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Bull of the Woods/Opal Creek Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Bull of the Woods Lookout & Pansy Lake – 8/16/2019

For the 5th hike of our vacation we finally got around to one of Sullivan’s featured hikes that we hadn’t done yet, Pansy Lake.  Pansy Lake is located in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness in a basin below the Bull of the Woods Lookout.  In his guidebook Sullivan has you start the hike from the Pansy Lake Trailhead which is just over a mile from the lake. He gives two options, a 2.4 mile out-and-back to Pansy Lake or a 7.1 mile loop past the lake up to the lookout and then back down passing Dickey Lake along the way. Either of these options would have caused us to break our self-imposed rule against driving for more time than we spend hiking due to the driving time to the Pansy Lake Trailhead being roughly 2:45 for us. Fortunately Sullivan also mentions the option of starting at the Bull of the Woods Trailhead for an easier hike to the lookout. The Bull of the Woods Trailhead was about a 15 minute closer drive and it added almost 3 miles to the round trip which provided an acceptable drive/hike ratio.

With our plan in place we set off on the drive which proved to be a bit of an anomaly. The trailhead is located at the end of Forest Road 6340. Where the road was good it was an excellent gravel road but there were a couple of ugly obstacles along the way. The first was a slide that covered the road, half of which was impassable while the spot that could be driven over required a very slow, bumpy crossing (high clearance is probably necessary until it gets cleaned up). This was prior to a fork where the right hand fork (FR 6341) continued to the Pansy Lake Trailhead. After this fork sections of FR 6340 were deeply rutted by channels created by runoff again requiring careful placement of tires. We arrived at the trailhead no worse for wear though and set off on the signed trail.
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The first few hundred yards were a little brushy but soon the vegetation gave way to a huckleberry filled forest.
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There were ripe berries everywhere and they were big juicy berries too. In fact for most of the day there were ripe berries available and we ate quite a few. We weren’t the only ones feasting on berries though as we counted no less than 13 piles of berry filled bear scat along the trails.
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Although we kept our eyes open for a bear all we ran into on the trail was a rough skinned newt.
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The Bull of the Woods Trail climbed gradually as it passed below North and South Dickey Peaks.
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A little over 2.25 miles from the trailhead we arrived at a junction with the Dickey Lake Trail. We would be coming back up that trail later after visiting Pansy and Dickey Lakes.
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As the trail continued to climb we were treated to a couple of different views. First was to the west across the Pansy Lake Basin.
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A little further along, when the trail crested the ridge, we got a look a Mt. Hood which was rising above some clouds.
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The trail left the ridge for a bit and then regained it where the view also included Mt. Jefferson to the SE.
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The trail then followed a narrow rocky ridge passing below the lookout and coming up to it from the other side, 3.5 miles from the trailhead.
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A lizard scurried into the rocks beneath the lookout as we approached. Aside from a bit of morning haze the view was great. The clouds to the north hid the Washington volcanoes from sight but Mt. Hood stood out just fine.
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To the south Mt. Jefferson was cloud free and so was Three Fingered Jack for a bit. Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters played peek-a-boo through the clouds though.
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IMG_6796Three Fingered Jack

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In the basin to the NE Big Slide Lake (post) was visible.
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To the SW the flat topped Battle Ax Mountain (post) rose up above the surrounding peaks.
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We sat below the lookout for awhile enjoying the cool morning air as we watched the procession of clouds around us. After our break we headed steeply downhill via switchbacks for just over half a mile to the Mother Lode Trail.
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IMG_6855Bull of the Woods Trail ending at the Mother Lode Trail.

We turned right onto the Mother Lode Trail.
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We continued to descend as we followed this trail for approximately 1.25 miles, passing a viewpoint of Mt. Jefferson shortly before arriving at another junction.
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We turned right again, this time onto the Pansy Lake Trail.
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More downhill hiking ensued as we dropped into the basin. The trail was a bit rockier than the others and passed over a couple of talus fields.
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We’re always on the lookout for pikas and have had quite a bit of luck in spotting them this year, enough so that we have started calling it “the year of the pika”. As we came to the second section of talus Heather spotted one of the little “rock rabbits” scurrying along the hillside.
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After talking to the pika (I don’t know why but we tend to have a lot of one sided conversations with the wildlife) we continued on. Shortly before reaching the lake we found a couple of ripe thimbleberries, they were delicious.
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IMG_6885First look at Pansy Lake.

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We passed by the lake and reached a junction .8 miles from the Mother Lode Trail. We turned left and quickly arrived at the lake where we were a bit surprised that we were the only people there.
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We wandered around the lake passing through numerous empty campsites before finding a little log to sit on by the lake where we could watch the dragonflies and ducks.
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After a short break we returned to the trail junction and turned left continuing on the Pansy Lake Trail for another .2 miles to the Dickey Lake Trail junction.
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It was time to climb now and we headed up the Dickey Lake Trail which climbed relatively steeply at times. After .6 miles we came to a spur trail on the right which led down to Dickey Lake.
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The lake was quite a bit smaller than Pansy Lake and a lot brushier. After getting a look we returned to the Dickey Lake Trail and continued the climb back up to the Bull of the Woods Trail. A bit beyond the lake the trail passed through a little meadow with some remaining wildflowers and a few more thimbleberries.
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We gained approximately 800′ over the next .8 miles before reaching the junction. There was a few more downed trees along this trail than we had encountered on any of the others but none of them were too troublesome.
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We turned left onto the Bull of the Woods Trail and followed back to the car getting one last look at Mt. Hood along the way.
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With the extra exploring around the lakes we wound up doing 10.6 miles (for the third time in the week). We both thought that the elevation gain doing the loop from the Pansy Lake Trailhead would have been quite a bit worse so the extra miles were worth it in our minds, plus it gave us that much more time to eat berries. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Pansy Lake and Bull of the Woods Lookout

3 replies on “Bull of the Woods Lookout & Pansy Lake – 8/16/2019”

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