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Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

The rain showers that had begun the previous afternoon continued into the morning as we prepared for our last day in the Elkhorns. Fortunately they were infrequent and only one quick shower provided any significant amount of precipitation.
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By the time that shower rolled through we had pretty much packed everything up and had it all under the cover of trees. After eating breakfast we started up the Dutch Flat Trail to Dutch Flat Saddle. The presence of the clouds passing overhead gave things a different look that morning and had pushed some of the smoke out.
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The showers had been coming from the west so we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of blue sky we found in that direction.
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Instead of turning right at the saddle and following the Elkhorn Crest Trail back to the trailhead we went straight over the ridge onto the Crawfish Basin Trail.
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This was a longer route back, just over 6 miles vs. 3.25 miles, but it would allow us to visit the Hoffer Lakes as well as Anthony and Lilypad Lake and only repeat a half mile of trail from our first day.

After a series of switchbacks down the Crawfish Basin Trail leveled off along the hillside above Crawfish Meadow.
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It also passed below the rocky spires of Angell Peak, Lees Peak, and The Lakes Lookout.
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As we made our way around the hillside Crawfish Lake came into view down in Crawfish Basin.
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The lake is one of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Easter Oregon” guidebook which put it on our list of to do hikes if we are ever going to finish all of his featured hikes. There are no trails between the lake and the Crawfish Basin Trail so we were planning on stopping at the Crawfish Lake Trail later in the day on our way from the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead to Sumpter. For now we continued along the Crawfish Basin Trail which wrapped around The Lakes Lookout before joining an old road bed after two and a half miles.
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Just prior to joining the road we startled a group of elk in the trees below the trail. They were never in view long enough for a picture but we were excited to add them to the deer and mountain goats we’d already seen during the trip.

A tenth of a mile along the old roadbed we came to a fork where a trail to the right led up nearly 800′ to The Lakes Observation Point.
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Rock Creek Butte had been enough climbing for us on this trip so we ignored the side trail and continued on the roadbed toward the Anthony Lakes Ski Area passing views of Anthony Lake along the way.
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IMG_0878Ski lift on the hillside ahead.

Near the ski area we turned downhill on a steep double track instead of continuing around a much longer hairpin curve in the road.
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We then turned right on the road which seemed to see plenty of use.
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In a quarter mile we came to the start of the Hoffer Lakes Trail on the right.
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We followed this trail for half a mile through meadows to the first Hoffer Lake.
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Following the path around the first lake to SE led us across a series of footbridges to the second Hoffer Lake.
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Only a narrow strip of meadow separates the lakes.
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After visiting the second lake we returned to the Hoffer Lakes Trail and followed pointers for Anthony Lake.
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This section of the trail was wide and full of roots. It was also surprisingly steep in places as it followed Parker Creek downhill.
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After half a mile the Hoffer Lake Trail ended at another old road bed near walk-in camp sites.
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We followed a path straight ahead for about 50 yards to get a look at Anthony Lake.
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After making use of one of the picnic tables we followed the roadbed to the right around the lake for .3 miles to a boat ramp where the view across Anthony Lake included Gunsight Mountain.
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At the boat ramp we turned right onto the Black Lake Trail.
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Just 500 feet along this trail was the aptly named Lilypad Lake.
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The trail made a short climb beyond Lilypad Lake before dropping us back onto the Elkhorn Crest Trail a half mile from both the boat ramp at Anthony Lake and the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead where our car awaited us.
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Although we weren’t done with our hiking for the day we were glad to be done with our full backpacks. We took our day packs out and prepared them for the Crawfish Lake Trail then drove 4.5 miles west of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area to the Upper Crawfish Lake Trailhead just off of Forest Road 73.
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The Crawfish Lake Trail began by diving steeply downhill to a creek crossing.
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It then leveled out a bit and descended much more gradually past a variety of scenery.
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There were signs of recent trail maintenance along the way, some more successful than others.
IMG_0961Trail maintenance fail.

Shortly before arriving at Crawfish Lake the trail entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Just 1.4 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the lake.
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We walked along the NW shore for .3 miles to a campsite with a view across the lake to The Lakes Lookout.
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We took a break at the campsite, which was also the location of the continuation of the trail as it left the lake and headed downhill 1.3 miles to the Crawfish Creek Trailhead.

After a brief rest we returned the way we’d come and headed into Sumpter along Forest Road 73. It wasn’t noon yet but the sky was starting to fill up with some ominous looking clouds.

We were planning on staying in Sumpter for two nights. We had unfinished business from our previous visit in September 2017 when snow kept us from hiking up to the lookout atop Mt. Ireland (post). After checking into the Sumpter Stockade we walked through town to the Golden Nugget Cafe.

On the way back to our room we heard the first of the thunder. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that the area was under a red flag warning for thunderstorms through much of Friday with the chance of them occurring into Friday night. Since the top of a mountain is one of the last places you want to be during a thunder storm we decided to scrap our planned hike up Mt. Ireland and return home a day early.

In the end it was probably for the best as we were both dealing with some foot issues after having hiked for six straight days and over 76 miles. Heather was also anxious to meet her new nephew so Mt. Ireland would have to wait for another trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 1

A day after visiting Jefferson Park we left Salem early and headed up I5 to I84 to North Powder where we followed signs for Anthony Lakes to the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead.
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Our plan was to follow the Elhorn Crest National Recreation Trail (NRT) to Twin Lakes and back over a period of five days with a number of detours thrown in. Our goal for the first day was Summit Lake which was approximately 10 miles from the trailhead. We had hoped to be hiking by 11am and were right on schedule as we set off at 10:57. After the unrelenting heat two weeks earlier during our Strawberry Mountain trip (day 1 post)we were glad to find that the temperature was much friendlier here.

The trail passed through a forest with occasional meadows and glimpses of Gunsight Mountian.
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At the half mile mark we passed a signed trail junction with the Lilypad Lake Trail.
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This was a possible return route on our final day after visiting both Hoffer Lakes and Anthony Lake. For now though we stayed on the Elkhorn Crest Trail for another 150′ where the Black Lake Trail forked to the right.
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We made a snap decision to check out Black Lake which was just a bit over a quarter mile away. After an initial steep climb the trail leveled out before arriving at the little lake.
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After viewing the lake we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail and continued south where in half a mile it passed near the SE end of Black Lake. If we had looked a little more closely at our guidebook we would have realized this and saved ourselves the extra mileage. Beyond Black Lake the trail continued to climb passing granite hillsides and a few wildflowers.
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As the trail climbed the views opened up to either side of the crest with Antone Creek in the valley to the east and Crawfish Meadow to the west in Crawfish Basin.
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IMG_0039Crawfish Meadow in Crawfish Basin

We reached Dutch Flat Saddle 2.8 miles from where we had taken the Black Lake Trail up to Black Lake. This saddle is the site of a four-way junction with the Dutch Flat Trail dropping to the east and the Crawfish Basin Trail to the west. It also marks the boundary of the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Our plans included both of these other trails with Dutch Flat Lake being our choice for camp on the fourth night and then the Crawfish Basin Trail being our route to the Hoffer Lakes, Anthony Lake and ultimately back to the trailhead. For now though we continued on the Elkhorn Crest Trail which traversed the hillside above Crawfish Basin.
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Although we were too late for the majority of wildflowers a few hardy souls remained.
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After passing around Crawfish Basin the trail crossed over a saddle where the faint Cunningham Cove Trail joined from the west.
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IMG_0065Cunningham Cove

A little over a mile from the Cunningham Cove Trail jct we crossed over the crest at Nip & Tuck Pass.
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IMG_0077View north from Nip & Tuck Pass

Just beyond the pass the Lost Lake Trail joined from the east which was another trail we were planning on taking on our way back.
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The Elkhorn Crest Trail climbed from this junction to Lost Lake Saddle where, despite some smokey haze, we could see some of the Wallowa Mountains to the NE and the Strawberry Mountains to the SW.
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Along the ridge we also gained a view of Lost Lake below.
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Beyond Lost Lake Saddle the trail crossed back over to the western side of the crest as it passed around Mt. Ruth.
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The scenery along the trail changed often with some sections passing through green trees and others sagebrush covered hillsides.
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A little over three and a quarter miles from Nip & Tuck Pass we reached Cracker Saddle.
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This was by far the most confusing spot of the entire trip. I had been chatting on Facebook with another hiker who had done a similar trip at the end of July and she had mentioned this area as a problem. Even with her information, a topographic map, and our guidebook it took us a bit (including two false starts) to figure out the correct path. Much of the signage here was missing save for a pointer for the Peavy Trail descending to the west to the rentable Peavy Cabin.
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A jeep track came up to the saddle from the east while faint paths appeared to continue north on either side of the ridge ahead. A pair of cows watched us while we stood at the saddle debating which way to go.
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We initially set off on the faint path that forked to the east side of the ridge ahead but quickly realized that it was only a cow path as it dove downhill toward a barbed wire fence. We retreated back to the saddle where I remembered being told that we’d be on a double track for a short bit. The jeep track that came up from the east looked like too sharp a turn based on the map in our guidebook so we started to follow the right hand fork that went around the west side of the ridge which was actually a continuation of the jeep track. We only took a few steps before coming to our senses since Summit Lake was on the east side of the crest. Twelve minutes after arriving at the saddle we picked the correct route and turned down the jeep track to the east. After .3 miles we arrived at a trailhead sign where a Jeep was parked.
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About 150ft downhill to the right of the parking area was a sign for the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
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We turned left at the sign and in another tenth of a mile forked left at a rock cairn at an unsigned junction (after confirming with the GPS).
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This was the Summit Lake Trail which wound around the east side of the crest.
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The lake itself is only 200′ lower in elevation than at Cracker Saddle, but the trail undulated along the hillside creating some climbs along the way. It also passed above Little Summit Lake which we initially mistook for Summit Lake itself. That lake is a little over 250′ lower than Summit Lake so we were thankful that we wouldn’t be climbing up from it the next morning.
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The trail passed below some white cliffs where we encountered a golden-mantled ground squirrel who appeared to be up to no good.
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After a couple of short switchbacks down, the trail made a final climb to a view of Summit Lake.
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It was approximately a mile and a half total to the lake from the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
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Trails went around the lake in either direction. We chose to head left and go counter-clockwise looking for a campsite. There was a couple on the trail ahead of us that appeared to just be there on a day hike (another trailhead is located even further down the jeep track creating a 1.2 mile climb to the lake along its outlet creek from the NE). We passed them and then went by a series of sites before reaching the outlet creek. We had decided that the first site we’d passed was the best but the day hikers were resting there when we went back so we continued beyond the outlet passing another backpacker setting up camp. On the east side of the lake we found our spot and set up for the night.
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It was only 4:30pm so we had plenty of time to enjoy the lake which quickly became Heather’s favorite. Fish frequently jumped after bugs but the bugs weren’t bothering us. Other fish could be seen in the clear water near the lake shore.
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While scanning the cliffs on the far side of the lake we spotted a lone mountain goat.
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It too seemed to think the lake was a good place to sit and relax.
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Early in the day we had passed a trio of hikers who had also been planning on camping at the lake for the night but we hadn’t seen them arrive by the time we turned in for the night. With our side trip to Black Lake, a bit of wandering at Cracker Saddle, and the walk around much of the lake our mileage for the day was an even twelve miles. Except for the short section of the Black Lake Trail the trails were very well graded and the temperatures stayed cool, especially in the shade and anytime a slight breeze kicked up which was quite often. Unlike our Strawberry Mountain Wilderness trip we ended the first day feeling good and looking forward to the next day when we would head to Twin Lakes. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 1