PCT Day 115 : Crater Lake!!

July 28 (~07:00 – ~18:45)
Rim Alternate Junction – Crater Lake National Park Boundary (24.6 mi / Total: 1814.7 mi) (Actual distance walked: 18.9 mi +1.4 bonus miles to Mazama Village)
Total PCT miles: 1739.4
Weather: Hot and dusty.

It’s Crater Lake day. I’m excited. I get up on time so I can enjoy the views before all the tourists and day trippers arrive. It’s Sunday, not the best day for a destination like this, but I’ll just have to work around that.

I’m camped just before the start of the Rim Trail, and I follow the path as it climbs up in the shade. For the first time, it’s cold, but once the sun hits me it’s instantly pleasant, and the mosquitoes have returned. It takes a while to get to the rim, but I get some nice views on the way – grassy hills with a haze of mountains in the background.

When I reach the rim it’s already after 8, and I wished I’d left earlier. Car are pulling up to the viewpoints, it’s slowly getting busy. But somehow the Rim Trail itself is deserted, and I watch the crater in peace, hazy blue cliffs, reflective water and that black, contrasting island in the middle. The whole thing is huge, the atmosphere is calm, and it’s gorgeous.

I follow the Rim Trail for some 6 miles, the sandy path curving around, steep climbs up and down, affording slightly different views of the crater along the way, and I take pictures of every single variation. It’s all blue and clear and the backdrop has this dreamy quality to it. I wasn’t expecting to like it so much. It takes hours to get through, much longer than I’d expected, but I can’t help but take advantage of the views, and enjoy them as opposed to rushing past. I’m quite chuffed that the official PCT route, although much more level and easier, is actually longer in distance, and the free mileage will make up for taking so long to see the lake.

The trail starts to get busy when I approach the Rim Village, which has some buildings, restrooms, a parking lot and a gift shop. I cast my final glances onto the lake and enter the café, where I queue and take a drink and a fruit cup and eat it on a rock outside. I need to get going though, this isn’t where I’m supposed to be right now. I need to do my resupply at nearby Mazama Village, which has a campground and restaurant and is operated by the same people as the shops in Rim Village. I find my way out of the parking lot and continue through the woods until I get to the side trail which will take me to the store. After all these days of carrying a heavy pack I’ve finally run out of food, and I’ll need to resupply for at least a few days, if not all the way to Ashland, still some 4 or 5 days away.

I have to say, these side trails into towns are beginning to annoy me. This stretch has been dominated by resorts and tourist destinations with limited resupply options, and they’re all at least a mile off trail. We call them bonus miles – extra mileage that doesn’t count towards your PCT mileage. It’s a positive term for something quite frustrating. While a few miles doesn’t sound too bad, it makes all the difference when you’re struggling to up your mileage by just a few a day – and find your effort all going towards bonus miles instead.

I descend the mile-and-a-bit trail and find the shop and the restaurant after a quick road walk. There are more hikers, quite a few. It’s strange to see so many hikers in one place again. It’s just like the desert, except that I don’t know any of these people. First I check out the shop’s resupply options but they are limited. No wet wipes, only white bread, everything else is mainly snacks. I decide to eat at the restaurant first, and order a burger and a pizza, things I don’t usually eat, but this time I enjoy the burger and a coffee, and shove the pizza into a takeaway box to add to my resupply. I buy a load of random snacks at the store, and fill up on water.

There’s a dry stretch coming – 20 miles of trail without any water, no caches, and I’ll have to dry camp in it as well. I fill up as much as I’m willing to carry, some 2.5 or 3 litres, and I’m off. Funnily enough, my pack doesn’t even feel as heavy as it did when I came back on trail a week ago. While I was carrying pretty much all the food in the world, I hardly had any water.

I take the highway back to the trail, creating a little loop out of town, and walk. It’s all forest again with some burnt areas. I hoped to walk another 10 miles but I already have a feeling I won’t. My motivation after time in town isn’t very high, and the terrain isn’t very compelling either. Every mile is effort, I hate it when I feel like this. Either way, the Crater Lake south boundary is 7 miles from the highway, and camping is restricted inside the park. It’s a good incentive to at least walk 7 miles, and go to sleep early for once.

I find a camp spot right on the border, which makes me laugh, and decide to take it. It’s a little early, but it might do me good. It’s another 100 miles and 4 days to Ashland, and then I’ll have finished Oregon. I’ll be taking a zero and I’ll pick up some new gear. I’m looking forward to it already.

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