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Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Indian Racetrack via Falls Creek – 09/05/2021

The horrible wildfire season finally thwarted one of our planned trips when California announced that all National Forests would be closed over Labor Day Weekend (and at least through September 17th). This was at least the third year in a row we had a backpacking trip in the Siskiyou Wilderness planned but either fire or weather has kept those plans from happening each time. Much like last September many of the areas that aren’t on fire are suffering from unhealthy air quality due to the smoke so our options were limited. (How I miss the days of rain being the driving factor on where we were going to hike.) One of the areas that has been less impacted by the smoke has been SW Washington and so we turned to that area once again for a pair of hikes over the holiday weekend. We skipped Saturday as smoke was an issue pretty much everywhere save for the Coast and Coast Range and waited for the next system to push the smoke east (sorry Central Oregon).

For our hike on Sunday we turned to Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” 2nd edition. In his Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain description (hike #15) Reeder describes an alternate loop using the unmaintained Basin Lakes Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail as an alternate to the 7.4 mile out and back that he suggests. We’d been to Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain as part of a diffent loop (post) so this other loop sounded more interesting than the out and back. We figured if the old Basin Lakes Trail was too hard to follow we could simply turn back and still do the out and back as described since it was only 2 miles to the basin then an additional mile up to the Pacific Crest Trail. We started our hike at the Falls Creek Horse Camp. The Falls Creek Trail heads southwest from the horse camp descending to Falls Creek Falls.
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The trail we wanted, the Indian Racetrack Trail, began on the opposite side of Forest Road 65.
IMG_4451There were no signs for the obvious trail.

Once we were on the trail we ignored an unsigned side trail on the right which presumably led down to Falls Creek.
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Approximately 0.2 miles from FR 65 a second trail joined from the left at a wilderness signboard.
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Approximately 120 yards beyond the signboard we arrived at an unsigned fork.
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The Indian Racetrack Trail continued to the right while the abandoned Basin Lake Trail veered left. While the Forest Service no longer maintains the trail (or even lists it on their website) the tread was obvious and based on the number of road apples on the ground it is used fairly regularly by equestrians.
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IMG_4459Entering the Indian Heaven Wilderness

A half a mile up this trail we came to a small meadow where a couple of hikers were camped.
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They warned us that where were quite a few trees down the closer you got to the Basin Lakes but that didn’t dissuade us and we continued on. The trees weren’t much of an issue and in most cases clear paths simply went around them.
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We crossed a branch of Falls Creek just under a mile along the trail.
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The tread continued to be fairly easy to follow for another half mile and then it vanished, at least from our sight, near a gully.
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After a few minutes of hunting for it (which included crossing and recrossing the gully) we decided to simply follow the tallest ridge in the direction of the lakes using our GPS and Reeder’s map. A quarter mile later we were looking down at Peggy Lake on our left.
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We stayed on the ridge above Peggy Lake and turned on the far end made a hard right toward Janet Lake.
IMG_4488Typical vegetation and trees on the ridge.

IMG_4491We rediscovered tread as we dropped to a saddle near Janet Lake.

IMG_4494Sign at the saddle between Peggy and Janet Lakes.

We did walk down to the bank of Janet Lake to admire its reflection.
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From Janet Lake it was another 0.1 miles to an unnamed (at least officially) Basin Lake, sometimes on tread and sometimes not.
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IMG_4513Sleepy ducks

IMG_4516I believe Oregon Hikers calls this one “Cindy Lake”.

We passed another lake on our left a quarter mile later.
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That was followed by what appeared to be a mostly dry lake bed on the right, now filled with green grass.
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We were now at the eastern end of the basin facing a steep climb up to the Pacific Crest Trail. We needed to gain almost 500′ to reach that trail and at the moment we weren’t sure if there was any tread to follow up.
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We scanned the hillside but couldn’t pick anything out so we put our route finding hats on and identified a small saddle where it looked like a trail would go and headed for it. As we approached we stumbled on tread.
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IMG_4534The small saddle we’d been aiming for.

From there we were able to follow a faint path up and out of the basin.
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IMG_4543Heather down to the right between a couple of trees.

20210905_090147Me getting close to the top.

IMG_4546The top of the ridge.

The Pacific Crest Trail runs right along the ridge (despite where it’s shown on Google Maps) and passes over the top of Berry Mountain to the south. After catching our breath we turned right and headed toward Berry Mountain and yet more climbing.
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Fortunately it was the PCT so the climb was relatively gradual as it switchbacked up 170′ in 0.4 miles.
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IMG_4553Mt. Adams in some clouds.

IMG_4556Mt. St. Helens behind a line of clouds.

IMG_4559Gifford Peak (post) behind us.

IMG_4561Chipmunk

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At a switchback a bit below the summit we were treated to a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.
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IMG_4568Mt. Jefferson was also visible to the right of Mt. Hood. Unfortunately so was the smoke being produced by the Bull Complex Fire which destroyed the historic Bull of the Woods Lookout (post) on Labor Day 😦 .

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51429434165_7fd4de5c1a_c.jpg&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_4572">Autumn is on the way, bring on the rain please.

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The PCT stuck to the long summit which would have also provided good views of Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens on a clearer day.
IMG_4591Mt. Adams

IMG_4595Looking toward Mt. St. Helens

IMG_4594The peaks in the Trapper Creek Wilderness (post) to the west.

We finally began to descend from Berry Mountain and after 3 miles on the PCT arrived at a signed junction for the Indian Racetrack Shortcut Trail.
IMG_4604Cliffs on Berry Mountain

IMG_4607Mt. Hood as we headed downhill.

IMG_4609Red Mountain and its lookout tower.

IMG_4617This beargrass is way off schedule.

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On our previous hike we’d arrived at this junction from the other direction so when we turned right we one a somewhat familiar trail. After a brief stint in the forest the trail entered larger and larger meadows.
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After a half mile we arrived at the Indian Racetrack Trail arriving on our right.
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This would be the route back to our car but first we wanted to revisit the lookout on Red Mountain so we continued straight for approximately 50 yards and turned left at a pointer for the Indian Racetrack Trail.
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We followed the trail 0.8 miles to a road and then followed the road another quarter mile to the lookout gaining a total of 700′ along the way.
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IMG_4634Mt. Adams from a viewpoint along the way.

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We passed two sets of hikers on their way down, the second of which mentioned having accidentally driven to the lookout. Apparently someone had vandalized the gate which allowed vehicles to drive up the road. Hopefully the Forest Service can get that remedied quickly as Google still shows the Indian Racetrack Trailhead on Red Mountain.
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IMG_4656Not sure if someone forced the door open too or not.

IMG_4652View of Mt. Adams beyond Indian Heaven.

IMG_4657Photo taken from the doorway, it looked like nothing had been vandalized.

IMG_4658Mt. St. Helens still hiding behind that line of clouds.

We took a long enough break at the summit to get to a brief glimpse of Mt. St. Helens summit.
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IMG_4675Mt. Adams with a few clouds passing by.

IMG_4671Mt. Hood with smoke from the Bull Complex behind.

We headed back down the Indian Racetrack Trail to Indian Racetrack and then continued on it past Race Track Lake. We passed quite a few hikers on our way down and saw more at Indian Racetrack.
IMG_4681Indian Heaven Wilderness sign on Red Mountain with Mt. Adams in the background.

IMG_4686Race Track Lake on the left.

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It was 2.3 miles total from the junction back to the Falls Creek Horse Camp. We continued to see more and more hikers and were once again glad we’d gotten an early start allowing us to have the lookout to ourselves.
IMG_4694Hardhack

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IMG_4700Footbridge over Falls Creek.

IMG_4702Falls Creek

IMG_4710Butterfly near Falls Creek.

IMG_4712Sign at the final trail junction near FR 65.

Reeder called this a 12 mile loop but our GPS came in at 11.2 miles which was a nice surprise. Total elevation gained was approximately 2850′. For this loop route finding, map, and navigation skills are highly recommended, otherwise the out and back option still provides a nice hike. Happy Trails!

Orange represents the old Basin Lakes Trail which is not shown on most maps.

Flickr: Indian Racetrack via Falls Creek

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Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Junction and Cultus Lakes – Indian Heaven Wilderness – 10/03 & 10/04/2020

With a September backpacking trip to the Sky Lakes Wilderness having been canceled due to the wide spread wildfires on the West Coast it seemed like our Labor Day trip (post) may have been the last nights in our tent. Fortunately the weather and smoke both cooperated over the first weekend in October and we spent one final night in our tent in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. It appeared that nearly everyone else had that same idea making this trip by far the busiest over night trip we’ve experienced.

We had visited this wilderness on two previous occasions – a 2015 day hike starting at the Thomas Lake Trailhead, and a 2018 day hike to Indian Racetrack via the Pacific Crest Trail. We began this trip on the eastern side of the wilderness at the East Crater Trailhead.
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Our plan was to take the East Crater Trail 2.5 miles to Junction Lake and set up camp then make a big loop (with a few side trips) around Bird Mountain using the Pacific Crest Trail, Cultus Creek Trail, Indian Heaven Trail, and finally the Lemi Lake Trail. We started up the East Crater Trail through a mountain hemlock forest with splashes of Fall colors.
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The trail climbed gradually entering the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
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A little less than a mile and a half from the trailhead we passed the first of several small ponds and the scar of the 2017 East Crater Fire.
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IMG_6392Still some fireweed blooming in the fire scar.

IMG_6396East Crater beyond a pond.

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Just before the 2.5 miles we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail and the end of the East Crater Trail near Junction Lake.
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IMG_6406Junction Lake

We didn’t want to set up our tent on the vegetation in the meadows around the lake so we looked to the opposite side of the PCT where we found a nice little spot tucked back in the trees.
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IMG_6407This crab spider offered to watch our tent for us while we were away.

After getting everything set up we headed north along the PCT past Junction Lake to a junction with the Lemi Lake Trail.
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We stayed left on the PCT and reentered the trees on a forested hillside.
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A mile from the Lemi Lake Trail junction we came to another junction with the Elk Lake Trail near Bear Lake.
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This was our first detour as we turned left and descended to the shore of Bear Lake where numerous tents were set up.
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The Indian Heaven Wilderness is famous for its huckleberries but this late in the year most of them were well past edible but along the lake shore there were a few left which had caught the attention of the locals.
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We opted not to go the third of a mile further to Elk Lake and after a short break we returned to the PCT and continued north another .4 miles before making another short side trip downhill to Deer Lake.
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We continued past Deer Lake meeting the Indian Heaven Trail on the far side where a right turn onto it would have allowed for a shorter loop. We had done that loop on our first visit to the wilderness though so we stuck to the PCT this time. We could hear pikas “meeping” from a talus slope near the junction so when we got closer to the rocks we started scanning for the little guys. We were quickly rewarded as one darted in and out of the rocks pausing long enough for a couple of photos.
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The PCT continued to climb gradually along the western side of Bird Mountain passing the Placid Lake Trail approximately a mile from the Indian Heaven Trail before arriving at a 4-way junction after another mile.
IMG_6466Placid Lake Trail on the left.

IMG_6481No pikas in these rocks, that we saw.

At the junction the PCT continued straight while the Wood Lake Trail headed downhill to the left.
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IMG_6486PCT at the 4-way junction.

We took the right had path, the Cultus Creek Trail which crossed over a pass.
IMG_6483Cultus Creek Trail heading uphill to the right.

On the far side of the pass we took a use trail out to a rocky viewpoint with a great view of Mt. Adams.
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In front of Mt. Adams we recognized Sleeping Beauty which we had hiked up earlier in the year (post).
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We took another break on some rocks here and soaked in the view. The forecast for the weekend had been for widespread haze so the blue sky and clear view was a nice surprise. After the break we returned to the Cultus Creek Trail which headed steeply downhill. We were starting to see more and more hikers as it seemed a lot of people had the same idea that we’d had as far as it being a good weekend for a visit. As the trail dropped to the east we briefly got a glimpse of the Goat Rocks and Mt. Rainier beyond Sawtooth Mountain.
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IMG_6509Goat Rocks with Mt. Adams hiding behind trees.

IMG_6511Mt. Rainier behind Sawtooth Mountain (and Steamboat Mountain to the right)

IMG_6513Mt. Rainier

After a mile and a half on the Cultus Creek Trail we arrived at the Cultus Creek Forest Camp.
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We walked to the right through the camp following signs to the Indian Heaven Trailhead.
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We followed this relatively steep trail back into the wilderness and up to an even better viewpoint just over a mile from the trailhead.
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Mt. Rainier had swapped sides with Sawtooth Mountain and was fully visible as were the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams.
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Beyond the viewpoint the trail continued to climb but much more gradually arriving at a junction with the Deep Lake Trail after 1.2 miles.
IMG_6576The Labor Day wind storm had knocked a number of trees down but the trails we took had mostly been cleared already.

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There was a bit of a traffic jam at the Deep Lake Trail junction and we wound up on that trail even though we had not planned on this side trip.
IMG_6580Cultus Lake from the Deep Lake Trail.

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It was only about a quarter mile to Deep Lake and well worth the trip as it turned out. The top of Mt. Adams was visible across the lake.
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We took another break along the shore of this lake (which was also very busy with hikers and backpackers).
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We returned to the Indian Heaven Trail and followed it to the far side of Cultus Lake where we turned left on the Lemi Trail.
IMG_6598Lemi Rock beyond Cultus Lake

IMG_6601Cultus Lake from the Lemi Trail.

Beyond Cultus Lake the Lemi Trail passed through a series of meadows with bright red and yellow huckleberry leaves.
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After a mile of fairly level hiking the Lemi Trail steepened gaining a little over 200′ in .3 miles.
IMG_6621The climb was up a forested hillside.

The climb offered us the only view of the day of Mt. St. Helens.
IMG_6622Mt. St. Helens

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The trail leveled out again on the east side of Lemi Rock at a junction with what appeared to be possibly be a climbers trail on the right.
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We continued on the Lemi Trail another quarter mile to a viewpoint above Lake Wapiki where we now had a view of Mt. Hood (and a little more haze).
IMG_6642Mt. Adams as we approached the viewpoint.

IMG_6644Lake Wapiki

IMG_6665Mt. Hood

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The Lemi Trail continued another 1.1 miles down to the lake but the climb up to the viewpoint from Cultus Lake was enough to convince us that we weren’t up for the 400′ climb back up from Lake Wapiki so after resting at the viewpoint we started back. Curiosity got the best of us at the trail near Lemi Rock though as it appeared fairly level so we turned left onto it and began following it to see where it might lead.
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We followed this trail past more spectacular Fall colors for .2 miles where it suddenly disappeared in some small trees.
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We maneuvered our way through the trees picking up another mylar balloon (we have come to hate these).

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We popped out at a small meadow where we declared victory at headed back toward Lemi Rock.
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As we passed a small pool with a clear reflection Heather spotted the second pika of the day.
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After watching the pika for a moment returned to the Lemi Trail and took it back to Cultus Lake and the Indian Heaven Trail.
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We turned left onto the Indian Heaven Trail and followed it for another .3 miles to a junction with the Lemi Lake Trail.
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We turned left onto this trail passing through a series of meadows before arriving at Lemi Lake after a little over half a mile.
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IMG_6711Lemi Lake

We had brought our camp stove and dinner and stopped at the lake to get water and eat.
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After dinner we followed the Lemi Lake Trail for another 1.5 miles back to Junction Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail.
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IMG_6721Pearly everlasting

IMG_6737Lemi Rock from the Lemi Lake Trail.

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IMG_6747Junction Lake

IMG_6748Back to the PCT.

IMG_6751Junction Lake from the PCT/Lemi Lake Trail junction.

Things had gotten very crowded at Junction Lake and there were tents all over the grass around the lake shore. We retreated to our little spot in the trees away from the madness and took our camp chairs in the opposite direction and sat for awhile at the edge of a meadow.
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We decided that we’d get up no later than 5am and beat the crowds by hiking out in the dark the next morning. We’ve been spoiled with nearly none of our backpacking trips involving many other people at all so this was a bit of an adjustment for us. We wound up waking up at 4:30am and set off under a full moon toward our car.
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We had only hiked in the dark one other time, when we thought there might be a fire in the Three Sisters Wilderness, but it was actually 40 miles away (post). That had been quite the adventure as it seemed like we were constantly seeing eyes in the forest or toads in the trail. We were hoping we might have a similar experience here but the 2.5 mile hike back to the car was quick and uneventful. We were back home in Salem a little after 9am though which gave us plenty of time to unpack, do laundry and watch the Seahawks game. Aside from not being used to that many people on an overnighter it had been a good trip. The weather was great as were the views and the Fall colors. Somehow we managed to turn what we expected to be a 14.6 mile hike into 18.2 miles (those side trips will get you every time) but it was worth every step. Happy Trails (and Go Hawks)!

Flickr: Junction and Cultus Lakes

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Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Grassy Knoll & Big Huckleberry Mountain – 7/06/2019

It has been an interesting couple of months where the weather is concerned. We have spent a lot of time checking forecasts trying to find the most favorable hiking conditions. It seems that in years past when the forecast hasn’t been good it hasn’t been good anywhere within our driving range but this year has been different. For the most part we have been able to find at least one location with the possibility of “partly sunny” conditions. For our most recent hike that location was Grassy Knoll in Washington.

A quick scan of forecasts the night before our hike showed that the forecast for Grassy Knoll was partly sunny skies moving to mostly sunny later in the day. Nearby Big Huckleberry Mountain, which was to be our turn around point, was a little less favorable but mostly cloudy to partly sunny didn’t sound too bad.

We followed the directions to the Grassy Knoll Trailhead from the Oregonhikers.org field guide. While the forecast had been good the roads were not. The roads weren’t the worst we’d been on, but they did take home the award for most unavoidable potholes. High clearance was helpful and driving was slow at times but we arrived at the trailhead in one piece.

We had driven through quite a bit of drizzle between Portland and Cascade Locks but had been encouraged by the sight of the edge of the cloud cover to the east. Unfortunately the break was further east than we were so we set off on the trail under a full cover of clouds.
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The trail started off in a past peak wildflower meadow but there were still a few flowers blooming.
IMG_2729Arrow leaf buckwheat

IMG_2730Blue-head gilia, stonecrop, wild onion, and arrow leaf buckwheat

IMG_2735Farewell-to-spring waiting for the Sun (just like us)

After climbing through the meadow the trail entered the forest and continued to climb fairly steeply at first.
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There were a surprising number of flowers blooming amid the bushes and trees along the forested ridge.
IMG_2746Tiger lily

IMG_2765Twin flower

IMG_2768Penstemon

IMG_2761Lupine

IMG_2787Arnica?

IMG_2793Patinbrush and penstemon

IMG_2797Columbine

IMG_2803Lots of arnica

The trail passed what we took for two viewpoints, but with the cloudy conditions we couldn’t tell what the view should have been.
IMG_2784First viewpoint approximately 1 mile in.

IMG_2774First viewpoint

IMG_2807Second viewpoint, about 1.5 miles in. The hillside was covered in cat’s ear lilies.

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IMG_2811Penstemon and cat’s ears

IMG_2824Cat’s ears and wild onion

Beyond the second viewpoint the trail alternated between forest and wildflower meadow for a quarter mile before starting a fairly steep climb up the open hillside of Grassy Knoll.
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IMG_2834Two kinds of paintbrush

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20190706_081442Onion

20190706_081510Looks to be some sort of orchid

IMG_2848Blue-head gilia and an unknown yellow flower.

IMG_2852Arrow leaf buckwheat and blue-head gilia

IMG_2857A bunch of flowers

IMG_2862Starting up Grassy Knoll

We were a little late for peak flowers but the hillside still had a lot to show us.
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IMG_2865Balsamroot

IMG_2877Catchfly

After just two miles of hiking we came to the site of the former lookout tower atop Grassy Knoll. It wasn’t even close to partly sunny by the way.
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With no view to speak of we continued on hoping that the clouds would start breaking up soon, or at least by the time we were passing back by. The trail leaving Grassy Knoll was a bit brushy at first but then cleared up. There were plenty more flowers to see as we continued along a somewhat level ridge.
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IMG_2894A little better view down for a moment.

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IMG_2897Larkspur

A little under a quarter mile from the lookout site we entered the first in a series of impressive wildflower meadows along the ridge.
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This first meadow had a bit of a beetle infestation.
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IMG_2926Phlox and a cat’s ear lily

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IMG_2952Another type of penstemon

IMG_2957Beargrass

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IMG_2996Not sure what this is either, it’s the first time we recall seeing it.

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Finally, after nearly one and a quarter miles of wildflower bliss the trail veered off the ridge to the left and entered the forest.
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It was a nice forest with a bright green understory.
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Around the 3.75 mile mark we arrived at Cold Springs Camp
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A spur trail led down to what we presume was Cold Spring but it was hidden in brush. The unofficial (but signed) Alway Trail led downhill on a faint path to FR 68 from the camp as well. Just beyond this camp was another sign for Hilltop Camp, but unlike Cold Springs Camp this one looked to no longer be used.
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The trail was part of the Cascade Crest Trail which was the precursor to the Pacific Crest Trail. The current route of the PCT is further to the west but it does pass Big Huckleberry Mountain and we would briefly be on it later.

From the camps the trail lost some elevation as it passed beneath a rock outcrop which looked to have a pretty good sized cave or at least a big overhang at its base.
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We arrived at the PCT five and a quarter miles from the trailhead.
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From here we were about five miles south of the trailhead where we had set off on the PCT on our 2018 hike to Indian Racetrack in the Indian Heaven Wilderness (post). We turned right, took a couple of steps, and veered right again following the pointer for Big Huckleberry Mountain. A .2 mile climb brought us to the open summit where the forecast was right for the first time today, it was mostly cloudy.
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Big Huckleberry Mountain was also home to a lookout at one time but now aside from a few remains the summit was just occupied by wildflowers.
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A fairly long rocky spine extended east from the former lookout site with a couple of pockets of trees separating the open areas where the flowers were prevalent.
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The slope eventually steepened enough to make for a good stopping point.
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The end here was just a little further beneath the clouds which allowed for a good view of the Big Lava Bed which lay between Big Huckleberry Mountain and Mt. Adams but not for much else.
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There was also a view south where the Bridge of the Gods could be seen (barely) spanning the Columbia River.
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After exploring the summit and also resting a bit we headed back. There were some encouraging signs that the clouds might actually move on as we made our way back through the wildflower meadows.
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IMG_3146Snowy flank of Mt. Adams through the clouds.

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Back at Grassy Knoll the conditions were better than they had been earlier in the morning but they still weren’t great.
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IMG_3212Wind Mountain and the Columbia River

The same was true for the other viewpoints.
IMG_3227Little Huckleberry Mountain and Big Lava Bed

IMG_3229A bit of Mt. Adams again.

It was a little frustrating to be able to see clear blue sky beyond the edge of the clouds, but what can you do. The flower show had been more than entertaining and to cap the hike off the farewell-to-spring near the trailhead had started to open up despite the lack of sunshine.
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Missing out on the view will put this 11.8 mile hike toward the front of the list for a revisit, although the roads might hold it back just a bit. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Grassy Knoll and Big Huckleberry Mountain

Categories
Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Falls Creek Falls and Indian Racetrack

One week after spending a day hiking in California at the Lava Beds National Monument (post) we visited our neighbor to the north, Washington. On our itinerary for the day were a pair of hikes north of Carson, WA. We started with a visit to Falls Creek Falls.

We parked at the trailhead at the end of Forest Road 57 where only one other car occupied the large parking area at 7:15am. The dim morning light coupled with some low clouds made it hard to capture the fall colors with the camera but our eyes had no problems appreciating them as we set off on the trail.
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We quickly passed a trail on the left which would be part of the loop we were planning on doing here and stayed straight toward the falls.
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At the .4 mile mark we arrived at a short suspension bridge over Falls Creek.
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Beyond the bridge the trail climbed gradually for a mile to a junction. Along the way there were several views of the creek.
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At the junction we stayed right and continued to gradually climb for another .3 miles to three tiered Falls Creek Falls. The first views are of the upper and middle tiers through some trees.
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The lower tier comes into view near the end of the trail at which point most of the upper tier is lost due to the angle.
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We spent a few chilly minutes admiring the falls before heading back to the junction.
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Here we veered uphill to the right climbing fairly steeply for about two tenths of a mile to the Falls Creek Trail.
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Before continuing on the loop we turned right on the Falls Creek Trail to visit a viewpoint or two above the falls. After .6 miles on this fairly level trail we spotted a side trail heading out to the first viewpoint. We started to head out this spur but then noticed a tent set up there (we found the owners of the other car) so we continued another quarter mile to the second viewpoint.
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The view from the top was just out over the valley, but a steep scramble trail led down to the top of the falls from here. We checked to see if the ground seemed muddy or slick, but it turned out to be in good shape so we made our way down to the creek just above the falls.
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From the viewpoint we returned to the loop and continued down the Falls Creek Trail 1.7 miles to another bridge over Falls Creek which we hadn’t seen since the viewpoint. Despite the creek not being visible from the trail the scenery was not lacking due to the surrounding forest and fall colors.
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At the far side of the bridge we turned left for a little over half a mile completing the loop and returning to our car, and a much fuller parking lot.
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After the 6.3 mile hike here we were ready for the second hike of the day to the Indian Heaven Wilderness and Red Mountain. We drove back toward Carson and eventually (after missing the turn the first time) turned east on Warren Gap Road (Road 405) at a pointer for the Panther Creek Campground. We followed this road for a little under two miles to Forest Road 65 where we turned left for 8 miles, passing the parking area for Panther Creek Falls (post) along the way, to a junction with FR 60. We turned right here and followed this road for two miles to the Pacific Crest Trail and a small campground.
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We followed the PCT north climbing gradually through the forest which looked quite different from the forest along Falls Creek just a few miles away.
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A little over 1.75 miles from the trailhead we passed one of the small Sheep Lakes.
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A quarter mile later we entered the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
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Although there wasn’t as much fall color along this trail as there had been along the trails at Fall Creek there was some and there were also some interesting mushrooms to be seen.
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IMG_4469This may named be Green Lake

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As we hiked through a meadow we spotted the lookout tower on Red Mountain to the SW which was to be one of our stops on the hike.
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We turned left off of the PCT 1.2 miles after entering the wilderness at a sign for Indian Racetrack.
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This trail led a half mile through the forest to the large meadows at Indian Racetrack where up until 1928 tribes indeed raced horses.
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We turned left in the middle of the meadows toward a trail sign for the Indian Racetrack Trail.
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This trail climbed for .8 miles, steeply at times, to a road on the shoulder of Red Mountain. An opening just above a saddle along the way provided a nice view of Mt. Adams to the NE.
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We followed the road uphill for .3 miles to the lookout gaining views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier along the way.
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IMG_4542Lemei Rock and Mt. Adams

Near the lookout Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson could be seen to the south in Oregon.
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We took a nice long break at the summit gazing at Washington’s trio of volcanoes and talking with a fellow hiker from Vancouver who had tried to reach the lookout earlier in the year but had been turned back by snow.
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IMG_4575Mt. St. Helens

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From the lookout we headed back down the road and followed it all the way back down to FR 60 a total of 3.4 miles from the tower.
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We were a half mile from the Pacfic Crest Trail so we road walked, uphill, back to our car. In hindsight it might have been nicer to do the loop in reverse in order to start with the road walks and finish the hike with a gradual descent. Either way it was a great hike, but we had been expecting it to be a 7.5 mile loop based on our guidebook, but our GPS (and our legs) put it at 9.2 miles. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Falls Creek Falls and Indian Racetrack

Categories
Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Panther Creek Falls and Indian Heaven Wilderness

What a difference a week makes. On our previous hike to the Olallie Lake Scenic Area we spent our time in a chilly damp fog and then dealt with the occasional rain shower. Our most recent hike to the Indian Heaven Wilderness was the exact opposite with sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70s. This was a hike that had been pushed back a couple of weeks first due to smoke and next the weather conditions of the previous week.

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in Washington State southeast of Mt. Adams. http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/wildView?WID=258 This was our first visit to this particular wilderness and we had chosen the Thomas Lake Trailhead as our starting point. The trailhead is located along Road 65 (Panther Creek Road) approximately 21 miles from the city of Carson, Washington. We planned on taking the Thomas Lake Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (which runs north-south through the entire wilderness) and then following the PCT north to Junction Lake where we could do a 4 mile loop past several lakes before returning to the car. We also had the option of going off-trail and hiking up Gifford Peak before reaching the PCT.

Before we got to any of that though we stopped along Road 65 at the Panther Creek Trailhead to take the short path down to see the falls.
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After checking out the falls we continued on to the Thomas Lake Trailhead.
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The parking area was nearly full at 7:30am which told us we’d be seeing plenty of other people on this hike as we set off on the trail.
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There were occasional views of Mt. St. Helens as we followed the trail up through the huckleberry filled forest toward Thomas Lake.
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We reached the first set of lakes after a half mile.
Thomas Lake
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Dee Lake
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Heather Lake
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Just past the first three lakes was a trail junction with a short path to Eunice Lake.
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After visiting Eunice Lake we returned to the Thomas Lake Trail which climbed steeply up above those lakes before leveling out through meadows ablaze with red huckleberry leaves.
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More lakes and ponds awaited along this stretch of trail.
Brader Lake
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Unnamed lake/pond
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Naha Lake
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About two miles from the trailhead the trail took a sharp right at a trail sign.
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There were a few more trees along this section of trail but also still plenty of berry bushes and lakes/ponds.
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After about a mile when the trail crossed a small creek we needed to decide if we were going to try the 0.8 mile climb of Gifford Peak. We were below a rocky outcropping but it appeared that we could sidehill up steeply to a saddle where we hopped to pick up the ridge and follow it to the top.
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With the help of the topographic map loaded on the GPS unit we gained the ridge and found a path that was fairly easy to follow.
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The first section up to the saddle proved to be the steepest and the rest of the climb was more gradual. Openings near the summit offered views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Hood
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Mt. St. Helens
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Mt. Rainier
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It wasn’t exactly the clearest of skies as there seemed to be a haze in every direction. Whether it was smoke from fires or just due to the heat/humidity in the area we weren’t sure but it was still a nice view. We reached the summit to find a small summit register and a view of Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks.
Mt. Adams
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Goat Rocks
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After making our way back down to the trail we continued on passing Lake Sahalie Tyee before reaching the impressive Blue Lake below Gifford Peak.
Lake Sahalie Tyee
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Blue Lake
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We arrived at the PCT at the far end of Blue Lake.
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We turned left and headed north toward Junction Lake which was 2 miles away. At Junction Lake we took the Lemi Lake Trail to start our loop.
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Some of the best fall colors were in the meadows between Junction Lake and Lemi Lake.
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As we reached Lemi Lake we were discussing the differences in the lakes on this hike verses in the Olallie Lake area and one of the things we’d noticed was that we hadn’t seen any ducks on this hike. Just as we were discussing that we noticed a lone duck floating on Lemi Lake.
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The Lemi Lake Trail ended just over 2 miles from Junction Lake at the Indian Heaven Trail.
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We turned left continuing on our loop and passing above the busy Clear Lake.
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We arrived back at the PCT after just .3 miles and took another left passing Deer Lake and more ducks.
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Not far from Deer Lake was Bear Lake where we decided to rest for a bit and have a snack. Bear Lake rivaled Blue Lake with it’s impressive colors.
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When we had completed our loop and returned to Junction Lake we decided to take a shortcut back by following an old abandoned trail to the Thomas Lake Trail near Rock Lakes.
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This abandoned trail was still easy to follow and passed through even more scenic meadows and past additional ponds.
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After 1.7 miles we arrived at Rock Lakes.
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We picked up the Thomas Lake Trail at the sign where we had taken the sharp right earlier that day. From there it was just over 2 miles back down to the trailhead.
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The total distance of the hike was 14.9 miles in the wilderness plus .3 miles at Panther Creek Falls which made for a nice full day. It was a great first visit to the wilderness and we look forward to going back to check out some of the other trails in the area. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157658130857169