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

Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods

Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend was the only day of the four where the forecast in the Cascade Mountains looked promising so on that morning we headed west from Klamath Falls on Highway 140 to visit a pair of lakes near Mt. McLoughlin.

The skies over Klamtah were pretty much clear as was the case for most of the drive, but as we crossed over the Cascade Crest we found ourselves in a fog bank. We turned off the highway at sign for the North Fork Campground between mileposts 28 and 29. We parked at a small trailhead parking area a half mile down this road on the left.

It was a chilly morning in the fog as we set off on the Fish Lake Trail, but it wasn’t raining.
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The trail began by passing through a nice fir forest with occasional views of North Fork Little Butte Creek.
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After .6 miles we came to a signed spur trail which we followed 100 yards to the Fish Lake Dam.
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For the better part of the next mile the Fish Lake Trail veered away from the water as it curved around some private summer homes.
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When the trail did make it to the lake there wasn’t much to see due to the fog.
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The trail stuck closer to the lake shore for the next .8 miles before arriving at Doe Point and the Doe Point Campground. As we made our way around Doe Point the fog began to lift revealing some of the blue sky we had seen on our morning drive.
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A quarter mile after rounding Doe Point we arrived at the Fish Lake Campground and boat ramp where a variety of woodland animals were busy harvesting chinkapin.
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Our guidebook suggested turning around at the Fish Lake Resort, but we wound up losing the trail near the picnic shelter and decided not to try and walk through the campground to find the continuation of the trail and turned around.
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It was a different hike on the way back as the fog had entirely lifted from the lake and was breaking up overhead.
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By the time we were hiking back along the creek the sky was a beautiful blue.
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Typically having a hike only clear up near the end is a bit of a bummer, but we had another hike to go and with the clear skies we knew we should have a good view of Mt. McLoughlin from Lake of the Woods.

From the Fish Lake Trailhead we drove back east on Highway 140 to a sign for Fish Lake. We turned right at the sign and followed this road for a mile and a half to the Dead Indian Memorial Highway where we turned right again. The suggested starting point for this hike in our guidebook was at the Sunset Campground which was a mile down this highway. When we arrived at the entrance road we found it was gated so we turned around and wound up parking at the Rainbow Bay Picnic Area near the Lake of the Woods Resort after obtaining a $6 parking pass.
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From the parking lot we headed SE along the lake shore around Rainbow Bay where some ducks were enjoying the wonderful weather.
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The first mountain to come into view was Brown Mountain across the lake.
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Shortly after rounding the bay we arrived at the Sunset Campground where we did indeed have a nice view of Mt. McLoughlin. The mountain was sporting a dusting of new snow at its summit.
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We could picture the route up to the summit that we’d taken a couple of years before (post).
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Satisfied with our view we turned around and headed back toward the Rainbow Bay parking area. We weren’t done hiking though and we veered behind the parking lot on the Sunset Trail toward the Aspen Point Campground.
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At a three way junction we turned right onto the Family Trail Loop.
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The Family Trail Loop crossed the paved road we’d been on earlier after a tenth of a mile.
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Just after crossing the road the Mountain Lakes Trail split off to the right while we stayed left.
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Several interpretive signs were set up along this trail.
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We stayed left ignoring a tie trail that would have looped us back to the Mountian Lakes Trail junction and arrived at the Great Meadow .6 miles from the road crossing.
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At a junction with the High Lakes Trail at the Great Meadow we turned left skirting the meadow in the forest for .7 miles to another road crossing across from the Aspen Point Campground.
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At a junction on the other side of the road we went right keeping on the High Lakes Trail which led around Lake of the Woods to the NW. This section of trail passed some golden aspen trees and a leaf covered slough where ducks, geese, and a heron were spending their Sunday.
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We followed this trail past an old Forest Service complex and planned on turning around at the guidebooks suggested location, a small canoe launch.
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The canoe launch wasn’t much, but there was a nice view of some of the peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (post) across the water.
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A solitary duck was swimming around in the launch and it apparently expected us to have some food because she came right up to us.
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We did our best to explain that we don’t feed the wild animals and she waddled back to the water. At that point Heather asked about something on a plank in the water that I had originally thought was another duck but then decided it was just a rock set on the wood. She had taken it for something inanimate as well but then thought she saw it move. Upon closer inspection we discovered that it was a muskrat (initially we thought nutria but it was cuter than that invasive species).
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It wasn’t particularly concerned by us but eventually it disappeared into the water. Then a dragon fly showed up and hovered over the water just below me.
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After our unique little interaction with nature it was time to start back. We returned to the Aspen Point Campground and followed paths near the lake shore back to the Lake of The Woods Resort.
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Our hike here was 6.3 miles long while the hike at Fish Lake had been 7 miles giving us a nice 13.3 mile day. After the cold, foggy start the day had turned out beautiful. We would be heading home the next morning (with a stop along the way of course) and this was a perfect way to end our time in the Klamath Falls area. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Theilsen/Mt. Bailey Area Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Mt. Thielsen

For this week’s throwback we’re going back to September 22, 2012 for our visit to Mt. Thielsen. When we had summited Mt. Bailey a little over a month before when we had been on the opposite side of Diamond Lake. These two mountains couldn’t look much different. The summit of Mt. Bailey was a walk up, albeit a steep one while the pointy summit of Mt. Thielsen is only accessible via a final 80′ vertical class 4 scramble. We weren’t planning on even attempting the summit, we just wanted to go as far as possible which would be a higher elevation than we had been at on Mt. Bailey.

We parked at the Mt. Thielsen Trailhead off of Highway 138 and set off toward the old volcano.

Mt. Thielsen Trailhead

The trail climbed through a forest filled with blowdown for 1.4 miles to a junction with the Spruce Ridge Trail.

Mt. Thielsen Trail

Junction with the Spurce Ridge Trail

Mt. Thielsen was hidden from view along this section but looking back across the highway we had a decent view of Mt. Bailey in the morning sunlight.

Mt. Bailey

We continued past the Spruce Ridge Trail gaining a view of Diamond Peak to the north.

Diamond Peak

Soon the spire of Mt. Thielsen came into view through the trees ahead.

Mt. Thielsen Trail

The trail then entered the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness and a section of forest that had been struck by massive blowdown.

Mt. Thielsen Wilderness sign

Mt. Thielsen Trail

Mt. Thielsen Trail

After passing through the blowdown the trail followed a ridge with increasingly better views to the Pacific Crest Trail 3.8 miles from the Trailhead.

Llao Rock and Hillman Peak

Llao Rock and Hillman Peak along the rim of Crater Lake

Diamond Lake and Mt. Bailey

Mt. Bailey and Diamond Lake

Howlock Mountain

Howlock Mountain

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Diamond Peak and Sawtooth Mountain

Diamond Peak and Sawtooth Mountain

Mt. Thielsen

Mt. Thielsen

Diamond Lake and Mt. Bailey

Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail

The official trail ends at the PCT but a clear climbers trail continued on the other side and we followed that further up along the ridge. The first part of the path led along the ridge with views of west face of the mountain revealing it’s swirling volcanic rock.

Mt. Thielsen

Mt. Thielsen

The path then bent slightly SE away from the sheer drop of the north side of the ridge and up a very steep slope of increasingly slippery scree.

Mt. Thielsen Trail

Mt. Thielsen Trail

Mt. Thielsen Trail

To the south the entire rim of Crater Lake was visible including Mt. Scott.

Crater Lake's Rim

Mt. Scott

Braided trails crisscrossed up through the loose rock and every step seemed to come with a complimentary slide backward. Although the hike to Mt. Bailey had been steep it hadn’t been this steep nor slick and the drop offs along the way not nearly as daunting.

Mt. Bailey and Diamond Lake from the Mt. Thielsen Trail

Looking down from the Mt. Thielsen Trail

Mt. Thielsen

We were the first hikers up the trail that morning and at an elevation of a little over 8700′ I came to, what looked to me, to be an impassable wall of rock.

Where we stopped climbing

As I waited for Heather and Dominique I searched for signs of where to go from there. I was unsure of the correct route and the longer I stood in the same spot the more I took inventory of my surroundings. The view was quite impressive having now climbed high enough that Mt. McLoughlin was visible to the south of Crater Lake.

Mt. McLoughlin and Llao Rock

It wasn’t long before I started to feel just how high up we were and how steep the mountain was. At that point the nerves kicked in and butterflies filled my stomach. Apparently Heather and Dominique had begun feeling the same thing and when they were close enough to talk to we made a unanimous decision to turn back.

Shortly after starting back down a lone female hiker passed us going up. We stopped to watch her as she made her way to the point where I had turned around. We were curious to see how she would navigate the section. She didn’t miss a beat and was quickly above the spot and continuing on. We were only about a hundred yards down and I had to fight the urge not to go back and try again after she’d made it look so easy but I was apparently the only one fighting that urge so reason won the day and we continued our descent.

On the way down Dominique and I wound up too far to the north on the ridge and found ourselves near the edge of a vertical shaft

Patch of snow on Mt. Thielsen

Not liking how close we were to the edge we veered back to the south having to cross a very loos section of scree where Dominique slipped and scratched himself up pretty good. That was the only incident though and we made it back to the trailhead in relatively good shape.

At the time it was the most nerve wracking hike we’d done. Not making it as far up as we’d hoped was a bit of a disappointment but it was a good reminder that knowing when to turn around (and being willing to do so)is important. After all if you keep yourself safe there’s always next time. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157632958248940

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

Brown Mountain Lava Flow

On our go-home day we try and pick a shorter hike to do on the way home.  For this trip is was a 5.8 mile round trip to visit the Brown Mountain Lava Flow. We began packing up early using our headlamps and our Luci Color Inflatable Solar Light After taking the tent down we made some coffee and had a quick breakfast. We had found a spot along Badger Lake the night before that made for the perfect place to enjoy our final moments there.

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We headed back toward the Badger Lake Trailhead munching on huckleberries as we went. When we were able to get a view of Mt. McLoughlin across Fourmile Lake we were greeted with a nice reflection of the mountain. It was the first time the water was calm enough to allow for one.

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Once we were in the car we drove back to Highway 140 and turned right for 3.2 miles and turned into the Summit Sno-Park. The trail began at the far end of the parking lot.

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In .2 miles we crossed the Cascade Canal on a footbridge.

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On the far side of the canal was the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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We turned left on the PCT and headed toward Highway 140 which was .4 miles away. The canal was nearby and along this section of PCT were a few campsites. Heather had brought more Doritos to pass out and as we neared the highway we met a thru-hiker packing up her camp. One more bag of chips down. 🙂

After making the dash across the highway we cam to a pair of back to back trail junctions lay about a quarter mile from the highway.

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It would have been possible to do an entire loop around Brown Mountain on the trails but we had a long drive ahead of us. Our plan was to follow the PCT for another 2.1 miles before turning around. The forest quickly gave way to fields of lava with occasional views of its source – Brown Mountain.

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Most of the trails we’ve been on that passed through lava flows have been rocky and uneven but that was not the case with the PCT here. When the trail was built dynamite was used to blast out the route then red cinder was laid to even out the tread.

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It was a nice easy trail to hike and we made quick time making it to our turnaround point. We were watching for Pikas but never saw any, we just heard a couple of their distinct “meeps”. For views in addition to the lava fields there were a number of great views of Mt. McLoughlin.

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It was a bit late in the year for flowers but a small number of them were still in bloom along the PCT.
Pearly everlasting

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Common mullein

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Thistle

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On our way back to the car Heather handed out one final bag of chips. It was the perfect distance and difficulty for an “on-the-way home” hike. It had taken us just over two hours and we were back on the road headed home by 10:15am leaving us plenty of time to unpack and cleanup when we got there.

Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157672098699882

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

Mt. McLoughlin

Our plan for the second day in the Sky Lakes Wilderness was to hike to the summit of 9495′ Mt. McLoughlin, the sixth highest peak in the Oregon Cascades. We were going to hike the 2.5 miles back to our car from Badger Lake then drive the approximately 3 miles to the Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead. It would have been possible to hike the whole way by going back to Fourmile Campground and taking the Twin Ponds Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and then turning up the Mt. McLoughlin Trail, but that would have been a nearly 25 mile hike.

Before setting off we ate breakfast watching the sunrise from Badger Lake.

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As we passed Fourmile Lake we got a nice view of our goal for the day.

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At the campground we took advantage of the water pump near the trailhead and filled our CamelBak bladders as well as our Hydroflasks. It was going to be another warm day and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of water for the nearly 4000′ climb. Heather also loaded her pack with little bags of Cool Ranch Doritos just in case we ran into any thru-hikers on the short section of the Pacific Crest Trail that the Mt. McLoughlin Trail shares. From the campground we drove back along Fourmile Lake Road and turned right near milepost 3. The Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead is located at the end of the maintained portion of this road.

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It was around 8:30am when we arrived and the parking lot was already packed with cars. It was so full in fact that we had to loop around and park on the shoulder near the lot entrance. There is a large sign at the trailhead and, an identical sign near the wilderness boundary, warning of the dangers of Mt. McLoughlin. The main issue hikers run into is getting lost during their descent if they veer too far south in an attempt to take a short-cut.

The second sign near the wilderness boundary.

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Sullivan has the same warning in his “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon” guidebook so we were already aware of the issue, but the sign added a tip to always keep Fourmile Lake in view on the way down.

The trail set off through a forest of Mountain Hemlock and almost immediately crossed Cascade Canal which looked more like a creek here than it had near Fourmile Lake.

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In the first mile the trail entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness and climbed gradually to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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For a short distance the PCT and Mt. McLoughlin Trail were one and the same. Heather was on the lookout for thru-hikers to offer her Doritos to and I was looking for a side trail shown in our guidebook as well as on our maps that led down to Freye Lake. We were planning on visiting that lake on the way back down but I always like to make sure I am familiar with where I am going to be turning. According to the information we had the side trail was approximately .2 miles from the PCT junction. Then it would be another .2 miles to where the PCT and Mt. McLoughlin Trial parted ways. I never spotted the side trail and Heather hadn’t seen any thru-hikers when we reached the split.

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I happened to look at the GPS which showed our location as being at the side trail down to Freye Lake and not the PCT split which on the GPS map was further ahead. We continued one wondering if the PCT had been rerouted at some point and was now sharing at least the first part of the trail down to Freye Lake. We kept an eye out for signs of a former trail in the area where the GPS showed the PCT splitting off but all we saw was blowdown.

We hadn’t seen the side trail or any thru-hikers but on the PCT but we did see something we hadn’t seen on either of the previous two days – a deer.

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We’d been a little surprised that we hadn’t seen any on the trails yet, just a pair bounding off from near a horse corral in the Fourmile Lake Campground when we drove in the day before. After sizing one another up for a bit we went our separate ways. We were on a 1.5 mile section of the trail that climbed slowly away from the PCT toward Mt. McLoughlin. At times we were able to see the summit rising above the trees.

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The easier 1.5 mile section ended when the trail finally realized that we had to go up to reach the summit. The trail steepened drastically as it began climbing up increasingly rocky terrain amid an ever thinning forest.

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The thinning forest did allow for some views of the surrounding area.
Pelican Butte and Fourmile Lake

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Lake of the Woods and the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Mt. Thielsen beyond the Rim of Crater Lake and the Sky Lakes Wilderness

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Brown Mountain and Mt. Shasta

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It was a little hazier than it had been two days earlier when we had climbed Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, but one improvement was the view of Mt. Shasta as sunlight reflected off the snow.

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As we trudged uphill the locals kept a close eye on us.

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As we gained elevation most of the trees gave way leaving Whitebark pines and some manzanita bushes.

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There were occasional glimpses of the summit which always seemed to be the same distance away – far.

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About one and a quarter miles from the summit we reached a saddle where much of the remaining route was visible.

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Along this final section a few alpine flowers added some color to the area while a couple of patches of snow attempted to make it through the year.

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It was about noon when we arrived at the summit to find a decent sized crowd gathered.

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There was plenty of room though and we took a seat near the summit register.

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In addition to there being quite a few hikers at the summit there were numerous butterflies and bees who seemed to really like me.

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There was a heavy band of smoke possibly coming from the Trail wildfire that was visible from the north beyond Mt. Thielsen all the way south into California. Despite the haze on the horizon the skies above the mountain were bright blue and beautiful and there was still a decent view in all directions.
Pelican Butte, Fourmile Lake and Squaw Lake

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Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Mt. Shasta beyond Fish Lake

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Mt. Ashland

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Union Peak, Hillman Peak and Mt. Thielsen

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The Sky Lakes Wilderness with the peaks around Crater Lake and Mt. Thielsen beyond

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We broke out our snacks including a couple of the bags of Doritos which we had forgotten would expand at that altitude. Luckily none of the bags exploded but they did look like little balloons. After sitting awhile we began to get a little warm. There had been a nice gentle breeze on the way up but oddly there was none whatsoever on top. We began our descent remembering not to drift too far south.

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On the way down we took some time to study some of the volcanic rock formation in the mountains glacier carved north face.

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The loose volcanic rock was kind of nice to descend in. It was soft on the knees and kept us from picking up any unwanted speed. On the climb up though it was a different story as every step up came with a small slide backward. One way to eliminate having to deal with that issue is to climb the mountain while there is still some snow (post).

We still wanted to visit Freye Lake on the way back to the car so when we reached the Pacific Crest Trail we pursued our earlier theory of a possible reroute that used the existing trail to the lake. We kept an eye on the GPS and we could see we were quickly beginning to move away from the lake so our theory was blown. At that point there was only one sensible solution -off-trail bushwack. We left the PCT and followed a little gully down to the lake.

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There was a use trail going around the lake so we followed it clockwise around to east side of the lake where there were a number of campsites and a view of Mt. McLoughlin.

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After taking another break at the lake we continued around hoping to find the missing trail from this end. We weren’t able to locate it but we did find something. A large blue tarp was spread out on the ground surrounded by arraigned logs and rocks. Next to the tarp was a stone fire pit surrounded by a short log fence. Around the fire pit were several items including a gas can, pair of gloves, and several old looking tin cans.

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It all seemed very out of place for a wilderness area. I did send a message to the Forest Service about it, but have not gotten a response yet.

We tried to use the GPS to locate the trail as we climbed uphill from the lake to the PCT. If the GPS was right we crossed over it a couple of times but we never saw anything that was identifiable as a trail, just a couple of spots where tents had been sent up, probably by thru-hikers.

Speaking of thru-hikers when we were back on the PCT we spotted one approaching. Heather had her Doritos in her pack and then kind of froze and didn’t say anything as she passed. For whatever reason she suddenly had become shy about asking if they would like a snack. Luckily she got a second chance as another hiker was coming up the trail. She asked this one if he’d like some Doritos and his face lit up. He introduced himself as “Sobo”. It turned out that it had been his girlfriend who had passed us just before so Heather gave him a second bag for her. Another pair of thru-hikers followed and more chips were handed out and then we were off the PCT.

When we got back to the trailhead we found even more cars than there had been that morning. We freed up a spot by heading back to Fourmile Lake Campground where we refilled our water.(We had both emptied our CamelBaks and were glad we’d brought the additional water in the Hydro Flasks) We had brought our dinner for the night with us (Mountain House chicken and dumplings) and decided to cook it at the day use area near the Fourmile Lake boat ramp. We followed the Badger Lake Trail from the trailhead to the crossing of Fourmile Lake Road then turned down the road to walk to the day use area. At the campground entrance on a signboard was a trail conditions report.

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We thought it was kind of strange not to have a copy on the signboard at the trailhead as well, but at least it explained the blowdown beyond Badger Lake on the Badger Lake Trail. We ate dinner at the day use area and watched people doing whatever it was they were doing down by the lake.

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After dinner we returned to the Badger Lake Trail by hiking past a gated road at the end of the parking area near the boat ramp.

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This time as we passed the little side trail .9 miles from the canal we turned down toward the lake to a rocky beach with a view of Mt. McLoughlin.

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We sat on the beach and soaked our feet before continuing on toward our tent at Badger Lake. We took one final detour to look around the south side of Woodpecker Lake.

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It was just us again at Badger Lake that night, well us and a couple ducks and some frogs actually.

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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157673125210295

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

Sky Lakes Wilderness – Badger Lake Trail

After spending the night camped by Zeb Lake in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness we packed up our tent and headed back down the Varney Creek Trail to the trailhead and our waiting car. Our plan was to spend the next two nights in the nearby Sky Lakes Wilderness and do some exploring in that area. We drove back to Highway 140 and headed east toward Medford for 12 miles and turned right onto Fourmile Lake Road (a.k.a. Forest Road 3661) and drove another 5.7 miles to the Fourmile Lake Campground where we parked at the Badger Lake Trailhead.

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When I was penciling this trip out I had originally considered staying at the campground but the thought of being in such a popular car campground wasn’t very appealing so the plan I settled on was hiking into to one of the other lakes along the Badger Lake Trail. We threw our packs back on and set off on the trail hoping to find a quieter, more private place to set up camp. The trail led away from the campground to a junction with the Twin Ponds Trail which connects up with the Pacific Crest Trail near Squaw Lake.

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We turned left following the Badger Lake Trail as it passed through a forest of lodgepole pine.

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The trail veered back toward the campground to a crossing of Fourmile Lake Road near the campground entrance then swung away again into the forest and meeting up with the Rye Spur Trail which travels to Lake of the Woods.

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We crossed Cascade Canal .8 miles from the trailhead. The canal was built and Fourmile Lake dammed to drain the lake west toward Medford instead of to its original eastward route to Klamath Lake. At the canal there was a post with no signs attached and a road running perpendicular to the trail. There was no obvious continuation of the trail on the far side of the road so I checked the GPS map which showed the road making a small loop and the trail picking up on the far side of that loop. We decided to go around clockwise since that direction led us toward Fourmile Lake and we hadn’t had a good look at it yet. After climbing up on some of the boulders along the dam we were able to get a glimpse of the large lake.

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The road made the loop just as the GPS had shown and we picked up a clear trail heading to the left into the forest. There was also a clear trail coming from the right which we decided we would follow when we were headed back to the trailhead. For now we headed left and soon entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

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Fourmile Lake was once again hidden by trees until we were about three quarters of a mile from the canal. Finally a couple of side trails led to driftwood piles along the shore and views across the lake to Mt. McLoughlin.

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The best viewpoint was down a short path about .9 miles from the canal but we didn’t go down that trail until the following day. We were focused on finding a campsite and getting out from under our backpacks. The first lake after Fourmile Lake we came to was Woodpecker Lake. Located about one and three quarter miles from the canal this little lake was on the right hand side of the trail.

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We stopped briefly to see if there were any campsites that were too good to pass up but we didn’t see anything obvious and we were starting to notice a few mosquitoes so we continued on to nearby Badger Lake.

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Badger Lake was less than a quarter mile from Woodpecker Lake and it was a little larger than it’s neighbor. We weren’t seeing any campsites along the southern end of the lake nor did there appear to be the usual use trail going around the lake anywhere. We continued on the trail along the lake for a few hundred feet without seeing anything. Looking back across the lake we thought the terrain on the SW side looked like it might be suitable for campsites so we decided to head back and check out that area. We headed cross country through the forest near the lake and did manage to find a few spots that clearly had been used as campsites at one time but they all looked like it had been awhile. We set our packs down in the best looking spot and did a little further exploration before deciding that we had identified the most suitable one.

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After getting camp set up we strapped on our daypacks and continued on the Badger Lake Trail. We planned on going at least another 1.9 miles to Long Lake and then possibly continuing an additional 1.6 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail where we would only be .6 more miles from Island Lake and the Judge Waldo Tree.

When we reached the northern end of Badger Lake we discovered a couple of established campsites but we were happy with the spot we’d picked. Just beyond these sites the trail crossed a small stream connecting that connected Badger Lake to a long meadow with a lily pad pond.

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As we passed along the meadow we began seeing some wildflowers including several bigelow’s sneezeweeds.
Arnica

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Columbine

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Aster

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Yarrow

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Bolander’s madia

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Bigelow’s sneezeweed

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The trail had been skirting the meadow, but some large piles of blowdown had forced a reroute through the meadow where we had to carefully watch our step due to the presence of frogs. Having to go slow through the meadow made us easier targets for the small number of mosquitoes that were still present.

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When arrived at Long Lake it was easy to see how it earned its name.

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There were a number of campsites along the lake but no one was occupying any of them. We had passed a pair of hikers earlier that had been camped there and they said they didn’t see anybody while they had been there. It was only 1:45pm and we were feeling pretty good so we elected to continue on to Island Lake despite the increasing blowdown. There had been intermittent blowdown over the trail since the meadow, but beyond Long Lake the amount really increased.

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On the plus side the entire trail was relatively level and we managed to reach the PCT without too much difficulty.

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At the junction the Badger Lake Trail was hidden by blowdown.

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On the opposite side of the PCT the Blue Canyon Trail appeared to be relatively clear.

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A quick downhill .2 miles along that trail brought us to a junction with the Red Lake Trail and in another .4 miles we reached the unmarked side trail that led to some campsites and the Judge Waldo Tree.

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In 1888 a group of 5 horsemen led by conservationist Judge J. B. Waldo camped at Island Lake while riding from Willamette Pass to Mt. Shasta on what would become the route of the Pacific Crest Trail. While at the lake they carved their names in the tree (an act that current day conservationists would never consider doing now).

We took a break at the lake enjoying a snack before filtering some water for the evening. While we were getting the water we received a thorough fishing report from a young man who had been camped at the lake with his family. Apparently the fish had been going nuts over salmon eggs but they wouldn’t actually take the bait. 🙂

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When we were finished filling our water we started back toward Badger Lake. When we got back to Long Lake we stopped to cook dinner and watch a group of ducks that were paddling around the lake.

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In addition to the ducks there were a number of small birds flitting around the trees along the shore as well as a Douglas and a Golden-mantled ground squirrels.

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After dinner we returned to Badger Lake where the very top of Mt. McLoughlin was visible over the trees on the far end of the lake.

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Just like the previous night at Zeb Lake we were the only ones camped at the lake. It was indeed a lot quieter than it would have been at Fourmile Campground. We had managed another long day, 17.6 miles in all, and had big plans for the next day as well – summiting Mt. McLoughlin.

Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157673108018195

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

Mountain Lakes Wilderness

We used a long weekend to take a trip down south to visit a pair of wilderness areas between Medford and Klamath Falls. We started our trip at the Varney Creek Trailhead located at the end of Forest Road 3664. To reach the trailhead we turned off of Highway 140 on Forest Road 3637 near milepost 36 for 1.8 miles before turning left on road 3664 for another 1.9 miles.
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Our plan was to take the Varney Creek Trail to the Mountain Lakes Loop and set up camp at either Eb or Zeb Lake then complete the loop using our daypacks.

The Varney Creek Trail begins in a fairly dense forest as it slowly climbs between Mt. Harriman and Varney Creek (which we could not see or hear).
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A little over a mile along the trail we entered the 36 square mile Mountain Lakes Wilderness. One of the 8 original wilderness areas in Oregon created by the 1964 Wilderness Act.
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At the 1.4 mile mark we came to an wet area that had seen a lot of blowdown. A pair of bridges helped keep us out of the mud created by some trickles of water.
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It was on our way out the next day when we realized that this was actually a crossing of Varney Creek.

We were now on the west side of the creek and for the next couple of miles the trail passed by a series of meadows to the left and dry, open slopes on the right. The majority of the wildflowers were finished but a few stragglers remained.
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Aster
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Fireweed
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Paintbrush
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Scarlet gilia
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Larkspur
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Near the four mile mark the trail began to climb a little more steeply up toward the Mountain Lakes Loop junction which we reached after a total of 4.4 miles.
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At the junction we turned right heading toward Eb and Zeb Lakes which were just under a half mile away. This section of trail climbed a little more steeply at first before leveling out some as it neared the lakes.
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The lakes are across from one another on either side of the trail. We noticed Eb Lake on our right first and headed over to see if we could find a good campsite.
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We hiked all the way around Eb Lake seeing a few possibilities but nothing that we were in a hurry to claim so when we arrived back at the trail we crossed over to check out Zeb Lake.
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We found a decent looking spot at the edge of a small burned area at the SW end of the lake. We set our packs down and decided to go counter-clockwise around the lake to see if there were any better locations. Along the way we encountered a grassy area full of small frogs.
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We swung out wider to avoid accidentally stepping on any of the little guys. After working our way around and passing through the burnt area we arrived back at our packs and decided that this would be our campsite for the night.
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After setting up camp we threw on our daypacks and continued on the loop. Beyond the lakes the trail steepened as it climbed out of the valley to a saddle between Whiteface Peak and an unnamed point.
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From the saddle the view included Klamath Lake to the east and Brown Mountain & Mt. McLoughlin to the NW.
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From the saddle the trail passed around Whiteface Peak through drier forest.
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Almost a mile and a half from the lakes we arrived at trail junction with the Mountain Lakes Trail.
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We headed left to continue the loop arriving at a second junction in another .7 miles.
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The right hand fork headed downhill a mile to Clover Lake and the Clover Creek Trail. We were feeling pretty good and since one of the reasons we take these trips is to explore the area we headed down toward the lake. The relatively small lake was full of activity. Dragonflies darted through the air and fish seemed to constantly be breaking the surface of the lake feeding on insects.
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We sat by the lake enjoying the action while we had a snack. When it was time to continue we took a look at our maps to locate an old trail that was no longer maintained. This abandoned trail would lead us back up to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail about a mile from where we had left it. We had to continue downhill past Clover Lake for just a bit and almost missed the turn but a small rock cairn and an old blaze in a tree helped us locate it.
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Despite the trail no longer being maintained there weren’t too many obstacles and between the blazes and cairns, following it wasn’t difficult.
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After making it back to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail we continued on quickly arriving at a viewpoint along the rim above Lake Harriette.
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Approximately a mile from where we had rejoined the loop trail a pair of large rock cairns marked a use trail to the summit of 8208′ Aspen Butte.
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The mile long use trail began up a wooded ridge before views opened up of our goal.
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The trail followed the ridge SE before heading up more steeply up the butte.
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It was in the mid 70’s and we were feeling the heat going up the exposed trail and we welcomed a little shade and breeze at the summit.
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The horizon was hazy in all directions but it was all blue skies above the wilderness. To the south was snowy Mt. Shasta.
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To the north the Sky Lakes Wilderness, the peaks around Crater Lake, and Mt. Thielsen lay beyond the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.
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To the northwest Mt. McLoughlin rose above the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
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Klamath Lake lay to the east.
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After another nice break we returned once again to the Mountain Lakes Loop which almost immediately began descending toward a junction with a trail down to South Pass Lake.
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We actually skipped this one since it would have added another 3.2 miles to what was already going to be a long hike. From this junction the trail gradually descended through open forest toward Lake Harriette.
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We had seen a number of hawks already when a large red-tailed hawk flew into a nearby tree.
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Just under two miles from the South Pass Trail we arrived at large Lake Harriette.
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We were looking for a place to filter some water and have dinner but there were two other groups of hikers at this part of the lake so we decided to check out another nearby lake. Echo Lake was just down a hill on the other side of the trail. We bushwacked down to this smaller lake only to find the shore a bit muddy. It was a pretty little lake but not what we were looking for in dinner spot.
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We headed back up to the trail and continued along Lake Harriette. At the west end of the lake an area had been closed to camping. This proved to be the perfect spot for dinner with a nice view of the lake which at times had a good reflection.
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Next to the lake here was a large rock covered slope with a couple of what appeared to be small caves.
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After having dinner and filtering some water we left Lake Harriette and passed over a low saddle heading toward Lake Como. Along the way we passed a small unnamed lake on the left which I somehow failed to get any photos of. A little over a mile from Lake Harriette we arrived at Lake Como.
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It was another .7 miles from Lake Como back to the junction with the Varney Creek Trail where we had begun the loop earlier that day and another .4 miles back to our campsite at Zeb Lake. We arrived back at our tent just before 7:30pm. The days hike had been approximately 17.4 miles and taken us just under 10 hours but we’d managed to see quite a bit of the area. One thing we noticed was that many of the area was very rocky and a lot of the trail had small to medium sized rocks in them making the ground uneven. Otherwise the official trails were all in good shape with little blowdown to navigate.

We had seen a handful of other hikers during the day but the only other people we had seen camping had been at Lake Harriette so we had Zeb Lake all to ourselves as we turned in for the night.
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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157673010323616

Categories
California Hiking Klamath Mountains Klamath/Siskiyou Mountains Oregon Siskiyou mountains Trip report

Red Buttes Wilderness Day 1 – Sucker Creek Trailhead to Azalea Lake

After spending two days in Crescent City, CA hiking in the Redwoods we headed up Highway 199 to the Oregon Caves Highway 46 and drove to the Sucker Creek Trailhead. We were planning on spending 4 days and 3 nights backpacking in the Red Buttes Wilderness. The wilderness was established in 1984 and encompasses 20,323 acres mostly in California but with some of that area located in Oregon. Running through the wilderness is the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains which include some of the oldest rocks in the region. These began as ocean bottom sediments eventually becoming metamorphic rock uplifted by the North American Plate scraping the ocean floor as it drifted westward across the Pacific Plate.

The trailhead sign was set back behind some vegetation and at an angle such that we missed it the first time by and very nearly did the same as we came back down the road, luckily my wife spotted it just before we drove past again.
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The trip had a real wilderness feeling to it right from the start. The trail had the appearance of a less traveled path and the trail signs we did see seemed to have been there for decades.
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There were also a few downed trees to navigate our way around or over.
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After about 2 miles of climbing we entered a series of meadows where the tread became faint.
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Just under 3 miles along the trail we spotted the Sucker Creek Shelter in a meadow below us to the left of the trail. We followed a fairly steep path down to the shelter to check it out and take a short rest before continuing on to Sucker Gap.
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Sucker Gap is located at a saddle on a wide ridge with a four way trail junction. We followed the pointer for Steve Fork.
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Two tenths of a mile beyond Sucker Gap we took a 100 yard side trail to our right and visited Cirque Lake.
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Beyond Cirque Lake the trail began a 2 mile descent to a trail junction where we would head back uphill on the far side of the valley to the Azalea Lake/Fir Glade Trail.
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We climbed back up out of the valley only to once again begin descending down the opposite side of a ridge. The vegetation was vastly different on this side of the ridge with plenty of manzanita bushes making up the majority of the underbrush.
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We even spotted a butterfly in the area.
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We switchbacked downhill for a bit before reaching the junction with the Azalea Lake/Fir Glade Trail where we again took a right.
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The Azalea Lake Trail climbed to a pass with some great views above Phantom Meadows.
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After passing around the south ridge of Buck Peak we got even better views including Azalea Lake, Mt. McLoughlin, and our first views of Red Buttes.
Azalea Lake and Mt. McLoughlin in the distance
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Red Buttes, Kangaroo Mountain, and Desolation Peak from left to right.
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We followed the trail down to Azalea Lake and headed around the west side of the lake where the designated hiker camps are. (Horse camps or on the east side.) We hadn’t originally planned on staying at Azalea Lake and had intended to continue on to Lonesome Lake which was another 2.3 miles away, but we were running late and after taking a wrong path leading away from one of the campsites we decided to call it a day and set up camp.
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Figurehead Mountain
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It turned out to be a great decision. The lake was very peaceful with small fish occasionally jumping and the pine needle covered ground made for the most comfortable night we’d spent in the tent. It had been 13.1 miles from the trailhead to the lake including our little side trips and we hadn’t seen another person all day. What we had been seeing was a lot of poop, more specifically bear poop but we hadn’t spotted any that day. We went to bed tired but relaxed wondering what the next day’s trails would bring. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157660604852831

Categories
Hiking Medford/Ashland Area Oregon Trip report

Grizzly Peak and Beaver Dam Trail

Friday it was time to head home and we had originally planned a shorter hike up Grizzly Peak. The Grizzly Peak Trailhead is located off of Dead Indian Memorial Highway. From the Green Springs Inn where were staying we could take Hyatt Prarie Rd. between Hwy 66 and Dead Indian Memorial Hwy avoiding the windy drive back down into Ashland. We noticed the 2.1 mile Beaver Dam Trail was close to where we would come out on Dead Indian Memorial Highway from Hyatt Prarie Rd. so we decided to start our final day with that hike prior to Grizzly Peak. The trail started at the Daley Creek Campground which we surprisingly found gated closed. We could see a trail sign just on the other side of the gate so we parked on the shoulder and headed down.
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The first part of the trail clearly hadn’t been maintained for some time and it took a bit of searching at times to keep on it.
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After recrossing the creek, where a bridge had obviously been, the trail was in a little better shape. Then we came to a sign post that was set against a tree at a trail junction.
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The trail supposedly traveled .6 miles to the start of a .9 mile loop. The directions that this sign was giving made no sense. It indicated that the start of the loop was in the direction we’d just come. We disregarded the sign and took the path that seemed correct. We chose wisely and arrived at the signed start of the loop.
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Here we tried taking the left fork toward the creek which brought us to a creek crossing with another missing bridge.
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Neither of us were in the mood for a fording and we weren’t sure what the trail would be like on the far side so we turned around and headed back to the confusing sign. When we got back to the sign post we took a moment to attempt to figure out where the sign should have been placed and when we did we noticed the pointer for Daley Creek CG was not pointing in the direction we had come from early but toward a different path. We decided to follow it to see where it took us and ended up at a different trailhead further down the closed campground road where we had parked. Here were additional signs including a notice that parts of the trail were closed due to missing bridges.
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Later I checked the Forest Service website but it hadn’t been updated since 2013 regarding the trail and said that the campground would be reopening in May 2015. We should have checked the website before visiting, but in this case that wouldn’t have made much of a difference. After returning to our car we headed for Grizzly Peak arriving at the empty trailhead under the first virtually cloud free skies we’d had on the trip.
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The first portion of the trail offered nice views to the NE of Mt. McLoughlin, Union Peak, Crater Lakes rim, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. Bailey.

Mt. McLoughlin
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Union Peak, Mt. Scott, Crater Lakes rim, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. Bailey.
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Mt. Bailey
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Union Peak, Crater Lakes rim, and Mt. Thielsen
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Crater Lakes rim and Mt. Scott
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From the trailhead the trial travels 1.2 miles through open forest with wildflowers to the start of a 3 mile loop.
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We took the loop counter-clockwise passing by the viewless summit first.
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Then the trail passed a broad meadow.
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As the loop continued around the peak we came to another meadow with a view to the north.
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Here we could see the city of Medford and the Table Rocks.

Upper Table Rock
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Flowers here included camas
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and ookow which was very popular with a swallowtail butterfly.
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As we continued on the views shifted to the SW. Here Mt. Ashland and Wagner Butte which we had climbed the day before were visible.
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Mt. Ashland
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Wagner Butte
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We had entered an area burned in 2002 where the fire left open views and plenty of sunlight for wildflowers.
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Further along the views included Mt. Shasta, Black Butte, Pilot Rock, and Mt. Eddy.
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Mt. Shasta
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Black Butte and Pilot Rock
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Mt. Eddy
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and the distant Trinty Alps
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Just like all our other hikes in the area there were lots of birds happily singing along the way and here in the burnt trees they were easier to spot.
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Hummingbird going for the paintbrush
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We completed our loop and headed back down to the now packed trailhead. This was the first trail besides Lithia Park where we saw more than 5 other hikers on the trail but with views like this packed into only 5.4 miles we could see why it was a popular hike. Our first hiking trip to Southern Oregon had turned out well. We got to see new flowers, plenty of wildlife, and nice views along with a wonderful play. That’s the recipe for Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157653715322378

Categories
Hiking Klamath/Siskiyou Mountains Oregon Trip report

Wagner Butte

We continued our exploration of the trails around Ashland on the fourth day of our trip. Our destination this time was the former lookout site atop 7140′ Wagner Butte. This trail sometimes does not open until mid-June due to snow but this year that wasn’t an issue. What could have been an issue was a forecast that called for a slight chance of thunderstorms. We checked the forecast once more before leaving in the morning and the possibility of thunder storms had been removed although it still called for mostly cloudy skies. The drive to the trailhead was indeed through thick fog and once again we were setting of on a trail in the clouds.
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The trail climbed for almost a mile along an old road before leveling out through a series of meadows.
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The largest meadow having been created in 1983 by the Sheep Creek Slide when 400,000 tons of debris slid down from high up on Wagner Butte.
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There weren’t many flowers yet in the meadow but we could easily see how it would be an impressive show once the bloom began.
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Beyond the Sheep Creek Slide the trail continued to pass through meadows where an increasing amount of sagebrush was present. We also began to get glimpses of blue sky above which we began to think might mean there was a chance that we would be above the clouds once we reached the summit.
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We had seen several rabbits on the drive in and one on the trail near the slid meadow. I had not been able to get a picture of that one but we wound up spotting another one that was too busy eating to worry about my picture taking.
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At the 2.4 mile mark the trail began to switchback up through sagebrush filled meadows where there was more evidence of the clouds breaking up.
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We climbed for almost a mile before reaching a sign announcing Wagner Glade Gap.
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From the gap the trail turned left for the final 1.9 mile climb to the summit. We passed through trees and meadows, some in the fog and some in the sun.
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This portion of the climb was never very steep and when we arrived on the ridgecrest for the final scramble we were indeed greeted with blue skies.
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To reach the former lookout site requires a bit of rock scrambling. The trail seems to end at a pile of boulders below a railing where the lookout once stood.
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A faint path around to the right led to a fairly easy scramble up the rocks to the top of the rocks and spectacular views.

Mt. McLoughlin along with Brown Mt. to the right and Mt. Scott, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. Baily to the left.
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Mt. McLoughlin
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Mt. Ashland and Mt. Shasta to the south.
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We couldn’t see much to the SW which was still mostly covered by a layer of clouds.
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We stayed at the summit for awhile watching the clouds continue to break up.
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When we noticed another batch of clouds moving toward our position on the summit we decided to head back down. The meadows and forest was now mostly fog free allowing for better views.
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As we passed back through the meadows we noticed several types of flowers we had somehow missed on the way up including the very interesting elkweed or monument plant. A large stalk several feet tall full of pretty blossoms which we have no idea how we managed not to notice it earlier.
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We also spotted some peony
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Lewis flax
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and Fritillaria
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We eventually made it back down into the cloud bank, but the lower meadows were far less foggy revealing some additional flowers and views as well.
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For the fourth straight day we had somehow managed to sneak in some views despite the cloudy/foggy conditions. Southern Oregon was not disappointing with its hikes and we had one day left. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157654117259261

Categories
Crater Lake Area High Cascades Hiking Mt. Theilsen/Mt. Bailey Area Oregon Trip report

Mt. Scott (Crater Lake National Park) & Tipsoo Peak (Mt. Thielsen Wilderness)

After a semi-rest day (Sparks Lake) we headed to Crater Lake National Park for our third visit hoping this time to actually be able to see the lake. In 2012 smoke had made it nearly invisible and earlier this year clouds had completely blocked the view. This time we were not disappointed.

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June 2014
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October 2014
Crater Lake in the morning

Our plan was to hike to the former lookout tower on Mt. Scott, the highest point in the park at 8938′ and then head north on Hwy 138 to the Tipsoo Peak Trail and also summit that 8034′ peak. The two hikes combined would be just over 11 miles with a combined 3000′ of elevation gain making them very doable in a single day.

The Mt. Scott Trail sets off along a broad plain at the base of the mountain giving a clear view of the entire peak as well as the lookout tower on it’s northern end.
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The trail climbs around to the south side of the mountain and then up to the long ridge along Mt. Scotts summit. Not only were the skies clear above Crater Lake but we were able to see mountain peaks from Mt. Shasta in the south to Mt. Jefferson up north along the way. The views started early along the trail and just improved was we climbed.

Mt. Shasta, Mt. McLoughlin, and Union Peak to the south.
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Crater Lake
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Crater Lake from Mt. Scott

Mt. Bailey
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Mt. Thielsen and Diamond Peak
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The Three Sisters
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Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack
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While we were traversing the ridge over to the lookout tower we spotted a hawk soaring high above the park.
Hawk soaring over Crater Lake National Park

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After checking out the tower we headed back down to the car to start the drive to the Tipsoo Peak Trail. We had to make a couple of stops just to take in the beauty of Crater Lake.
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We left the park and drove up to the Tipsoo Trail where we were surprised to find a much nicer forest than we had expected. Our previous trips in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness had been through lodgepole pine forests which are not exactly eye candy.
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We were also surprised by the number of mushrooms we spotted.
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The climb was very gradual making it fairly easy going as we approached the summit. Near the top the trail passed by the edge of pumice filled Howlock Meadows where Howlock Mountain, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. Bailey were visible.
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Red cinder covered the top of Tipsoo Peak and the 360 degree view revealed several mountains and lakes.
View from Tipsoo Peak

Red Cone
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Howlock Mountain and Mt. Thielsen
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Diamond Peak
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The Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor
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Mt. Bailey and Diamond Lake
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Lemolo Lake
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Miller Lake
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Madieu Lake
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Lucille Lake
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These were a couple of really nice hikes if you are looking for big views without a long or steep hike. Both hikes were on the shorter end (4.6 & 6.5 miles) and both trails climbed very gradually making them very nice options. The access road for the Tipsoo Peak trail was a bit rough and would probably require a high clearance vehicle though. Happy Trails!

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