THE LONG GOODBYE TO MT JEFFERSON
PCT DAY 21: Sunday July 16, 2017
Mile 2016 – Mile 2037.7
21.7 miles (34.7km)
I always thought my first night alone on trail would be hard, so I was surprised to fall asleep despite the howling wind, long before hiker midnight last night. I woke up a bit later to see a star filled sky above me, lights of a distant town down in the valley below and the wind still unabated. It was drops of water on my face that woke me again much later. No stars were visible…damn it’s raining. The prospect of getting up and putting the fly on filled me with dread. It was 2am, it was windy and cold. It was only when I fully woke and looked outside the tent that I realised my surroundings were enveloped in a really thick mist. And the rain drops were just condensation inside the tent. Relieved that did not have to get up, I drifted in and out of sleep listening to the wind whistling through the trees. Coming awake fully around 5, there was no prospect of a visible sunrise.
The mist hung heavy as I broke camp. It was very quite and earie. By the time I was ready to leave the sun tried to break through without visible success. I headed off at 6am and pretty soon had to get my microspikes on. While the snow was mostly crunchy underfoot, there were areas that were really icy. As I descended off the mountain I was camped on the sun finally started to break through. It was a magical sight being above the mist.
Most of the morning was very silent and still. Reminded me of the Robert Service poem:
…the silence that fills me with wonder, … the stillness that fills me with peace.
It’s what I love about early dawn hours – the total silence and stillness. These thoughts and words were going through my head as I left the snow behind on the long descent to Pamella Lake Junction. At the bottom of the valley there are views straight up Waldo Glacier.
I crossed Mill Creek and soon came upon a large PCTA work crew clearing the overgrown trail. I was so happy to see other people. We chatted for a bit and I commenced what would become a huge afternoon of climbing towards Mt Hood Wilderness. The crew told me there was German couple, who were PCT hikers, just in front of me. I was so pleased to learn there was someone else heading north nearby. Anyhow in less then an hour I met up with the German couple who were stopped by a couple of Forest Rangers inspecting PCT permits. They also asked to see mine. The poor German guy couldn’t find his – his pack was all unpacked and he was rifling through papers.
I left them hoping to see them again down the track. Super charged by seeing other people I approached the Russel Creek crossing, coming up in less then 2 miles. Plenty of time to get really anxious and start the adtenaline pumping. Hammer told me that last year he though this creek ranked with some of the Sierra Creeks. It is formed by the mellting of Mt Jefferson glacier. As I approached it I could hear the roar of water down a very narrow rock wall canyon. And to my great relief there was a group of about 20 Outward Bound students who just finished crossing southbound. They showed me the location where the Forest Rangers had earlier shown them to cross.
I made it without a problem but I can’t say my heart was not racing.
The trail that leads to Mt Hood Wilderness follows the western foothills of Mt Jefferson and is uphill for over 8 miles. It took me most of the afternoon to hike with the appearance of the peak of Mt Jefferson to the south constantly changing as I moved away. I crossed paths with dozens of southbound day hikers in this section. They seem to be coming from all directions. Again so great to see other people out enjoying this beautiful Sunday. It felt like there was a party in the foothills of Mt Jefferson and I was the only one walking away.
It was almost 4 pm when I last saw the Mt Jefferson peak to the south and entered the Mt Hood Wilderness. Mt Hood stood alone to the north, although I could barely make out the top of Mt Adams and probably also Mt St Helens in the afternoon haze. Several times through the day I wondered what Hammer was doing now. I knew he was on a plane for most of the morning and should have landed just after 2pm here. By the time I first saw Mt Hood on todays hike, Hammer should have been arriving in his office. I’m sure he would have loved this view.
Once inside the Mt Hood Wilderness Area the trail was a long snow covered downhill. The terrain was quite gentle and there were good footsteps in the snow to follow, so navigation was not a problem. Where the trail was uncovered it was flowing like a creek. It was now after 5pm, I was getting tired and my feet were wet. I decided to stop at the first spot I came to after I crossed the road that leads to Breitenbush Lake.