At the junction of Highway 140 and the PCT, Swiss Army and I stopped for a few moments while I fished in my backpack for my rain cover. Returning to the trail after running his errands, Swiss Army knew he would be at least two days behind me, and was concerned about catching up with me to return the new backpack rain cover. I told him that I would be taking two days off in Bend when my wife and daughter came to visit me, and I was confident we would find each other there.
On the north side of Highway 140, I entered Sky Lakes Wilderness, and a quick glance at my map explained the reason for the name; the land was dotted with numerous small bodies of water, all the way to Crater Lake. I only walked a few miles farther after taking leave of Swiss Army and camped at Christi's Springs. Along the way, I passed numerous trail junctions, many of which I wish I had time to explore. One went to McLoughlin, a relatively young volcano, and only three and a half miles west of the PCT. A hiker could leave his/her pack and make the round-trip to the summit and back in only a few hours.
Christi's Springs was off the trail just a bit, so I set my pack down and took only my water containers to the spring. Back on the trail, and a hundred yards from the spring was a small campsite, and here I stayed for the night. Storytime was just leaving as I arrived. It was only six in the evening and he said he wanted to make a few more miles before quitting for the day. There was a small chance of rain tonight, so rather than suffer the consequences of poor judgment, I put up my tent and was well rewarded for my preparation; it rained hard all night long.
Just as I finished erecting my tent, Prophet stopped by my camp. I invited him to stay, but he, like Storytime, chose to move on. I asked him if he stayed at the Brown Mountain Shelter last night, and he said he did. He related that just as he was entering the cabin site, he scared away a big brown bear that was sniffing about the area.
Before leaving camp this morning, I put on my North Face rain pants, not that it was cold, but I knew that my pants and legs would become soaked from walking through the wet vegetation adjacent to the trail.
Shortly after breaking camp and hiking for an hour, I passed the southern end of the Red Lake Trail that headed off to the left and skirted the east side of Red Lake before rejoining the PCT. A few miles beyond was the junction of an alternative trail to the PCT – the beautiful Sky Lakes Trail that passed in and around a number of small lakes before rejoining the official PCT via the Snow Lake Trail at mile 1,804. I learned later that Cookie, who was perhaps a half day ahead of me, took the Sky Lakes Trail, and commented that it was a beautiful section of trail to travel.
The trail meandered across fairly level ground until it was time to climb the steep grade up to Shale Butte and Lucifer Ridge; and then it was onto Devil’s Peak and a descent to the lowland region of the Seven Lakes Basin. (Lucifer Ridge, Devil’s Peak – who names these places?)
Honeymoon Creek was a frog’s paradise, and the ground along the trail was covered with tiny, brown jumping frogs that reminded me of Mexican jumping beans. Some were not too swift and had a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up becoming one with Mother Earth again.
In quick succession, I passed around the base of Maude, Ethel, and Ruth Mountains – the naming of these mountains must have an interesting story, and camped just beyond Jack Spring Trail at mile 1,817. Several miles before making camp, I passed Runs-with-Elk who I found sitting on the trail having a bite to eat. She was just preparing to leave, so I waited for her and we walked together until reaching camp.
Since leaving Christi's Springs this morning, I had walked twenty-five miles, and I was plenty tired and very desirous of finding a place to bed down for the night. My map indicated that there was a camp at the Jack Spring Trail area, so that’s where I was heading. However, I knew there was at least one hiker ahead of Runs-with-Elk and me, and when we passed a flat place down off the side of a hill, I told Elk to go ahead and take the camping spot at the Jack Spring Trail if the other hiker wasn’t there, and I would go down the slope and camp in the flat place that we both could see through the trees. I told her I would see her on the trail in the morning.
As Elk headed on up the trail, I left the trail and began walking down the slope, sidestepping dead fallen tree branches until reaching the level ground I had seen from the trail up the hill.
From my camping spot tonight, it was only eleven miles to Mazama Village – the store, post office, and campground associated with Crater Lake. That was still five hours of walking for me, so I wanted to get there as quickly as possible to retrieve my resupply package and still have time for a meal at the restaurant. I set my internal clock for 4:00 a.m., and the next morning I was ready to leave by 4:30 a.m.
It was blacker than black around my campsite this morning; not even the stars were shining. I placed my Mountain Hardwear hat on my head, pulled it down tight over my ears, and turned on the headlamp that was sewn to the front of the hat, and started up the hill towards the trail. In only a few feet, I realized, with some panic rising in me, that I didn’t know precisely where the trail was located.
What I took for uphill climbing, may actually have been side hill climbing; I took a few dozen steps more, hoping I would recognize that the direction I was moving in would lead me towards the trail. But again, I couldn’t say for certain – the vegetation, the ground cover, the dead trees, it all looked the same, and the panic volume rose a little higher.
I decided to retreat back to where I made camp for the night and wait for it to get light; surely then, I thought to myself, I would be able to get my bearings and find the trail. I started back, but my headlamp was too weak to put out much of a beam, and in the dimness of the light, everything looked the same.