Buck Peak

A week out from our somewhat cloudy visit to the Mount Margaret Backcountry we found ourselves heading back into the clouds on the Pacific Crest Trail. Our goal for the day was the viewpoint atop Buck Peak which is just off the PCT to the NW of Lost Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest. We began our hike at the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Lolo Pass.
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We headed north on the PCT which quickly passed under some power lines where we met our first clouds.
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Looking back toward Mt. Hood from the power lines it looked like blue skies around the mountain.
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The PCT climbed gently up a ridge where we had a few views between the clouds that were passing over.
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A decent variety of flowers could be found along the more open portions of the trail.
Rhododendron
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Pink pyrola
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Tiger lilies
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Bees on goldenrod
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Columbine
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Larkspur
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Catchfly
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Oregon sunshine
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Lupine
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Penstemon
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The trail soon entered the trees where it remained for the majority of remainder of the hike to Buck Peak. The forest was full of huckleberries and some salmonberries.
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It was increasingly foggy as we gained elevation.
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Approximately 4.5 miles from Lolo Pass we arrived at a junction with the Huckleberry Mountain Trail which led down to Lost Lake.
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We continued on the PCT passing a spur trail to Salvation Spring and heading further into the clouds. There were a number of downed trees across the trail after the Huckleberry Mountain junction but nothing impassable. With the forest and the clouds, views were few but we did get a couple of glimpses of Lost Lake along the way. The majority of the time we were just looking at the different flowers along the way.
Beargrass
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Monkeyflower
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Parrot’s beak lousewort
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False hellbore
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Coralroot
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The trail to Buck Peak was unsigned but easy to spot as it split up and to the right from the PCT.
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The trail was a little brushy and the clouds had left the plants rather damp which in turned soaked us pretty quickly.
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After a half-mile on the Buck Peak Trail we arrived at the signed summit.
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The panoramic viewpoint of several Cascade Mountains was on the fritz and we were lucky to get a couple of looks at Lost Lake below.
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We sat on the rocky viewpoint for awhile watching the clouds pass over hoping to wait them out but finally decided it could be hours before the view cleared and headed back down. Things had already cleared up some along the PCT and the views were starting to open up as we made our return trip.
Lost Lake Butte above Lost Lake
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Buck Peak still in a cloud.
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Eventually the sky had cleared enough to provide some great views of Lost Lake, Mt. Hood, and even Mt. Adams in Washington.
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The butterflies had come out in the afternoon and as we passed the rockier section of trail they were busy pollinating the flowers.
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Mt. Hood loomed large as we passed under the power lines and finished up our hike.
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The hike was over 15 miles round trip but really didn’t feel that long. The approximately 1500′ of elevation gain was gradual and spread out nicely. One item to note is that this section of the PCT and the Buck Peak Trail are in the Bull Run Watershed Management Area which is the primary source of drinking water for Portland and is closed to the public. Hikers are required to remain on the trails within the area’s boundary. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671458188065

Mount Margaret Backcountry – Obscurity Lake to South Coldwater Trailhead

Waking up to a third tent at Obscurity Camp wasn’t our only surprise in the morning. I awoke at 4:30am to find nearly clear skies above the lake save for one small finger of cloud creeping over the ridge behind Obscurity Lake. We were getting an extra early start due to the forecast of possible  Thunderstorms after 11am.  The clear sky was encouraging, but it wasn’t long before clouds began creeping into the basin from all sides.
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By the time we were on our way we were hiking through fog.
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It was a fairly steep climb out of the Obscurity Lake Basin but as we neared the saddle between Obscurity and Panhandle Lakes beautiful blue skies appeared through the fog giving us some hope for views.
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There were some views if we looked up but when we crested the saddle it was evident that the view of Panhandle Lake would not be clear.
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Down we went back into even thicker fog. The trail crossed a couple of nice streams with marsh marigolds as it wound around the lake.
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As we neared the lake we spotted a mountain goat lounging just above the trail.
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It sized us up and kept a close eye on us as we passed by.
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We decided not to go down to the lake figuring the view couldn’t be much better than what we had along the trail.
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We continued on toward Shovel Lake. Once again the trail climbed out of a basin but instead of dropping back down toward Shovel Lake the trail passed above it along a ridge. On the far side of the lake was Mt. Whittier making this one of the most dramatic lakes in the backcountry but we never saw it.
The thickest layer of clouds lay right over Shovel Lake, but as we climbed the ridge we eventually rose above the clouds.
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We were pretty excited when we realized we could see the top of Mt. Rainier in the distance.
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The trail to Shovel Lake was near the top of the ridge which meant we would have had to descend a half mile back into the clouds to visit this lake. Once again we passed figuring it left us one more thing to come back for.
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From the Shovel Lake Trail junction though we had a great view of Mt. Adams, which appeared to be wrestling with the clouds.
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The trail continued up the ridge to a saddle where it was joined by the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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From this saddle we then began our descent toward Coldwater Lake. First up was Snow Lake.
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We had finally found a lake without clouds and as an added bonus we had a great view beyond to Coldwater Peak.
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The trail swung out around the lake and as it did so we gained a little glimpse of Mt. St. Helens as well.
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This time the trail went right by Snow Lake giving us an up close look.
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The other nice thing about Snow Lake was the climb out of the basin was short and not steep. We quickly crested the saddle above the lake and began to drop into another mass of clouds.
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From Snow Lake it was 3.4 miles to the Coldwater Trail and a footbridge over Coldwater Creek. We were passing through the cloud layer for the first part of this section so we couldn’t see much. The trail itself was brushy with thimbleberry bushes and vine maples.
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The tread was also narrow and washed out in spots but passable.
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We eventually got under the clouds and could see Coldwater Creek below us.
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We were also seeing more wildflowers again and finding ripe berries, including our first thimbleberries of the year.
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Trailing blackberry
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Thimbleberry
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Red huckleberry
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We passed a couple of small waterfalls along side streams, one on either side of the valley.
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The trail then passed above what appeared to be a nice fall along Coldwater Creek but didn’t provide much of a view.
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Just after passing the waterfall the trail entered a forested area.
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Hedgenettle
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From there to the Coldwater Trail junction the trial alternated between small meadows and woods with occasional views back to Coldwater Creek.
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Another trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was working on the Coldwater Trail on the far side of the footbridge when we arrived there. We stopped on some rocks above the bridge for a snack break and watched them as they worked.
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We were now on familiar trail, at least in theory. When we had hiked the loop around Coldwater Lake in May 2014 much of the vegetation was only beginning to produce leaves.
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This time the trail was crowded with plants.
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The wildflowers were out in force as we drew nearer to Tractor Junction.
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A male grouse flew out of one of the meadows and landed in a nearby tree. It was the first one we’d seen in full display and was quite colorful.
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The views were much better than they had been the day before at Tractor Junction and along the 3.2 miles from there back to the trailhead. Coldwater Lake was clearly visible and Mt. St. Helens even made an appearance.
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For the second day in a row we’d escaped without dealing with any rain showers and the thunderstorms had not materialized before we’d made it back to the car. Despite the sometimes cloudy conditions it had turned out to be a really nice trip. The views we did miss out on can now be our excuse for return trip sometime in the future. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670492933452

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.

Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.

One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
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Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
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We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
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Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
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The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
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The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
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The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
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We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
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The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
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After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
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We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
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The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Tiger lilies
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Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
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Large patch of paintbrush
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Arnica
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Bugbane
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Corydalis
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Columbine
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Scouler’s bluebell
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An aster or fleabane
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Pussypaws
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Mock orange
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Bistort
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Another type of aster or fleabane
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Violets
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Orange agoseris
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Spirea
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Cat’s ear lily
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Avalanche lily
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We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
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Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
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While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
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We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
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We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
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The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
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For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
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There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
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Cinquefoil
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Cusick’s speedwell
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White heather
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Avalanche lilies
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Cat’s ear lily
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We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
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It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
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The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
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We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
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We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
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We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.

After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
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We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
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Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
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As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)

We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
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Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
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The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
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A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.

Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
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Penstemon and candyflower
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Pink monkeyflower
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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Fireweed
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Bleeding heart
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As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
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We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
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We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
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We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.

Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563

Fifteenmile Creek

An unusually wet forecast had us looking for an alternative hike this past week.  I was looking for a hike that didn’t have a mountain view as it’s main focus and if there was less of a possibility of getting rained on that would be a bonus.  In looking at our list of “to-do” hikes Fifteenmile Creek stood out as a good option.  The hike is in the Mt. Hood National Forest east of Mt. Hood and Lookout Mountain.  A loop descends from Fifteenmile Campground through the ecological transition zone between the Cascade Mountains and Central Oregon.

The forecast looked promising with Mt. Hood acting as the rain shadow for this area so we headed out the door at 4:30am and made the two and a half hour drive past Mt. Hood to Highway 35. To reach Fifteenmile Campground from Hwy 35 we took Forest Road 44 for 8.5 miles to Forest Road 4420 where we turned right for 2.3 miles to Forest Road 2730. The campground was 1.9 miles down FR 2730.  A bonus for this hike is the roads were paved the entire way with minimal potholes.
Fifteen Mile Forest Camp entrance

We parked in a small two car parking area near the trailhead and set off on the Fifteenmile Trail toward the Cedar Creek Trail junction.
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We were not alone in the forest.
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The trail descended along Fifteenmile Creek for a quarter mile to the start of the loop. The trail had been logged out a month earlier and was in great shape despite evidence that there had been a lot of trees down.
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Footbridge over Fifteenmile Creek

Fifteenmile Trail sign

The sign at the start of the loop was a little confusing in that it showed the Cedar Creek Trail jct as being another quarter mile to the right, but the trail sign at the trailhead had also listed the jct as a quarter mile away. We did not see another trail junction along the Cedar Creek Trail until it rejoined the Fifteenmile Trail so it would seem the sign is an error. In any event we followed the pointer for the Cedar Creek Trail and crossed Fifteenmile Creek.
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The Cedar Creek Trail climbed up through a forest to a ridge top where it began to pass through meadows and by rocky viewpoints across the Fifteenmile Creek Valley.
Cedar Creek Trail

Cedar Creek Trail

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View from the Cedar Creek Trail

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It was too late in the year for the best of the wildflowers in the area but there were still quite a few along the way.

Lupine
Lupine

Slender bog orchid
Slender bog orchid

Prince’s pine
Prince's pine

Scouler’s bluebell
Scouler's bluebell

Worm-leaf stonecrop
Worm-leaf stonecrop

Wild onion
Wild onion

The trail was now descending along the ridge and as it did so we were dropping down toward Central Oregon. We were now in the pine-oak grassland zone which sits between the forests of Mt. Hood and the high desert of Central Oregon. Manzanita, ponderosa pine, and juniper trees began to appear and we were passing more interesting andesite formations.
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A couple of Juniper trees along the Cedar Creek Trail

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Andesite rock piles

The ridge began narrowing as we approached the lower junction of the Cedar Creek and Fifteenmile Trails. The flat plain of Central Oregon lay straight ahead reveling the stark contrast in the topography between the Cascades and High Desert.
Cedar Creek Trail looking east

Looking east toward the Central Oregon plain

There were a bunch of sagebrush mariposa lilies, one of my favorite wildflowers, along this stretch.
Sagebrush mariposa lily

Sagebrush mariposa lily

The trail steepened a little at the end of the ridge and dropped down to a trail junction at Fifteenmile Creek.
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Lower junction

After a little exploration we started up the Fifteenmile Trail to complete the loop and return to Fifteenmile Camp. The lower portion of the Fifteenmile Trail climbed very slowly through a much lusher forest than we had seen along the lower portion of the Cedar Creek Trail.
Fifteenmile Trail

Fifteenmile Trail

Fifteenmile Trail

It eventually began to climb more quickly and entered the terrain more akin to that along the Cedar Creek Trail with meadows and andesite formations.
View from the Fifteenmile Trail

Andesite along the Fifteenmile Trail

Again it was too late for the best of the flowers but not completely devoid of them.
Grand collomia
Grand collomia

Penstemon
Penstemon

Yarrow
Yarrow

Scarlet gilia
Scarlet gilia

After 2.5 miles the trail arrived at a signed junction with an old roadbed.
Trail junction along the Fifteenmile Trail

We followed the old roadbed for a short distance before it gave way to trail once again. The trail then climbed through a series of increasingly impressive andesite formations.
Fifteenmile Trail

Fifteenmile Trail

Andesite outcroping

Looking down into the Fifteenmile Creek Valley

The trail then reenters the forest for good as it drops down to a footbridge over Foster Creek, climbs to a second footbridge across an unnamed creek, and finally arrives back at the Cedar Creek Trail jct just a quarter mile from the trailhead.
Fifteenmile Trail

Fifteenmile Trail

Fifteenmile Trail

It had turned out to be a good choice for the day. We had our fair share of blue skies and only a few minutes of a light sprinkle for rain. Although these trails are popular with mountain bikers we only saw two during our hike and no other hikers. Based on the amount of balsamroot and lupine that was no longer in bloom, a visit during the first part of June would probably be great for the wildflowers here. The views, the andesite formations, and the varied ecological zones along the way would make it a worthwhile trip anytime though. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668046892554

Coffin Mountain, Bachelor Mountain, and Bugaboo Ridge

For the 4th of July we spent our day off revisiting Coffin and Bachelor Mountains and discovering the Bugaboo Ridge Trail. Our previous hike up Coffin and Bachelor Mountains was on a cloudy day in early August, 2013. We hadn’t experienced any mountain views that day and it was past peak for the wildflowers so we had added it to the list of hikes to redo. In addition to revisiting the two mountains we also planned on checking out the Bugaboo Ridge Trail which intersects the Bachelor Mountain Trail.

A recent presentation by Matt Reeder at Salem Summit Company had prompted us to pick up a copy of his book “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” which provided some additional details on the Bugaboo Ridge Trail. After reading his description it seemed well worth the additional mileage to check it out.

We parked at the Coffin Mountain Trailhead which is accessed via Straight Creek Road found 2.9 miles south of Marion Forks.
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On our previous visit we had parked here and started by walking 1.2 miles further along forest roads to the Bachelor Mountain Trailhead and hiking to that summit before returning and heading up Coffin Mountain. To change things up this time we headed up Coffin Mountain first. Most of the Coffin Mountain Trail passes through open wildflower meadows.
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Our timing was much closer to peak for the wildflowers and there was a wide variety in various stages of bloom.
Chaparral false bindweed
chaparral false bindweed

Aster
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Thistle
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Fireweed
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Cat’s ear lily
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Yellow leaf iris
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False sunflower and blue gilia
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Scarlet gilia and paintbrush
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Tall bluebell
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False sunflower
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Catchfly
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Mountain owl’s clover
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As the trail climbs views of the Cascades get increasingly better.
Mt. Jefferson
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Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, Broken Top, The Three Sisters, The Husband and Diamond Peak
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Diamond Peak
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Mt. Washington, Broken Top, The Three Sisters and The Husband
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Three Fingered Jack
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The number of flowers increased the higher we got in the meadows.
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Red, White, and blue for the 4th
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Beargrass
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The trail enters a short section with trees where the Coffin Mountain Lookout is visible on the cliffs above.
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A final push uphill leads to the staffed lookout tower and helipad.
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It was a little different view than we’d had in 2013.
Coffin Mountain lookout

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We returned to the trailhead then set off on the road toward the Bachelor Mountain Trailhead. Although it’s possible to drive the 1.2miles we’d rather enjoy the scenery along the way.
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Coffin Mountain Lookout from the road to the Bachelor Mountain TH.
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The unsigned trail begins at the end of Road 430.
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The trail climbs fairly steeply through a forest in two long switchbacks before losing the trees and gaining views as it rounds a ridge end.
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The wildflowers on Bachelor Mountain rivaled those on Coffin although Bachelor Mountain is drier and rockier.
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Washington lily
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After the initial climb the trail leveled out along a plateau with views.
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The trail then reentered the forest shortly before arriving at a junction with the Bugaboo Ridge Trail.
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We kept to the Bachelor Mountain Trail and headed uphill toward the summit. This section of trail passed though a forest of small tightly packed trees, many of which were bent by the weight of winter snows.
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Once we were above the trees the wildflowers and views returned.
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Phlox
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Wallflower
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Another lookout used to sit atop Bachelor Mountain but it was burnt by the Forest Service years ago just leaving the views. To the north Mt. Adams was visible over Mt. Hoods shoulder.
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Mt. Jefferson loomed to the east.
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A little further south was Three Fingered Jack and the scars of the B & B Fire.
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Then came a clump of Cascade Mountains, Washington, Broken Top and the Three Sisters.
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Because Bachelor Mountain is taller than its neighbor there was also a nice view of Coffin Mountain.
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We headed back down the Bugaboo Ridge Trail junction and unlike our last visit this time we turned onto that trail and headed east through the forest.
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The Bugaboo Ridge Trail is a longer approach to Bachelor Mountain and it was evident that it sees much lighter usage based on the narrower tread and encroaching vegetation in places. We found it to be a great trail though. The trail left the trees and entered a series of rock gardens and meadows filled with wildflowers.
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The views were pretty darn good too.
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Heather spotted an interestingly colored larkspur along the trail, it was the only one we could find.
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The meadows and gardens began to give way to forest as the trail descended to the Bruno Meadows Trail junction.
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The Bruno Meadows Trail is yet another option to reach Bachelor Mountain, but we ignored that trail and continued to descend on the Bugaboo Ridge Trail. The descent was gentle except for a short section above the Bruno Meadows junction although there was a fair amount of blowdown to navigate. We decided to turn around at a logging road that the trail crossed in an old clear cut.
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The detour along the Bugaboo Ridge Trail to the road was just under 2.5 miles adding nearly 5 miles to the days hike but it had been worth the extra effort. This visit had been a vastly different experience from our visit in 2013. It was fun to be able to see what we had not been able to on that first trip, and it was a great way to spend the 4th. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670004507771

Marble Mountain Wilderness Day 5 – Frying Pan Lake to Shackleford Trailhead

The final day of our Marble Mountain trip began with us packing up camp shortly after 5am followed by some coffee and granola for breakfast. We began hiking just after six climbing back up to the Pacific Crest Trail and saying goodbye to the Sky High Lakes.
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We followed the PCT back to the trail to Summit Lake and followed that trail down to the lake. Most of the blowdown was still over the trail, but the trees that we had been forced to go around at the beginning of this .7mi section of trail had been cleared. The trail crews had been busy and we’d see more evidence of recent maintenance all the way back to the trailhead.

We stayed on the Shackelford Trail at Summit Lake. This was a section of trail we had not hiked on the first day so the scenery was new. We descended 1.6 miles to a junction with the Campbell Lake Loop Trail.
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The next 1.2 mile section of trail passed through a meadow with a lily pad pond.
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We then entered a forested section of the trail before reaching Log Lake where we found some nice bigelow sneezweed in bloom.
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While we were resting at Log Lake a black tailed buck walked by on the trail. It appeared to be favoring it’s right rear leg.
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At the end of the 1.2 mile section we were back on familiar trail again just 2.8 miles from the Shackleford Trailhead. The butterflies were again plentiful in the meadows along this section, including around one particular muddy patch of trail.
Five swallowtails
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Various butterflies on the Shackleford Trail
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Not far from the trailhead we met a Wilderness Ranger and another Forest Service employee heading into the wilderness. They asked about our trip and seemed as surprised as we were that we had not seen any bears during the five days. We logged a total of 64 miles during our trip and saw plenty of other wildlife. In addition there were plenty of wildflowers and all around amazing scenery. The Marble Mountains had not disappointed. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157669884816212

Marble Mountain Wilderness Day 4 – Red Rock Valley & Marble Rim

We woke to nature’s alarm clock on Thursday. Birdsong was coming from a vast variety of birds. A soft morning light was falling in the valley and we watched as the bright sunshine made its way down the mountain sides.
It was going to be another warm day and we were happy to be free of our large packs for a day.
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After breakfast we threw on our day packs and hiked around the far side of Frying Pan Lake and headed back out of the valley eventually picking up the trail we’d come in on the previous day.
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We came to a junction where the right hand fork led back up to the Marble Valley Shelter.
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From that point we had another 3.3 miles to go to reach the Red Rock Valley Trail. We soon crossed a branch of Canyon Creek below a small cascade and above a nice little waterfall that was difficult to get a good view of.
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This portion of the Canyon Creek Trail crossed a couple of other side streams as it gradually descended through the forest towards the Lovers Camp Trailhead.
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When we reached the Red Rock Valley Trail junction we turned right and quickly found ourselves at a bridge-less crossing of Canyon Creek.
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We didn’t feel like fording the creek and soaking our shoes this early in our hike so we found a way across on some rocks and debris. The trail then began to climb up and around a ridge end.
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When we finally came around the ridge we were suddenly in a different forest. Ponderosa pine trees replaced the Douglas firs along Canyon Creek.
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On the way down the Canyon Creek Trail we’d been discussing the fact that we hadn’t seen any large wildlife other than the lone doe near Paradise Lake on the second morning of our trip. We’d seen signs of deer and bear all over the place so we were surprised at the lack of sightings. Coming up the Red Rock Valley Trail that started to change when a doe and her fawns ran up the trail in front of us.
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We took a break to let them put some distance between us, then continued on. The trail soon left the drier forest and entered a series of meadows.
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The meadows didn’t have quite as many flowers as those along the Shackleford Trail, but there were some and with the open views we could see the red peridotite bedrock that gave the valley its name.
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Checkmallows
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Lupine
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Checkerbloom
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Cascade calicoflower
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Tiger lilies
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The trail continued to climb up through the open meadows as the day grew warmer. The further up the valley we went the steeper the trail became as well. As we trudged up the valley we began to think that doing the loop in the opposite direction might have been a better idea since the climb would have been along the forested Canyon Creek Trail providing some protection from the Sun. With our minds elsewhere we were startled by a grouse hen and her chicks noisily taking flight. They disappeared quickly and left us startled on the trail.

Nearly 4 miles along the Red Rock Valley Trail we reached the small unnamed lake at the head of Red Rock Creek. There were more tents here than we’d seen in the Sky High Valley which we found a bit perplexing.
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As we were passing by the lake Heather spotted a strange looking large insect which turned out to be a wood wasp.
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From the lake the trail really launched uphill for the final climb up to the PCT.
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A distant Mt. McLoughlin came into view on the way up.
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Once we were back on the PCT we were on familiar trail having hiked this section on the way to Paradise Lake two days earlier. The flowers were still wonderful and a new addition this time was another grouse hen and her chicks.
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After 2.2 miles on the PCT we arrived at the 3-way junction with the Big Elk Lake and Marble Rim Trails. This time we headed straight on the Marble Rim Trail climbing a wildflower lined ridge.
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As we climbed a doe darted across the trail ahead of us and vanished over the ridge.
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The trail passed through a couple of small stands of trees but for the most part remained in open meadows gaining views of the Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps.
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Wildflowers were everywhere in the meadows.
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Our goal was a marble cliff that we’d seen from the PCT which offered a dramatic view of the Marble Mountains.
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We also had a nice view of the south side of Kings Castle which we’d climbed up two days earlier and of Preston Peak in the Siskiyou Wilderness.
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On the way back down to the PCT we were seeing lizards scurrying everywhere, but the only pictures I was able to get was of one hiding behind some grass and another with the camera on some weird effects setting.
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Once we were back on the PCT we had to backtrack a half mile to the Sky High Lakes Trail. This trail went up and over the ridge then dropped down to the Sky High Lakes. We’d been looking forward to taking this trail to find out the route that it took. We had not been able to tell from the lakes exactly where the trail was located even though we knew the general area.
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After returning to camp we grabbed our chairs and headed back down to Frying Pan Lake. Heather was sitting on a rock letting her feet soak when I looked over and noticed something in the water. At first I though it was either a newt or tadpole coming up for air, or some dragon flies that had landed on the water. Then I noticed a long tongue sticking out and realized it was a garter snake swimming around.
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Heather decided that was enough of being in the water and surrendered her rock to a chipmunk.
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We went to sleep that night knowing we’d be hiking out the next day. It was a bittersweet feeling knowing our trip was almost over but also feeling a little excited to eat some cheap fast food, take a shower, and see our cats. Before we could do any of that we needed to fall asleep though and to do that we needed the little bee that had seemingly become obsessed with Heather to stop buzzing outside our tent. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157669916059431