Day 136: Exhaustion and Beauty

The past two days have been exhausting for us — we’ve gotten to camp late in the evening, and so, so ready to just pass out. This has been a bit surprising to us, because, generally speaking, Oregon has been easier overall than most of the hiking we did before it.

However, today’s hiking showed us pretty clearly why. We climbed much more, and much more steeply, than we have in a long time — over 2,400′ — which is why we’re exhausted. But it’s far from just a downside: we also saw some truly spectacular views today, the likes of which we haven’t seen in literally almost a thousand miles, since the High Sierra. One of these, late in the day, was our first view of famous Mount Hood, which is a major landmark on the PCT. It was really exciting to see it, and I’m even more excited that we’ll be getting much closer to it in the next few days.

These mountains are different from the High Sierra. The High Sierra are a tall, upthrust mountain range — so, while many peaks there are much higher than any mountain in Oregon, they’re also almost always next to other very high peaks. The cumulative effect is to not concentrate attention on any one mountain, but to more make you feel like you’re “in the mountains”. The high mountains around here, on the other hand, are volcanic: they stick straight up from a much lower base and stand alone, often with nothing else anywhere near as high for fifty or a hundred miles. This makes them a great deal more striking and dramatic, as they appear to simply rise from the valley floor and tower in the sky.

Another difference with these mountains is that they not only have snow on parts of them year-round, but they actually have glaciers. Our topographic maps label them as such, and, well, if there’s snow present in late August, it’s probably there all year. It’s a bit surprising to me that just being this much farther north than California could make the difference between no glaciers (in the High Sierra) and glaciers (here), but apparently it does. We haven’t seen actual snow in months out here, since we left the High Sierra, so it’s pretty cool to be around it again.

One effect of the glaciers is that there can be huge streams coming down from them, and the streams can be so full of silt that they look the color of milk, rather than water. We had to cross one of them today that was flowing so hard and fast that we waded across it, in our hiking shoes, rather than try to cross on rocks or crossing in our camp shoes — we needed the extra traction provided by real hiking shoes. Even with just a foot of water or so, it was completely impossible to see the bottom because of the milky color, making crossing even trickier, but we got across just fine in the end, with nothing more than some wet feet.

A day like today, with some serious climbs and that was really exhausting, might otherwise be frustrating — but the things we’re seeing much more than make up for it. If what lies ahead is more of this beauty, so different from what I’m used to in California, then I’m all for it!

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