I awake to the smell of smoke. We slept near one of the snow lakes, and this morning the smoke has blown in. I’m not sure where the smoke originated but I assume it’s from the bootleg Fire which is currently consuming wildlands and woods to our west.
We eat breakfast and drink coffee next to a small lake near our camp. The setting feels more like home, with trees scattered around us and huckleberry bushes standing petite and low to the ground.
From the snow lakes we hike back up to the PCT, crossing loose stones that clink together with every step. At the junction there are scorched black trees from a fire of a previous year. You can see the dead trees spread out across the valley below and it makes me sad to see the size and to know it doesn’t compare to the fire burning right now to the east.
We walk through burnt trees for several miles as we climb upward, occasionally passing through sections of evergreens. The trail twists and crosses over devil’s peak and we witness some of our best views yet in Oregon. At three miles we cross a gentle stream and we fill up with water. It’s cold and I finish a liter, trying to stay ahead of the sun which is begining to warm up. Our next water is five more miles away, and then it’s a 16 mile carry from there.
We wind through sections of burn and green for the next few miles. We pass some day hikers who ask me how far to the lakes. “8 miles” I respond, unsure what lakes they’re referring to, only aware of the snow lakes from which we just came. By the looks on their faces, they’re not talking about those lakes, but I don’t know how far there’s are.
We come to the junction for our water and turn left. The spring is a mile off the PCT but with no water ahead for at least 16 miles we have no choice, and so we walk the extra mile. When we arrive we find the spring bubbling out from underneath a tree, surrounded by a landscape of green. The water is icy cold and I soak my feet then drink a powdered lemonade with lunch, which is beans and tortillas. I flavor the beans with chipotle, lime, garlic and paprika as I’m reminded how much I miss cooking Mexican food at home.
After lunch we compel our muscles to lift our bones. We have at least 16 more miles to the highway cutoff for Crater Lake where we plan to get to tonight. Off we go, backpacks and bones alike.
Again, we walk through several miles of burn. Scorched trees lie over the trail and we walk around or over them, careful not to touch them and mark our already filthy bodies with blackened soot. The landscape is bleak and dry. But occasionally there are groves of unburnt trees, and then areas of burn speckled with tiny green evergreens, filling my heart with hope. When we entered Oregon I thought for sure the days of long water carries were behind us. I thought water would be easy and plentiful. But now here I am walking through scorched earth, no water for over 16 miles. The desert strikes again.
We go up and down, crossing black trees and breathing in ash. Then I feel water on my hand. I look to the sky searching from where it came. All I see is a blackened matchstick of a tree, tapered and pointing upward toward white clouds, moving quickly across a backdrop of blue beyond. Then I feel it again – water on the back of my hand. I look at Lupine and we both smile and laugh, relieved to feel the tiny raindrops.
I want it to downpour, for the clouds to break and soak our skin, for the trail to turn into a stream. But after several drips, and several drops, it simply stops. I can smell the water on the dry ashy ground. I miss home and I imagine the coming fall, siting inside as it rains outside. I’m near the crackling wood fire with my dog. He is happy to be warm, happy to have us home.
We hike and then keep on hiking more. I watch a few butterflies chase each other down the trail. I admire wildflowers, pink and blue as they bob along with the breeze.
As we walk the sky grows dimmer, as I look with relief to again see white clouds above. After weeks of heat I rejoice with every cloud I see. Suddenly the trail is shaded. Surrounding me are giant evergreens. The forest is dim underneath the massive branches and I’m filled with comfort. This forest feels like home. It’s getting closer with every step.
We reach the highway as the sun’s fading away. We walk about a mile to the Crater Lake National Park entrance then we sleuth our way to the PCT hikers campground. There’s one hiker at a picnic table and several hikers scattered around, tucked away in their tents. Out of food, we raid the hiker box and sit down at the table to cook our bounty (Mexican rice and top ramen).
There at the table is a familiar face, although bearded and narrowed since we last saw it. It’s Sodium, who we met at Mary’s Place in the desert 1,500 back. We often wondered what happened to him and his partner, and it’s good to catch up with them now. It’s the magic of the trail, reuniting you with friends from long ago.
The rain starts and stops as we eat and chat with our friend. Then we retire to bed, exhausted from a long day on our feet, feeling comforted by a familiar face and a place that feels more like home.