My morning starts with Russell creek, the only notoriously dangerous water crossing in Oregon. It’s not especially wide or deep, but is steep and fast enough to make me pause, just wide enough to make rock hopping difficult. There’s an alternative: the snow bridge of uncertain death. A slowly crumbling patch of old snow covering the creek right where the trail crosses. There are footprints on top, a disconcertingly collapsed section where footprints used to be, and no way to tell how thick it is from this side.
So I stand at the creek wearing my only dry pair of socks and hesitate long enough to lose my rock hopping nerve. AL catches up and hops across, and seeing me pause goes to check out the snow bridge which he deems solid enough at the moment (it really could collapse at any time, but more likely later in the day when it gets melty). So across I go, taking a risk for dry feet.
These volcanic peaks are tricksters, playing hide and seek. I am starting to get suspicious that the clouds are parting behind my back, and then covering the mountain again when I turn around. Half reflections and partial views at my back, until late in the day when I’ve put in enough miles to make the peak shrink in the distance, Jefferson finally appears in all its glory.
I reach Rock Pile lake in the later afternoon, a green puddle with warm sun and Mouse with her tent all set up. It’s so hard to leave, and my reward for doing so is miles of old burn, with more downed trees, new scratches for my legs. But I am committed to these late day miles, pushing hard and performing what I imagine to be wilderness parkour over and around all the obstacles, though, blood dripping down my leg, I suspect the actual results are more awkward.I pause at small pond in the giant burn for last water, head uphill toward the nearest campsite. Hikers headed North tell me that AL is headed on seven more miles. I loop up at the looming mountain and think that there is no way I am getting that far this late in the day, it’s already after 6pm. But then I haven’t seen the views to come…
First, the burn area reveals big views of Jefferson to the North, then an exciting climb toward the red striped peaks of Three Fingered Jack, until I reach a proper pass, the top of the kind of hill that feels like an achievement, not an obstacle. The golden late day light makes all the colors irresistible, and I keep waking as the views unfold, wanting to take it all in. Stray clouds billowing over the peaks, golden-green meadows strewn with boulders, distant green hills of all shapes: perfect cones and flat-topped mesas. Lakes below reflect sunlight that is almost blinding. Three Sisters join the spectacle, slowing turning rosy as I continue on.
I’ve reached the camp equivalent of hangry, too tired to stop, and am getting all goldilocks about campsites: too burned (what if dead trees fall on me in the night); too creepy (abandoned hatchet + trash bag of wet clothes); too soggy…. And when I am really ready to stop anywhere, the messages come up the trail with a surprisingly large number of late in the day hikers. “Are you Fixie? Autumn Leaves is just ahead,” once, twice, three times. Until I catch AL in person, just as the full moon is rising at the end of a very long day.
July 19, 2016