Section 15. Manzama to Sisters

Section 15. Manzama to Sisters. 26 August -1 Sept. There were perhaps 20 northbound PCT hikers at Manzama campground. I knew most of them. They had all arrived because they hitch-hiked the last 20 miles, forced off as I was by the fire closure, or 60 miles using the excuse of the fire closure to make up time. I had breakfast with a few of them and then went to find out more information on the fires to the north at Manzama, but the place was just geared up for hospitality.

I knew the PCT was closed a few miles ahead, but there was a great alternative which was more scenic, shorter and more popular than the PCT itself, namely the West Rim Trail of Crater Lake. I started off up the hill for 3 miles climbing some 1000 foot to Rim Village, a collection of grand traditional buildings with cafes, gift shops and accommodation. It was a steep walk but I could take it in my stride.

As I got to the rim the view burst upon me. The air was almost clear with little smoke haze and I could gaze down into the collapsed volcanic caldera which was about 5 miles across and filled with the most uniform perfect blue water. To one side of this circular lake was a conical ash cone surrounded by the blue water and it was called Wizard Island. The internal sides of the crater were steep and loose, while the outside of the crater was the gently sloping Manzama Mountain which was clad in hemlock trees.

I then saw someone waving. It was Sunshine and her sister, with her parents behind. They had come over from New York to visit and met her 100 miles further north and brought her south. We all had lunch together at the cafe, and it was a bright and lively chat on many topics.

After lunch I managed to get some headtorch batteries from a kind ranger, who gave me some from her car’s glove compartment as the shops had none, and found a bit out about the fires. I then set off round the West Rim which was only another 8 miles until it met the PCT again. The views were spectacular, but slowly smoke from the Blanket Creek to the south and Spruce Creek just to the west started to build and a haze formed, obscuring the view and soon the far side was lost in the white haze.

The walk was still spectacular and it was easy to see down the steep internal sides down to the lake. Here and there deep drifts of snow still lingered at the water’s edge. The island was clad in trees but the uppermost ones had died, probably as a result of the last 7 years drought. The path wove along the top of the rim and was shaded by a forest of hemlocks. It was a busy path with plenty of day trippers and I had many conversations with people en route.

To the west of the mountain were dry meadows and beyond that conifer forests. I could see smoke rising from them sometimes just a mile away. However the authorities must have thought the dry meadows would provide a buffer zone, so allowed the road and trail here to remain open. After a few hours I completed the West Rim Trail and dropped down the north side of the mountain to regain the PCT which was open for the next 100 miles or so northbound. As the two trails merged there was a road crossing where some benevolent trail angel had left a large cache of water, perhaps 100 gallons. It was otherwise a 30 mile dry stretch some it was highly appreciated by the PCT hikers. I filled up my bottles and camped nearby in a grove of hemlocks.

I managed another 4 am get up and was away by 5. By the time it got light I found myself in woods of small lodgepole pines. It was a cold morning perhaps just above freezing and it took ages for the sun to shine through the trees. I had already walked 8 miles by 9 when the day started to warm up. I soon reached another superb water cache with about 30 five gallon containers.

As I walked I noticed an fantastically steep spire of a mountain soaring above the lodgepoles, but with my limited maps I could not identify it.  It now seemed the path went directly towards it and concluded it must be Mount Thielsen, however the forest soon swallowed the view as the trees encroached and I was in a green tunnel. As I climbed lodgepoles petered out and mountain hemlock took over. The path continued to climb for a good 2 hours until it reached a ridge and intersected another path.

Here one of the most jagged mountains I have ever seen burst into view. There were a few people milling around at this path junction and I  learnt they had just come down from the summit. I was certain it would be an exposed rock climb but they said the path went round the back and it was just a scramble. One of these climbers was a geologist and he explained that the central spire of the summit was the shaft of a volcanic vent which remained full of lava and cooled to form a hard gabbro. He also showed us various sills and dykes of gabbro on the mountain which he assumed formed when the main vent was blocked by cool gabbro and the rising magma had nowhere to go but sideways. Glaciers had eroded the east and west side of the cone to form this narrow fin of a mountain.

02. Mount Thielsen from this angle looks steep but as I walked past its left (west) flank it became a fantastic spire

Just beyond the path up the mountain the PCT dropped down into large hemlocks and crossed a stream of clear cold water. It was the meltwater of the Lathrop Glacier on the north east side. The stream valley was green and lush and one almost forgot you were in the high dry desert of Oregon, and thought you were in the European Alps.

As I relaxed Bear Can arrived. Last time I saw him was 10 days ago in Seiad and he had foot problems. He had not skipped round the last fire south of Manzama like most people had and I applauded him. We set off together into the hemlocks again and walked 5 miles chatting where we left off a few weeks ago. At the top of the climb I decided to camp as I had enough water while he went on for another 5 miles.

That evening my early finish was wasted on worrying about the fires and how to get round them. I had a faint phone signal and poured over my Oregon road atlas while getting current fire closure maps from the Internet. I was a bit wiser went I fell asleep at midnight, but not by much.

03. My balcony-like campsite overlooking the volcanic cones north of Mount Thielsen

I could not get up early and left at 7. It was a lovely campsite I had with a balcony-like view over the forest and volcanic cones across the area. However I had to descend into this forest  now to the next water in 10 miles. The path was very easy as it undulated and wove through the large hemlocks nearly always heading down.

My mind kept on regurgitating the worries of last night and the fire closures ahead. Then it switched to a lifestyle/business plan I had been thinking about for a week. One’s mind does tend to dwell on the same topics over and over. Many of the under 30’s hike listen to podcasts of current affair topics. When I question them about it they always say it is more restful to listen to a podcast than churn the same thoughts over and over.

When I got to the water after the 10 miles it was midday. However the water was half a mile off the trail down a steep path. A few southbound hikers said it was a bit stagnant and not worth the detour. They said i would he better off hiking another 6 miles to a large cache. This is what I did with much of these 6 miles being down hill. There were a few views through the hemlocks but the haze of wildfire smoke obscured much.

I was thirsty at the cache and drunk half a gallon. It was another good deed by a trail angel that the 100 gallons or so were here otherwise I would have had to go another 3 miles to a shallow warm lake and filter that water. The PCT split here with the official trail continuing for 30 miles to Shelter Cove keeping high with better views, while the Oregon Skyline Trail went past shallow lakes for 20 miles to Shelter Cove. I though the views  of the PCT would be ruined by smoke haze and the extra 10 miles would not be worth it. So took the Oregon Skyline Trail (OST).

05. The 1900 mile mark just north of Shelter Cove on Odell Lake

It was only 10 miles down the OST to its halfway point and a free campground with taps and picnic tables. Again the path was very easy and soft underfoot as it went across a sandy surface. The trees were small lodgepoles, which had not been harvested recently but just reached a small maximum size before falling over. It was a very uninspiring wood but fast to walk through after 3 hours I had already reached the campground by Crescent Lake. There were some lakes in these woods but they were shallow and silty and not appealing, but Crescent Lake was magnificent. The campground was completely empty bar me and at dusk I prepared my bed one one picnic table while I cooked and wrote on the adjacent one.

I had a long lie on the picnic table and did not get up until 7. Before I left I went down to Crescent Lake to see the beach. It was indeed a beautiful sandy beach. It was only 11 miles to Shelter Cove on Odell lake. The path went gently up beside the Whitefish Creek, which was essentially dry, for 6 miles to a collection of lakes, with Diamond View Lake being by far the nicest. It had a splendid view over to the snowy Diamond Mountain. The rest of the lakes were a cluster of small ponds.

The whole shallow ascent up to the lakes and down the gentle other side were through uninspiring woods of small lodgepole pines. It was only towards the end when a large cold creek coming down from the plateau to the east of Diamond Mountain did the walk become more interesting. This creek, called Trapper Creek, flowed in a small lush valley with thick moss on the banks. The trees were now large Mountain Hemlock and many of them were dripping in grey old man’s beard moss. The OST was certainly easy and cut 10 miles off the PCT but I don’t think it matched the PCT for interest or scenery as the forest on the OST was dull and the lakes little more than shallow stagnant ponds. It only redeeming feature was it was 10 mes shorter and the views on the PCT would have been obscured.

The path delivered me to Shelter Cove on Lake Odell. It had a small store and a grill geared towards carnivores only. I had a cheese pizza, drinks from the store and used their WiFi for a few hours. I was trying to contact an Indian Reservation Administration but my email kept bouncing and there was no phone reception to phone. Nothing is simple when it comes to communicating in the USA, especially with my phone service provider of AT&T, perhaps Verizon are better. In the end I had to email 2 friends to see if they could help me get permission to enter an Indian Reservation in 4 days time to avoid a long detour due to fire closures.

There were a lot of other hikers here. Perhaps 20 in all who I had seen in Manzama. Many of them had caught me up previously by hitching 60 miles round the last fire closure. As I was leaving Bear Can arrived, he was one of the few purists left here and he had walked everything, including all the fire closure detours despite his injury. He was only 25 but I had a growing respect for him. I chatted briefly before I headed off again at 5.30.

It was an easy ascent through Hemlocks and Douglas Firs to the first of the Rosary Lakes. It was about 5 miles but I got there at the end of dusk. The moon was half full and a deep orange due to the smoke from fires. I got water from the lake and set up camp in the dark.

I got a comfortable start and was off by 6 barely using the headtorch before the dawn glow took over. I climbed the short distance to Middle and Upper Rosary Lakes, where other campers were just starting to get up. I continued up through the hemlocks for a good half hour to reach the lovely Maiden ski shelter which was a log cabin with a large stove. A group of 3 PCT hikers I knew were just packing up after having spent the night here. I dropped in for breakfast and to see the building.

06. The Maiden Ski Hut log cabin was a popular place for PCT hikers to stay

After breakfast I walked on my own down to Bobby Lake. I still had enough water from yesterday so carried on past the lake into duller lodgepole forest. This continued on and off for another 7 miles all the way to Charlton Lake. I was joined for the last 4 miles by Slim, a dapper bartender from Chicago. We chatted a lot and I picked his brains on his trade. As we approached Charlton Lake the lodgepoles were largely replaced by hemlocks.

The 3 from the ski hut were already at the lake when Slim and myself joined them. It was a gorgeous lake surrounded by mature Hemlock forest which was reflected in the still waters. I had a quick lunch and then headed off on my own. As I neared Charlton Butte and Lily Lake I entered a fire burn area from perhaps 5 years ago. It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off here. The whitened trunks of trees still stood where they had burnt and all around were toppled trunks. It was only 3 miles of this apocalyptic scenery before I returned to older hemlock forest around Irish Lake.

I paused here and the other 4 overtook me. Irish Lake was a beautiful tranquil lake surrounded by forest. There were no wildfowl on it at all surprisingly. The path now climbed gently up past a series of lakes and ponds. Some of the lakes were very picturesque and calm while the ponds were covered in dust and surrounded by fallen trees. It was however an lovely gentle stroll with plenty to please the eye, which was sorely missed over the last couple of days.

07. Looking across a bay on Irish Lake at the start of the lovely passage through a series of lakes, tarns and ponds

I reached the highest lake, Stormy Lake, on the highpoint of the plateau and loved its setting. It was only 6.30 and I should have gone on another 3 miles but decided, as I already had 25 miles under my belt today, to have an early night and camp here. For the first night in ages I was asleep by 8.30 in the evening with all the chores done. The moon was more than half now, and with the smoke in the atmosphere it glowed a deep red through the hemlocks.

08. Brahma Lake in the late afternoon sun. I continued another 2 miles to camp at Stormy Lake

I managed a fantastically early start and left Stormy Lake well before 5. It was a shame to walk this area in the dark as it looked splendid from the map. When It did get light I found myself wandering past one idyllic lake after another. The was mist rising off them in this chilly morning and wildfowl lazily swam around. I could not identify them though.

After 5 miles I got to where three men I had been hiking on and off with for a week were camped and stopped for breakfast. It was only 7. After breakfast I walked with one of the 3, Tomas, a Czech. The miles flew by as we chatted and went past many more beautiful lakes. The forest was lush and green again and the floor was covered in blueberries and huckleberries. It was a charming landscape despite the smoky haze.

09. The mist rising off Mac Lake on a smoky morning. There were wildfowl on many of these lakes but I could not identify them

I stopping for another break at 9 when I had already done 10 miles and the Czech went on. I followed after a snack and was in a world of my own went suddenly Aladdin appeared. I thought he was off trail with a bad back so was surprised to see him. We walked together for the next 2 hours down to Elk Lake. The charming lakes continued for a while, but in trying to keep up with Aladdin they passed in an unappreciated blur. The smoke was thicker now and all the side trails were blocked with barrier tape. It was as if we were walking into Armageddon.

10. Trying to keep up with Aladdin as he storms across a meadow before Elk Lake.

At Elk Lake there were about 10 northbound hikers I knew. They were all skipping up to Timberline Lodge or Government Camp missing 160 miles. Many also skipped the 60 miles from Fish Lake to Manzama. I think many were using the fires as a lily-livered excuse. There were perfectly good ways round the fires which although not on the PCT still took one through cultural and natural landscapes. Not for me, I had decided to walk it all, and continue my Carless to Canada mission.

I spoke with some rangers having lunch at Elk Lake and they showed me a good route to Sisters through an area I had previously dismissed as closed. It would shave a day of my estimated time. Then I decided I would go through the territory of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, preferably with permission for which I was willing to pay. However getting in touch with them was very difficult and I had to enlist the help of two American friends, Les and Sue, and Kev and Judi to help me.

With that in hand I set off to walk the 10 miles to Todd Lake campground down the highway to Bend. I find road walking humiliating and felt as stupid as Forest Gump. Nonetheless it was hopefully the only asphalt road I would walk in my fire closure detour when I am going off piste. There were some smoky sections of the road but I eventually reached the campsite as dusk fell and it started to get cold.

Again I slept well on the picnic table of the deserted campsite. The smoke cleared in the night and the stars were superb despite the large moon. I could see the snowfields on nearby Mt Bachelor lightup in the moonlight. I had a slow start before heading up to Lake Todd where I bumped into Brad, a craft ale salesman for Ballast Point brewery. We chatted for an hour as we climbed the dirt road. He then headed up Broken Mountain while I continued NE along the road.

This 14 mile walk from Todd Lake to Three Creek Lake was superb. As good as anything the PCT had offered since leaving California. The hemlocks were huge and spectacular, the meadows either lush and still in flower or plains of amber grasses, there were numerous creeks, but best of all were the views of the 3 Sister mountains, all around 10,000 feet and still boasting large snowfields. The dirt track I was on was rough enough to deter cars, and the road and path closures due to fires ensured the road was abandoned.

11. Broken Top Mountain on my off piste reroute was between Todd Lake and Three Creek Lake. Although not on the PCT it matched it’s views. On the other side (west) of Broken Top Mountain were the 3 volcanic cones of the Three Sisters which the whole area was named after

When I reached Three Creeks Lake the dirt road I was on turned into an asphalt road. However because of the smoke and fire closures nobody was visiting here except for fire fighters, either checking everything was OK or just having a scenic drive. It was 16 miles to the town of Sisters and it was virtually all downhill. Occasionally I stopped and spoke to fire crews who were standing by and they always offered me cold drinks and friendly conversation.

I had a few problems to sort out. Firstly my resupply box with all my food for the next section was marooned at Big Lake Youth Camp in between fire closures. However a trail angel called Ross who was driving hikers 160 miles around fire closures agreed to extract it for me and take it to Sisters. Secondly I wanted to cross some Territory of the Warm Springs Indian Federation and needed clarification on the legality of that and if permission was needed. My friend Les and Sue were working on that as my telephone signal was so erratic. Thirdly I needed somewhere to stay in Sisters and phoned the campground saying I would arrive at 9 after it was closed. I spoke to the manager and arranged access and let him know Ross would drop my resupply box there. It was all a lot of palaver with a poor phone signal but after 4 hours it was all done and I was approaching Sisters in the dusk.

I reached the campground in the dark and found Bob’s RV. He was the very friendly helpful host. He gave me my resupply box and another bag. Ross had not only delivered the box but had been so thoughtful and kind to buy me a couple of exclusive craft ales and some muscle soothing cream. I had done 60 miles in the last two days, but did not need the cream, but the beer was fantastic. I drunk both in lieu of dinner. I was surprised how easily it affected me, and before long I was tripping over my tent pegs.  The next morning I explored Sisters which was a charming small town and did a few chores before starting the final section in Oregon.

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