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Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Junction and Cultus Lakes – Indian Heaven Wilderness – 10/03 & 10/04/2020

With a September backpacking trip to the Sky Lakes Wilderness having been canceled due to the wide spread wildfires on the West Coast it seemed like our Labor Day trip (post) may have been the last nights in our tent. Fortunately the weather and smoke both cooperated over the first weekend in October and we spent one final night in our tent in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. It appeared that nearly everyone else had that same idea making this trip by far the busiest over night trip we’ve experienced.

We had visited this wilderness on two previous occasions – a 2015 day hike starting at the Thomas Lake Trailhead, and a 2018 day hike to Indian Racetrack via the Pacific Crest Trail. We began this trip on the eastern side of the wilderness at the East Crater Trailhead.
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Our plan was to take the East Crater Trail 2.5 miles to Junction Lake and set up camp then make a big loop (with a few side trips) around Bird Mountain using the Pacific Crest Trail, Cultus Creek Trail, Indian Heaven Trail, and finally the Lemi Lake Trail. We started up the East Crater Trail through a mountain hemlock forest with splashes of Fall colors.
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The trail climbed gradually entering the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
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A little less than a mile and a half from the trailhead we passed the first of several small ponds and the scar of the 2017 East Crater Fire.
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IMG_6392Still some fireweed blooming in the fire scar.

IMG_6396East Crater beyond a pond.

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Just before the 2.5 miles we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail and the end of the East Crater Trail near Junction Lake.
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IMG_6406Junction Lake

We didn’t want to set up our tent on the vegetation in the meadows around the lake so we looked to the opposite side of the PCT where we found a nice little spot tucked back in the trees.
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IMG_6407This crab spider offered to watch our tent for us while we were away.

After getting everything set up we headed north along the PCT past Junction Lake to a junction with the Lemi Lake Trail.
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We stayed left on the PCT and reentered the trees on a forested hillside.
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A mile from the Lemi Lake Trail junction we came to another junction with the Elk Lake Trail near Bear Lake.
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This was our first detour as we turned left and descended to the shore of Bear Lake where numerous tents were set up.
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The Indian Heaven Wilderness is famous for its huckleberries but this late in the year most of them were well past edible but along the lake shore there were a few left which had caught the attention of the locals.
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We opted not to go the third of a mile further to Elk Lake and after a short break we returned to the PCT and continued north another .4 miles before making another short side trip downhill to Deer Lake.
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We continued past Deer Lake meeting the Indian Heaven Trail on the far side where a right turn onto it would have allowed for a shorter loop. We had done that loop on our first visit to the wilderness though so we stuck to the PCT this time. We could hear pikas “meeping” from a talus slope near the junction so when we got closer to the rocks we started scanning for the little guys. We were quickly rewarded as one darted in and out of the rocks pausing long enough for a couple of photos.
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The PCT continued to climb gradually along the western side of Bird Mountain passing the Placid Lake Trail approximately a mile from the Indian Heaven Trail before arriving at a 4-way junction after another mile.
IMG_6466Placid Lake Trail on the left.

IMG_6481No pikas in these rocks, that we saw.

At the junction the PCT continued straight while the Wood Lake Trail headed downhill to the left.
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IMG_6486PCT at the 4-way junction.

We took the right had path, the Cultus Creek Trail which crossed over a pass.
IMG_6483Cultus Creek Trail heading uphill to the right.

On the far side of the pass we took a use trail out to a rocky viewpoint with a great view of Mt. Adams.
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In front of Mt. Adams we recognized Sleeping Beauty which we had hiked up earlier in the year (post).
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We took another break on some rocks here and soaked in the view. The forecast for the weekend had been for widespread haze so the blue sky and clear view was a nice surprise. After the break we returned to the Cultus Creek Trail which headed steeply downhill. We were starting to see more and more hikers as it seemed a lot of people had the same idea that we’d had as far as it being a good weekend for a visit. As the trail dropped to the east we briefly got a glimpse of the Goat Rocks and Mt. Rainier beyond Sawtooth Mountain.
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IMG_6509Goat Rocks with Mt. Adams hiding behind trees.

IMG_6511Mt. Rainier behind Sawtooth Mountain (and Steamboat Mountain to the right)

IMG_6513Mt. Rainier

After a mile and a half on the Cultus Creek Trail we arrived at the Cultus Creek Forest Camp.
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We walked to the right through the camp following signs to the Indian Heaven Trailhead.
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We followed this relatively steep trail back into the wilderness and up to an even better viewpoint just over a mile from the trailhead.
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Mt. Rainier had swapped sides with Sawtooth Mountain and was fully visible as were the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams.
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Beyond the viewpoint the trail continued to climb but much more gradually arriving at a junction with the Deep Lake Trail after 1.2 miles.
IMG_6576The Labor Day wind storm had knocked a number of trees down but the trails we took had mostly been cleared already.

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There was a bit of a traffic jam at the Deep Lake Trail junction and we wound up on that trail even though we had not planned on this side trip.
IMG_6580Cultus Lake from the Deep Lake Trail.

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It was only about a quarter mile to Deep Lake and well worth the trip as it turned out. The top of Mt. Adams was visible across the lake.
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We took another break along the shore of this lake (which was also very busy with hikers and backpackers).
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We returned to the Indian Heaven Trail and followed it to the far side of Cultus Lake where we turned left on the Lemi Trail.
IMG_6598Lemi Rock beyond Cultus Lake

IMG_6601Cultus Lake from the Lemi Trail.

Beyond Cultus Lake the Lemi Trail passed through a series of meadows with bright red and yellow huckleberry leaves.
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After a mile of fairly level hiking the Lemi Trail steepened gaining a little over 200′ in .3 miles.
IMG_6621The climb was up a forested hillside.

The climb offered us the only view of the day of Mt. St. Helens.
IMG_6622Mt. St. Helens

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The trail leveled out again on the east side of Lemi Rock at a junction with what appeared to be possibly be a climbers trail on the right.
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We continued on the Lemi Trail another quarter mile to a viewpoint above Lake Wapiki where we now had a view of Mt. Hood (and a little more haze).
IMG_6642Mt. Adams as we approached the viewpoint.

IMG_6644Lake Wapiki

IMG_6665Mt. Hood

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The Lemi Trail continued another 1.1 miles down to the lake but the climb up to the viewpoint from Cultus Lake was enough to convince us that we weren’t up for the 400′ climb back up from Lake Wapiki so after resting at the viewpoint we started back. Curiosity got the best of us at the trail near Lemi Rock though as it appeared fairly level so we turned left onto it and began following it to see where it might lead.
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We followed this trail past more spectacular Fall colors for .2 miles where it suddenly disappeared in some small trees.
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We maneuvered our way through the trees picking up another mylar balloon (we have come to hate these).

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We popped out at a small meadow where we declared victory at headed back toward Lemi Rock.
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As we passed a small pool with a clear reflection Heather spotted the second pika of the day.
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After watching the pika for a moment returned to the Lemi Trail and took it back to Cultus Lake and the Indian Heaven Trail.
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We turned left onto the Indian Heaven Trail and followed it for another .3 miles to a junction with the Lemi Lake Trail.
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We turned left onto this trail passing through a series of meadows before arriving at Lemi Lake after a little over half a mile.
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IMG_6711Lemi Lake

We had brought our camp stove and dinner and stopped at the lake to get water and eat.
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After dinner we followed the Lemi Lake Trail for another 1.5 miles back to Junction Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail.
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IMG_6721Pearly everlasting

IMG_6737Lemi Rock from the Lemi Lake Trail.

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IMG_6747Junction Lake

IMG_6748Back to the PCT.

IMG_6751Junction Lake from the PCT/Lemi Lake Trail junction.

Things had gotten very crowded at Junction Lake and there were tents all over the grass around the lake shore. We retreated to our little spot in the trees away from the madness and took our camp chairs in the opposite direction and sat for awhile at the edge of a meadow.
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We decided that we’d get up no later than 5am and beat the crowds by hiking out in the dark the next morning. We’ve been spoiled with nearly none of our backpacking trips involving many other people at all so this was a bit of an adjustment for us. We wound up waking up at 4:30am and set off under a full moon toward our car.
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We had only hiked in the dark one other time, when we thought there might be a fire in the Three Sisters Wilderness, but it was actually 40 miles away (post). That had been quite the adventure as it seemed like we were constantly seeing eyes in the forest or toads in the trail. We were hoping we might have a similar experience here but the 2.5 mile hike back to the car was quick and uneventful. We were back home in Salem a little after 9am though which gave us plenty of time to unpack, do laundry and watch the Seahawks game. Aside from not being used to that many people on an overnighter it had been a good trip. The weather was great as were the views and the Fall colors. Somehow we managed to turn what we expected to be a 14.6 mile hike into 18.2 miles (those side trips will get you every time) but it was worth every step. Happy Trails (and Go Hawks)!

Flickr: Junction and Cultus Lakes

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Winopee Lake Trail

Our year of rearranging hikes continued with what was to have been our final overnight trip of the year. Similar to our last planned vacation a cold, moist weather system coming in from British Columbia caused us to rethink the backpacking plans. The forecast for the first day was for rain showers off and on all day and night with temperature dropping to near freezing then turning to snow and rain showers the next day.

In “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide” long distance hiker Andrew Skurka writes “Raining and 35 degrees Fahrenheit is the most challenging combination of conditions that most backpackers ever experience.” We have yet to have the privilege of experiencing those conditions first hand and weren’t about to put that statement to the test now so we decided to do a couple of day hikes instead so we could dry off and warm up each day after hiking.

Since our original plans had included a visit with our Son in Bend after the overnighter we simply headed to Bend a day early where we could stay at Heather’s parents house. On our way over to Bend we stopped at the Winopee Lake Trailhead near Cultus Lake Campground.

Winopee Lake Trailhead

With much of the Three Sisters Wilderness still closed due to this year’s wildfires this trail had remained open and offered a chance for us to visit several different lakes which is one of our favorite destinations in the Fall and on rainy days. We didn’t exactly have a plan going into this hike, we knew it was a 10 mile round trip to Muskrat Lake based on an abbreviated description in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” but more lakes lay a little further from the trailhead and the trail ended at the Pacific Crest Trail which made a lollipop loop possible. We weren’t certain how far that lollipop would be so we decided to set a turn around time if we had not yet reached the PCT. It was 8am when we arrived at the trailhead so we set a turn around time of Noon and off we went.

Winopee Lake Trail

Not far from the trailhead we came to Cultus Lake where we could see everything but the top of Cultus Mountain across the water.

Cultus Lake

The trail then passed along Cultus Lake but back in the trees away from the lake shore. After almost a mile a side trail led down to a nice beach at the Little Cove Campground, one of three boat-in (or hike-in) sites along the north side of the lake.

Beach along Cultus Lake

Little Cove Campground at Cultus Lake

Cultus Lake from Little Cove Campground

Beyond the camp site the trail again veered just a bit away from the lake. Near the far end of the lake the trail climbed slightly to a junction at approximately the 2.5 mile mark.

Winopee Lake Trail

Winopee Lake Trail jct with the Corral Lakes Trail

We stayed to the left on the Winopee Lake Trail and came to a second junction in another quarter of a mile.

Trail sign along the Winopee Lake Trail

Again we followed the pointer for the Winopee Lakes trail, this time forking to the right past a wilderness signboard and permit box and into the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Winopee Lake Trail entering the Three Sisters Wilderness

Less than 3/4 mile after entering the wilderness we passed the short side trail to Teddy Lake.

Winopee Lake Trail jct with the Teddy Lake Trail

We skipped this half mile side trail and continued on the relatively flat Winopee Trail for another mile to Muskrat Lake.

Muskrat Lake

Muskrat Lake

A unique feature at this lake is an old cabin ruin. The cabin was reportedly built in the 1920’s by a man who attempted to raise muskrats there. The last few years have not been kind to the cabin which as recently as 2012 still looked relatively intact.

Old cabin at Muskrat Lake

Old cabin at Muskrat Lake

Cabin ruins at Muskrat Lake

The trail followed an unnamed creek beyond Muskrat Lake. This creek flows from Winopee Lake to Muskrat Lake.

Creek between Winopee and Muskrat Lakes

Soon we came to another body of water with a bunch of snags.

On the map this was a creek but it seemed to be an arm of Winopee Lake

According to the map on the GPS we were still hiking along the creek but this seemed more like a lake or pond and may have been attached to the irregularly shaped Winopee Lake.

On the map this was a creek but it seemed to be an arm of Winopee Lake

The trail left the water for a bit then passed a small pond that was clearly not part of Winopee Lake.

Winopee Lake Trail

Unnamed lake/pond near Winopee Lake

At the 7 mile mark we arrived at a trail junction with the Snowshoe Lake Trail having never really gotten a look at Winopee Lake.

Winopee Lake Trail jct with the Snowshoe Lake Trail

It was just before 10:30 so we had another hour and a half before our turn around time. We turned up the Snowshoe Lake Trail in case we had to turn back prior to reaching the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail passed several lakes before ending at the PCT  while the Winopee Lake Trail was lake-less for the remainer of its length.

In just a quarter of a mile we arrived at the first of these lakes, the trails namesake, Snowshoe Lake.

Snowshoe Lake

Snowshoe Lake

This was a nice little lake with a couple of campsites. We sat on some rocks above the lake and took a short break before continuing on. Another half mile through the forest brought us to Upper Snowshoe Lake on the left.

Snowshoe Lake Trail

Upper Snowshoe Lake

Upper Snowshoe Lake

The trail spent about half a mile making its way by this lake then passed by the mostly hidden Long Lake. We kept expecting to see a side trail down to that lake but never did. The forest was open enough that it looked like it would have been a fairly straight forward cross country jaunt to the lake if one really wanted to visit it.

Just under a mile beyond Upper Snowshoe Lake we came to Puppy Lake.

Puppy Lake

This time the trail was close enough to the lake to get some good looks of this pretty little lake.

Puppy Lake

Puppy Lake

Puppy Lake

A quick time checked showed it was still before 11:30 so we kept going arriving at the Pacific Crest Trail, a half mile from Puppy Lake, at 11:40.

Snowshoe Lake Trail jct with the Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

Despite off and on drizzle we had stayed relatively dry up to this point. That all changed on the PCT. After turning left on the PCT it took less than 10 minutes for our feet to become soaked. It wasn’t because it started raining harder but rather the presence of huckleberry bushes lining the trail. The colorful leaves made for some great fall color but they were also loaded with moisture.

Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

We traveled south on the PCT for just over a mile to a four-way junction. Here the Elk Creek Trail headed west into the Willamette National Forest. That portion of the Three Sisters Wilderness was still closed due to fire.

Pacific Crest Trail junction with the Winopee Lake Trail

Closed Elk Creek Trail

We turned west (left) back onto the Winopee Lake Trail.

Winopee Lake Trail

This section of trail through a drier, more open forest as it gradually descended back to Winopee Lake.

Winopee Lake Trail

Our first and only real view of the marshy Winopee Lake came after approximately 1.75 miles.

Winopee Lake

Another quarter of a mile brought us back to the junction with the Snowshoe Lake Trail completing our little loop. We returned the way we’d come that morning. As we passed by Muskrat Lake we spotted a lone paintbrush standing defiantly against the changing seasons.

Paintbrush

The cool weather and lack of any significant elevation changes had allowed us to hike at a quicker pace than normal allowing us to complete what wound up being a 20 mile hike in 7 hours and 15 minutes. For a day hike that’s a bit long for many but with the various lakes and access to the Pacific Crest Trail this would be a good backpacking option after mosquito season.

It wound up being a fun day despite the drizzle but we were thankful to get to Heather’s parents house to warm up and dry off before our next outing. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Winopee Lake Trail