The Life of a PCT Thru-hiker: Oregon Edition

When a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker reaches Oregon it’s like putting on a fresh pair of trail runners. The air feels full of fresh oxygen (no stinky foot odor), the trail itself seems smoother, and the uphills are no big deal. Hikers that reach Oregon usually have one thing on their mind: it’s time to cruise! Remember, the mornings are meant for cooking miles, not oatmeal! When thru-hikers talk about hiking 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 miles in a single day, they’re usually bragging about some stretch they did in Oregon. There are two well-known trail challenges that some people embrace. The first one is to hike the entire state (450 miles) in 14 days, and the second challenge is to hike as many miles as possible within 24 hours.

We did neither challenge. But ended up hiking Oregon in a casual 16 days.

Crater Lake

Photo by Amos Almy.

Sure, this is a state for hiking big miles, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty along the way. Crater Lake is one of our most memorable experiences on trail. To get to the viewpoint, you trudge uphill through a green tunnel, wondering when you’ll finally catch a glimpse. Once you break out of the trees, there’s this sandy walk to the caldera rim and GASP – before you is the bluest blue you have ever blued.

Tuna Butter hates walking on sand, absolutely despises it, but he was able to set that aside to walk the Rim Trail, catching amazing views of the lake. If you follow this alternate route (which you should), you’ll find yourself falling into step with national park visitors and day hikers. Can they smell you? Yes, most definitely. But at this point into the trail, what others perceive of you no longer matters.

Calypso eating lunch by ze lake. Photo by Amos Almy.

Mosquitoes

Oregon may have “flat” and easy terrain, but one thing that makes it excruciatingly difficult (at least in 2019) are the dang mosquitoes! Don’t believe us? Watch the video below.

Tuna Butter grew up in Maine, where the mozzies are known to be a pain, and we’d both spent time in Alaska. Yet – YET – hiking in Oregon offered some of the worst mosquito encounters either of us has ever experienced. Normally, you can hike fast enough to where them skeets can’t keep up. This was not the case… All day we were swatting them away from our faces, arms, and legs while huffing and puffing up and down hills. And guess what, all the little resort shops in the area, every single one, was sold out of headnets and bug spray. We were at the mercy of these blood suckers. Taking a break, whether it was for food, water, bathroom, rest, whatever was torture. We took to setting up the mesh part of our tent just to eat lunch. Whenever you stopped in one spot, a thick gray cloud of these things would swarm and attack any available flesh. There were many sweaty moments of wearing rain gear in full sun just to keep them off.

Photo by Amos Almy.

Fortunately, not all of Oregon was this horrendous – only about 200 miles of trail that was deemed the “Skeeter Dome.” For us it was between Fish Lake Resort and Elk Lake Resort.

Here’s our tip: be prepared! Headnets make a serious difference in your quality of life. It allows you to keep them off your face when you stop or hike. We had to order this type of gear online and ship it to a resort store. We also recommend some lightweight long sleeve clothing. Dawning our hot, clammy rain gear got real old real quick. Bug spray won’t cut it (we scored some trail magic DEET wipes and it hardly helped to keep the suckers off our legs). Calypso also carried a small tube of benadryl cream to apply to bites at night to relieve the itch and avoid waking up with huge scratches. We also discovered that mornings and evenings are actual living hell. In the middle of the day, the bugs would calm down. The worst happened as the day began to cool and we approached the “witching hour”. There was nothing to do but RUN to your next camp and hustle to get that tent up!

Many mosquitoes were harmed to capture this image. Photo by Amos Almy.

Big Lake Youth Camp

If you want to complete the Oregon Challenge, you’ve got to have your resupplies figured out ahead of time. There are less towns and more resorts along the trail, so a resupply box might be your best option. Otherwise, get ready for a long hitch. One place where we tried to save a half-day hitch to and from town was Big Lake Youth Camp. We decided to skip Sisters and Bend, OR. It’s only a short side trail to the church camp, and boy have they got quite the setup. We’re talking an outdoor company sponsored hiker hut, complete with hot showers, laundry, and wifi. Are you a fan of tour guide Barbie meets Seventh-day Adventist? Well, you’re in luck because that’s the vibe of 99% of their camp counselors! What about eating donation-based meals in a mess hall with hundreds of children? They’ve got you covered!

Three Fingered Jack, just outside of Big Lake Youth Camp. Photo by Amos Almy.

Unfortunately, we tried to resupply solely off peoples’ discarded items in the hiker box and a family member’s care package. And we would have starved… except that we ran into an amazing Trail Angel (and previous thru-hiker) who was giving away food in a trailhead parking lot. When she heard of our situation (and stupidity), we were handed many goodies. Don’t be like us – either send a box or catch a ride into town.

Three Sisters and Lava Fields

Photo by Amos Almy.

The northern part of Oregon is outstanding. Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the Sister Mountains greet you as you walk north (or south). However, be mentally prepared for the lava fields around the Three Sisters. By lava fields, I mean fields of lava rock that you have to trek through. The trail is easy to follow but this sandpapery rock loves to twist ankles and scrape skin. You will probably slow down to get through it but if you ever imagined what it’s like to walk on the Moon, this might be the closest you get.

Also, you might get caught in freakish hail storms and thunder.

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood. Photo by Amos Almy.

By this point in the trail, hiker hunger is real and all-consuming. We’d try to eat about 5-6,000 calories a day. Then you start to hear rumors from fellow hikers about the legendary all you can get breakfast buffet at Timberline Lodge. The thought of a massive bfast spread causes drooling at all hours of the day. Some thru-hikers will time their miles so they can arrive to Mt. Hood at night or early in the morning. When you are faced with hiking 38 miles to get there you can either a) split that up into 25 miles one day, 13 miles the next and arrive after the buffet ends, or b) hike 38 miles in one go, arrive to camp the night before, and then eat like a champion the next morning. Don’t you see which one is the obvious choice?

The Timberline Lodge. Photo by Amos Almy.

The buffet includes thick pancakes, waffles, all the breakfast meats you can imagine (including ham), eggs, biscuits, yogurt, smoothies, fresh fruit, cereal, oatmeal (like who would eat that??), quiches, croissants, and plenty more. And no, this is not continental breakfast. We’re talking quality hipster food like carrot cake pancakes and a waffle bar complete with fancy dollops of whipped cream. Easily one of the most epic meals on trail. Remember to take a nap afterwards before you start to hike again. It’s important to let your body recover from eating non-dehydrated, unprocessed meals. Our bodies can only handle so much…

In our next post we’ll talk about the much beloved state of WASHINGTON! Woo-hoo. Stay tuned.

~ Tuna Butter and Calypso

2 thoughts on “The Life of a PCT Thru-hiker: Oregon Edition

  1. I was going to comment asking how Amos became Tuna Butter, but after reading through your posts I see the tuna & peanut butter wraps… Amos, bro, c’mon. Does he still eat those?

    Additionally, how did Amos NOT take a picture of your food at Timberline?! He snaps all the mountains in nature but not the mountains on your plates?!

    I don’t know if these will fully inspire me to do what you two are doing (which is impressive), but I enjoy reading the posts. Keep it up.

    • I definitely still eat those! I’m glad to hear you remember my obsession with tuna and peanut butter. I believe Slade tried it and said “it wasn’t that bad”.

      This is a great question and we suspect we were too excited to eat and didn’t think about taking a photo. We regret it now. I remember eating a ton of food and then 3 hours later feeling hungry again and wishing I was still there to eat more.

      Glad you’re enjoying it! Hopefully we can keep the motivation up for more posts. -Amos

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