Mileage: 16.3, 21.6, 21.2, 23.1, 20.7
In this section we hiked from Big Lake Youth Camp (very near Santiam Pass) to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.
This section was actually quite difficult despite the relatively easy terrain and moderate grade.
There were two reasons for this:
1. We did more miles on average per day in this stretch than ever before.
2. The weather was absolutely terrible.
Really, the second reason was the key difficulty. Our first day getting out of Big Lake Youth Camp was quite hot and very dry, making water an issue and forcing us to carry a lot of it. The next day was more of the same, but was starting to cool off a bit.
Then, on the second night, the rain began and the misery started. By the next morning the rain hadn’t let up a bit and we were forced to just trudge on through.
We endured whiteout conditions, 40 degree temperatures, 40 mile per hour wind gusts (so strong that they blew us off the trail), and horizontal rain as we traversed the exposed slopes of Mt. Jefferson. That stretch is reportedly gorgeous, but it was more of a nightmare that day than anything else, which is a total bummer since I was really looking forward to Mt. Jefferson.
When we finally got back into the trees, the wind died down a bit but the rain didn’t slow for one second. These conditions continued for 48 hours, and spirits were quite low.
The dirty little secret that nobody tells you is that when it rains and you are backpacking, you get wet. I don’t care what kind of gear you have. If you aren’t getting wet from the rain itself, then you are getting wet from the sweat collecting inside your rain jacket (“waterproof breathable” rain gear is only marginally breathable, even in the best of circumstances).
So your choices are either warm and wet or cold and wet. Really the best you can do is just try and stay warm, and that was our daily struggle through this section. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it was not enjoyable while it was cold and raining for those two days.
By day 5, the clouds began to part and the rain finally broke. We got some incredible trail magic from Steve and Steady where the trail crosses Highway 26, maybe some of the best yet. Steady is a triple crowner (having hiked the PCT, the CDT, and the AT) and Steve is her husband and one man support crew while she hikes. When we arrived, Steve kept asking is we liked food item X, then, with the suspense of a true showman, would produce a tupperware container out of nowhere with said item inside. Rinse and repeat, with increasing suspense and drama. It was fantastic.
It started with two delicious donuts given to us by another passerby who had gotten into the spirit of things after seeing Steve in action. Then Steve stepped in and the show was his.
“Do you like nectarines,” he asked?
Why yes, yes I do! Nectarines appeared then disappeared just as quickly into our ravenous mouths.
“Do you like sodas, or Gatorade,” he then asks?
Yes we do!
“What kind” he asks?
What?! Caitlin gets a Dr. Pepper (her favorite) and I get a blue Gatorade.
“Do you like Subway sandwiches,” he asks?
Ok, this is getting ridiculous, I think, but sure enough he produces a veggie sub for Caitlin and a turkey sub for me! What!?
“Do you like Twix,” he asks.
Yes we do! A bin of candy bars comes out with predictable results…
“Do you like pie,” he asks.
What!? What?! Whaaaaat!??????
He produces a bin of mini pies and I have a pecan one and Caitlin has a blueberry.
This was all just craziness.
We thank him and Steady profusely and are about to leave when he says he has one more thing for us for the road! Out of his magic tupperware bin he produces a Snowball for me (look it up, it’s crazy) and some Hostess chocolate donuts for Caitlin.
We are simply floored by this incredible trail magic, and spend the next several miles of trail smacking our foreheads in disbelief.
Thank you Steve and Steady!
After a few more miles, we make it to our destination: Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. We had a box waiting for us there and made it in time to pick it up that night by doing almost 21 miles by 6:15pm! Pretty awesome if I may say so myself.
All in all, we manage four consecutive 20+ mile days, even with the difficult weather. I’m so proud of Caitlin for sticking in there even when things got tough. She is turning into a stronger hiker than I had ever imagined!
We spend a very cold night camping next to Timberline Lodge, but console ourselves with the knowledge that the next morning we will be eating at Timberline Lodge’s famous all you can eat breakfast buffet. We can’t wait!