The First Leg

I-5 PCT Trail Head Departure

Started the first section of the OR Pacific Crest Trail on three days of very little sleep with a departure time of 7:40 a.m.  It was a glorious day, sun and warmth and wildflowers everywhere.  Hiked with the  company of birds, butterflies and bees all day past Pilot Rock all the way to GreenSprings Pass, arriving at 8 p.m.  During the course of the day, I almost stepped on a rattlesnake sunning himself in the path. He raised his head and tail simultaneously, opened his mouth wide to show his sharp fangs and hissed loudly while shaking his rattle, and I stepped back quickly while talking gently “Don’t worry, little buddy, I’m not going to hurt you.”  He relaxed and slid quickly into the brush.  I cautiously stepped up to where he disappeared and saw him – thought I could get a photo and leaned closer to him to try to get a tight shot – he immediately slithered away.  Missed the shot!

Orange Butterflies everywhere

Birds I saw were Great Blue Herron, Red-Tailed Hawks, a giant Pilliated Woodpecker, Flickas, Spruce Grouse, chickadee types, blue jays and a few others I couldn’t ID.

My friend Grant met me in the evening at GreenSprings Road and took about 3 pounds from me to help lighten my pack.  My feet were killing me – the boots I bought one and a half sizes too large were still too small. They should’ve been 2.5 sizes too large!

Howard Prarie Lake

Next day I passed the little Hyatt Lake Falls, then on to Hyatt Lake, where I took a break at the beach and swam in the lake!  That was sweet!  Finished the day at Howard Prairie Lake at the Klum Landing Campground.  The guide book I’m using was quite remiss in identifying where to leave the trail for the campground at the lake.  Because of that, I ended up hiking all the way to Grizzly Creek before realizing where I was and then having to backtrack a couple miles. I managed to make camp just moments before the sun went down – and my feet were dying!

In the morning my back went out while I was stuffing my sleeping bag in its compression sack. Now not only were my right knee, right hip and feet a mess, now I couldn’t even stand up!  I walked slowly around camp bent at the waist, in agony.

After lots of slow stretching exercises I was finally able to stand and even hoist the pack and walk a mile to the real campground (I had camped at the Dam) and met the camp host, Phil. He was the kindest soul – he told me he lets PCT hikers camp for free, and he gave me two quarters for a hot shower!  What a gift!  I decided to take a down day and give my poor body a rest. I also realized my pack was still too heavy.  Phil also loaned me a beach towel, so I sunbathed most of the day, watched dragonflies, relaxed, snoozed, and finally showered in YES! a hot shower!

I camped that night at Klum Landing Campground courtesy of Phil, though I did not see him again – he must have had all that day and the next off, as he was nowhere to be found. Consequently, I entrusted about 3 more pounds of pack gear, including my bivy sack, to some neighboring campers who live in Brookings, OR. Janiene said she’d mail my things to my brother’s house in a shoebox the next day after returning to Brookings…I sure hope I see my things again.  They seemed like such lovely people, and had two beautiful Golden Retrievers.

WeatherCarrot and his gear

That third day of hiking, and fourth on the journey overall, my body felt much better. I was grateful for having taken the day off.  Within my first hour of hiking I met WeatherCarrot. He was just loading up his pack from his campsite along the trail. We hiked together and visited – a most joyful and informative hiking companion for the next hour or so!  When we arrived at a beautiful springs, Big Jon was there – a friend of WeatherCarrot.  We all  loaded up with water and departed together, though after a short while WeatherCarrot took off ahead.

WeatherCarrot and Big Jon at Shelter

We all met up at the Shelter, which was a very nice trail feature.  It’s a large log cabin with a cast iron wood burning stove in its center, and benches encircling the interior walls. The earthen floor is flat and smooth, so one could sleep not only on the benches but also on the floor, if desired.  Outside is a large wooden picnic table that we all sat around and cooked food and ate at.  Some horse folks, Kama and Ian, came into camp and tied their horses not too far from the cabin and visited us at the table. Just after

Dorian and Josh on left

sundown two young thru-hiking Frenchmen, Dorian from Chamonix and Josh from Montreal, came striding in.  They slept in the Shelter, and WeatherCarrot and Big Jon and I all pitched our tents outside around the Shelter. Dorian and Josh are hiking about 30+ miles per day.

My feet were still hurting like crazy and the knee and hip had flared up all afternoon on the way to the Shelter. Nonetheless, I slept like a baby that night.  And felt pretty darn great in the morning.  The horse folks headed out on the trail first around 7 a.m., then  WeatherCarrot, then Dorian and Josh with Big Jon trailing right behind, and then me at the end.  It was a fabulous day – warm and sunny.

Mt. McLaughlin above lava fields

Up until 1:30 in the afternoon, I didn’t see any of them again. The trail wound through woods and over lava fields with views of Mt. McLaughlin. Wildflowers were abundant and fragrant.  Finally I arrived at Hwy 140 and hitched into Fish Lake Store.  WeatherCarrot was there!  What a hoot!  He was drying his sleeping bag in the sun, and checking the weather and maps. We visited for a short bit, and then Big Jon showed up! Somehow by hitching I had passed him and arrived first. WeatherCarrot left first as he was planning on hiking another 12 miles that day, whereas Big Jon and I were hoping to get another 5 at tops.

After relaxing a bit and eating a fresh salad, Big Jon and I hitched back to the trail. Jon took a dip and I bathed my feet in the Rogue River which crosses

Early morning swim for Big Jon

Hwy 140 at the trail. Then we were off, and made the mileage to a lake just before sundown, took a swim and camped for the night. It was a beautiful location with Mt. McLaughlin showing its head in the distance. In the morning it was bathed in pink sunrise glow – gorgeous!

Early Morning Sun on Mt. McLaughlin

On this day Big Jon and I hiked to another lake – at this point my feet and whole body were killing me so badly I thought I was literally going to die! It was called Island Lake, as it had a small island in the middle. The water seems abnormally warm in all these lakes…but they’re still clear and clean looking.  After resting at Island Lake for about an hour, we hiked on to Red Lake and made camp there for the night.

Just over Devil's Peak Pass

The next morning I felt almost healed and totally fantastic. Taking the time to swim and enjoy the lakes and relax a little helped me tremendously.  I set out early, before Big Jon, and hiked all  day without even seeing him until about 5 in the evening. What incredible views!  Passed scree fields, shale ridges, Devil’s Peak, and large snow patches that were off the trail.  Bountiful alpine flowers everywhere!  FourMile Lake looking southeast and Mt. McLaughlin looking southwest!  Stunning vistas everywhere!  And then I passed over one ridge and entered an entire new valley of beauty.

Sitting rock, foot soaking pool, meditation meadow

Met a young woman out hiking by herself on the trail – her name is Clover. We stood and talked for about 20 minutes, about edible plants and the woods. She said she could tell that I wasn’t a through-hiker, as I took the time to visit.  Her observation is correct, for the most part, I think.  It’s amazing how many of the through-hikers (Mexico to  Canada) crank out the miles per day, but keep their eyes on the trail and see little to nothing of the surrounding landscape or wildlife.

Flowers in the scree

Late in the day Big Jon finally caught up with me and we ended up camping in the woods just before another pass we were trying to reach.  My body hurt so badly at this point that I couldn’t take another step.  Each night I massage my feet and legs until I fall asleep.  But each morning upon rising, they still feel sore.

My little tent and campgear

The next morning I slept in and told Big Jon to head on without me, that I’d see him at Crater Lake.  We’re only 16 or 18 miles from it, and I wasn’t going to do it all in one day, though I knew he wanted to get there to meet up with WeatherCarrot.  While I was standing by my lone little tent filing my fingernails, JakeRabbit strode by. I visited with him for a few minutes. He’s a nice young man studying Civil Engineering at college and was trying to decide whether to finish the PCT and be 10 days late for the start of classes, or jump off the trail at Cascade Locks and get back to college without missing any days. I encouraged him to get to college on time. He can always come back and hike the state of Washington another year.


I finally got started hiking at about 9 a.m.  It felt great to take a slow start day.  My legs and hip didn’t hurt all day, and even the feet finally felt alright.  Of course, I’d been hiking in Tevas with socks for days now, as the boots were just too small and the toes were too cramped.

The last water supply was at Jake Springs just 4 miles from where we had camped.  On the way there the trail wound through miles of forest fire burn.  It was earie.

Fireweed as First Life

Moon dust and charred trees.  Here and there the fireweed had popped up, but other than that, it was quite barren except for the skeletons of trees. When I finally arrived at the Jake Springs, Big Jon was there. He had gotten disoriented and thought he was on the PCT, not the .5 mile side trail to the spring.  Once he left I didn’t see him again until Crater Lake, the following day.

Passed through fields of spring flowers that enwrapped me with the most intoxicating floral scents – far better than any aromatherapy I’ve ever

Heaven-scented Spring flowers Along Trail

experienced!  Heavenly! Transcendent! The air, the smells, the sights – while being in the wilderness one becomes one with it, to a degree.  And from that vantage point, looking back in the mind’s eye at human civilization, it is heart-wrenching to see how completely removed and disassociated most of society is from the essence of Nature. It seems tragic, and in my mind can only lead to a confrontation of some sort in the end.  We simply must grow more in tune with our host, Mother Earth. How that will play out we can only wait and see.

Along the way I met FireBelly. He was hiking south and had just taken a 30-mile side hike over to the Umpqua Hot Springs at Toketee Campground.  He said it was definitely worth the trip, so I made a mental note to visit it. He grows wheatgrass and drinks it regularly, and is headed to Italy sometime in the future, so I told him if he’s over there next summer I might be able to use his help if I hold a retreat over there…stay in touch, FireBelly.

That evening I made it within one mile of Hwy 62 which leads into the Crater Lake National Park.  There was a flat area of compressed needles that called to me in the late afternoon sun, and I pulled over and brushed away the pine cones and small stones and set up my tent.  As soon as the sun went down, I was massaging my feet and falling asleep.

Somewhere around 3:30 a.m. I was shocked awake by a loud piercing agonizing scream that sounded half horse, half hyena. As the scream died down the animal, whatever it was, started a sort of barking, almost like a dog, but not quite exactly the same.  It had the same sort of tonal quality that Brandon, my late pooch, had when he had discovered a bear once – kinda like “Alert! Alert!  There’s something here I don’t know what it is!”

Shaking, I found my headlamp and wrote quickly about the incident in my journal, thinking that if I was found later all devoured and eaten that at least my journal might be able to help identify the creature. Then I prayed vigorously for the dawn to begin.  After about an hour the sky began to lighten and I could make out the shape of my sleeping bag in my tent.  Finally the sun shone through, and exhausted, I arose in one piece! I had only my headlamp to blind it, my Finnish knife to stab it, and my whistle to blow an alert at my disposal to protect myself. And yet I hadn’t needed any of it. The animal was as afraid of me as I was of it, and had disappeared into the night.

After drying my sleeping bag, tent and fly out in the morning sun,  I hoisted my pack and headed down the trail. There in the middle of the trail was a fresh black human or bear-sized scat, just 60 feet from where I had camped. I studied it carefully without dissecting it, and saw lots of fiber in it – either wood or pine needles. It didn’t look like fur. They were all aligned in the direction of intestinal travel. At first I thought ‘Bear” but I’ve never heard of a bear screaming like that. Apparently the creature had been taking a poop, saw the top of my tent behind the log, screamed in fear and outrage and astonishment, then barked to let me know it saw me, then departed.

A little later after crossing Hwy 62 and looking for the Alice Springs Trail into Mazama Village, I met two hikers, David French and Marcus, if I remember correctly, who mentioned a Timberwolf had been seen in the area. That may have been my early morning visitor, though I would like to have the scat better ID’d before deciding for sure that’s what it was.

Crater Lake and Wizard Island

Upon arriving in Mazama Village I immediately saw Big Jon over by the store. He introduced me to Cindy and Eddie and their little black lab-whippet mix, Pickles, who looks alot like Brandon’s old best friend, Spadie.  I went over to the restaurant and had the buffet – a well deserved meal – while Big Jon headed on northward for the next stretch.  In the afternoon I hitched up to Crater Lake, just 7 miles up the hill, and was met with the most stunning wonder of a blue jewel.  It is nothing less than magnificent, and if you haven’t been there you definitely should put it on your Bucket List. Just don’t wait too long!

Later in the day I met Kathy from Santa Cruz who was camping with

Our little band of campers

her son, trail name DD, and they said I could camp at their site that night at the campground in Mazama Village. Later at dinner buffet we all met Chance, another through-hiker, and he set up his hammock in the same site. And later still, Cindy and Eddie came into camp and pitched tent, also. They had decided that Pickles was not up for more hiking as he was limping so badly and licking his raw feet, and were quitting the trail. We ended up with 5 tents in the camp that night!

Next morning Kathy and DD left early, Chance left about the same time, and Cindy and Eddie and I visited a little, then went to breakfast buffet.  Caught a ride with AJ (Jerry) 4 miles up the road to collect my food package I had

The Incredible Blue of Crater Lake

mailed to the Post Office, and we drove on up further to see Crater Lake one last time.  Then he drove me down to Hwy 227 where we said good-bye and I caught another ride right away with Susan and her husband.  What a dear couple!  Susan had spent some of her childhood in Alaska, so we had a wonderful connection back to the Alaska days of old.

They stopped and waited for me at the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Medford while I went inside to check on whether they would exchange my boots for me, and it doesn’t sound too hopeful, but we’ll try. I’ll clean them up real well before trying to get them exchanged for a larger size. Then Susan and hubby took me to the southern outskirts of Medford on Hwy 99 so that I could catch another ride to Ashland, which happened within 10 minutes.

My last ride, Jorge, was from Argentina and he was driving an old van.  His English was fair and he had a heavy accent.  We talked about the differences between the U.S. and Argentina, though he hasn’t been back for 10 years.  He raved about the U.S., the freedom, the higher consciousness, the acceptance, and made me see this country though completely different eyes. It was illuminating.  Then he dropped me off at the Safeway store in Ashland and I walked two blocks to Ann-Britt’s house which she was just peddling away from as I arrived. She offered me her shower (Thank You, Ann-Britt!) and let me know she’s tremendously busy right now – she and her sister are just days away from flying to Sweden and Norway to meet relatives they’ve never met before, and explore their family history. Bon Voyage, Ann-Britt!

I showered as if in a dream, everything seemed surreal. It was almost like I was consciousness floating through space.  From the forest and Crater Lake to the city of Ashland, and later that day to my truck stored at Ryan and Diana’s (GIANT Thank you’s to Ryan and Diana!), and then driving down to the internet coffee shop….so many realities, so many worlds.  Overwhelming. It continued into the evening, when I was sitting in the women’s dressing room of WellSprings after having soaked in the hot mineral water for two hours…a young woman walked in, sat down nearby, and said “Are you Sayward?”  It was Tahiti, whom I’d met two years ago in Lake Tahoe and had not seen since! We talked about the loss of a parent and our beloved dogs – she lost her mom and her dog Girl, and I lost my dad and Brandon.  It was amazing and wonderful to see her again, and now that she’s living not far from Ashland again I can visit her on my way south this Fall.

Now as I’m recounting and there’s so much to share that none of it seems well portrayed, and the weather has changed to downright cold here in Ashland, the whole hike seems like it was long ago, instead of just 10 days ago that Grant dropped me off at the Trail Head (Thank you for all your help, Grant!). It all has a strange illusory sense about it. Here in the coffee shop the cups clank at the counter, the music plays “Blue Velvet” through the speakers softly in the background, the people are speaking in low conversations, and I sit here wondering where the wilderness was…was it real?  Or an illusion.  I’ll be going back up soon to immerse myself in it again…just to make sure it’s still really there, and all the chipmunks are still busily occupying themselves, and the birds are still darting by, and the butterflies are still sucking flowers side-by-side with the bumblebees.  Nature!  The Source of Everything!

Arrival at Crater Lake


About sayslife

On Sabbatical to live out some Bucket List dreams. Life just keeps zooming along, and friends keep passing away. Time to live never seems enough, as the daily duties always seem to keep calling. Now I'm changing that. Gonna see the world. Come along for the ride - you're invited :)
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2 Responses to The First Leg

  1. Sophia says:

    Maybe it was Bigfoot!

  2. Ritchey Ruff says:

    Awesome! I met up with weather carrot & big john in Mt. Jefferson Wilderness area.

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