Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 3

As far as we know we didn’t have any mountain goat visitors during our night at Lower Twin Lake but I did wake up once and managed to see a streak across the sky which I assume was part of the Perseid meteor shower. Another goat did pass close by in the morning though as we were preparing to leave.
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It wasn’t nearly as chilly as it had been the previous morning and the air had gotten quite a bit hazier overnight.
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The increased smoke made us thankful that we had made our climb up Rock Creek Butte the day before instead of waiting until this morning. We had a fairly straight forward day planned as we would simply be returning the way we’d come the day before minus the side trip up to Rock Creek Butte’s summit. We were still seriously considering not going all the way back to Summit Lake which would be approximately a 13 mile hike. We figured we could shorten that by nearly a mile if we set up camp near one of the streams along the Summit Lake Trail.

As we began the mile climb from Lower Twin Lake back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail we passed the mountain goat who had stop to graze.
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A little further along we spotted three deer doing the same in a patch of yellow wildflowers.
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The hoofed animals weren’t the only ones out this morning.
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As we climbed away from the Twin Lakes Rock Creek Butte came into view.
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When we reached the Elkhorn Crest Trail we turned left and headed toward Rock Creek Butte where we spotted another mountain goat coming down the ridge where we had gone up the day before.
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It turned out to be a mountain goat filled morning. As we were passing around the western side of Rock Creek Butte a herd of goats came up from the valley below. Some of them crossed the trail in front of us while others stayed down in the trees until we passed.
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We had another encounter a short while later as I passed around a rock outcropping and came face to face with a goat heading south on the trail. We were both equally startled and the goat quickly leapt downhill behind more rocks.
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The increased smoke limited the views on the way back so we focused more on the things along the trail.
IMG_0579Mt. Ruth to the north

IMG_0575Rock Creek Butte to the south

IMG_0560Looking east toward the Wallowas

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Curiosity got the best of Heather as we came to a jeep track heading uphill to a ridge 9.3 miles from the Twin Lakes Trail junction and 1.2 miles before the Summit Lake junction.
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Wondering if there might be a view of Summit Lake from the ridge we followed it steeply uphill only to discover that the angle was wrong and we were looking north over Little Summit Lake which was hidden in the trees below.
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We were feeling relatively good all things considered so we had decided to go all the way to Summit Lake and stay there again only this time we would take the first available camp site we came too instead of going half way around the lake. We arrived at the lake to find it a little smokier than we had left it the morning before but it was still a great lake.
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We were the only people there when we arrived and did indeed set up camp in the first available spot.
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We were later joined by a solo backpacker who we had passed along the Summit Lake Trail. We spent the afternoon lounging around camp and hanging out with the locals.
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The total distance for the day was just a bit over 13 miles but there had been a lot less elevation gain making it a fairly mild day. We were dealing with some blisters and Heather was having a little issue with an ankle that was being bruised by her shoe which told her it was time for a new pair. The good news was the next two days were only going to be around 10 miles each, but we were facing some more climbing on day four along the Lost Lake Trail which I had been told was steep and rocky. We turned in after memorizing the route for the following day. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 3

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

The second day of our Elkhorn Crest backpacking trip began with a welcome chill in the morning. It was actually cold enough to break out the beanie, Buff, and gloves.
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We ate breakfast as the Sun came up creating a nice reflection in Summit Lake.
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After packing up we decided to continue around the lake counter-clockwise to complete a loop around the shore. We crossed a small inlet in a meadow at the southern end of the lake.
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Beyond the meadow the trail passed a couple of other campsites with views to the north across the water.
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Birds were busily flying from tree to tree but one sat still long enough for a photograph.
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After completing the loop we began the 1.5 mile climb back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail. The trail crossed over several small streams and meadows as it passed through a forested section. We spotted two does and a fawn in the area.
IMG_0220One of the does (the fawn dashed by moments later)

IMG_0218Close-up of the doe

As we continued along we were hailed by the group of hikers we had passed early on the first day who had said they were aiming for Summit Lake as well. They wound up running out of gas they said so they set up camp on a rocky overlook of the valley below. After talking with them briefly we continued on to the cairn marking the junction with the Elkhorn Crest Trail where we turned left.
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Our goal for the day was Twin Lakes but we also planned to summit Rock Creek Butte, the highest peak in the Elkhorn Range. We were leaving our options open though. The route up was 9.5 miles away and we weren’t sure if it would be better to wait and attempt it the next day when it would be earlier in the day and likely cooler or if doing it today would be better since the sky was still relatively smoke free in the immediate area. Either way we had time to decide as we followed the trail along the western side of the crest.
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We were very interested in a peak on the horizon to the south. It was clearly separated from the Strawberry Mountains further west and we weren’t sure what it was. When we returned home it was one of the first things I looked up and it turned out to be Ironside Mountain.
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We spotted a number of animals along the crest in the morning including the biggest caterpillar either of us had ever seen digging in the dirt.
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Approximately a mile and a half from the junction with the Summit Lake Trail we came across the only water we would encounter along the entire Elkhorn Crest Trail. A small flower lined stream heading down into Sardine Gulch to join Cracker Creek.
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The trail had left the North Fork John Day Wilderness at Cracker Saddle and we began seeing the difference at a hairpin turn around a ridge.
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From above we couldn’t read the sign without the aid of the camera zoom.
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Someone clearly put some work into that. A little further along the trail we started noticing mining operations along the hillside. We could also see 9106′ Rock Creek Butte further along the ridge.
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The trail spent a short while along a wide section of the ridge top before returning to the western side of the crest.
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We would again gain the ridge top with a nice view down the Rock Creek Valley to the east.
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Nearly seven miles from the Summit Lake Trail junction we came to the Pole Creek Ridge Trail which headed faintly downhill along a ridge.
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By the time we’d reached this junction we had decided to attempt Rock Creek Butte on the way by instead of waiting for the next day. It wasn’t too hot and more importantly it looked like smoke was creeping towards us from both sides so we thought we’d better get what views we could while the getting was good. It was still a little over two and a half miles to the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte where we would turn up for the climb.
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We were having a hard time coming from the direction that we were determining which peak ahead was actually Rock Creek Butte. We were hoping that the closest rounded peak was our goal and not the larger one further away. From the angle we were at they appeared to be somewhat similar in height.
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When we gained the ridge top again though we could just make out Rock Creek Lake in the basin below the further peak which told us that was our next goal.
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As it turned out the peak we had hoped was Rock Creek Butte was 500′ shorter although it did seem to have a possible route up.
IMG_0309Looking up “not” Rock Creek Butte

IMG_0310Rock Creek Butte is still a little ways away.

It took another mile and a half to reach the saddle where we would turn up the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte.
IMG_0327Looking ahead to the saddle.

IMG_0330Nearing the saddle.

At the saddle we left the trail and ditched are backpacks in a group of trees in favor of our day packs.
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Before starting the climb we noticed that we weren’t the only ones traveling south on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. A pair of mountain goats could be seen walking along the trail.
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After watching the goats head over the ridge toward Twin Lakes we began our ascent.
Mountain goat sign was everywhere along the rocky ridge and there was no discernible path, although we did occasionally spot a human foot print in the dirt.
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The half mile route gains roughly 600′ with the final tenth of a mile being the steepest portion.
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A large cairn and register box sit atop the peak.
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From the summit Lower Twin Lake was visible to the south.
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Mt. Ireland and Vinegar Hill lay to the west.
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To the NE should have been the Wallowas but smoke appeared to have overtaken them.
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The view to the north included many of the peaks of the Elkhorn Range but there was no view of Rock Creek Lake due to the broad summit.
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A 500′ stroll across the summit though revealed the gorgeous lake below.
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IMG_0370Notice the golden-mantled ground squirrel sitting atop the large rock overlooking the lake.

Mountain goats were grazing in some green grass by a smaller body of water near the lake.
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IMG_0373Looking back at the summit cairn from the Rock Creek Lake overlook.

There were a lot of flying ants on the cairn as well as several lady bugs and some butterflies nearby.
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After recovering from the climb up we started back down just as another hiker was closing in on the summit. It turned out that he had been the other person besides us camped at Summit Lake the night before. We left him to the summit and slowly picked our way back down to our backpacks. After retrieving them we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail following a section of trail that had been blasted out of the rocks.
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Soon Lower Twin Lake came into view followed by Upper Twin Lake.
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The trail made a sweeping curve for the next three quarters of a mile above the lakes bringing around to the opposite end of them before arriving at a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail.
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Although the lakes are only about 350′ below the junction the Twin Lakes Trail takes its own sweet time getting down to them via a series of long switchbacks.
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They made for a relatively easy climb out the next day but I was ready to be done for the day and became rather impatient with the slow decent. After a little over a mile we arrived at the lake and chose a camp stie.
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Both our guidebook and signs at the trailheads had warned about the mountain goats in the area being habituated to humans. A good reminder of why people shouldn’t feed wildlife, without the fear of humans the goats have been known to nibble on tents, clothing and backpacks in search of salt. We made sure not to leave anything lying around outside the tent but it wasn’t long before the first goat passed nearby.
IMG_0407You can see Heather’s arm on the left side of the photo.

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About a half hour later a second goat followed.
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After dinner we watched a nanny and kid circle around the lake and graze nearby.
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We did leave our tent for about 45 minutes to visit Upper Twin Lake which was just .3 miles away.
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More mountain goats were grazing on the hillsides above this lake.
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The goats left our tent alone and we turned in for the night after what would be the longest day of our trip at 15.9 miles. Our original plan had been to return to Summit Lake the next day and stay there again but we were now considering camping along the Summit Lake Trail like the other group we had met had done. The nearby streams would allow us to get water and it would shave off a little distance both the next day and the day after when we were planning on heading from Summit Lake to Dutch Flat Lake. We decided to play it by ear the next day and turned in for the night halfway expecting to wake up to a mountain goat staring at us through the mesh on our tent. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

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

Throwback Thursday – Three Fingered Jack

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

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

Morning from the trailhead

Mt. Washington in the morning from the trailhead

Mt. Washington

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

Pacific Crest Trail

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

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

Hayrick Butte and the Hoodo Ski Area

View from the Pacific Crest Trail

Mt. Washington and the North and Middle Sisters

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

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

North and Middle Sister

North and Middle Sister

Broken Top

Broken Top

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

Three Fingered Jack

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

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

Contrasting colors in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

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

Three Fingered Jack

View from the Pacific Crest Trail

Looking south

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

Pacific Crest Trail

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

Black Butte (post) beyond Martin and Booth Lakes

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

Diamond Peak

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

Broken Top and the Pole Creek Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Mountain and Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak

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

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

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

Fern covered hillside near Martin Lake

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

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

Martin Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Jefferson Wilderness along the Summit Trail

Colorful hillside along the Summit Trail

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

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

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

Square Lake

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

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

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

Mt. Washington

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

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

Flickr: Three Fingered Jack