August 6, 2022
Campsite at mile 1812.1 to (technically illegal) campsite on the Crater Lake Rim Trail
10.9 PCT miles
7.8 non-PCT miles
18.7 miles hiked
The 8.7 miles to Mazama Village fly by this morning. I walk with Jumbo for a bit, then I fall behind when I realize I have service. I text Wiggs, aka Alex, my ex-slash-now-good-friend, for a bit to work out our plan for tomorrow. He’s going to scoop us up from the trail, hang out for the night, then take us around the Windigo Fire closure. I’m really excited for these next couple of days: Crater Lake followed by hanging out with Alex and the tramily!
After that, I’m alone, so I put on my new audiobook, The School for Good Mothers. I’ve been feeling like a dystopian novel, and this is definitely one of those. While not exactly gripping plot-wise, it’s a really interesting concept and I get hooked on listening to it until I run into Jumbo again and we walk together for most of the rest of the way to the park.
I get really excited when I see the Crater Lake National Park sign. I still can’t really believe that I’m out here hiking the PCT even this many months into it. Crater Lake has been a huge milestone that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and here we are.
We turn right at the road and walk towards the visitor’s center at Mazama Village, where we’ll pick up our resupply boxes and grab a quick bite to eat. The road has a pretty narrow shoulder, so at one point, Jumbo and Tribute decide to hop the guardrail and go to the other side. I try to follow, but my legs are significantly shorter. There’s a moment where I’m balanced, sitting on the guardrail about to go to the other side, and then my pack starts to drag me down backwards. I feel it happening and prepare to just wind up turtled on the pavement, but Jumbo appears out of nowhere and catches me, then pushes me over to the other side. I’m sure it was very hilarious to witness, but I’m personally glad that he was there so I didn’t crack my skull open. That would not result in a satisfactory end to a thru-hike.
We get to Mazama Village before the restaurant opens. There’s some confusion wherein Jumbo goes in search of a bathroom and doesn’t come back for a while and I realize that he’s at the shop where we have to pick up our boxes. So I go over there, get my box (which mercifully arrived yesterday even though it was supposed to come today), and check out the swag in the shop. I love a good National Park gift shop and visitor’s center, and this one has a good selection of things I probably don’t need but am definitely going to buy. I wind up with a lovely maroon Pacific Crest Trail shirt with the logo on the front and a map of the whole trail with major milestones. It’s very cool. And very expensive. But worth it. Jumbo, meanwhile, delights in buying the cringiest touristy Oregon t-shirt he can find. It has an extremely detailed map on it, which he delights in using to demonstrate where we are in the state.
Lunch is a barbecue sandwich and sitting in a corner of the Annie Creek restaurant, where we gladly hold onto our table as a stream of hikers comes in after us. We thoroughly enjoy the fountain drinks and coffee refills (“we” here mostly meaning Jumbo). Then I decide that I’ve had enough of going without a shower, and I scurry off to Loop F, where there’s a free shower that PCT hikers can use for free. It’s not the best shower. There’s a clog and the nasty shower water is backed up all over the floor. But the water is hot, and I don’t have to pay for it, and my hair feels significantly less gross than it did ten minutes before.
Back at the restaurant, I fill one of my bottles with iced tea from the machine and load up the other with water. Then I get my pack all organized again (or as organized as it can be with an extremely large load of food in it). We head out soon after that. Once again, the road proves to be too much for me. One moment, I’m just walking on the pavement, and the next, I’m on the ground, bottles rolling everywhere, hands all scraped up. I haven’t the faintest idea how I fell or what I tripped on. I hear Jumbo ahead yelling, “Passport, oh my god, are you okay?” and Tribute behind jogging to meet me.
“I’m fine,” I say laughing.
“What happened?” Jumbo asks. “One minute you were walking and then you were just sprawled on the ground.”
“I have no idea.”
A few moments later, everything back in place and my bones somehow still intact, we wind up back on the PCT. But during the first small climb, I feel horrible. My body says it wants a smoothie. I stop and pee and then give it some sugar. As much as I can get. Watermelon sour patch, dried fruit, a bar. What is wrong with me? I just had a big town lunch, and I’m still so weak.
I feel a little better after a few minutes. I catch back up with Jumbo and Tribute at the junction to the Rim Trail, an alternate that’s arguably more popular than the PCT because it goes right along the rim of the lake. It’s fine at first, then it gets incredibly steep, AT-style steep, out of nowhere. I fall behind and trudge up the incline until I reach the road, cross it, and then lose my breath when I see the lake.
Crater Lake is one of those places whose scale cannot be fathomed until you are there in person. It is so massive, so blue, with steep walls that plunge from the rim to the surface below. We stand there in awe for a few moments, get some folks to take our photo, and then go to the Rim Village store for ice cream. Listen, don’t at me. I’m apparently in serious need of sugar today. We try to go to the little visitor’s center, but it’s closed, so we just pop into the lodge for a minute and then get back on the rim. We’ve packed out a few beers for this evening, and we keep them handy for a good spot.
We pass another good viewpoint and pose for more photos. My hair is down because I’ve just had a shower, and I feel like I look pretty great. Tribute takes photos of Samuel the Sasquatch, and then I add in Petunia and our mascots have their little adventure photo shoot. Then Tribute pulls out his little plastic fishing game and he and Jumbo play on the rim of Crater Lake while I film. It is excellent.
We actually start hiking after that, only we keep stopping at every vista to take in the lake, Wizard Island, the distant mountains, and the water rippling across the surface. I have pretty good service, so I call Wiggs again to confirm plans for meeting up tomorrow afternoon. Then there’s a series of steep downhills followed by merciless uphills. Some of the trail is actual trail, and some just follows the road. Jumbo says this reminds him of the South West Coast Path because it goes straight up and down with no switchbacks and it’s right by the water. To me, it’s like a very scenic AT. I don’t know how far we’re going to make it, but we’re really enjoying ourselves on this bit.
We find another mind-blowing vista and decide to stop and crack open our beers. They’re pretty big and pretty strong, and since we haven’t really eaten much since lunch, we get a little loopy. I still can’t take it in that I’m here. I can’t believe I walked here from the Mexican border, minus a few fire miles. I can’t believe I’m allowed to do this amazing thing.
As we start walking again, I’m feeling pretty emotional. There have been ups and downs on this trail, but Tribute and Jumbo have been there through it all. Jumbo tells me to hike in between the two of them because it’s getting dark and he knows I don’t like the feeling of being at the back of the pack while night hiking. I tell him it’s fine, that I’ll catch up, and he checks several times before going ahead. “You’re a good friend, Jimmy,” I say as we power up the hill.
“Aw. You’re a good friend, too, Passport.”
At the top of the hill we all stop again, because of course we do, and we put our arms around each other, staring out at the lake that we can’t seem to fathom.
It’s sunset by the time we cross the road again. There’s a young couple, maybe in their early twenties, with a grill. We ask what they’re grilling, they ask what we’re doing, we tell them, and we start to walk away. But then one of them calls out, as if thinking better of letting us get away, “Hey! Do you want a taco?”
We proceed to stand there talking to these super cool folks for at least twenty minutes. The one who offered us tacos, Braden, tells us that he’d love to get into backpacking more. He asks us about the PCT and we of course gush about how awesome it is and what our experience has been like. The taco is delicious, even if it falls apart all over my hands and onto the ground a little bit. We thank them profusely, they wish us well, and we carry on our way.
The sun isn’t setting over the lake, but we can see it well to our left as we come up a ridge. It’s delicious and lovely, and even though I know we’re not going to make it to our planned campsite tonight, I don’t really feel the need to rush. I’m just taking it all in. Soon the light completely vanishes from the sky and we get our headlamps out, talking about what to do.
You’re not supposed to camp on the rim. It’s illegal, actually. Reader: DO NOT CAMP ON THE RIM. Be smart and plan better than we did. Okay? Okay.
There’s a campsite maybe five miles away that we really need to make it to. We try our hardest, but it’s so late and we’re so done. Just a bit back from this site, we decide to call it quits and find a cowboy camping spot far from the trail and on a durable surface. Plus, cowboy camping is less impact than setting up a full tent, and we’ll be gone by sunrise tomorrow. We squeeze in close together and lie down, looking up at the ridiculously beautiful stars and the Milky Way dancing above. It’s actually cold tonight for the first time in a while, and being in my quilt is comfortable for once. It’s so cozy. Just a trio of little cozy beans out here in space.