PCT DAY 25: Thursday July 20, 2017
Mile 2108.9 – Mile 2144.1
35.2 miles (56.3 km)
I was so happy that I made the long uphill from Muddy River at the end of yesterday. I camped at a trail junction on top of Lolo Pass and this morning had a long sweet downhill to the pass.

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Soon after I left my campspot I could see through the trees that the sunrise was streaking the sky brilliant shades of red,  pink and blue. I got so excited I ran for a bit hoping for a break in the trees so I coud see the sky fully. No luck, the forest just went on and on. I could see the surroundings were shrouded in mist and the sun was trying to break through.

I reached into to the very modern song list  that has been going through my head and sang a song from my favourite musical Oklahoma – ‘Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I have a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way’.

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And it was a beautiful morning. On this day last year Hammer and I were in Ashland. Hammer was getting ready to go back on trail and I was grounded,  feeling crushed by the disappointment that my hike for the year was over. And here I am a year later,  almost done with Oregon and it’s my birthday. So lets see how this optimism of a beautiful (birth)day and everything going my way pans out.

Where I got glimpses of the surrounding valleys and distant mountains it looked like a heavy mist was descending. The sun was trying to break through and eventually gave up letting the mist turn into low clouds. Walking under trees drops of water were falling on me – not sure it can be called rain when it falls from trees not the sky. It was a silent morning hiking through the mist on beautiful soft trail lined by exquisite floral display.  Going back up from Lolo Pass I could see the base of Mt Hood in the distance with the top covered in clouds. It was a morning of hiking up and down with my jacket and gloves coming on for the downhills and off for the uphills.  The silence was beautiful especially as the mist brings your focus very close in. The flowers demanded my attention with their  splendour and I stopped way too many times to take yet one more picture. It’s like a compulsion,  I can’t help myself. The burst of life after the heavy winter is short and prolific.   It feels so special to be here to witness this busy time in the life of plants.

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Getting close to lunchtime,  shafts of sunlight pierced through the mist and it started to lift. Birds started to twitter and I stopped right on trail, in an exposed rock-field, to have lunch and soak in the sun.  It is strange in hindsight when I look at my pictures that while having lunch I did not notice the plumes of smoke rising from the valley below.
It was minutes after leaving my lunch spot, right before  the turnoff for the trail to Indian Mountain, that what looked like a very big bowling ball came tumbling downhill and across my path. It was only as it straightened up that I realised it was baby bear. Holley dooley…where is mumma bear, was my first thought.  I stood frozen waiting to see if mumma would follow.  I realised that mumma bear was most likely downhill and baby was running towards her.  So lucky mumma didn’t have to come looking for her baby.
So that was pretty special – a baby bear only a couple metres in front of me. My closest bear encounter.

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Within minutes I reached the Eagle Creek Trail turnoff. Almost all PCT hikers take this alternative to the PCT.  Talking to  Claudia and Lady Bug yesterday, they mentioned that they thought the Eagle Creek trail may be closed due to fire.  I did see a fire closure notice on the PCTA website while I was in Bend. But at that time it was difficult for me to work out how the closure affected the PCT or the alternative trail. Anyhow we agreed that if the trail was still closed when we got to it, that there would be notices at the trailhead. I got to the Indian Springs Trail and realised that it becomes the Eagle Creek Trail about 2 miles down a very steep track.  There were no notices about a closure or  tape blocking access at the trailhead,  so I assumed it was OK to continue. As I descended a very difficult downhill I could smell smoke.  I reached the junction with the Eagle Creek trail and still no notices although the trail back to Wahtun Lake and the PCT had tape across it. So I proceeded, the smoke got thicker and I got more concerned.  This can’t be right but I really couldn’t face the prospect of going back up that perilous slope. It was about 4 miles in that I was absolutely certain that I should not have been here. The smoke was closer to the ground and was heavy. I soaked a cloth in water and used it to breathe through so as not to inhale too much smoke. I knew from seeing how the smoke was drifting as I descended that the trail would pass through a valley where the smoke was being concentrated by the wind.

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And the trail eventually would eventually pass upwind of the smoke as it entered the Eagle Creek Gorge.  And it was only here at the switchback that I saw a note torn from a small note pad – warning about trail closure due to fire, dated July 10th. The tape across was mostly torn down. I was committed, I could not turn back as at this point as I was through the worst of the smoke.  I started to get angry, as up the trailhead to the Indian Springs trailhead were parked what looked like two private fire fighting pick-up trucks. The fact that they were there and the trail was not blocked gave me confidence that the trail was open. Anyhow the drama of the fire was behind me as I entered the gorge. Although I could see way above me where the forest had burnt right to the edge of the gorge and  small flames could still be seen still burning. I was relieved that I made I made it upwind of the fire as I entered the gorge.

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And to my surprise within minutes I was standing in front of the astonishing Tunnel Falls. The roar of a shear wall of water tumbling down was incredible. And even more so, the fact that the trail passes through a tunnel underneath the falls. I stood transfixed for some time  before proceeding to walk underneath the falls. Simply spectacular, I can see why this is such a popular tourist destination.

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There were other beautiful cascading waterfalls along the creek but all pale  in comparison. I proceeded to walk north and about a mile further saw my first official trail closure notice – it was aimed at people coming from the Cascade Locks direction.

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I started to pass more and more daytrippers heading out to the falls. At this point I really just wanted the hike to be over. I was safe and back in civilisation, my feet hurt especially on the rocky trail. All I could think about was having a shower,  soaking my feet in ice and lying down on clean sheets. That had to wait another agonising slow three and half hours before I made it to the Bridge of the Gods and the end of the Oregon section of the PCT.  I got a motel room, went to the market and bought a salad and some Ginger Kombucha, which I’ve been dreaming about. Clean and showered, I sat in bed under crispy linen sheets and celebrated my epic birthday. So the song I sang in the morning did really come true… it was a wonderful day and everything did go my way.

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