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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Scott Mountain Loop Day 2 – Mt. Washington Wilderness

We had set our alarms for 5:30am hoping to get a jump on the day and be ready to start hiking as soon as there was enough light. The forecast had called for increasing chances of rain as the day went on and we had watched an increase number of clouds fill the sky the night before including some low clouds descending to the tree tops around the Tenas Lakes. When we stuck our heads out of the tent we were pleasantly surprised to see a sky filled with stars overhead. We turned our MPOWERED Luci inflatable solar lantern on and began packing up. As we cooked breakfast and finished packing the sky filled with color.
Sunrise from our campsite

Sunrise from our campsite with North Sister peaking through the trees

Sunrise from the little lake near our campsite

Sunrise from the little lake near our campsite

We began hiking shortly after 7am returning to the Benson Trail where we headed north .2 miles to the Scott Mountain Trail. Scott Mountain was already catching the morning sunlight as we approached.
Scott Mountain

We momentarily considered heading back up to the summit, but neither of us really felt like hauling our full backpacks up the steep trail. We settled for the few views along the trail below Scott Mountain where the Three Sisters appeared cloud free through the trees.
North Sister
North Sister

Middle Sister
Middle Sister

Middle Sister

After a mile on the Scott Mountain Trail we took the Scotty Way Trail and began descending toward the Hand Lake Trail.
Scotty Way Trail junction with the Scott Mountain Trail

Scotty Way Trail

We followed this trail approximately 1.7 miles to its end at the Hand Lake Trail where we turned left.
Hand Lake Trail junction with the Scotty Way Trail

As usual I had checked the Forest Service websites for the trails that we would be using a couple of days before our trip to make sure there were no closures or alerts we needed to be aware of. The Willamette National Forest page for the Hand Lake Trail listed the current conditions for the Hand Lake Trail as ” open and cleared” as of 7/22/2016.
What part of this picture is “cleared”?
Blowdown over the Hand Lake Trail

For the next two and a half miles the trail (when there was one) passed through burnt forest with faint tread and a good deal of blowdown. For awhile we were able to follow tracks left by a horse; that helped keep us on the right course.
Hand Lake Trail

More blowdown over the Hand Lake Trail

When we weren’t searching for the trail there were some decent views.
Black Crater and North & Middle Sister
Black Crater and the North & Middle Sisters from the Hand Lake Trail

Mt. Washington
Mt. Washington from the Hand Lake Trail

Mt. Washington from the Hand Lake Trail

After approximately 1.75 miles we lost the hoof prints and were forced to make a wide arc to the south away from where the map showed the trail should have been. We were coming up on a steep drop down into a basin where the map showed the trail descending in a series of six switchbacks so using the Garmin we worked our way back toward the location where the switchbacks began on the map.
Looking west from the Hand Lake Trail

With no obvious trail visible we searched around a bit and found what may have been part of the original trail but now it appeared to be a simple game trail from the amount of deer and elk sign we were seeing.
Following a game trail down into a basin

In any event it was the only trail in sight so we followed it steeply downhill reaching the basin where we were able to relocate the actual trail near an unnamed lake.
Unnamed lake along the Hand Lake Trail

Unnamed lake along the Hand Lake Trail

After another quarter mile of faint trail and blowdown we entered unburnt forest on a much clearer trail.
Hand Lake Trail

Hand Lake Trail

A mile and a half on this nicer trail brought us back to the junction with the Deer Butte Trail we had passed the day before.
Hand Lake Trail junction with the Deer Butte Trail

We followed the Deer Butte Trail just over two and a quarter miles back to the Robinson Lake Trailhead ending our final backpacking trip of the year.
Deer Butte Trail

The distance from Tenas Lakes back to the Robinson Lake Trailhead came to 8.9 miles according to the GPS which was almost a mile further than we had expected, but we hadn’t planned on wandering back and forth trying to keep on the Hand Lake Trail. Had we known what a mess that 2.5 mile section was we wouldn’t have even tried it, but we made it and it was another chance to put our navigational skills to the test. Happy (blowdown free) Trails!

Flickr (both days): https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157674905089576

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Scott Mountain Loop Day 1 – Mt. Washington Wilderness

With our hiking season starting to wind down we took advantage of a decent weather forecast for one final overnight trip. Our plan was to begin at the Robinson Lake Trailhead and take the Deer Butte Trail to the Benson Trail then follow that trail up into the Mt. Washington Wilderness where we would set up camp in the Tenas Lakes area. After setting up camp we’d visit the summit of Scott Mountain and Benson Lake to fill out the afternoon/evening. This would be our third attempt at getting a decent view on Scott Mountain. We never made it to Scott Mountain on our first attempt in 2012 due to not being prepared for the amount of snow covering the trail, and although we reached the summit on our second attempt in October 2014 we found ourselves in a cloud with no views whatsoever.

We began both of our previous visits to the area from the Benson/Tenas Trailhead near Scott Lake off of the McKenzie Highway (242). In order to do something a little different and see some new lakes we started on the other side of the wilderness at the Robinson Lake Trailhead. This trailhead is located at the end of Robinson Lake Road (2664) off of Highway 126 4.7 miles south of the Clear Lake Resort.

Robinson Lake Trailhead

The short half mile hike to Robinson Lake is included in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades guide books as a non-featured hike in the more hikes section in the back of the books. The hike is also included in another of our guide books, Bend, Overall 2nd Edition (Hiking and Exploring Central Oregon)written by Scott Cook. The Robinson Lake Trail actually begins .4 miles from the trailhead where it splits from the Deer Butte Trail which is the trail that leaves from the trailhead.

Deer Butte Trail junction with the Robinson Lake Trail

The Robinson Lake Trail leads a tenth of a mile to a campsite near the little lake.

Robinson Lake

Robinson Lake

After visiting Robinson Lake we returned to the Deer Butte Trail and continued another 1.2 forested miles to an unsigned junction with an unofficial trail to Kuitan Lake.

Deer Butte Trail

Deer Butte Trail

Unofficial trail to Kuitan Lake to the left:

Side trail off of the Deer Butte Trail to Kuitan Lake

Kuitan Lake

Kuitan Lake

From Kuitan Lake we followed the Deer Butte Trail another .8 miles to a junction with the Hand Lake Trail.

Deer Butte Trail junction with the Hand Lake Trail (our return route)

Originally we were going to take this trail and do our loop around Scott Mountain clockwise but after doing some distance calculations it appeared that doing the loop counter-clockwise would leave us with a slightly shorter hike out on the second day so we stuck to the Deer Butte Trail and continued south skirting the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

Deer Butte Trail

Mt. Washington Wilderness boundary

Just under 1.5 miles from the Hand Lake Trail junction the Deer Butte Trail passed a small unnamed lake.

Deer Butte Trail

Unnamed lake along the Deer Butte Trail

Unnamed lake along the Deer Butte Trail

Another 2.5 fairly level miles beyond the unnamed lake we a arrived at a 4-way junction with the Benson Trail.

Benson Trail junction with the Deer Butte Trail

Here we turned left and began climbing into the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

Benson Trail

This section of the Benson Trail was in pretty good shape but it was a bit overgrown and the recent wet weather made it a wet 2.6 mile, 1200′ climb to our next junction. The forest was nice but there were no views or wow scenery along the way, but we did startle a grouse out of the underbrush.

Grouse

When we arrived at the junction with the Scott Mountain Trail we stayed on the Benson Trail and headed for the Tenas Lakes area.

Benson Trail junction with the Scott Mountain Trail

The Tenas Lakes area is home to a number of lakes and smaller ponds filling glacier carved bowls. We headed cross country past one of the smaller lakes/ponds to find a campsite near the largest of the Tenas Lakes.

One of the many bodies of water in the Tenas Lakes area

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

We didn’t see any other tents set up anywhere in the area and chose a spot following Leave No Trace Principles.

Our initial campsite

After setting up camp we had a choice between heading north to Scott Mountain or south to Benson Lake. We had decided to base the timing of our visit to Scott Mountain on the weather conditions. The sky seemed fairly clear so we decided to go to Scott Mountain first and then to Benson Lake later in the day in case more clouds moved in. We took the Tenas Lakes Trail .1 miles from the largest lake to the Benson Trail and turned left for .2 more miles back to the Scott Mountain Trail junction.

Tenas Lakes Trail junction with the Benson Trail

We followed the Scott Mountain trail for a mile to yet another trail junction getting a nice view of the cloud free summit along the way.

Scott Mountain

Scott Mountain Trail junction with the Scotty Way Trail

We would be taking the Scotty Way Trail the next day on our hike out, but for now we stuck to the Scott Mountain Trail and headed up toward the summit. Heather had remembered that .7 mile climb to the summit was on the steeper side, but I hadn’t. She had remembered it correctly (no surprise there). On the way up we passed some small patches of snow presumably left over from the week before when we had been hiking in snow on Black Crater.

Snow along the Scott Mountain Trail

Near the summit the trail began passing through open meadows where the snow gave way to butterflies and few left over flowers.

Scott Mountain Trail

Fritillary butterfly on some leftover aster

As the trail wound its way up to the former lookout site atop the mountain The Husband come into view.

The Husband from the Scott Mountain Trail

The Husband

Just a bit further the snow covered lower portions of the Three Sisters joined the view.

The Three Sisters and The Husband

At the summit the view to the north opened up.

Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater

It was interesting watching the clouds. There were two lines of clouds that seemed to be headed for one another in the gap between Mt. Washington to the north and the Three Sisters to the south. We had brought our Alite Mayfly chairs with us and set them up on the summit watching the clouds move, yet not appear to get anywhere. Occasionally more of a mountain would appear but every time we thought we might get a clear view of one of the major cascade peaks more clouds would arrive.
Double, Belknap, Little Belknap, and Black Craters

Double Craters, Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater, and Black Crater

Mt. Jefferson and the lower portion of Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Jefferson and the lower portion of Three Fingered Jack beyond Hayrick Butte

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

The Three Sisters

View from the summit of Scott Mountain

The clearest major cascade peak was actually the furthest away – Diamond Peak to the south.

Diamond Peak

Despite the pesky clouds the view was infinitely better than it had been in 2014.

No view from Scott Mountain

After making good use of our chairs we packed them up and headed back to our campsite where we grabbed a couple of extra clothing items and then began exploring the Tenas Lakes area passing a half dozen lakes and ponds.

Pond near the Tenas Lakes

North Sister beyond a Tenas Lake

Scott Mountain from one of the Tenas Lakes

One of the Tenas Lakes

Looking south from the Tenas Lakes area

Pond/lakelet in the Tenas Lakes area

One of the lakes in the Tenas Lakes area

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

We had seen a number of empty campsites as we looped around, but when we arrived back at the Tenas Lakes Trail we noticed that a small group of people were setting up tents along the big lake not 20 yards from our site. We prefer to have as much privacy as possible when we’re out, but more disappointing was they were setting up right between our site and its view of the lake. We discussed whether or not to move our campsite as we returned to the Benson Trail and headed toward Benson Lake.

It was just under a mile from the Tenas Lakes Trail to Benson Lake. We hoped to be able to hike around the lake, something we had not tried to do on either of our previous visits. We had followed a fisherman’s path a short distance along the southern end of the lake and seen people camped on the far side in 2014 so we knew that we should at least be able to get part way around the west side of the lake. The issue with going all the way around appeared to be a rocky outcrop jutting out into the water on the NW side.

Benson Lake

We started around the lake clockwise crossing the dry outlet creek then climbing up onto glacially scarred rocks with a nice view down to the lake.

Scott Mountain from Benson Lake

Benson Lake

We climbed up to the top of the rocks which provided some great views but not a path around the lake.
Scott Mountain

Scott Mountain from the rocks above Benson Lake<

The Three Sisters and The Husband

View from the rocks above Benson Lake

North Sister

North Sister

Middle Sister

Middle Sister

South Sister

South Sister

Mt. Washington, Belknap and Little Belknap Craters

Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater from the rocks above Benson Lake

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

Heather had seen another possible route as we were heading up the rocks so we backtracked a bit and found the trail she’d seen which did indeed lead us further around the lake.

Benson Lake

The trail petered out at a rock slide near the outcrop that we had seen from the far side of the lake. We rock hopped across the slide then picked up a faint trail before coming to a very short but steep section where we were forced to scramble along a rock face. We both wondered if it would have been better to have tried to get up on top of the outcrop which it turns out is a sacred prayer site for Native Americans. Statesman Journal article

On the other side of the outcrop we picked up the user trail again and followed it back to complete our loop.

Benson Lake

We returned to camp having decided that we would indeed change our campsite. We had our pick since there still wasn’t anyone else camped in the area save us and the group that had set up next door. We chose a spot about 100 yards away near a smaller lake. We were able to carry our tent there without having to take it down making the move pretty simple.

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Huckleberry leaves near the small lake

We ate dinner by the lake, went to one of the larger lakes to pump water, and watched the sunset before turning in for the night.

Sunset from the little lake

With all the side trips and exploring our distance for the day wound up being a little over 18 miles which was more than planned but we’d gotten to see a lot and finally gotten some views from Scott Mountain. Happy Trails!

Flickr (both days): https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157674905089576

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Benson, Tenas, Hand, and Scott Lakes.

We capped off our Central Oregon vacation with a soggy loop past several lakes in the Mt. Washington Wilderness. We had started this hike in 2011 but had to turn back shortly after passing Benson Lake having lost the trail under snow. We started the loop at the Benson Lake Trailhead which is located just past Scott Lake off of Highway 242 along with my parents.
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The forest was full of bear grass stalks evidencing what looked to have been an impressive bloom earlier in the year.
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We reached Benson Lake in just under a mile and a half. It was a cloudy day but we could see Scott Mountain,one of our destinations, across the lake.
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From Benson Lake we passed several small meadows and ponds before reaching a sign pointing to the Tenas Lakes.
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The trail first passes the largest of the Tenas Lakes.
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Exploring beyond the first lake led us past several more smaller lakes, each with its own distinct features.
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Our next stop was the 6116′ summit of Scott Mountain. Another sign announced the .7 mile trail to the former lookout site.
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We began climbing up into the fog. The forest soon gave way to the mountains meadows on its red summit. We’d missed the majority of the flowers but there were a few lingering blooms providing a hint of what would be seen in the meadows near the former lookout site during the peak bloom.
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The view from the summit was an all too familiar one for us. 🙂
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After returning to the loop trail from the summit we continued through the Mt. Washington Wilderness toward Hand Lake. We were finding an increasing number of ripe blue & huckleberries and were doing our best to sample them all.
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We skipped the mushrooms though.
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The trail then entered burnt woods where fireweed was profuse.
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After passing a sign for the Bunchgrass Trail we skirted a lava flow where we saw many golden mantled squirrels who seemed to be fattening up in preparation of Winter.
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An interesting feature near Hand Lake is the 1871 Old McKenzie Wagon Road chipped out of the lava. It isn’t easy to spot but the level road was made by hand to connect the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon.
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At the end of the lava flow we came to Hand Lake.
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There wasn’t a lot of water in the lake this far into Summer but a lone duck seemed to be enjoying it and at least one small frog called the area home.
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From the lake we could see the Hand Lake Shelter, our next stop.
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It had been sprinkling off and on all day but really started to pick up after we left the shelter. The final 1.5 miles of the loop were nearly level passing through several meadows where mosses and aster added color to the ground.
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On a clear day the Three Sisters are visible from Scott Lake but we arrived amid a steady rain and low clouds. The lake was still pretty despite the lack of a mountain view.
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It was a vastly different feeling than we’d had just three days earlier when we were trying to cool off sitting next to a tarn beneath Broken Top. We all agreed that it was the first time it had felt like Fall was just around the corner. It was really nice to be joined by my parents on our final vacation hike even if we were all wet muddy messes at the end of it.

Happy Trails!

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