Recent wildfires in Oregon are causing surprise interruptions for many passing through on one of the longest hiking trails in America.
The Windigo Fire, sitting at 1,098 acres as of Thursday afternoon, caused a 60-mile closure on the Pacific Crest Trail running from north of Crater Lake to Odell Lake (Mile 1848 to 1908).
On Wednesday and Thursday, hikers stopped at rest tents set up by Avid Cider and other local breweries near the Mt. Washington trailhead in Central Oregon.
It was a welcome sight after the rugged conditions of the PCT.
“We have a bunch of different beverages, we have food, drink, and we’ve had about more than 40-50 hikers come through already,” said Avid and 7 Peaks Cider Founder, Dan McCoy.
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Many of the hikers passing through had been redirected due to the closures, and some got dangerously close to the fire.
Aaron “First Chair” Richards had been traveling through Southern Oregon for his first hike on the PCT, and he was one of the first to spot the Windigo Fire.
“We were on this ridge the day after we hiked through Crater Lake, up pretty high with tree cover,” he said. “There was a lot of dry lightning, and there was this one rumble that just went on for at least 10 seconds, like maybe 15 seconds, it was the longest thunder rumble I’ve ever heard by far. But no precipitation with it at all, we didn’t see a strike or anything.
“My hiking partner and I were like, ‘Whoa, that was weird.’ Fast forward a couple miles, we rounded a corner, and we’d been starting to see what we kind of thought was smoke but there was a fire behind us so we wrote it off. But then we saw this big pillar of smoke, and we were like ‘Oh, that is a brand new fire.'”
Richards said the fire looked to be around 10 acres at that point. He called 911, and operators were unsure what to do because it was still a brand new fire.
“Eventually they were like, you can see it and we can’t, so do what you think is safest,” Richards said. “So we walked a mile and a half towards the fire, got to a road which had water so we could drink something, and there was a trooper there who had us pile into this stranger’s van and he drove us around the fire to our next town at Shelter Cove.”
Other hikers narrowly avoided the closure, like Dave “Odysseus” Stamboulis.
“We started to hear about fires. There was a fire here, a fire there, but we kept going,” he said. “Then there was a fire at the Windigo Pass. We heard about it, and we reached Windigo Pass and all the people that were there said yeah they’ve contained the fire and it was ok, we loaded up and kept going.”
He and his two hiking partners made it over the Diamond Peaks and camped out around seven miles from Shelter Cove when they started to smell smoke.
“We started cooking dinner, and all of a sudden we smelled smoke, and it got stronge and then the wind shifted and we didn’t smell anything anymore,” he said. “We went to bed, went into Shelter Cove the next morning, and we hear that everywhere, the whole route we just came through has been closed.”
Stamboulis said very soon after that, hundreds of hikers began arriving in cars after being shuttled all the way around from Crater Lake.
Those faced with the unexpected road block rely on outside groups like Trail Angels to help them finish the journey.
“We’ve got a lot of hikers that are having to skip around from north Crater Lake, up to Willamette Valley…which is kind of a bummer because there’s so many beautiful areas of Oregon,” said Avid Cider and 7 Peaks Social Media Manager, Emily Ketty. “It can be a little bit of a headache because they’re just used to hiking on the trail and now they don’t have a car, they don’t know anybody, they have to keep their phones charged, their batteries charged and try to stay in service areas to arrange rides and try to get on Trail Angel pages and make that happen.”
The crew with the rest tents are offering free rides into Bend for re-supplying until the end of the day on Thursday.
Hikers say they are just glad to be out of the danger zone for now.
“It was disappointing, we had hiked every mile of the trail up until that point and we had to skip 30 miles around,” Richards said. “We were pretty lucky to just be able to get out of there without anything super dramatic happening.”