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Crater Lake Area High Cascades Hiking Oregon Trip report

Discovery Point and Lightning Spring – 09/19/2022

The longest planned hike of our Southern Oregon trip also promised to be the most scenic with nearly two and a half miles being along the rim of Crater Lake. After a couple of days of rain showers (and one night of thunderstorms) Monday was forecast to be partly sunny albeit with a 40% chance of showers. We were hoping for clear views of the lake with just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. We had picked up a 7-day pass on Saturday when we’d driven through Crater Lake National Park and now reentered the Park from Highway 62 to the south and parked near the Rim Village Gift Shop and Cafe.
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Our plan was to hike the Discovery Point and Lightning Spring loop described by Sullivan in his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California” (edition 4.2 hike #21). He describes hiking the route counter-clockwise hiking along the rim of the caldera to Discovery Point first but we opted instead for a clockwise loop for two reasons. First was that we wanted to be hiking the rim later in the day when the Sun would hopefully be directly overhead instead of across the lake to the east. The second reason was because Sullivan described the final section of the Dutton Creek Trail as “climbing more seriously…to your car”. Our thought was that it might be more enjoyable to be going down that stretch rather than up.

Before starting the loop we passed by the Gift Shop to check out the morning view of the lake.
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IMG_1885Mt. Scott (post) with a bit of a lenticular cloud.

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IMG_1903Raven making a landing atop a mountain hemlock.

IMG_1909The Watchman (post), Hillman Peak, and Llao Rock along the western side of the rim.

The view was amazing and aside from the ravens we were about the only people around this early. We got distracted enough by the views that we didn’t catch that the Dutton Creek Trail was located a bit downhill along the West Rim Road and we set off on the Rim Trail toward the Discovery Point Trailhead.
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In our defense the topo map on our GPS showed a connector trail further along the Rim Trail (that trail no longer exists) but we didn’t catch our mistake until we’d gone nearly a quarter mile. We turned around and hiked back to the entrance road to Rim Village and hiked downhill to the signed Dutton Creek Trail.
IMG_1913It was by far the most scenic mistake we’ve made while hiking.

IMG_1914Wizard Island and Llao Rock

IMG_1915Mount Scott

IMG_1916We joked that views had been so good maybe we should just end the hike now.

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A short distance down the Dutton Creek Trail we came face to face with a pair of bucks.
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It was quite the start to the hike and we wondered how anything during the remainder of the hike could top the beginning. We followed the Dutton Creek trail a total of 2.4 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail. The upper portion had indeed been fairly steep before leveling out quite a bit. The forest along the trail was very nice and the trail was in excellent shape.
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IMG_1944Dutton Creek was dry.

IMG_1954Blue sky ahead.

20220919_083501Not much left for flowers, this could be a Crater Lake collomia although it’s a little late in the season.

IMG_1964Castle Creek still had some water flowing.

IMG_1965We spotted several piles of hail, possibly from the severe thunderstorms that had been forecast for Saturday night?

IMG_1966Arriving at the PCT.

We turned right on the PCT and followed it for 4.4 fairly level miles to the Lightning Springs Trail. Sullivan described this section of trail as relatively dull but there was enough variety in the scenery to make it enjoyable if not remarkable.
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IMG_1969The campsite at the junction was closed due to hazard trees.

IMG_1970Recrossing Castle Creek.

IMG_1974The PCT appeared to be following an old road bed through the park.

IMG_1982Dropping down to Trapper Creek.

IMG_1984PCT crossing of Trapper Creek.

We saw one other deer, a doe in the trail, and otherwise it was a lot of chipmunks and squirrels along with numerous birds.
IMG_1985A red-breasted nuthatch that was toying with me as I tried to get a photo.

IMG_1988Canada jay (grey jay)
IMG_1990Blue sky to the north ahead.

IMG_1992Some blue sky south too with a glimpse of Union Peak (post).

IMG_1993Union Peak

IMG_2002Entering the 2006 Bybee Complex fire scar.

IMG_2005The Watchman. The lookout tower on top was in a cloud after having been clearly visible from rim earlier. We wondered what that might mean for our views when we finally made it back to the rim.

IMG_2008Chipmunk checking us out.

IMG_2012Coneflower remains

IMG_2017Another creek crossing.

IMG_2015Red crossbills at the creek crossing.

IMG_2025There were some pretty ominous looking clouds behind us but no showers yet.

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IMG_2027Several white crowned sparrows and at least one junco. We could also hear chickadee calls but I couldn’t find one in this capture.

IMG_2030Despite the ugly clouds behind us there was almost always blue sky ahead.

IMG_2032North Fork Castle Creek

IMG_2034Approaching the junction with the Lightning Springs Trail.

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We turned onto the Lightning Springs Trail and headed for the clouds above The Watchman.
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This trail climbed gradually along a ridge at the edge of a 2016 fire scar.
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IMG_2047Townsend’s solitaire

IMG_2048Union Peak had been swallowed by clouds.

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IMG_2052The Watchman with a cloud still hanging on.

IMG_2053Hawk

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IMG_2058The base of Union Peak with lots of blue sky around.

IMG_2066A brief stint in full sunlight.

IMG_2068Robin

We were supposed to pass below a small waterfall after 2.4 miles along Lightning Creek but this late in the Summer it was dry.
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The trail continued to climb beyond the dry fall arriving at Lightning Springs after another 0.8 miles.
IMG_2072Union Peak nearly free of clouds.

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IMG_2081The Watchman still not free.

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IMG_2094Mountain bluebird

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We detoured a short distance down the trail to Lightning Springs Camp to check out the springs which were not dry.
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After visiting the springs we continued another 0.8 miles to West Rim Drive and crossed over to the Rim Trail.
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IMG_2106Full view of Union Peak.

IMG_2109And finally a full view of The Watchman.

IMG_2119Conditions were changing quickly and now there was blue sky above The Watchman.

IMG_2120West Rim Drive ahead with the lower portion of Mt. McLoughlin (post) in between the trees to the right.

IMG_2121Mt. McLoughlin

IMG_2124This squirrel put its cone down in case I had something better for it, but we don’t feed the wild animals per Park rules (and Leave No Trace Principles).

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We followed the Rim Trail for 2.4 miles back to Rim Village passing Discovery Point at the 1.1 mile mark. The views were spectacular resulting in many, many photos for which we don’t feel the least bit sorry about.
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IMG_2150Wizard Island’s cone

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IMG_2160Llao Rock

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IMG_2165Dock along Wizard Island

IMG_2174The Watchman and Hillman Peak

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IMG_2189_stitchGarfield Peak to the left with Union Peak to the far right.

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IMG_2221Phantom Ship

IMG_2224Mount Scott

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IMG_2249Clark’s nutcracker

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IMG_2282That blue though!

IMG_2290Golden-mantled ground squirrel

IMG_2297Back to where we’d been that morning.

Including our wandering around Rim Village and going the wrong way to start our hike came to 14.4 miles with 2000′ of cumulative elevation gain.

I don’t think we could have asked for better conditions. It only sprinkled for one brief moment and the amount as well as type of clouds added to the beauty instead of hiding it. Add in temperatures that didn’t get much over 50 degrees if that and it was about a perfect day for a hike. We changed our shoes and socks then grabbed lunch in the cafe and did some shopping in the gift shop before heading back to Shady Cove. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Discovery Point and Lightning Spring

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