Great Western Loop: Day 148 - 153: Shelter Cove to Ashland
Day 148: Devastating news (34miles)
Everything looked great and promising, when I woke up that day. I quickly hiked the few remaining miles to the Shelter Cove Resort and had a nice breakfast burrito and 3 pancakes. While having breakfast I briefly talked to some other hikers, charged my electronics and did my resupply. 2 hours later I left the resort and headed back to the trail. My goal was reaching Windigo Pass, one of the few reliable water sources on the next stretch.
The hike was rather easy. After leaving Washington's mountains the trail had mostly become flat and very hikeable. Instead of 14-15,000ft (4,500m) of elevation, most days now had some 6-8,000ft (2,200m).
As experienced the day before, the wind changed throughout the day, bringing once again thick layers of smoke to the trail, but that wasn't by far the worst experience of the day.
While I was having a break on this ridge, I briefly checked my online messages and I received the most devastating news possible.
The U.S. Forest Service had just announced that, in addition to the closure of those 10 National Forests in Northern California, now all (!!) National Forests in all (!!) of California would close at least until Sept. 17th. This affects more than 1500miles of trail and basically renders a continuation of my hike impossible. Everything I had worked and planned for and everything I had busted my ass off for in those last 140 days now seemed to disappear into thin air. For 140 days I had pushed so hard to make it to California's Sierra before the winter storms arrive and now, just a few days from the California border I had to learn that everything would be closed.
All my previous plans are completely useless now and I am forced to stop in Ashland to come up with a completely new plan. Especially the full evacuation of 53,000 people in South Lake Tahoe is very concerning and saddening, as this town is a major gateway into the Sierra.
I do understand the decision of the U.S. Forest Service. With resources stretched thin, fighting more than 100 wildfires the authorities most certainly fear for additional problems caused by the labor day weekend. This way of thinking however, leaves a little bit of hope for reopenings after the holiday weekend.
Quite shocked and frustrated I hiked on to Windigo Pass, where I knew I would find a huge water cache. Some locals stocked more than 100 gallons (380liter) of water here. In addition to that, the cache offered medical supplies, as well as some 50 powerbanks to recharge electronics.
Day 149: Zombie hike (40miles)
Still shocked from yesterday's news, my thoughts were with the people of South Lake Tahoe and all those firefighters, trying to contain the fires. The situation obviously has a major impact on my goals and dreams, but I guess I have to accept that my interests don't matter in the grand scheme of things here. For now I just hope that no more life's or structures will be lost.
The day's hike was pretty, but very cold. The previous night also had been very cold, with temperatures below zero, but that didn't bother me much.
I spent most of the time hiking like a zombie, thinking about my next steps in regards to the closures. There wasn't much I could do right now, as I needed maps and am internet connection for proper planning, but throughout the day, my mood changed from utter frustration to accepting a very new challenge. The only thing I knew was, that I wouldn't give up after coming so far. I was and I am still eager to find some way to continue my hike.
(Yet another water cache, close to Crater Lake National Park. I do appreciate the support of Trailangels, but I'm concerned that it might be too much already. Too many hikers already rely on these caches. That shouldn't be the case)
(Utterly destroyed forest in Crater Lake National Park)
Due to limited water sources and some camping restrictions in the National Park, I had to hike 39miles to the Grouse Mountain campsite, where I arrived in the dark. Here I briefly talked to Joe and another hiker that were quite interested in my story.
Day 150: Crater Lake (32miles)
I had considered waking up early to view the sunrise over Crater Lake, but yet another freezing night with temperatures below freezing made it hard to leave my quilt in the morning.
Once again, I was completely out of food, but the next resupply at Rim Village and Mazama Village was only a few miles away.
The hike around the rim was spectacular.
Unfortunately, due to rising Covid cases the National Park had closed its Cafe, which meant that no hot food was available.
I struggled a bit to get enough supplies for the hike into Ashland, but with several smaller resorts on the way, I wasn't too concerned.
After leaving the rim and a short break, the drought forced me to hike another 18miles to the next reliable water source.
Once again smoke from California rolled in and made the overall hike quite challenging. For hours I hiked through am area that had burned down years ago, but was coming back to life now, with hundreds of smaller trees growing next to burned trees.
Day 151: Lava rocks and dead deer (37miles)
Day 151 was rather uneventful and quite pleasant. The trail was easy and allowed for some nice views and rather little smoke.
Water was once again limited and required me to carry up to 2 liters at a time. After passing a major highway near Fish Lake Resort, I entered another lava field that tore my shoes apart.
Day 152: Hyatt Lake (33miles)
After several extremely cold nights, I had finally had much warmer temperatures in now some lower elevations.
I started early in the morning towards the nearby Brown Mountain Shelter, which provided a pump and reliable water. After collecting 1-2 liters, I hiked out again.
My goal was to reach Hyatt Lake Resort in the early afternoon, as I - again - had already eaten all the food that I bought at Crater Lake.
The resort offers a free pickup from the trail, but I was too proud to call and therefore hiked those remaining 1.5 miles. Doing that, I crossed the Hyatt Lake dam and got a first hand experience of this year's drought. The usually massive Lake, had almost no water and was much smaller than expected.
After a short break, lunch and a quick resupply for those remaining miles to Ashland, I hiked out again, passing a nice sign saying "everything will be okay"...exactly what I needed...
Day 153 to Ashland (14miles)
Day 153 left only some 14miles to hike into Ashland.
The smoke was intense early in the morning and led to a quite special light.
I quickly hiked the remaining miles and got lucky with an early hitch from Calahan's Lodge into Ashland.
Within just over 8 days I have hiked almost 300miles (480km)...that's fast.
With no idea how to continue my hike, I'm forced to stay here and develop a new plan.
By now, most Sobo PCT hikers have given up, or moved to the Colorado Trail. This ain't an option for me, I want to stay as close as possible to my initial route.
I'll take a few days off now, to update my blog, to really rest and recover from the last strenuous months and to collect my federal election ballot after the labor day weekend. Hopefully I'll have a plan on how to move on by the end of September's 2nd week.
(View from Ashland, mountains are covered in smoke)