Mesa Creek to Elk Lake Resort – 9 miles
I was just shy of having hiked 200 miles through Oregon and I was exhausted and mentally bruised. I’d really enjoyed having the company of a friend but we’d soon be parting ways and I’d once again be striking out on my own.
We packed up camp under blue skies, a welcome change from the humid dreariness of the day before. We were soon hiking alongside a huge rock mesa made up of basalt and obsidian from a recent eruption about 2,200 years ago (geologically speaking). Looking back, you could see sun sparkling off the obsidian.
The trail led us onto a large plain from which we had a great view of the South Sister, the tallest peak in the chain. Erin had originally hoped to hike the trail to the summit but had changed her plans and was continuing a bit further south with me.
Three miles into our day we reached the calm shores of Sisters Mirror Lake. Unfortunately the skies weren’t as calm as the water and we found ourselves swarmed by mosquitoes as we tried to refill our water bottles. It would have been nice to see some of the other small lakes in the area but our anxiety was mounting with each fresh mosquito bite. I didn’t even stop to find the mountain reflection spot on the south shore.
Erin and I continued our march, heading uphill to crest the summit of Koosah Mountain. From there we had a great view of Mount Bachelor and Broken Top Peak across the valley to the east and of the South Sister to the north of us. We stopped to take a break at the viewpoint but within minutes we were once again swarmed by mosquitoes. It was mid-July, the peak of the mosquito season and I wasn’t mentally prepared for how painful and irritating they would be.
We cut our break short and got back to hiking. It seemed we’d finally left the lava flows behind. The trail was wide and soft, winding through sub-alpine forest. Three miles further along we reached a trail junction. We veered off the PCT and followed the new trail east for a mile and a half to reach Elk Lake Resort.
The resort was a popular location for thru-hikers who wanted a hot meal and a ride into the nearby city of Bend, Oregon. I hadn’t originally planned to divert to Elk Lake but the allure of a hot meal and continued company drew me in. Erin and I arrived right at noon, claimed a table on the resort restaurant’s wood deck, and ordered drinks and a meal. As we ate I couldn’t help but notice other dirty hikers wandering in. We soon found ourselves moving tables to create a large, messy, happy group of hikers.
It was a vortex of comfort and joy for me. I loved sitting there beside the lake, relaxing and chatting with new friends. Sadly all of them were headed north, not south like me. I realized that I was teetering on the edge of a decision – to keep hiking, or not.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d considered abandoning my adventure. The thought had been stewing for a couple of days and the idea had been reinforced by a few variables I’d encountered – exhaustion, loneliness, and mosquitoes. Plus my hike had a deadline. I had to arrive at Siskiyou Pass in southern Oregon by the end of the month. My husband was going to meet me there and together we’d drive to Redwood National Park for a short backpacking trip with some good friends of ours.
Erin had a ride arranged to take her back to her car where we’d left it in Mackenzie Pass, and then was planning to spend a night in Bend. I decided to join her. I wasn’t prepared to make a decision yet, but I really liked the idea of a hot shower.
Later that evening we went out to one of Erin’s favourite breweries in Bend – Crux Fermentation Project. Sitting there with a glass of the PCT Porter in hand I finally made a decision. I was going to head home. I had lots of other adventures planned for the summer alongside family and friends. My PCT hike was a selfish endeavor and one which I knew I could continue another season.
Considering my decision a few months after making it, I do have some regrets. I’ve definitely asked myself a number of “What ifs.” What if Erin hadn’t come to meet me in Sisters? What if I’d taken the planned zero day at Big Lake Youth Camp? What if I’d kept walking south at the trail junction to Elk Lake?
I realise now that I’d allowed myself to get overwhelmed. I was definitely having fun but I’d lost sight of my personal goals and got caught up in others’ expectations and plans. It would’ve been challenging to keep going forward but it wouldn’t have been damaging.
What I keep telling myself is that the trail isn’t going anywhere. I know now more than ever how important it is to me to keep hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but next season I’ll make some small tweaks in my plans. Erin’s going to be thru-hiking the PCT next year, after all. Perhaps I’ll join her when she reaches southern Oregon!