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Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Browder Ridge Trail to Heart Lake

It has become a tradition to spend the first half of our 4th of July hiking. This year we revisited the rocky viewpoint on Browder Ridge which we had previously hiked to via the Gate Creek Trail on 9/18/2012 (post). This time around we decided to start at the Browder Ridge Trailhead based on Matt Reeder’s hike description in his 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region guidebook.

The Browder Ridge Trail set off from paved Forest Road 15 near a small parking area.
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The trail climbed gently through a forest for the first half mile before steepening as it entered a series of large meadows.
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These lower meadows were filled with ferns and a smattering of wildflowers.
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After two sets of switchbacks the trail began to traverse SE along the hillside below the ridge top. The wildflower display really picked up along this traverse. Purple larkspur, red paintbrush, blue gilia, and white cat’s ear lilies joined several varieties of yellow wildflowers to paint the hillside with color.
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The Three Sisters could be seen at times as the trail alternated between forest and meadows.
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The flower combinations always seemed to be a little different in each of the meadows. At the 3 mile mark the trail entered a short stretch of burned forest along the ridge top.
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Just beyond the four mile mark there was a short side trail to a rocky viewpoint.
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Beyond the viewpoint the trail climbed gradually for three tenths of a mile to its end at an unsigned junction with the Gate Creek and Heart Lake Trails.
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Here we turned left regaining the ridge crest in the forest where we encountered the first downed trees of the hike and a huge cascade toad.
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The Heart Lake Trail then dropped over the ridge to the NE passing beneath some basalt cliffs through another wildflower meadow.
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The trail climbed through the meadow to a forested saddle a mile from the trail junction.
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The saddle is the official end of the Heart Lake Trail. Here we faced a choice, we could turn left on the unofficial continuation of the Heart Lake Trail and climb up the rocky ridge crest to a summit viewpoint or we could attempt to visit Heart Lake. Heart Lake was a little under three quarter miles to the north and 750′ below the saddle. In the guidebook Reeder used the terms “not for the faint of heart” and “hell on the knees” to describe the trip down to the lake on the abandoned portion of trail. Heather had been dealing with a calf strain and it had been acting up on the hike so she decided against the side trip but I was feeling adventurous. She would head up to the summit and wait for me there so we set a time that she should expect me to meet up with her. I gave myself an hour and a half figuring that we typically hike at a 2 – 2.5 mile per hour pace and the round trip to Heart Lake should have only been about 1.5 miles.

I set off downhill from the saddle on a well defined trail.
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In the first quarter of a mile the trail dropped into a basin losing 150′ at a not too steep grade. Being on the north facing side of the ridge at an elevation of 5400′ meant that there was still a decent amount of snow in this area though.
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I quickly lost the tread so I turned to the Forest Service Map loaded on the GPS unit in an attempt to re-find the trail. Unfortunately this was one of those instances where the location of the trail on the map is inaccurate. Reeder had included a GPS track on the topographic map in the guidebook but I’d left that with Heather so I didn’t immediately realize that the Forest Service map was wrong. The Forest Service map showed the trail passing through a meadow (where I found some marsh marigolds and shooting stars).
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At the far end of the meadow I spotted a couple of old fire rings amid the trees which made me think that maybe I was on the right track but less than 20 yards from the meadow I came to a line of impassable cliffs. Using the GPS I wandered to the right then back to the left several times looking for where the trail might possibly be. According to the GPS I had crossed and recrossed the trail multiple times but there was no way anyone was getting down that cliff. I was just about to give up when I suddenly remembered to use my brain. I thought I remembered that the track in the guidebook spent most of the time to the left of a creek and when I zoomed out a bit on the GPS I could see a creek to my left. I decided to bushwack over toward the head of the creek to see if I might be able to find something there. I could also see that the trail on the Forest Service map crossed the creek further downstream so if nothing else I might be able to follow the creek down to that point. As I neared the creek the forest opened up and I was able to spot what appeared to be a blaze on a tree on the opposite side.
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I crossed the creek on a log and sidehilled my way down past the blaze where I once again spotted trail.
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Once I had re-found the trail it was easy enough to follow. The tread was faint but visible with little blowdown and there were some remains of pink flagging to assist me.
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I disturbed a family of grouse as I descended.
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It was quite a descent too! This was one steep trail which mostly just headed straight down a ridge-line for about a quarter mile before beginning to level out as it neared a large meadow to the south of Heart Lake.
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Elephant head flowers bloomed in the marshy meadow along with some other wildflowers.
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The area was damp but I was able to find enough dry spots to make my way down to Heart Lake.
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The old trail shown on the map had passed around the lake on its west side to a campsite on the northern end. I found a brushy path that I was able to follow through more marshy meadows and a tangle of trees to that campsite.
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Due to all the wandering around I had done in the basin looking for the trail it had taken me nearly 40 minutes to reach the campsite which was 1.2 miles from the saddle. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me to climb back up so I didn’t stay at the campsite long before heading back. The climb back up was brutal but it only took me a half an our to reach the saddle but I still had a .3 mile climb up the ridge before I reached Heather.
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I managed to make it with a little under 15 minutes to spare. The meadow at the summit didn’t have quite the impressive flower display as the lower meadows had had but the view was nice even though it was a bit hazy.
IMG_8033Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack

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IMG_8030Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor

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After catching my breath we headed back returning the way we’d come. On the way back several flowers were now open making the view a little different.
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The pollinators were also now busy doing their things.
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We only encountered 8 other people, all on our way back to the car, which was surprising to us given how great the wildflowers were. We both preferred this approach to the shorter Gate Creek Trail, but to be fair it was a different time of year. Either way the views at the top are great and for those wanting some extra adventure there’s the option to visit Heart Lake. All in all another great hike in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Browder Ridge Trail and Heart Lake

Categories
California Hiking Klamath Mountains Trinity Divide Trip report

Castle Crags Wilderness

More potential thunderstorms were forecast for the fourth day of our stay in Mount Shasta City, but then it looked like the threat would be past so we decided to stick close by and spend a day hiking in the Castle Crags Wilderness.

We had three hikes lined up for the wilderness starting with a climb to the base of Castle Dome. For that hike we started at the Vista Point Trailhead in Castle Crags State Park. There was an $8 day use fee for the park which turned into a bit of a fiasco because we only had a twenty, a five, and a one on us and there was no one manning the booth yet to make change. I had hoped that there would be a debit/credit card option but there wasn’t so we had to drive back to Dunsmire to break the twenty.

After obtaining the day use permit we drove the narrow, winding 2.1 mile road to the Vista Point parking area.

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A short walk on the Vista Point Trail brought us to a viewpoint where Mt. Shasta, Gray Rocks, and of course the Castle Crags were visible.

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For the first time during the week Mt. Shasta was sporting a bit of a lenticular cloud.

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After checking out the view from Vista Point we returned to the parking area and crossed the road to a sign for the Crags and Root Creek Trails.

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The trail passed through a forest with a bit of poison oak here and there.

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We stuck to the Crag Trail when the Root Creek Trail split off to the right and crossed the Pacific Crest Trail after .4 miles.

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Another .4 miles brought us to a junction with the Bob’s Hat Trail.

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A mile later we passed the .2 mile side trail to Indian Springs.

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The forest began to thin not long after we’d passed the Indian Springs Trail and we soon entered the Castle Crags Wilderness.

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From there it didn’t take long to reach the base of the granite spires of the Castle Crags and climb up the rock.

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The views really opened towards the end of the official trail. Castle Dome and Mt. Shasta lined up nicely as we passed the base of rounded spire.

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It was possible to continue beyond the end of the trail sign a bit and explore the area a little more. The rock formations were spectacular, it was hard to process everything we were seeing.

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A viewpoint below Castle Dome provided a nice view of Mt. Shasta as well as a look up the granite tower.

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Although it’s possible to climb Castle Dome, knowing our limitations, neither of us had any intention of attempting to do so. After a long rest in the cool breeze that provided some nice relief after what had been a warm climb up we headed back down. On the way down we noticed that the cloud above Mt. Shasta had morphed.

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After a mile we turned toward Indian Springs to check them out.

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There were quite a few mosquitoes near the springs so we didn’t stick around long before heading back and returning to our car.

The trailhead for our second hike was a mere 3 miles from the park entrance so after exiting the park we turned right on Castle Creek Road and pulled into a large parking area on the right. The goal for this hike was Burstarse Falls which we hoped might still have a little water flowing over it. We followed the hike described here on Hike Mount Shasta.

The trail was marked by a metal post with an arrow for the PCT.

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The Dog Trail, so named because dogs are not allowed on the PCT in the Castle Crag State Park so hikers on that trail must go around the park and rejoin the PCT on the other side, climbed for just over a half mile to the PCT.

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We turned left on the PCT and followed it for approximately 1.7 miles to Burstarse Creek where a hungry tree was devouring a sign for the creek.

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There had been some poison oak along the trail so we kept our eyes open as we turned onto the use trail on the south side of the creek. The creek did have some flowing water but it wasn’t much.

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The use trail was easy enough to follow especially in conjunction with the information from Hike Mt. Shasta. We arrived at the lower falls to find just a trickle of water running down it. We knew that coming this late in the summer would probably mean little to no water but as long as we were in the area it was worth checking out.

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Heather remained at the lower falls while I continued on scrambling above the falls on the right then crossing and recrossing the creek bed before arriving at the upper falls.

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The sight of the basalt amphitheater gave me a decent idea of how nice the falls must be when the water is freely flowing. I settled for a small spray of water cascading over the lip of the rocks.

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I headed back down to the lower falls to rejoin Heather.

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We headed back to the car once again and were soon on our way to the third and final hike of the day.

For our last hike we returned to I-5 and drove north back almost to Mount Shasta City before turning west and heading for Castle Lake.

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It was an unusually late time for us to start a hike (1:30pm) and it was a hot day. When we arrived at Castle Lake at the end of paved Castle Lake Road we found a whole lot of cars. We parked in the first spot we saw and walked past the mass of cars to the trail.

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We bypassed Castle Lake settling for views along the trail which we were following to Heart Lake.

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After a .7 mile climb we found ourselves at a pass above Castle Lake. A confusion of trails appeared to head in every direction.

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Heart Lake lay to our right so we just picked a path and headed in that direction.

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Mt. Shasta emerged from behind a peak to the east over our shoulders as we made our way to Heart Lake.

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After cresting the lip of a glacially carved cirque we spied the lake.

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There is a spectacular view of Mt. Shasta beyond Heart Lake which can be seen here. We did not get this iconic image due to a group of young bikini clad girls taking turns posing for Instagram photos at the edge of the lake in the gap where Mt. Shasta was visible. They were oblivious to everyone else hoping to get an unobstructed picture of the scene.

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We continued on past Heart Lake (and the Instagrammers) planning on following another route recommended by Bubba Suess at Hike Mt. Shasta. His recommendation was to continue west from the lake and follow a ridge up and around to Castle Peak then return down the far side to complete a small loop with some big views. We continued west past a small tarn then headed up hill on a faint but visible use trail.

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An initial steep climb brought us to the top of the ridge where we were rewarded with a great view.

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We still had a ways to go to reach Castle Peak though.

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The route was pretty brushy and at times we weren’t sure if we were following the correct path, but we kept making our way up the ridge.

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When we arrived at the summit of Castle Peak we found one other gentleman who had seen us coming up behind him. The 360 degree view was impressive with the Castle Crags jutting up to the south.

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Further away through the haze we had our best view of the trip of Mt. Lassen.

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To the north the size disparity between Black Butte and Mt. Shasta was striking.

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When it was time to continue on we headed east down the the other side of Castle Peak. Again the brush made it difficult to tell what was in fact supposed to be the trail and we found ourselves just lumbering through whatever route looked easiest.

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I had been attempting to match our GPS track to the one shown on Hike Mt. Shasta but we wound up turning downhill earlier than we should have which caused us to have an unnecessarily steep descent back to the trail to Heart Lake. Once we were back on that trail we turned right and kept right making our way to the trail down to Little Castle Lake.

This trail dropped down from the pass to a meadow with quite a few wildflowers.

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A short distance from the far end of the meadow was Little Castle Lake.

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After visiting this final lake we headed back down to Castle Lake. On the way we passed a group of naked hikers which was not something we had expected to see. They were a friendly group that was on their way up to Heart Lake. It made for an unexpected end to an interesting day in the Castle Crags Wilderness. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Castle Crags Wilderness