Home Pacific Crest Trail PCT: Out of the Woods

PCT: Out of the Woods

by Lisa

Day 11
Three-Fingered Jack to Big Lake Youth Camp – 10 miles

The night of my tenth day on trail I dreamed about being fully immersed in a lake. It felt so refreshing and luxurious. Of course I awoke to my actual status – dusty, dirty, and bruised.

I had a much shorter day ahead so I didn’t rush out of camp though I was still on trail by 8 a.m. I had about 10 miles to hike to get to Big Lake Youth Camp where I’d find hot showers, hot meals, laundry, and my resupply box. Instead of going straight there I’d decided to take advantage of the fact that I’d be in Santiam Pass, crossing a major east-west Oregon highway. I figured I could catch a lift from the trail head into the town of Sisters, 20 miles east of the trail. Later in the afternoon I’d find my way back to the trail and hike the five miles into the camp.

The south face of Three Fingered Jack
Lakes, burnt forest, and buttes

About partway down the trail I caught up to a nice couple who’d camped nearby. We ended up chatting the rest of the way to the trail head. When I learned they were headed east I politely asked if I might catch a lift. They were happy to help me out, saving me from having to stick my thumb out on a busy road. The conversation continued through the 20-minute car ride and they deposited me on the edge of town.

Instead of the small, sleepy trail town I’d expected, I found the town overrun with hundreds of middle-aged and retired women. It was Sister’s annual outdoor quilt show, considered one of the best quilting events in North America. A number of the roads were closed to traffic and there were beautiful and colorful quilts hanging from the porch rafters and walls of all the businesses in town. I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb and I have to admit I felt pretty overwhelmed.

Quilts on display in Sisters

I made my way to the local gear shop hoping to get a bit of help and direction. They welcomed me quite warmly and rather surprisingly offered me a beer! They had a keg of local beer tapped in the back room that they proffered to all thru-hikers that rolled though. It was only mid-morning but I couldn’t say no!

For the next hour I sat on the gear shop’s front porch watching the quilters tour the town. I took some time to call my husband and parents, whom I hadn’t talked with for a week. I also had a delightful message from a friend saying she was in the area and wanted to try to meet with me. A day full of surprises! I quickly got in touch and we met up shortly thereafter for beer and pizza.

My friend, Erin, had the whole week off and had driven down from northwest Washington to do some backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness which happened to include a section of the PCT. She asked if I’d be interested in joining her for the PCT section. I barely had to think before I said yes. It would mean jumping ahead by about 11 miles but missing a short section of trail was a small cost for getting to enjoy Erin’s company for a few days.

I still needed to pick up my resupply package that I’d sent to Big Lake Youth Camp plus shower and do some laundry. After lunch we drove back up to the trail head in Santiam Pass. Erin dropped me off to hike the 5 miles south to the camp. Meanwhile she had a nap in her car and then drove the few minutes to meet me near the camp.

Entrance to Big Lake Youth Camp (photo courtesy Mark Larabee; www.pcta.org)

The amenities at the camp were exactly as described. The camp had set aside a cabin for PCT hikers where we could shower, do laundry, and socialize. The camping situation wasn’t as ideal though. We couldn’t set up our tents on the camp’s property and so were relegated to whatever we could find among some old burnt snags, downfall, new growth and poky bear grass. In retrospect I think I would have gone hunting for a better site, but I was feeling excited and overwhelmed by my day and so the first okay spot to set up my tent would have to do. At least it was close to a nice view of the lake!

Looking across Big Lake with Three Fingered Jack in the distance.

I felt so much better after washing the trail dust off both me and my clothes. I thoroughly enjoyed the hot meal at dinner and we both enjoyed some silly socializing with the other PCT hikers. Erin is planning to hike the PCT in 2020 and this was her first exposure to a larger group of thru-hikers.

It felt incredibly special to have Erin come meet me and join up to hike with me. My feelings of loneliness and isolation were replaced with happiness, laughter and conversation. For the next few days I’d have great company and someone to share the experience with.

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