Friday, September 13, 2013

Lava Hell Backpack Trip

Well to put it mildly, this last backpacking trip didn't go that well. In fact, I pretty much lost my sh*t headed back on the trail and am still trying to decide if I will return to overnight trips at some point or not. Most the backpacking individuals I've talked to can't believe we started our trek where we did but I'm still frustrated that the experience broke me as much as it did. 

So in a nut's the latest trip:

One day delay and instead of starting at the picturesque Crater Lake PCT entrance, it was decided to start outside Sisters. I didn't realize that my traveling companions hadn't researched this part of the trail....and soon discovered that there was no knowledge of near water sources nor what the terrain was to be like. Needless to say, I should have put my foot down and assured that we started at Crater Lake, because the first four miles of where we started looked like this:
Solid lava rocks. Halfway through I realized it wasn't a good idea to have the dogs on this stuff but I kept hoping that part of the trail would end sooner rather than later. It kept on. I also kept contemplating how in the world I was going to travel back over that section with the dogs (since we were scheduled to do two days hike north with the guys and then hike back out to the trailhead returning the same way).

After the four miles of solid lava rocks, there was 2.5 miles of sand mixed with some rocks on a decline, before going up through fern growth/burnt forest for three miles. 

Here the guys and the dogs are stopped at our first real rest about 8 miles in. Soon after this I started getting dizzy if we stopped. Due to the delay in days, I didn't fuel well to start the day off and probably was dehyrdrated, undernourished, and with low iron levels after having a heavy period that same week.

A quick view from the trail on our three mile gradual decline toward camp. We lucked out and the camp that night had actual bunks, showers, a kitchen, etc since it was an out-of-season youth camp. We chatted with a couple other PCT thru and section hikers and it was neat getting to meet some of the people on the trail. However it was also at the camp that Anna stopped wanting to walk and I was able to take a look at her paws. Every single one of her paws had been torn up with some of top layers of her pads almost having been torn completely off. Needless to say she wasn't in good shape. We were 100% incredibly fortunate that this location had cell service and we were able to find map the roads into the camp. Since Anna wasn't in any shape to get back out of there, it was decided that I would travel the 13.5 miles back to the car the next morning while the guys waited with the dogs before continuing up the PCT. 

Although this view looks pretty, this was at mile 4 or 5 on the return trip and I was already tired. Without a pack I should have been able to make better time. I had fueled well that morning, I had 20 oz of water with me, but out of the 13.5 miles I was only really able to force myself to jog about 4 of them. 

This is right after I finished the 2.5 mile incline back up to the lava section. I met 3 sets of thru hikers in this section, all of which looked as defeated as I already felt and I still had the four miles back across Lava Hell to go. Needless to say most the 13.5 miles had me cursing myself for not ensuring the trip was planned better, for allowing my dogs to go across that nasty stuff, and thinking about whether or not I ever wanted to backpack again. PLUS thinking of how much of a lame ass I felt for letting ONE section of the PCT break me so much when so many other people hike the entire thing...

By the time I made it back to the car, I'd been out of water for at least an hour, I'd sweated through every inch of my clothing and had salt crusted on my legs, arms, and face....and I had an hour drive back to the camp.

I stopped at McDonald's to get an iced tea, have them refill my water, and to get four hamburgers (one for each of the dudes and one for each dog).

I still wasn't in a great place as I picked up the dogs, changed clothes, and dropped the guys off at the nearest trailhead. My ranting left them more than happy to be back on their way.... 

After a fretful FB post and a call to my vet, I scheduled an appt for Anna for Thursday (this was Tuesday) and headed on to visit a buddy of mine and his wife (this is another post in itself....). He was sweet enough to pick up first aid supplies and the advice of a few friends helped know what to do to treat her wounds.

Here's the lady all bandaged up: 

Headed home on Wednesday. Anna was able to hobble around some but still needed to be carried across rough surfaces. I rescheduled the appt on Thursday for both of them after I found a nasty rash again on Roxi's stomach. Verdict was that Anna's off physical activity for one to two months to ensure her pads harden. She's allowed to walk in grass and carpet. They cut the skin flaps off her paws and I'm to keep monitoring for infection. Roxi has the start of a staph infection on her stomach so she's on antibiotics. Either a reaction to fleas or grass or both. 

The whole experience smashed a little bit of the outside joy that I've been having for the last year. I'm still excited for snowshoeing and the idea of being active outside for the most part. But I just can't put my finger on what exactly broke inside of me.... was it the realization that the dog could have been seriously injured? is it the worry of what if i couldn't have driven/carried her out? is it residual issues of disappointment in myself or the guys?  is it the fact that i know that we just happened to be very lucky? was it that i was mentally unprepared for that type of a trip? (i knew it would be hard...but usually i'm fairly why did that hardness break me down?) is it that same notion of feeling defeated/failed/mortal? 

Last night I made myself get out for a jog just to see how my body was doing. I managed the 3.5 mile jog just fine and made myself run the return stretch that I most hate and mentally struggle with completing. I ran the whole thing and sprinted the last half a mile home. Somehow doing so helped--made me feel not as mentally weak.

But I'm not going to lie, I also returned my faulty jetboil to REI yesterday. The salesperson took one look at me and said "the trail defeated you." I've interacted with the salesperson a few times and he's thru hiked the PCT. We talked about the section we started on, the dog's injuries, and he just shook his head at our starting there of all places. His final words as I left the store "Don't sell all your stuff... we'll get you back out on the trail...eventually...."

But I don't know. I stopped here at Odell Lake on the drive back to Portland. It looks like the perfect spot for a little paddle boarding, kayaking, resting, day hiking, and what could be a future of lazy car camping.......

Only time will tell, but my days of backpacking could potentially be over....
....I always knew I wasn't really a thru hiker or made of the mettle of marathoners anyway :)


  1. Yeah, that doesn't sound too fun. But, I give you credit for doing all that hiking! I would have stopped about half a mile in I believe :-)

  2. That does sound pretty miserable. And especially for the poor pups' feet!