After another really cold night and an even colder morning when we woke up with numb hands and had to pack up the tent, we decided we needed a warm up and targeted two of the peaks surrounding the lake to walk up, including the highest, Mt Scott, at just under 3000m
. As our extremities slowly thawed on the climb up we decided that it might be time for our faithful Marmot tent to retire gracefully. Camping in the cold is just not that fun and as we were heading north we could only imagine that it would get worse and worse – it was after all already mid-September. It has done us proud and we had camped in some incredible places round the world but for now we were looking forward to some nice warm motels. Luckily the walking soon had us warm and the views from the two peaks of Crater Lake (which is the purest known body of water in the world the park leaflet reliably informed us) and its piercing deep blue water were breathtaking. The walk was made even better when an elderly French-Swiss couple we'd been chatting to at the top in our rusty French stopped us on our way down and insisted on giving us a huge bar of proper Lindt chocolate from Switzerland. We must have looked hungry! After some half-hearted protestations (well for about 5 seconds anyway) we happily took it and wow was it good - America does many things well but chocolate is not one of them.
From Crater Lake we were headed on to Portland hoping for a warm motel and plenty of the famous local beer – Portland is home to more brewpubs per capita than anywhere else in the US and we had grand plans for finding a nice little place to have dinner and sample some of the local brew
. When we got to Portland though we found there was some kind of international conference going on and pretty much every hotel was full. After a manic bit of calling around we finally found about the only free room in town and gratefully took it before heading out to find any pub that was still open for a hasty dinner. Not quite what we’d had in mind! The next morning, having not seen the best of Portland, we continued on up the freeway to Seattle, and then on north for a quick visit to Mt Rainier National Park. Mt Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascades and a striking, very photogenic volcano, particularly as the wild flowers were out late this year and were carpeting the lower slopes. Sadly we didn’t have the time or money to climb to the peak (which takes 7 days and costs over $1,500 per person) so we had to content ourselves with a short stroll to some viewpoints instead before once more getting back in the car.
We were heading for the town of Bellingham, just north of Seattle, where some friends we had met in South America, Mike and Courtney, lived. We’d first met Mike when we climbed Roraima together in Venezuela and he’d foolishly said we should come and stay when we hit the West Coast and we were happy to take him up on the offer. They were amused (and perhaps a little flattered?) to hear the Lonely Planet’s description of the town which was that it was one of the nicest places in the US to live, although it did go on to add that it was also quite full of "Granola Munchers", one of the more amusing terms we had read in there
! We spent a really nice weekend with them heading out to the nearby Mt Baker (another of the photogenic Cascade peaks) where we climbed up towards the base of the glacier before being forced to turn back by a raging torrent that had flooded the path; the snow fall the previous winter had been huge and the sudden hot spell they were having up here was melting away a lot of the snow. They also took us a fantastic brew pub in town where we decided it was obligatory to test each of the beers before we headed on to a party at some of Michael & Courtney’s friends house who, it turned out, had purchased an entire keg from the same pub and installed it in a little fridge which had been modified to have a beer tap on the top. Genius - something to think about for home……
Towards the end of the weekend the weather finally took a turn for the worse (as we had been promised it would - everybody we met had been saying this was unusually sunny for the time of year) which seemed a perfect excuse to spend the afternoon in a pub learning to play Cribbage and generally relaxing. Whilst chatting about what foods we missed from home Mike & Courtney confessed that they didn’t know what custard was. WHAT?!?! This clearly had to be remedied so we took over the kitchen to rustle up a crumble and custard. Honestly, we’d thought America was fairly civilized.
Having spread the custard word, on Monday morning we bid goodbye to Mike and Courtney as they headed to work and we set off for the early ferry to Vancouver Island and the last new country of the trip; Canada.
Having left California for Oregon we also finally left the coast behind us and headed inland towards Crater Lake National Park. Arriving at Crater Lake was a little bit like arriving at the Grand Canyon. After a long drive on dead straight roads through endless and monotonous pine forests, followed by a slow winding road up the edge of the crater you finally get up and walk up a little scree slope and suddenly, bang!, the whole lake comes into view. And it is spectacular. It was much bigger and much more impressive that we had been led to expect and looked fantastic in the evening light. Well worth the detour from the coast and forcing the poor Tank up the mountain (it had begun to smoke from some unknown liquid dripping from the engine onto a hot exhaust pipe).