The morning is damp and gloomy, no sign of sun. Six days now of wet feet in Oregon and only two without. I push myself toward the Olallie Lake store in mist that eventually becomes heavy enough for rain jackets that become too warm. It’s a gentle uphill, and I follow Autumn Leaves but can’t really match his long stride today. I have a hiking hangover from yesterday’s late arrival in camp and I feel stiff and generally off.
So I’m bumbling stiffly down the trail when a solo woman approaches headed North. We chat a bit about where we’ve been and how far we are going, about surviving last week’s weather and then it clicks: the orange pack cover and green jacket that I caught but a glimpse of while retrieving my food bag the morning of the snow day. I look down on shoes just a bit bigger than mine and realize that she, almost unbelievably, is the amazing human whose footprints gave me so much comfort in the storm last week. Her name is Olga, and she found the trail through the storm with only paper maps and her wits, unknowingly leading so many of us to safety. She made it all the way to Mazama Village that day, 30+ miles without stopping because of the cold. She is a runner (and winner) of ultra marathons and quite the inspiration. I give her the hug I have been carrying around for a week, my great thanks and credit for steering me and many others through the storm.The Olallie Lake store is tiny but stocked with pleasant surprises like chocolate soy milk, hiker box oranges and a most welcoming staff. Autumn Leaves hikes on, while I stay to stuff myself with an early lunch, then stumble alone up the trail in a food coma. A few miles in I use sock washing as an excuse for a break at a small lake, then full out stop for a nap at the next (turquoise Upper Lake deserves a return visit). The up I go, until my muscles remember how, until I am tired, but without stopping head uphill some more.
The surroundings are stunning, all green and rugged with bits of snow. Even the burn areas add to the experience, creating open space for big views otherwise hidden by the forest. I keep pausing for photos of distant snowy slopes, only to find myself walking through the very same scene a few hours later, like I’ve jumped into my own photograph.
Up near Park Ridge the ponds are still in the process of defrosting, and there are snow patches to navigate. A few clumps of bravely flowering heather are the only reminder that the world has not turned to black and white. I make my way following footprints, moving from cairn to bit of visible trail to cairn to footprints, until I spot Autumn Leaves at the top of the ridge. I have to go up there? I worry, looking across the snow and bare rocks. But this late in the day the snow is sticky-soft, and I confidently follow well-kicked steps straight up to the ridge. Just when I am feeling accomplished, two NOBO hikers gleefully boot ski down fearlessly.
This is Oregon at its most beautiful. Snowy slopes and big views, followed by flowery subalpine meadows of Jefferson Park, blooming with heather and paintbrush and buttercups. The only thing missing is the great peak that towers above unseen. Mount Jefferson is hidden in a swirl of clouds, like some all-powerful weather wizard caught up in his own spells.
The day ends at an idyllic mossy mountain creek lined with bear grass. I have my choice of many pleasant campsites among the trees, two occupied by SOBO friends, AL and mouse. Tomorrow, I hope to see more friends.
July 18, 2016