Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon
The movie Wild, starring Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, tells the true story of one woman’s three-month journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches through California, Oregon and Washington.
The movie demonstrates the challenges Cheryl Strayed (played by Witherspoon) faced along the trail, as well as the inspirational moments she experienced. Brooke Weeber, an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon, decided to follow in Strayed’s footsteps and tackle the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, documenting her every step for Travel Oregon. Below are snippets from her journey:
“What brought you out here?” It’s a common question you hear from other hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and one for which I could never muster up an adequate response. No matter how often I turned that question around in my mind, the most I could come up with was: “I really enjoy hiking and I wanted to take it to the next level.” And that’s exactly what I did. And then some.
I’d only been backpacking a few times before I set out on the trail, and those trips had primarily been quick one-nighters. In short, I was a woman with little hands-on experience in the world of long distance hiking. So when I dove head-first into the unknown and embarked on my 30-day trek across Oregon, I had a naive vision of what to expect. Unsurprisingly, I was very wrong about most of my expectations.
I set out on July 26th just south of Ashland; almost immediately, I started questioning my purpose and my sanity. The mounting feelings of physical exhaustion kicked in just a few short hours after I heaved my heavy 45-pound [roughly 20 kilogram] backpack onto my shoulders and teetered slowly up the trail. I expected that. I knew I wasn’t in peak physical condition, despite my marathon training and the long hikes I’d done leading up to it. I realized nothing could completely prepare me for the daily life of long-distance hiking. But I also knew I’d made a commitment to myself and I wasn’t going to give up, despite the physical discomfort.
I hustled up the trail, pausing to take photos of the mounting storm because it was so beautiful as it chased me along the ridge.
My first view of Mount Thielsen coming out of Crater Lake immediately reminded me why I was on the trail: I love the mountains.
Their grandness, the challenges they present, each and every one with its own distinct personality. With more than a week of predominantly flat terrain behind me, I was ready for some elevation gain and the views that come along with it. Little did I realize that I still had another week of hiking the “green tunnel” before I would really hit mountainous territories. I was going it alone again, with a vague plan to re-connect with Angelina somewhere up ahead, and my mind was beginning to wander. After I’d thought the same thoughts for the 100th time (usually revolving around food I didn’t have but wanted, or the physical discomfort of my feet), I really started to regret not bringing music with me. The smartest hikers I’d met were downloading books and music at every available moment. The less experienced ones (mostly just me) were relying on our own thoughts to keep us company.
That’s why the joy I felt when I’d occasionally spot the small outline of another PCT’er in the distance came as no surprise. I was relying on these short encounters to keep me interested and to momentarily preoccupy my thoughts. What was their story? Why were they out here? Where did they come from?
We spent one glorious evening watching the red sun slowly set over Crater Lake, hazy and mysterious.
The next day I was feeling pretty beat down. My energy was low and I knew the trail was going to present some difficulties. With more elevation gain/loss in one day than I’d experienced so far, and a rocky, uneven trail at that, I foresaw the struggle I was about to face. I told Angelina to forge ahead with a plan to meet up later at Odell Lake. The first few strenuous miles were soon rewarded when I entered Jefferson Park.
The views were so spectacular that I couldn’t believe I’d gone my entire life without going there before. I stopped to glance over my shoulder at that stunning towering mountain every chance I could get, to see its reflection in lakes and ponds.
The Jefferson Wilderness is just north of Santiam Pass, with a burn area that stretches for miles and has an eerie quality to it. The stark white trees stand tall and sterile against the sky, bright green and yellow vegetation growing abundantly.
My mind raced as I headed toward the popular Ramona Falls alternate route. All I could think about was making it to the Eagle Creek trail, with Cascade Locks, my final destination, just beyond. But it wasn’t as simple as I’d expected. I had imagined the trail as a simple downgrade from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge, but in reality it was a collection of ridges and ravines filled with long-winded switch backs and steep, spiraling rocky slopes. The trail hurt every part of my body, and it made my destination of Tunnel Falls seem ages away.
When finally setting foot on the Eagle Creek trail, the terrain began to even out and people started to appear in throngs. Camps were perched on every possible embankment or flattened clearing near the creek. The best campsites were scouted and guarded by the early-bird backpackers, but I didn’t mind. I was moving toward the one waterfall I’d been imagining since the trip began: Tunnel Falls.
At mile 21 [about 34 kilometers along] that day, I rounded a corner to see the landmark I’d been waiting for. Standing at 160 feet [roughly 50 meters] tall, surrounded by cliffs alive with vibrant green moss and ferns, your eyes immediately drop to the small circular tunnel the trail leads you through. One moment you’re listening to the deafening thunder of the waterfall, and the next it’s immediately hushed by the thick walls of the damp cave. Then you emerge on the other side with a booming in your ears and a light spray enveloping your whole body.
After a short and worthwhile side trip up to the beautiful Paradise Park on Mount Hood, I scrambled down the painfully steep trail to where the PCT meets the Sandy River.
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