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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Mount Washington North Ridge – 10/15/2022

Our lack of rain unfortunately continued for another week allowing the numerous fires in Oregon and Washington to remain active. To top it off a warm, dry East wind arrived in time for the weekend creating a red flag warning for high fire danger and blowing the smoke from the current fires into Western Oregon. The combination of the smoke and unseasonably high temperatures had me searching for a suitable hike. My Plan A, B, and C hikes were all forecast to be in the smoke (and warmer than I’d prefer in October) then I remembered seeing that Hike Oregon had gone up Mount Washington’s North Ridge back in August using a climbers trail off of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had been interested in that trail ever since hearing about it during the Chemeketans Route Finding course we’d taken and then later passing it on our hike to Mount Washington Meadows in 2017 (post). A quick of check of the forecast there showed clear (but breezy) skies and a high below 60 at the mountain, I was sold.

Just as we had done in 2017 I parked at the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Big Lake which at this time does not require a Cascade Wilderness Permit for day-use (one is required for overnight stays).
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I set off South on the PCT shortly before sunrise and followed it for three miles to a cairn marking the obvious climbers trail.
IMG_3387Mount Washington from the Mt. Washington Wilderness boundary just a few hundred feet from the trailhead.

IMG_3395Three Fingered Jack to the North from the PCT.

IMG_3399From left to right – Sand Mountain (post), Hoodoo Butte, and Hayrick Butte.

IMG_3401Mount Washington

IMG_3406Sunrise on Hoodoo Butte.

IMG_3410Sunlight hitting the spire of Mount Washington.

IMG_3416Hayrick Butte and Three Fingered Jack at sunrise.

IMG_3424Big Lake, Hoodoo, Hayrick Butte, and Three Fingered Jack.

IMG_3429Just over two miles from the trailhead I passed a sign for the non-maintained use trail from the private Big Lake Youth Camp.

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IMG_3440Shortly before reaching the climbers trail the PCT left the 2011 Shadow Lake Fire scar.

IMG_3442The cairn and climbers trail from the PCT.

I turned left onto this trail which was fairly easy to follow through the trees.
IMG_3443Huckleberry leaves turning color.

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IMG_3448There were a few logs to navigate and keeping an eye on the tread was helpful.

The trail climbed moderately at first then steepened as it went, with occasional flatter sections before reaching the ridge.
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IMG_3452Maxwell Butte (post) behind Hoodoo and Hayrick Butte.

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IMG_3459Mount Washington

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I stopped here for a moment to admire a raptor that was hovering high above the ridge (small black dot in the middle of the photo).

IMG_3470The only movement that I could see was when it tilted its tail feathers which would catch the sunlight.

IMG_3471First view of Mt. Jefferson behind Three Fingered Jack.

IMG_3473Coming up on the ridge.

IMG_3474Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and a lot of smoke to the North.

IMG_3478Cache Mountain and Black Butte (post) to the NE.

Approximately 1.5 miles from the PCT the climbers trail turned North along the ridge toward Mount Washington.
IMG_3484View along the ridge to Mount Washington.

IMG_3488That East wind was really noticeable as I made my way along the open ridge crest.

I didn’t have much trouble following the trail for the first three-quarters of mile up the ridge. It was typical Cascade volcanic rock which isn’t the most fun rock to hike through but the views were great.
IMG_3496_stitchThree Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson to the left. Green Ridge (post) across the center, and Cache Mountain & Black Butte to the right.

IMG_3503Big Lake came into view as I climbed.

IMG_3506One of the steeper sections I went up. The spire is poking up on the right.

IMG_3509Mount Washington’s shadow.

IMG_3510View back down the ridge.

IMG_3511I was hoping to get up and over these rocks where the map showed a more level bench but I wound up reaching a chute where I was unsure of the correct route. The further up I’d gone the more braided the trail became and I may have been too far left. A climber had passed me way back on the PCT but if I had been able to watch him go up here I may have found a better route.

IMG_3513The chute that turned me back. It’s a bit hidden by the rocks in the foreground but there was no way across that I would have been comfortable with and scrambling up looked way too sketchy for my taste (especially w/o a helmet).

I sat down here and took a brief break to catch my breath and have a snack. I was just over 7100′ in elevation and had been feeling that on the climb up.
IMG_3514My shadow on the left from my break spot.

IMG_3518This was the place I’d come up.

IMG_3523Zoom of Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson

IMG_3525With all the smoke I hadn’t noticed Coffin (flat top) and Bachelor Mountains (post) beyond Hoodoo, Hayrick, and Maxwell Buttes.

After catching my breath I started carefully down, pausing often to admire the view.
IMG_3527The Moon overhead to the West.

IMG_3528Patjens Lakes (post) in the forest below.

IMG_3536Lookout tower on Black Butte.

IMG_3540Unfortunate that my timing once again put the Sun directly in line with my view.

I passed three more hikers heading up the ridge on my way down and at one point wound up following a wrong trail too low on the ridge and had to scramble back up to the correct one.
IMG_3555Using a tree to try and get a better view.

IMG_3561A framed Mt. Jefferson.

IMG_3570Sometimes it’s the little things, like these bent trees that I really appreciate on a hike.

IMG_3572This mushroom casting a shadow was another one.

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When I got back to the PCT I turned right and hiked the three miles back to the trailhead.
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IMG_3584Looking back at Mount Washington from the PCT.

IMG_3589Three Fingered Jack

IMG_3595Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes behind Big Lake.

IMG_3601Huckleberry bushes and ferns adding some Fall colors.

IMG_3607The best Fall colors were near the trailhead.

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IMG_3611The trailhead from the wilderness boundary sign.

This hike came to 10.7 miles with a little over 2700′ of elevation gain. In total I saw 7 hunters, 4 climbers, and two fellow hikers, not bad for a sunny Saturday. It might not be one for those uncomfortable with heights or climbing/descending loose volcanic rock (for those reasons it was a good choice since Heather is still sidelined) but if you don’t mind those things this would be a worthwhile outing.

When I got back to Salem around 2pm it was 90 degrees, in mid-October! The good news is that the high pressure system causing the warm, dry weather is supposed to break up this week with rain to follow. Hopefully it will be enough to put an end to the fires. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mount Washington North Ridge

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Sand Mountain – 6/23/2019

For our second trip this year we had planned on heading to the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness and then to the John Day area for a couple of days but the week before our trip our 16 year old cat Buddy wasn’t doing well. After a couple of visits to the vets (and having nearly a pound of fluid removed from his lungs) he was placed on several medications. He’s doing much better now (he is currently on my lap helping me write this entry) but we didn’t want to leave him so soon so we decided to stay home and do a series of day hikes instead.
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Not only was this a fairly last minute change of plans but the forecast for the week was all over the place concerning chances of precipitation and the amount of clouds vs sun. We decided on a handful of potential hikes then checked the forecast for each one trying to come up with an optimal schedule. The process led us to choosing Sand Mountain for our second hike (Vista Ridge and Owl Point (post) being the first).

Sand Mountain is located near Santiam Pass in the Cascade Mountain and is a geologic study area. The U.S. Forest Service and the Sand Mountain Society seasonally staff the Sand Mountain Lookout in part to keep off highway vehicles from damaging the fragile area. Off trail travel off any kind is banned in the study area, but as we were shown by one of the Rangers in the lookout all the signs and barriers in the world can’t stop some morons from doing whatever it is they want to do as there were several tracks visible in the volcanic soil where OHVs or snow moblies had torn things up but I digress.

We chose to follow William L. Sullivan’s suggestion in his “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” guidebook (hike #129 in the 4th edition) by parking at the intersection of FR 810 and Big Lake Road.
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To get here turn south off of Highway 20 toward the Hoodoo Ski Area and follow Big Lake Road for 3.1 miles. FR 810 is open to vehicles which allows one to park 2.9 miles closer to Sand Mountain, but why drive on a rough 15mph dirt road if you don’t have to? Additionally FR 810 follows the route of the Santiam Wagon Road which connected the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon and was used from 1865 to 1939. The 400 mile long route is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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It was a pleasant walk with a few scattered flowers along the way.
IMG_9971Lupine

IMG_9968Beargrass plumes amid the trees

IMG_9979Pussypaws

At the two and a half mile mark we came to a somewhat confusing junction.
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There were snow mobile signs here, one of which had a pointer for Sand Mountain.
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We turned left here following the pointer.
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After about a third of a mile we realized that we were on the wrong side of Sand Mountain so we pulled up the map and compared it with GPS to confirm our suspicions of being on the wrong track. We were indeed so we turned around, but not before getting a decent view of the Sand Mountain Lookout which appeared to be in a bit of a cloud.
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We turned left after getting back to the junction and continued on the Santiam Wagon Road another .4 miles to a sign for the Sand Mountain Special Interest Area. This would be the starting point for the shorter hike option.
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Here we turned left again passing a gate and several notices regarding the prohibited activities in the area.
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The road bed passed by a dark bed of ash as it began climbing up Sand Mountain.
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We were seeing a bit of blue sky overhead as we climbed around and up the west side of the cinder cone but the only cloud free mountain we could make out was Iron Mountain (post).
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IMG_0011Iron Mountain

After a mile and a half we arrived at the old trailhead, now a large parking area for the Forest Service and volunteers who staff the lookout.
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We headed up the trail which again had several notices stating foot traffic only and reminders to stay on the marked trail.
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From this trail we could see Hoodoo, Hayrick Butte, and Black Butte (post)along with the blue waters of Big Lake.
IMG_0029From left to right – Hoodoo, flat topped Hayrick Butte, and Black Butte (behind Cache Mountain).

There was just a bit of snow left over on the trail and a few western pasque flowers were starting to bloom and a western toad was out and about.
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We arrived at the base of the lookout tower after climbing for about a third of a mile.
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A Forest Service Ranger came out to greet us and give us an informative lesson on Sand Mountain and the surrounding geologic area. Sand Mountain is the largest in a series of 23 cinder cones formed along a N-S fissure which also includes 42 distinctive vents and over three quarters of a cubic mile of lava. She informed us that the snow melt from Sand Mountain seeps through the cinder and ash into a large aquifer where after approximately 2 years it makes its way into Clear Lake via the Great Springs and then down the McKenzie River. (post)

We were also informed that Sand Mountain is home to pygmy short-horned lizards but the ranger wasn’t sure that we would see any given the cloudy conditions and chilly breeze. She let us know that we could follow a path down to a viewpoint on the rim of the northern crater and that we were also allowed to hike around the rim if we wanted but she did mention that the climb up the northern end was somewhat steep. We thanked her for the information and headed down to the viewpoint.
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20190623_085411Dwarf lupine at the viewpoint.

The clouds appeared to be breaking up to the west over the Old Cascades.
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The same didn’t appear to be true to the SE though where the snowy Cascade Mountains were still squarely behind the clouds.
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We opted to go around the rim in a counter-clockwise rotation. That way we would be hiking directly toward the Cascades as we looped around in hopes that they might yet clear up.
IMG_0057Starting the loop from the viewpoint.

There really wasn’t any visible tread to speak of on the side of the rim below the lookout and we briefly wondered if we had done something wrong. We stepped as lightly as possible and avoided the patches of vegetation along the way.
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IMG_0060Penstemon and snowbrush

We eventually made it to what appeared to be an old road bed where the path became a bit clearer.
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The hike around the crater was very interesting. A surprising amount of wildflowers were blooming in the rocks and the views down into the crater were impressive.
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As we rounded the crater there was a nice view across to the lookout.
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About this time the Old Cascades had finally shaken off their cloud cover allowing us to identify some additional features.
IMG_0089The Three Pyramids with Scar Mountain (post) to the far right.

IMG_0090Crescent Mountain (post)

IMG_0091Browder Ridge (post)

As we continued toward the Cascades things began looking up that way as well.
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We paused when we were directly across the crater from the lookout to watch the Three Sisters become nearly cloud free.
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IMG_0120Belknap Crater (post), the Three Sisters, and the Husband.

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I pushed on heading steeply uphill now hoping to get a view of Mt. Washington as well. As I was climbing I thought I saw another toad, but it turned out to be on of the pygmy short-horned lizards the ranger had told us about.
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IMG_0143Mt. Washington joining the show.

Another short but steep section of climbing brought me up to an even better view which now also included Big Lake and to a second lizard.
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I waited with the lizard for Heather who had stopped at the first lizard.
IMG_0152Can you see Heather’s hat?

We hung out with our new lizard friend while we watched the mountains uncover further.
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IMG_0171The Husband

IMG_0178Mt. Washington

IMG_0182Scott Mountain (post) and a snowy Maiden Peak (post) in the distance.

The only one that wasn’t playing nice was Three Fingered Jack to the NE.
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Near the viewpoint area below the lookout we spotted our third lizard.
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Interestingly they all seemed to have slightly different coloration but each blended very well with their surroundings.

From the viewpoint we could now also see part of Mt. Jefferson, but like Three Fingered Jack it was still partly obscured by clouds.
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IMG_0190Maxwell Butte (post) in front of Mt. Jefferson.

We headed back down Sand Mountain hoping that as we did so the other peaks might come out.
IMG_0197Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a quarter to ten.

IMG_0215Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a quarter after ten.

IMG_0224Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a 10:23am.

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As we wound our way down we ended up heading directly toward Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters. Each of the Three Sisters seemed to be working on small lenticular clouds.
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We returned the Santiam Wagon Road and headed back. On the return trip we spotted a few butterflies, a golden-mantled ground squirrel and some orange agoseris which we had somehow missed on our way in.
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I also briefly detoured to check out a beargrass patch along some of the official OHV trails.
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With our .6 mile detour up the snowmobile track we wound up with an 11.3 mile hike, another 5.8 of which could have been removed by driving up FR 810.

We took the long way back to Salem opting to follow Highway 20 over Tombstone Pass to stop at the Rooster Rock Trailhead.
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This was less of a hike and more of a quest for a picture of a Menagerie Wilderness sign. We had hiked to Rooster Rock in 2016 (post) from a different trailhead but there had been no wilderness sign on that route. The shorter but steeper Rooster Rock Trail enters the Menagerie Wilderness less than a quarter mile from the trailhead and before the trail starts its climb so I hopped out of the car and hustled up the trail to see if there was a sign along this path.
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There was part of a sign at least at the wilderness boundary which was better than nothing.
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I did do a quick search in the immediate vicinity hoping to locate the other half but was unable to. Satisfied with the outcome I returned to Heather and the car and we headed home to Buddy (and Hazel our other kitty). Happy Trails!

Flickr: Sand Mountainm

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Mount Washington Meadows

One week after returning from our Northern California trip we found ourselves headed to Bend to drop off some furniture to our Son who had recently moved.  It wasn’t going to be a long visit due to his having to work so after a quick tour of his new apartment we were back on our way home.

Our plan was to stop for a hike on the way home along the Pacific Crest Trail near Santiam Pass south to Mount Washington Meadows. We had left Salem at 5am so it would still be fairly early when we hiked. Just after 8:30 we pulled into the PCT trailhead near Big Lake.

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We headed south on the PCT which quickly entered the Mt. Washington Wilderness amid trees burned in the 2011 Shadow Lake Fire.

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The first two or so miles passed through the burn where despite most of the trees being dead, there was plenty of green and other colors present.

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The lack of living trees did allow for some views of both Mt. Washington ahead and Three Fingered Jack to the north beyond Big Lake, the Hoodoo Ski Area and the flat topped Hayrick Butte.

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We could also see two small buttes just to the SW of Big Lake which we had hiked around in 2012 when we visited the Patjens Lakes.

That hike was also done during the first week of August, but less than a year removed from the Shadow Lake Fire. It was interesting to see how the forest was recovering with the passing of several more years.

Patjens Lake TrailPatjens Lake Trail – August 2012

IMG_6791Pacific Crest Trail – August 2017

A wider variety of plants including various berries were present now.

We left the burn area where we were able to see what the forest will look like again eventually.

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We passed several small meadows and lots of wildflowers as we went.

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We had been gradually climbing and when a break in the trees allowed us a view to the north where we spotted Mt. Jefferson over the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack.

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It was a bittersweet view as it reminded us that the Whitewater Fire was burning on the west side of Mt. Jefferson and had already burned over portions of several trails leading to Jefferson Park.

There was no real visible smoke but we knew that it was there and those trails would look a lot like what we’d passed through earlier in the Shadow Fire area.

When the PCT began to curve around a ridge to the left the Spire of Mt. Washington came into view.

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An open hillside then opened up views to the south were several other familiar peaks were visible.

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These included the North and Middle Sister, Belknap Crater, the Husband, Diamond Peak, and Scott Mountain.

IMG_6783North & Middle Sister with Belknap Crater

IMG_6697Scott Mountain

As we continued we passed through some increasingly impressive meadows until reaching a large lupine filled meadow below Mt. Washington.

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Mt. Washington rose above the meadow where we were able to get a great look at the eroded volcano.

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Lupine wasn’t the only thing in abundance in the meadow. There was also a large number of tortoiseshell butterflies who seemed to be overly attracted to me.

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We continued through the meadow where we found a nice display of cat’s ear lilies still in bloom amid the lupine.

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At this point we’d gone a little over 5.5 miles, but the level grade of the PCT and the great scenery so far enticed us to continue a little further to see what else the area had to offer. We decided to follow the PCT until it began to lose elevation as it crossed a valley between Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater. We soon found ourselves in another area affected by fire.

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We ended our hike as the PCT bent around a ridge end where it would begin the 400′ elevation loss before climbing up to the shoulder of Belknap Crater which was visible across the valley.

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From this vantage point we could also make out Little Belknap Crater.

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After a short break we headed back through the meadows and returned to our car.

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The 12.4 mile round trip had proved to be a lot more entertaining than we’d expected. We hadn’t really known what to expect having selected the hike from the back of our guidebook in the additional hikes section, but it had been a thoroughly enjoyable outing. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mount Washington Meadows

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Patjens Lakes

On 8/2/2012, a day after our mosquito filled visit to Miller & Maidu Lakes, we were heading home. I had injured my right knee running down the trail to Miller Lake in an attempt to thwart the mosquitoes and it was feeling a little off, but I wanted to give a hike a try on the way over Santiam Pass.

We decided to try Patjens Lakes due to it being relatively short, right around 6 miles, with only 400′ of cumulative elevation gain. The trailhead is located on the NW side of Big Lake off of Forest Road 2690 which is also the entrance road to the Hoodoo Ski Area.
Patjens Lake Trailhead

We stayed right at a fork near the trailhead planning on doing a counter-clockwise loop. A 2011 wildfire had burnt much of the forest along the loop but signs of life were already returning.
Patjens Lake Trail

Goldenrod, penstemon and aster

Pearly everlasting

Patjens Lake Trail

Mt. Washington and Big Lake were visible along the first portion of the trail.
Mt. Washington

The trail looped around a small butte passing a series of meadows and view to the NW of the Sand Mountain Lookout.
Meadow along the Patjens Lake Trail

Lupine

Sand Mountain Lookout

Shortly after passing a horse trail joining on the right the we entered the Mt. Washington Wilderness and began the only real significant climb of the hike.
Wt. Washington Wilderness sign

The trail climbed to a saddle between the butte and a small hill. At the saddle the Three Sisters were visible to the south.
Forest along the Patjens Lake Trail
Small hill from the saddle.

Patjens Lake Trail

The Three Sisters

As the trail descended from the saddle it entered forest that had been spared by the fire.
Patjens Lake Trail

We passed through a series of meadows full of ferns and scarlet gilia.
Patjens Lake Trail

Tall cascade lilies rose above the ferns.
Cascade Lilies

Cascade lilies

Cascade Lily

As we were passing through one of these meadows we encountered a foul reek. There was obviously some sort of rotting carcass out in the brush but we couldn’t see anything. We were a little concerned that it might have been a mountain lion kill or that a bear might be feeding on it so when we heard a ruckus off to our right we were on high alert. The noise turned out to be a pair of turkey vultures who had apparently located the dead animal.
Turkey Vulture

Turkey vulture

We left well enough alone and continued on our way paying extra attention for any large predators that might have been attracted by the smell. Around a mile from the saddle we came to a small body of water on the right side of the trail.
Patjens Lake #1

The first Patjens Lake was approximately .7 miles from the pond on our left.
A Patjens Lake

The trail then passed a large meadow reentering the burn area before reaching the second Patjens Lake.
Meadow along the Patjens Lake Trail

Patjens Lake #2

The third lake was just beyond the second and it looked like they were probably connected for a brief times during high water. We left the trail and began to loop around the third lake in a clockwise direction.
A Patjens Lake

A number of ducks could be seen in the reeds.
Ducks on a Patjens Lake

From the north end of the lake there was a nice view of Mt. Washington rising over the forest to the south.
Mt. Washington from a Patjens Lake

We took a break here watching the ducks and admiring the mountain then continued around the lake back to the trail. A mile and a half from the last lake we came to a junction near Big Lake where we turned left following the lake shore back toward the trailhead. Flat Hayrick Butte and round Hoodoo Butte rose above the blue waters of Big Lake.
Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes from Big Lake

Hoodoo Butte
Hoodoo Ski Area

Looking back over our shoulders provided big views of Mt. Washington.
Mt. Washington and Big Lake

A mile from the junction at Big Lake we were back at the trailhead. Despite a little discomfort going downhill my knee had held up which was encouraging. The hike had been a good choice for it and it had been a really nice hike even with the burned forest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Patjens Lakes