When we last saw our hero, he was camped out on an island of soil amidst a sea of stone and snow. The night passed well enough, but not dry enough—it was still somewhat damp when I rose the next day, but at least I could see again.
This bit of the journey was my one experience with cross-country travel, using my topo map app on my phone. (I’m endlessly grateful I had it and had downloaded all the relevant quadrants for the PCT.) Using that, I angled downhill and spent a morning of climbing over fallen logs and hopping over rocks to finally reach the 7 Lakes Trail. It was good to be back on a track again.
From there, the weather grew a bit warmer, allowing me to finally get dried out again. I filtered too much water (as always—my paranoia about water usage meant I was regularly carrying a liter or two more than I needed, which is about 2-4 pounds of extra weight, but at least I was never in danger of dehydration) and caught the PCT again.
The day was a good one overall, with clear trails through airy forest. I met a couple of other hikers headed south who were making tracks as quickly as they could, so our conversation was limited. (All my conversations with hikers were limited, particularly southbounders.) As I trod through the gentle passes and valleys, the highlands of distant Crater Lake and other nearby peaks came into view.
I tended not to sleep well on the trail in general. Part of this may have been due to being alone and letting night fears plague me. Certainly, though, it was because I picked spots in the late afternoon or early evening for a couple of reasons: flat spots were at a premium, so I often hated to pass up one when it offered, and I didn’t want to be searching into darkness. Once the tent was up, though, I found myself without a lot of options. Bugs were too thick to make sitting outside comfortable (especially with no fire to satisfy my caveman urges); inside the tent the only thing to do was lie down. I wrote a bit, and read a few books of the bible (the only reading I had that wasn’t electronic, which was goofy on my part), but that quickly grew uncomfortable. So I would lie for a couple of hours, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep. I only slumbered fitfully, so by morning I was still tired and often slept in later than I ought to have done.
All this to say that, unusually, that evening was pretty good and I woke relatively refreshed. The prospect of making Mazama Village just downslope from Crater Lake by evening was also an enticement. Later that day I crossed a highway and started up rather a steep uphill section toward said destination. It was beautiful but warm and tiring; I reached the site by late afternoon.
Mazama Village is composed of a large campground, a wee store (with coin-op showers and a three-machine laundromat), and a surprisingly upscale restaurant (a grand Craftsman lodge in the old Forest Service style). It was the July 4th week, so the place was rather crowded, but they reserved some spaces for walk-ups. Though all the guides suggest that forest camping nearby is free, the lure of bathrooms and an actual table to sit at was too strong to resist (as was a jar of instant coffee to supplement my woefully dwindling supply). It was also nice to have a place to store my food and other goods, leaving my actual tent space for sleeping. After wiping out the salad bar at the restaurant, I settled in.
The following day, I knew I needed to make the 7 mile trek up to Crater Lake itself. (The campground is well below the rim of the crater for preservation purposes.) With a much reduced pack, up I trundled. Though I had thought the previous day was steep going, this was a real climb. The scenery was spectacular, though, with open meadows vying for space with shady forest and babbling streams.
The trail eventually comes to a highway, and then, from all appearances, simply disappears into open sky. I was a bit confused until I reached the very top and suddenly God’s own wellspring spread out before me.
I had never been to Crater Lake before, nor even read much about it save for rapturous descriptions by PCT hikers. Nothing could prepare me for the sight, however. (The visitor’s center has a multitude of plaques full of quotes by explorers, writers, and adventurers essentially giving that same opinion.) The sheer size and beauty of the place was overwhelming. I’m including just a handful of pictures, though I took about a hundred; most of them are about the same sight, seen from four feet further along the rim. Each time I’d glance at the lake, I was struck again and snapped another photo. I could probably make a slide show of a mile-long section of the rim if I were so inclined.
The lake is almost 2,000 feet deep (with water clarity allowing for viewing down to almost 150 feet) and six miles across. It has no inlets or outlets, being entirely filled by precipitation and losing water only to evaporation and seepage, which is why the water is so spectacularly blue and clear. It’s simply overwhelming.
I spent several hours meandering around the rim, reading the informational placards and observing the crowds. It was somewhat surreal—after so long on the trail alone, to suddenly be surrounded by hordes of visitors was discomfiting. Some of them were staring as rapturously as I was, but others fit that unflattering stereotype of tourists: loudly jabbering about new songs by popular artists or upcoming television shows, lugging coolers of beer and sandwiches to the edge of incomparable beauty to shout at one another and grouse about office work, spending more time buying souvenirs than observing at the glory before them. My curmudgeonly ways were not lessened in those moments, though I did feel badly about them later. I suppose being used to just observing and ruminating in solitude had shaped my expectations of what effect nature is supposed to have on us, and I was frustrated that everyone else wasn’t using my frame of reference. (Entirely unjustified, I’m sure, but there it was.) There was more reflection on society and my reaction to it in those hours than I had anticipated, certainly.
After another night, my crazy sister and parents came in from Idaho to pick me up. I had decided at this point not to hike further. I wasn’t sure, given my pace, if I’d reach a pick-up point when the deadline to return home had come, and there was word of more snow further north. They journeyed through the night and invaded my campsite early in the morning: a 75¢, 4-minute shower, a change of clothes, and a day-long journey later and I was in Boise, where I spent several days doing absolutely nothing but eating good food, sleeping, and stuffing entertainment into my head. It was a welcome respite and a wonderful break. (Lots of thought went on then as well, but we’ll save that for a later post.)