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Hiking Mt. Rainier Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground (Mt. Rainier National Park) – 9/21/2019

We spent most of the Summer doing day hikes from home so that we could be back in time to give our elderly cats their daily medicines which put a limit on how far away we could go, but we had purchased tickets to the Seattle Seahawks/New Orleans Saints game prior to Buddy getting ill so my parents graciously took over for a day. We took the opportunity to drive up the day before the game and stop for a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park.

This would be our second visit to the park having hiked the Northern Loop on a 4-day backpack in 2015 (post). For this visit we were looking for something on the SW side of the mountain that would be a good late Summer/early Fall hike. A little research led us to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground from Longmire.

We arrived at Longmire just after 8am and prepared to set off on the Trail of Shadows.
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Our trail was located across the park entrance road from the National Park Inn.
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Also across the road was the shear cliffs of Rampart Ridge and the snow capped summit of Mt. Rainier.
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We were excited to see the mountain as it had been raining for several days and more rain was forecast for the next few, but a partly sunny forecast had at least given us some hope.
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The Trail of Shadows is a .7 mile interpretative loop around Longmire Meadow. We followed this trail clockwise for a quarter mile where we arrived at a junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail.
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We turned left on the Rampart Ridge Trail which promptly began climbing via a series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge. The trail climbed through an old growth forest with lots of mushrooms this time of year and a bit of fall color showing on the maples.
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The trail gained the ridge after a little under 1.5 miles and began to follow it to the NE. One and three quarters of a mile from the junction we forked right to a signed viewpoint overlooking Longmire.
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The position of the Sun wasn’t ideal, even with some clouds around, but Eagle Peak was also visible (albeit through some trees) rising above Longmire.
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Less then a quarter mile from the viewpoint we came to a turn where the trail began to descend, but before we started down we followed a short path to a rocky viewpoint where we got a better look at Mt. Rainier.
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Mt. Rainier was the main attraction but to the NW behind the clouds was another interesting and colorful peak, Mt. Wow.
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We spent quite a while at the viewpoint before starting down on the Rampart Ridge Trail which we found turned back toward the mountain and provided another spectacular view.
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We were soon back in the mushroom filled forest grateful for having gotten such a nice view of the mountain already. We figured if the clouds moved in, at least we’d gotten to see that .
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After 2.9 miles on the Rampart Ridge Trail we came to a signed junction with the Wonderland Trail.
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Here we turned left following the pointer for Indian Henry’s (Hunting Ground)
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We had gained over 1400′ climbing up to Rampart Ridge and now we began to lose 400 of those feet as the Wonderland Trail dropped to Kautz Creek in 3/4 of a mile. Mushrooms remained a main theme of the hike as we descended through more green forest.
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As we neared Kautz Creek the mountain once again came into view.
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We dropped into the washed out canyon of Kautz Creek where, you guessed it, there were some more interesting mushrooms amid the rubble.
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IMG_9731Satuick Mountain

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The crossing of Kautz Creek was fairly easy as far as glacier fed streams go. The creek was split into three channels which were small enough to rock hop across dry footed.
IMG_9735First crossing

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IMG_9737The third channel was the largest but still relatively small.

IMG_9740Mt. Rainier from the far side of Kautz Creek.

The trail then reentered the forest and shortly arrived at Pyramid Camp.
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IMG_9746Yet another big mushroom.

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After a brief stint in the trees we emerged at another washed out creek bed. According to the map this was Pearl Creek (which later becomes Pyramid Creek after merging with a couple of other streams).
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This creek would have been a little trickier to cross had it not been for the presence of a pair of footbridges.
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After crossing the creek we popped back into the forest and almost immediately came to a clear spring.
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Beyond the spring the trail began to climb steeply gaining over 400′ in a half mile before becoming a bit more gradual as it traversed up the hillside crossing a few creek beds along the way.
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IMG_9763There were quite a few coral fungi present as well.

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IMG_9769The mushrooms in the back had exploded.

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IMG_9774A few red huckleberries left to eat.

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Approximately one and three quarters of a mile from the Pearl Creek crossing we arrived at Devil’s Dream Creek.
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This creek flowed through a narrow slot canyon that looked (and sounded) really interesting.
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Although the trail briefly climbed uphill along side the canyon there were no views to speak of save one look down to the water below. From that spot it sounded like there was some sort of waterfall just upstream but there was no angle available to see anything so we settled for more colorful mushrooms.
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A half mile after crossing Devil’s Dream Creek we did spot a waterfall downhill to the right of the trail just before arriving at Devil’s Dream Camp. A path led down to the creek here. There wasn’t a lot of water flowing but it looked like it might be a pretty good waterfall when there was more flow.
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After the side trip we passed through the 8-site Devil’s Dream Camp.
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It was uphill through the camp but not longer after passing the group site the trail leveled out a bit and entered the first meadow as we neared Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.
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A larger meadow followed with a view of Mt. Rainier hiding behind Iron Mountain.
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IMG_9825Gentians

IMG_9826Mushrooms in the meadow.

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IMG_9828Gray jay in the huckleberries.

A quarter mile from the camp we arrived at Squaw Lake.
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We crossed Devil’s Dream Creek again as we passed around the lake.
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I don’t know where the actual boundary of the hunting ground is but beyond Squaw Lake the meadows kept opening up more as we neared a backcountry patrol cabin.
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Finally Mt. Rainier came back into view.
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We spotted the patrol cabin approximately 8 miles (according to my GPS) into the hike. The cabin was set back in some trees overlooking the meadow with Mt. Rainier in the background. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque setting.
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We had been playing leap frog with another pair of day hikers who had planned on turning back at the cabin. We had also considered that given the distance and elevation gain to get there, but the mountain was so visible we decided to push on to Mirror Lakes which was just under a mile away. From a junction with the Kautz Creek Trail near the cabin we followed a pointer for the Mirror Lakes Trail .3 miles down the Wonderland Trail.
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The Wonderland Trail lost a little elevation before arriving at the Mirror Lakes Trail junction. Views of Mt. Rainier were plentiful along the .3 mile stretch.
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We turned onto the Mirror Lakes Trail which was pretty wet in spots from the recent rains, as were the meadows alongside the trail.
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There were a number of frogs in the meadow and they seemed to be enjoying the extra water.
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Most of the flowers were long since past but a few stragglers were hanging on.
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IMG_9920Butterfly on the remains of an aster.

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While the Summer flowers were mostly gone the nearby hillsides were heralding the arrival of Fall.
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We were glad that we’d decided to go on even before reaching the Mirror Lakes as the trail just kept getting us closer views of Mt. Rainier.
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IMG_9931Pyramid Peak to the right.

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The best was yet to come though. The largest (and first) of the little lakes that make up the Mirror Lakes had a perfect reflection of the still mostly cloud free mountain.
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We lingered for awhile studying the mountains various features.
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We would have loved to have stuck around longer but we still had a long hike back to Longmire and a 2 hour drive to our motel so we pulled ourselves away and started back. In the time it took to reach the patrol cabin the clouds had increased noticably.
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The shift in the clouds did reveal more of Emerald Ridge to the north which had some interesting features.
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We returned the way we’d come until arriving at the Wonderland Trail/Rampart Ridge Trail junction. This portion of the hike saw us spotting additional mushrooms that we hadn’t noticed earlier and a few more frogs, including one at the spring near Pearl Creek.
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IMG_9987This guy was tiny.

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IMG_9995Frog on a rock at the spring.

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The clouds had really moved in by the time we were crossing Kautz Creek and Mt. Rainier was gone.
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From the Wonderland/Rampart Ridge junction we stayed straight on the Wonderland Trail which, in addtion to being new trail, was at least a mile shorter route back to Longmire.
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The trail lost elevation pretty quickly and was fairly steep in places. The mushroom theme continued here as well.
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The trail did level out some as it passed below Rampart Ridges cliffs and over a swale on a boardwalk.
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We crossed the Paradise Road and soon after turned at a pointer for Longmire.
IMG_0044Looking back across the road.

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Our feet were sore and our knees tired but the 16.4 miles had been more than worth it. As we were loading up the car a gentleman asked if we would give him a ride out of the park. He had been on the Wonderland Trail but after 5 days of rain everything was wet and he hadn’t been able to cook some of his food so he was living to fight another day. His car was at Mowhich Lake though so we gave him a lift to Ashford and dropped him off at a motel/restaurant there before heading toward Seattle.

It was a great start to the weekend, if only Seattle’s play had been half as impressive as Mt. Rainier was maybe they could have pulled out a win. Ah well, we will take a beautiful hike over a single W any time. Happy Trails! (and GO Hawks!)

Flickr: Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground

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