My first segment on the PCT taught me a lot, but the most important was that you cannot beat the heat. My goal was Willamette Pass to McKenzie Pass, about 80 miles in 9 days. I aborted after 6 days and about 50 miles after 2 days of 90+ degree heat with thunderstorm humidity did me in. The other lesson taken away was to keep your destination schedule open, since you never know what will affect that schedule.
OK, now for a quick update on what I did accomplish. Remember, I am 61 years old, healthy, but not really in great shape and I have been living at low altitude.
I started off in the afternoon figuring I just needed to get a few miles under my belt to loosen up. I ended up going 5 miles and climbing 1200 vertical to end up at a fabulous overlook campsite. I felt great and was so pumped to be transitioning into this new wilderness mindset.
The second day I enjoyed the comfort of a really nice winter ski cabin to escape the mosquitos and reorganize a bit. I determined that I would camp at the top of the next climb which meant I had to pack more water which I secured at Bobby Lake. I put in 9 miles and more good vertical and the body was responding well. Also to my surprise I had cellular service (maybe from Waldo Lake), although sporadic, but it did allow me to let the world know I was doing OK.
The third day felt good, I get up early to take advantage of early morning coolness which allows you to wear longs sleeves to combat the mosquitos, but that is nothing new, just inconvenient.
I knocked off a number of miles and stopped at Carlton Lake to filter water and cleanup a bit. The mosquitos were getting worse and the breeze off the lake was a a welcome relief.
I was feeling good so a set a goal of another 9 mile day to get to Taylor Lake. Along the way I thanked a trail maintenance team for the work they do and travelled through maybe a 10 year old fire area.
I got to my campsite early afternoon and took advantage of relaxing by Taylor Lake enjoying the mosquito less breeze. This was the first time I realized I had pushed my body to about max, but I could tell that I was able to refresh it with rest.
Around dinner time I was joined by a couple of PCT through hikers, trail names: Ranger and Bubba Gump, which made for good conversation as I compared my PCT adventure to theirs. They may have been one of the first through hikers to reach this far north, however, they skipped the Sierras to avoid the late winter storm.
They did plan to return to do the JMT.
Next day I watched the young buck through hikers leave me in the dust I again felt strong and very satisfied with how my body was responding. However, the temperature was rising and all was about to change. I pushed myself this day for 10 miles and ended up at a campsite totally depleted of energy as the heat was taking a toll on me that I still believed I could plow through. That night we had a thunderstorm which did little to reduce the temperature but it did raise the humidity. The overcast morning made for a warmer and more intense mosquito start to the day. After my initial few miles of enthusiastic trekking my body started rebelling. I was sweating a lot which I think I was replenishing with liquids, but the heat toll was greater then that. I had hoped to put in 12 miles and make it to Elk Lake Resort. However, as my body began to fail, symptoms of heat exhaustion setting in, I made the decision to stop at Dumbbell lake only half way but my only good camp option.
Anyways, wisdom was setting in and I knew I had to back off due to the heat and this lake looked ideal for the swimming potential. So I made camp before noon and focused the afternoon on body recovery. Floating around the lake on my Therma Rest Pad provided a wonderful way to cool down and great relaxation. However, I was now challenged to make my designated destination pickup at Lava Lake Trailhead. Unfortunately, it was still hot and more storm clouds added to the humidity.
The only remaining option which would allow me to complete the planned segment would be to put in 10 miles and summit Koosah Mountain with a difficult 1200 vertical or bailout with a 6 mile mostly downhill trail to Elk Lake Resort.
Well about 4 miles into the effort it was obvious that heat exhaustion was not going to allow me to accomplish the needed goal so Elk Lake it was.
Actually aborting in this way made for a fairly interesting adventure in figuring out how to get home. I hitchhiked from Elk Lake, something I have not done for 40 years. The couple that gave me a ride dropped me off at the Cascade Lake Brewery in Bend, OR. I was able to connect with an old GEOAID colleague who gave me a bed for the night. Then I took a bus shuttle to Gresham, OR, where I caught the MAX light rail train to Hillsboro. All in all, it was a wonderful first phase of the adventure. Backpacking is tough, but the rewards of experiencing God’s earthly beauty justify the effort. I’m ready to hit the trail again in a week after this heat wave subsides.