I woke up this morning just before 4 a.m., though I don't know why. Bluejay and Sunkist hadn’t yet stirred.
When I checked my watch, I discovered I had set the alarm for 6 a.m. This was not the time I had intended to set, so I was glad for waking up early. I could have easily remained asleep when Bluejay and Sunkist were preparing to leave.
|Date||Tuesday, August 13, 2019|
|Weather||Partly sunny, high temperature in the mid 70s|
|Trail Conditions||Easy, mostly downhill trail|
My two hiking partners are always getting an earlier start than me and are also faster hikers. They had arrived in camp last night two hours before I did.
Waking up extra early this morning offered a good opportunity to get a head start, even if it was unintentional. I quietly packed and was hiking by 5 a.m.
The sun was still an hour away from rising, so I needed my headlamp to find my way back to the trail.
Dawn came about thirty minutes later. The sky was just bright enough to make out the silhouette of Middle Sister, the shortest of the Three Sisters volcano range. She was less than two miles away.
After another thirty minutes, the clouds reflected pink hues of the rising sun and I was able to see The Husband, which some call the patriarch of the Cascades family,
I stopped near a stream to fix myself some breakfast with coffee at 6:30. Sunkist and Bluejay caught up to me there. After a quick stop to comment on my early start, they were soon off down the trail.
Shortly after I resumed hiking, South Sister came into view. She was the tallest of the Three Sisters, standing 10,363 feet above sea level.
The trail was a much easier footpath today and I made better-than-normal time.
I made an unplanned stop when I met a northbound hiker named Hobble. His accent sounded familiar and I wondered if he was from East Tennessee, so I asked where he was from. He said he was from Elizabethton, Tennessee, which is near one of my favorite sections of the Appalachian Trail.
Hobble told me he thru-hiked the AT in 2015. When he turned to leave, I happened to notice the back of his pack. Attached to it were some patches, including one from Yee Haw Brewing where he had worked as a bartender. What caught my eye, though, was a Tennessee license plate similar to one I have on my truck at home, which supports the AT.
I took one more break at 9:25 a.m. to filter some water and eat a snack. I tried to keep the break short so I didn’t fall too far behind Bluejay and Sunkist.
The first 14 miles of today’s hike consisted of a series of short ups and downs. This was expected because we had looked at the trail's profile on the Guthooks trail guide app.
We knew we needed to hike 18.9 miles of the PCT, plus an extra side trail to reach Elk Lake. Seeing the profile, we decided we could get there at a satisfactory time to be picked up by Sunkist’s friend.
The trail next went past Rock Mesa, a volcanic dome at the base of South Sister. A tall wall of rock formed by the dome’s lava flow created one side of a valley. Geologists say Rock Mesa began flowing about 2,200 years ago.
At the end of this valley was an area known as Wickiup Plains. This was an especially dry section and for good reason. The pumice ground is said to be so porous that snowmelt will not collect and run off. Nearly all of it is absorbed directly into the ground.
Sisters Mirror Lake was located at the far south end of Wickiup Plains. I arrived at the lake at 11:30 a.m., which might have been a good time and place for lunch, but I still didn't want to take any more breaks than necessary. I also knew there was a restaurant at Elk Lake.
The trail continued to be smooth with no difficult elevation changes. I tried to hike quickly to reach Elk Lake soon after Sunkist and Bluejay.
The final five miles to the side trail leading to Elk Lake were all downhill. I began to see glimpses of the lake on the descent. Mt. Bachelor stood behind it.
While on this descent, I received a text on my Garmin from Sunkist. “Take Horse Lake Trail to Elk Lake,” she said.
I knew two trails led to the lake and she was referring to the first one, but her message was sent too late. I had already passed that trail junction and was heading to the second one.
I hadn't realized they were going to take the shorter route. I had chosen the longer route on purpose because I knew I would be returning to the trail the same way. This way, I would have a shorter and easier hike back to the PCT.
Soon after I reached the end of the 1.2-mile side trail and arrived at the lake, I received a text message from Dave. He told me he had made a short stop at Big Lake Youth Camp and was now leaving. That meant he was still at least two days behind us. He won’t catch up to us after our zero day tomorrow, but at least he can get a day closer.
Along with a Forest Service campground, a small resort was located at Elk Lake. The facilities included a boat dock, rental cabins, and a restaurant.
I found Sunkist and Bluejay seated at a table in the restaurant. They had just finished eating and were with a thru-hiker named Four Packs. They told me the food was good and there was still time for me to order before our ride arrived, so I did.
Sunkist’s friend, Brendan Leary, arrived to pick us up at 3 p.m. He could not have been a nicer or more helpful trail angel. For starters, he handed each of us a can of PCT Porter from one of Bend’s top breweries, Crux Fermentation.
After a 25-mile drive to town, Brendan gave us a quick tour of Bend, then dropped Bluejay, Sunkist, and me off at our hotel. Four Packs was meeting his girlfriend at a different hotel, so Brendan then took him there.
Later after we had a chance to clean up, Brendan treated us to a delicious dinner.
Sunkist had met Brendan when she was attempting to thru-hike the PCT in 2017. She had gotten as far north as Elk Lake before smoke and trail closures from nearby fires became too much to bear. Visibility was difficult and breathing was worse, so she decided to end her hike here in Oregon. He helped her get off the trail.
Now, with our arrival at Elk Lake, Sunkist had completed the entire trail. She knows she could go home now, but she says she's not ready to do that.
I believe her when she says she wants to continue this hike, but I also wonder if there will be an urge to go home before long.
Sunkist is a strong, determined, and experienced hiker. Still, she's already accomplished the goal she set out to do and that could affect her drive to keep going. I know from my own hikes it’s hard to stay motivated through every mile.
Nevertheless, I hope Sunkist will stay with us. She and Bluejay have been fun hiking partners. And as I’ve said before, I’m hoping Dave will join us again soon.