PCT Day 43, Oldenburg Lake to Thielsen Creek, 26 miles (+2 off-trail water gathering)

If I stop to kick every barking dog I am not going to get where I’m going. – Jackie Joyner-Kersee

My beautiful, private lake produced a layer of mist and the alicoop is cold and damp, but ali, herself, is cozy and cuddly inside the puffy quilt. I almost don’t want to get up as the light show begins at sunrise, but a chattery squirrel leaping from tree to tree coaxes me out.

I am so careful packing, that when I leave my orange TP bag behind at my cat hole, I know to go look for it before closing up Olive Oyl. It’s still a good walk to finish the alternate and reach the road at Windigo Pass. Two unfriendly German speakers pass and I recall meeting others in Washington who I overheard ensuring another hiker knew they were Austrians. “That would be as insulting if you assumed a Canadian was an American.” I really wish I’d reminded them that they were in America and long trails are an American idea as are wilderness areas and national parks. Sadly, I held my tongue.

I need to walk nearly a mile on the road and it takes me to a water cache with hundreds of gallons of water as well as a solar charger and a bit of food. Such incredible generosity! After here, there are two water sources, but they are off trail. Several people show up – far friendlier – and I laugh as we collect here, like wildebeest on the Serengeti. I drink a liter of water and set off, knowing it should hold me the six miles.

It’s up and up, then down and down, all in the forest. I pull to the side as a young man comes up telling me he loves my hat and I look fantastic. Another man works his way up fully suited in mosquito netting pants and head gear. He tells me his arms are slathered in deet. “No one’s getting at me!” Next a man riding a horse leads another. I see their poop for miles after.

At the spring someone has written ‘a loooong way down’ on the sign. My notes tell me it’s very steep. The next water is another six miles, and I walk about three miles per hour. I have a snack on a log and try and think it through when a Belgian shows up and rolls a cigarette. I ask him if he went off trail at the next source and he tells me he did not. He offers me what’s left in his bottle – and even offers to go down and get water for me. I am bowled over by his kindness. I drink the water on offer, but decide to move on since I am not thirsty.

This section is up and down – and sunnier – but I feel strong having drunk 2 1/2 liters. There are very few views, mostly blue hills in the distance covered with the same trees I walk through. The ground is dry and dusty, but rain helps keep it from blowing into the air.

I ask every hiker coming my way if they went to the lake and all say no, until I’m right above it and see its vastness way below me. A couple tell me they went down and got water from a stream feeding it. “It’s a mile down, so a bit of a heft coming back.” Ugh. Well, I can’t skip water now as there’s a big climb after and ten miles to the next stream. They say good luck and remind me to wear my bug burka.

Since it will take a while to run this errand, I set up the still sopping wet alicoop and spread out my sleeping quilt in the sun. I try not to spend too much time thinking about it and load my two ‘dirty water’ bags into Olive Oyl’s lid then set off down the hill.

It is a very long way down, not too steep, but fully a mile. I get a little bit panicky going so far off trail just for water, not entirely sure I can handle the return trip. I tell myself I’m ok, I’m strong, I’ll be fine and keep going down deeper and deeper. It helps to look at my clock and see it taking twenty minutes to get there, just a mile. I can hear the stream and see it down an embankment to my left. It supposedly crosses the path, but I just skid down and find a good spot to fill up.

Two liters filled, stuffed in the lid and wrapped in my hand. Up I go, playing a counting game of steps. Every time I reach 100, I switch hands. In some ways, it’s faster going up. I remember this long ramp heading straight south, then I turn west towards the PCT. But I forget that this one was so long, probably because I started here. It goes on and on – 2000 steps, 2100, 2400, 2700, then finally I see something blue ahead. Someone else set up their tent? No, silly, it’s my quilt absolutely bone dry, as is the alicoop.

I pack them up then squeeze the bags through my filter into my bottles. Just then, two hikers with a dog show up and want to join me for lunch. I’m really into my solitude at the moment, so pack everything up to find a more private spot, but not before sharing information with them about the alternate path and some of the confusing parts.

I head up and up, asking a hiker if any view opens up and she says not for a long time. So I choose a tree in the shade, set up my stove and make mashed potatoes for lunch with millions of mosquitos muscling in. I am so far from water and dumbfounded how they manage to live up here.

Up and up I go, openings in the forest to the sky turn out to be false summits as the trail twists and turns, sending me to a viewpoint of rocky mountains and finally a kind of flat, meadowy summit – dry now with no more wildflowers. When the trail finally crests, a sign tells me this is the highest point of the PCT in Oregon and Washington at 7,560 feet.

It boggles the mind that Oregon is actually higher than Washington for nearly the entire state. But the Sierras will have passes over 10,000 feet one after another. I take a selfie and walk through a flat, dry area filled with dancing trees before dipping back into the forest.

I can see the enormous pyramid of Mount Thielsen in the distance, aiming to camp at a creek flowing from one of his glaciers. It’s up and down for just a few more miles to a beautiful, rushing creek. A few people relax by a waterfall, but I spy a side trail which takes me to a small flat spot above the water, looking straight at the mountain.

I set up, then head to a little island of moss and grass where I wash my feet, then purify water sitting on a grand piece of pumice. It’s getting darker sooner now, so I eat and crawl in by 8:30, the churning water rocking me to sleep.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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