Mt. McLoughlin

Our plan for the second day in the Sky Lakes Wilderness was to hike to the summit of 9495′ Mt. McLoughlin, the sixth highest peak in the Oregon Cascades. We were going to hike the 2.5 miles back to our car from Badger Lake then drive the approximately 3 miles to the Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead. It would have been possible to hike the whole way by going back to Fourmile Campground and taking the Twin Ponds Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and then turning up the Mt. McLoughlin Trail, but that would have been a nearly 25 mile hike.

Before setting off we ate breakfast watching the sunrise from Badger Lake.

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As we passed Fourmile Lake we got a nice view of our goal for the day.

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At the campground we took advantage of the water pump near the trailhead and filled our CamelBak bladders as well as our Hydroflasks. It was going to be another warm day and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of water for the nearly 4000′ climb. Heather also loaded her pack with little bags of Cool Ranch Doritos just in case we ran into any thru-hikers on the short section of the Pacific Crest Trail that the Mt. McLoughlin Trail shares. From the campground we drove back along Fourmile Lake Road and turned right near milepost 3. The Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead is located at the end of the maintained portion of this road.

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It was around 8:30am when we arrived and the parking lot was already packed with cars. It was so full in fact that we had to loop around and park on the shoulder near the lot entrance. There is a large sign at the trailhead and, an identical sign near the wilderness boundary, warning of the dangers of Mt. McLoughlin. The main issue hikers run into is getting lost during their descent if they veer too far south in an attempt to take a short-cut.

The second sign near the wilderness boundary.

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Sullivan has the same warning in his “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon” guidebook so we were already aware of the issue, but the sign added a tip to always keep Fourmile Lake in view on the way down.

The trail set off through a forest of Mountain Hemlock and almost immediately crossed Cascade Canal which looked more like a creek here than it had near Fourmile Lake.

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In the first mile the trail entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness and climbed gradually to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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For a short distance the PCT and Mt. McLoughlin Trail were one and the same. Heather was on the lookout for thru-hikers to offer her Doritos to and I was looking for a side trail shown in our guidebook as well as on our maps that led down to Freye Lake. We were planning on visiting that lake on the way back down but I always like to make sure I am familiar with where I am going to be turning. According to the information we had the side trail was approximately .2 miles from the PCT junction. Then it would be another .2 miles to where the PCT and Mt. McLoughlin Trial parted ways. I never spotted the side trail and Heather hadn’t seen any thru-hikers when we reached the split.

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I happened to look at the GPS which showed our location as being at the side trail down to Freye Lake and not the PCT split which on the GPS map was further ahead. We continued one wondering if the PCT had been rerouted at some point and was now sharing at least the first part of the trail down to Freye Lake. We kept an eye out for signs of a former trail in the area where the GPS showed the PCT splitting off but all we saw was blowdown.

We hadn’t seen the side trail or any thru-hikers but on the PCT but we did see something we hadn’t seen on either of the previous two days – a deer.

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We’d been a little surprised that we hadn’t seen any on the trails yet, just a pair bounding off from near a horse corral in the Fourmile Lake Campground when we drove in the day before. After sizing one another up for a bit we went our separate ways. We were on a 1.5 mile section of the trail that climbed slowly away from the PCT toward Mt. McLoughlin. At times we were able to see the summit rising above the trees.

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The easier 1.5 mile section ended when the trail finally realized that we had to go up to reach the summit. The trail steepened drastically as it began climbing up increasingly rocky terrain amid an ever thinning forest.

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The thinning forest did allow for some views of the surrounding area.
Pelican Butte and Fourmile Lake

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Lake of the Woods and the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Mt. Thielsen beyond the Rim of Crater Lake and the Sky Lakes Wilderness

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Brown Mountain and Mt. Shasta

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It was a little hazier than it had been two days earlier when we had climbed Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, but one improvement was the view of Mt. Shasta as sunlight reflected off the snow.

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As we trudged uphill the locals kept a close eye on us.

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As we gained elevation most of the trees gave way leaving Whitebark pines and some manzanita bushes.

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There were occasional glimpses of the summit which always seemed to be the same distance away – far.

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About one and a quarter miles from the summit we reached a saddle where much of the remaining route was visible.

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Along this final section a few alpine flowers added some color to the area while a couple of patches of snow attempted to make it through the year.

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It was about noon when we arrived at the summit to find a decent sized crowd gathered.

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There was plenty of room though and we took a seat near the summit register.

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In addition to there being quite a few hikers at the summit there were numerous butterflies and bees who seemed to really like me.

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There was a heavy band of smoke possibly coming from the Trail wildfire that was visible from the north beyond Mt. Thielsen all the way south into California. Despite the haze on the horizon the skies above the mountain were bright blue and beautiful and there was still a decent view in all directions.
Pelican Butte, Fourmile Lake and Squaw Lake

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Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Mt. Shasta beyond Fish Lake

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Mt. Ashland

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Union Peak, Hillman Peak and Mt. Thielsen

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The Sky Lakes Wilderness with the peaks around Crater Lake and Mt. Thielsen beyond

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We broke out our snacks including a couple of the bags of Doritos which we had forgotten would expand at that altitude. Luckily none of the bags exploded but they did look like little balloons. After sitting awhile we began to get a little warm. There had been a nice gentle breeze on the way up but oddly there was none whatsoever on top. We began our descent remembering not to drift too far south.

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On the way down we took some time to study some of the volcanic rock formation in the mountains glacier carved north face.

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The loose volcanic rock was kind of nice to descend in. It was soft on the knees and kept us from picking up any unwanted speed. On the climb up though it was a different story as every step up came with a small slide backward. One way to eliminate having to deal with that issue is to climb the mountain while there is still some snow (post).

We still wanted to visit Freye Lake on the way back to the car so when we reached the Pacific Crest Trail we pursued our earlier theory of a possible reroute that used the existing trail to the lake. We kept an eye on the GPS and we could see we were quickly beginning to move away from the lake so our theory was blown. At that point there was only one sensible solution -off-trail bushwack. We left the PCT and followed a little gully down to the lake.

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There was a use trail going around the lake so we followed it clockwise around to east side of the lake where there were a number of campsites and a view of Mt. McLoughlin.

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After taking another break at the lake we continued around hoping to find the missing trail from this end. We weren’t able to locate it but we did find something. A large blue tarp was spread out on the ground surrounded by arraigned logs and rocks. Next to the tarp was a stone fire pit surrounded by a short log fence. Around the fire pit were several items including a gas can, pair of gloves, and several old looking tin cans.

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It all seemed very out of place for a wilderness area. I did send a message to the Forest Service about it, but have not gotten a response yet.

We tried to use the GPS to locate the trail as we climbed uphill from the lake to the PCT. If the GPS was right we crossed over it a couple of times but we never saw anything that was identifiable as a trail, just a couple of spots where tents had been sent up, probably by thru-hikers.

Speaking of thru-hikers when we were back on the PCT we spotted one approaching. Heather had her Doritos in her pack and then kind of froze and didn’t say anything as she passed. For whatever reason she suddenly had become shy about asking if they would like a snack. Luckily she got a second chance as another hiker was coming up the trail. She asked this one if he’d like some Doritos and his face lit up. He introduced himself as “Sobo”. It turned out that it had been his girlfriend who had passed us just before so Heather gave him a second bag for her. Another pair of thru-hikers followed and more chips were handed out and then we were off the PCT.

When we got back to the trailhead we found even more cars than there had been that morning. We freed up a spot by heading back to Fourmile Lake Campground where we refilled our water.(We had both emptied our CamelBaks and were glad we’d brought the additional water in the Hydro Flasks) We had brought our dinner for the night with us (Mountain House chicken and dumplings) and decided to cook it at the day use area near the Fourmile Lake boat ramp. We followed the Badger Lake Trail from the trailhead to the crossing of Fourmile Lake Road then turned down the road to walk to the day use area. At the campground entrance on a signboard was a trail conditions report.

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We thought it was kind of strange not to have a copy on the signboard at the trailhead as well, but at least it explained the blowdown beyond Badger Lake on the Badger Lake Trail. We ate dinner at the day use area and watched people doing whatever it was they were doing down by the lake.

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After dinner we returned to the Badger Lake Trail by hiking past a gated road at the end of the parking area near the boat ramp.

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This time as we passed the little side trail .9 miles from the canal we turned down toward the lake to a rocky beach with a view of Mt. McLoughlin.

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We sat on the beach and soaked our feet before continuing on toward our tent at Badger Lake. We took one final detour to look around the south side of Woodpecker Lake.

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It was just us again at Badger Lake that night, well us and a couple ducks and some frogs actually.

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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157673125210295

Sky Lakes Wilderness – Badger Lake Trail

After spending the night camped by Zeb Lake in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness we packed up our tent and headed back down the Varney Creek Trail to the trailhead and our waiting car. Our plan was to spend the next two nights in the nearby Sky Lakes Wilderness and do some exploring in that area. We drove back to Highway 140 and headed east toward Medford for 12 miles and turned right onto Fourmile Lake Road (a.k.a. Forest Road 3661) and drove another 5.7 miles to the Fourmile Lake Campground where we parked at the Badger Lake Trailhead.

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When I was penciling this trip out I had originally considered staying at the campground but the thought of being in such a popular car campground wasn’t very appealing so the plan I settled on was hiking into to one of the other lakes along the Badger Lake Trail. We threw our packs back on and set off on the trail hoping to find a quieter, more private place to set up camp. The trail led away from the campground to a junction with the Twin Ponds Trail which connects up with the Pacific Crest Trail near Squaw Lake.

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We turned left following the Badger Lake Trail as it passed through a forest of lodgepole pine.

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The trail veered back toward the campground to a crossing of Fourmile Lake Road near the campground entrance then swung away again into the forest and meeting up with the Rye Spur Trail which travels to Lake of the Woods.

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We crossed Cascade Canal .8 miles from the trailhead. The canal was built and Fourmile Lake dammed to drain the lake west toward Medford instead of to its original eastward route to Klamath Lake. At the canal there was a post with no signs attached and a road running perpendicular to the trail. There was no obvious continuation of the trail on the far side of the road so I checked the GPS map which showed the road making a small loop and the trail picking up on the far side of that loop. We decided to go around clockwise since that direction led us toward Fourmile Lake and we hadn’t had a good look at it yet. After climbing up on some of the boulders along the dam we were able to get a glimpse of the large lake.

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The road made the loop just as the GPS had shown and we picked up a clear trail heading to the left into the forest. There was also a clear trail coming from the right which we decided we would follow when we were headed back to the trailhead. For now we headed left and soon entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

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Fourmile Lake was once again hidden by trees until we were about three quarters of a mile from the canal. Finally a couple of side trails led to driftwood piles along the shore and views across the lake to Mt. McLoughlin.

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The best viewpoint was down a short path about .9 miles from the canal but we didn’t go down that trail until the following day. We were focused on finding a campsite and getting out from under our backpacks. The first lake after Fourmile Lake we came to was Woodpecker Lake. Located about one and three quarter miles from the canal this little lake was on the right hand side of the trail.

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We stopped briefly to see if there were any campsites that were too good to pass up but we didn’t see anything obvious and we were starting to notice a few mosquitoes so we continued on to nearby Badger Lake.

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Badger Lake was less than a quarter mile from Woodpecker Lake and it was a little larger than it’s neighbor. We weren’t seeing any campsites along the southern end of the lake nor did there appear to be the usual use trail going around the lake anywhere. We continued on the trail along the lake for a few hundred feet without seeing anything. Looking back across the lake we thought the terrain on the SW side looked like it might be suitable for campsites so we decided to head back and check out that area. We headed cross country through the forest near the lake and did manage to find a few spots that clearly had been used as campsites at one time but they all looked like it had been awhile. We set our packs down in the best looking spot and did a little further exploration before deciding that we had identified the most suitable one.

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After getting camp set up we strapped on our daypacks and continued on the Badger Lake Trail. We planned on going at least another 1.9 miles to Long Lake and then possibly continuing an additional 1.6 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail where we would only be .6 more miles from Island Lake and the Judge Waldo Tree.

When we reached the northern end of Badger Lake we discovered a couple of established campsites but we were happy with the spot we’d picked. Just beyond these sites the trail crossed a small stream connecting that connected Badger Lake to a long meadow with a lily pad pond.

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As we passed along the meadow we began seeing some wildflowers including several bigelow’s sneezeweeds.
Arnica

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Columbine

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Aster

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Yarrow

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Bolander’s madia

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Bigelow’s sneezeweed

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The trail had been skirting the meadow, but some large piles of blowdown had forced a reroute through the meadow where we had to carefully watch our step due to the presence of frogs. Having to go slow through the meadow made us easier targets for the small number of mosquitoes that were still present.

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When arrived at Long Lake it was easy to see how it earned its name.

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There were a number of campsites along the lake but no one was occupying any of them. We had passed a pair of hikers earlier that had been camped there and they said they didn’t see anybody while they had been there. It was only 1:45pm and we were feeling pretty good so we elected to continue on to Island Lake despite the increasing blowdown. There had been intermittent blowdown over the trail since the meadow, but beyond Long Lake the amount really increased.

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On the plus side the entire trail was relatively level and we managed to reach the PCT without too much difficulty.

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At the junction the Badger Lake Trail was hidden by blowdown.

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On the opposite side of the PCT the Blue Canyon Trail appeared to be relatively clear.

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A quick downhill .2 miles along that trail brought us to a junction with the Red Lake Trail and in another .4 miles we reached the unmarked side trail that led to some campsites and the Judge Waldo Tree.

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In 1888 a group of 5 horsemen led by conservationist Judge J. B. Waldo camped at Island Lake while riding from Willamette Pass to Mt. Shasta on what would become the route of the Pacific Crest Trail. While at the lake they carved their names in the tree (an act that current day conservationists would never consider doing now).

We took a break at the lake enjoying a snack before filtering some water for the evening. While we were getting the water we received a thorough fishing report from a young man who had been camped at the lake with his family. Apparently the fish had been going nuts over salmon eggs but they wouldn’t actually take the bait. 🙂

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When we were finished filling our water we started back toward Badger Lake. When we got back to Long Lake we stopped to cook dinner and watch a group of ducks that were paddling around the lake.

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In addition to the ducks there were a number of small birds flitting around the trees along the shore as well as a Douglas and a Golden-mantled ground squirrels.

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After dinner we returned to Badger Lake where the very top of Mt. McLoughlin was visible over the trees on the far end of the lake.

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Just like the previous night at Zeb Lake we were the only ones camped at the lake. It was indeed a lot quieter than it would have been at Fourmile Campground. We had managed another long day, 17.6 miles in all, and had big plans for the next day as well – summiting Mt. McLoughlin.

Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157673108018195

Mountain Lakes Wilderness

We used a long weekend to take a trip down south to visit a pair of wilderness areas between Medford and Klamath Falls. We started our trip at the Varney Creek Trailhead located at the end of Forest Road 3664. To reach the trailhead we turned off of Highway 140 on Forest Road 3637 near milepost 36 for 1.8 miles before turning left on road 3664 for another 1.9 miles.
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Our plan was to take the Varney Creek Trail to the Mountain Lakes Loop and set up camp at either Eb or Zeb Lake then complete the loop using our daypacks.

The Varney Creek Trail begins in a fairly dense forest as it slowly climbs between Mt. Harriman and Varney Creek (which we could not see or hear).
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A little over a mile along the trail we entered the 36 square mile Mountain Lakes Wilderness. One of the 8 original wilderness areas in Oregon created by the 1964 Wilderness Act.
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At the 1.4 mile mark we came to an wet area that had seen a lot of blowdown. A pair of bridges helped keep us out of the mud created by some trickles of water.
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It was on our way out the next day when we realized that this was actually a crossing of Varney Creek.

We were now on the west side of the creek and for the next couple of miles the trail passed by a series of meadows to the left and dry, open slopes on the right. The majority of the wildflowers were finished but a few stragglers remained.
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Aster
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Fireweed
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Paintbrush
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Scarlet gilia
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Larkspur
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Near the four mile mark the trail began to climb a little more steeply up toward the Mountain Lakes Loop junction which we reached after a total of 4.4 miles.
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At the junction we turned right heading toward Eb and Zeb Lakes which were just under a half mile away. This section of trail climbed a little more steeply at first before leveling out some as it neared the lakes.
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The lakes are across from one another on either side of the trail. We noticed Eb Lake on our right first and headed over to see if we could find a good campsite.
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We hiked all the way around Eb Lake seeing a few possibilities but nothing that we were in a hurry to claim so when we arrived back at the trail we crossed over to check out Zeb Lake.
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We found a decent looking spot at the edge of a small burned area at the SW end of the lake. We set our packs down and decided to go counter-clockwise around the lake to see if there were any better locations. Along the way we encountered a grassy area full of small frogs.
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We swung out wider to avoid accidentally stepping on any of the little guys. After working our way around and passing through the burnt area we arrived back at our packs and decided that this would be our campsite for the night.
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After setting up camp we threw on our daypacks and continued on the loop. Beyond the lakes the trail steepened as it climbed out of the valley to a saddle between Whiteface Peak and an unnamed point.
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From the saddle the view included Klamath Lake to the east and Brown Mountain & Mt. McLoughlin to the NW.
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From the saddle the trail passed around Whiteface Peak through drier forest.
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Almost a mile and a half from the lakes we arrived at trail junction with the Mountain Lakes Trail.
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We headed left to continue the loop arriving at a second junction in another .7 miles.
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The right hand fork headed downhill a mile to Clover Lake and the Clover Creek Trail. We were feeling pretty good and since one of the reasons we take these trips is to explore the area we headed down toward the lake. The relatively small lake was full of activity. Dragonflies darted through the air and fish seemed to constantly be breaking the surface of the lake feeding on insects.
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We sat by the lake enjoying the action while we had a snack. When it was time to continue we took a look at our maps to locate an old trail that was no longer maintained. This abandoned trail would lead us back up to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail about a mile from where we had left it. We had to continue downhill past Clover Lake for just a bit and almost missed the turn but a small rock cairn and an old blaze in a tree helped us locate it.
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Despite the trail no longer being maintained there weren’t too many obstacles and between the blazes and cairns, following it wasn’t difficult.
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After making it back to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail we continued on quickly arriving at a viewpoint along the rim above Lake Harriette.
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Approximately a mile from where we had rejoined the loop trail a pair of large rock cairns marked a use trail to the summit of 8208′ Aspen Butte.
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The mile long use trail began up a wooded ridge before views opened up of our goal.
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The trail followed the ridge SE before heading up more steeply up the butte.
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It was in the mid 70’s and we were feeling the heat going up the exposed trail and we welcomed a little shade and breeze at the summit.
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The horizon was hazy in all directions but it was all blue skies above the wilderness. To the south was snowy Mt. Shasta.
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To the north the Sky Lakes Wilderness, the peaks around Crater Lake, and Mt. Thielsen lay beyond the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.
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To the northwest Mt. McLoughlin rose above the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
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Klamath Lake lay to the east.
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After another nice break we returned once again to the Mountain Lakes Loop which almost immediately began descending toward a junction with a trail down to South Pass Lake.
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We actually skipped this one since it would have added another 3.2 miles to what was already going to be a long hike. From this junction the trail gradually descended through open forest toward Lake Harriette.
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We had seen a number of hawks already when a large red-tailed hawk flew into a nearby tree.
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Just under two miles from the South Pass Trail we arrived at large Lake Harriette.
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We were looking for a place to filter some water and have dinner but there were two other groups of hikers at this part of the lake so we decided to check out another nearby lake. Echo Lake was just down a hill on the other side of the trail. We bushwacked down to this smaller lake only to find the shore a bit muddy. It was a pretty little lake but not what we were looking for in dinner spot.
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We headed back up to the trail and continued along Lake Harriette. At the west end of the lake an area had been closed to camping. This proved to be the perfect spot for dinner with a nice view of the lake which at times had a good reflection.
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Next to the lake here was a large rock covered slope with a couple of what appeared to be small caves.
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After having dinner and filtering some water we left Lake Harriette and passed over a low saddle heading toward Lake Como. Along the way we passed a small unnamed lake on the left which I somehow failed to get any photos of. A little over a mile from Lake Harriette we arrived at Lake Como.
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It was another .7 miles from Lake Como back to the junction with the Varney Creek Trail where we had begun the loop earlier that day and another .4 miles back to our campsite at Zeb Lake. We arrived back at our tent just before 7:30pm. The days hike had been approximately 17.4 miles and taken us just under 10 hours but we’d managed to see quite a bit of the area. One thing we noticed was that many of the area was very rocky and a lot of the trail had small to medium sized rocks in them making the ground uneven. Otherwise the official trails were all in good shape with little blowdown to navigate.

We had seen a handful of other hikers during the day but the only other people we had seen camping had been at Lake Harriette so we had Zeb Lake all to ourselves as we turned in for the night.
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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157673010323616

Paradise Park via Hidden Lake Trail

Just like our previous hike (Jefferson Park via Woodpecker Ridge) our latest outing consisted of a new way to visit a familiar area. Our goal this time was Paradise Park on Mt. Hood which we had hiked to twice previously; first in August 2012 on a day hike from Timberline Lodge and again in July 2014 during an overnight trip that started from the Burnt Lake Trailhead.  This hike was originally going to be a 13.2 mile day hike consisting of  a loop using the Hidden Lake, Pacific Crest, and Paradise Park Trails.  The drawback to this plan was that the planned loop did not bring us to Paradise Park. We would need to add at least another mile to the hike to reach the park and even then we would only be seeing a small portion of the Paradise Park area.   Our solution was to turn it into an overnight backpacking trip which would allow us to set up camp and then explore to our hearts content (or until our feet said no more).

We decided to park at the Paradise Park Trailhead and walk .9 miles along Road 39 to the Hidden Lake Trailhead.
Paradise Park Trailhead

Hidden Lake Trailhead

We turned up the Hidden Lake Trail, stopping to fill out a wilderness permit and read a nearby sign recalling the organization of the Mazamas.
Hidden Lake Trail

Interpretive sign near the Hidden Lake Trailhead

The Hidden Lake Trail climbed at a pretty good pitch at first, eventually becoming less steep as it gained the forested ridge and approached Hidden Lake.
Entering the Mt. Hood Wilderness on the Hidden Lake Trail

Hidden Lake Trail

We reached the spur trail to Hidden Lake about 2 miles up the Hidden Lake Trail. The lake itself was not visible from the trail but the presence of a campsite just off the trail gave its presence away. We followed the spur trail past the campsite to the small forested lake.
Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

The muddy lake shore seemed to be attracting a fair number of yellow jackets so we kept our distance and didn’t stay long. From the lake the trail climbed nearly another 2000′ in approximately 2.5 miles. The forested ridge provided no views of Mt. Hood but there was a nice supply of ripe huckleberries for us to munch on as we climbed. The trees did provide some protection from the Sun which was welcome because it was already a warm morning. Temperatures in the Willamette Valley were supposed to hit triple digits and the high at Paradise Park was forecast to be around 70 for the day. We were able to keep a decent pace though and at the Pacific Crest Trail we turned left toward Paradise Park.
Hidden Lake Trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail

Mt. Hood finally came into view as we hiked along the PCT.
Mt. Hood from the Pacific Crest Trail

From the Hidden Lake Trail junction it was a mile and a half to the dramatic Zigzag Canyon overlook. From the overlook, Mt. Hood looms behind Mississippi Head as the Zigzag River roars below.
Mt. Hood and the Zigzag River Canyon

To the south Mt. Jefferson was visible although it was a little hazy.
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The PCT drops approximately 500′ from the overlook down to the Zigzag River. We rock hopped across the water then decided to head upstream toward Zigzag Falls.
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On our 2012 hike we noticed the fall but didn’t actually make it all the way there. It had seemed too far away. Our definition of “too far” has apparently changed over time. This time Zigzag Falls appeared relatively close and it didn’t take us long to arrive at the waterfall.
Zigzag Falls

Zigzag Falls

We were surprised at the power of the waterfall as it crashed down into the splash pool. A nice cool mist was being generated and we took advantage by sitting nearby and taking a fairly long break. After cooling off we returned to the PCT and continued toward Paradise Park. The climb out of the northern side of the canyon was much shorter than the descent on the far side and shortly after climbing out we came to a junction with the Paradise Park Loop Trail.
Pacific Crest Trail junction with the southern end of the Paradise Park Loop Trail

The 2.4 mile Paradise Park Loop Trail climbs up to the wildflower meadows of Paradise Park and eventually rejoins the PCT further to the north. Before we headed up to Paradise Park though, we wanted to find a campsite so we could leave our heavy backpacks behind. After passing the junction we began looking for a suitable spot. We were hoping to find something near the junction with the Paradise Park Trail which was just a half mile from the Paradise Park Loop Trail. There were a couple decent spots just before we reached the Paradise Park Trail but we preferred to be a little further off the busy Pacific Crest Trail so we decided to turn down the Paradise Park Trail and see if we could find something along this trail.
Paradise Park Trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail

As we descended the .2 miles to a junction with the Burnt Lake Trail, we agreed to turn around if we were unable to find a decent campsite. We found what we were looking for near the trail junction and were able to set up our tent.
Campsite along the Paradise Park Trail

After getting camp situated we headed back up to the Pacific Crest Trail where we faced a choice. To reach Paradise Park we could go straight up the Paradise Park Trail, turn right and take the Paradise Park Loop counterclockwise, or turn left and do the loop clockwise. We had done the loop counterclockwise in 2012 and gone straight up the Paradise Park Trail in 2014 so of course we chose clockwise this time just to be different. When we reached Lost Creek we turned off the PCT and headed up a sandy hill to visit Lost Creek Falls.
Lost Creek Falls

Lost Creek Falls

Lost Creek Falls

Continuing on from Lost Creek Falls we passed the trickle of the ironically named Rushing Water Creek.
Rushing Water Creek

We reached the northern end of the Paradise Park Loop Trail 2 miles from the Paradise Park Trail and turned uphill.
Pacific Crest Trail junction with the northern end of the Paradise Park Loop Trail

The northern end of the trail passes through drier meadows that were filled with aster and big views of Mt. Hood. A wider variety of flowers were present where there was more moisture.
Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

Mt. Hood and split rock from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

Gentians
Gentians

Cat’s ear lily
Cat's ear lily

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

We stopped to get water from the wildflower lined north fork of Lost Creek.
Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

Wildflowers along a branch of Lost Creek

Wildflowers alogn a branch of Lost Creek

Mt. Hood was briefly hidden as we wrapped around a hillside covered in aster and fireweed that separates the branches of Lost Creek.
Fireweed and aster along the Paradise Park Loop Trail

Meadows of aster and lupine were visible below the trail.
Aster meadow

Lupine and groundsel

Beyond the hill we passed the site of the former Paradise Park Shelter before descending to the main branch of Lost Creek.
Site of the former Paradise Park shelter

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail at Lost Creek

There were lots of flowers near the creek including an impressive patch of yellow and pink monkeyflower.
Wildflowers along Lost Creek

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

The meadows along the trail on the south side of Lost Creek were much greener with more wildflowers.
Lupine and groundsel

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Loop Trail

When we arrived at the junction with the Paradise Park Trail we remarked at the difference in the types of flowers present from our visit in 2012. That visit had been on August 27th and the meadow had been full of lupine and bistort.
Mt. Hood from Paradise Park

This time it was mostly aster that filled the meadow.
Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

One area we had not explored on either of our previous visit was further up the Paradise Park Trail so this time we turned toward the mountain and headed up through the wildflower meadows.
Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

It was interesting to see how the composition of the meadows changed along the way. We passed areas of purple aster, white bistort, and eventually dwarf lupine and yarrow.
Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

We took a break on a large rock with a great view of Mt. Hood and Mississippi Head.
Mt. Hood from the Paradise Park Trail

Mississippi Head

There was a cool breeze coming off Mt. Hood which made the temperature perfect. After a snack we followed the trail over to a ridge overlooking the upper portions of the Zigzag Canyon where a couple of waterfalls were visible.
Trail heading over to an overlook of the Zigzag River Canyon

Mississippi Head and Mt. Hood

Seeps flowing down into the Zigzag River Canyon

Waterfall in the Zigzag River Canyon

We headed back down to the Paradise Park Loop Trail and then opted to finish the loop instead of heading straight back down the Paradise Park Trail to the PCT. Once we were back on the Pacific Crest Trail we decided that we would hike back to Lost Creek Falls in order to cook dinner and then refill our water supply for the night. We cooked dinner on the sandy hill then moved to a rock with a view of the falls to eat. As the Sun lowered there was almost a rainbow effect at the base of Lost Creek Falls.
Lost Creek Falls

Lost Creek Falls

After dinner we filtered some water then returned to our campsite along the Paradise Park Trail. Stopping along the way at a nice huckleberry patch for dessert.
Huckleberries along the Paradise Park Trail

Huckleberries along the Paradise Park Trail

It was just after 7pm when we arrived back at camp. There were a ton of little flies out and a fair number of mosquitoes that were much more interested in Heather than myself so we quickly headed into the tent for the night which was okay because we’d somehow managed to put in 19.7 miles for the day.
Campsite along the Paradise Park Trail

It was still dark when we woke the next morning as I went to check the time on my phone. We both expected it to be somewhere around 2 or 3am so we were relieved when it turned out to be 5:23 and not too early to get up. After packing up camp we braved the bugs and prepared breakfast – instant coffee and Backpacker’s Pantry bacon and cheddar mashed potatoes. After eating we began the 6 mile downhill hike toward the Paradise Park Trailhead. We made good time despite being distracted by the abundant ripe huckleberries. The trail was just as view-less as the Hidden Lake Trail had been the day before. Where it would have been possible to filter water on that trail the Paradise Park stream crossings were basically dry. The forest was nice though and this ridge was a bit wider than the one the Hidden Lake Trail, creating a little more of an open feeling.
Paradise Park Trail

Mt. Hood Wilderness

In the middle of the trail was a long section where the trail was about as straight as a trail can be and almost looked like it was following an old road bed. As the trail approached the edge of the ridge the forest thinned and there was a viewpoint looking toward Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain to the south.
Tom Dick and Harry Mountain

While we were at the viewpoint a Turkey Vulture passed by several times close enough to hear the wind on its wings.
Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

The trial then veered away from the ridgeline for .7 miles and began a final set of switchbacks down to the Zigzag River, which it followed back to the Barlow Campground and the Paradise Park Trailhead.
Paradise Park Trail

Zigzag River Trail

Both the Hidden Lake and Paradise Park Trails are longer, steeper routes to Paradise Park than the more popular Pacific Crest Trail from Timberline Lodge hike but they do have things to offer. Solitude and dense forest replace mountain views making these good options for quieter hikes while still bringing you to the big views at Paradise Park. If you’ve already been to Paradise Park via Timberline Lodge either of these trails make a nice alternative, especially when the berries are ripe. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671573939900

Jefferson Park via Woodpecker Ridge

We deiced to try a new approach this year for our annual trip to Jefferson Park. Our plan was to hike the Woodpecker Ridge Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and then on to Jefferson Park with a possible bushwack to see Russell Creek Falls on the way back. We parked at the Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead which is a little over 5 miles along Forest Road 040.
Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead

The Woodpecker Ridge Trail extends approximately 1.8 to the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The trail starts off with a steep climb through the forest before gaining the ridge and leveling out. There were lots of juicy ripe huckleberries along this section. As we hiked along the ridge we entered the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
Entering the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness on the Woodpecker Ridge Trail

Unlike some of the other trails that lead to Jefferson Park Mt. Jefferson remained mostly hidden from the Woodpecker Ridge Trail. Only near the end did we get a look at the mountain.
Mt. Jefferson from the Woodpecker Ridge Trail

Shortly after getting our first look at the mountain we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail and turned left.
Woodpecker Ridge Trail junction with the PCT

We had another Mt. Jefferson sighting from a pond not far from the junction.
Mt. Jefferson from a pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

Most of the views along the PCT were to the NW across the Whitewater Creek drainage to Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave
Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave from the Pacific Crest Trail

Bocca Cave and Triangulation Peak

One of the other differences between this approach and the other trails leading to Jefferson Park is the presence of a sometimes tricky creek crossing. The bridge-less crossing of the glacier fed Russell Creek can be dangerous during high water flow. It was a mostly dry crossing on this morning though.
Russell Creek crossing

Monkeyflower

Russell Creek crossing

Our plan was to recross the stream before too much additional water was added to the flow as the temperatures rose during the day. A few smaller creek crossings brought us to the familiar junction with the Whitewater Creek Trail after a total of 3.2 miles on the PCT.
False hellbore

Junction with the Whitewater Creek Trail

We had come up the Whitewater Trail on our previous visit on 8/8/2015 and were anxious to compare the scenery given how dry the prior year had been. It had looked more like Fall than Mid-Summer on that visit but this year had seen more snow so we were expecting more water, more green, and more flowers. The difference was already noticeable when we arrived at the informational sign for Jefferson Park.

8/8/2015
Entering the Jefferson Park area

8/13/2016
Mt. Jefferson

Shortly after passing the sign the trail passes through a small rock field where we had seen a pika the year before. One greeted us this year in almost in the exact same spot.
Pika

A nice display of paintbrush greeted us as we entered Jefferson Park.
Paintbrush in Jefferson Park

We stuck to the Pacific Crest Trail ignoring the signed trails to Bays and Scout Lakes as we headed for Russell Lake at the far end of Jefferson Park. Along the way we passed a small pond that gave another good example of the difference a year can make.

2015
Pond in Jefferson Park

2016
Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park

Patches of paintbrush dotted the meadows along the way providing beautiful scenes.
Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park

We followed the PCT to the South Breitenbush River which was lined with wildflowers.
Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

We turned off the PCT and crossed the river to Russell Lake where Mt. Jefferson was reflecting nicely.
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Once again the difference in water level and flowers from the prior year was obvious.

2015
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

2016
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Patches of red paintbrush lined the lake as we made our way around its shore.
Mt. Jeffferson from Russell Lake

Paintbrush along Russell Lake

Park Butte from Russell Lake

After circling Russell Lake we returned to the Pacific Crest Trail and then turned down the South Breitenbush Trail.
Junction with the South Breitenbush Trail

We followed this trail to a meadow overlooking the river.
South Breitenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

At a rock cairn in the meadow we turned left and headed up a small hill to Park Lake.
Trail to Park Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Park Lake

From Park Lake we followed a trail along a dry creek bed up to Rock Lake.
Mt. Jefferson from Rock Lake

After passing by Rock Lake we crested another small hill and arrived at Bays Lake.
Mt. Jefferson from Bays Lake

We left Bays Lake after a short rest and headed toward Scout Lake passing a small unnamed lake along the way.
Mt. Jefferson from the lake between Bays and Scout Lakes

Park Butte and Scout Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Scout Lake

After visiting Scout Lake we returned to the PCT and headed out of Jefferson Park. We arrived back at the Russell Creek crossing at 11:15am and found that there hadn’t been much change in the water level yet.
Russell Creek Crossing

The butterflies were out now though.
Skipper

Fritillary butterfly on yarrow

Butterfly on thistle

After recrossing the creek we began watching for a spot to leave the PCT in order to bushwack down to a view of Russell Creek Falls. This waterfall was on my radar based on a report by a fellow hiker and avid waterfall hunter. He had warned of a steep cliffy approach so we weren’t sure if we’d be successful or not. I had done some preliminary scouting using Google Maps and a topographic map to find what had looked like the most suitable ridge to head down. Just off the trail we found an old campsite and then plunged into the forest.
Bushwack to a view of Russell Creek Falls

The ridge was indeed extremely cliffy on the Russell Creek side so we began fighting our way through the brush on the opposite side. We were glad that at least there weren’t any rhododendron plants at that elevation. As we continued down we kept looking for a way back toward the creek but the terrain and forest pushed us further away. After getting quite a ways downstream from the falls we found what appeared to be a possible gully. I began to work on finding a way down but it was very steep and after struggling and slipping twice I began looking to see if we could side hill back upstream. That wasn’t going to happen due to the cliffs lining the creek. I climbed back up to where I had left Heather and we adjusted our plan. We headed back upstream sticking as close to the top of the ridge as possible hoping to get some sort of view of the falls. We managed to find another gully closer to the falls where another steep descent brought us to a view halfway down the cliffs.
Russell Creek Falls

Russell Creek Falls

Russell Creek Falls

There wasn’t any way down from the view that looked even close to safe so we declared victory here and took a break before climbing back up to the PCT. The 151′ waterfall was indeed impressive but we can’t recommend attempting to see it. The steep slopes and abrupt cliffs make this a difficult and dangerous goal.

After fighting our way back to the PCT we headed for the Woodpecker Ridge Trail saying goodbye to Mt. Jefferson as we passed the pond.
Mt. Jefferson from a pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

We made it back to the car after a total of 15.5 miles. I thought I had escaped relatively unscathed after the bushwacking adventure but after changing into a pair of shorts I was ambushed by an evil yellow jacket (or jackets) and received a pair of stings on my leg. Those things are just plain mean.

Happy (yellow jacket free) Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157672410754435

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 5 – Return to the Wallowa Lake Trailhead

All good things must come to an end and it was time for our visit to the Eagle Cap Wilderness to end on the fifth day. We were up before 5am and were rewarded with a soft alpenglow.
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We ate some breakfast, packed up, and then made our way down to Horseshoe Lake.
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We then began a 3 mile descent to Sixmile Meadow along the West Fork Wallowa River. The trail up the river to Frazier Lake had been lined with wildflower meadows but this trail passed through a forest.
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A few flowers were present as well as some ripe oval leaf blueberries.
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Prince’s pine
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We had been discussing the fact that we hadn’t seen quite as much wildlife as we thought we might. A doe and her fawn had walked right past our tent on the first night and we’d seen a pair of mountain goats on the second day while heading up to the Matterhorn, but otherwise it had been a lot of birds, chipmunks and squirrels. As we came around a switchback we spotted a snowshoe hare.
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The trail leveled out as we neared Sixmile Meadow and the temperature dropped. A light frost covered the plants along the path.
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Logs allowed us to cross 2 branches of the river.
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We passed through Sixmile Meadow before turning left on the West Fork Wallowa Trail.
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We were now on a familiar trail but despite having seen the scenery there were some new sights in the form of wildlife.
Grouse
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Buck
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All in all it had been a great trip. We had had a couple of hiccups with Heather being ill the first night and having trouble finding a campsite the second and fourth nights but the weather had been wonderful and the scenery superb. After changing and doing a little bit of cleanup at the car we stopped for lunch in Joseph at the R & R Drive-In which really hit the spot. We each had a Zeke Burger and split an order of some spectacular tater-tots.

We were able to take I84 on the way home but decided to leave the Interstate at Hood River in an attempt to avoid driving through Portland during rush-hour on a Thursday. We drove past Mt. Hood on Highway 35 to Highway 26 then took State Highways through Estacada, Mollala,and Woodburn to avoid traffic. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671217618871

Epilogue – After spending five days in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of NE Oregon we found ourselves at the beach for our annual family reunion in Gleneden Beach, OR. For the first time we brought our camera and for the first time we spotted whales off the coast.
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In the course of a week we’d gone from seeing mountain goats on the way up a 9826′ peak to watching whales surface from sea level. Just one of the reasons why we love living in the Pacific Northwest.

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 4 – Eagle Cap

The fourth day of our backpacking trip began with a nice sunrise over Moccasin Lake.
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Our plan for the day was to take our day packs and hike to the summit of Eagle Cap, then pack up camp and move to Horseshoe Lake for the final night of our trip.

It had been rather breezy the day before and we were hoping that wouldn’t be the case today so that we could get catch some reflections of Eagle Cap in the lakes. A gentle breeze kept that from happening.
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We hiked to the west end of Mirror Lake and followed signs toward Horton Pass at a 4-way trail junction.
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The trail took us past Upper Lake set in an alpine bowl surrounded by wildflowers and backed by a scenic waterfall on the far side of the valley.
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The trail climbed up from Upper Lake toward Eagle Cap.
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We knew we would be encountering some patches of snow based on recent trip reports from Van Marmot and Born2BBrad over on Oregonhikers.org. We also knew that it would be fairly easy to avoid the snow which was good given our early start because the snow was still iced from the night before.
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From the sign in the snow we had the choice of going right to Horton Pass and following the ridge from there or going left and making a steeper climb to a higher point on the same ridge. Looking at the trail up to Horton Pass it seemed to have not only more snow but it was on a steeper slope than staying left so we chose that route and climbed to the ridge where views opened up to the west.
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To the NE lay the Lakes Basin and the Matterhorn.
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The west side of the ridge was covered in short trees and we passed through this forest of miniature trees to a saddle below Eagle Cap.
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From the saddle we had a nice view down the East Lostine River valley to the east and across to Blue Lake to the west.
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Beyond the saddle the trail climbed Eagle Cap in a series of long switchbacks. A few alpine flowers dotted the landscape.
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After passing through some whitebark pines we arrived at the broad summit of Eagle Cap.
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Although Eagle Cap is a few hundred feet shorter than the Matterhorn the sky was clearer than it had been two days earlier when we had been atop the other peak. The view was so huge it was hard to take everything in.
East Lostine River, the Matterhorn, and the Lakes Basin
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Glacier Lake
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Looking SW
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Seven Devils in Idaho
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The Elkhorns
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After having second breakfast on Eagle Cap we headed back down. On the way we ran into a couple from Portland who had camped near Upper Lake. They had seen a mountain goat run by their camp the day before and spotted a pair of wolves crossing a snowfield on the ridge above the lake as well. We passed several other hikers making their way up toward Eagle Cap making us glad we had started so early.

We stopped at Upper Lake to refill our water supply and decided to follow the trail around the lake thinking it would take us over to another trail that ran between Minam Pass and the 4-way junction at Mirror Lake.
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The trail petered out at the far end of the lake near it’s inlet stream. Instead of backtracking we decided to rock hop up the creek to the other trail.
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When we arrived at the other trail we found our first western pasque flower seed-heads.
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We were also near the waterfall we had seen from across Upper Lake.
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We followed the trail back down through some lovely wildflower meadows to the 4-way junction and then returned to our campsite to pack up.
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From Mirror Lake we had the choice of going back past Moccasin Lake or taking a different trail past little Sunshine and Crescent Lake. The two routes rejoined at the NE end of Douglas Lake. Since we had already seen Moccasin Lake we decided to go by Sunshine Lake where we wound up getting our best reflection of Eagle Cap.
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We passed a junction with the Hurricane Creek Trail after 1.1 miles and arrived at Crescent Lake after approximately another three quarter miles.
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Douglas Lake was just on the other side of the trail from Crescent Lake.
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We followed a pointer for the West Fork Wallowa River when we reached the trail junction at the end of Douglas Lake.
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Shortly thereafter we came to another trail junction.
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Here we faced another choice. Both forks would bring us to Horseshoe Lake, the left in 1.3 miles and the right in 1.5 miles passing Lee and Lily Lakes. We chose the longer route past the other two lakes and began descending toward Lee Lake.
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After a brief stop at Lee Lake we continued past the aptly named Lily Lake.
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The trail passed by large Horseshoe Lake along the northern shore.
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We were hoping to find a campsite at east end of Horseshoe Lake which would would leave us with a shorter hike on our final day but we were unable to find a suitable site at that end of the lake. After reaching the junction with the other fork of the Lakes Basin Trail and failing to have found a good campsite we decided to head back up the other fork to see if there were any decent sites along that trail.
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We had been planning on visiting nearby Unit Lake after setting up camp and knew there was a campsite there, but the trail to that lake was no longer maintained and camping there would require hauling our packs down to the lake over a lot of blowdown which we preferred not to do. As luck would have it we found a suitable spot for our tent below the trail just opposite of the unmaintained trail to Unit Lake.
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After getting settled we decided to take our chairs, dinner, and water filter with us to Unit Lake and spend our evening there. The trail had definitely not been maintained from quite some time and we were glad we had chosen not to try and do the trail with our full packs.
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That being said we were glad we made the side trip down to the lake.
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We were a little surprised when a Dad and four kids came crashing down the trail to fish for a little while but they soon departed and we had a little more solitude before returning to our tent and watching the sunset on Eagle Cap for the final time.
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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671183919842