Over the past few days poison oak has given way to holly and Oregon grape, brilliant chartreuse wolf lichen has begun to share trees with the more subdued old man’s beard. The dripping wet Douglas fir forest feels so much like home in British Columbia. And it smells like Christmas trees.
Just when things are starting to feel comfy and familiar, the trail changes dramatically. I find myself walking a red lava rock path traversing massive jumbles of jagged dark grey lava fields. No danger of losing the trail here, it is carved and painted with stone into the landscape, the amount of work required to make such a smooth passage is as staggering as the red-grey contrast is striking.
At highway 140 I reluctantly pass on the two mile detour to hot food at Fish Lake, with hopes of making up for the miles I stopped short yesterday (because warm cabin). And I want to take advantage of the fact that it is not currently raining, though my shoes are soaked just the same from all the wet vegetation. I cross the pavement with trepidation. Not because of the traffic, but rather because according to my trail notes this is the gateway to mosquito hell. Bring all the DEET you can carry and a gun to shoot yourself, reads my guidebook.
At least the wet and unseasonably cool weather is keeping the bugs from approaching suicidal levels. I am not instantly eaten alive, though as promised, mosquitoes become more persistent the further I walk into the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
My passage toward bug-aggeddon is slowed rather dramatically by hundreds upon hundreds of fallen trees across the trail. Lest you think I am exaggerating, I count 64 downed trees to weave under over around in the first mile after highway 140 alone. In places there are more trees down than standing, half the world tipped over as if there’s been a brutal, high-casualty battle over which way is up. And so I walk, and weave and climb through a horizontal forest.
At 5pm I leave the last water source for the day, trading good company for miles, a move that likely only makes sense to thru hikers. I am wearing my rain pants and jacket, and almost shivering. The evening wind is so icy here up above 6,000 feet that the prediction of snow near Crater Lake tomorrow might just become reality, though I don’t realize yet just how challenging the next day will be.
I walk faster against the cold, passing up sad, soggy looking campsites, struggling past ever more tangles of downed trees, branches impeding forward motion. On this dark day, the stunted, lichen-draped forest seems haunted. Even the birds sound ominous. So I carry on hoping for less creepy surroundings, finally setting up my tent near two others at a trail junction, relieved I won’t have to spend the night alone in this sideways world.
July 9, 2016