We woke up way too early for the time of year and found ourselves playing Yahtzee on Heather’s phone lest we would be hiking out from our camp at Trapper Lake in the dark. After some less than stellar scores we packed up camp and set off on the Sky Lakes Trail back toward the Cold Springs Trailhead.
Low-light at Trapper Lake.
Sunrise from the trail.
Sunlight hitting the tops of trees.
Just before reaching the Heavenly Twin Lakes we came to the Isherwood Trail where we turned right.
The Isherwood Trail passed by the larger of the Heavenly Twin Lakes.
The trail left the lake and climbed gradually through the forest to a rocky bluff above Isherwood Lake.
Heading up to the bluff.
Pelican Butte beyond Isherwood Lake.
Fall foliage above Isherwood Lake.
About half way along Isherwood Lake we detoured to the other side of the trail to visit Lake Liza.
Heading for Lake Liza through a dry bed.
After returning to the Isherwood Trail and passing Isherwood Lake we passed Elizabeth Lake on our left.
Elizabeth Lake was followed by Lake Notasha on the right with another nice reflection.
Depending on the angle the water was a beautiful green.
A short distance beyond Lake Notasha we came to the end of the Isherwood Trail at the Sky Lakes Trail.
We turned right for a third of a mile to a junction with the Cold Springs Trail.
We turned left this time following the Cold Springs Trail pointer. This trail climbed a lot more than we’d expected as it passed by Imagination Peak but after nearly two miles we arrived back at the junction with the South Rock Creek Trail which we had taken the day before.
Parts of the latter half of this trail passed through the 2017 fire scar.
Pelican Butte as we descended toward the junction.
We turned right here for the final 0.6 miles to our car.
Our hike out came to 6.6 miles with just over 1000′ of elevation gain.
It had been a great Autumn weekend for a backpacking trip and the hikes were great. The only negative to come out of it was Heather’s knee which had been a lingering but manageable issue for most of the year finally decided it had had enough. She has some PT ahead and no hiking so I’ll be on my own for a bit. The good news her knee should be fine and we didn’t have any more featured hikes on our schedule until mid-Spring next year. It also means we might be welcoming some new kitties into our home sooner than we’d expected since she won’t be joining me on the October hikes. Happy Tails! (or Trails!)
An excellent weekend forecast allowed us to head back to the Southern Oregon Cascades less than a week from our three night, four day stay in Shady Cove (post). In an attempt to give us the best chance to finish our featured hike goal (post) I’d recently broken a 5-6 day backpacking trip in the Sky Lakes Wilderness into shorter trips. During our Shady Cove stay we did the Blue Lakes Basin hike (post) and now we were back for an overnight backpack in the Sky Lakes Basin to check off Sullivan’s Sky Lakes via Cold Springs and Sky Lakes via Nannie Creek hikes. (Hikes #43 & #44 respectively in edition 4.2 “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California.)
We set off through a 2017 fire scar following the Cold Springs Trail into the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
After 0.6 miles we came to a junction with the South Rock Creek Trail.
Both forks would lead to the Heavenly Twin Lakes but the South Rock Creek Trail would do it in a shorter distance (1.8 vs 2.4 miles) so we stayed to the right and followed that trail through more burned forest.
We left the fire scar after about a mile and continued another 0.8 miles to the first Heavenly Twin Lake.
Exiting the fire scar.
Doe watching us through the trees.
The larger lake lay just beyond the smaller and provided a view of Luther Mountain.
Luther Mountain on the left and Lee Peak on the right.
After checking out the view we continued on the Sky Lakes Trail which led along the East side of the large lake arriving at the junction with the Isherwood Trail at the far end.
Sign for the Sky Lakes Trail.
Isherwood Trail junction.
We would be taking the Isherwood Trail the next day on our way back to the car but for now we continued straight for 1.9 miles to Trapper Lake where we looked for and found a campsite for the weekend. Along the way we passed several small ponds and unnamed lakes and one named one. It was clear why the area is notorious for mosquitos until late Summer (we only noticed two the whole weekend).
Luther Mountain from Trapper Lake.
After setting up camp we returned to the Sky Lakes Trail and continued North along the lake passing the Cherry Creek Trail coming up from the right before arriving at a junction with the Donna Lake Trail.
View along the trail.
Sign for the Cherry Creek Trail.
Sky Lakes Trail sign.
Donna Lake Trail to the right.
This was the start of an approximately 8.8 mile loop around Luther Mountain. We had decided to do the loop counter-clockwise so we took the left hand trail which kept us on the Sky Lakes Trail. This trail led around the North end of Trapper Lake for 0.2 miles where it met the Divide Trail.
Divide Trail junction.
We stayed left here and started following the Divide Trail which would lead us to the Pacific Crest Trail in 2.8 miles. Shortly after starting up this trail we detoured right to check out Margurette Lake.
The trail passed close to this lake offering several views of Luther Mountain along the way.
Beyond Margurette Lake the trail began to wind it’s way uphill passing several smaller bodies of water including Lake No-SE-Um where several mergansers had congregated.
The trail turned back to the North passing above Margurette and Trapper Lakes along a shelf before turning West and climbing more steeply via switchbacks.
Saddle Mountain is in the distance with pointy Cherry Peak in the foreground. I believe that is Agency Lake visible in the Valley.
On of several small bodies of water along the shelf.
We know there were pikas out there because we heard their “meeps” off and on all day but with so many rocks we were never able to spot one.
Heading toward Luther Mountain.
Pelican Butte on the left and Mt. McLoughlin on the right. The peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness are behind and to the right of Pelican Butte then the small, closer hump is Imagination Peak. To the right of Imagination Peak and slightly further back is Lost Peak and then further to the right (left of Mt. McLoughlin) is Brown Mountain (post). Interestingly according to Peak Finder Mt. Shasta should be visible in between Imagination and Lost Peaks but apparently there was enough smoke/haze in the sky that it was camouflaged.
After passing through the switchbacks the trail straightened out and headed almost due West as it climbed through a rock field on the southern flank of Luther Mountain.
We left the rock field and made a final climb to a saddle where we arrived at the PCT.
Luther Mountain from the saddle.
The Pacific Crest Trail.
After catching our breath we turned right on the PCT which descended slightly to a ridge to the West of Luther Mountain. We followed this ridge, which had been burned in 2014, for a little over a mile to a junction with the Snow Lakes Trail.
Lucifer Peak directly behind Shale Butte.
Lucifer Peak, Shale Butte, Devil’s Peak and Lee Peak.
Blowdown on the PCT.
Luther Mountain and Mt. McLoughlin behind us.
Lots of little birds along the ridge but most didn’t stop long enough for even a poor picture.
Sign at the Snow Lakes Trail junction.
We turned right onto the Snow Lakes Trail which passed along another shelf full of small lakes.
Martin, Wind and a Snow Lake from the Snow Lakes Trail.
Hawk circling overhead.
While I was trying to keep track of the hawk this Bald Eagle flew over.
Nearing the end of the 2014 fire scar.
Luther Mountain from one of the Snow Lakes.
Another of the lakes.
Tree on the edge of the shelf.
View from the shelf.
There were many cool rock features along the trail.
Lee Peak and another of the Snow Lakes.
After approximately three quarters of a mile on the Snow Lakes Trail we dropped to one of the larger lakes where we briefly lost the trail.
A tree had fallen over the Snow Lakes Trail hiding it right where a use trail veered off to the lake. Only seeing the use trail we followed it along the lake until it petered out. A quick look at the map showed we were off-trail so we made our way back finding the downed tree covering the actual trail.
After regaining the trail we followed it downhill via a series of switchbacks past another lake.
The trail then began to turn ESE as it continued to descend toward Martin Lake and the Lower Snow Lakes. A total of 2.3 miles from the PCT we came to the Nannie Creek Trail junction.
The worst obstacle for the day.
Pelican Butte from the trail.
Sign at the Nannie Creek Trail junction.
We stayed right on the Snow Lakes Trail at the junction. After 0.4 miles we passed Martin Lake on our right.
Luther Mountain as we neared Martin Lake.
Dragon fly blending in with the huckleberry leaves.
Martin Lake with a view of the shelf that we’d been on.
Two tenths of a mile beyond Martin Lake we came to what was labeled Lower Snow Lakes on our map which was partly in Luther Mountain’s shadow.
Red huckleberry leaves
We found a log in the shade along the shore where we took a nice break.
After our break we continued on the Snow Lakes Trail another three quarters of a mile to a junction with the Donna Lake Trail.
It was another 0.7 miles back to Trapper Lake either way but the Donna Lake Trail led past Deep and then Donna Lakes so we veered left and took that trail.
Deep Lake was up first, just a tenth of a mile down the trail.
Donna Lake was only two tenths further.
Donna Lake Trail
We arrived back at the Sky Lakes Trail at Trapper Lake and headed back to our campsite for dinner.
Back at Trapper Lake.
Dinner didn’t go as planned as we realized when we pulled our water filter out that we’d left all the hoses at home. Fortunately we carry Iodine tablets for just such an occurrence so we had a way to treat water but by the time it was all said and done we decided to skip a warm meal and opted to eat some of the extra food we’d brought. At least we’d have water for the hike out the next day though. It cooled off quickly once the Sun had vanished and for the first time in a while we got to test the warmth of our sleeping systems.
Today’s hike came in at 14.5 miles with approximately 2300′ of elevation gain.
The number of lakes/ponds was almost hard to believe and the scenery was really nice. The timing was great with almost no bugs and the trails were in relatively good shape, just a few downed trees here and there but nothing too difficult to get past. Happy Trails!
For the final hike of our Southern Oregon trip we had pegged the Union Creek Trail, the only featured hike that only I had done. Heather had been forced to skip this one after hurting herself at Abbott Butte in 2020 (post). Sullivan has been working on an update to his Southern Oregon book and it will be interesting to see if the Union Creek hike remains a featured hike. A 2015 storm downed many trees along the trail, the middle portion of which had not yet been cleared in 2020 when I’d attempted the hike. A quick look online led us to believe that two years later the conditions were the same so instead of attempting to reach Union Creek Falls from the Union Creek Resort we drove to the Upper Trailhead. To reach this trailhead we followed Highway 62 two miles east of its junction with Highway 230 turning right on Road 600 at a small Union Creek Trailhead sign. After 0.2 miles we veered left at another pointer for 0.1 miles to the parking area at roads end.
An OHV Trail continues on the old road bed from the parking area.
The Union Creek Trail is located at the SW corner of the parking area.
The upper portion of the trail was in great shape and we quickly found ourselves at Union Creek Falls just 0.3 miles from the trailhead.
We continued another 0.7 miles before encountering the first real obstacle and began to wonder if by some miracle someone had finally shown this trail a little love.
We had to get creative to see some of the many cool water features along the creek.
The first mess on the trail.
The trail conditions deteriorated quickly over the next half mile before we completely lost the trail at a large downed tree. Overnight rain had left the vegetation wet and we didn’t see any point in trying to force our way through the brush in an attempt to relocate the tread so we turned around and headed back.
This mess was just before the bigger tree that turned us back.
On the way back we hopped a side channel onto an island to find a pretty impressive feature that had been hidden from the trail.
Where I crossed the channel.
To get a good view I had to carefully follow a narrow ledge to an overlook of a thundering hole where water plunged in from all sides.
We returned to the car having come up a just over a quarter mile short of where I’d given up and turned around in 2020 resulting in a 3.7 mile hike with just over 400′ of elevation gain.
It is a shame that this trail doesn’t seem to warrant any attention from the Forest Service. The creek is beautiful and the trail isn’t that long so there isn’t that much to clear. It also isn’t in a wilderness area so they could use chainsaws where needed. Ironically this sign is posted at the trailhead along with a box that was full of spiderwebs.
It was just after 9:15am when we got back to the car and after changing we did what any sane people would do and drove back into Union Creek to Beckie’s Cafe for breakfast, a cinnamon roll, and a blackberry pie to go. Happy Trails!
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.
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.
Mt. Scott (post) with a bit of a lenticular cloud.
Raven making a landing atop a mountain hemlock.
The 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.
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.
It was by far the most scenic mistake we’ve made while hiking.
Wizard Island and Llao Rock
We joked that views had been so good maybe we should just end the hike now.
A short distance down the Dutton Creek Trail we came face to face with a pair of bucks.
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.
Dutton Creek was dry.
Blue sky ahead.
Not much left for flowers, this could be a Crater Lake collomia although it’s a little late in the season.
Castle Creek still had some water flowing.
We spotted several piles of hail, possibly from the severe thunderstorms that had been forecast for Saturday night?
Arriving 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.
The campsite at the junction was closed due to hazard trees.
Recrossing Castle Creek.
The PCT appeared to be following an old road bed through the park.
Dropping down to Trapper Creek.
PCT 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.
A red-breasted nuthatch that was toying with me as I tried to get a photo.
Canada jay (grey jay)
Blue sky to the north ahead.
Some blue sky south too with a glimpse of Union Peak (post).
Entering the 2006 Bybee Complex fire scar.
The 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.
Chipmunk checking us out.
Another creek crossing.
Red crossbills at the creek crossing.
There were some pretty ominous looking clouds behind us but no showers yet.
Several white crowned sparrows and at least one junco. We could also hear chickadee calls but I couldn’t find one in this capture.
Despite the ugly clouds behind us there was almost always blue sky ahead.
North Fork Castle Creek
Approaching the junction with the Lightning Springs Trail.
We turned onto the Lightning Springs Trail and headed for the clouds above The Watchman.
This trail climbed gradually along a ridge at the edge of a 2016 fire scar.
Union Peak had been swallowed by clouds.
The Watchman with a cloud still hanging on.
The base of Union Peak with lots of blue sky around.
A brief stint in full sunlight.
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.
The trail continued to climb beyond the dry fall arriving at Lightning Springs after another 0.8 miles.
Union Peak nearly free of clouds.
The Watchman still not free.
We detoured a short distance down the trail to Lightning Springs Camp to check out the springs which were not dry.
After visiting the springs we continued another 0.8 miles to West Rim Drive and crossed over to the Rim Trail.
Full view of Union Peak.
And finally a full view of The Watchman.
Conditions were changing quickly and now there was blue sky above The Watchman.
West Rim Drive ahead with the lower portion of Mt. McLoughlin (post) in between the trees to the right.
This 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).
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.
Wizard Island’s cone
Dock along Wizard Island
The Watchman and Hillman Peak
Garfield Peak to the left with Union Peak to the far right.
That blue though!
Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Back 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!
The second day of our Southern Oregon trip was forecast to be the wettest so we headed for the Sky Lakes Wilderness where the cloudy conditions wouldn’t hinder our views too much. Our goal for the day was to hike to Island Lake via Blue Lake Basin then possibly return via Cat Hill Way. The out-and-back to Island Lake is featured hike #40 in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California” guidebook (edition 4.2). We had visited Island Lake in 2016 (post) but from the other direction. Since that visit only covered 0.1 miles of the featured hike and the hike is titled “Blue Lake Basin” not Island Lake we had not considered it done.
A crisp wind blew through the small meadow near the trailhead encouraging us to hustle downhill on the trail into the trees which provided some relief.
An old fence in the meadow.
Entering the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
Into the trees we go.
It had been a while since we’d actually been cold starting out on a hike and it was kind of nice. We hoped that the wet weather was also present over the Cedar Creek Fire to the north near Waldo Lake. Here there was no sign of smoke as we hiked through the damp forest.
Just over a mile from the trailhead we arrived at our first lake of the day, Round Lake.
We continued on the Blue Canyon Trail another 1.2 miles to Blue Lake where a bald eagle startled me when it took off from a tree directly over my head.
The cliff face above Blue Lake ahead from the trail.
Hiking along Blue Lake.
The bald eagle across the lake after startling me.
The combination of cool temperatures, wet ground and light rain kept us from lingering too long at the lake and we were soon on our way to the next one. Just beyond Blue Lake we veered right at a trail junction to stay on the Blue Canyon Trail.
The South Fork Trail went to the left past Meadow Lake and the Mud Lake before following the South Fork Rogue River to Road 720.
The Blue Canyon Trail passed to the right of Meadow Lake before arriving at a junction with the Meadow Lake Trail in a quarter mile.
Meadow Lake Trail junction.
For now we stuck to the Blue Canyon Trail which brought us to Horseshoe Lake in another half mile.
Just beyond this small pond south of the trail we turned right on a use trail which led out onto Horseshoe Lake’s peninsula.
Camping is prohibited on the peninsula which is signed in multiple places.
After exploring the peninsula we returned to the Blue Canyon Trail and followed it to the next lake, Pear Lake, which was just over a half mile away. We took another use trail down to the shore of this lake which is not at all shaped like a pear. (Unless it’s named after the core then maybe but it would still be a stretch.)
Ducks flying further down the lake.
From Pear Lake it was just over 1.75 miles to Island Lake. The trail climbed up and over a ridge passing above Dee Lake before dropping into Island Lake’s basin.
The only flowing water we’d encounter on this day after not crossing any streams the day before at Union Peak (post) either.
Dee Lake barely visible through the trees.
Meadow near Island Lake.
A Horse Camp sign.
Island Lake through the trees.
We couldn’t remember exactly where we’d gone down to the lake on our previous visit, just that it had been a short trail to the Judge Waldo Tree. We turned left on a clear use trail which brought us down to the lake but not to the tree we were looking for.
There were a lot of mushrooms down by the water though.
We returned to the Blue Canyon Trail and continued around the lake to another use trail and again turned left. This one looked familiar and indeed brought us to the Judge Waldo Tree.
For those interested the 1888 inscription reads:
Judge J.B. Waldo
E. J. Humason
F. W. Isherwood
September 13, 1888
Judge Waldo was an early voice for conservation of the Cascade forests (today he most likely would not have carved his name into the tree like that).
Now that we’d linked the two hikes together we were content to head back. When we’d made it back to the Meadow Lake Trail junction we turned uphill onto that trail.
Pear Lake from the Blue Canyon Trail.
Back at the Meadow Lake junction.
Heading up the Meadow Lake Trail.
This trail was much steeper than the Blue Canyon Trail had been and if we were to do the hike again we most likely would opt to come down this way.
The huckleberries don’t lie, Autumn was right around the corner.
Approaching the ridge top.
Not sure what we missed here but imagine it was some of the peaks in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
Just over a mile from the junction the Meadow Lake Trail ended at Cat Hill Way.
This trail ran between the Pacific Crest Trail (1.5 miles to the left) and The Blue Canyon Trailhead (2.25 miles to the right). We turned right following a very old roadbed that climbed gradually just below the summit of Cat Hill before descending to the meadow at the trailhead. While the other trails had been well maintained this one had a number of downed trees that were fairly easily navigated. This trail did provide a view of Mt. McLoughlin (post) albeit limited on this day due to the cloud cover.
A little fresh snow, a welcome sight.
A nice little viewpoint just off the trail.
Passing below Cat Hill.
Back to the trailhead.
Our hike came in at 12.2 miles with approximately 1700′ of elevation gain.
We only saw a few other people which was surprising even with the wet weather given how popular this area is in the Summer. It had sprinkled off and on for most of the morning but we didn’t ever feel the need to put our rain gear on. We drove back to Shady Cove and after changing headed to 62’s Burgers and Brews for a late lunch/early dinner. The clouds were once again breaking up which was encouraging as we were heading back to Crater Lake the following day where we would be hoping for some good views. Happy Trails!
Our hiking focus this year has been primarily on the Southern Oregon and Northern California area. This was due in large part to that being the area where the majority of the remaining hikes were located for us to reach our goal of hiking Sullivan’s 500 featured hikes (post). Over the last couple of years we’ve canceled several trips down to this area due to wildfires (and associated smoke) as well as inclement weather. In fact we were starting to wonder if we might ever get the chance to finish the featured hikes from the area. This year things have been different, in fact we switched our August vacation from the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon to Northern California because the conditions, for once, were more favorable.
One of the trips we’d canceled in recent years was a four day stay in Union Creek. (Dangerous air quality due to wildfire smoke.) We had placed that trip back on our schedule for this year hoping for better luck. There were no fires in the immediate area but a number of fires were burning elsewhere in Oregon and Northern California which could still send enough smoke into the area to affect air quality. We kept a close eye on the weather and air quality forecasts and while the latter looked good the weather forecast was a little iffy. There was potential for showers including snow at higher elevations (7500′) as well as a slight chance of thunderstorms on a couple of days. The forecast was good enough for us to give it a try. Of the four hikes we had planned, two were not view dependent so we could rearrange the order depending on the forecast.
The forecast for Saturday was for partly cloudy skies with a chance of showers all day and a slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. We decided to attempt Union Peak despite the possible thunderstorms counting on summiting the 7709′ peak well before the arrival of potential thunderstorms. The most direct route from Salem to the Union Peak Trailhead is to take the West Rim Drive through Crater Lake National Park requiring the purchase of a $30.00, 7-day park pass. (Please note that both the Union Peak Trailhead and Union Peak itself are inside the park but do not require a park pass.) Since one of our other planned hikes started along West Rim Drive we would have needed a pass anyway so we entered the Park from the north entrance, purchased a pass, and then stopped at the Watchman Lookout Trailhead for a view of Crater Lake.
We continued through the Park past the south entrance to Highway 62 where we turned right toward Medford for a mile to the Union Peak Trailhead.
It was a little before 9am which gave us plenty of time to complete the hike based on the weather forecast. Both Sullivan and the trailhead signboard indicated that it was an 11 mile out-and-back.
The sign calls this the “steepest” hike in Southern Oregon. We wondered what criteria that was based on?
The hike begins on the Pacific Crest Trail following it south for 2.5 fairly level miles to a signed junction with the Union Peak Trail.
There were a large number of big mushrooms along this section of trail as seen to the lower right.
One of the big shrooms.
A Stellar’s jay.
More of the big mushrooms.
Another Stellar’s jay.
Nearing the trail junction.
We veered right onto the Union Peak Trail which began with a gradual climb following a ridge toward Union Peak.
First glimpse of Union Peak through the trees.
Gardner Peak behind Goose Egg (center) to the SE.
It was cloudy but no showers so far and the clouds appeared to be well above the summit.
I was so focused on Union Peak I failed to notice the deer to the right below until it and a nearby fawn bounded off.
Approximately 1.7 miles from the junction the trail passed an colorful rock outcrop on the right.
Mount Bailey in the distance to the right of the outcrop.
I missed more deer below the trail here, only noticing them when they started to run off.
The last doe keeping watch as the rest of the deer disappeared into the forest.
Beyond the colorful outcrop the trail dipped to a saddle then turned left at the base of Union Peak passing through a boulder field then onto a cinder hillside.
Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Western pasque flower seed-heads along the trail.
Looking up at Union Peak and wondering how the trail got up there.
Nearing the cinder field.
The trail switchbacked in the cinders providing a nice view of Crater Lake’s Rim.
Mount Scott (post) was the only peak covered by clouds.
The trail climbed back through the rock field and then came the steep part.
It’s always interesting to see the various rock that make up these volcanic peaks.
The Watchman and Llao Rock with Mt. Thielsen in between in the background.
That’s the trail on the right side of the photo.
Looking down at the trail below.
The trail was fairly easy to follow as it switchbacked up through the rocks. It was narrow in places which might be hard for those with a fear of heights.
The final pitch was more of a scramble than a hike though.
While there were no people at the summit the brush had attracted a fairly large number of yellow jackets.
I had reached the summit before Heather so I wandered back and forth along the top since every time I tried to sit down the yellow jackets took an interest in me, and I don’t do yellow jackets.
Looking west toward the Rogue-Umpqua Divide.
Mount Bailey, Diamond Peak (post), and Mt. Thielsen behind the rim of Crater Lake.
The rim of Crater Lake.
The combination of clouds, smoke, and the position of the Sun impacted the view to the south which on a clear day would have included both Mt. McLoughlin (post) and Mt. Shasta.
Mt. McLoughlin is to the far right with some clouds over the top. Starting from the left is Goose Nest, Goose Egg (with Gardner Peak behind), Maude Mountain (with a faint Pelican Butte behind to the right), Lee, Devil’s, & Lucifur Peaks (Mt. Shasta is behind those three.) followed by Mt. McLoughlin.
Heather joined me at the summit. Her dislike of heights had kicked in on her way up so she was ready for a nice break but after having been stung two weeks earlier the presence of the yellow jackets did not help her relax. We did however stay long enough for the clouds to start breaking up a little.
The Watchman and Hillman Peak directly behind with Mt. Thielsen further in the distance.
When Heather was ready we headed down. She was a little nervous but managed fine and we soon found ourselves crossing the boulder field again.
Looking back up from the rock field.
Mount Shasta arnica
By the time we were recrossing the ridge near the colorful outcrop a bit of blue sky had appeared behind Union Peak.
That trend continued and we imagined that the two hikers we’d passed on the way down were enjoying even better views than we’d had.
We had no complaints though. The smoke hadn’t been bad, we didn’t smell any at all until we were nearly back to the trailhead, and the clouds had kept the temperature down without raining at all. The Sun even made an appearance along the way.
One of several mountain bluebirds we spotted.
Bumblebees on a few remaining aster.
A sulphur butterfly.
Arriving back at the trailhead.
While Sullivan and the signboard listed this as an 11 mile hike our GPS came in at only 10 miles round trip. Either way there was 1600′ of elevation gain, much of which came in the final, steep, half mile.
From the trailhead we continued west on Highway 62 to the Edgewater Inn in Shady Cove, OR where we would be spending the next three nights. A quick check of the forecast for Sunday before bed revealed that “severe” thunderstorms were now forecast for Crater Lake overnight and Sunday called for clouds and a 50% chance of showers everywhere we’d planned on hiking. The good news was that our planned hike for Sunday was a visit to several lakes in the Sky Lakes Wilderness so showers wouldn’t really affect any views and getting some much needed precipitation was a lot more important than whether or not we would be getting wet on our hike. Happy Trails!
September has always been a bit tricky for planning hikes. Historically it seemed there was always at least one weekend where snow returned to the mountains while other weekends might see rain or 90 degree temperatures. In recent years extreme wildfire behavior has entered into the mix resulting in some devastating fires and some very unhealthy air quality as was the case with the Labor Day fires in 2020. A rare east wind event that year caused a number of wildfires to explode.
A similar, but not nearly as strong, wind event was forecast for Friday & Saturday which coincided with our third attempt at using a Central Cascade Overnight Wilderness Permit. We had planned on trying to reach Goat Peak in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness after having failed to do so in September 2018 (post) but the combination of extreme fire danger and forecast for wide spread smoke resulted in our once again deciding not to utilize the permit we’d obtained. (An early snowstorm in 2021 and thunderstorms in July of this year were the reasons we’d changed our permit plans.)
We were still hoping to sneak some sort of hike in so I started looking for another idea. We didn’t want to go too far from home due to the potential for fast spreading fires but at the same time the Saturday forecast for Salem was a high in the mid-90’s and widespread haze/smoke. I turned to the Oregon Hikers Field Guide for inspiration and noticed the Spring Valley Loop in the Willamette Valley State Parks section. It was less than a 20 minute drive from home and at less than four miles would allow us to be done hiking by mid-morning and avoid the warmer part of the day.
Prior to leaving in the morning I checked up on a fire that had started the day before in South Salem along Vitae Springs Road and stuck my head outside to see if the air smelled of smoke. Everything seemed okay so we proceeded to get ready and headed out at about a quarter to 7am. While the air didn’t smell of smoke the sky had a familiar hauntingly orange hue to it. As we prepared to set off on the first of three short loops from the Spring Valley Trailhead we remarked at how dark it still was due to the layer of smoke overhead. (The majority of the smoke was likely from the Cedar Creek Fire near Waldo Lake (post) which had grown rapidly overnight toward Oakridge and Westfir prompting evacuations although there was also a new fire to the NE at Milo McIver State Park (post).)
For the first loop we walked back up the park entrance road approximately 400 feet to the Rook Trail on the left.
We followed this trail as it wound through the woods for nearly a mile before ending at the entrance road a short way from Highway 221 (Wallace Rd NW).
The combination of low light and orange hue made for some poor photography conditions.
Approaching the entrance road. The gate is for the road which is only open during daylight hours.
We turned right onto the road and followed it for a tenth of a mile to the unsigned Generator Trail (there was some pink flagging present) and took a left onto this one-way trail.
The Generator Trail.
The 0.4 mile Generator Trail brought us back down to the entrance road between the trailhead and where we had turned onto the Rook Trail.
As we followed the road back to the trailhead we were discussing which loop to try next. That decision was made by the couple having an intimate moment in the back of a pickup parked at the start of the Perimeter Trail. We turned right, away from the show, and cut across the mowed field surrounding the vault toilet to pick up the also unsigned Upper Spring Valley Trail.
Spring Valley Creek passing under the entrance road.
The mowed field.
Upper Spring Valley Creek Trail.
The 0.7 mile Upper Spring Valley Creek Trail simply loops back to the trailhead so we hopped that by the time we had finished the short loop the couple was finished as well.
A few Autumn colors starting to show, now we just need some Fall rain.
Brief glimpse of the Willamette River.
The tailgate was up on the pickup, a good sign for us.
Some of the various non-native wildflowers in the area.
Before setting off on the Perimeter Trail we decided to make the quick detour down to the Willamette.
We didn’t quite make it to the river though as the couple had apparently decided to switch locations, but at least they were taking turns. We made a hasty retreat and set off on the Perimeter Trail.
The Perimeter Trail begins to the right of the gate.
The Perimeter Trail loops around another mowed field but after 0.2 miles the signed TCC Trail splits off to the right into the woods (assuming you are hiking counter-clockwise).
Invasive common tansy but the beetle was cool looking.
We were initially fooled by this side-trail at the 0.1 mile mark which was not the TCC Trail, but did provide access to the Willamette.
Willamette Mission State Park (post) is located on the opposite side down river.
There’s the TCC Trail.
After just a tenth of a mile on the TCC Trail it appeared that we were going to be led right back out to the field but the TCC Trail made a hard right and stayed in the woods for an additional four tenths of a mile.
Back to the field after half a mile.
At the field we turned right onto what in theory was the Perimeter Trail following it another 0.4 miles back to the trailhead.
Invasive Canadad thistle.
Common toadflax – non-native.
Moth mullein – you guessed it, non-native.
The Sun behind a layer of smoke.
Pigeons (or doves) in a snag.
The three loops came to a grand total of 3.5 miles with a little over 200′ of elevation gain.
While the conditions weren’t ideal there was a cool (mostly) breeze and it never smelt like smoke. Early Spring would be a much better time to visit or maybe a little later once more of the leaves have had time to change color but given the circumstances it was a suitable destination. It was nice to find another option so close to home too. Happy Trails!
For Labor Day Weekend we continued our focus on featured hikes from the Southern Oregon area and headed for the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness to visit several lakes. Our goal was to finish hikes #6 & 7, Fish Lake and Buckeye & Cliff Lakes respectively. To do this we planned hiking into Fish Lake from the Beaver Swamp Trailhead, setting up camp there, and then taking the Lakes Trail from there to the Buckeye and Cliff Lakes for a loop described by Sullivan visiting Grasshopper Mountain. We planned on hiking out the next day one of two ways, either by Rocky Ridge which Sullivan described as a rough route requiring route finding skills or back the way we’d come via the Beaver Swamp Trail.
We made an unscheduled stop on the drive to the trailhead at South Umpqua Falls (We used our NW Forest Pass to cover the $5 day use fee). My Mom had mentioned a water fall along the South Umpqua River that they had not made it to during their explorations and when I saw the sign for the South Umpqua Falls picnic area I thought this might be the falls she was talking about so we pulled in for a quick peek.
We had the popular swimming area that often draws large crowds all to ourselves. We began by visiting the base of the falls then hiked up above the falls.
In all our wanderings here came to 0.4 miles, a good leg stretcher after having driven for a little over 3 hours. We then continued on our drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead which we arrived at shortly after 9am.
We set off downhill on the Beaver Swamp Trail which promptly entered the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness.
It was surprisingly overcast and a light drizzle was falling as we hiked through a mixed forest with madrone trees and sporadic poison oak. When I’d checked the forecast the night before it simply called for “widespread haze” with Sunday showing as sunny.
After 1.4 miles on the Beaver Swamp Trail we arrived at the Fish Lake Trail where we turned left.
This trail followed Fish Lake Creek for 0.3 miles to Fish Lake.
Small cascade on Fish Lake Creek.
Logs at the outlet of Fish Lake. The Indian Trail can be seen on the far side. This junction was unmarked and you would have to cross the logs to reach it. In theory one could take this trail to the Lakes Trail near Buckeye Lake, but as we understand it the trail does not receive regular maintenance so we did not include it in our plans.
Arriving at Fish Lake
We continued around the northern shore of the lake for three quarters of a mile passing the one other family camped at the lake along the way (more on them later). Before reaching Highrock Creek we followed a use trail uphill to locate a suitable campsite. When we passed by the campers we caught the distinct smell of campfire smoke which, as of 7/22/2022 had been prohibited in Wilderness areas within the Umpqua National Forest. (Not a good start with this group.)
The clouds began burning off before we’d found our campsite.
We set up camp on a little knoll near an old stone foundation. We’re interested to know what used to be there but so far haven’t found any information on it.
After setting up camp we returned to the Fish Lake Trail which appears to have been rerouted through a large and elaborate campsite.
A little too developed for Wilderness standards.
From the large campsite the trail followed Highrock Creek for 0.6 miles to a fork. The Fish Lake Trail actually veered uphill to the left and the Lakes Trail picked up to the right.
A dry channel along Highrock Creek.
Crossing an unnamed creek.
The trail junction.
Just beyond the junction the Lakes Trail crossed Highrock Creek and began a steady climb along a hillside above Fish Lake.
Highrock Creek. There were several nice pools here which we utilized to replenish our water on our way back to camp.
Foam flower and a few ripe thimbleberries, Heather’s favorite.
This trail was well maintained and after approximately 2 miles we arrived at a junction with the Grasshopper Trail. A couple of things to note about this segment of the Lakes Trail. Sullivan showed it as 1.7 miles so this was a little longer than we’d expected, but more importantly the trail alignment shown our GPS unit’s topographic map had the trail quite a bit higher on the hillside. (CalTopo agrees with our actual track so it appears to be accurate.)
The junction with the Grasshopper Trail
We decided to make the climb to Grasshopper Mountain before visiting the two lakes so we turned right onto the Grasshopper Trail and trudged uphill gaining 860′ in the next 1.25 miles before arriving at a junction near Grasshopper Spring.
Sign for the Gasshopper Mountain Trail.
Grasshopper Spring is out there somewhere.
We turned right onto the Grasshopper Mountain trail. This three quarters of a mile trail climbed another 350′ to the site of a former lookout. The climb was surprisingly gradual and passed through a variety of scenery along the way.
We had to go around this big tree.
A few aster
There were some good sized cedars up here.
Another big cedar.
Fritillary on pearly everlasting.
The final stretch to the summit passed through a fire scar.
Highrock Mountain to the left, Hershberger Mountain in the middle, and the Rabbit Ears to the right (post).
Rabbit Ears closeup.
Fish Mountain (back left), Weaver Mountain, Highrock Mountain, and Hershberger Mountain with Grasshopper Meadow below.
Arriving at the old lookout site.
We spent some time enjoying the view but a lack of shade (and places to comfortably sit) kept us from taking a longer break at the summit.
Buckeye (left) and Cliff Lakes below Grasshopper Mountain. The broad hump beyond to the left is Twin Lakes Mountain. We had visited a viewpoint on the north side of that mountain back in June of this year (post).
Buckeye and Cliff Lakes
Smoke on the horizon to the NW. The Cedar Creek fire to the NE, Rum Creek Fire to the SW or several fires in Northern California could be the culprit(s). The peak with the white spot to the center right is Quartz Mountain which we recognized from our Hemlock Lake hike in August (post).
To the NE we got a glimpse of Rattlesnake Mountain (far left) which we’d climbed during Labor Day weekend in 2020 (post).
Rattlesnake Mountain behind Standoff Point.
We headed back down toward the Grasshopper Trail but instead of simply retracing our steps we veered right after 0.6 miles on a spur of the Grasshopper Mountain Trail that brought us to the Grasshopper Trail on the opposite side of a saddle from where we’d left it.
We veered right here which kept us from dropping below the saddle that we otherwise would have had to climb over on the Grasshopper Trail.
Descending to the Grasshopper Trail.
Trail sign at the other junction.
We turned right again and continued on our loop following the Grasshopper Trail downhill to Grasshopper Meadow.
Grasshopper Meadow through the trees.
Sign for a (faint) spur trail to a spring above the meadow.
The Grasshopper Trail skirted the meadow and a half mile from the saddle arrived at a signed junction with the Acker Divide Trail.
Highrock Mountain from Grasshopper Meadow.
A few flowers hanging on to the last days of Summer.
Common wood nymph
The trail got pretty faint just before the junction but we could see the trail sign so we just headed for it.
Fleabane? and paintbrush.
Acker Divide Trail pointer.
Pointer for Cripple Camp (we visited the shelter there on our Hershberger Mountain hike) and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail.
We turned right onto the Acker Divide Trail following this trail for a total of 3.2 miles (per our GPS, Sullivan had it as 3) passing a spur to the Acker Divide Trailhead at the 1 mile mark, Mosquito Camp at the 1.4 mark, and a pond labeled Little Fish Lake in the guidebook after 2.8 miles. This appeared to be the least utilized trail that we’d been on. It was fairly well maintained but there was a lot of debris on it and vegetation crowding the trail. It also left and reentered the wilderness area a couple of times.
This fuzzy caterpillar was in a hurry.
The trail along an old log.
Passing through a small meadow near the spur to the Acker Divide Trailhead.
Yarrow and goldenrod
The area was really well signed.
Sign for Mosquito Camp on the tree to the right. There was zero sign of any established campsites here.
Meadow at Mosquito Camp, it came complete with mosquitos (not too many though).
First of two times reentering the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness.
Scat on the trail, at least we knew something used it.
One of several very small bodies of water along Skimmerhorn Creek which may or may not be Little Fish Lake.
Overgrown trail near Skimmerhorn Creek.
Looking down at the pond? lake?
As we neared the Lakes Trail we began seeing more signs of what appeared to be an ancient lava flow.
Last of the lupine blooms.
Lots of these insect tents on the madrones in the area.
Arriving at the Lakes Trail.
At the Lakes Trail we again turned right following it briefly through a fire scar before reentering unburnt forest and arriving at Buckeye Lake after 0.4 miles.
First glimpse of Buckeye Lake
At this fork we detoured right to visit the lake shore.
A good reminder that far too many people tend to forget.
Grasshopper Mountain from Buckeye Lake.
We were surprised to find that there was no one at the lake given that it’s just a mile from the Skimmerhorn Trailhead. While there were no people to be seen we were not alone.
We had to really watch our step because these little guys were everywhere.
There is an smaller, unnamed lake just West of Buckeye Lake that we did not take the time to check out closer.
From the far end of Buckeye Lake we followed the Lakes Trail 0.2 mile through the old lava flow to a spur trail on the right that led to a large campsite along Cliff Lake. Someone had left (placed) a small BBQ and tarp here but we never saw anyone.
The spur trail to the campsite.
The campsite provided a nice shaded place for a break free of mosquitos. After a nice long break we returned to the Lakes Trail and continued another 0.3 miles to the junction where we had earlier turned onto the Grasshopper Trail. We turned left at the junction and headed back toward Fish Lake.
Footbridge over the outlet creek which flows into another small unnamed lake that we did not attempt to find.
Unfortunately the lighting made this tree very hard to photograph but it was the coolest tree/rock combination that we’ve encountered.
Fritillary on thistle.
Short climb back up to the junction.
We had considered having our dinner at Cliff Lake since it was close to 5pm but we had decided against it due to being low on water and preferring to refill from one of the creeks over the lakes. We followed the Lakes Trail back to Highrock Creek where I worked on dinner while Heather refilled our water. After enjoying some Mountain House creamy macaroni and cheese we hiked the final 0.6 miles back to our campsite.
This slug was heading our way while we finished dinner.
The Sun was getting pretty low as we ended our hike.
A big nest atop a tree and the Moon above Fish Lake.
Zoomed in on the nest and Moon.
Fish Lake just before 7:30pm.
We were again surprised by the lack of people, it appeared that it was still just us and the campfire family. We turned in a little after 8pm to the welcome sound of crickets. Just before 9pm someone with the campfire family decided it was the perfect time to repeatedly fire a small caliber gun. It was both jarringly startling and disconcerting. We were not sure which direction they were firing in and we had no idea if the even knew we were camped there. As the shooting continued we began to consider our options. We couldn’t hike out because we’d need to pass them and that didn’t seem safe in the dark plus we guessed that whoever it was had been drinking. (Based on the four Coors cans we passed the next morning cooling in a stream we think that was probably the case.) The other option was to move camp further back, there was a site near Highrock Creek that was closer to the water than we would normally choose but given the choice of being struck by a stray bullet of camping closer than 200′ to water we were going to pick the water. During a break in the gunfire I quickly retrieved our bear bag and moved it downhill where we could easily access it if we needed move to the creek. We settled on moving camp if the shooting started again but fortunately it did not and we were able spend the rest of the night in relative peace.
The next morning we discussed our plan for the day. Neither of us were too keen on passing by what we were now referring to as the “mouth breathers” but we also both had the sneaking suspicion that the previous days hike was longer than the 13 miles we had come up with adding the distances in Sullivan’s book together. In the end though we both felt like we’d regret not trying the longer (and more elevation gain) return via Rocky Ridge. We decided that we would go ahead and give it a try knowing that we always had the option of turning around and hiking out the way we’d come in on the Beaver Swamp Trail given it was less than 2.5 miles to the trailhead from our campsite that way. We packed up camp and headed for Highrock Creek to top off our water.
Campsite after packing up in the morning.
Passing our planned route for the day on the left. Highrock Creek was just a 20 yard detour to the right.
After replenishing our water supply we started up the Fish Lake Trail which climbed nearly 2200′ in three miles to its end at the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail near Highrock Meadows. This section of the trail had many signs of the 2017 Pup Fire scar which is the main reason we were uncertain whether or not we would be able to make it back to the trailhead this way. There were some signs of post fire trail maintenance, but we weren’t able to even make it a half mile before encountering a very large downed snag blocking the trail. It was too tall and at too steep of an angle to safely climb over and there wasn’t enough clearance to go under (we’d already done both options on other downed trees). The steep hillside was covered in downed trees and the fire had left the ground unstable making scrambling around too risky for our taste so we called it there and made our retreat.
I think this was the third obstacle, one of several that was easy enough to get over.
Prior maintenance, the second log may have been cut post fire?
End of the line for us. Even if we somehow got around this one there was still 9.5 miles of burned trail from the trailhead and who knew how many obstacles like this one we might encounter or how long it would take us if we somehow were successful.
We had the privilege of navigating this one twice. Heather is on the other side coming through.
Back at the junction.
From the junction it was just under three miles back to the car. We hustled past the mouth breathers who seemed to still be asleep and said goodbye to Fish Lake.
No clouds this morning.
Highrock Mountain behind Fish Lake. Seeing the vine maples turning colors reminded us that despite the heat Autumn was just around the corner.
Hiking along Fish Lake Creek.
Highrock Mountain from the Beaver Swamp Trail.
Leaving the Rogue-Umpqua Wilderness for the last time this trip.
Our suspicions about the length of our hike on Saturday were confirmed by our GPS showing a distance of 16.4 miles with approximately 3200′ of cumulative elevation gain.
Given the previous days hike and how warm it was by 9am it was probably for the best that we were turned back from the longer return as quickly as we had been. It had been a bit of a mixed bag with some good weather, nice scenery mixed in with the gunfire and not being able to hike out via Rocky Ridge but overall it had been enjoyable. (Click here for a look at the Rocky Ridge route pre-fire courtesy of Boots-on-the-Trail.)
At the trailhead we encountered a Forest Service employee who had just arrived for a two night stay at the trailhead. They were there to perform a survey of recreation users so we spent about 10 minutes answering the questions before heading home.
Unfortunately for us our adventure wasn’t over. If you’ve been following our blog this year you’ll know that we’ve had the low tire pressure light come on three different times, each one a long way from home (Siskiyou Gap, Black Butte Trail, and Russian Lake) due to a nail, a screw, and a rock. The latter leaving us with a flat tire near Callahan, CA and requiring a purchase of four new tires. This time just outside of Roseburg instead of the low tire pressure light half our dashboard lit up. All at once the check engine light came on, the X-mode indicator began blinking, and the Eye Sight unavailable lights all came on. After further review it appears that when the check engine light comes on those other systems are disabled prompting those indicators to come on. Regardless it was a Sunday and we were over a hundred miles from home. We kept a close eye on all the gauges for the rest of the drive and will have to wait until the Tuesday after Labor Day to make an appointment to have the car checked out. What I wouldn’t give for a Star Trek transporter. Happy Trails!
For the last hike of our week in Etna, CA we had chosen Hidden and South Fork Lakes in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. (Featured hike #91 in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California” 4th edition.) This was both the shortest hike and drive of the week which would allow us to get home as early as possible. We began the hike at the Carter Meadows Summit Trailhead which is right next to a helipad. This area was hit pretty hard by the 2021 Haypress Fire.
From the small parking area a trail descends 50′ to a junction which was left unsigned by the fire. Here the to the left was the Pacific Crest Trail coming up from the south and heading uphill to the north on the far right. A second trail to the right led downhill to the Carter Meadows Campground and finally the Hidden Lake Trail went straight ahead on along a ridge.
The PCT running left to right with the Hidden Lake Trail extending straight ahead.
Remnants of a trail sign. The sticks across the Hidden Lake Trail are to let PCT hikers know that is not their trail.
We followed the Hidden Lake Trail just under a mile to Hidden Lake. (Sullivan showed a distance of 1.2 miles but our GPS put it at 0.9 each way.) The trail followed a ridge and gained a little over 500′ of elevation which doesn’t sound like a lot but it felt quite a bit harder than we’d expected. Perhaps it was the fact that it was the final day of our trip and we were just worn out, but we were glad that we hadn’t tried to do this portion of the hike the day before after our Gulch Lake Loop (post).
A layer of smoke over the valley on the horizon.
A fleabane, possibly California rayless fleabane.
Hidden Lake Trail following the ridge.
Dwarf purple monkeyflower
Approaching Hidden Lake.
We arrived at Hidden Lake right around 7am, early enough that the Sun hadn’t had time to rise high enough to hit the lake.
The lighting conditions were not ideal for photos but it was nice to sit in the shade by the lake after the climb up.
After a short break we headed back along the ridge to the PCT.
Golden-mantle watching us from atop the ridge.
Looking back now that there was a little more sunlight.
We turned right onto the PCT and began a 0.9 mile descent to a crossing of the South Fork Scott River.
A small raptor watching from a snag.
Wildflowers in the burn scar.
A small stream/spring providing some green.
Bleeding heart, fireweed, monkeyflower, and hedge nettle along the stream.
Yarrow and Oregon sunshine.
A lot more green vegetation near the river crossing.
South Fork Scott River
Mountain coyote mint
Campsites along the PCT near the river crossing.
Two tenths of a mile beyond the river crossing we came to an unsigned junction with the South Fork Lakes Trail.
You can just make out the trail ahead heading uphill to the right.
We turned onto this trail and climbed a quarter of a mile to a meadow where the tread became faint.
This trail was the most overgrown/least maintained of all the trails we’d been on this trip.
Nearing the meadow.
Entering the meadow and losing the trail.
As of yet unidentified flower in the meadow.
We were behind a pair of bow hunters who were just exiting the meadow at the other end so we were able to follow their path through the tall grass. Beyond the meadow the trail began a steep rocky half mile climb before leveling out in a basin near Lower South Fork Lake.
There was a brief pause in the climb while the trail passed a series of springs.
Vegetation along the trail at the springs.
Back to climbing.
The final spring that we passed was coming out of this hollowed trunk.
There were several places where it looked like the trail was going to finally crest but when you got there you just found more uphill.
Finally the trail is leveling out.
It had just been a mile between the PCT junction and the lower lake but it had been the hardest mile of our trip. A well deserved break was taken at the lake.
After the break we followed the trail around the west side of the lake and then bushwhacked two tenths of a mile to Upper South Fork Lake.
Looking back over the lower lake.
Heading off-trail for the upper lake.
We took another break at the upper lake watching dragon flies zoom up and down the shore.
The bow hunters arrived as we were starting to head back. It had been years since they’d visited the lake and were glad to see that at least most of the trees, including those around the campsite had survived the fire. We headed back down to the PCT and then hiked back up to the trailhead passing another group of backpackers heading for the lakes along the way.
Back to the lower lake.
Another look at the cool spring.
Monkeyflowers along the springs.
Butterfly on western snakeroot
Back through the meadow.
Close up of a California harebell.
I can see a car at the trailhead.
The helipad at the trailhead.
The helipad at the trailhead.
Sullivan has these hikes listed as 2.4 miles out-and-back to Hidden Lake and 6 miles out-and-back to Upper South Fork Lake. Our GPS put the distances as 1.8 and 5 respectively giving us a 6.8 mile total for the day. The cumulative elevation gain was 1770′.
The lower mileage allowed us to get an earlier start on our drive home than expected which was nice. We were back home in Salem a little after 4:30pm giving us plenty of time to unpack and relax for a bit. Despite the flat tire on Wednesday it had been both a successful and enjoyable trip. It also marked our completion of all of Sullivan’s featured hikes in California. That doesn’t mean we are done hiking in that State but it does mean we are that much closer to completing our goal of hiking all the featured hikes in Sullivan’s Southern Oregon & Northern California guidebook (post). Happy Trails!
After our adventure with the flat tire Wednesday (post) we slept in a little since Valley Tire didn’t open until 8am. Not heading out first thing for a hike did give us a chance to walk from the motel to Grain Street Bakery where we had some delicious scones and half a breakfast sandwich (the other half wound up being Friday’s breakfast). After breakfast we drove into Fort Jones where Valley Tire got us in right away and pulled a small rock out of the tire which had blistered in several places meaning it needed to be replaced. They had a set on hand so we had them replace all four tires and were on our way by 8:45am. It was plenty early for us to still get our planned hike in so we stopped by our room, changed, and grabbed our packs before heading back up to Carter Meadows Summit. From the summit we continued driving downhill another 0.7 miles and turned left onto Carter Meadows Road (FR 39N08) at a sign for Carter Meadows Trailheads. We followed Carter Meadows Road for 1.8 miles to the Trail Gulch Trailhead.
Before getting into the hike please note that many maps have Trail Gulch Lake and Long Gulch Lake reversed including the map embedded on the Forest Service page linked above. Our GPS as well as the PCT paper map that we were carrying also showed the lakes reversed but the signage along the trails here are correct. This loop is also almost entirely within the fire scar of the 2021 Haypress Fire although portions of the forest did not burn too intensely.
From the trailhead the trail climbs steadily but not too steeply along a creek. It soon enters the Trinity Alps Wilderness and at the 0.9 mile mark crosses the creek.
An aster (or a fleabane, it’s so hard to tell).
Tiny green frog.
It was easy to spot where the creek was based on the green.
The wilderness boundary.
The creek crossing.
A checker-mallow near the creek.
Shortly after crossing the creek the trail veered away from it and began a steeper climb to a junction with a 0.3 mile trail to Trail Gulch Lake.
A junco. We saw a large number of small birds flying around during our trip, mostly junco’s and chickadees but they rarely ever sat still where we could see them.
Pointer for Trail Gulch Lake 0.8 miles from the Creek Crossing.
We turned right on the 0.3 mile trail which climbed to Trail Gulch Lake.
The lake was very scenic but the combination of the position of the Sun and a hint of smoke in the sky made capturing it with the cameras difficult.
After a short break we returned to the Trail Gulch Trail and continued further up the gulch. The trail gained 700′ over the next mile to reach a pass above Trail Gulch Lake.
One of several deer seen running uphill as we made our way up the trail.
View back down Trail Gulch.
Peaks in the Russian Wilderness.
Arriving at the pass.
Trail Gulch Lake from the pass.
Just over the pass was a trail junction with a mix of signed and unsigned trails. We took a hard right on the unsigned Trail Gulch Tie Trail which was just slightly above a trail with sign pointing to Steveale Meadows.
The sign for Steveale Meadows where we went uphill on the trail to the right.
The tie trail gained 400′ as it traversed a severely burnt hillside before arriving at a pass above Long Gulch Lake 1.1 miles from the junction.
View south from the tie trail.
Approaching the pass.
Sullivan mentions that it is possible to scramble 0.2 miles to the right along this ridge to get a view of Mt. Shasta and the heart of the Trinity Alps but with the smoke on the horizon we didn’t feel it was worth the effort and skipped that option.
Looking down into Long Gulch from the pass.
After pausing at the pass we started downhill and began getting occasional views of Long Gulch Lake.
To the north we could see much of the route we’d taken the day before on the way to Siphon and Russian Lakes.
Chipmunk with a snack.
A slightly frustrating feature of the trail down was a long switchback along a ridge which led past and away from the lake before turning back toward it. That big swing made the 1.4 miles down to the lake seem to take forever.
The outlet creek.
Long Gulch Trail passed to the north of Long Gulch Lake for a quarter mile.
The pass that the trail came down is along the ridge to the left here.
The trail continued west beyond the lake another third of a mile before arriving at a junction.
Meadow with a number of big trees that survived the fire.
A copper or blue
Leaving the Trinity Alps Wilderness.
The trail briefly followed the Long Gulch Creek.
The trail crossed the creek just under 2 miles from the junction.
Arriving at the Long Gulch Trailhead.
The only other person we saw all day was a backpacker who had just hiked out of Long Gulch Lake and was packing up his truck at the trailhead. He offered us a lift to our car but we wanted to finish hiking Sullivan’s loop so we declined. Sullivan described following horse trails for 0.9 miles back to the Trail Gulch Trailhead rather than following the road for 0.8 miles.
We crossed the road at a post and began to follow the horse trail.
Sullivan showed a junction after 0.3 miles just before arriving at a creek. As we neared the creek our GPS showed us having gone the 0.3 miles so we were looking for a trail to our right. We spotted what looked like it might be a trail complete with some flagging so we turned up hill following it.
Long story short we’d turned too early and wound up just below the road at a horseshoe turn. At that point it was easier to bushwack up to the road and follow it back to the trailhead instead of searching for the horse trail so we finished the loop on the road.
We did pass a sign for the horse trail along the road.
As I neared the trailhead a large bird flew into a nearby tree. I took a couple of pictures and it appears that it may have been an owl.
To the far right of the photo in between the green and orange branches is where it landed.
This was a 10.2 mile loop with 2280′ of elevation gain.
Our drive back to Etna was delightfully uneventful and after cleaning up we headed to Etna Brewing for a great meal and some beer. Despite the tire fiasco we were still on track to finish all five featured hikes before heading back to Salem. Happy Trails!