Our destination for today was Big Lake Youth Camp, which was located on a slight detour from the trail. The camp had a reputation for being accommodating to hikers. Knowing this, we had all shipped resupply boxes there.
Reports had filtered up the trail, however, that the camp would be closed for a couple of days, starting this evening. This week was an off-week for campers, so services for hikers would be limited. Namely, no meals would be served after today's lunch.
We weren't about to miss lunch if we could avoid it.
|Date||Sunday, August 11, 2019|
|Weather||Cloudy, breezy, and chilly, with a high temperature in the upper 50s|
|Trail Conditions||Mostly smooth and nearly all downhill or flat |
Before going to bed last night, Sunkist and Bluejay said they were planning to set their alarms for 4:30 a.m. They wanted to get an early start in the morning because we had nearly 14 miles to walk. That seemed like a good idea, so I said I’d do the same.
When my alarm woke me, I sleepily put on my clothes and prepared to pack my gear. Sunkist said later she saw my headlamp shining from my tent, so she knew I was up.
That didn't last long. By the time she and Bluejay were set to leave, they heard snoring coming from my tent. I had fallen back to sleep.
The called out to me and awoke me as they were leaving, but of course, I was far from ready to leave. I still had to finish packing and eat breakfast. I wasn't ready to start hiking until 7:30 a.m.
When I finally got going, the trail finished the ascent over the ridge that I began climbing yesterday. The remainder was short, but the weather was turning colder and foggy. The fog became so dense I was unable to see the summit of Three-fingered Jack from the trail.
This was disappointing because this mountain has a jagged profile. It’s a shield volcano of the Cascade Range, which has been severely eroded by glaciers.
The peak didn't go near the summit because it was so rugged. Climbers say it’s a difficult mountain to climb because the eroded rock easily crumbles. Less than a month ago, a 19-year-old climber died in a fall near the summit of the mountain when he lost his footing as rocks gave away.
Because of the thick fog, my views were of nearby trees. Many were burnt, but young spruce trees were already taking their place.
Although no rain fell overnight, everything was wet. The trees were covered in water droplets collected from the low clouds.
The descent from the slopes of Three Fingered Jack was easy and gradual. I tried to take advantage of this by walking as fast as I could.
Farther down the mountain, the terrain changed. The ground shifted to a red tint because of volcanic rocks.
The trail passed out of the burnt forest into taller, green trees, but this lasted only for a short distance.
Before long, I was back in the burnt remains of a large forest. There was less fog, but the scenery became mostly just grasses and the burnt remains of trees.
Around 10:50 a.m., I received a Garmin text message from Sunkist. She and Bluejay had reached Big Lake Youth Camp already and she told me that lunch was to be served at 1 p.m. This was good news. I calculated how far I still had to go and it seemed if I pushed hard, I might be able to get to the camp before they stopped serving.
Sunkist also confirmed that dinner would not be served tonight, which was more incentive to get there before lunch was done.
It's remarkable what will motivate a thru-hiker.
On the final descent to Santiam Pass, I met a couple of day hikers. They asked me about the storm that passed through the night before last. I didn’t want to be rude and tell them I didn’t have time to talk because I needed to get to lunch, so I paused long enough to say the storm missed us.
They were surprised Sunkist, Bluejay, and I only got a little rain. From the day hikers' description, it must have been a dangerous storm.
I arrived at the pass forty minutes later. U.S. Highway 20 crosses the trail here and it was busy. At least the visibility was better at this lower elevation, though. I was able to find a gap between cars and run across.
I still had nearly six miles to go to reach the camp, so I had to push hard. That lunch was still on my mind.
The trail after the highway was flat and nearly straight to a road that led to the camp. That was helpful for hiking fast. The time was now 1:06 p.m., six minutes after serving for lunch began. I almost trotted to get there before it ended.
I finally arrived at the entrance of the camp at 1:23 p.m., then went directly to the building that was identified as the PCT Welcome Center.
When I discovered no hikers were inside, I was elated. That meant everyone was still at lunch, but there was still one problem. Where was lunch being served?
After a short search, I found a camp map, then made a beeline to the dining hall.
I wasn’t too late! Some camp staff and thru-hikers were even still in line to get food.
After loading up my plate, I found Bluejay, Sunkist, and other hikers, and sat with them. Later, the staff brought out more food for the staff and us. This was so we could to fix a to-go dinner because one wasn't being served tonight in the dining hall.
Hikers are asked to make a donation to defray the cost of food and for maintaining the Welcome Center, but it wasn’t required. We were also asked to not walk through the middle of the camp in order to avoid campers.
The Welcome Center was just for hikers. When I returned there, I was able to take a shower, do laundry, and get the resupply box Kim had sent me.
Then I walked down to the lakefront and an area designated as the camping area for hikers to set up my tent.
If Big Lake Youth Camp wasn’t here or if the staff wasn’t so welcoming of hikers, we would probably need to get a ride from Santiam Pass to the small town of Sisters (20 miles away) or a larger town, Bend (43 miles away). As busy as that highway was, I’m not sure hitchhiking would be practical, so we’d probably have to hire a shuttle driver.
Although the camp has helped hikers for many years, the Welcome Center was new. It opened in 2018. From a thru-hiker standpoint, it was a real luxury to have such a facility located so conveniently near the trail.
The camp receives donations from businesses and the Pacific Crest Trail Association to run it, and I think all of us were grateful for what was provided for us.