Morning came on Day 2 of our Pacific Crest Trail backpacking trip and we awoke at our campsite along the Rushingwater Creek near the Sandy River crossing. Brian made some excellent granola that we enjoyed for breakfast. After packing up camp we headed out to ford the Sandy River.
The overnight temperatures slowed the snowmelt and let the river level drop a few inches, making the crossing less perilous. We crossed the field of boulders to the simple crossing made of a few fallen trees.
Mt. Hood has these small black flies that buzz around during the day and land on you and twitch. On the previous day, we found ourselves counting the number of black flies that we swatted in a row. It was still early, so we got out to a cool morning before the black flies did. We also noticed that we were down quite a bit lower than the previous day and we did not see the same patches of snow all through the forest.
When I said the crossing was made from fallen trees, I should have said two small fallen trees. The previous evening, the river was rushing over the logs, so we were happy to have a few more inches between the river and our feet. Brian and I crossed the river and then he got out the video camera to watch Dan cross. Not that we expected him to fall in or anything… but we wanted to be ready just in case!
Once we were across the river, we proceeded another mile or two across the forest toward Ramona Falls. The hiking stick I picked up with the purpose of balancing as I crossed the Sandy stayed with me, partly because I knew the Muddy Fork crossing was coming up, but also because it was kind of nice to have a hiking stick along.
We reached Ramona Falls and stopped for a few pictures. This photo barely does Ramona Falls any justice. Ramona Falls is big. It is tucked away in the canyons surrounded by trees, which hides Ramona Falls in the shadows. Then, the rock face that the waterfalls come down is huge! Every picture I’ve seen of it on the Internet makes the falls look dark and tiny. Lastly, the spray off the waterfall blows down through the trees and cools everything off. It was really cool to see, and I think you have to see it in person to really appreciate it!
At this point, the mountains decided we had a pretty easy go, and decided to mix things up a little, and make things a little more challenging. From Ramona Falls, we set off down the Ramona Falls loop trail #797, across the Sandy River’s Muddy Fork and began the difficult switchbacks up Bald Mountain. I got particularly worn out going up this stretch. The switchbacks were long and steep and just when you thought you reached the top, here comes another switchback. The ascent was from 2800 to 4300 feet in 2 miles. We got about halfway up and stopped for Tuna Pesto sandwiches and water. Meanwhile, Bald Mountain went for the Day 2 knockout by attacking our Achilles’ Heel and attempted to knock out the water filter with it’s extra silty water. It succeeded in gumming up the filter for the rest of the trip, but it was still usable. We learned the hard way that it pays to pre-filter the water with a bandanna before putting it through the filter.
After Tuna Pesto and a long rest waiting for the water filtration, we set out on the even-steeper second mile of the Bald Mountain ascent! By this time, the early afternoon sun started beating down and it got very hot. The switchbacks eventually subsided and turned into a long uphill slog through the forest. I determined that all of the training hikes were insufficient and that I was not conditioned at all! It seemed like we’d go 20 or 30 yards and then I’d be out of breath, just panting away, the dry air parching my throat, so I had to stop for water, and then this wicked process would repeat again and again. Bald Mountain was winning, and almost had me beaten! Miraculously, I made it to the top where we stopped and through the help of my beef jerky and some level ground, I was able to get my energy level up, breathing pattern back on track and I was ready again to rack up another 3 miles to the campground!
We began the descent from Bald Mountain toward Lolo Pass, where we expected to make camp for the night, but where Bald Mountain left off, Bull Run and Hiyu Mountain took over. First, because of Bald Mountain, we were low on water, so we were hopeful for water at Lolo Pass campground. We had already gone about 10.4 miles for the day, and decided the campground at the bottom of the hill was a good spot. When we arrived, we did not find any water.
Looking at the maps, we estimated the closest water would be up Hiyu moutain about a quarter of a mile up. So we headed up the hill toward the water, crossing under the high voltage power lines from Bonneville Dam. Suddenly, we saw movement in the bushes to the right! My immediate thought was “deer!”, but looking more closely, I realized that I was looking at the muscular back end and tail of a cougar as it slinked into the bushes! It had clearly seen us and determined that we were not worth its time. It was certainly a moment of awe, as most people never encounter a cougar, so I was happy to have seen one. I was also content with the fact that the cougar was heading in the opposite direction. We crossed the power lines, occasionally checking behind us to make sure we weren’t followed, and made it to the next water source, a small stream, where we filled up. While filling the water container, Brian ran across additional cougar tracks. The campground near the stream was small, on a sloping hill, full of flies and was close enough to the cougar, so we decided to head uphill in search of another campsite just up the hill, so we shouldered our packs and continued up Bull Run.
The mountains were ready for us now, and as we continued up the hill, we encountered a trail runner who indicated “guys, if you have any sleeves, you better get them on, because there’s a few mosquitoes right around the bend”. We thanked him for the advice, thinking to ourselves “we haven’t seen a mosquito this whole trip, what is he smoking?”. However, when we rounded the bend, we were swarmed by the biggest and most aggressive swarm of mosquitoes that I’ve ever encountered. There was no stopping. We coated ourselves with mosquito repellent, pulled on jackets, sleeves and sweatshirts, but the mosquitoes kept coming, poking in ears, hiding between packs, buzzing incessantly. The next campground always seemed to be just another 3/4 of a mile over the hill, but with all the mosquitoes, we just kept going, not wanting to bed down with all the mosquitoes. By this time, we missed our annoying black flies!
The sun was starting to set when we ran into the Lost Lake #617 crossover trail. At that point, we realized we had done almost 5 miles since Lolo Pass, and the mosquitoes had not given up. We pressed on for another quarter of a mile when we eventually came to a small trail with a small sign indicating Salvation Springs. Brian left his pack on the trail and scouted down the path and found the Salvation Springs campground, with no mosquitoes and signaled us along. We stumbled into the campground, but within minutes of arriving, the mosquitoes found us! We were too tired and too annoyed by the pesky mosquitoes that we didn’t bother with the tarp tent, didn’t bother to cook any dinner, being content with PB&J Pitas, then building a smoky fire and then covering every exposed inch of skin from the mosquitoes. I wanted to show how aggressive the mosquitoes were and exposed my hand and counted to 5, and there were 6 mosquitoes perched on my hand–with mosquito repellent and all! The photo didn’t come out very well.
After a 15-mile day (Brian and Dan’s all-time best, and certainly mine, too) we were not happy about the mosquitoes keeping us up all night, however, we were in good spirits. Our joke was that whoever named this campground “Salvation Springs” must have come from a REALLY terrible place! Actually, Salvation Springs campground was actually a nice campground relatively close to a water source, and we probably would have had a great time if it weren’t for the mosquitoes. Fortunately, they were most interested in annoying us and less interested in biting. We built a nice fire and got it nice and smoky and slept around the campfire that night hoping the smoke would keep the mosquitoes away. It worked somewhat, but we all left Salvation Springs with a few mosquito bites.
We must have also been dreaming of cougars, too, because Brian stepped away to “use the tree” during the night, upon his return to camp, Dan and I both heard him approach, woke up, and lit him up with our headlamps and I had drawn my ka-bar! All-in-all, it was a long and challenging day, but it was still a good day!