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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.
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IMG_9968Beargrass plumes amid the trees

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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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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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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)

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

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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

Categories
Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Panther Creek Falls and Indian Heaven Wilderness

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

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

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

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

Categories
Hiking McKenzie River Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Clear Lake

We wanted to get one last hike in on the way home from Central Oregon. Originally we’d planned on hiking up to the summit of the Middle Pyramid on the Three Pyramids Trail, but we were greeted with clouds and rain as we came to Santiam Pass. Knowing there wouldn’t be any views we changed our plans and headed to Clear Lake 10 miles south of the Santiam Jct. on Highway 126.

The McKenzie River begins at Clear Lake where old lava flows created the lake by covering and damming the river. On a clear day The Three Sisters and Mt. Washington can be seen from various points around the lake but with the clouds we would be content with the clear, colorful water of the lake.

We began our counter-clockwise loop at a picnic area near the Clear Lake Resort.
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The trail passed through a nice Douglass Fir forest with glimpses of the lake to our left where we spotted our first on trail beargrass of the year.
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At about the one mile mark on an arm of the lake which feeds the McKenzie we got our first taste of the draw of Clear Lake.
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A footbridge led us over the outlet of the McKenzie River to the eastern shore of Clear Lake.
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The trail on the eastern side spent more time in the open and closer to the lake as it crossed over several lava flows. Here we spotted several birds, ducks, and colorful wildflowers.
Ouzel
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Penstemon
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Tiger Lily
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Merganser and her ducklings
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Wild Rose
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Stellars Jay
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Barrow’s Goldeneye
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Washington Lily
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Another family of ducks
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The water in the lake became more colorful as we arrived across the lake from the resort.
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Shortly after passing the resort on the far shore we came to the Great Springs which feed the lake with 38 degree water allowing the lake to remain unfrozen all year. They emptied into a beautiful small pool reminiscent of the Tamolitch Pool which lies further down the McKenzie.
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After the Great Springs the trail crosses Fish Lake Creek on a footbridge. This creek only flows during the Spring snow melt.
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Finally we swung out around an arm of the lake where Ikenick Creek flows into the lake.
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Back on the west side of the lake we were again in the fir forest where many white woodland flowers were in bloom.
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We quickly reached the resort area which was busy with campers. The picnic area was just on the other side and before we knew it our Central Oregon hiking tour was over (for now). Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644778548280/
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