Day 24: Waffles and waterfalls and sketchy water crossings – oh my!

12.1 miles
Timberline Lodge – PCT mile 2106.5
Total miles so far: 425.6

When I wake up this morning it isn’t like I’ve been merely sleeping, it’s like I’ve been in a coma.

The absence of fear about whether something will try to eat me in the night has given me an incredible feeling of peace, and peace apparently leads to the best sleep of one’s life. I don’t climb out of the cloud bed until 8am, and even then the only reason I get up is because there is brunch out there, just down the stairs from my room, and I must have it. I must have it!!!

Here’s what happens next:

Feather and Sprout and I get a table with Colin, Feather’s boyfriend who arrived late last night and who will be hiking the next section with them, and we sit at this table for over an hour, during which time we eat everything.

My first plate is filled end-to-end with a deep, crisp Belgian waffle that I have made myself at their waffle station. You can barely see the waffle under the mound of fresh berries and syrup that I’ve piled on top, but that waffle is there all right and it is perfect. Vegan? Who’s vegan?

My second plate has banana pancakes and seasoned potatoes, mini blueberry muffins and chocolate croissants. And my third and fourth plates are just melon. Melon!

And through all of this the waiter keeps bringing me freshly squeezed orange juice, which is not included in the buffet price and is something outrageous like $4 per glass, but it is sweet and pulpy like the nectar of the Gods so what do I even care? Here, take all my money. Just never stop bringing me this orange juice.

After brunch I stumble back to my room in a food haze. Check-out isn’t until 11am and I don’t plan to leave even one minute sooner. Especially since I have made myself sick at brunch, which is a) not surprising and b) not entirely unwelcome. I have almost two hours to work out my stomach issues in my own private hotel bathroom after all. It’ll be fine!

Back in my room I climb under the sheets and snuggle deep into the cloud bed. I call my best friend, Jamie, and we are able to talk for real for the first time since I started this hike. 11am comes around way too soon.

With great reluctance I drag myself and my gear out of the room, return the key, and commandeer a small section of the hotel’s lounge area in which to organize my resupply, clean out my pack, and get ready to go. By noon we’re climbing up the paved parking lot ramp toward the trail, and immediately I am back in blister hell, swallowing down some ibuprofen and trying not to think about my feet until the drugs kick in.

I hike alone all morning – the girls are going slow with Colin since it’s his first day on trail – but I pull ahead and soon pass a few southbound hikers who want to talk to me about one thing and one thing only: the brunch at Timberline Lodge. Is it as good as they’ve heard? As good as everyone says?

“It’s better,” I assure them. And then they speed-hike away, stacks of waffles calling their name.

Much of the trail is downhill today, and I never need to take a second dose of ibuprofen. Is my body finally adapting? Of course this is what would happen two days before I finish my hike. Of course, right?

In the late afternoon I hit the junction for the Ramon Falls alternate, where one can either continue on the PCT for two miles or hike the same mileage on a side trail that goes by Ramona Falls. I love waterfalls! So what the hell, let’s take the alternate.

This decision does not disappoint. The entire two-mile section is wonderful, so green and mossy and wet, almost rainforest-like, and I sit at the base of Ramona Falls for a while, watching the water cascade over the rocks with the early evening light filtering down through the trees. Tomorrow will be my last full day on trail. What does that mean? What does it mean that this hike is almost over?

Right before the alternate trail connects back to the PCT I have a choice: I can set up camp right here, at a tentsite by a creek, or I can push ahead for a few more miles. It’s been a short day though, and I feel good. Let’s do this. Let’s keep going!

The final obstacle before camp is that I need to cross Muddy Fork. The trail ends at a steep drop-off, below which I can see the quick-moving water of Muddy Fork, and the only way across is via the two downed trees that connect this bank with the other side, where the trail resumes.

The trees have fallen in such a way that one is slightly on top of the other, and someone has attached a thin cord of rope all along the top tree. From what I’m seeing, my only option is to stand on the lower tree, lean on the upper tree for support, hold the rope, and shuffle my feet side-to-side all the way across. I am terrified, but I don’t have a choice. This is the only way forward.

“You can do this, you can do this.”

I am chanting quietly to myself as I hold my trekking poles in one hand and step onto the tree. I use my free hand to hold the rope and I begin walking sideways, very slowly, refusing to look down into the water, just taking one small step at a time, chanting nonstop.

When I reach the other side I find that it’s not as easy as simply stepping off the tree, I need to get myself up and over the roots. This is the side of the trail that the trees came from, and the roots are large and formidable. I toss my trekking poles over first, hearing them clank as they hit the ground on the other side, and then I am carefully pulling myself up, holding tight to the roots, climbing over them one leg at a time, and finally jumping to the sturdy ground with a sigh of relief. I did it!

don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall

I find a spot to camp just a few minutes later, across the trail from two men who are hiking southbound, and even though they are perfectly friendly I have a moment of apprehension in which I remember that I am a woman hiking alone, preparing to sleep in the woods next to two strange men.

I do my camp chores to ease my nerves, eating my beans and veggies with olive oil and tortilla chips, setting up my tent and sleeping pad, and looking over the maps for tomorrow. I’ll be climbing over 4,300 feet, but I know I can do it. I made it to Timberline Lodge, I crossed that sketchy tree bridge, and I believe in myself.

I finally believe in myself.