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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
High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Three Fingered Jack

This week’s Throwback Thursday hike is a 13.5 mile loop taken on 10/13/12 partly along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. We started our hike at the Pacific Crest Trailhead near Santiam Pass along Highway 22. Our plan for the day was to follow the PCT to the SW flank of Three Fingered Jack then return on a loop by leaving the PCT on the way back above Martin Lake and hiking cross country past that lake to the Summit Lake Trail.

We arrived just before daylight and were rewarded with some amazing sights as we waited for enough light to start hiking.Three Fingered Jack/PCT trailhead

Morning from the trailhead

Mt. Washington in the morning from the trailhead

Mt. Washington

The trailhead is located in the fire scar of the 2003 B & B Fire. One of those B’s is for Booth Lake which we planned on visiting as we returned on the Summit Trail.Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

A short distance after passing the junction with the Summit Trail the PCT entered the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.Entering the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness on the Pacific Crest Trail

From the wilderness boundary Three Fingered Jack was only about 3 miles away but was hidden behind the rise of the land. There were plenty of views to be had to the south though.Hayrick Butte and Hoodoo

Hayrick Butte and the Hoodo Ski Area

View from the Pacific Crest Trail

Mt. Washington and the North and Middle Sisters

We spent a lot of time looking over our shoulders as the views only got better as we made the gradual climb toward Three Fingered Jack.Black Crater, Broken Top, the North & Middle Sister and Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

North and Middle Sister

North and Middle Sister

Broken Top

Broken Top

Three Fingered Jack finally came into view when the trail leveled out on a plateau.Three Fingered Jack

Three Fingered Jack

At the 1.25 mile mark we arrived at a junction with the Santiam Lake Trail.Pacific Crest Trail junction with the Santiam Lake Trail

We continued on the PCT through the silver snags of the B & B Fire which were a surprisingly nice contrast to the bright red Fall huckleberry leaves.Pacific Crest Trail

Contrasting colors in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Another impressive view came two miles from the Santiam Trail junction.Three Fingered Jack

Three Fingered Jack

View from the Pacific Crest Trail

Looking south

The PCT had steepened a bit as it climbed to this view on a ridge which it now followed into green trees.Three Fingered Jack

Pacific Crest Trail

The ridge passed above Booth and Martin Lakes which lay to the east.Martin and Booth Lakes and Black Butte

Black Butte (post) beyond Martin and Booth Lakes

Just under a half mile from the viewpoint we passed a spot along the ridge where we would head cross-country on the way back. We were still gaining elevation which gave us a view of Diamond Peak even further south.View from the Pacific Crest Trail

Diamond Peak

We also noticed that the stubborn Pole Creek Fire was still putting up a smoke column from the Three Sisters Wilderness.Black Crater, Broken Top, smoke from the Pole Creek Fire, Mt. Bachelor, The Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, The Husband, Big Lake, Hayrick Butte, Scott Mountain, and Diamond Peak

Broken Top and the Pole Creek Fire

To the west we spotted Lower Berley Lake.Lower Berley Lake

Three Fingered Jack disappeared again for a bit but not long after crossing a rocky section of the ridge the PCT rounded a corner and Three Fingered Jack came back into view.Three Fingered Jack

Continuing on just a couple tenths of a mile more brought us to even better views of the volcano’s western face.Three Fingered Jack

A climbers trail was clearly visible heading up toward the summit.Three Fingered Jack

We followed the PCT to the junction with the climbers trail which was approximately 5.5 miles from the trailhead.Three Fingered Jack

It was tempting to head up the path but apparently only for me. Heather and Dominique were good turning around here so they took a short break as I went up a very short distance. The trail was fairly steep and the loose rock made it more effort than I was willing to expend so I quickly returned and we began our hike back.

On the way back along the PCT we spotted a trail heading off to the right (SW) just over half a mile from the climbers trail. This short spur led to a rock outcrop with spectacular view.View from the Pacific Crest Trail

From here we could see at least a part of 7 Cascade Peaks: Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, All three of the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, and Diamond Peak.Black Crater, Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Mt. Washington

From left to right: Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, North Sister, the summit of South Sister, Middle Sister, and Mt. Washington.

Scott Mountain and Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak

After a nice long break soaking in the view we continued south on the PCT past the rock section along the ridge.Pacific Crest Trail

Shortly after the rocks we headed downhill at a low point along the ridge into the least steep looking gully we had seen on the way by earlier.Off-trail route to Martin Lake from the Pacific Crest Trail

The route was fairly steep but the good news was that the lake was at the bottom of a bowl so we basically just needed to stay heading downhill and we would by default find Martin Lake. The trees were sparse enough to make travel easy and we soon found ourselves along a fern covered hillside.Cross country route from the Pacific  Crest Trail to Martin Lake

Fern covered hillside near Martin Lake

This was our first real foray into off-trail travel but between the map, GPS and knowing that the lake was at the bottom of the bowl we had no trouble finding the water after traveling approximately .4 miles.Martin Lake

Several deer had been on the far side of Martin Lake but ran as we emerged from the trees. They had been in the area of an old trail that ran from the Summit Trail to Martin Lake but had not been maintained since the B & B Fire.Martin Lake

Martin Lake

We made our way around the south shore of the lake to its east end hoping to pick up the trail we had seen from the west end.Martin Lake

The trail was basically non-existent though.Cross country route to the Summit Trail

The good news was we knew that the Summit Trail was due east from Martin Lake and to make things easier so was Black Butte. We used the 6436′ butte as our guide as we traveled the half mile from Martin Lake to the Summit Lake Trail.Black Butte

We were a little concerned that the Summit Lake Trail might be hard to spot so I occasionally checked the GPS to make sure it wasn’t showing that we’d crossed it. We wound up having no problem identifying the dusty Summit Lake Trail though and turned right onto it. After a quarter mile we took a short spur to the right to Booth Lake.Booth Lake

We were joined by an eagle who landed in the snags on the far side of the lake.Eagle on the far side of Booth Lake

From the shore Three Fingered Jack was visible peaking over a ridge.Three Fingered Jack from Booth Lake

There was a decent breeze which created some eerie sounds as it passed through the dead trees. We left Booth Lake and continued south on the Summit Lake trail which remained in the B & B scar for the rest of the hike.Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Jefferson Wilderness along the Summit Trail

Colorful hillside along the Summit Trail

The trail climbed gradually for 3/4 of a mile to a saddle before descending more steeply for a little over a mile to Square Lake.Square Lake, Broken Top, North & Middle Sister and Mt. Washington

As we began descending the clouds over the North Sister formed into an interesting shape.Cool cloud formation passing over the North Sister

We took another short break at the lake where the only view we had was east to Black Butte.Square Lake

Square Lake

We followed a pointer for the Santiam Pass Trailhead at the junction with the Round Lake Trail.Trail sign for the Santiam Pass Trailhead

It was roughly 2.2 miles back to the PCT from Square Lake. The trail climbed away from the lake gaining a final view of Three Fingered Jack to the north.Three Fingered Jack and Square Lake

We then passed along a hillside covered in golden ferns with decent views of Mt. Washington but an increase in clouds and slight drizzle began obscuring the views of the other mountains.On the way back to the Santaim Pass Trailhead

Mt. Washington

After completing the loop and arriving back at the trailhead we drove to my parents house near Bend. They were away for the weekend but the house was being watched carefully by their guard owl.Owl in Central Oregon after the hike

We had another hike planned for the next day in the Three Sisters Wilderness so we spent the night at their house and set off the next day on what would become known as “The hike that shall not be named“. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Three Fingered Jack