Bend/Redmond Central Oregon High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Alder Springs

This week we’re going to throwback to a hike that had a profound impact on how we hike. In 2011 the snow melt was unusually late and wound up impacting us on our vacation in Central Oregon during the first week of August. On 8/3/2011 we had planned on hiking the Benson Lake Loop. We took the McKenzie Highway (Hwy 242) from Sisters and headed for the trailhead.  It was a beautiful morning and we stopped at the Dee Wright Observatory to take in the spectacular views.

Dee Wright Observatory

Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater and Mt. Washington

Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater and Mt. Washington

Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Jefferson

Black Butte

Black Butte

Black Crater

Black Crater

North & Middle Sister

North and Middle Sister with the Little Brother

We continued on to the trailhead near Scott Lake and set off on the Benson Lake Trail.

Benson Lake Trailhead

In the mile and a half to Benson Lake we encountered a few snow patches and lots of mosquitoes.
Snow along the Benson Lake Trail

From Benson Lake we could see our next planned stop,Scott Mountain which appeared relatively snow free.

Benson Lake

The trail conditions deteriorated quickly beyond Benson Lake as the mosquitoes were thick and relentless and the trail was covered in snow.

Snowmelt pond near Benson Lake

Snow along the Benson Lake Trail

We were still quite inexperienced hikers with raw map skills, no GPS, and we hadn’t learned to look for blazes yet so we were relegated to following a lone set of footprints which worked until they disappeared. While we struggled to locate the trail Heather had a mosquito fly directly into her eye where it stuck. It remains the most disgusting hiking moment ever for us.

After extracting the kamikaze mosquito we surrendered and turned back while we knew we could still find the trail back.

We had only hiked around 4 miles by the time we were driving back toward Sisters and began looking for another hike that we might be able to do. We landed on the Alder Springs trail which would be snow free being in the high desert and at an elevation of only 2600′. Even better the trailhead was less than 20 miles from Sisters.

From the trailhead parking area Mt. Washington and the North Sister were visible. It was odd to think we’d just been forced by snow to turn back from a hike on the other side of those two mountains and now we were standing amid the sagebrush and juniper in the high desert. Not only was it a drastic change in scenery but it was also a lot warmer.

Alder Springs Trailhead

Mt. Washington

Middle and North Sister

The view here also included a look down the Wychus Creek Canyon which is where the trail would be leading us.

Wychus Creek Canyon

The Alder Springs Trail descended .2 miles to a fork where the Old Bridge Trail split to the left.

Old Bridge Trail sign

We took this .4 mile path down to the site of a former bridge and then down to the bank of Wychus Creek.

Site of a former bridge over Wychus Creek

Whychus Creek

Wychus Creek

We then returned to the Alder Springs Trail and followed it 1.2 miles to Alder Springs. This section of trail provided some nice views of the canyon before descending to the creek.

Wychus Creek Canyon

Wychus Creek

Whychus Creek Canyon

Rock formations along the Whychus Creek Canyon

A short narrow slot in the canyon wall was a neat little detour along the way.

Whychus Creek Canyon

Dry waterfall

The scenery became a little greener as the trail dropped to creek level and neared Alder Springs.

Alder Springs Trail

Alder Springs Trail

Interpretive sign at Alder Springs

We faced a choice here, turn back or ford the creek and continue a little over a mile and a half to the Deschutes River at its confluence with Wychus Creek. It was too nice a day and the scenery was too good to turn back so we forded the shin deep creek. Downstream the creek seemed to flow right into the canyon wall.

Whychus Creek

Whychus Creek

Springs bubbled up in several spots joining the waters of Wychus Creek along the far bank.

Alder Springs

Alder Springs

Beyond the springs the trail stuck fairly close to the creek as it met the canyon wall and turned north.

Whychus Creek

Soon we were once again traversing the hillside a bit above the creek due to the thick vegetation along the creeks banks.

Whychus Creek Canyon

Whychus Creek

At one point the trail split with the right hand fork dropping down near to the creek in a thistle filled meadow. We took this path thinking it would be fun to be in the thistle and closer to the creek but as we made our way into the meadow the a distinctive sound of a rattle rose up.

Thistle meadow along the Alder Springs Trail

We slowed up and realized that there were at least two maybe three alarms being raised from different sides. We proceeded slowly making plenty of noise ourselves keeping our trekking poles ahead to give any snakes plenty of time to leave the area. We never saw any but they made plenty of noise. On the way back we skipped the meadow and stayed on the path that passed higher up the hillside.

We continued on, now on high alert, to the confluence of the river and creek. On the far side of the water rose a spectacular striped rock fin.

Rock fin near the Wychus Creek and Deschutes River confluence

Rock fin

A sign on a ponderosa announced the end of the maintained trail.

End of the Alder Springs Trail

A rock ledge along the Deschutes River provided a perfect lunch spot across from the fin where we could watch the river as it headed further down the canyon.

Deschutes River

Deschutes River

Rock fin from the Deschutes River

Having arrived at this spot from the Alder Springs Trailhead gave this spot a real feeling of remoteness. The fact that we hadn’t seen any other hikers since the parking area and having to ford the creek added to the sensation of solitude. In actuality the homes of Crooked River Ranch were not far away on the other side of the river and the Scout Camp Trail loops around the fin that seems so remote.

The Alder Springs Hike was a little over 6 miles round trip with about 650′ of elevation gain.

The experience at Benson Lake was a key motivating factor in our decision to make getting a GPS unit before the 2012 hiking season a top priority. It also reminded us that we needed to improve our map and navigational skills which we began to focus more on. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Benson Lake & Alder Springs

High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Scott Mountain Loop Day 1 – Mt. Washington Wilderness

With our hiking season starting to wind down we took advantage of a decent weather forecast for one final overnight trip. Our plan was to begin at the Robinson Lake Trailhead and take the Deer Butte Trail to the Benson Trail then follow that trail up into the Mt. Washington Wilderness where we would set up camp in the Tenas Lakes area. After setting up camp we’d visit the summit of Scott Mountain and Benson Lake to fill out the afternoon/evening. This would be our third attempt at getting a decent view on Scott Mountain. We never made it to Scott Mountain on our first attempt in 2012 due to not being prepared for the amount of snow covering the trail, and although we reached the summit on our second attempt in October 2014 we found ourselves in a cloud with no views whatsoever.

We began both of our previous visits to the area from the Benson/Tenas Trailhead near Scott Lake off of the McKenzie Highway (242). In order to do something a little different and see some new lakes we started on the other side of the wilderness at the Robinson Lake Trailhead. This trailhead is located at the end of Robinson Lake Road (2664) off of Highway 126 4.7 miles south of the Clear Lake Resort.

Robinson Lake Trailhead

The short half mile hike to Robinson Lake is included in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades guide books as a non-featured hike in the more hikes section in the back of the books. The hike is also included in another of our guide books, Bend, Overall 2nd Edition (Hiking and Exploring Central Oregon)written by Scott Cook. The Robinson Lake Trail actually begins .4 miles from the trailhead where it splits from the Deer Butte Trail which is the trail that leaves from the trailhead.

Deer Butte Trail junction with the Robinson Lake Trail

The Robinson Lake Trail leads a tenth of a mile to a campsite near the little lake.

Robinson Lake

Robinson Lake

After visiting Robinson Lake we returned to the Deer Butte Trail and continued another 1.2 forested miles to an unsigned junction with an unofficial trail to Kuitan Lake.

Deer Butte Trail

Deer Butte Trail

Unofficial trail to Kuitan Lake to the left:

Side trail off of the Deer Butte Trail to Kuitan Lake

Kuitan Lake

Kuitan Lake

From Kuitan Lake we followed the Deer Butte Trail another .8 miles to a junction with the Hand Lake Trail.

Deer Butte Trail junction with the Hand Lake Trail (our return route)

Originally we were going to take this trail and do our loop around Scott Mountain clockwise but after doing some distance calculations it appeared that doing the loop counter-clockwise would leave us with a slightly shorter hike out on the second day so we stuck to the Deer Butte Trail and continued south skirting the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

Deer Butte Trail

Mt. Washington Wilderness boundary

Just under 1.5 miles from the Hand Lake Trail junction the Deer Butte Trail passed a small unnamed lake.

Deer Butte Trail

Unnamed lake along the Deer Butte Trail

Unnamed lake along the Deer Butte Trail

Another 2.5 fairly level miles beyond the unnamed lake we a arrived at a 4-way junction with the Benson Trail.

Benson Trail junction with the Deer Butte Trail

Here we turned left and began climbing into the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

Benson Trail

This section of the Benson Trail was in pretty good shape but it was a bit overgrown and the recent wet weather made it a wet 2.6 mile, 1200′ climb to our next junction. The forest was nice but there were no views or wow scenery along the way, but we did startle a grouse out of the underbrush.


When we arrived at the junction with the Scott Mountain Trail we stayed on the Benson Trail and headed for the Tenas Lakes area.

Benson Trail junction with the Scott Mountain Trail

The Tenas Lakes area is home to a number of lakes and smaller ponds filling glacier carved bowls. We headed cross country past one of the smaller lakes/ponds to find a campsite near the largest of the Tenas Lakes.

One of the many bodies of water in the Tenas Lakes area

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

We didn’t see any other tents set up anywhere in the area and chose a spot following Leave No Trace Principles.

Our initial campsite

After setting up camp we had a choice between heading north to Scott Mountain or south to Benson Lake. We had decided to base the timing of our visit to Scott Mountain on the weather conditions. The sky seemed fairly clear so we decided to go to Scott Mountain first and then to Benson Lake later in the day in case more clouds moved in. We took the Tenas Lakes Trail .1 miles from the largest lake to the Benson Trail and turned left for .2 more miles back to the Scott Mountain Trail junction.

Tenas Lakes Trail junction with the Benson Trail

We followed the Scott Mountain trail for a mile to yet another trail junction getting a nice view of the cloud free summit along the way.

Scott Mountain

Scott Mountain Trail junction with the Scotty Way Trail

We would be taking the Scotty Way Trail the next day on our hike out, but for now we stuck to the Scott Mountain Trail and headed up toward the summit. Heather had remembered that .7 mile climb to the summit was on the steeper side, but I hadn’t. She had remembered it correctly (no surprise there). On the way up we passed some small patches of snow presumably left over from the week before when we had been hiking in snow on Black Crater.

Snow along the Scott Mountain Trail

Near the summit the trail began passing through open meadows where the snow gave way to butterflies and few left over flowers.

Scott Mountain Trail

Fritillary butterfly on some leftover aster

As the trail wound its way up to the former lookout site atop the mountain The Husband come into view.

The Husband from the Scott Mountain Trail

The Husband

Just a bit further the snow covered lower portions of the Three Sisters joined the view.

The Three Sisters and The Husband

At the summit the view to the north opened up.

Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater

It was interesting watching the clouds. There were two lines of clouds that seemed to be headed for one another in the gap between Mt. Washington to the north and the Three Sisters to the south. We had brought our Alite Mayfly chairs with us and set them up on the summit watching the clouds move, yet not appear to get anywhere. Occasionally more of a mountain would appear but every time we thought we might get a clear view of one of the major cascade peaks more clouds would arrive.
Double, Belknap, Little Belknap, and Black Craters

Double Craters, Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater, and Black Crater

Mt. Jefferson and the lower portion of Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Jefferson and the lower portion of Three Fingered Jack beyond Hayrick Butte

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

The Three Sisters

View from the summit of Scott Mountain

The clearest major cascade peak was actually the furthest away – Diamond Peak to the south.

Diamond Peak

Despite the pesky clouds the view was infinitely better than it had been in 2014.

No view from Scott Mountain

After making good use of our chairs we packed them up and headed back to our campsite where we grabbed a couple of extra clothing items and then began exploring the Tenas Lakes area passing a half dozen lakes and ponds.

Pond near the Tenas Lakes

North Sister beyond a Tenas Lake

Scott Mountain from one of the Tenas Lakes

One of the Tenas Lakes

Looking south from the Tenas Lakes area

Pond/lakelet in the Tenas Lakes area

One of the lakes in the Tenas Lakes area

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

We had seen a number of empty campsites as we looped around, but when we arrived back at the Tenas Lakes Trail we noticed that a small group of people were setting up tents along the big lake not 20 yards from our site. We prefer to have as much privacy as possible when we’re out, but more disappointing was they were setting up right between our site and its view of the lake. We discussed whether or not to move our campsite as we returned to the Benson Trail and headed toward Benson Lake.

It was just under a mile from the Tenas Lakes Trail to Benson Lake. We hoped to be able to hike around the lake, something we had not tried to do on either of our previous visits. We had followed a fisherman’s path a short distance along the southern end of the lake and seen people camped on the far side in 2014 so we knew that we should at least be able to get part way around the west side of the lake. The issue with going all the way around appeared to be a rocky outcrop jutting out into the water on the NW side.

Benson Lake

We started around the lake clockwise crossing the dry outlet creek then climbing up onto glacially scarred rocks with a nice view down to the lake.

Scott Mountain from Benson Lake

Benson Lake

We climbed up to the top of the rocks which provided some great views but not a path around the lake.
Scott Mountain

Scott Mountain from the rocks above Benson Lake<

The Three Sisters and The Husband

View from the rocks above Benson Lake

North Sister

North Sister

Middle Sister

Middle Sister

South Sister

South Sister

Mt. Washington, Belknap and Little Belknap Craters

Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater from the rocks above Benson Lake

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

Heather had seen another possible route as we were heading up the rocks so we backtracked a bit and found the trail she’d seen which did indeed lead us further around the lake.

Benson Lake

The trail petered out at a rock slide near the outcrop that we had seen from the far side of the lake. We rock hopped across the slide then picked up a faint trail before coming to a very short but steep section where we were forced to scramble along a rock face. We both wondered if it would have been better to have tried to get up on top of the outcrop which it turns out is a sacred prayer site for Native Americans. Statesman Journal article

On the other side of the outcrop we picked up the user trail again and followed it back to complete our loop.

Benson Lake

We returned to camp having decided that we would indeed change our campsite. We had our pick since there still wasn’t anyone else camped in the area save us and the group that had set up next door. We chose a spot about 100 yards away near a smaller lake. We were able to carry our tent there without having to take it down making the move pretty simple.


Huckleberry leaves near the small lake

We ate dinner by the lake, went to one of the larger lakes to pump water, and watched the sunset before turning in for the night.

Sunset from the little lake

With all the side trips and exploring our distance for the day wound up being a little over 18 miles which was more than planned but we’d gotten to see a lot and finally gotten some views from Scott Mountain. Happy Trails!

Flickr (both days):

High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Benson, Tenas, Hand, and Scott Lakes.

We capped off our Central Oregon vacation with a soggy loop past several lakes in the Mt. Washington Wilderness. We had started this hike in 2011 but had to turn back shortly after passing Benson Lake having lost the trail under snow. We started the loop at the Benson Lake Trailhead which is located just past Scott Lake off of Highway 242 along with my parents.

The forest was full of bear grass stalks evidencing what looked to have been an impressive bloom earlier in the year.

We reached Benson Lake in just under a mile and a half. It was a cloudy day but we could see Scott Mountain,one of our destinations, across the lake.

From Benson Lake we passed several small meadows and ponds before reaching a sign pointing to the Tenas Lakes.

The trail first passes the largest of the Tenas Lakes.

Exploring beyond the first lake led us past several more smaller lakes, each with its own distinct features.

Our next stop was the 6116′ summit of Scott Mountain. Another sign announced the .7 mile trail to the former lookout site.

We began climbing up into the fog. The forest soon gave way to the mountains meadows on its red summit. We’d missed the majority of the flowers but there were a few lingering blooms providing a hint of what would be seen in the meadows near the former lookout site during the peak bloom.

The view from the summit was an all too familiar one for us. 🙂

After returning to the loop trail from the summit we continued through the Mt. Washington Wilderness toward Hand Lake. We were finding an increasing number of ripe blue & huckleberries and were doing our best to sample them all.

We skipped the mushrooms though.

The trail then entered burnt woods where fireweed was profuse.

After passing a sign for the Bunchgrass Trail we skirted a lava flow where we saw many golden mantled squirrels who seemed to be fattening up in preparation of Winter.

An interesting feature near Hand Lake is the 1871 Old McKenzie Wagon Road chipped out of the lava. It isn’t easy to spot but the level road was made by hand to connect the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon.

At the end of the lava flow we came to Hand Lake.

There wasn’t a lot of water in the lake this far into Summer but a lone duck seemed to be enjoying it and at least one small frog called the area home.

From the lake we could see the Hand Lake Shelter, our next stop.

It had been sprinkling off and on all day but really started to pick up after we left the shelter. The final 1.5 miles of the loop were nearly level passing through several meadows where mosses and aster added color to the ground.

On a clear day the Three Sisters are visible from Scott Lake but we arrived amid a steady rain and low clouds. The lake was still pretty despite the lack of a mountain view.

It was a vastly different feeling than we’d had just three days earlier when we were trying to cool off sitting next to a tarn beneath Broken Top. We all agreed that it was the first time it had felt like Fall was just around the corner. It was really nice to be joined by my parents on our final vacation hike even if we were all wet muddy messes at the end of it.

Happy Trails!