Day 112: Crater Lake!

Day 112
August 8
26.2 miles

As much as I did not want to, I had to get out of my sleeping bag and make my way out of my tent at 12:30 in the morning to pee. I was SO tired in the morning, but got up at 6:30 anyway. Again, I had to pee before I even ate my breakfast! How unusual! I took the time to cook some oatmeal and then boiled water for a second time for my much needed coffee. While I was packing up, a hiker came by from a different path than I had taken last night. It was Purple Haze. He must have taken the road back to the PCT.
I headed out at 7:53, concerned about finding the trail as it turned off onto the “new PCT” which wound the rim of Crater Lake. My guidebook made me think that it was easy to miss. I was surprised to come across several small streams within the first couple of miles and stopped to collect some very cold water at one of them. While I sat beside the stream filtering the water in the damp woods, I noticed wads of wet toilet paper around me!
I headed on without any problem finding the correct path to take. The day was cool and overcast. While in the woods, I saw two large weasels scamper across the trail! They moved too quickly for me to take a picture, but I was grateful that I got to see these creatures! They would take a couple of running steps, then spring into the air, and again, run, run, spring! The trail climbed and the mosquitoes once again came out. When I reached a paved road, I noticed that I had two fresh, symmetrical bites on the back of my thighs, just under my skirt line! As usual, I was confused about where to go when I hit the road. I took out my GPS and kept my eye on it as I walked ahead. I reached a stonewall near a parking lot and saw a few people out for a stroll. I knew there was a water pump near this area, off the trail, but I had already filled up and did not need anymore. However, I saw a couple of buildings and assumed one of them must be a restaurant! That was worth checking out! First, I headed over to the stonewall to see what the people were looking at. My jaw dropped as I saw my first view of Crater Lake! Although the sky was filled with gray clouds, it was a magnificent, unexpected sight to me. A few tears welled up in my eyes as I realized I had just walked over 1,830 miles to see this! Wow!
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Then, my mind returned to the hope of some warm breakfast! I headed over to the main building, dropped my pack inside the doors, and found a gift shop and small take-out cafeteria. It was enough for me. I bought a microwavable breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and coffee, and felt so happy sitting inside eating it! I took out my maps and tried to figure out which way the trail went as I sat at the table. It seemed pretty easy to follow. Surprisingly, the food wasn’t hurting my stomach too much! I used the restroom and headed back out to the lake, hoping someone could take my picture. The people there seemed too occupied with their own group, so I moved on. I laughed out loud at the realization that I could be stuck in the lab right now, being made to tell people who will never listen, what to do. Or, I could be right here, looking at the natural wonder of the deepest lake in the United States after walking the entire length of the state of California!
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I kept stopping to take pictures of the changing viewpoints as I walked along the rim.
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The trail climbed, then dropped back down to the road, and then re-entered the woods. It was not marked, so a large part of my focus was always checking to see if I was still on the trail. A couple headed my way through the wooded part of the trail and the woman said she was impressed by me! I think she mentioned all of the weight I was carrying. At the points along the roads, I saw many more people who drove there, got out of their car to take a quick photo or two and then got back in. Several times, I hoped that they would stay long enough to take a picture of me in front of the lake, but they always seemed to jump back into their vehicles too quickly. Tumbleweed had talked about how strange National Parks are and I agreed. They feel like the city to me, teeming with people, most of whom seem to seek a quick and easy form of gratification. As a thru-hiker, they are the places where I feel the most anonymous and the most unseen. No one knows what I am doing or how far I have just walked.
A couple of hours later, I reached the busiest overlook point. I was finally able to ask someone if they could take my picture. I threw my arms in the air, as I posed, and said, “I just walked 1,830 miles!” to which I received no response. Maybe I wasn’t heard, or maybe there was a language barrier. Or maybe it just wasn’t a comprehensible statement. I walked down the pavement, re-slung my pack on my back and headed on. By now, I was tired of looking at this lake. I just wanted to get back onto the solitary trail and back into my own space. I still wasn’t done with the tourist section yet, though. Not knowing where the trail went, I climbed a steep hill where I thought the trail went. Nearby, there was another crowd of people in street clothes gazing at another view.
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I wanted to see what they were seeing, but then discovered I had already be seeing a similar view for the past couple of hours. I checked my GPS, dismayed that I had just wasted the time and energy to make this extra climb. I headed back down, mistakenly continued to follow the road up, and then turned back down, realizing that I needed to cross the road and finally head away from the lake.
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I saw a strange cloud formation in the sky that looked like a thunderhead. Hmmm… The trail went back into the woods and I came across a couple of people headed in the opposite direction, but none of them wanted to talk. I was just left to counting the number of miles I had left over and over in my head.
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Later in the afternoon, I heard thunder. I stopped to put on my pack cover and rain jacket. My maps and guidebook pages had mentioned an alternate route that went by Diamond Lake, where there was a pizza place and heated bathrooms. One of the early “trail angels” that I had had problems with advised hikers to stop here. Nowhere did it say how far off the trail it was. Another previous hiker had mentioned that it was a good place to collect water in this otherwise very dry stretch of trail. As the rain started falling, I imagined arriving there to find friendly hikers, a nice pizza dinner (something that I had barely had on this hike!), and a heated bathroom in which I could rinse my very dirty clothes. This scene kept my spirits boosted as I continued to walk in the rain, my energy decreasing with every mile. I came upon a stretch of trail with downed trees everywhere! Many of them had fallen across the trail. The terrain was fairly flat and I could see the line of trail stretched out in front of me with tree after tree laid across it. I felt like I was in a hurdle race!
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I made it to the road and then to the trail junction with the sign to Diamond Lake and the number 9 below it. 9? The lake couldn’t possibly be 9 miles away… It must be a half mile or less. Why had there been no mention of its distance from the trail? I decided to head down and see. I reached an outhouse and a parking area, but no one was around to ask. I took out my maps, studied them to the best of my ability, and realized that they did not cover the area that I needed them to! I only had an enlargement of the Diamond Lake area itself! And now I was just wasting my hiking time. I still couldn’t believe that the lake could be nine miles away. The hiker’s advice about stopping there for water would make no sense! There was a water source 8 miles ahead on the PCT! I decided to walk a bit and see if it appeared. After awhile, I realized that it probably was in fact 9 miles away and dejectedly decided to turn back. I had seen a couple of jugs of water back at the intersection and decided that I would at least be able to pick up some water there if there was any left. So much for the company, pizza, or bathrooms, however! I was mad that I had listened to someone’s advice that I had already learned not to trust. And I was mad that I had spent so much unnecessary energy and effort hiking useless miles, taking time away from my actual progress.
Fortunately, when I arrived back at the intersection that I had started from, I found a little remaining water in the few gallon jugs left by some former hikers. I sat and filtered it, collecting my calm before heading out again.
In a mile or two, I heard someone singing and strumming a guitar! It sounded nice. As I approached, he stopped. I looked over to see Tumbleweed sitting on a log with his tent already set up. It was 6:40. “Hey!” he said. I went over to chat with him for a moment. He said that Purple Haze had walked by a little bit ago and that he and I were the only hikers he had seen all day! I told him what had just happened, expressing my frustration. It helped to have someone to commiserate with. Tumbleweed looked so relaxed and calm. He was not at all worried about getting to Canada by the 17th, but I was still very stressed. Some of these guys made it look so much easier than it was for me! I told him I was going to keep going as I need to get in my miles in the evening since I can’t ever get up early! He waited until I was out of earshot to start singing again, to my dismay. I wished I could stick around and listen to him!
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After a couple more miles, I saw Purple Haze setting up his tent along the side of the trail. I had now started the next climb. The woods became more and more dense and there looked to be no possibilities to camp anywhere as it started getting dark! I started to worry and thought I might have to night hike. I had noticed that in the past four days, it had started to get dark noticeably earlier. Where I was once hiking until 8pm, I now found myself stopping closer to 7:30. I walked on, scanning the terrain, still seeing nothing but steep slopes covered in thick brush.
At 7:45, I finally spotted an area in which I could set up my tent alongside the trail. I breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, it all works out. I got to work on setting up my tent, which I had been greatly struggling with. Now that I was in need of it to protect me from the rain, I had to learn to work with it. We needed to learn how to get along! By the time I started cooking my disgusting pasta dinner, it was dark out. After I cleaned up and crawled into my sleeping bag, I heard my liner rip. Wonderful…. Was there anything I owned that was going to survive this journey? I still had well over 800 miles to hike!