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Day 107 – July 19, 2022

Mile 1979.7 (Matthieu Lake) to 1997.1 (Big Lake Youth Camp)

17.4 trail miles | 15.8 tracked miles | 1,769 ft elevation gain | 78.8 F / 26 °C

My night at Matthieu Lake was entirely uneventful. Surprisingly, I was all alone and didn’t get busted for camping illegally! (The campsite is officially off-limits to PCT thru-hikers.)

I enjoyed a quick but peaceful breakfast, then collected water for the upcoming 15-mile dry stretch to Big Lake Youth Camp (BLYC), a summer camp just off the PCT that has a long-standing tradition of welcoming hikers.

The journey to BLYC was surreal, soul crushing, and yet absolutely amazing.

Scott Pass

North of Matthieu Lake, I traversed an enormous lava field. Black rocks and dust were my sole companions over miles and miles and what felt like an eternity. I could feel every sharp rock under my soles. I was eager to leave this inhospitable inferno, yet I couldn’t get enough of this surreal, otherworldly landscape.

The trail descended towards McKenzie Pass, where a deserted highway cut through the lava field like a knife. Highway 242, or McKenzie Highway as it’s colloquially known, leads to the towns of Sisters and Bend.

McKenzie Highway 242

North of the highway, the trail started climbing. The ascent was tedious, challenging, and exposed, but also incredibly rewarding. The Three Sisters loomed in the distance against the arid, alien landscape.

I kept longing for a smoother trail, but as soon as I made it out of the lava field, I entered a hot, exposed, and equally bare burn area. While desolate at first sight, the landscape was once again full of life. I witnessed an explosion of wildflowers.

A meadow with a small pond offered a welcome reprieve from the charred forest, along with superb views of Mount Washington. It was the first hospitable area since I left Matthieu Lake!

Mt. Washington

Around 11:30 am, I realized that if I were to switch to full throttle, I could make it to BLYC in time for lunch. Food is always a huge motivator and definitely has a measurable impact on my average speed!

The last few miles were smooth and easy. At mile 1995, I left the PCT and followed the short spur trail to Big Lake Youth Camp.

Arriving at Big Lake

Located in an idyllic location by Big Lake, BYLC is a youth summer camp operated by the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, a Protestant Christian denomination. The Seventh-day Adventists observe Saturday (the seventh day of the week in the Christian and the Hebrew calendars) as the Sabbath and believe in the Second Coming (advent) of Jesus Christ.

I have my reservations when it comes to religious organizations, but I’m also a very pragmatic person. I was more than happy to listen to any pitch in exchange for free food.

As it turned out, my experience at BYLC was superb. There was no pitch and no catch, just genuine hospitality. The staff was incredibly welcoming, and the facilities downright impressive. The children seemed extremely well-cared for, and there is an entire building for PCT hikers with a communal kitchen, showers, a laundry room, a large living area, and a resupply package holding area. The facilities were spotless, and staff members kept coming and going to ensure that everything was in order. BLYC basically puts every resort I’ve visited so far to shame.

I rushed to lunch along with other fellow hikers. We were directed to the staff dining area, following a winding path at the periphery of the camp—thus avoiding any unnecessary contact with children. While I applaud this common-sense measure, it’s also a sad reflection of the state of our world.

Lunch was served buffet-style, and while the fare was simple, I immensely enjoyed the abundance of vegetables and greens, which are always such a treat on the trail. Considering the terrible quality of the average school meal in the US, I felt that BYLC did a remarkable job of exposing children to healthier alternatives.

Lunch at Big Lake Youth Camp

After lunch, I spent a leisurely afternoon in the company of other hikers. I showered, laundered my clothes, connected to Wi-Fi, and relaxed in the comfort of our cabin. Late in the afternoon, I had dinner. Then, it was time to bid farewell to BYLC—they don’t allow on-site camping, and in any case, I wanted to get closer to Santiam Pass.

I made my way with other hikers to a dirt road a mile up north and set up camp just off the PCT, at mile 1997.1—tantalizingly close to mile marker 2,000! The area isn’t especially attractive, but it’s one of the last possible campsites before Santiam Pass.

Backcountry camping at mile 1997.1 near Big Lake Youth Camp

Tomorrow, I will hike the few miles to Santiam Pass, the northernmost exit point before a fire closure that requires me to skip 150 trail miles through Northern Oregon.

The Big Picture

3D path
3D video

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