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

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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
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 1

A day after visiting Jefferson Park we left Salem early and headed up I5 to I84 to North Powder where we followed signs for Anthony Lakes to the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead.
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Our plan was to follow the Elhorn Crest National Recreation Trail (NRT) to Twin Lakes and back over a period of five days with a number of detours thrown in. Our goal for the first day was Summit Lake which was approximately 10 miles from the trailhead. We had hoped to be hiking by 11am and were right on schedule as we set off at 10:57. After the unrelenting heat two weeks earlier during our Strawberry Mountain trip (day 1 post)we were glad to find that the temperature was much friendlier here.

The trail passed through a forest with occasional meadows and glimpses of Gunsight Mountian.
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At the half mile mark we passed a signed trail junction with the Lilypad Lake Trail.
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This was a possible return route on our final day after visiting both Hoffer Lakes and Anthony Lake. For now though we stayed on the Elkhorn Crest Trail for another 150′ where the Black Lake Trail forked to the right.
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We made a snap decision to check out Black Lake which was just a bit over a quarter mile away. After an initial steep climb the trail leveled out before arriving at the little lake.
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After viewing the lake we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail and continued south where in half a mile it passed near the SE end of Black Lake. If we had looked a little more closely at our guidebook we would have realized this and saved ourselves the extra mileage. Beyond Black Lake the trail continued to climb passing granite hillsides and a few wildflowers.
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As the trail climbed the views opened up to either side of the crest with Antone Creek in the valley to the east and Crawfish Meadow to the west in Crawfish Basin.
IMG_0036Antone Creek

IMG_0039Crawfish Meadow in Crawfish Basin

We reached Dutch Flat Saddle 2.8 miles from where we had taken the Black Lake Trail up to Black Lake. This saddle is the site of a four-way junction with the Dutch Flat Trail dropping to the east and the Crawfish Basin Trail to the west. It also marks the boundary of the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Our plans included both of these other trails with Dutch Flat Lake being our choice for camp on the fourth night and then the Crawfish Basin Trail being our route to the Hoffer Lakes, Anthony Lake and ultimately back to the trailhead. For now though we continued on the Elkhorn Crest Trail which traversed the hillside above Crawfish Basin.
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Although we were too late for the majority of wildflowers a few hardy souls remained.
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After passing around Crawfish Basin the trail crossed over a saddle where the faint Cunningham Cove Trail joined from the west.
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IMG_0065Cunningham Cove

A little over a mile from the Cunningham Cove Trail jct we crossed over the crest at Nip & Tuck Pass.
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IMG_0077View north from Nip & Tuck Pass

Just beyond the pass the Lost Lake Trail joined from the east which was another trail we were planning on taking on our way back.
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The Elkhorn Crest Trail climbed from this junction to Lost Lake Saddle where, despite some smokey haze, we could see some of the Wallowa Mountains to the NE and the Strawberry Mountains to the SW.
IMG_0088Looking NE

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Along the ridge we also gained a view of Lost Lake below.
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Beyond Lost Lake Saddle the trail crossed back over to the western side of the crest as it passed around Mt. Ruth.
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The scenery along the trail changed often with some sections passing through green trees and others sagebrush covered hillsides.
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A little over three and a quarter miles from Nip & Tuck Pass we reached Cracker Saddle.
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This was by far the most confusing spot of the entire trip. I had been chatting on Facebook with another hiker who had done a similar trip at the end of July and she had mentioned this area as a problem. Even with her information, a topographic map, and our guidebook it took us a bit (including two false starts) to figure out the correct path. Much of the signage here was missing save for a pointer for the Peavy Trail descending to the west to the rentable Peavy Cabin.
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A jeep track came up to the saddle from the east while faint paths appeared to continue north on either side of the ridge ahead. A pair of cows watched us while we stood at the saddle debating which way to go.
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We initially set off on the faint path that forked to the east side of the ridge ahead but quickly realized that it was only a cow path as it dove downhill toward a barbed wire fence. We retreated back to the saddle where I remembered being told that we’d be on a double track for a short bit. The jeep track that came up from the east looked like too sharp a turn based on the map in our guidebook so we started to follow the right hand fork that went around the west side of the ridge which was actually a continuation of the jeep track. We only took a few steps before coming to our senses since Summit Lake was on the east side of the crest. Twelve minutes after arriving at the saddle we picked the correct route and turned down the jeep track to the east. After .3 miles we arrived at a trailhead sign where a Jeep was parked.
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About 150ft downhill to the right of the parking area was a sign for the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
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We turned left at the sign and in another tenth of a mile forked left at a rock cairn at an unsigned junction (after confirming with the GPS).
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This was the Summit Lake Trail which wound around the east side of the crest.
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The lake itself is only 200′ lower in elevation than at Cracker Saddle, but the trail undulated along the hillside creating some climbs along the way. It also passed above Little Summit Lake which we initially mistook for Summit Lake itself. That lake is a little over 250′ lower than Summit Lake so we were thankful that we wouldn’t be climbing up from it the next morning.
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The trail passed below some white cliffs where we encountered a golden-mantled ground squirrel who appeared to be up to no good.
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After a couple of short switchbacks down, the trail made a final climb to a view of Summit Lake.
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It was approximately a mile and a half total to the lake from the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
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Trails went around the lake in either direction. We chose to head left and go counter-clockwise looking for a campsite. There was a couple on the trail ahead of us that appeared to just be there on a day hike (another trailhead is located even further down the jeep track creating a 1.2 mile climb to the lake along its outlet creek from the NE). We passed them and then went by a series of sites before reaching the outlet creek. We had decided that the first site we’d passed was the best but the day hikers were resting there when we went back so we continued beyond the outlet passing another backpacker setting up camp. On the east side of the lake we found our spot and set up for the night.
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It was only 4:30pm so we had plenty of time to enjoy the lake which quickly became Heather’s favorite. Fish frequently jumped after bugs but the bugs weren’t bothering us. Other fish could be seen in the clear water near the lake shore.
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While scanning the cliffs on the far side of the lake we spotted a lone mountain goat.
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It too seemed to think the lake was a good place to sit and relax.
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Early in the day we had passed a trio of hikers who had also been planning on camping at the lake for the night but we hadn’t seen them arrive by the time we turned in for the night. With our side trip to Black Lake, a bit of wandering at Cracker Saddle, and the walk around much of the lake our mileage for the day was an even twelve miles. Except for the short section of the Black Lake Trail the trails were very well graded and the temperatures stayed cool, especially in the shade and anytime a slight breeze kicked up which was quite often. Unlike our Strawberry Mountain Wilderness trip we ended the first day feeling good and looking forward to the next day when we would head to Twin Lakes. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 1

Categories
California Hiking Klamath Mountains Marble Mountains Trip report

Marble Mountain Wilderness Day 2 -Summit Lake to Paradise Lake

We began our second day in the Marble Mountain Wilderness by waking up early and watching the morning sunlight hit the cliffs above Summit Lake.
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We had originally planned on eating breakfast on the rocks at the north end of the lake, but more hikers had arrived the night before and someone had set up camp there. The mosquitoes were out and Heather had quite a few bites already so after packing up camp, setting out just after 6am, we decided to have breakfast somewhere on the trail.

We were headed for the Pacific Crest Trail, a .7 mile climb from the lake. The trail began on the west side of the outlet creek and was obscured by some blowdown. There was a fair amount of it along this section of trail but nothing that was too difficult to get around. The scenery along the trail was beautiful alternating between forest and meadows.
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Near the top of a series of switchbacks we stopped to cook breakfast on a large rock outcropping next to a meadow that could have passed for a lawn.
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The rocks offered views and wildflowers as well as some protection from mosquitoes.
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Sierran woodbeauty
Sierran woodbeauty

Lewis flax
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We climbed through another damp meadow with shooting star, marsh marigolds and western pasque flowers before reaching the junction with the PCT.
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We reached the PCT junction just in time to meet a thru-hiker on his way to Canada. We couldn’t help but be a little envious as he sped off with his lighter pack. We knew he lacked some of the luxuries we were carrying, but his seemingly effortless walk was a stark contrast to the labored climb we’d just made.

We were glad to be on the PCT and after a short break we started north toward Paradise Lake which was 10.3 miles away. The 3.5 mile section from where we had started to the junction with the trail to the Sky High Lakes was wonderful. Because the PCT sticks to ridgelines whenever possible it provides some good views and minimizes elevation changes. There were some areas where the trees had burned but there were lots of wildflowers along the way and other areas where the trees were not burnt.
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Torrey’s blue-eyed mary and Jepson’s monkeflower
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Monument plant
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Catchfly
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Ballhead sandwort
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Penstemon
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Oregon Sunshine
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Trinity Alps in the distance.
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Scarlet gilia
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We had been considering staying at Shadow Lake on the 3rd and 4th nights of our trip so when we reached the signed trail for it, we decided to detour down to the lake to check it out.
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There had been a fire in the area at some point in the last few years and the trail was further north than our map or GPS showed it. We had already passed another spot where a second trail was shown on our maps without seeing any sign of it. This trail started out climbing up a ridge before beginning to descend down to Shadow Lake’s basin.
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From the ridge we could see Frying Pan and Lower Sky High Lakes in the Sky High Lakes Valley which was below the basin that held Shadow Lake.
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We wound up turning back when we encountered a decently sized snow drift over the trail.
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We could see a little bit of the lake from there and just didn’t feel like it was worth it to attempt to navigate the snow given the steepness of the trail and having our full packs on.
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We would run into another couple the next day who did make it down and camp at the lake. They had found a way around the snow with the help of another gentleman but said that it was pretty “sketchy” so we were glad we had chosen not to continue.

Back on the PCT the flower show was only getting better as we approached the Sky High Lakes junction.
Buckwheat
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Blue Gilia
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Paintbrush
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Aster
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Nettle-leaf Giant-hyssop
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From the Sky High Lakes junction the PCT remained on the ridge for another .5 wildflower filled miles to a three way trail junction.
Orange agoseris
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Mountain coyote mint
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Grand collomia
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Penstemon lined trail
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Marble & Black Marble Mountains
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Washington lily
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Toothed owl’s clover
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At the junction the PCT headed downhill to the right toward Marble Valley. The trail to the left headed to Big Elk Lake while the Marble Rim Trail continued straight ahead. We were tentatively planning on hiking on the Marble Rim on Thursday but for now we stuck to the PCT.
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The PCT descended beneath the marble of Marble Mountain for 1.1 miles to the locked Marble Valley Shelter.
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We took a break near the shelter before beginning the climb out of Marble Valley. The trail was fairly level as we passed the Marble Gap Trail on our left and crossed Canyon Creek. Then we began to regain the elevation we’d lost coming down into the valley. We began encountering patches of snow and glacier lilies below Black Marble Mountain.
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Marble and meadows dominated the scenery as we continued north of Black Marble Mountain toward Box Rock Camp.
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From Box Rock Camp the trail climbed through more meadows to a junction with the Box Camp Trail at a saddle known as “Jumpoff”.
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Views to the south included the snowy peaks of the Trinity Alps.
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Views to north opened up here and we spotted the familiar Kangaroo Mountain and Red Buttes.
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The PCT switchbacked down a couple of times before leveling out again. Patches of snow lingered on the trail in spots. Most were easily crossed or bypassed with one exception. One large, sloped drift extended quite a way downhill into the trees and required some careful maneuvering. Beyond that patch there was one other large snowfield over a creek but it was much more level and other hikers and created a nice track to follow across.
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Not long after that snowy creek crossing Kings Castle came into view.
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Our destination, Paradise Lake, lay below that peak and we were anxious to get there. It had been a beautiful day, but it was warm and we were pretty drained when we passed the Paradise Lake Trail coming up from the right.
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Our first impression of Paradise Lake was to wonder how it got it’s name. The setting was pretty impressive, but the lake itself was fairly shallow, a little muddy, and had some vegetation on the surface.
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Despite the lake not being spectacular the area had some other nice features including a small waterfall cascading into the lake and a meadow full of shooting star.
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A nearby osprey indicated that there were fish in the lake.
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We picked out a camp site, pulled out our Alite Mayfly chairs and plopped down for a rest.
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We had originally planned on taking a climbers trail up to the summit of Kings Castle in the afternoon/evening, but we were having second thoughts after the long hot day of hiking. The longer we sat and looked at Kings Castle the higher it seemed to get.

We had passed the hikers who had made the tracks in the snowfield and they arrived and set up camp on the other end of the lake after we had settled in. Several thru hikers also passed by including one gentleman from France who stopped to take a picture of our campsite. He was attempting to document all the possible camp sites along the PCT. His impression of the lake was the same as ours, with a name like Paradise Lake he was expecting a lake with clear blue water.

We had almost talked ourselves out of attempting the climb up Kings Castle and were now thinking of trying it in the morning before we broke camp. We had not been able to definitively make out any trail heading up from the lake but after having dinner we decided to at least see if we could locate the climbers trail to see if it was even worth trying in the morning. We put our day packs on just in case and set off on a trail we’d seen across from the inlet creek at the south end of the lake. The trail led up a small hill then turned into a small stream. The other hikers had gone this way to the small waterfall where they had taken a swim earlier so we knew we could go further. We veered off the trail onto a rock shelf above the lake to bypass the flooded trail. Just before the stream that fed the waterfall we cut back through the brush to pick up the climbers trail.
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The climbers trail was faint but there were a few small cairns to help in locating it. Being just after 6pm, we knew we had enough light if we wanted to try and make the summit, so we sallied forth.
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We had to pass through a cloud of small bugs before starting the steep ascent to the ridge along the south side of Kings Castle.
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We lost and picked up the trail a couple of times until we hit a meadow on the steep slope below the ridge. Here the trail became clearer as it switchbacked up to a saddle.
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The trail became even fainter as we continued toward Kings Castle. The hillside was covered with wildflowers and we did our best to avoid stepping on them as we made our way up.
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Split-hair Indian paintbrush
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We also had to watch out for the local residents.
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To reach the summit we had to swing out and around the rocky south eastern face of Kings Castle to reach the summit where someone had fashioned a rock bench.
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The 360 degree view included Mt. Shasta to the NW. This would be the only time the 14,180′ mountain would be visible to us during the trip.
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Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps
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Red Buttes
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As we sat atop Kings Castle we were glad we’d wound up making the climb after all. We eventually climbed down and returned to our tent to turn in for the night. As we were falling asleep a chorus of frogs began croaking. It was a sound we hear all the time in TV shows and movies but in reality most nights in the tent are nearly silent except for the sounds of wind or running water. Maybe the lake was named correctly after all. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157667735301193

Categories
California Hiking Klamath Mountains Marble Mountains Trip report

Marble Mountain Wilderness Day 1 – Shackelford Trailhead to Summit Lake

We spent our second week of vacation this year doing our first 5 day backpacking trip. It was also our first visit to California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness located SW of Yreka. We chose the Shackleford Trailhead as our starting point leaving home early Monday morning to make the nearly five and a half hour drive.
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We arrived shortly after 10am and set off just after 10:15 on what promised to be a beautiful blue-bird day. The trail passed through a fence on an old road bed before passing the largest wilderness sign we’d ever seen.
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The trail followed Shackleford Creek and passed through a series of meadows where we saw various wildflowers and more butterflies than we could believe.
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Tiger lilies
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Tortoiseshell butterfly
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Mourning cloak butterfly
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Checkermallow
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Checkerbloom
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Swallowtails on columbine
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Bog orchid
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Aster
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Pretty face
Pretty Face

Lupine
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At the 2.8 mile mark we headed left on the Campbell Lake Loop.
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This trail climbed for 1.3 miles to Campbell Lake.
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We took a break at the lake then continued a half mile to a trail junction at the west end of the lake. The right fork was the continuation of the Campbell Lake loop back to the Shackleford Trailhead.
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We headed left and in another .2 miles reached another junction. Here we followed a pointer for Cliff Lake after exploring some glacial worn rocks along the west end of Campbell Lake.
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The rocks hosted a number of wildflowers.
Buckwheat
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Ballhead Sandwort
ballhead sandwort

Penstemon
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Paintbrush
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Wallflower
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Here we also saw the first of many Siskiyou Lewisia, a new flower to us.
Siskiyou lewisia

Between the lakes we passed a lily pad pond.
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After .6 miles we arrived at Cliff Lake. The lake was set beneath snow covered hillsides.
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A trail crew on horseback passed by as we were exploring the lake. We would see them again on our hike out on Friday. We followed them back to the junction where they headed toward Campbell Lake while we turned left toward Summit Lake. On the way up we passed a pair of ladies sawing through a downed tree. This 1.7 mile section of trail passed through a nice meadow before climbing steeply over a saddle then back down to Summit Meadow Lake before arriving at the larger Summit Lake.
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Summit Meadow Lake
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Summit Lake
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We set up camp then set about exploring the lake for the rest of the evening.
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At the north end of the lake was its outlet creek as well as another glacier scoured rock outcropping. Wildflowers and a series of ponds dotted the rocky area.
Small falls on the outlet creek.
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Bear scat near one of the ponds.
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Rough-skinned newts in a pond.
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Chipmunk in a huckleberry bush.
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We had noticed a few mosquitoes but they didn’t seem too bad. They did manage to get quite a bit of blood from us though. (especially Heather)
All in all it was a great start to the trip and we went to bed eagerly anticipating what the next day would bring. Happy trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157667720128644