Out of Crater Lake's Rim Village extend several footpaths, difficult to distinguish from the PCT proper, but all of which rollercoaster along the deep blue caldera, following the tourist road for several miles. After presenting an initial spectacular view, Wizard Island stood out in the lake taunting me to complete this populous section and disappear back into the trees. So many people, cars, non-hikers. Overwhelmed, we ducked into the foggy morning, snapped obligatory photos, and found trail beyond the roads as quickly as we could. Lava fields gave way to pumice and soft, puffy crushed volcanic material.
Forest closed us in eventually, providing a needed sense of seclusion. Though water remained scarce for a few days, the verdance of Oregon began to show through the drought. Mt Thielsen appeared the next day, its layered zigzags of color popping up over green canopy occasionally. We camped in its shadow after crossing Thielsen Creek and returning a lost battery pack to a section hiker named Good Samaritan. Escaping Crater Lake had thrown us into the heart of the northbound/southbound confluence. To avoid the throng camped at the creek, we wandered a bit down a side trail, set up, then were surprised by an equally stunned photographer who had expected to have the side trail to himself. He was a perfect reclusive neighbor.
On through nondescript, yet beautiful, Oregon wilderness we continued for a few days. We paused to take pictures at the lackluster Oregon/Washington high point. Again, I ran into Good Samaritan, this time taking a photo for him at the wooden monument. Little eruptions of enormous purple and pink mushrooms began to dot the edges of the path. Soon, cascades of moss and green lichens, mingled with ferns and shelf fungi followed. I really began to enjoy Oregon's forests again.
The Oregon Skyline Trail, an approved PCT alternate, led us deeper into thick, magical forests. Before starting the alternate, Any Minute had given her paper maps to Good Samaritan, who lacked a decent means of navigation through the network of side trails. This led to a minor detour up and back down an alternative path to the PCT, though she still made it into Shelter Cove in plenty of time to meet up with me and a dozen other hikers, charge electronics and prepare to slip out of the little vortex with barely a nero. Unfortunately, after finding a campsite, Any Minute discovered that she'd left her SPOT tracker behind, making it necessary to get breakfast burritos and coffee at the store after it opened the next day. Not the worst consequence ever.
Through Section E, we encountered numerous enticing lakes and perfect campsites. Bobby Lake looked infinitely fishable, the Rosary Lakes made me wish for more zero days, and every short side trail to other lakes made me angry that I was confined to this one uber-trail. At some point, the shoulder strap on Skookum's right side broke. I roped it together with paracord, which dug into my shoulder for days. Finally, at Elk Lake Resort, we stopped to get Any Minute's resupply and take in a view for a half day. We ate great food, tried to supplement our rations from the hiker box and their pitiful pair of resupply shelves, and camped in the designated crappy woodchipped corner of the campground reserved for stinky backpackers.
North of Elk Lake, more lush forest dwindled, at length, into an obsidian rock garden. Within the Obsidian Limited Entry area I saw jet black boulders and cliffs rising out of the grey volcanic puffs. Though I've come across fields of chipped obsidian in the past, rocks this massive were spectacular and unbelievable to me. There were obsidian campsites and even Obsidian Falls. The whole experience continues to be surreal, even as a memory.
From the obsidian area, there was nothing but burned forest and huge lava flows to Highway 242 at MacKenzie Pass. Lava ripped our feet, made us extremely grumpy and caused me to stay in Bend an extra day to mend my infected toe and acquire new shoes while exchanging my pack. We got some excellent hitches, though. First, into Sisters, a local gave us lots of geological and historical information. At Sisters, we saw Tink and Screagle at a gas station, had a brief reunion, then got a ride with three exuberant women who packed us into their Ford Ranger. They took us to REI and asked us thousands of questions along the way. On the way back to the pass, Uberducky, a, local trail angel, told us all about the trail angel network in his bright green duckmobile. Strange and great times.