A hiker feels his age

Thirty five years ago I turned down an opportunity to hike 300 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through the high Cascades of Oregon with a good friend. I needed to continue working at my summer job to pay for college, but I’ve always been envious of his hike.

Early this year I decided to stop thinking about what I didn’t do and hike an especially scenic portion of the trail. The hike would be 35 to 40 miles and I would do it in five days. It was in a wilderness area and there would be no roads until the finish. I planned what I thought would be a hike of moderate difficulty. A friend of mine, Kathleen Williams, and my son Geoff would join me in the venture.

To prepare for the hike I decided to start a running program. I knew I was out of shape and on my first day of training I failed to meet my low expectation of fitness. Although I am in my mid fifties I still thought of my abilities as if I were in my 30's. This was to be what is called a “learning experience”.

I gradually increased my fitness over several months and flew to Oregon in late July. Other members of my family camped out with the mighty hikers at our starting point, Brietenbush Lake.

On a warm Monday morning the three of us set out. We had packed and re-packed trying to rid ourselves of extra weight but still ended up with packs weighing over 50 lbs. The first morning we encountered snow that made hiking and finding the trail more difficult as we climbed to what would be our highest point, Park View. The gain in elevation, and the snow was more strenuous than I thought and it was only the first day. Park View provided a magnificent view of Mt. Jefferson. Below us was an area called Jefferson Park with many small lakes and meadows. We hiked down and stopped at Scout Lake in Jefferson Park. If you took away the blood-thirsty mosquitos you could easily call the area “paradise”. We set up our first camp and all went to bed tired.

The next day turned out to be a tough day of hiking. We were a mile down the trail when we met two hikers at a junction. I asked directions and we were pointed down a fork of the trail. After a hard mile of hiking we realized we were going the wrong direction, and returned to the junction to get on the right trail. I thought our experience was proof that there’s a reason men don’t ask for directions, although Kathleen disagreed. Nevertheless, we had carried our heavy packs an extra two miles and the day had just started.

We came to a stream that was marked “potentially difficult crossing” on our map. That was an understatement. Snowmelt from Mt. Jefferson came down the mountain at a furious pace and there was no bridge. Although less than knee high the velocity of the water was too strong to step in. Our only means across was to hop from rock to rock with our heavy packs on and hope that we didn’t slip. After 45 minutes of searching we finally made our way across the stream.

We were only a third of the distance we needed to be that day and already tired. One more tough stream crossing put us at the halfway point for the day. It was also the lowest elevation for the day which meant it was all uphill until we reached our next campsite.

I trudged uphill stopping frequently. I was dirty, sweaty, and panting like oxygen-starved Mt. Everest climbers that take a step every 15 seconds. I hiked at a pace a snail could keep up with. As I reached our destination, Shale Lake, I was happy to take off my pack but the joy I felt was overcome by sheer exhaustion.

Our next three days were much easier and we were able to enjoy the distant views and high altitude lakes we came upon. We walked through miles of dead trees from a recent fire and watched another distant fire flare up every afternoon. We were the only campers at the beautiful small lakes we came to. When we arrived at our pickup point we were in good spirits, glad to have done the hike.

Upon returning back home to Mississippi I read an article titled “At risk. Baby-Boomer Men Trying To Keep Pace With Their Younger Selves.” I started the hike with too heavy a pack and little time to adjust to the altitude. The most difficult factor though was my brain thinking I was younger and fitter than I was. It’s a lesson I think about as I prepare for next years hike.

Photos from my hike are on my website gallery: