Sometime in the middle of the night while the stars were brilliant and the sky was inky black, the wind from Mt. Hood descended from the mountaintop directly down the valley next to my tent. The fine moon
dust I had pitched my freestanding tent upon was delivered inside the tent, my sleeping bag, my mouth and eyes and nose, by the wind that was careening my tent sideways and forcing its way inside by any available miniscule pathway it could find. I lay in my sleeping bag thinking that after a while it might calm down, but in fact it further escalated as the night dragged on minute by minute, until finally I was literally forced into action. Donning my headlamp I carefully loaded my pack from inside the tent, shaking out the accumulated moon dust that was adhered to literally everything. When all that was left to do was pack up the tent, I pushed the only two stakes I had brought with me for the tent fly deep into the dirt on the upwind side of the tent, praying they would hold against the wind when I removed the pack from the tent. They did, and I had the tent rolled up and and ready to go in the shortest time ever, dirt and all. Strode out of camp and away from the wind before even the faintest signs of dawn were in the night sky.
At first I had a slight concern that there might be night time critters – like bears or wolves or coyotes or who knows what – Sasquatch, maybe – out doing some late night dining and find me a welcome addition to their otherwise mundane diet…so I started singing little ditties like “I’m coming down the trail, Mr. Bear, so don’t worry, it’s just me and I’m just passing through, you’ve nothing to fear, I won’t hurt you.” The tune was my own, and all over the place, trying to make sure any sound ranges would not be missed in case the critters had selective tonal hearing.
Before long I adapted to midnight hiking and enjoyed the full moon, the lights of Portland in the distance, and the small illuminated portion of trail in front of me lit only by my headlamp, which was working very well, thank goodness. Crossing a small stream, of which there were many, I noticed a small ice cave the stream had carved underneath the overcovering snow patch and couldn’t resist taking a picture, lit only by my headlamp.
Slowly the dawn removed the dark night sky and by then I was well out of Paradise Park and down the side of the mountain to the wide, alluvial Sandy River crossing where Scout Camp sits. Fortunately there was a couple camped there, and they kindly pointed the way across the vast rock bed – between all the cairns and poles propped up by rocks and interspersed by a maze of trails everywhere.
More aggravation with my “Atlas” guidebook in finding the cutoff trail to Ramona Falls, but finally, through the help of the Scout Camp folks, found the correct trail and arrived at Ramona Falls. And there, at the base of Ramona Falls taking pictures, were Mel and Mona.
They had camped at the nearby campsites the night before, and because of my super-early morning start, I had caught up with them. The thought crossed my mind that if I were to start very early each morning I could accomplish many more miles per day, but then I erased that thought in place of the following one, which is how lovely it feels to lie all warm and cozy in my sleeping bag in the morning and watch the dawn come up for a few minutes before actually rising myself for the day.
Ramona Falls was spectacular and no photo can capture it. The long veil-like appearance of the thin waters cascading down across the black columnar basalt rocks from such a height to such a width was truly impressive – I’ve seen a lot of falls, but none like this! It would take a far better camera than mine to capture the natural splendor and size of these falls.
Ramona Falls Loop Trail follows, on its way back to the PCT connection, a lovely moss-banked creek that flows so artistically through the ferns and forest that I felt I was almost walking through a 3-D Walt Disney film
on Nature…it was so beautiful it seemed almost unreal, and again my camera could not capture it. The soft moss greens everywhere, the incredible rock walls of basalt splashed with vivid oranges and rust colors, the clear pools and small waterfalls along the creek, the almost liquid gold rays of warm sun filtering through to light up a patch of trail-side moss…this stretch of trail was indeed magical, and all emanating from Ramona Falls.
Sadly, the magic ended upon rejoining the PCT, and I began the longest upward ascent I have possibly ever undertaken with a 30 pound pack. The “Atlas” declares it as a 2.4 mile section, but the “Atlas” was never ground-checked. I am certain this section is closer to 4 miles, and to hike at a relatively steep incline for approximately 4 miles – well, it sorta zapped me, and I was
muttering some not-very-nice thoughts about this ridiculous trail that insists on going upwards when everyone KNOWS we should be heading downward. But due to the fact that this is the Pacific CREST Trail, I imagine it was thought the trail needed to be closer to the peaks of mountains than to the middle or the base, even though one must descend significantly to make the less than 200′ elevation crossing at the Columbia River which was not all that far ahead.
I finally arrived at the next trail intersection where the PCT joins with the Timberline Trail, and sat down on a log to munch a handful of nuts and allow my irritated state to dissipate. While sitting there I noticed a new trail sign for Top Spur about 25 feet down the next section of the
PCT, and then saw a couple women, one in a bright turquoise blue top, arrive at the top of Top Spur and turn to their left to follow the PCT in the northerly direction, the same way I would be traveling. I had the curious urge to call to them and tell them they needed to turn toward me, but I squelched it, thinking my mind was playing some kind of weirdness and to ignore the urge. Finally I got up from the log and followed the PCT which continued to go mostly level and some up, and then finally DOWN DOWN DOWN in massive switchbacks which dumped me onto the intersection of two paved roads at Lolo Pass. Again I was feeling irritable, as the “Atlas” was incorrect once more in mileage and campsites.
As I was investigating the PCT trailhead at the roadside I noticed the two women I had seen at the the top of Top Spur trail. They walked over to me and asked me where they were – they had a huge trail guide book and showed me where they had wanted to hike. After a few minutes of checking back and forth between their book and my “Atlas”, we determined what had happened. They had been so busy talking when they arrived at the top of Top Spur that somehow they had not seen the PCT turn to the right – they had not seen the intersection where I had been sitting on a log eating nuts – they had just turned left and
descended 4 miles to Lolo Pass when they should have turned right and hiked up to a peak they were trying to reach. Now they had to hike all the way back up what they had just come down. I felt very sorry for them. There is no way I would’ve wanted to hike back up what I had just descended. But it did remind me that I had wanted to call out to them when I had seen them turn the wrong way….how curious….somehow I must have innately known they were going the wrong way, but my conscious mind negated the inner knowledge. How often have I done that in life? – many times, I’m sure.
Creeklet was half a mile further on the PCT from Lolo Pass, and after I had filled my water bottle and Steripenned it, I was enjoying a wonderful butterfly that seemed to have become enamored of me. It landed on my foot, then my leg, I let it crawl onto my fingertip where it remained quite happily, and finally as I was trying to photograph it, up walked Fireman behind me! What a hoot! After my super early start he had still caught up to me! He took some great photos of the butterfly on me, and we tried to continue hiking but the butterfly was very adamant in not wanting to leave, and I was afraid I’d accidentally step on it. Finally we were able to get it to fly away, and we proceeded along the trail which continued to climb. Even Fireman commented on how much “up” there was when intuitively it seems like we should be descending.
Fireman took off and I didn’t see him again til the campsite location at
Salvation Spg Camp. Along that last 6+ miles into Salvation Camp I hiked as if there were no tomorrow. My pace increased, as did my stamina, and my aggravation dissipated. It was a satisfying walk.
When I finally arrived at Salvation Spg Camp, Fireman had found a descent campsite amongst all the treefall and dead branches littering the ground everywhere, but I could see no other suitable tent site anywhere. After 10 minutes of scouting the area, I walked back down the trail from whence I’d come, and discovered perhaps the only other suitable tent site at that entire “camp”. It was a soft flat bed of needles about 100′ from where Fireman had pitched his tent, and this site was on the west side of the trail and receiving end-of-the-day sun slanting through the trees. I quickly set up my tent, made my Nile soup dinner, and checked for cell phone service. Surprisingly, a Roaming signal was indicated, which with TracFone is included in the cost of the minutes, so I called my MagicJack phone number to see if I might have any messages. There was one. It was a friend of Alfred’s, my old archaeology buddy from 25 years ago, calling to inform me of Alfred’s passing. As the message came to a close, the TracFone suddenly switched to “No Service”, and for the rest of the hike into Cascade Locks I never again received a signal.
I was sorry to hear of Alfred’s death, and it brought up a lot of memories of our last times together in Barra de Navidad, Mexico, this last winter when I flew down to join him for Christmas at the start of his last hurrah around-the-world journey. We had not left on the best of terms, and now there was unfinished business between us. I lay there on my sleeping bag watching the sun’s rays cut through the trees and the gentle breeze play with the branches. Suddenly I was talking with Alfred – I was telling him I was sorry for the way things were left between us, and he was apologizing back – I could literally hear his voice, his words, and it was completely Alfred. We both forgave each other and he gave his gravelly laugh and we talked a few sentences more and then he was gone – it was over. It was so real it was as though I had just literally had a real-time, present dimension conversation with him. I was so amazed that I tried to re-create what I had just experienced, just to see if I could, but it didn’t happen again. I am left with the perception that we really did connect, did communicate together, and did make real amends between ourselves. After the sun set the gentle breeze died down, the stars came out, and I fell into the soundest, most peaceful night of sleep I had had since the start of this last section of trail.