As we hiked toward Fish Lake, three horses and riders were coming along just as we had stepped over a small log across the trail. There are horse camps at various places along the PCT, and the PCT is graded for horses and hikers. Like any other area with usage by different categories of users, hikers and horsepeople are sometimes a bit at odds. The riders greeted us as we stepped aside to let them go on, but as we started up again the middle horse started bucking and having a fit when he saw that he would have to step over the log. The rider kept her seat admirably and managed to calm the horse down after a very long few seconds, as we watched from where we had stepped as far off trail as we could. We kept quiet and didn’t move so we wouldn’t make the horse more upset. They finally rode off and we were glad not to see them again! This is my concern about horses on the trail – the trail is usually narrow and there are many obstacles, horses are very big and often unpredictable, and sometimes there is no place to escape from an equine stampede! It’s always a relief when we pass horses without incident.
On the PCT in this section most of the PCT emblems are worn off the metal markers. We have come to recognize a blank, white metal diamond on a tree as marking the path of the PCT. On much of our hike we were entertained by graffiti that people had written on the diamonds, such as “Be a traveler, not a tourist,” “Just be kind,” “Born to be wild,” and other encouraging or just silly sayings. Some of them are even like the old Burma Shave signs and make a verse as you go along!
We soon came into Klum Landing Campground at Howard Prairie Lake, a large tent campground sort of in the middle of nowhere. Comments on the FarOut app said the campground had clean restrooms and showers but was mostly deserted, and we thought, “Clean restrooms and picnic tables? We’re in!” We got to the camp before anyone else did and picked a site near the restroom. The restroom was indeed clean and new, and well stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, and soap! (We didn’t check the showers but supposedly they were also quite nice.) There were no car-campers at all, a few cars pulled into the parking lot here and there but none of them stayed. We weren’t sure why the restroom was so well taken care of (I suppose just in case campers came in) but we appreciated it very much! More hikers came after we got there. A man in a pickup truck came around looking for a “tall blonde” while we were in our tents. He said he had some new food for a girl hiker because she wasn’t going to be cooking food anymore while hiking. It sounded a bit nonsensical and we thought it might have been just as well he didn’t find the girl. He said her name was Pepper.
Other than getting scraped and dinged going over logs, we weren’t too much the worse for wear by the time we got to Fish Lake. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land we walked through after Hyatt Lake was 10.5 miles of downed trees. We hit a number of log “nubbins” (what used to be a branch sticking out of a tree, now a short sharp thing sticking out in every inconvenient place on a log one has to go over) and one took a chunk out of my leg. During another log crossing I hit one and it HURT, and I told Marnie I was going to say a bad word. I managed not to, but only by the grace of God!
A lady we met both at Callahan’s and Hyatt Lake told us that the trail is better maintained in the National Forest and once we reached the Rogue River National Forest sign there wouldn’t be so many blowdowns. She was right, and it definitely made for must faster going. Marnie fell on the trail and “left a dent in it”, getting a skinned knee and leg and a bruise on her hip. I tripped on a step (I had gone up successfully many times before) going up into the cabin at Hyatt Lake and hit the deck and skinned my knee, wrenched a muscle in my back, and bumped some ribs. Thankfully, we hiked the 8 miles of lava flows between Hyatt Lake and Fish Lake without losing our balance, although I think it meant that I missed some nice views of Mt. McLaughlin and Mt. Ashland because I was concentrating on my feet so much. If you fall in the lava, at least part of you will land on a pointy rock. In fact, without a miracle all of you would land on a pointy rock. The trail maintainers have made a trail through it, but it is all either small rocks or medium rocks instead of dirt. Thru-hikers just glide over it, but hiking through the miles of lava was exhausting for us because we felt like we needed to watch every step. We were glad there were small shaded forest “reprieves” where we could rest a bit before tackling the next lava flow. I did wear my bug head net through the lava, though, because the bugs insisted on flying in my face and buzzing my ears which drives me bonkers, and I didn’t want to lose my footing because I was gesturing wildly at some insect! The lava flows were the most eventful part of the walk from Hyatt Lake to Fish Lake, so much of this is about our time at Fish Lake.
We arrived at the junction of the PCT and the Fish Lake trail and found a good sitting log to rest on there, glad to be done hiking through that lava! One trail goes two miles to Fish Lake, and the other way goes six miles to Lake O’ the Woods Resort. A thru-hiker couple came by who were also going to spend some time at Fish Lake, and we said we’d see them there later and continued our little rest time. We had been rationing our water all day since there was no water source between our campsite and Fish Lake, so we finished it up knowing we only had two miles until we could get all the soda we wanted, ha. Marnie and I both had to use the “ladies room”, and had to walk up the less traveled trail towards Lake O’ the Woods to find a spot. I walked up aways and took a spot behind a shrub, but there weren’t a lot of private spots to choose from. In the middle of things I heard a noise and looked up, and there was a bicycle coming down the trail! I was, in the least, mortified! I hunkered down as far as I could, but the colors of my sunshirt are so bright I was certainly visible, and I’m sure the cyclist was aware of what was “going” on. Thankfully he just looked politely ahead and continued down the trail, and I put myself back together and hurried back to the junction. I sincerely hoped the cyclist was staying at Lake O’ the Woods and wouldn’t be coming back to Fish Lake, and I was glad that I could change into my “town clothes” at the resort and therefore not be recognized just in case he did come back in our direction!
The trail from the PCT to Fish Lake is a joy to walk on, two miles of wide, graveled path with only a couple of hills to go up. Once again we zipped up the trail, in anticipation of a good lunch this time and in hopes of getting a cabin for the night. We arrived on Thursday instead of Friday, and I had been praying the whole day that we could get a cabin with a bathroom to stay in Thursday night so we could get our showers in our own private bathroom instead of having to use the “communal” shower. I never know what to do with my feet in those things. Do I stand directly on the shower floor? (Ick.) Do I wear my Crocs in and then just stand on top of them so I can wash my feet, and then have to put my feet in my wet Crocs to walk back to the cabin? (Also ick.) We didn’t have to answer that question though, as God answered, “Yes,” to my prayers and someone had checked out early and left Cabin 5 available to us. We had to wait a couple of hours for the cabin to be cleaned, so we had some BLTs and curly fries and milkshakes for lunch on the restaurant deck and talked to the couple we had seen at the junction. They were busy planning their resupply and their next few stops.
When the cabin was ready we gleefully scampered up to it and took our showers! You see, Fish Lake’s “rustic” cabins that we had reserved for Friday and Saturday nights don’t have bathrooms. They do have a little kitchen area with cold running water and a fridge, so at least one can wash one’s face and brush one’s teeth, but we needed showers and the private bathroom was such a blessing! God takes good care of us! (We had cleverly brought the tiny bottles of shampoo and tiny bars of soap with us from the cabin at Hyatt Lake, just in case there were no amenities like that at Fish Lake, and it was a good thing we did. There wasn’t even any soap for the shower!)
We enjoyed our time at Fish Lake, even though there was a heat wave going and the resort doesn’t supply any fans in the cabins. (This is made clear on their website.) Both days it was 90 degrees out already at around 10:30 a.m. Cabin 5 had a screen door so we could let the evening air in until bedtime and a covered porch where we could sit as the air cooled a bit, and we each kept a cold washcloth near us or on us to try to keep cool. The rustic cabin did not even have a screen door, so we opened the windows (except the one over the bed, which had a big crack in it mended with packing tape) and attempted to sleep. By the time we were both awake in the morning the cabin had finally cooled off enough to be comfortable. Unfortunately we both had to go to the bathroom in the night, but we walked there together and the road was very well lit. Neither of us likes to wander around by ourselves after dark.
We spent most of our time relaxing on the deck sending and receiving messages from our InReach satellite devices (no cell signal at the lake except AT&T) and just watching the people who were coming to the lake, which was most populated on Saturday. People brought their stand-up paddleboards, boats, kayaks, and unicorn floaties and had a great time beating the heat in the lake. There were many dogs paddling around as well and I was glad to see they all had life jackets to keep them safe. The view of the lake from the deck is partially blocked by trees, so we didn’t get photos of the lake-goers. The people working at Fish Lake, while not quite as delightful as the ones at Hyatt Lake, were perfectly nice (well, one girl was rude to Marnie, but I buttered her up by complimenting her polite little girl and she was okay after that) and the girl who worked the restaurant window was especially fun. She joked around with everyone and remembered our names and how to spell them, so we didn’t have to tell her every time. The days we were there we had milkshakes for lunch and then an early dinner, even though they were out of strawberries so couldn’t make a strawberry milkshake (the store was too far away to go get them, they said). They were not stingy with the whipped cream and it was lovely to have a cold milkshake with lots of whipped cream on the over-90-degree days!
There were chipmunks living at Fish Lake too, and at one point a little girl dropped her basket of curly fries on the ground. We watched a chipmunk stuff his little cheekies with curly fries, it was the cutest thing! They would come up onto the deck if there weren’t too many people and take food right out of your hand. I fed one some of my salad and he appreciated the lettuce and tomatoes. The next night I fed one a sweet potato fry and he enjoyed that as well. If it was a mouse or a rat, everyone would be freaking out, but chipmunks are so cute it’s okay when they beg for food, ha. They have better press, I guess!
We didn’t spend any time down at the lake ourselves, although while we were waiting for our laundry to finish we walked out to the beach near the R.V. park and took a look. The beach on that side was rocky and the water looked muddy, and that didn’t look like much fun to me, but we had seen many people going into the water from there. The sandy area was where the boat ramp went down, and since that was the nicest beach with the best access that was where most of the people sat and played. While watching the people, we also enjoyed watching the R.V.s come through and trying to figure out how much they cost! I was impressed by how they could get them down the narrow road and then maneuver them into the tight spaces in the R.V. park area. Driving goals!
While we were at Fish Lake we met other hikers including Packin’ (from New Zealand), Uncle Nomad, Tough Cookie, and Lively. We noticed Lively was very upset – there was a family tragedy and she needed to get home to the Seattle area. She and T. C. had scheduled an Uber for the next day to take them to Medford so they could rent a car and head to Washington. We talked with them for quite awhile that Saturday and hoped that they would get everything they needed.
On Sunday morning at 7:30 we were expecting to wait to go to breakfast when the restaurant opened at 9:00, and then wait for The Hubs to come get us. I expected him about 10:30 or so. We were all packed up and were about ready to go to the deck and hang out there, when we heard footsteps on the very creaky (seriously, in the night we thought we were going to wake up all the neighbors because of the creakiness) porch stairs and someone knocked on our door, and it was The Hubs! He had started from our house at 3:00 a.m. since he is used to being up around that time. We bundled our packs into the trunk of the old Avalon and started towards the front of the resort, where we found out that the Uber that was supposed to come pick up T.C. and Lively had overslept and wasn’t going to bother to come. Uncle Nomad was going to go to Medford to rent a car as well. The Hubs decided we could take them to the airport but we only had room for T.C. and Lively and their packs (barely), so Uncle Nomad said he would just go up to the highway and get a hitch. He had started out hiking but came back already that morning, the smoke was getting bad from the fires in southern Oregon and NorCal and he didn’t want to hike in it. I felt bad that he couldn’t go with us, and we hope he got to where he needed to be. We managed to get near the rental car area of the Medford airport to drop the girls off. Of course, we completely didn’t think about getting anyone’s number to be able to contact them again! After Marnie bought us breakfast at McDonald’s, we drove home.
When we were at the Brown Mountain Shelter getting water at the pump, both Sleepless and the British girl said that when they stopped having fun they wouldn’t keep going. “It’s just a hike,” they said. Marnie and I realized that we weren’t having fun on our hike. While we admired the scenery and appreciated God’s beautiful creation, we enjoyed our time at the resorts much more than our time in the woods. Being out in the woods with our packs just started feeling like a chore more than a fun trip. A thru-hiker at one of the springs said, “Now I understand Oregon. It’s so chill.” The thru-hikers were cruising along up and down while we were struggling with the climbs, not thinking it was chill at all. It was discouraging, although when we thought about it we knew we could be no match for their 1700-mile legs. In spite of all that I think we would have continued on at least to Crater Lake, if we could have found a solution to the water situation. There is a 20-mile water carry between Fish Lake and Crater Lake, which for us would have been difficult since we aren’t doing 20s. Then there are fires just past that area as well and a lot of smoke so we might not have been able to get a good view of Crater Lake even if we made it there, and obviously fires and smoke make it unsafe to hike. Most NOBO thru-hikers are flipping from Fish Lake or Ashland up to Santiam Pass (Bend) or Timberline to avoid the fires and smoke. Then once you get to Bend/Santiam Pass, you have to get a ride around the Lionshead fire closure to Olallie Lake (if someone doesn’t mind taking you down the horrible road) or up to Frog Lake or Timothy Lake near Mt. Hood. We have already done Shelter Cove/Willamette Pass to Lava Camp Lake and Timothy Lake to Cascade Locks and hadn’t planned to do those sections over.
Wildlife takeaways: We did not see any bears or mountain lions, just deer, birds, chipmunks, and the occasional squirrel. While we would love to see a bear from a safe distance, we’re just as glad none came into our space!
Thru-hiker takeaways: Thru-hikers are an amazing set of people. They were encouraging and none of them criticized or judged us (at least outwardly) when we were slow or took a long time going over logs.
Water takeaways: While it isn’t fun to carry water, you should always have a little more than you think you need. Not all water sources are reliable, even if your app says it is “flowing”. Also, drink lots of electrolytes in your water.
Food takeaways: Eat plenty of food in town, as backpacking food isn’t all that tasty. Although it might seem expensive, eat some freeze-dried backpacking meals before you go so you know whether they’re any good or not. Then you won’t end up with an inedible meal and have to deal with the leftovers. (You carry them in your trash. Hopefully it won’t be too long before there’s a trash can to dump it in.)
General backpacking takeaways: Backpacking is harder than doing things at home. It’s hard to carry a backpack. It’s hard to set up your tent sometimes. It’s hard to walk uphill. It’s hard to sleep. There’s mostly nowhere to sit except rocks and the ground, and rocks are pointy and the ground is dirty. Everything is dirty, especially your hands and fingernails. (Hand sanitizer doesn’t actually clean your hands, it just slides the dirt around.)
Central takeaway: If it isn’t fun, don’t keep doing it. It’s just a hike.
In the end, Marnie and I have decided that we don’t need to go backpacking again for awhile. We will clean all our backpacking gear and put it away carefully and be content to be at home with clean fingernails, flush toilets, and chairs to sit on while we contemplate our next adventure.
Just keep walking!