Jetta vs. Rock Pile: our backpacking trip to Waucoma Lakes

(spoiler alert: the rock pile won)

My friends and I backpacked the Waucoma Lakes Loop on Saturday and Sunday. It’s in the Hatfield Wilderness, and PCT trail #2000 runs tangent to one of the trails we hiked.

The route we took would’ve been about 12 miles, but we made it much longer by…uh…getting really lost.

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Ultimately, we ended up at a backpacker’s camp by Wahtum Lake, and enjoyed a beautiful, quiet, clear night. My friend Mike shot this photo from the edge of the lake.

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The next morning, we hiked around the lake…

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…and then headed back to the trailhead where we had started.

The forest service roads on the way to that trailhead had been really rough, so we had some reservations about traversing them again.

But, alas, we had no choice but to go back the way we came.

At one point, we took a wrong turn. As we backtracked, we noticed a piece of someone’s car in the road. We stopped to move it, and then realized it was a piece of OUR car.

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That was when we noticed the oil leaking from under the front of the car.

We tried to ignore this as we continued on…to the rock pile. Like, literally, the road is just a really long pile of rocks at this section, and you have to just sit and listen as they tear up the undercarriage of your car.

We were JUST celebrating our return to the pavement when the oil light came on and the car started screeching at us. When we got out, we were greeted with a pool of oil and an awful smell.

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We had just enough cell service to call for help. My girlfriend had roadside assistance insurance, and they sent a tow truck. Unfortunately, we were told that the truck would only hold two, and there were four of us.

So my friend Ed and I hitchhiked back with someone who turned out to be kind of a crazy driver. As we veered around narrow curves with steep dropoffs and no guardrails at high speeds, I wondered if we’d have been better off just walking the 9 miles back into town. The driver seemed to notice our tension, and slowed down a little. We arrived safely at the auto shop, and the tow truck soon arrived.

Upon closer inspection, we saw the huge puncture in the oil reservoir:

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(Fortunately, it doesn’t look like there was any damage to the engine itself)

The owner of the shop was kind enough to give us a ride to Double Mountain brewery, where we waited for our ride back to Portland.

Lesson learned: clearance is your friend on forest service roads. We were told that if we hadn’t made it to the pavement, the company wouldn’t have been able to tow it. In which case, we’d have had to leave it overnight. Which would’ve been okay except for the fact that abandoned cars tend to be popular targets for shooters in the area. So we got very lucky.

All in all, we’re grateful we made it back to the pavement, grateful to have had so many kind strangers who helped us out, and grateful that we got to enjoy that backpacking trip. If you’re thinking of going yourself, I’d start at the Wahtum lake trailhead instead. The roads are much better there, and you could hike to Rainy Lake or use it as a base camp to explore the PCT.

Written on June 12, 2015