July 29, 2017
Day 59, Willamette Pass to Harrelson Horse Camp, miles; 1906-1925
Distance; 21.6, trail time; 5:21, average speed; 4, minimum elevation; 5138, maximum elevation; 6600, total ascent; 3056, total descent; 2547
The separation of the wet west side of the Cascades and the dry east side has always seemed to me to be a very fine line, especially so here in Oregon. Yesterday riding from Windigo Pass to Whitefish and up to Diamond View Lake was all east side, dry, dusty trail surrounded by jack pines. Then suddenly within less than a mile you transition into the wet, cool west side. Today from Hwy 58 to Waldo Lake was all west side. It was cool enough this morning I wished I had worn my extra sweatshirt rather than tied it on the back of the saddle.
BG and I passed lots of lakes today, Lower, Middle and North Rosary Lakes, Bobby Lake, Charlton Lake, Hidden, Lost and Found Lakes, lakes to numerous and small to be bothered with names. I passed a bunch of hills and peaks too, though most of them remained hidden in the trees. The last few miles was through a burned area between Charlton Butte and the horse camp where I got my first peek at the mountains to the north as far as Mt. Jefferson. Fortunately the fire did not reach Harrelson Horse camp, it remains surrounded by at least a half mile of forest.
I have passed several huts/cabins built by cross country skiers as a place of refuge on winter expeditions. Most are little more than a small room with a fireplace, a place to get out of the weather, warm up and dry out. The one I passed today, Maiden Peak Ski Hut, is the most deluxe example I have seen on the trip. An octagon shaped log structure with a flag stone floor around the wood stove, a raised deck in the rest of the room and a good sized sleeping loft. This hut is equipped with all the necessary tools, saws, axes, shovels as well as pots, pans and kitchen utensils. Most extraordinary were the solar powered lights and internet connection.
July 30, 2017
Day 60, Harrelson Horse Camp to Quinn Meadows Horse Camp, miles; 1928-1954
Distance; 30.1, trail time; 9:21, average speed; 3.2, minimum elevation; 4982, maximum elevation; 6081, total ascent; 2949, total descent; 3475
BG and I left Waldo Lake looking forward to seeing Dave & Penny Strand who were riding to meet me from Quinn Meadows Horse Camp. I was riding BG again, she had an easy day yesterday and I wanted to shuffle the line up so that BG would be the horse I would be riding through the Lava Beds north of Hwy 242. That would have Mercedes doing the long day from Santiam Pass to Pamelia Creek.
The early morning trail was through the Charlton Burn which made for some grand vistas. This burn is at the point where trees are falling with little provocation. It would take a full time trail crew to keep this part of the PCT clear. For the most part the trees blocking the trail weren’t too difficult to get around as the terrain is relatively flat. There were a couple that got into the pick-up sticks scenario forcing me to go off trail quite a distance before I could work myself back to the trail, and as always there are always a couple that require cutting.
We left the burn area behind after a couple miles and were soon traveling down the kind of trail Oregon is famous for, good dirt tread, gentle terrain, good sized trees with a lake and a little grazing around every corner. BG loves this kind of trail and cruises down it with a minimum of effort.
I met up with Dave and Penny about half way through the day; it was nice to have some company and good conversation on the trail. Trail conversation turned into camp conversation turned into dinner conversation, so despite have an internet connection I didn’t get any blogging done, maybe tomorrow.
July 31, 2017
Day 61, Quinn Meadows to Scotts Pass TH, miles; 1954-1980
Distance; 29.7, trail time; 9:34, average speed; 3.1, minimum elevation; 4960, maximum elevation; 6878, total ascent; 4365, total descent; 4504
The previous evening’s conversation turned into morning conversation and it was nearly 9:00 before Dave got me going. We rode north to the Mirror Lakes trail up to the PCT. We were nearly to the trail junction, the horses plodding up the hill, I was paying more attention to the continuing conversation than to where I was going when a large black dog bounded around the corner ahead of us. You’d think after 1500 miles Mercedes would be about bomb proof, not so, and at age 16 she would be slowing down, again not so, she spun out from under me so fast I swear I hung in the air, like Wiley Coyote, a good three seconds. To make matters worse my feet didn’t immediately disengage from my stirrups.
Normally with Mercedes you can whisper “whoa” and she slams on the brakes hard enough I’m afraid I’m going through the windshield, but when my butt is on the ground and my feet are in the air she acts like she has never heard the word. Rationally, I know my feet slipped out in an instant though in the moment it seemed like a couple of lifetimes, however she did stop, I did get up and we did continue on. I wonder what kind of market there is for a half blind, opinionated, grouchy, hard keeping, old mare? Stuff like this only happens when there is someone there to impress.
Dave and Penny separated from me on a trail that would lead them back to Quinn Meadows and I continued on into the Three Sisters Wilderness.
The trail I rode is considered by many to be one of Oregon’s crown jewels. In the next 20 miles I would ride by many dramatic views, all three of the Sisters, the Wife, the Husband, Broken Top, Obsidian Falls and, the ever so fun to say, Opie Dildock Pass. As is so often the case, the prettier places tend to be the tougher places making for slow going.
The trail itself is one of the attractions. The cool, easy going, forested trail in the morning transitioned to rock and lava flows mid day and finishing off through Ponderosa Pine forest in the afternoon. This variety is what makes this area so popular. Everywhere the wild flowers color the landscape.
I’ve not seen as many people on the trail before as there were today. Though I personally chaff at the thought of regulating the back country, I am starting to come around that something must be done. There is a plan taking effect in a couple of years that will severely limit entry into the Three Sisters and other popular hiking locations. However enforcing existing regulations, particularly no groups of more than 12 people, I saw multiple group in the 20 to 40 range, would certainly do as much to relieve over use as adding further restrictions that are ignored.
One thing both Janis and I have noticed on this trip, starting in northern California is the amount of a certain type of butterfly, they could be moths, and I have always been a little foggy on the difference. At any rate there are thousands of them. They tend to pack up on the ground wherever there is the least bit of moisture. There can be several hundred of them in just a few feet of trail. These grounded packs will all take flight together with the minimal motivation. Dipping, diving flitting to and fro, everywhere you look butterflies in flight. You would think with this many butterflies that a decent picture could be had, but I’m here to tell you they are fast little buggers, very difficult to frame up. So I devised a plan, when I came upon a good sized group on the ground I would get the camera ready, then walk amongst them causing them to burst into flight and just start clicking picture, surely one of the would turn out.
August 1, 2017
Day 62, Scotts Pass to Santiam Pass to Triangle Lake HC, miles; 1980-2001-2049
Miles ridden; 26, trail time; 9:33, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 4706, maximum elevation; 6111, total ascent; 3679, total descent; 3577
This was the day we did the horse shuffle for a few days back. I wanted to use BG because she is not as sensitive to rocks as Mercedes and there would be plenty of rock today. Ever since Obsidian Falls the trail has been skirting or crossing lava flows. From Lava Lake on, the trail was in the lava beds for the next seven miles, slow going, Gary walking is slow going.
I had been through this portion of the PCT some years back and remembered the Lava beds as being a couple of miles of atrocious rocky trail, I didn’t remember the lava in the trees, that are now burnt. The part I remember wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered while the part I didn’t remember was worse. We did get through the lava and got back on good dirt trail. This section of trail, from Lava Lake to Santiam Pass is also very dry. It is about 19 miles through the lava without water, when we finally reached Santiam Pass Lake I thought BG was going to drink it dry.
Besides being rocky footing the lava absorbs the heat from the sun and radiates the heat back out, like a furnace, to smother man and beast. The hot rocks underfoot burn the feet, while the heat in the air bakes the soul. I can only imagine how difficult it was herd cattle or to transport goods through here with horse drawn wagons. The early settlers were made of sterner cloth than I.
Most of the trail around Mt. Washington has been burnt, finding the elusive unmarked trail to George Lake as the way is pretty clear without all the trees obscuring the route. One part of the mountainside that escaped unscathed is on the west side and has the meadow with the clear view of the mountain.
In due time I met up with Janis at Santiam Pass, where we intended to spend the evening before riding on to the Pamelia Creek Trailhead. We were informed he PCT has been closed at Mt. Jefferson due to forest fire. We saw a forest ranger pull up in his pickup to update the forest fire information board at Santiam Pass. The next trailhead north of us that is accessible with the truck and trailer is near Ollalie Lake, Triangle Horse Camp. Janis and I are pulling up stakes and moving tonight. I was looking forward to riding through the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness as in my opinion it is as good as riding gets in Oregon. There is talk among some of the hikers about going through despite the closure; however I don’t want to be the one that might cause the expenditure of emergency services that should be used to fight the fire. Best to skip this section and ride another day.
The road into Ollalie Lake is pretty rough. Pulling the trailer 5 mph is about top speed, even then one is thrown about the cab of the pickup as you navigate the potholes. We did get to camp in due time and had just gotten set up when a car pulled in a couple with back packs got out and the car drove off. The couple was part of the German Group we had met at Ash Camp way back in June. They had been taking some zero days in Bend and had taken an Uber from there around the fires. I bet there is one Uber driver that won’t be so quick to bring his new car to Ollalie Lake.