Red Lake Trail – Olallie Lake Scenic Area

We hadn’t been out on a single night backpacking trip yet this year so when a somewhat favorable forecast for the Labor Day weekend presented itself we decided to take advantage and make return trip to the Red Lake Trail. Our first visit had been in October 2013 when an early snowfall resulted in a winter wonderland. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/red-lake-trail/
On that hike we had not gotten the views of Mt. Hood and especially Mt. Jefferson that we had hoped for. Were hoping that either the partly sunny skies on Saturday or the mostly sunny skies on Sunday that were called for would offer up those views this time around.

The plan this time around was to start at the west end of the Red Lake Trail along Road 380 and hike to the Pacific Crest Trail. We were hoping we would find a suitable camp site near Neknoberts Lake a little off of the PCT then take the rest of our day to explore the area. We planned on doing a small loop using the Red Lake Trail and PCT to visit Olallie Lake then take the PCT south to the Ruddy Hill Trail where we hoped to climb to the former lookout site for a grand view of Mt. Jefferson. We also planned on climbing Double Peaks, which we had done the last trip, on our way back to camp. The second day we would pack up and revisit Potato Butte on the way back to the trailhead.

Our first inkling that the forecast may have been a bit off came when we arrived at the trailhead where a low sheet of clouds hung above the forest.
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We began climbing up toward Red Lake and quickly entered a misty fog which did a wonderful job of soaking our shoes, socks, and pant legs. By the time we had reached the short side trail to Red Lake the fog was so thick the lake wasn’t really visible. We passed by Averll Lake next which was a little less foggy.
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The lakes were proving difficult to see but the fall colors showing along the trail weren’t as we passed Wall Lake.
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We were finally able to get a good look at one of the lakes when we reached Fork Lake. It was a lot lower than it had been in 2013 giving a good indication of the drought conditions we experienced this year.
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Fork Lake October 2013
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We arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail after 4.3 miles at a four way junction.
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Here we turned right (south) on the PCT. We were looking for a low spot where we could turn off the trail and head cross-country to nearby Neknoberts Lake. With the help of our GPS unit we were able to make our way to the lake where we found an old sign.
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There were a few suitable camp sites so we picked one out and set up our tent.
Campsite (after the fog had lifted)
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The fog seemed to be lifting by the time we finished getting situated. We threw on our day packs and headed back to the trail. The original plan had been to take the PCT north from the 4-way junction to Olallie Lake then return to the junction on the Red Lake Trail. When we got back to the 4-way junction though I forgot the plan and we turned right down the Red Lake Trail toward Top Lake. In the end it didn’t matter which way we went but it did manage to confuse me a bit when I realized that we would have to go north briefly instead of south from Olallie Lake to complete the loop. We had taken this portion of trail down to Top Lake on our previous visit and it was interesting to see the differences along the way.
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2013
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From Top Lake we continued downhill on the Red Lake Trail passing several ponds lined with color.
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Just over a mile from Top Lake we arrived at the eastern end of the Red Lake Trail on Skyline Rd. A .3 mile road walk brought us to the Olallie Lake Picnic Area.
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There wasn’t much of a view form the lake due to the low clouds but we wandered along the shore for a bit hoping that things would improve before we headed for Ruddy Hill.
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From Olallie Lake we went north on Skyline Rd for about a tenth of a mile where we connected back up with the Pacific Crest Trail at Head Lake. Swimming is banned in Olallie Lake but this lake had a little platform in the water for warmer days.
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It was 1.4 miles from Head Lake back to the junction. Along the way we passed another small lake/pond, more fall colors, and some views back down of Olallie Lake.
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We passed the 4-way junction for the third time that day staying on the PCT and making for Cigar Lake, just a half mile away.
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We passed the trail to Double Peaks here and continued south. We were headed for the Ruddy Hill Trail which was another 2.3 miles down the PCT. The scenery along this section was an interesting mix. There were ponds, meadows, forested sections, and large Upper Lake.
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We also passed the signed “Many Lakes Viewpoint”.
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Most of the lakes were hidden by the clouds but we were able to make out a few.
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We arrived at the Ruddy Hill Trail resigned to the reality that we weren’t likely to have any kind of a view from the top, but we weren’t about to let that stop us so we headed on up.
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The half mile trail to the top was a steep one. As we trudged up the hill we noticed what looked like it might be snow.
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Upon closer inspection though it appeared to be hail that must have recently fallen.
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It must have been a pretty good storm because there was still a fair amount if it left in spots along the way.
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As we neared the top we passed a large group of hikers who were headed down. They confirmed that the summit was socked in and there weren’t any views to be had.
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It was actually pretty nice up on the summit and we took a short break with one of the locals before heading back down.
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As we headed back toward Cigar Lake on the PCT we decided that we would only climb Double Peaks if we could see the summit when we reached that trail. It was hard to tell but things had been improving all day which was evidenced when we passed the Many Lake Viewpoint again.
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When we did reach the Double Peaks Trail we had a tough decision to make. There was just thin bit of cloud hanging on the summit and it appeared to be lifting as we watched.
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It was just under a mile up to the summit via another steep climb. We debated whether or not we should give it a shot and in the end decided that if we didn’t and the clouds did lift then we’d regret it so up we went. Here again the contrast in scenery from our last visit was huge.
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As we climbed we got a good view of Neknoberts Lake where we’d set up camp.
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Once we reached the top of Double Peaks we headed for the western summit first. The clouds were beginning to break up but they just kept coming from that direction.
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We then headed over to the eastern summit where the views were better.
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The view we were really hoping for had eluded us again though as Mt. Jefferson was once again hidden by clouds.
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After watching the clouds go by for quite awhile we returned down to the PCT and headed back to Neknoberts Lake. We stopped briefly at nearby Ring Lake where we had a good view of a cloud free Double Peaks.
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We got a much better look at Neknoberts Lake when we arrived back at camp.
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We fixed ourselves dinner and then turned in for the night having covered 17.9 miles that day. The next morning we woke to much clearer skies.
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We had had the lake to ourselves other than a lone duck that paddled around as we packed up.
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We headed back to the PCT and the 4-way junction and turned left on the Red Lake Trail. We were enjoying some nice sunshine and hoping they were an omen of good views atop Potato Butte. The closer we got to the Potato Butte Trail though the less likely that looked. The blue skies of the morning were already being replaced by another curtain of grey clouds at Fork Lake.
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When we reached Sheep Lake we turned right on the unsigned Potato Butte Trail.
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We stopped briefly to watch a busy Downy Woodpecker searching for breakfast.
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Yet another steep climb awaited us to reach the top of Potato Butte. We took a short side trail near the top to a rocky viewpoint facing Mt. Jefferson. Olallie Butte was cloud free, but alas Mt. Jefferson was not. At least it was a better view than the day before as we could see the lower portion of the mountain including some of the Whitewater and Jefferson Park Glaciers. A dusting of newer snow also showed on the slopes.
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We continued on to the summit even though we knew there was virtually no chance that we’d get a glimpse of Mt. Hood to the north.
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We headed back down to the Red Lake trail stopping at all the lakes to take a final look.
Unnamed lake below Potato Butte
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Double Peaks from Sheep Lake
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Potato Butte from Wall Lake
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Double Peaks from Averill Lake
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Red Lake
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It had started raining off and on while we were on Potato Butte so we didn’t stay long at any of the lakes and we were quickly headed back down the trail from Red Lake for the final 1.6 mile stretch.
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It had been a nice trip and the fall colors were great, but we still hadn’t managed to experience the areas mountain views. I was already thinking of other places we could visit in the area as an excuse to come back and try again for the elusive views. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157657878053358

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