restless night of sleep it was quite difficult to wake up in the morning. I barely heard Steel Toe’s alarm go off. We finally committed to getting up around 7 am, shortly after the sun rose. Steel Toe said just a half hour earlier he heard heavy footsteps near the tent but didn’t want to wake me. Ah, how I’ve missed the animals of the forest.

Just before we began hiking, Steel Toe forgot he had his phone off of airplane mode and he received a call from Tank. We both were surprised but happy to hear his voice. He wanted to hear about how we were doing and if we’ve finished yet. We told him we’d chat with him more when we get to Government Camp.

The day was warmer than usual but we weren’t complaining after our recent stint with the cold. Just before lunch we came across smoke coming from the side of the trail. We dropped our packs to investigate and realized there was a fire. It wasn’t one large flame but instead multiple areas of burning flames and ash that was smouldering on the ground. It was windy so I could see how it spread, but we couldn’t figure out how it started. There wasn’t a fire ring around that we could see, but there was a small tentsite. We called it in and tried to stomp out what we could, but the ground was hot and no amount of stomping would help. I hated that we had to walk away but at least we alerted the authorities so they could check it out.

We’ve learned on this trip through chatting with rangers and forest service workers that forest fires are healthy and serve to clean up the underbrush and promote new growth in the wilderness. When small fires aren’t allowed to burn or prescribed burns are lacking in an area, the untreated forest tends to serve as fuel for these massive wildfires that have only gotten worse over the years.

As we began hiking again after lunch we noticed a large plume of smoke in the valley to the East. Now this was a large fire. We weren’t sure exactly how far away it was, but we could see the smoke coming toward us, penetrating every inch of fresh air around us. We were pretty confident that the fire itself wasn’t of threat to us, but we might be hiking in smoke for the next few days.

I spent most of the day listening to podcasts such as Up First by NPR, American Scandal, Young Charlie, Criminal, and How Stuff Works. My left foot began hurting again and I assumed it must have been from my pack weight. It hasn’t increased a significant amount but I am carrying a few more items of clothing that I didn’t have prior to Oregon. We’re so close to finishing that I’m just going to have to deal with it.

We hiked into dark to reach our goal for the night. We were surprised to turn the corner and see a tent. With a light on inside and an audiobook on loud, we said hello. Lost Boy (no relation to the one we knew earlier) emerged from the tent to chat with us. He flipped around like we did and was now hiking South from Canada and finishing at the southern border of Oregon. We were happy to camp with another person after being out here alone for quite some time.

Day 191

Milk Creek to Jude Lake

Daily Mileage: 21.6

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 2049.2 NoBo

We woke up earlier today when it was still dark out and started hiking just as the sky grew lighter. We had a 7+ mile climb ahead of us but thankfully the majority of it was gradual. As soon as we came out of the dense forest we were rewarded with a superb view of Mount Jefferson. I didn’t realize it was glaciated on its Northern face.

We finished the climb and realized we were basically heading toward a pass. Once up top we could see the view North of us. Mount Hood was just up ahead, to the Northwest we could make out the outline of Mount St. Helens, and just behind Hood stood a clear view of the top of Rainier, 145 miles away.

We hiked down the backside of the pass and reminisced about the breathtaking passes in the Sierra. Even to this day we cannot get over how beautiful and isolated those mountains were. As we were heading down we saw large cat prints in the dirt. It was a gentle reminder that we were in mountain lion territory.

We came across a lakeside resort toward the end of the day but unfortunately it was closed for the season. We didn’t have our hopes too high but it would’ve been nice to grab a hot drink and snack. We walked on the dirt road that mirrored the trail for some time and then hopped back on after a mile or so. We got to Jude Lake and decided to call it a day. We did less miles than we would’ve liked but my foot was hurting and neither of us were really in the mood to night hike.

We set up our tent near the trees and Steel Toe made a barrier around us with large pieces of wood he found nearby. We’re so close to the lake that we sort of expect to have visitors tonight. The plan is to wake up early to get more miles in tomorrow and put ourselves closer to Government Camp.

Day 192

Jude Lake to Timberline Lodge

Daily Mileage: 24.2

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 2096.9 NoBo

Last night was uneventful in the wildlife department but I was awake the majority of the time dealing with acid reflux. We did hear something walking near the tent in the morning though. We made ourselves get up in the dark and start hiking to start getting in miles for the day. It’s always less stressful hiking in the dark when you know it’s going to be light out soon.

We were in the green tunnel without any views for most of the day. The temperature varied and at times my hands would go numb even with gloves on. Eventually the sun warmed the air enough to be comfortable.

We made it to a paved forest service road after about 24 miles and contemplated trying to hitch to town from there. We would be skipping a few miles but as usual my foot was hurting and we made the emotional decision to hitch. The first car that drove by picked us up without hesitation. John told us all about how he ended up getting his private pilot’s license and how much fun it is to fly. He gave us his business card when he dropped us off and mentioned to get in touch when either of us decide to get ours one day.

Government Camp was a small ski resort town nestled at the bottom of Mt Hood. We ate lunch at Ratskeller and resupplied from the general store before taking the bus up the road to Timberline Lodge. We met Sonya, who was in Portland for work and came down to Mt Hood to get a dose of the outdoors while she was in the area.

We all ended up camping together just North of the lodge on trail. As we sat around in the dark and ate dinner, Sonya filmed Steel Toe and I discussing our last days on trail. She was happy to play around with her camera that she brought with her as she was in the area filming a PSA about mental health and the outdoors. Check out her work here at www.pevzdispenser.com! Steel Toe and I went to bed excited to have a neighbor in camp and looking forward to the breakfast buffet at the lodge in the morning.

Day 193-194

Timberline Lodge to Cascade Locks, OR

Daily Mileage: 50.1

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 2147 NoBo

Sonya, Steel Toe, and I woke up just before the sunrise. We had a clear view of Mount Hood with the alpenglow on its Eastern face. A constant flow of people passed by headed up the mountaineering trail with ice axes and helmets. We could make out the trail just barely and the glaciers that one would cross on their ascent.

The three of us walked down to the lodge for the breakfast buffet. It was the best decision yet. We all indulged in eggs, sausage, waffles, french toast, fruit, smoothies, and every other item they offered. We were so full we couldn’t even go up for seconds. Afterward we hung around with Sonya until about noon when we headed out. We all hiked North on the trail and parted ways with Sonya after a few miles.

It was about 15 miles into hiking when Steel Toe and I came up with the idea of trying to get to Cascade Locks by the morning. We knew this meant we would have to hike another 35 miles through the night nonstop. It would be a challenge but we felt motivated to push ourselves and see what we were capable of on this last leg.

Just before we began hiking again after dinner we noticed large cat prints in the sand. What a great way to go into the night. It became dark around 7 pm and we started measuring our progress by hours. We knew we wouldn’t finish until late morning tomorrow but one of the challenges would be dealing with the darkness so we were already looking forward to daylight.

We played music, chatted, and used the flashlight on our phones to supplement the light coming from our headlamps. Unfortunately because this wasn’t planned, my headlamp batteries were low in charge and my extras were half used. I’ll tell you that the amount of light you have is directly correlated with stress level while night hiking. So it took some self reassurance to continue on at times. Oddly enough, there becomes a point when you’re at peace with staring into the darkness ahead while surrounded by tall trees and black forest.

There were a few times we became anxious, when we would see eyes staring back at us from afar. The first time it was two deer, but it took a minute to figure that out. The second time, we were really unsure. This figure looked tall and slender like a deer but more muscular. Our main fear was a mountain lion but we reassured ourselves that we wouldn’t even get the chance to see its eyes if that was the case. Cats are stealthy, they would stay undercover and stalk us if we seemed to be the right type of prey. It turned out to be a horse. Yup, just a horse. We were near a trailhead at the time and some people were camping with their horses.

The moon was almost full and so we could see the shadows of the surrounding mountains. We had a breathtaking view of Mt Hood as we continued North past it. I wish I could’ve captured what we saw. Maybe next time I’ll have a better camera with me for these moments.

We briefly took breaks when the terrain allowed. We waited for rocky outcroppings on the ridge so we could easily see around us. Around 3 am when we were snacking on Cheez-Its, we saw a light coming from the South side of the trail. We were confused until the light came closer and we realized it was a headlamp. Another thru-hiker!

His name was Shaker and he began at the Mexican border as well, but in late May. He had to take off a few weeks of time during his hike so he fell behind and was going to end at Cascade Locks to avoid the weather in Washington now. We knew right away that it must be the person in the trail registers that was writing, “Headed North as fast as humanly possible!” We all hiked together through the night and told stories of our journeys.

Light appeared around 6:30 am and we all sat to snack for a bit. Steel Toe and I reflected on the trip and were getting excited to finally be at the finish line. Don’t get me wrong, I would travel back in time in a heartbeat to be in the desert with all of our friends and living life simply, but now I was looking forward to another chapter in life and planning new adventures. This trip has satisfied my craving for a thru-hike, at least for the time being, but it has only fueled my passion for being outdoors and attempting trips that tend to instill a healthy mixture of fear and excitement.

The rest of the hike into Cascade Locks was straight downhill. On the last mile, it was around 10:30 am and I began to get emotional. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, but I was also relieved and extremely happy. I was happy to be finishing, excited to have completed this entire journey within six months, and proud of myself and my body for walking as many miles as I have. I was almost in disbelief.

We walked down into the park that marked our finish and I broke down. I gave Steel Toe a hug and called my mom. I walked through California, Oregon, and Washington. It might have been out of order, but I hiked those 2,650 miles through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll never forget all of the memories I’ve created, each friendship that has flourished, and every person who has inspired me and helped me along the way. This trail has been a wild ride and its beauty and magic is now within me, it will always be a part of who I am.

“There are some secrets you will never learn…’till…you leave the world, your recognized world, and plunge into the vast unknown.” -Mary Schaffer Warren

10 thoughts on “PCT Journal: Days 186-194 (Oregon Pt. II)

  1. Carol Marcella says:

    Oh Kate! I will missed reading your journals. I have tears in my eyes,so happy for you. Loved the the pictures and your words. Safe trip home.


  2. Cathy says:

    Kate, I feel the same as Carol. You did it!! I am so happy for you and so proud. I will miss your blog posts and living your dream right beside you in spirit and prayers. I have always known that you will accomplish anything you determine too. You are strong, determined, talented, able to accomplish anything. You are sweet, kind, caring, with a heart of gold. I am so fortunate to know you and call you family. Congratulations to both of you. One awesome chapter in your lifes complete with many more to come.


  3. Yvonne Harrison-Emmons says:

    The amazing journey is complete!! You did it!! So proud of your accomplishment!! This adventure of a life time will always be a part of who you are, my nature girl. Love the stories and the pictures! Can’t wait for the book!


  4. Be very Jensen says:

    Congratulations! I’ve throughly enjoyed reading about your exploits!
    I’m your ‘Aunt Irene’s’ adopted sister…BJ, as she calls me…in CO.
    I lived off grid in a cabin at the edge of a Nat’l Forest for three years, alone, too, but my adventures were much easier than yours!!!

    You go, girl!!!


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