R Solo: My First 40

October 21, 2016

In late October, I took a long-ish ramble up Eagle Creek, a bit south on the PCT to Indian Mountain, and back via Herman Creek and Trail 400. It turned out being the longest hike I’ve ever taken: right around 40 miles, if I’ve calculated everything right. I know that’s not a lot for everyone, but it meant a lot more to me than I thought it would.

1.

I pull into the empty Eagle Creek Trailhead a little after six, eat a couple donuts, put on my headlamp, and set out in the pre-dawn drizzle. The sun takes its damn sweet time rising, but makes it out of bed in time for a quick picture of Punchbowl.

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I really love Eagle Creek in the early morning: the Disneyland crowds are gone, replaced with wispy clouds and friendly fog. It rains on and off as I pass High Bridge and go on toward Tunnel, but no matter.

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2.

The only earnestly unpleasant bit of the day’s right around Twister Falls, when the rain picks up considerably, and walking under the cliffs is a little like taking a cold shower.

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But soon enough that’s done too, and it’s back into mellow, muddy woods. It lacks the big thrills of lower down, but there’s something sort of magic about the upper part of Eagle Creek—the magic of passing from park into wilderness.

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3.

I’m making good time, so I decide to extend things a bit, and ramble up toward Indian Mountain and a bit south on the PCT. For some reason—maybe to do with Bull Run—I always find this part of the Gorge exciting. I keep meaning to walk from Hood all the way down, but, well… I keep meaning to do a lot of things. Maybe soon.

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The weather’s not terribly cooperative, so I jog for most of the way out and back, and make it down to Wahtum Lake in good time. Then across The Logs, and up the PCT shortcut.

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4.

I have lunch at the PCT junction, and think briefly about heading up Chinidere or Tomlike, but given the day’s Recalcitrant Clouds, I figure I should just head down to Herman Creek’s closer pleasures.

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5.

Soon I’m at the upper crossing, then to Cedar Swamp and a cavalcade of creeks and color.

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6.

The light plays tricks on me all afternoon—it gets dark, I suspiciously check then time, then it gets light again—but as I turn off, back toward the PCT and over the lower Herman Creek crossing, it gets dark for real, and I stop for a quick dinner, to filter some water, and to get my headlamp.

Since my trip on the PCT this summer I’ve gotten sort of blasé about food. I used to bring special bars and all that; now I just bring leftovers. So I sit on the bridge, legs dangling, eating pesto and green beans and watching the light fade on the rushing river.

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7.

I turn on my headlamp soon after rejoining the PCT, and soon it starts to rain big warm drops. Walking through them, and through the spotlight of my lamp, I feel like a spaceship in those old movies, rushing through stars.

I stop for a snack in Cascade Locks, call Krista to tell her I made it through alright, then walk back on the Old Highway, hiking poles away, drinking a celebratory beer as I go. I’m soaked and shivering and limping a little when I make it to the car, but I feel weirdly magnanimous. Like all of this is mine. Or not exactly that. Rather: like all of this is home.

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