A Challenge for PCT Hikers: Take Your Time in Oregon

Oregon harbors some of the greatest gems on the Pacific Crest Trail—but you’ll never know it if you don’t take your time.
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Oregon harbors some of the greatest gems on the Pacific Crest Trail—but you’ll never know it if you don’t take your time.
Take a zero day at Crater Lake. Photo by Andrew slaton / tandemstock.com

Take a zero day at Crater Lake. Photo by Andrew Slaton / tandemstock.com

“C’mon, guys, let’s hike a 30,” Kit and Rimshot pled. Trail friends had just caught up to my husband and me at the end of a 25-mile day in southern Oregon. It was only 3 p.m., “practically the middle of the day,” they said. “Five more miles is nothing.”

“I don’t think so,” I said as my husband and I started snapping our tent poles together. I wanted to sit back, read my book, and dip my aching feet in an ice-cold stream. After three months of dawn-to-dusk days on the Pacific Crest Trail, I simply wanted something I hadn’t had in months—a little R&R.

From day one, every thru-hiker feels the pressure to make miles and reach Canada before the weather turns. And after nearly 1,700 miles of California’s parched deserts and snowy passes, Oregon is where hikers can finally see what their trail-trained (dirty, hairy) legs can do. The average thru-hiker covers some 5 additional miles per day along its easier terrain. Picking up the pace here has become such an ingrained part of the PCT that it has a name: the Oregon Challenge. Thru-hikers who take it on attempt to hustle the 430 miles between state lines in two weeks. That’s 31 miles a day, every day, with no time off for good behavior.

But it does sometimes seem a bit sad, even to thru-hikers, to hurry through Oregon’s mossy corridors. Doesn’t the Beaver State and its string of mist-shrouded volcanoes deserve more of our time? California gets three months. Let’s start a new challenge for thru-hiking Oregon: Take your time.

But I’m a thru-hiker! you say. Too much sitting and I get anxious.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan that will keep you on schedule. It starts in California. Instead of tabbing a zero day in Idyllwild, Bishop, or Mammoth—under the pretense that you can make up the time in Oregon—don’t. Save the time for Oregon’s best (OK, only) national park: Crater Lake. At this point on your walk, easing off may sound even harder than blitzkrieging. But take the alternate PCT route (sorry, purists) to the rim and sip a cocktail on the lodge’s back deck, perched on the edge of the caldera. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Ready for something a little more rigorous after a day lounging by the lake? Hit the Three Sisters Wilderness at the state’s halfway point and spend a day climbing the 10,358-foot South Sister. Toast your success in Oregon’s favorite trail town, Bend—a 35-mile hitch from the trail. Covering all 15 breweries along the Bend Ale Trail ought to slow you down a bit.

If the weather takes a classic Pacific Northwest turn (rain, rain, and more rain), you’ll want to warm up in this next section. Bum a ride to Breitenbush, the crown jewel of Oregon’s geothermal hot springs. Your UL kit will fit right in here: no swimsuits required.

By the time you start the long march up Mt. Hood, Washington is right around the corner. If you’re still running ahead of schedule, plan to get better acquainted with Oregon’s tallest peak by walking the long way around on the 40-mile Timberline Trail.

Congratulations! You’ve just completed the New Oregon Challenge.