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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Maxwell Butte – 8/12/2019

We spent another vacation doing day hikes from home as we continue to take care of our elderly cats. It has created a delay in our plans to visit all of the designated wilderness areas in Oregon, but it also has given us a chance to redo some hikes that didn’t go as planned the first time around and hit a few other hikes sooner than planned.

The first hike of the week was a repeat of a cloudy September 2015 climb to the summit of Maxwell Butte (post). We’d had no views whatsoever that day so a sunny forecast gave us the green light to try again. Once again we parked in the paved Maxwell Butte Sno-Park lot instead of driving the additional .4 miles of gravel road to the actual Maxwell Butte Trailhead.
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From the official trailhead the Maxwell Butte Trail climbed gradually through a nice forest entering the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness after 1.75 miles. It was sad to find that the unique wilderness sign was missing.
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First wilderness sign we'd seen that looked like thisThe wilderness sign in 2015.

A little more than two and a quarter miles from the trailhead we arrived at a junction with the Lava Lakes Trail near Twin Lakes.
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There was significantly more water in the lakes this time around (and better visibility too).
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Low water levels at Twin Lakes2015

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Low water at Twin Lakes2015

Our presence raised a ruckus from a Stellar’s jay.
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Twin Lakes2015

One the way back by later (after the Sun had moved out of the way) we stopped at the lakes to get a photo of Maxwell Butte.
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We followed the Maxwell Butte Trail past the lakes as it began to climb up and around the butte. Closer to the lakes we passed a few remaining flowers and some ripe huckleberries.
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IMG_5625A couple of short (and late) beargrass plumes.

As the trail got closer to the butte we passed through some meadows and open rocky areas where we kept on the lookout for pikas.
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IMG_5647This looked like prime pika habitat to us.

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The trail made its way to the south side of Maxwell Butte where our first good mountain view was of Diamond Peak beyond Sand Mountain which we had visited earlier in the year (post).
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The trail steepened a bit as it made its way up the south side of Maxwell Butte via a series of switchbacks.
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Butterflies and increasingly better views helped keep our minds off the climb.
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IMG_5665Hogg Rock (near left), flat topped Hayrick Butte next to Hoodoo Butte, Mt. Washington with Broken Top behind left and the Three Sisters behind right.

Five and a quarter miles from the sno-park we arrived at the summit of Maxwell Butte where a fire lookout once stood.
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The view now included Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood to the north.
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IMG_5676Mt. Hood in the distance to the left of Mt. Jefferson.

Less than three miles away as the crow flies Three Fingered Jack dominated the view east.
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IMG_5699Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack with Santiam Lake in the forest below.

IMG_5706The view south.

IMG_5728Broken Top, Mt. Washington, and the Three Sisters with Hayrick Butte in the forefront.IMG_5701Santiam Lake

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After a nice long break taking in the views and naming as many of the lakes dotting the forest below as we could we headed back down. We took a quick detour to check out Maxwell Butte’s crater.
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IMG_5742Paintbrush in the crater.

There were quite a few more butterflies out as we made our way back and we managed to spot a pika gathering greens in the rocky area we had thought looked like a good spot for one.
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IMG_5767Golden-mantled ground squirrel in the same rocky area as the pika.

It had been a successful do-over getting the views we’d missed out on before. Round trip the hike was 10.6 miles with a little over 2500′ of elevation gain. It was a solid start to what we hoped would be six straight days of hiking. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Maxwell Butte 2019

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
High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Maxwell Butte

We were once again heading to Central Oregon this past weekend and wanted to get a hike in on our way there. After checking the weather forecast we chose Maxwell Butte hoping to get a close up look at Three Fingered Jack as well as views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. I had checked the forecast Friday morning and it called for mostly sunny skies which sounded promising, but I made the mistake of not rechecking one final time before leaving home Saturday morning.

We had already driven through a good deal of rain and were hoping that we might get above the clouds by the time we reached the Maxwell Butte Sno-park near milepost 79 on Highway 20. We were staring up at a very grey sky when we did finally arrive at the park which left us with holding out hope that the 6229′ summit might be enough higher to break above the clouds.
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We had parked close to the entrance of the sno-park near the restrooms and walked east across the paved parking lot to a gravel road which led to the official Maxwell Butte Trailhead.
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Low clouds and light rain persisted as we followed the trail into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
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After traveling just under 3 miles we arrived at a trail junction near Twin Lakes.
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Before turning right onto the continuation of the Maxwell Butte Trail we took a look at Twin Lakes. The map on our GPS unit showed a single body of water instead of a pair of lakes as the name would suggest so we were interested to see what we would find. The first thing we came to was a dried up area which looked as though it was often connected to a larger area of water we saw did still contain some water.
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There was a second smaller body of water nearby which looked as though it might be its own lake most of the time. We decided this must be the reason for the Twin Lakes moniker.
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We were still holding out hope that we would either climb above the clouds or they would start to break up as we began to follow the trail up Maxwell Butte. Colorful rocks told of the volcanic history of this butte and we passed numerous meadows along its slopes.
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We were on the lookout for deer in the meadows as we were seeing many tracks along the trail but we never spotted any. We did startle a pair of grouse who in turn startled us as the flew off down the hillside. We arrived at the summit to find only the site of the former lookout firmly in the clouds. This hike was going to be put on the redo list, but in the meantime we took a nice peaceful break at the summit.
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It turned out to be a nice hike despite not getting the views we had hoped for. The forest was peaceful and full of fall colors.
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The highlight of the hike wound up being a varied thrush that actually stayed put in the open long enough for me to get a few decent pictures.
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We see them fairly often on our hikes but they are shy birds who usually retreat deeper into the forest or underbrush as we approach. On top of that they are darkly colored making it that much harder to get a clear picture when they tend to stick to darker forest settings.

After returning to the car we continued over Santiam Pass and down into Central Oregon where we finally found our mostly sunny skies and mountain views. Maybe next time we’ll get them from the trail. Happy Trails!

Flicker: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157658753707059

Categories
Bull of the Woods/Opal Creek Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Twin Lakes & Battle Ax Mountain – Bull of the Woods Wilderness

As we transition into Fall our hiking destinations begin to shift away from alpine views and wildflowers in favor of lower elevation viewpoints and lakes. It is a great time for these hikes since the mosquitoes that plague many of the lakes have thinned out and the vine maple and huckleberry leaves have begun to change color. Our most recent hike combined both of these features.

We made our first trip to the Bull of the Woods Wilderness for a 15.4 mile hike visiting Twin Lakes and the summit of Battle Ax Mountain. Before we could set off on the hike though we had to make the drive to Elk Lake which meant enduring five and a half miles of awful gravel roads. We parked at the Elk Lake Campground and once I managed to pry my hands from the steering wheel we made a quick trip down to the lake to have a look.
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From the campground we had to walk back up the entrance road .4 miles and then continue another .4 miles on road 4697 to the start of the Bagby Trail #544.
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The Bagby Trail wound beneath Battle Ax Mountain passing several ponds and crossing a number of rock fields in the first two miles.
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Battle Ax Mountain

At the two mile mark the Battle Ax Mountain Trail joined from the left (our return route). Views of Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, and the Three Sisters began to materialize as we continued along the Bagby Trail.
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We traveled on a ridge for another 1.5 miles to a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail 573. The Bagby Trail was closed here due to a small fire smoldering in the wilderness between Bagby Hot Springs and this junction. We were headed toward Twin Lakes though so we turned down trail 573 and began the 1.9 mile section to Upper Twin Lake.
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The colors and reflections of Upper Twin Lake were impressive.
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Upper Twin Lake

We passed around the lake and headed toward the former trail 573A that used to go to Lower Twin Lake. The trail was overrun by the Mother Lode Fire in 2011 and was subsequently left unmaintained by the Forest Service. We located the old trail and began following it the best we could. As we approached the lake the fireweed was profuse and although most of it was finished blooming it still made for an interesting sight.
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Although the side of the lake we were on had burned in the fire the far side had been spared.
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Lower Twin Lake

We noticed some flagging tape when we were ready to leave and hoped it would lead us to a better path back to trail 573. Instead we found an old toilet.
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We then came to a dry creek bed which the map showed leading back to almost the same point we left trail 573 so we decided to try following it back up to the trail.
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As we made our way up the creek bed we began to encounter some water and some of the local residents.
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The water increased just as the creek was squeezing between two hillsides which forced us to abandon that route and head cross country up the hill on our left. We managed to relocate the abandoned trail and follow it back to 573. We then headed back the way we’d come until we reached the Battle Ax Mountain Trail. At that point we forked up hill to the right and began the fairly steep climb to the former lookout site.
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One of the reasons we saved Battle Ax for the return trip was to allow the Sun to move overhead which would hopefully give us better views of the mountains to our east. That plan paid off and as we climbed we added more and more mountains to the view.
Mt. Jefferson:
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Mt. Hood behind the lookout tower on Bull of the Woods:
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Mt. Rainier behind Silver King Mountain:
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Mt. Adams behind Pansy Mountain and South Dicky Peak:
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Eventually we had an unobstructed view of Mt. Hood with the Washington Cascades in the background.
Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier from Battle Ax Mountain

To the SE was Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack.
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The ridge began to flatten out as we neared the summit with views all around. From below it hadn’t looked as long and flat on top.
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Working our way south along the ridge Elk Lake became visible far below.
View from Battle Ax Mountain

Finally Mt. Washington, Broken Top and the Three Sisters joined Three Fingered Jack in the view to the South.
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We could also see smoke from the 36 Pit fire near Estacada, OR but the wind was blowing it to the East and there hadn’t been much of a plume until a little after 1:00 when it suddenly picked up.

Smoke from the 36 Pit fire prior to 1pm:
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Plume around 1:30:
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Smoke plume from the 36 Pit fire and Mt. Hood

We learned later that the fire had jumped across the South Fork Clackamas River due to the strong winds.

After a nice rest at the old lookout site we began our descent down the South side of the mountain.
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The trail switchbacked down through open, rocky terrain, with plenty of views of Mt.Jefferson.
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Mt. Jefferson

After a mile and a half descent we arrived at Beachie Saddle.
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From the saddle trails lead to Jawbone Flats in the Opal Creek Wilderness, Mt. Beachie and French Creek Ridge in that same wilderness, and back to Elk Lake on an abandoned road which is the path we took.
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Back at the campground it was hard to imagine the long summit ridge looking back up at Battle Ax Mountain.
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It was a good early start to our Fall hiking season and it put us over 500 miles for the year. Now we just had to make it back out over the horrible gravel roads. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157647848590435/
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