PCT 2019: Day 101, Elk Lake to Brahma Lake

Once in a while, you get shown the light

Bluejay, Sunkist, and I wanted to get an early start this morning. To return to the trail, we first had to make a 25-mile trip from Bend back to Elk Lake. From there, we would need to hike a little more than a mile before reaching the PCT.

DateFriday, August 16, 2019
WeatherClear skies with a light breeze and a high temperature in low 70s
Trail ConditionsGently rolling, easy trail, then long, 1,300-foot climb
Today's Miles19.4
Trip Miles1456.4

We had been fortunate to have such a kind and generous trail angel for picking us up at Elk Lake and taking us to Bend, and now he was ready to drive us back whenever we were ready.

First, though, Brendan offered to take us to one of his favorite breakfast spots, so he picked us up at 6:30 a.m.

We got a tasty calorie and caffeine boost at Thump Coffee, then Brendan drove us to Elk Lake.

By 8:15 a.m., we were hiking up the side trail on our way back to the PCT. The terrain wasn’t expected to be difficult today, so despite our late start, we hoped to complete roughly 20 miles.

Until we begin hiking in the Sierra, 20 or more miles a day will be our daily goal.

Once we reached the PCT, Sunkist, Bluejay, and I stopped because we realized we had forgotten to choose a destination for today.

Choosing a campsite ahead of time usually works, but not always. We rely on our Guthooks app and other trail guides to know about campsites, but they don’t always give us a complete view. Sometimes we find a campsite not described in the guides. Sometimes the campsite we've chosen isn't as good as we hoped and we have to search for another. At any rate, it's best to start the day with the same destination in mind.

I told Sunkist and Bluejay about when I hiked the Appalachian Trail with Stick, he would sometimes hang his bandana on a tree limb or trail marker to let me know when he had stopped early. This signal was also helpful when the campsite was enough off-trail that it was difficult to find. They thought this was a good idea.

While we were stopped, we also sent a text message to Dave to update him on our whereabouts. We still hoped he would catch up to us.

The trail passed by several lakes today. Dozens of them dot this part of Oregon, which explains why the area is called the Cascade Lakes Region.

One of the first lakes I passed was called Dumbbell Lake. When I saw the lake on a map, its shape looked less like a dumbbell and more like an infinite loop. I suppose Infinite Loop Lake would have been an odd name for a lake, however.

I found Sunkist and Bluejay where they had stopped at the far end of the lake. They were taking a mid-morning break.

I waited for them to start hiking again. My hiking style hasn’t changed. I still prefer to let those I’m hiking with to go their own pace ahead of me. This way, I can hike my own pace and am not concerned about holding anyone back if I’m not fast enough for them. I’m also then free to stop for photos or snack breaks whenever I wish.

For the next five miles I passed at least a dozen more ponds and lakes, then caught up to Sunkist and Bluejay again. This time they were stopped for lunch at Mac Lake.

The terrain made today more like an easy stroll than a hike. The trail gained and lost roughly 2,000 feet of elevation, but the change was usually gradual and barely noticed.

The longest climb followed the flanks of Packsaddle and Little Roundtop mountains. This ascent of 1,300 feet stretched across more than 8.5 miles and didn’t go close to either summit.

At about 4 p.m., I caught up to Bluejay and Sunkist once more. We were making better-than-expected time, so we decided to re-evaluate our camping options. Brahma Lake was 3.4 miles ahead, and we decided to make that our destination.

I then sent a text message through my Garmin device to Dave to let him know about our change of plans.

“I’ll probably camp 7 mi behind you, 23 for the day,” he replied.

Being still that far behind us, we decided, he may not be able to catch up until we reach Shelter Cove Resort the day after tomorrow. We will stop there to pick up resupply boxes.

With less than an hour to go before reaching Brahma Lake, I unexpectedly saw a northbound hiker I had hiked with while in the desert section. It was Gilligan, or Gilli-guy, as members of the Woohoo Crew would call him because we had our own Gilligan.

It was a pleasure to run into him after not seeing him since our stay in Tehachapi. We had a nice chat to catch up on trail news.

I arrived at the lake shortly before 6 p.m. and began looking for where Bluejay and Sunkist had set up their tents. The trail followed the lake’s shoreline for about four-tenths of a mile, so I slowed down to check several spots along the way.

As I neared the other end of the lake, I began to wonder if I had failed to see them or if they had decided to keep hiking.

When I saw a couple hikers camped nearby, I asked them if they had seen two women. They told me they had not, and also said the next campsites were in a burnt area.

I had searched for them for about 15 minutes and had all but given up finding them when I saw the burnt area, which was past the lake. This didn't seem like a place they'd want to camp, so I decided to continue hiking.

Just then, however, I spotted Bluejay’s bandana tied to the top of a small tree. Using the trick Stick had used for signaling me had come in handy.

Bluejay's bandana alerted me to a faint path that turned back toward the lake. I followed it up a small hill, and on the other side I saw where they had pitched their tents.

I gave Bluejay back her bandana, then after setting up my tent, joined her at the lake and prepared my dinner. It was a nice spot to relax, or it was until a mad horde of mosquitoes came out and chased us back to our tents.

After climbing inside mine, I heard the mosquitoes swarming outside, looking for any way they could find to penetrate the thin barrier between them and me. Thankfully, they failed.

Well I ain't often right but I've never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way it does in the song
Once in a while, you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right

From "Scarlet Begonias” by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)

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"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.