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

Blue Lake Basin – 09/18/2022

The second day of our Southern Oregon trip was forecast to be the wettest so we headed for the Sky Lakes Wilderness where the cloudy conditions wouldn’t hinder our views too much. Our goal for the day was to hike to Island Lake via Blue Lake Basin then possibly return via Cat Hill Way. The out-and-back to Island Lake is featured hike #40 in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California” guidebook (edition 4.2). We had visited Island Lake in 2016 (post) but from the other direction. Since that visit only covered 0.1 miles of the featured hike and the hike is titled “Blue Lake Basin” not Island Lake we had not considered it done.

We began at the Blue Canyon Trailhead.
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A crisp wind blew through the small meadow near the trailhead encouraging us to hustle downhill on the trail into the trees which provided some relief.
IMG_1712An old fence in the meadow.

IMG_1714Entering the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

IMG_1715Into the trees we go.

It had been a while since we’d actually been cold starting out on a hike and it was kind of nice. We hoped that the wet weather was also present over the Cedar Creek Fire to the north near Waldo Lake. Here there was no sign of smoke as we hiked through the damp forest.
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Just over a mile from the trailhead we arrived at our first lake of the day, Round Lake.
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We continued on the Blue Canyon Trail another 1.2 miles to Blue Lake where a bald eagle startled me when it took off from a tree directly over my head.
IMG_1727The cliff face above Blue Lake ahead from the trail.

IMG_1733Hiking along Blue Lake.

20220918_085604Blue Lake

IMG_1739The bald eagle across the lake after startling me.

The combination of cool temperatures, wet ground and light rain kept us from lingering too long at the lake and we were soon on our way to the next one. Just beyond Blue Lake we veered right at a trail junction to stay on the Blue Canyon Trail.
IMG_1743The South Fork Trail went to the left past Meadow Lake and the Mud Lake before following the South Fork Rogue River to Road 720.

The Blue Canyon Trail passed to the right of Meadow Lake before arriving at a junction with the Meadow Lake Trail in a quarter mile.
IMG_1747Meadow Lake

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IMG_1751Meadow Lake Trail junction.

For now we stuck to the Blue Canyon Trail which brought us to Horseshoe Lake in another half mile.
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IMG_1754Just beyond this small pond south of the trail we turned right on a use trail which led out onto Horseshoe Lake’s peninsula.

IMG_1759Camping is prohibited on the peninsula which is signed in multiple places.

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After exploring the peninsula we returned to the Blue Canyon Trail and followed it to the next lake, Pear Lake, which was just over a half mile away. We took another use trail down to the shore of this lake which is not at all shaped like a pear. (Unless it’s named after the core then maybe but it would still be a stretch.)
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IMG_1773Ducks flying further down the lake.

From Pear Lake it was just over 1.75 miles to Island Lake. The trail climbed up and over a ridge passing above Dee Lake before dropping into Island Lake’s basin.
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IMG_1783Grouse

IMG_1784The only flowing water we’d encounter on this day after not crossing any streams the day before at Union Peak (post) either.

IMG_1815Dee Lake barely visible through the trees.

IMG_1790Bigelow’s sneezeweed

IMG_1794Meadow near Island Lake.

IMG_1795A Horse Camp sign.

IMG_1796Island Lake through the trees.

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We couldn’t remember exactly where we’d gone down to the lake on our previous visit, just that it had been a short trail to the Judge Waldo Tree. We turned left on a clear use trail which brought us down to the lake but not to the tree we were looking for.
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IMG_1806There were a lot of mushrooms down by the water though.

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We returned to the Blue Canyon Trail and continued around the lake to another use trail and again turned left. This one looked familiar and indeed brought us to the Judge Waldo Tree.
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IMG_1812For those interested the 1888 inscription reads:

Judge J.B. Waldo
William Taylor
H.P. Minto
E. J. Humason
F. W. Isherwood
September 13, 1888

Judge Waldo was an early voice for conservation of the Cascade forests (today he most likely would not have carved his name into the tree like that).

Now that we’d linked the two hikes together we were content to head back. When we’d made it back to the Meadow Lake Trail junction we turned uphill onto that trail.
IMG_1817Pear Lake from the Blue Canyon Trail.

IMG_1820Back at the Meadow Lake junction.

IMG_1821Heading up the Meadow Lake Trail.

This trail was much steeper than the Blue Canyon Trail had been and if we were to do the hike again we most likely would opt to come down this way.
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IMG_1832The huckleberries don’t lie, Autumn was right around the corner.

IMG_1833Approaching the ridge top.

IMG_1834Not sure what we missed here but imagine it was some of the peaks in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Just over a mile from the junction the Meadow Lake Trail ended at Cat Hill Way.
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This trail ran between the Pacific Crest Trail (1.5 miles to the left) and The Blue Canyon Trailhead (2.25 miles to the right). We turned right following a very old roadbed that climbed gradually just below the summit of Cat Hill before descending to the meadow at the trailhead. While the other trails had been well maintained this one had a number of downed trees that were fairly easily navigated. This trail did provide a view of Mt. McLoughlin (post) albeit limited on this day due to the cloud cover.
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IMG_1858Colorful fungus

IMG_1856Mt. McLoughlin

IMG_1861A little fresh snow, a welcome sight.

IMG_1863A nice little viewpoint just off the trail.

IMG_1870Passing below Cat Hill.

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IMG_1874Back to the trailhead.

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Our hike came in at 12.2 miles with approximately 1700′ of elevation gain.

We only saw a few other people which was surprising even with the wet weather given how popular this area is in the Summer. It had sprinkled off and on for most of the morning but we didn’t ever feel the need to put our rain gear on. We drove back to Shady Cove and after changing headed to 62’s Burgers and Brews for a late lunch/early dinner. The clouds were once again breaking up which was encouraging as we were heading back to Crater Lake the following day where we would be hoping for some good views. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Blue Lake Basin

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

After we spent our third day in the Elkhorns basically retracing our steps from the second day nearly two thirds of our fourth day would be spent on new trails. Our plan was to leave Summit Lake and return to the trailhead along the jeep track near Cracker Saddle then follow that jeep track down to the Lost Lake Trail which would lead us past Meadow and Lost Lakes before climbing back up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail to the north of Mt. Ruth. From there we would follow the Elkhorn Crest Trail north just under two miles to Dutch Flat Saddle where we would take the Dutch Flat Trail down to Dutch Flat Lake for the night.

There was still a little haze in the air but the smoke didnt’t seem any worse than the day before.
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We could see the haze but never really smelled anything and depending on the angle of the sun and where you looked there were still blue patches of sky to be seen as we left the lake.
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After a mile and a half we arrived at the trailhead signboard and turned right down the jeep track.
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It was a rough, steep road and neither of us would have even considered attempting to drive it.
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It did eventually level out some and was not without some charm as it passed several meadows and through some nice forested sections.
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It also crossed a few wildflower lined streams.
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After one and a quarter miles along the road we came to a signed junction with the Lost Lake Trail.
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Here we turned left on another double track and headed toward Meadow Lake.
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Meadow Lake lay off the Lost Lake Trail to the west just over half a mile from the junction. Both the GPS and the topographic map showed a spur trail/road leading to the lake but we were unable to locate it as we passed by. We used the Garmin to bushwack through some young lodgepole pine trees in the area where the road was supposed to be. After a tenth of a mile picking our way through we came to Meadow Lake.
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It was a nicer lake than we had expected and was home to many frogs.
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There had also been quite an insect hatch (or alien invasion) at some point.
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We walked north along the lake and found a sign near a fire pit.
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A faint trail appeared to lead away from this area back toward the Lost Lake Trail so we tried following it back. It was only marginally better as it too became lost amid the small lodgepoles. Once we were back on the double track we continued north climbing above Meadow Lake to a saddle.
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The old road bed then launched seemingly straight downhill. To make matters worse it was covered with fairly good sized rocks.
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This lasted for about a quarter mile before the trail leveled out in a basin near a nice meadow with a view of Mt. Ruth.
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The trail crossed a stream flowing from the meadow and then began to climb in an equally absurd rocky and steep manner.
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The climb up this side lasted a little over half a mile before leveling off a bit on a forested ridge.
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After passing over the ridge a short and less steep descent brought us to a signed junction for Lost Lake.
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The sign said it was a quarter mile to the lake but it was really only about a tenth of a mile down (steeply again) to the shore.
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We broke out our camp chairs and rested for about an hour. After eating a bit of food and recovering from the earlier climb we continued on. It was another steep, rocky climb for the first three tenths of a mile from Lost Lake.
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The trail then leveled out as it passed a series of meadows below Lost Lake Saddle.
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Gentians were abundant in the green meadows.
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Roughly three quarters of a mile from Lost Lake we passed a rocky ledge where a short side trip brought us to a view of the lake below.
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The trail then passed a couple more meadows before entering an old fire zone where some silver snags still stood.
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A couple of switchbacks brought us back up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail a total of 1.3 miles from Lost Lake.
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We turned right (north) and promptly passed through Nip & Tuck Pass where the trail now traversed along the western side of the crest above Cunningham Cove.
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Just over a mile later we crossed over Cunningham Saddle to a view of Crawfish Basin.
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Three quarters of a mile away we could see Dutch Flat Saddle along the ridge ahead.
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At that saddle we turned right onto the Dutch Flat Trail.
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A short distance down the trail we got our first good look at Dutch Flat Lake.
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For a mile the trail switchbacked down past rocky cliffs and wildflower meadows to a junction.
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Another quarter mile brought us to the meadow lined lake.
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We went about setting up camp then started to explore a bit. I noticed a young bird along the shore so we declared that area off-limits.
IMG_0786I used the 30x zoom for the picture and didn’t get close to the little one.

It was an interesting little lake with a tiny island and lots of jumping fish.
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We found the outlet creek to be particularly unique as it squeezed through a narrow channel between rocks.
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We did find a nice pool along the creek to get water from and as we were doing that we started to feel rain drops. I raced back to the tent and threw on the rain fly just before a decent little shower passed overhead.
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After the rain shower we ate dinner and then walked around the lake which came to a little under half a mile.
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The SW end of the lake was particularly marshy with several inlets forcing us to swing out fairly wide.
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All the wet meadows in the area provided good habitat for huckleberries.
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It also appeared to be an area that would have a lot of mosquitoes but we only noticed a couple and neither of us wound up with any bites. It was the only time during the entire trip that either of us even saw any.

With the hike around the lake our days mileage came to just 10.6 which was the least so far with the following day expected to be even less. We were starting to feel a little worn down but knowing the final day was mostly downhill helped lift our spirits.

As the evening progressed I began to wonder about the possibility of thunderstorms, something that we have yet to encounter while backpacking. Heather is not a fan of thunder and lighting at all and I am not in any hurry to have our first experience with it either. It did shower off and on all night but that was the extent of it and never in any significant amounts. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4