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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Sky Lakes Basin Day 1 – 09/24/2022

An excellent weekend forecast allowed us to head back to the Southern Oregon Cascades less than a week from our three night, four day stay in Shady Cove (post). In an attempt to give us the best chance to finish our featured hike goal (post) I’d recently broken a 5-6 day backpacking trip in the Sky Lakes Wilderness into shorter trips. During our Shady Cove stay we did the Blue Lakes Basin hike (post) and now we were back for an overnight backpack in the Sky Lakes Basin to check off Sullivan’s Sky Lakes via Cold Springs and Sky Lakes via Nannie Creek hikes. (Hikes #43 & #44 respectively in edition 4.2 “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California.)

We started at the Cold Springs Trailhead.
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IMG_2395Shelter at the trailhead.

We set off through a 2017 fire scar following the Cold Springs Trail into the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
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IMG_2399Aster

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IMG_2407Fireweed

After 0.6 miles we came to a junction with the South Rock Creek Trail.
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Both forks would lead to the Heavenly Twin Lakes but the South Rock Creek Trail would do it in a shorter distance (1.8 vs 2.4 miles) so we stayed to the right and followed that trail through more burned forest.
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IMG_2417Comma butterfly

We left the fire scar after about a mile and continued another 0.8 miles to the first Heavenly Twin Lake.
IMG_2419Exiting the fire scar.

IMG_2420Doe watching us through the trees.

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The larger lake lay just beyond the smaller and provided a view of Luther Mountain.
IMG_2431Luther Mountain on the left and Lee Peak on the right.

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After checking out the view we continued on the Sky Lakes Trail which led along the East side of the large lake arriving at the junction with the Isherwood Trail at the far end.
IMG_2436Sign for the Sky Lakes Trail.

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IMG_2443Isherwood Trail junction.

We would be taking the Isherwood Trail the next day on our way back to the car but for now we continued straight for 1.9 miles to Trapper Lake where we looked for and found a campsite for the weekend. Along the way we passed several small ponds and unnamed lakes and one named one. It was clear why the area is notorious for mosquitos until late Summer (we only noticed two the whole weekend).
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IMG_2448Lake Land

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IMG_2457Luther Mountain from Trapper Lake.

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After setting up camp we returned to the Sky Lakes Trail and continued North along the lake passing the Cherry Creek Trail coming up from the right before arriving at a junction with the Donna Lake Trail.
IMG_2467View along the trail.

IMG_2468Sign for the Cherry Creek Trail.

IMG_2469Sky Lakes Trail sign.

IMG_2470Donna Lake Trail to the right.

This was the start of an approximately 8.8 mile loop around Luther Mountain. We had decided to do the loop counter-clockwise so we took the left hand trail which kept us on the Sky Lakes Trail. This trail led around the North end of Trapper Lake for 0.2 miles where it met the Divide Trail.
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IMG_2473Divide Trail junction.

We stayed left here and started following the Divide Trail which would lead us to the Pacific Crest Trail in 2.8 miles. Shortly after starting up this trail we detoured right to check out Margurette Lake.
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The trail passed close to this lake offering several views of Luther Mountain along the way.
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Beyond Margurette Lake the trail began to wind it’s way uphill passing several smaller bodies of water including Lake No-SE-Um where several mergansers had congregated.
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The trail turned back to the North passing above Margurette and Trapper Lakes along a shelf before turning West and climbing more steeply via switchbacks.
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IMG_2507Saddle Mountain is in the distance with pointy Cherry Peak in the foreground. I believe that is Agency Lake visible in the Valley.

IMG_2514Pelican Butte to the right.

IMG_2515Mt. McLoughlin (post) to the South.

IMG_2517Eagle flyby.

IMG_2522Lather Peak with several more lakes below.

IMG_2524In the distance to the left is Aspen Butte (post) in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.

IMG_2530Fall is in the air.

IMG_2531On of several small bodies of water along the shelf.

IMG_2533We know there were pikas out there because we heard their “meeps” off and on all day but with so many rocks we were never able to spot one.

IMG_2535Heading toward Luther Mountain.

IMG_2539Pelican Butte on the left and Mt. McLoughlin on the right. The peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness are behind and to the right of Pelican Butte then the small, closer hump is Imagination Peak. To the right of Imagination Peak and slightly further back is Lost Peak and then further to the right (left of Mt. McLoughlin) is Brown Mountain (post). Interestingly according to Peak Finder Mt. Shasta should be visible in between Imagination and Lost Peaks but apparently there was enough smoke/haze in the sky that it was camouflaged.

After passing through the switchbacks the trail straightened out and headed almost due West as it climbed through a rock field on the southern flank of Luther Mountain.
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We left the rock field and made a final climb to a saddle where we arrived at the PCT.
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IMG_2551Luther Mountain from the saddle.

IMG_2553The Pacific Crest Trail.

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After catching our breath we turned right on the PCT which descended slightly to a ridge to the West of Luther Mountain. We followed this ridge, which had been burned in 2014, for a little over a mile to a junction with the Snow Lakes Trail.
IMG_2556Lucifer Peak directly behind Shale Butte.

IMG_2557Lucifer Peak, Shale Butte, Devil’s Peak and Lee Peak.

IMG_2562Blowdown on the PCT.

IMG_2566Luther Mountain

IMG_2573Luther Mountain and Mt. McLoughlin behind us.

IMG_2575Lots of little birds along the ridge but most didn’t stop long enough for even a poor picture.

IMG_2580Sign at the Snow Lakes Trail junction.

We turned right onto the Snow Lakes Trail which passed along another shelf full of small lakes.
IMG_2581Martin, Wind and a Snow Lake from the Snow Lakes Trail.

IMG_2583Hawk circling overhead.

IMG_2585While I was trying to keep track of the hawk this Bald Eagle flew over.

IMG_2588Nearing the end of the 2014 fire scar.

IMG_2591Luther Mountain from one of the Snow Lakes.

IMG_2592Another of the lakes.

IMG_2593Tree on the edge of the shelf.

IMG_2595View from the shelf.

IMG_2601There were many cool rock features along the trail.

IMG_2603Devil’s Peak

IMG_2605Lee Peak and another of the Snow Lakes.

After approximately three quarters of a mile on the Snow Lakes Trail we dropped to one of the larger lakes where we briefly lost the trail.
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IMG_2610A tree had fallen over the Snow Lakes Trail hiding it right where a use trail veered off to the lake. Only seeing the use trail we followed it along the lake until it petered out. A quick look at the map showed we were off-trail so we made our way back finding the downed tree covering the actual trail.

After regaining the trail we followed it downhill via a series of switchbacks past another lake.
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The trail then began to turn ESE as it continued to descend toward Martin Lake and the Lower Snow Lakes. A total of 2.3 miles from the PCT we came to the Nannie Creek Trail junction.
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IMG_2624The worst obstacle for the day.

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IMG_2629Pelican Butte from the trail.

IMG_2630Sign at the Nannie Creek Trail junction.

We stayed right on the Snow Lakes Trail at the junction. After 0.4 miles we passed Martin Lake on our right.
IMG_2634Luther Mountain as we neared Martin Lake.

IMG_2635Dragon fly blending in with the huckleberry leaves.

IMG_2641Martin Lake with a view of the shelf that we’d been on.

Two tenths of a mile beyond Martin Lake we came to what was labeled Lower Snow Lakes on our map which was partly in Luther Mountain’s shadow.
IMG_2643Red huckleberry leaves

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We found a log in the shade along the shore where we took a nice break.
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After our break we continued on the Snow Lakes Trail another three quarters of a mile to a junction with the Donna Lake Trail.
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It was another 0.7 miles back to Trapper Lake either way but the Donna Lake Trail led past Deep and then Donna Lakes so we veered left and took that trail.
IMG_2659Deep Lake was up first, just a tenth of a mile down the trail.

IMG_2665Donna Lake was only two tenths further.

IMG_2670Donna Lake Trail

We arrived back at the Sky Lakes Trail at Trapper Lake and headed back to our campsite for dinner.
IMG_2674Back at Trapper Lake.

Dinner didn’t go as planned as we realized when we pulled our water filter out that we’d left all the hoses at home. Fortunately we carry Iodine tablets for just such an occurrence so we had a way to treat water but by the time it was all said and done we decided to skip a warm meal and opted to eat some of the extra food we’d brought. At least we’d have water for the hike out the next day though. It cooled off quickly once the Sun had vanished and for the first time in a while we got to test the warmth of our sleeping systems.
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Today’s hike came in at 14.5 miles with approximately 2300′ of elevation gain.

Day one is the dark track with the light solid line being part of day 2.

The number of lakes/ponds was almost hard to believe and the scenery was really nice. The timing was great with almost no bugs and the trails were in relatively good shape, just a few downed trees here and there but nothing too difficult to get past. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Sky Lakes Basin Day 1

Categories
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