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Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report Waldo Lake Area

Erma Bell Lakes and the Shale Ridge Trail – 08/29/2020

With our recent backpacking trip around Diamond Peak (post) leaving us with just one more featured hike yet to do from William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades” (4th edition) the only logical thing to do the following weekend was that last remaining hike. That hike was to the Erma Bell Lakes and as luck would have it late August was a pretty good time to visit, the berries were ripening and the mosquitoes weren’t too much of a nuisance. With a drive time of almost three hours the loop around the 8.5-9 mile loop around the lakes wouldn’t take long enough for us not to break our self imposed rule of the driving time being longer than our time spent hiking so we added a second stop to the day at the Shale Ridge Trail.

We started the morning by driving to the Skookum Creek Campground where the Erma Bell Trail begins.
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The trail crosses Skookum Creek on a footbridge.
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Soon after crossing the creek the trail enters the Three Sisters Wilderness.
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The trail traverses a forested hillside where we found a few ripe thimbleberries to snack on.
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A little over half a mile from the trailhead the Irish Mountain Trail splits off to the left toward Otter Lake allowing for a loop past that and several other lakes.
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We stayed right choosing to follow Sullivan’s suggestion to complete the loop counter-clockwise. The trail continued along the forested hillside for another mile before crossing a small stream on a bridge near Lower Erma Bell Lake.
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Just beyond the bridge we took a short spur trail to the left to visit the lake.
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The lake was a pretty blue color and quite deep.
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Despite the beauty of the lake our attention had been diverted by the familiar “meep” of pikas, our favorite trail critters. We quickly spotted one of the little fur balls collecting greens along the rocky lake shore.
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We watched the pika go back and forth with its greens several times before resuming our hike. We continued on the trail around the lake taking another detour after crossing the lake’s main outlet creek to check out a small cascade.
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Beyond the outlet the trail began a .4 mile climb up toward the Middle Erma Bell Lake.
IMG_5142Lower Erma Bell Lake from the climb.

A short but steep trail to the left just before the high point of the trail led to a viewpoint of a waterfall between the lower and middle lakes.
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IMG_5162Above the falls.

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After checking out the waterfall we continued up to Middle Erma Bell Lake.
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IMG_5175Ouzel

IMG_5178Ducks

We continued beyond Middle Erma Bell Lake passing a small pond on the right before arriving at Upper Erma Bell Lake .7 miles from the waterfall, also on the right.
IMG_5186Pond along the trail.

IMG_5189Spur trail on the right to Upper Erma Bell Lakes.

IMG_5192Paintbrush and aster along the lake shore.

IMG_5193Upper Erma Bell Lake

IMG_5197Lupine and paintrbush

In addition to a few flowers there were lots of ripe berries near the lake which we sampled before continuing. The trail climbed gradually for half a mile to a junction with the Judy Lake Trail which passes Mud and Edna Lakes (but no Judy Lake) before ending at the Taylor Burn Guard Station.
IMG_5202Judy Lake Trail on the right.

We stayed left passing above Mud Lake which was barely visible through the trees below.
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Just under a mile from the Judy Lake Trail junction we arrived at another junction, this time with the Williams Lake Trail.
IMG_5207Williams Lake Trail joining from the right.

Again we stayed left continuing for another .4 miles to Williams Lake. Before reaching the lake we encountered a grouse that was less than pleased with our presence.
IMG_5217Grouse giving us the what for from a tree.

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IMG_5220Williams Lake

IMG_5227Dry creek bed near Williams Lake.

The trail began to descend beyond Williams Lake passing through some damper meadows where berries were plentiful and some flowers remained (and so did some mosquitoes).
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IMG_5234Pearly everlasting

IMG_5237Fleabane

IMG_5243Prince’s pine

IMG_5244Mushroom

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IMG_5254Aster

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IMG_5258Coneflower

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IMG_5272Paintbrush

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IMG_5277Paintbrush

A little over two and a quarter miles beyond Williams Lake we arrived at a junction with the Irish Mountain Trail which headed uphill to the right.
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A short distance from the junction we came to Otter Lake.
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IMG_5294Curious dragonfly

The trail descended for another half mile to the Erma Bell Lakes Trail completing the loop.
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We turned right and returned the .6 miles to the now busy trailhead. Sullivan lists the hike at 8.4 miles but we both came up with a little over 9 miles, most likely due to the various side trips tp the waterfalls and along the lake shores. We left the trailhead and headed back toward Oakridge on Forest Road 19 stopping at the Shale Ridge Trailhead on the left (south) near milepost 30.

This trailhead serves as the start of the Shale Ridge Trail and the upper terminus of the North Fork Trail (segment 5). We had spent time on the North Fork Trail earlier in the year hiking segment 1 out of Westfir and another short section to Buffalo Rock in May (post).
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We weren’t here for that trail today and instead headed south on the Shale Ridge Trail, which according to a note written on the signboard had been partially logged out in June.
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<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/50286349281_6b323abbee_b.jpg&quot; width="768" height="1024" alt="IMG_5304">

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The trail quickly entered the Waldo Lake Wilderness.
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We followed the trail through old growth forest. The North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River could be heard at time off to our right but not seen.
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IMG_5317Ghost Pipe aka Indian Pipe

We were below the ridge that we had been on during the Erma Bell Lakes hike and at the 1.8 mile mark we came to Skookum Creek which was flowing through multiple channels through the forest. This area was the highlight of the hike along the Shale Ridge Trail.
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We continued beyond Skookum Creek just over a mile to the North Fork Middle Fork River at Cedar Bog. This was as far as we had planned on going and as far as the trail had been cleared to. In theory the trail continues up to the Blair Lake Trail (post) on the far side of the river but the condition beyond Cedar Bog is mostly likely very rough.
IMG_5349Arriving at Cedar Bog.

IMG_5350One of a couple dry channels.

IMG_5353North Fork Middle Fork

IMG_5358Flagging on a downed tree marking the continuation of the Shale Ridge Trail.

IMG_5360North Fork Middle Fork at Cedar Bog

IMG_5363Orange flagging on the far side of the river.

20200829_132354Monkeyflower at Cedar Bog

IMG_5366Candy flower

We turned back here and returned to our car completing a 5.8 mile out and back. While this hike was short on views there were some impressively large trees along the way and it was fairly level with only a 400′ cumulative elevation gain. The two hikes combined for nearly 15 miles of hiking which ensured that our hiking time was indeed longer than our driving time. More importantly we’d seen some nice lakes, all of which had their own distinct differences and had been gotten to watch a pika doing its thing. On top of it all we could finally say that we had done at least part of all 100 featured hikes in one of Sullivan’s guidebooks. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Erma Bell Lakes and the Shale Ridge Trail

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Hiking Oakridge Area Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

North Fork and Buffalo Rock – 05/09/2020

As we continue to deal with the ever changing situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic we are looking for ways to hike responsibly. That means doing our best to follow social distancing guidelines and honoring any closures in place. The situation with closures has been especially confusing requiring a fair amount of digging to get a clear picture of just what is allowed and what isn’t. With these things in mind we have been looking for hikes that are open and lightly used to limit our interaction with other people.

After looking through our to-do hike list we decided that the best option for an acceptable outing at this point was a pair of hikes along the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River. In regards to closures, the Willamatte National Forest (as of this writing) has closed all developed recreation sites. Reviewing the March 27, 2020 announcement on their website goes on to say that those sites include “campgrounds, day-use sites, trailheads with bathrooms, Sno-parks, snow shelters, fire lookouts, hot springs, boat launch facilities, and OHV trailhead facilities.” Trails themselves are not on the list and remain open assuming proper social distancing and group size/make up is within acceptable limits.

Our first stop was to hike Segment 1 of the North Fork Trail. Since trailheads with bathrooms are part of the temporary closure the traditional trailhead for this hike was out. Our plan was to park at a small pullout along Forest Road 1910 three miles NE of Westfir along Forest Road 19 (Aufderheide Scenic Byway). A decommissioned road just after crossing the river provided the perfect spot to park and happened to be right where the North Fork Trail crossed FR 1910.
North Fork Trail at FR 1910

We headed SW into the forest where a number of different wildflowers were currently blooming.
North Fork Trail

Star-flowered solomonsealStar-flowered solomonseal

AnemoneAnemone

TrilliumTrillium

Oregon grapeOregon grape

StarflowerStarflower

Yellowleaf irisYellowleaf iris

After .2 miles we followed a path down to the riverbank.
North Fork Willamette RiverLooking back at FR 1910’s bridge over the River.

North Fork Willamette River

A few steps after returning to the trail we left the trail again and crossed the decommissioned FR 685 near Short Creek to check out a small slide.
Short Creek

We followed the relatively level trail for another 3 miles turning around at an old road about a tenth of a mile from the parking area of the closed trailhead. Like most river trails the North Fork trail spent some time along the river, above the river, and others back in the forest. There were a few changes to the scenery along the way and plenty of flowers (along with a fair amount of poison oak). Three miles from FR 1910 we passed the concrete remains of a 1930s mill pond.
North Fork Trail

ValerianValerian

Spotted coralrootSpotted coralroot

Inside-out flowerInside-out flower

North Fork Trail

Hookedspur violetHookedspur violet

Fairy slipperFairy slipper

Dogwood blossomDogwood blossom

Buck Brush - redstem ceanothusBuck brush

Yellow leaf iris along the North Fork Trail

North Fork Willamette River

Shed skin from a Cicada on a yellow leaf irisShed cicada skin

Wood roseWood rose

FairybellsFairy bells

Showy phloxNorthern phlox

Snail on the North Fork TrailTrail snail

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HoneysuckleHoneysuckle

ColumbineColumbine

North Fork Trail along the North Fork Willamette River

Lupine along the North Fork TrailLupine

Youth-on-ageYouth-on-age

North Fork Willamette RiverRock ledge along the river.

North Fork Willamette RiverView from the rock ledge.

Monkey flowerMonkey flower

CamasCamas

North Fork Trail along the North Fork Willamette River

Dam site along the North Fork TrailConcrete tower

North Fork Trail

Pale flaxPale flax

North Fork TrailheadRoadbed near the trailhead.

We returned the way we’d come keeping our eyes open for anything we missed on our first pass, and of course there were a couple of flowers that we missed.
Vanilla leafVanilla leaf

Wild gingerWild ginger

A garter snake provided a bit of excitment when Heather noticed it coming towards her onto the trail. It eventually slithered to a fern on the other side but not before getting her to jump.
Garter snake

Garter snake

We wound up only encountering 4 people along the trail, a lone hiker and a group of three mountain bikers so this first stop had worked out well from a socially distancing standpoint.

After making it back to our car we returned to FR 19 and turned left (NE) for 18.1 miles to Forest Road 1939 (1.1 miles beyond Kiahania Campground). We turned left onto FR 1939 for 1.2 miles to a hiker symbol on the left marking the start of another segment of the North Fork Trail.
North Fork Trailhead at FR 1939

As best as I can tell from research this 4.5 mile segment of the North Fork Trail appears to have been completed in 2011 or possibly 2010. There is very little information online about it even though it has appeared as a featured hike (along with Segment 1) in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” books since his 4th edition was published in 2012. I was unable to find any reference to it all on the Willamette National Forest’s website despite the Forest Service hoping to one day connect all the segements of the North Fork Trail from Westfir to Waldo Lake. In any event there is no parking area for this trailhead and there is just enough room for a couple of cars to park off the road on the shoulder nearby.

From the outset it was obvious that this was a much lighter traveled segment than the Segment 1 as the tread was narrower and there was some large trees across the trail.
North Fork Trail

North Fork Trail

There were some similarities though as we saw many wildflowers (some the same as during our earlier stop and some new for the day) and this trail also provided a few access points to the river.
Trillium

Candy flowerCandy flower growing out of a mossy tree trunk.

Western meadowrueWestern meadowrue

Largeleaf sandwortLargeleaf sandwort

North Fork Willamette River

Striped coralrootStriped coralroot

Red flowering currantRed flowering currant

There were several creeks to cross, the first was too wide at the trail to hop across requiring a slight detour downstream. The rest all had rocks allowing us to cross dry footed.
North Fork TrailThe second creek crossing.

The trail turned away from the river to drop to the third substantial creek crossing.
North Fork Trail

Creek along the North Fork Trail

It was at this third creek that we realized we’d missed a 10 foot waterfall marked on Sullivan’s map at the 1.1 mile mark. A quick re-reading of the hike description told us it was 150 feet offtrail which explained why we hadn’t seen it. We made a mental note to look for it on the way back.

At the 2.3 mile mark the trail passed close to the river and a cobblestone beach from which the basalt outcrop of Buffalo Rock was visible.
North Fork Willamette River

Buaffalo Rock from the North Fork Willamette River

As the trail began to pass under Buffalo Rock it became even wilder than it had been beginning with a large tree blocking the trail just on the other side of a creek crossing.
North Fork Trail

After ducking under the tree the trail passed through a small hillside meadow.
North Fork Willamette River

Coastal manrootCoastal manroot

Sticky cinquefoilSticky cinquefoil

Popcorn flowerPopcorn

Western yellow oxalisWestern yellow oxalis

The dry, rocky hillside below Buffalo Rock provided for some different types of flowers and plants and was the only spot along this trail that we noticed any poison oak.
North Fork Trail

Buffalo Rock

Collomia heterophylla - Variable CollomiaVariable collomia

Western fence lizardWestern fence lizard

Giant blue-eyed MaryGiant blue-eyed Mary

LarkspurLarkspur

This segment of the trail had originally extended another 2 miles from beneath Buffalo Rock with the next marker on Sullivan’s map being a “mossy pool” a mile from the end of the trail. As we continued on from Buffalo Rock though we found that the trail was quickly deteriorating. It was evident that what little maintenance this segment saw, had all been focused on the section between FR 1939 and Buffalo Rock.
North Fork TrailHad to climb over this on the left side by the standing tree.

North Fork Trail under some blowdownThe only choice here was to use this tree as the trail.

North Fork TrailMinor debris on the trail.

North Fork TrailCuts most likely from the original establishment of the trail.

North Fork TrailThis one required a detour to the right around the end of the tree.

North Fork TrailForest reclaiming the trail tread.

Given the conditions we were experiencing and the distance we were facing for the day we decided to shoot for the mossy pool and turn around there instead of trying to reach the end of the trail. Sullivan himself had suggested turning around at Buffalo Rock and other than noting the pool on his map made no mention of it so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. The trail turned away from the river to descend to the creek crossing where we expected to find the mossy pool.
North Fork Trail

The creek had done a good job of erroding the trail which provided one final tricky obstacle to reach the little pool.
Creek along the North Fork Trail

We were pleasantly surprised by how nice this little creek and the pool were. There was a small cascade creating the pool.
Mossy pool

Small cascade

Mossy pool

It was the perfect spot for a nice break. It was the warmest day of the year thus far with temperatures expected in the mid to upper 80s and it felt every bit that hot, but here by the creek the air was cool and refreshing. Between that and the calming sound of the water we both could have easily taken a nap but alas we needed to head back.
North Fork Trail from the mossy pool

We headed back before we had time to stiffen up with a mission to find the off-trail waterfall. From Sullivan’s map it appeared that there was no creek at the trail to follow up to the waterfall and his description said to listen for the sound of water and follow it. When we thought we were in the right general area we started listening. We took one wrong turn up a small stream that we thought was too soon but didn’t want to accidently miss it again. After following this little stream a short distance we determined that there was no sound of a waterfall of any kind so we returned to the trail and continued on. After descending a series of switchbacks we were in another promising area and this time we could hear water on the opposite side of the trail from the river. We bushwacked uphill to find the little waterfall.
Small off-trail waterfall

Small off-trail waterfall

After seeing the waterfall we returned to the car and headed home. We did see one other couple on our way back to the car making it a half-dozen between the two stops for the day. The two hikes totaled 13.9 miles, 6.4 on Segment 1 and 7.5 at Buffalo Rock.

We will continue to look for responsible options to allow us to keep hiking during these unprecedented times. Please be smart and safe and as always Happy Trails!

Flickr: North Fork and Buffalo Rock

Categories
Bend/Redmond Central Oregon Hiking Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Tumalo Falls

On 8/2/2011 during a week of vacation in Central Oregon we did a 6.8 mile loop hike visiting several waterfalls, most notably Tumalo Falls.

We began at an interpretive sign at the end of Tumalo Falls Road (Road 4603) on the North Fork Trail.
Tumalo Falls trailhead

North Fork Trail sign

We kept right at junctions passing the lower viewpoint with its straight ahead look at the falls and continued to the upper viewpoint beside the falls which is less than a quarter mile from the trailhead.
Tumalo Falls

Tumalo Falls

Tumalo Falls

Tumalo Falls

The beauty of the falls and the easy access make it a very popular destination but we were there early and had the view to ourselves. Most people turn back after reaching the upper viewpoint but we continued on the North Fork Trail further into the forest.
North Fork Trail

The trail stuck close to Tumalo Creek passing Double Falls after .8 miles followed by Middle Tumalo Falls .9 miles later.
Double Falls

Middle Tumalo Falls

After passing a spring the trail crossed the Middle Fork Tumalo Creek on a footbridge.
North Fork Trail

Smaller fork of Tumalo Creek

Beyond the footbridge we took a brief detour toward the North Fork Tumalo Creek to see Lower North Fork Tumalo Falls.
Lower North Fork Tumalo Falls

After returning to the North Fork Trail we continued to follow the Middle Fork Tumalo Creek passing several more nice waterfalls. The names of some of which we are not certain of.
Small waterfall on Tumalo Creek

Middle Fork Tumalo Falls

Lower Middle Fork Tumalo Falls

Middle Fork Tumalo Falls
Middle Fork Tumalo Falls

Shortly beyond Middle Fork Tumalo Falls we arrived at a junction with the Swampy Lakes Trail which we turned left on and promptly crossed the creek on a log.
Tumalo Creek Crossing

From this trail we could see part of snowy Tam McArthur Rim where the headwaters of Tumalo Creek originate.
Tam McArthur Rim

We followed the Swampy Lakes Trail just over 2 miles from the creek crossing to a junction with the Bridge Creek Trail where we turned left along Bridge Creek to complete the loop. One final waterfall awaited along this final 1.3 mile section – Bridge Creek Falls.
Bridge Creek Falls

A moderate to easy hike the loop is a great option for waterfall lovers spending time in the Bend area. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Tumalo Falls