Lava rock makes the trail through the Jefferson Wilderness tough going.

Lava rock makes the trail through the Jefferson Wilderness tough going.

Stormin’ attacks next to last section of the Pacific Crest Trail

By December 1, 2006

Editor’s note: At this writing Somerset’s Norm Stoldt had spent six years section-hiking the Applachian, Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest trails. He still has the Washington section of the PCT left before he will be done.

The plan

My original plan was to start the end of June and hike southward through both Washington and Oregon, thereby completing the 2,600 mile long Pacific Crest Trail — the end of a three-year quest.

However, an above average and late snowfall made many of the mountain crossings impassable until mid or late July. Therefore, I decided to start in late July and limit my journey to Oregon. My route would take me through central Oregon southward 420 miles from Cascade Locks to Ashland. As usual, I intended to resupply by mailing my food and any equipment needs to small lakeside resorts. The exception was Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mt Hood.

As with my past adventures, traveling light dominated my selection of equipment and food. I went so far as to replace my alcohol stove with a space-age Esbit Stove which could cook my main meal of the day using a single mothball-size fuel cube. I even considered replacing my 2 pound tent with a 10 ounce tarp. However after reading articles on Oregon’s vast hordes of summertime mosquitoes, I kept the tent and added a head net and a box of mosquito coils

The weight of all my equipment and clothing came to a mere 12 pounds. Even with food and water I never carried more than 18 pounds. This was the lightest load I’d carried in all of my adventures. (For a complete list of equipment, food and weights go to [email protected]).

The adventure

My journey took me through a variety of contrasting terrain and weather conditions, from Columbia Gorge and Cascade Locks at a 300-foot elevation to Mt. Thielsen at 7,560 feet. Climbing up out of Columbia Gorge was like walking through a tropical jungle. Huge ferns covered the ground, the trees were heavily draped in moss and there were numerous waterfalls.

The most spectacular was 100-foot tall Tunnel Falls. I walked through a 50-foot damp, narrow, moss-covered rock cavern behind the falls. At times the trail was cut directly into the side of vertical rock walls in the form of the letter “U” lying on its side. The low overhead prevented the trail from being used by equestrians. Heavy steel rods were imbedded into the rock wall with cables attached to aid hikers along the trail’s narrowest sections. It was slow, hot, humid and arduous going.

In comparison, the very next day traveling over the barren rock-spewed slopes of Indian Mountain I was in my foul weather gear fighting a blistering cold wind, fog and drizzle. Going up a ridge on Mt Jefferson, I encountered a 200-yard snow field blocking the trail. Fortunately it was early morning. Using a shuffle step and digging in my hiking poles, I simply trudged upward over the hardened crust to the summit where I picked up the trail.

On two separate occasions I spent most of a day trekking across primordial lava fields. While there was a groomed trail to walk on, its golf-sized rock covering made me wish I had worn boots rather than my light weight tennis shoes. I never before realized that Oregon was the center of so much ancient volcanic activity.

In spite of the presence of pesky mosquitoes I slept most nights in the open under the stars. Between the hood of my sleeping bag, a head net and the smoke from a mosquito coil, the pests were not a problem. Actually it was quite pleasant to be soothed to sleep by their harmless droning around my head.

While hiking I covered the exposed parts of my body with plenty of repellent. I wore a short-sleeved T-shirt and hiking shorts. During my noontime break I burned a coil and wore my bulky foul weather gear with a hood to hold those irksome creatures at bay. I was only bothered once, mugged by hordes of the blood-thirsty devils while getting water near a swampy area. They landed on my glass frames trying to get at my eyes, the only part of me not covered by repellent.

Near the end of my journey I did have a minor problem at night with large black carpenter ants. It became too warm to sleep completely zippered up in my bag. Leaving my bag unzipped opened a way for them to join me in slumberland. Fortunately they don’t bite; unfortunately an abundant coating of mosquito repellent didn’t prevent their nighttime escapades either.

I’m often asked if I’m afraid traveling all alone. Well, yes and no. I generally meet other hikers everyday. However, there are challenging situations on almost every hike that make me concerned for my safety. Several events happened on this hike: Twice while fording extremely swift-moving, swollen snow-fed mountain streams, once when I got caught in a large open plain during a thunderstorm and finally one time when I got lost.

The latter case involved taking a short cut on an old abandoned trail. The trail became more and more obscure as I hiked along and eventually entirely disappeared. I was totally lost in the deep woods. I had to retrace my route back to the PCT using a compass and topography.

This was the most pleasurable and least arduous of all of my six years of adventures. I was in excellent physical condition. Except for a few blisters I didn’t experience any injury problems. The trail was relatively easy and my pack light. Stopping at lakeside resorts every three days allowed me to do two 20-25 miles days and then take a half day off to enjoy the luxuries of civilization (eat, shower and do laundry) and resupply. Every week I took an entire day off.

This was also the most scenic of all my walks. In addition to pristine alpine lakes, I had spectacular views of Oregon’s majestic snow-capped beauties: Mt. Hood, Mt. Washington, St Helens, Jefferson, Diamond and the Sisters. I was even able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier at the start of my journey and Mt. Shasta at the end.

My two favorite scenes include watching a full moon slowly rise over the peak of Mt Jefferson, bathing its snow-capped crest in a silver hue against a black sky; and watching the sun rise while camped at 7,200 feet on the narrow crest of a barren ridge. In the distance, surrounded and arising out of the brilliant white cloud cover, was a jagged mountain peak bathed in the golden orange glow of the rising sun.

The people:

Early in the planning stages of my hike, I e-mailed the PCT bulletin board requesting assistance for the 40-mile trip from Portland where I turned in my rental car to Cascade Locks where my journey began. I received six same-day replies. I had found my first group of trail angels, individuals who go out of their way to assist hikers, and my hike had yet to begin.

Intrigued by his trail name Steel-Eye, I selected Chuck. He took the scenic route via the Colombia Gorge and along a back road that had numerous falls. He also showed me where the trail started southward before dropping me off at a motel. What a helpful person.

The PCT is popular and well know by the international hiking community. I met individuals from Germany, Belgium, France, Japan, Korea and Israel. I also met many of the thru-hikers I had become acquainted with on my spring adventure: Scarecrow, Bluegrass, Opie, Hungry, Wrong Way and Monk, a real Benedictine monk I had hiked with on my spring trek in Southern California.

This spry fellow was 72 years young. He had already walked almost a 1,000 miles and was on his way 700 miles northward to Canada — quite an achievement for someone his age. Equally amazing was Bob, a Vietnam veteran who was hiking the trail on an artificial leg. Finally there were our two young hometown heroes, brothers Grizzly and Chert (the Willsons) from Placerville.

Some of these hikers had bypassed the high Sierra portion of the trail due to heavy snow. For those who successfully passed through this section, their stories were of exceptional, hardship, courage and determination.

I heard stories of fording an ice cold, waist deep, near roaring stream where a hiker was swept off her feet and bounced 100 yards downstream; trudging all day through knee-deep snow using steel-spiked crampons and an ice axe to forge a way up and over a snow- and ice-covered mountain pass; and having to abandon a trail totally obliterated by deep snow to navigate cross country by compass and a GPS unit.

Their stories filled me with awe and admiration, but at the same time I wondered if really sane people do things like that.

I felt blessed by the acts of so many trail angels during the course of my travels. Cinnamon, a weekend hiker who upon seeing my blistered, duct-taped feet and ragged socks, dipped into her pack and gave me a brand new pair of hiking socks.

She only asked that I do a good deed the next time I saw someone in need. Once, faced with the aspect of only a hot dog and soda for breakfast while at a small resort, an RVer gave me fresh fruit. Another camper at the resort gave me a spoon after I broke the handle off the only eating utensil I carried.

I will never forget the hospitality shown to me and fellow hikers at the Seventh Day Adventist Youth Camp. They provided free hot showers with soap and towels, laundry facilities and low cost meals. There was also a free camping site for PCTers.

Everyone there was so friendly and polite including the staff, campers and parents. To my dismay, when I tried to pick up my food package it wasn’t there. I was told it had somehow ended up at the church’s headquarters in Portland. Fortunately the father of a young volunteer working at the camp made the three-hour drive from Portland that day with my box. I was truly moved by his effort to help a perfect stranger. It was so encouraging to find such wonderful people in a world that at times can be so indifferent to the plight of others

Do to a miscommunication, the last package for my trip was not sent. It contained both food and information on water sources, mileage and landmarks. Just when it looked like I would be eating Snicker Bars and Top Ramen for the next three days, the resort owner told me to check their “Hiker Exchange Box” where hikers and resort guests were encouraged to leave their unneeded trail food and hiking items. I picked out four freeze-dried meals — all expensive top-of-the-line gourmet meals, much better than the food I had shipped.

Later a woman who had witnessed my initial plight, offered me muffins, bread, fruit strips and two bags of trail mix. I was in heaven feeling like I hit the jackpot. The only thing lacking was trail information on water and landmarks. I decided to stop the first northbound PCTer and ask to copy the above information from his or her trail data book.

I hadn’t been on the trail for an hour when I met my first hiker, Wounded Knee. He simply gave me the pages I needed from his data book. I will always be thankful to all these trail angels whose efforts yielded good fortune out of what could have been a very discouraging incident for me.

Finally I am eternally grateful to my family without whose support this journey would have not been possible: My two daughters Melanie and Elizabeth, who faithfully mailed my food packages (with the above exception), my son-in-law Kevin who kept the old family homestead going, and my beautiful and understanding wife Tomi of 39 years, who put up with my sixth summer of long distance hiking.

Norm Stoldt

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