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Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trip report

Fish, Buckeye, and Cliff Lakes – 09/03-04/2022

For Labor Day Weekend we continued our focus on featured hikes from the Southern Oregon area and headed for the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness to visit several lakes. Our goal was to finish hikes #6 & 7, Fish Lake and Buckeye & Cliff Lakes respectively. To do this we planned hiking into Fish Lake from the Beaver Swamp Trailhead, setting up camp there, and then taking the Lakes Trail from there to the Buckeye and Cliff Lakes for a loop described by Sullivan visiting Grasshopper Mountain. We planned on hiking out the next day one of two ways, either by Rocky Ridge which Sullivan described as a rough route requiring route finding skills or back the way we’d come via the Beaver Swamp Trail.

We made an unscheduled stop on the drive to the trailhead at South Umpqua Falls (We used our NW Forest Pass to cover the $5 day use fee). My Mom had mentioned a water fall along the South Umpqua River that they had not made it to during their explorations and when I saw the sign for the South Umpqua Falls picnic area I thought this might be the falls she was talking about so we pulled in for a quick peek.
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We had the popular swimming area that often draws large crowds all to ourselves. We began by visiting the base of the falls then hiked up above the falls.
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In all our wanderings here came to 0.4 miles, a good leg stretcher after having driven for a little over 3 hours. We then continued on our drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead which we arrived at shortly after 9am.
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We set off downhill on the Beaver Swamp Trail which promptly entered the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness.
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It was surprisingly overcast and a light drizzle was falling as we hiked through a mixed forest with madrone trees and sporadic poison oak. When I’d checked the forecast the night before it simply called for “widespread haze” with Sunday showing as sunny.
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After 1.4 miles on the Beaver Swamp Trail we arrived at the Fish Lake Trail where we turned left.
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This trail followed Fish Lake Creek for 0.3 miles to Fish Lake.
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IMG_1115Small cascade on Fish Lake Creek.

IMG_1119Logs at the outlet of Fish Lake. The Indian Trail can be seen on the far side. This junction was unmarked and you would have to cross the logs to reach it. In theory one could take this trail to the Lakes Trail near Buckeye Lake, but as we understand it the trail does not receive regular maintenance so we did not include it in our plans.

IMG_1121Arriving at Fish Lake

We continued around the northern shore of the lake for three quarters of a mile passing the one other family camped at the lake along the way (more on them later). Before reaching Highrock Creek we followed a use trail uphill to locate a suitable campsite. When we passed by the campers we caught the distinct smell of campfire smoke which, as of 7/22/2022 had been prohibited in Wilderness areas within the Umpqua National Forest. (Not a good start with this group.)

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IMG_1130The clouds began burning off before we’d found our campsite.

IMG_1133We set up camp on a little knoll near an old stone foundation. We’re interested to know what used to be there but so far haven’t found any information on it.

After setting up camp we returned to the Fish Lake Trail which appears to have been rerouted through a large and elaborate campsite.
IMG_1134A little too developed for Wilderness standards.

From the large campsite the trail followed Highrock Creek for 0.6 miles to a fork. The Fish Lake Trail actually veered uphill to the left and the Lakes Trail picked up to the right.
IMG_1136A dry channel along Highrock Creek.

IMG_1138Crossing an unnamed creek.

IMG_1140The trail junction.

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Just beyond the junction the Lakes Trail crossed Highrock Creek and began a steady climb along a hillside above Fish Lake.
IMG_1142Highrock Creek. There were several nice pools here which we utilized to replenish our water on our way back to camp.

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IMG_1149Foam flower and a few ripe thimbleberries, Heather’s favorite.

This trail was well maintained and after approximately 2 miles we arrived at a junction with the Grasshopper Trail. A couple of things to note about this segment of the Lakes Trail. Sullivan showed it as 1.7 miles so this was a little longer than we’d expected, but more importantly the trail alignment shown our GPS unit’s topographic map had the trail quite a bit higher on the hillside. (CalTopo agrees with our actual track so it appears to be accurate.)
IMG_1152The junction with the Grasshopper Trail

We decided to make the climb to Grasshopper Mountain before visiting the two lakes so we turned right onto the Grasshopper Trail and trudged uphill gaining 860′ in the next 1.25 miles before arriving at a junction near Grasshopper Spring.
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IMG_1157Pine white

IMG_1170Sign for the Gasshopper Mountain Trail.

IMG_1168Grasshopper Spring is out there somewhere.

We turned right onto the Grasshopper Mountain trail. This three quarters of a mile trail climbed another 350′ to the site of a former lookout. The climb was surprisingly gradual and passed through a variety of scenery along the way.
IMG_1173We had to go around this big tree.

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IMG_1183A few aster

IMG_1185There were some good sized cedars up here.

IMG_1187A fritillary

IMG_1190Another big cedar.

IMG_1193Fritillary on pearly everlasting.

IMG_1199The final stretch to the summit passed through a fire scar.

IMG_1200Highrock Mountain to the left, Hershberger Mountain in the middle, and the Rabbit Ears to the right (post).

IMG_1198Rabbit Ears closeup.

IMG_1207Fish Mountain (back left), Weaver Mountain, Highrock Mountain, and Hershberger Mountain with Grasshopper Meadow below.

IMG_1208Highrock Mountain

IMG_1209Owl’s clover.

IMG_1212Arriving at the old lookout site.

We spent some time enjoying the view but a lack of shade (and places to comfortably sit) kept us from taking a longer break at the summit.
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IMG_1225Buckeye (left) and Cliff Lakes below Grasshopper Mountain. The broad hump beyond to the left is Twin Lakes Mountain. We had visited a viewpoint on the north side of that mountain back in June of this year (post).

IMG_1226Buckeye and Cliff Lakes

IMG_1213Smoke on the horizon to the NW. The Cedar Creek fire to the NE, Rum Creek Fire to the SW or several fires in Northern California could be the culprit(s). The peak with the white spot to the center right is Quartz Mountain which we recognized from our Hemlock Lake hike in August (post).

IMG_1218To the NE we got a glimpse of Rattlesnake Mountain (far left) which we’d climbed during Labor Day weekend in 2020 (post).

IMG_1231Rattlesnake Mountain behind Standoff Point.

We headed back down toward the Grasshopper Trail but instead of simply retracing our steps we veered right after 0.6 miles on a spur of the Grasshopper Mountain Trail that brought us to the Grasshopper Trail on the opposite side of a saddle from where we’d left it.
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IMG_1233A skipper

IMG_1237We veered right here which kept us from dropping below the saddle that we otherwise would have had to climb over on the Grasshopper Trail.

IMG_1238Descending to the Grasshopper Trail.

IMG_1241Trail sign at the other junction.

We turned right again and continued on our loop following the Grasshopper Trail downhill to Grasshopper Meadow.
IMG_1247Grasshopper Meadow through the trees.

IMG_1248Sign for a (faint) spur trail to a spring above the meadow.

The Grasshopper Trail skirted the meadow and a half mile from the saddle arrived at a signed junction with the Acker Divide Trail.
IMG_1253Highrock Mountain from Grasshopper Meadow.

IMG_1255A few flowers hanging on to the last days of Summer.

IMG_1257Common wood nymph

IMG_1263The trail got pretty faint just before the junction but we could see the trail sign so we just headed for it.

IMG_1265Fleabane? and paintbrush.

IMG_1267Acker Divide Trail pointer.

IMG_1269Pointer for Cripple Camp (we visited the shelter there on our Hershberger Mountain hike) and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail.

We turned right onto the Acker Divide Trail following this trail for a total of 3.2 miles (per our GPS, Sullivan had it as 3) passing a spur to the Acker Divide Trailhead at the 1 mile mark, Mosquito Camp at the 1.4 mark, and a pond labeled Little Fish Lake in the guidebook after 2.8 miles. This appeared to be the least utilized trail that we’d been on. It was fairly well maintained but there was a lot of debris on it and vegetation crowding the trail. It also left and reentered the wilderness area a couple of times.
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IMG_1276This fuzzy caterpillar was in a hurry.

IMG_1279The trail along an old log.

IMG_1283Passing through a small meadow near the spur to the Acker Divide Trailhead.

IMG_1286Yarrow and goldenrod

IMG_1288The area was really well signed.

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IMG_1295Sign for Mosquito Camp on the tree to the right. There was zero sign of any established campsites here.

IMG_1294Meadow at Mosquito Camp, it came complete with mosquitos (not too many though).

IMG_1299First of two times reentering the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness.

IMG_1301Scat on the trail, at least we knew something used it.

IMG_1307One of several very small bodies of water along Skimmerhorn Creek which may or may not be Little Fish Lake.

IMG_1308Overgrown trail near Skimmerhorn Creek.

IMG_1310Looking down at the pond? lake?

IMG_1313As we neared the Lakes Trail we began seeing more signs of what appeared to be an ancient lava flow.

IMG_1315Last of the lupine blooms.

IMG_1318Lots of these insect tents on the madrones in the area.

IMG_1319Arriving at the Lakes Trail.

At the Lakes Trail we again turned right following it briefly through a fire scar before reentering unburnt forest and arriving at Buckeye Lake after 0.4 miles.
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IMG_1324First glimpse of Buckeye Lake

IMG_1326At this fork we detoured right to visit the lake shore.

IMG_1327A good reminder that far too many people tend to forget.

IMG_1333Grasshopper Mountain from Buckeye Lake.

We were surprised to find that there was no one at the lake given that it’s just a mile from the Skimmerhorn Trailhead. While there were no people to be seen we were not alone.
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IMG_1340We had to really watch our step because these little guys were everywhere.

IMG_1335There is an smaller, unnamed lake just West of Buckeye Lake that we did not take the time to check out closer.

From the far end of Buckeye Lake we followed the Lakes Trail 0.2 mile through the old lava flow to a spur trail on the right that led to a large campsite along Cliff Lake. Someone had left (placed) a small BBQ and tarp here but we never saw anyone.
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IMG_1347The spur trail to the campsite.

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IMG_1350_stitchAttempted panorama.

The campsite provided a nice shaded place for a break free of mosquitos. After a nice long break we returned to the Lakes Trail and continued another 0.3 miles to the junction where we had earlier turned onto the Grasshopper Trail. We turned left at the junction and headed back toward Fish Lake.
IMG_1357Footbridge over the outlet creek which flows into another small unnamed lake that we did not attempt to find.

20220903_171037_HDRUnfortunately the lighting made this tree very hard to photograph but it was the coolest tree/rock combination that we’ve encountered.

IMG_1362Fritillary on thistle.

IMG_1363Short climb back up to the junction.

We had considered having our dinner at Cliff Lake since it was close to 5pm but we had decided against it due to being low on water and preferring to refill from one of the creeks over the lakes. We followed the Lakes Trail back to Highrock Creek where I worked on dinner while Heather refilled our water. After enjoying some Mountain House creamy macaroni and cheese we hiked the final 0.6 miles back to our campsite.
IMG_1364This slug was heading our way while we finished dinner.

IMG_1367The Sun was getting pretty low as we ended our hike.

IMG_1368A big nest atop a tree and the Moon above Fish Lake.

IMG_1370Zoomed in on the nest and Moon.

IMG_1375Fish Lake just before 7:30pm.

We were again surprised by the lack of people, it appeared that it was still just us and the campfire family. We turned in a little after 8pm to the welcome sound of crickets. Just before 9pm someone with the campfire family decided it was the perfect time to repeatedly fire a small caliber gun. It was both jarringly startling and disconcerting. We were not sure which direction they were firing in and we had no idea if the even knew we were camped there. As the shooting continued we began to consider our options. We couldn’t hike out because we’d need to pass them and that didn’t seem safe in the dark plus we guessed that whoever it was had been drinking. (Based on the four Coors cans we passed the next morning cooling in a stream we think that was probably the case.) The other option was to move camp further back, there was a site near Highrock Creek that was closer to the water than we would normally choose but given the choice of being struck by a stray bullet of camping closer than 200′ to water we were going to pick the water. During a break in the gunfire I quickly retrieved our bear bag and moved it downhill where we could easily access it if we needed move to the creek. We settled on moving camp if the shooting started again but fortunately it did not and we were able spend the rest of the night in relative peace.

The next morning we discussed our plan for the day. Neither of us were too keen on passing by what we were now referring to as the “mouth breathers” but we also both had the sneaking suspicion that the previous days hike was longer than the 13 miles we had come up with adding the distances in Sullivan’s book together. In the end though we both felt like we’d regret not trying the longer (and more elevation gain) return via Rocky Ridge. We decided that we would go ahead and give it a try knowing that we always had the option of turning around and hiking out the way we’d come in on the Beaver Swamp Trail given it was less than 2.5 miles to the trailhead from our campsite that way. We packed up camp and headed for Highrock Creek to top off our water.
IMG_1377Campsite after packing up in the morning.

IMG_1380Passing our planned route for the day on the left. Highrock Creek was just a 20 yard detour to the right.

After replenishing our water supply we started up the Fish Lake Trail which climbed nearly 2200′ in three miles to its end at the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail near Highrock Meadows. This section of the trail had many signs of the 2017 Pup Fire scar which is the main reason we were uncertain whether or not we would be able to make it back to the trailhead this way. There were some signs of post fire trail maintenance, but we weren’t able to even make it a half mile before encountering a very large downed snag blocking the trail. It was too tall and at too steep of an angle to safely climb over and there wasn’t enough clearance to go under (we’d already done both options on other downed trees). The steep hillside was covered in downed trees and the fire had left the ground unstable making scrambling around too risky for our taste so we called it there and made our retreat.
IMG_1382I think this was the third obstacle, one of several that was easy enough to get over.

IMG_1385Prior maintenance, the second log may have been cut post fire?

IMG_1387End of the line for us. Even if we somehow got around this one there was still 9.5 miles of burned trail from the trailhead and who knew how many obstacles like this one we might encounter or how long it would take us if we somehow were successful.

IMG_1388We had the privilege of navigating this one twice. Heather is on the other side coming through.

IMG_1389Back at the junction.

From the junction it was just under three miles back to the car. We hustled past the mouth breathers who seemed to still be asleep and said goodbye to Fish Lake.
IMG_1392No clouds this morning.

IMG_1396Highrock Mountain behind Fish Lake. Seeing the vine maples turning colors reminded us that despite the heat Autumn was just around the corner.

IMG_1402Hiking along Fish Lake Creek.

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IMG_1411Highrock Mountain from the Beaver Swamp Trail.

IMG_1413Leaving the Rogue-Umpqua Wilderness for the last time this trip.

Our suspicions about the length of our hike on Saturday were confirmed by our GPS showing a distance of 16.4 miles with approximately 3200′ of cumulative elevation gain.

Our tracks for the weekend. The solid light blue line was our attempt to reach Rocky Ridge

Given the previous days hike and how warm it was by 9am it was probably for the best that we were turned back from the longer return as quickly as we had been. It had been a bit of a mixed bag with some good weather, nice scenery mixed in with the gunfire and not being able to hike out via Rocky Ridge but overall it had been enjoyable. (Click here for a look at the Rocky Ridge route pre-fire courtesy of Boots-on-the-Trail.)

At the trailhead we encountered a Forest Service employee who had just arrived for a two night stay at the trailhead. They were there to perform a survey of recreation users so we spent about 10 minutes answering the questions before heading home.

Unfortunately for us our adventure wasn’t over. If you’ve been following our blog this year you’ll know that we’ve had the low tire pressure light come on three different times, each one a long way from home (Siskiyou Gap, Black Butte Trail, and Russian Lake) due to a nail, a screw, and a rock. The latter leaving us with a flat tire near Callahan, CA and requiring a purchase of four new tires. This time just outside of Roseburg instead of the low tire pressure light half our dashboard lit up. All at once the check engine light came on, the X-mode indicator began blinking, and the Eye Sight unavailable lights all came on. After further review it appears that when the check engine light comes on those other systems are disabled prompting those indicators to come on. Regardless it was a Sunday and we were over a hundred miles from home. We kept a close eye on all the gauges for the rest of the drive and will have to wait until the Tuesday after Labor Day to make an appointment to have the car checked out. What I wouldn’t give for a Star Trek transporter. Happy Trails!

Flickr: South Umpqua Falls, Fish, Buckeye, and Cliff Lakes

Categories
Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Mount Margaret Backcountry – Obscurity Lake to South Coldwater Trailhead

Waking up to a third tent at Obscurity Camp wasn’t our only surprise in the morning. I awoke at 4:30am to find nearly clear skies above the lake save for one small finger of cloud creeping over the ridge behind Obscurity Lake. We were getting an extra early start due to the forecast of possible¬† Thunderstorms after 11am.¬† The clear sky was encouraging, but it wasn’t long before clouds began creeping into the basin from all sides.
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By the time we were on our way we were hiking through fog.
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It was a fairly steep climb out of the Obscurity Lake Basin but as we neared the saddle between Obscurity and Panhandle Lakes beautiful blue skies appeared through the fog giving us some hope for views.
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There were some views if we looked up but when we crested the saddle it was evident that the view of Panhandle Lake would not be clear.
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Down we went back into even thicker fog. The trail crossed a couple of nice streams with marsh marigolds as it wound around the lake.
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As we neared the lake we spotted a mountain goat lounging just above the trail.
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It sized us up and kept a close eye on us as we passed by.
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We decided not to go down to the lake figuring the view couldn’t be much better than what we had along the trail.
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We continued on toward Shovel Lake. Once again the trail climbed out of a basin but instead of dropping back down toward Shovel Lake the trail passed above it along a ridge. On the far side of the lake was Mt. Whittier making this one of the most dramatic lakes in the backcountry but we never saw it.
The thickest layer of clouds lay right over Shovel Lake, but as we climbed the ridge we eventually rose above the clouds.
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We were pretty excited when we realized we could see the top of Mt. Rainier in the distance.
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The trail to Shovel Lake was near the top of the ridge which meant we would have had to descend a half mile back into the clouds to visit this lake. Once again we passed figuring it left us one more thing to come back for.
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From the Shovel Lake Trail junction though we had a great view of Mt. Adams, which appeared to be wrestling with the clouds.
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The trail continued up the ridge to a saddle where it was joined by the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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From this saddle we then began our descent toward Coldwater Lake. First up was Snow Lake.
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We had finally found a lake without clouds and as an added bonus we had a great view beyond to Coldwater Peak.
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The trail swung out around the lake and as it did so we gained a little glimpse of Mt. St. Helens as well.
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This time the trail went right by Snow Lake giving us an up close look.
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The other nice thing about Snow Lake was the climb out of the basin was short and not steep. We quickly crested the saddle above the lake and began to drop into another mass of clouds.
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From Snow Lake it was 3.4 miles to the Coldwater Trail and a footbridge over Coldwater Creek. We were passing through the cloud layer for the first part of this section so we couldn’t see much. The trail itself was brushy with thimbleberry bushes and vine maples.
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The tread was also narrow and washed out in spots but passable.
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We eventually got under the clouds and could see Coldwater Creek below us.
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We were also seeing more wildflowers again and finding ripe berries, including our first thimbleberries of the year.
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Trailing blackberry
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Thimbleberry
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Red huckleberry
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We passed a couple of small waterfalls along side streams, one on either side of the valley.
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The trail then passed above what appeared to be a nice fall along Coldwater Creek but didn’t provide much of a view.
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Just after passing the waterfall the trail entered a forested area.
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Hedgenettle
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From there to the Coldwater Trail junction the trial alternated between small meadows and woods with occasional views back to Coldwater Creek.
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Another trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was working on the Coldwater Trail on the far side of the footbridge when we arrived there. We stopped on some rocks above the bridge for a snack break and watched them as they worked.
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We were now on familiar trail, at least in theory. When we had hiked the loop around Coldwater Lake in May 2014 much of the vegetation was only beginning to produce leaves.
Coldwater Trail

This time the trail was crowded with plants.
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The wildflowers were out in force as we drew nearer to Tractor Junction.
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A male grouse flew out of one of the meadows and landed in a nearby tree. It was the first one we’d seen in full display and was quite colorful.
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The views were much better than they had been the day before at Tractor Junction and along the 3.2 miles from there back to the trailhead. Coldwater Lake was clearly visible and Mt. St. Helens even made an appearance.
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For the second day in a row we’d escaped without dealing with any rain showers and the thunderstorms had not materialized before we’d made it back to the car. Despite the sometimes cloudy conditions it had turned out to be a really nice trip. The views we did miss out on can now be our excuse for return trip sometime in the future. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670492933452

Categories
Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.

Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.

One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
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Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
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We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
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Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
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The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
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The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
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The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
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We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
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The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
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After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
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We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
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The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Tiger lilies
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Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
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Large patch of paintbrush
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Arnica
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Bugbane
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Corydalis
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Columbine
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Scouler’s bluebell
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An aster or fleabane
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Pussypaws
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Mock orange
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Bistort
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Another type of aster or fleabane
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Violets
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Orange agoseris
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Spirea
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Cat’s ear lily
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Avalanche lily
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We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
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Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
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While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
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We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
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We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
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The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
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For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
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There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
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Cinquefoil
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Cusick’s speedwell
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White heather
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Avalanche lilies
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Cat’s ear lily
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We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
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It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
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The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
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We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
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We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
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We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.

After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
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We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
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Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
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As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)

We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
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Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
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The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
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A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.

Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
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Penstemon and candyflower
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Pink monkeyflower
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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Fireweed
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Bleeding heart
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As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
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We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
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We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
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We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.

Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563