Waldo Lake Wilderness Day 2 – Rigdon Lakes

After the 20+ mile hike the previous day we woke up at 5am feeling somewhat refreshed and happy to find that it wasn’t nearly as cold as it had been the morning before. A layer of clouds had moved in pushing out most of the smoke and trapping some heat in.
Morning at Waldo Lake5am clouds over Waldo Lake

We ate breakfast, packed up and then briefly hopped onto the Shoreline Trail following it to the signboard for the Wahanna Trail near Dam Camp.
Wahanna Trail

The Wahanna Trail quickly entered the Waldo Lake Wilderness and nearly as quickly entered the 1996 Taylor Burn fire scar.
Wahanna Trail entering the Waldo Lake Wilderness

Wahanna Trail

The Wahanna Trail passed around the west side of Rigdon Butte near the edge of a plateau above the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River. Across the river valley was Waldo Mountain with Winchester Ridge extending to the north.
Rigdon Butte

Rigdon Butte

Waldo Mountain and Winchester Ridge

Although the area is still struggling to recover from the fire there was a lot of color and interesting sights along the route. We also spotted three deer as they bounded over a ridge.
Ponds along the Wahanna Trail

Pond along the Wahanna Trail

Meadow along the Wahanna Trail

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A little over a mile along the trail we spotted a larger body of water off to our right which we would later identify as Ernie Lake.
Ernie Lake

After 1.3 miles on the Wahanna Trail we arrived at a junction with the two mile long Rigdon Lakes Trail where we turned right.
Rigdon Lakes Trail

We quickly got our first view of Lake Kiwa which was larger than we’d expected and turned out to be our favorite lake (not named Waldo) of the trip.
Lake Kiwa

Lake Kiwa

The trail followed the lake shore south providing a nice view ahead of Rigdon Butte.
Rigdon Butte from Lake Kiwa

Beyond Lake Kiwa the trail climbed over a small ridge and arrived at Lower Rigdon Lake just a tenth of a mile later.
Lower Rigdon Lake

The trial passed around this lake to the left then climbed up and over another ridge to Upper Rigdon Lake.
Rigdon Lakes Trail along Lower Rigdon Lake

Upper and Lower Rigdon Lake

Upper Rigdon Lake

Upper Rigdon Lake was also quite nice with a couple of small islands adding character.
Upper Rigdon Lake

Beyond Upper Rigdon Lake the trail wound its way over and around small rocky ridges to the Waldo Lake Shoreline Trail.
Rigdon Lakes Trail

Rigdon Lakes Trail junction with the Waldo Lake Shoreline Trail

We turned left onto the Shoreline Trail and stayed left at forks opting to take a different (slightly shorter) route back to the trailhead instead of following the lake shore.
Jim Weaver LoopFirst left fork

Water for horses along the Jim Weaver Loop TrailSecond fork left at a “water for horses” sign

Jim Weaver Loop TrailThird left fork at a junction with the Shoreline Trail

Jim Weaver Loop TrailFourth left fork at another junction with the Shoreline Trail

We should have stopped with the fourth left hand fork when we arrive at a fifth fork, but the topographic map on the GPS showed we weren’t at the correct right hand fork to lead us back to the trailhead.
Jim Weaver Loop TrailFifth left fork which should have been a right.

We realized our mistake but then spotted a faint abandoned trail near the spot the trail was shown on the topographic map so we followed it for just over 100 yards to a picnic table across the parking lot from our car. It had been a nice 5.4 mile hike with scenery that exceeded our expectations. A great way to end our August hikes and get us ready for September. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Waldo Lake Wilderness Day 2 – Rigdon Lakes

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Waldo Lake Wilderness Day 1 – Winchester Ridge and Eddeeleo Lakes Loop

We ended our August hikes with an overnight stay near Waldo Lake. After several days of smokey skies the weather had shifted and most of the smoke had been pushed out of the area. The exception to that was the smoke being produced by the Terwilliger Fire burning east of Eugene along Cougar Reservior and into the Three Sisters Wilderness. 😦

We were hoping that the smoke from that fire wasn’t going to be aimed right at us all weekend.  Things were off to a good start when we arrived at the Jim Weaver Trailhead at the north end of Waldo Lake. The sky was a crisp blue but the sky wasn’t the only thing that was crisp. The temperature gauge in the car had read 36 degrees when we’d parked.
Jim Weaver Loop Trailhead

Diamond Peak from Waldo Lake

From the parking area we walked down to boat ramp and turned right at a Shoreline Trail sign.
Shoreline Trail

Initially the trail passed through green trees with occasional views across the lake to Diamond Peak and Fuji Mountain (post).
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Diamond Peak and Fuji Mountain from Waldo Lake

Diamond Peak and Fuji Mountain from Waldo LakeDiamond Peak to the left and Fuji Mountain directly behind the island

Soon the trail entered the fire scar of the 1996 Taylor Burn.
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Diamond Peak and Fuji Mountain from Waldo Lake

Despite the frosty morning the wildlife was out in force.
Frost on the Shoreline Trail

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Tree full of birds

Golden-mantled ground squirrel

Bald eagle

After 2.3 miles we passed a trail signboard for the Rigdon Lakes Trail. We planned on returning the next day via that trail so for the time being we stuck to the Shoreline Trail for an additional 1.4 miles to another trail signboard, this time marking the Wahanna Trail. Along the way we’d passed Conim Lake on our right just a bit before leaving the Talor Burn fire scar.
Conim Lake near the edge of the 1996 Taylor Burn

Wahanna TrailWahanna Trail

Just beyond the Wahanna Trail junction we came to the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River flowing from Waldo Lake.
Footbridge over the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River

North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River

A side trail to the left here led passed a small outbuilding to Dam Camp where we had hoped to find a camp site but that area was already spoken for so we settled for a spot further back from lake.
Some sort of monitoring station

Outlet of Waldo LakeDam Camp is to the left in the trees and rhododendron

Campsite near Waldo Lake

This worked out to be a fine spot despite not being close to the lake as it was closer to the Wahanna Trail which we would be taking then next day on our way to the Rigdon Lakes Trail. After getting camp set up we put on our day packs and continued beyond the river crossing just a tenth of a mile to a fork where the Wahanna Trail forked downhill to the right (the Wahanna and Shoreline Trail briefly share tread).
Wahanna Trail splitting to the right from the Shoreline Trail

The trail promptly entered the Waldo Lake Wilderness.
Entering the Waldo Lake Wilderness

Just a quarter mile from the fork the trail forked again. This time the Wahanna Trail forked to the left while the right hand fork was the Six Lakes Trail.
Wahanna Trail to the left and the Six Lakes Trail to the right

Here we faced a choice. If we stayed left we could complete a long loop past Lake Chetlo and along Winchester Ridge and eventually following the Six Lakes Trail from its other end past the Quinn and Eddeeleo Lakes. Alternatively we could go right and after visiting the lakes turn back or decide to complete the loop in the opposite direction. We were feeling ambitious and felt up to the loop so we decided to go left. This way we would be saving the bulk of the lakes for the end of the loop.
Wahanna Trail

The trail remained relatively level for the next mile passing through a forest full of huckleberry bushes and several small meadows.
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Meadow along the Wahanna Trail

It was along this section that we encountered the only other people we would see during the loop. After 1.2 miles we spotted Lake Chetlo through the trees on our left.
Lake Chetlo

Lake Chetlo

Expecting to find a side trail down to the lake we continued on but the trail began to climb up and away from the lake. Less than a quarter mile later we were at a junction with the Winchester Ridge Trail and that had been the only look we had at Lake Chetlo.
Wahanna Trail junction with the Winchester Ridge Trail

We turned right onto the Winchester Ridge Trail which climbed steeply for a little over half a mile to another junction. We had been on this section of trail before in 2012 as we were coming down from the Waldo Mountain Lookout and heading for Elbow Lake (post).
Winchester Ridge Trail

We turned right at this junction as well to continue on the Winchester Ridge Trail which now leveled out somewhat as it traveled along the ridge.
Winchester Ridge Trail

The blue skies from the morning were quickly being replaced by smoke from the Terwilliger Fire as we made our way along Winchester Ridge. There aren’t many views from this trail to begin with and the couple that we did get we could just barely make out the Three Sisters to the NE.
South Sister through smoke

Smoke from the Terwilliger Fire obscuring the view of South SisterSouth Sister

Smokey view from the Winchester Ridge Trail

The Three SistersThe Three Sisters

View from the Winchester Ridge TrailRigdon Butte beyond the Eddeeleo Lakes from the Winchester Ridge Trail

Not only does the Winchester Ridge Trail suffer form a lack of views, but there aren’t many distinguishable landmarks along the way. A little over two and a half miles from the fork though the Waldo Meadows Trail came up from the left.
Waldo Meadows Trail to the left and the Winchester Ridge Trail to the right

That trail went downhill for .5 steep miles to Swann and then Gander Lakes, neither of which we could not see from the Winchester Ridge Trail. The trail climbed briefly beyond this junction before descending to yet another junction with a trail on the left. This time with the Winchester Trail, a total of 1.8 miles from the Waldo Meadows Trail.
Winchester Ridge Trail

Winchester Ridge Trail junction with the Winchester Trail

The Winchester Ridge Trail ends at the Winchester Trail. We stayed straight at the junction and followed the Winchester Trail for a half mile to its end at the Blair Lake Trail.
Winchester Trail

Blair Lake Trail sign

We turned right onto the Blair Lake Trail.
Blair Lake Trail

We had hiked the western end of this trail in 2015 on what remains to this day as the best beargrass hike ever. (post)

The Blair Lake Trail descended for a mile to Lower Quinn Lake which was unfortunately suffering from the increased smoke.
Lower Quinn Lake

After a brief stop at the lake we continued on the Blair Lake Trial for another quarter mile before reaching the signed junction with the Six Lakes Trail.
Blair Lake Trail junction with the Six Lakes Trail

Six Lakes Trail

We turned right onto this trail which climbed gradually for the next half mile to a fork where we went right to visit Upper Quinn Lake.
Upper Quinn Lake

Although the smoke wasn’t bad enough to cause us any issues with breathing or our eyes it was putting a damper on the views of the lakes. At Upper Quinn Lake we found a few empty campsites and lots of little frogs.
Frog at Upper Quinn Lake

Frog

Somewhere along the way we wound up losing the trail (most likely in one of the campsites) and had to bushwack back to the Six Lakes Trail. Once we had regained the trial we turned right and in just a tenth of a mile spotted the northern end of Long Lake beyond a grassy meadow.
Long Lake

Again we erroneously assumed there would be obvious side trails leading to the lake but the Six Lakes Trail passed on the opposite side of a rocky ridge for nearly a mile which hid the lake from sight.
Six Lakes Trail

When the GPS showed that we were nearly past the lake we decided to try and bushwack through the rhododendron to the southern end of the lake. We had managed to make it most of the way there when we spotted a tent set up near the shore. Not wanting to stumble into someones camp we settled for an obstructed view through the trees.
Long Lake

Long Lake

We left Long Lake and continued for another half mile toward Lower Eddeeleo Lake. Shortly before reaching the lake there was an obvious side trail to the left.
Side trail at Lower Eddeeleo Lake

This side trail led across a dry outlet creek to an open area along the lake shore. We took a longer break here. We could just make out the old Waldo Mountain Lookout through the smoke.
Waldo Mountain from Lower Eddeeleo Lake

Waldo Mountain

Waldo Mountain Lookout

We might have taken an even longer break if not for the yellow jackets who were just a little too interested in us for my liking. We left the lower lake and returned to the Six Lakes Trail which climbed a short way above the lower lake which was barely visible through the trees.
Six Lakes Trail

Lower Eddeeleo Lake

Just under one and three quarter miles from the side trail to Lower Eddeeleo Lake we came to a short side trail to Upper Eddeeleo Lake on our right. We stopped again briefly at this lake which had a little sunlight glinting off the water.
Waldo Mountain from Upper Eddeeleo Lake

The next lake on the map was Round Lake which lay below and to the east of Upper Eddeeleo Lake. The Six Lakes Trail wound around the lake but never got very close to it and the one side trail we spotted heading to the lake would have required a steeper climb back up than either of us were willing to do at that point so we once again settled for a very limited view through the trees.
Round Lake through the trees

The Six Lakes Trail climbed up a ridge away from Round Lake for the final mile of its 6.6 mile length before dumping us back out on the Wahanna Trail.
Six Lakes Trail

According to our GPS we had hiked a total of 19.4 miles at that point and still had the quarter mile climb back up to the Waldo Lake Shoreline Trail. We had known that this was going to be a long day but by our calculations we were expecting closer to a 17 mile day. We had also brought our dinner with us thinking we could eat it at one of the lakes, but between the smoke, yellow jackets, and a few hardy mosquitoes we hadn’t found a spot where we really wanted to sit for an extended time.

When we got back to the Shoreline Trail we turned right (away from camp) hoping to find a spot along Waldo Lake to eat. Fortunately we only had to go about 100 yards where we found a trail down to the rocky sore across from Dam Camp.
Waldo Lake with some smoke

Even better was the fact that the smoke was starting to move out of the immediate area bringing back some of the blue sky from the morning.
Waldo Lake

We tried a new meal, three cheese chicken pasta, which wound up being underwhelming. It sort of fit with much of the day. The hike was nice but nothing really stood out and the smokey conditions at the lakes didn’t help. It also seemed like most of the lakes were very similar in that they were surrounded by forested hillsides but nothing dramatic.

We sat out on the rocks for quite a while watching a paddle boarder and a canoe float around on the lake as well as having some mergansers swim by.
Merganser

It was quite a bit busier at the lake than where we normally camp and after getting a little chilly and returning to our tent to put on some extra clothing we noticed that a family? that had set up camp near where we had eaten had lit a campfire. Just a couple of days earlier the Willamette National Forest had announced a ban on all campfires and we had seen numerous posted signs that morning. On top of the illegal campfire we were also being treated to the melodious (NOT) sounds of someones portable music player. Thankfully the music died down and at one point we heard someone yell to the family that they needed to put the fire out. We went to bed hoping that the next day would be just a bit better. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Waldo Lake Wilderness Day 1

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

The rain showers that had begun the previous afternoon continued into the morning as we prepared for our last day in the Elkhorns. Fortunately they were infrequent and only one quick shower provided any significant amount of precipitation.
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By the time that shower rolled through we had pretty much packed everything up and had it all under the cover of trees. After eating breakfast we started up the Dutch Flat Trail to Dutch Flat Saddle. The presence of the clouds passing overhead gave things a different look that morning and had pushed some of the smoke out.
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The showers had been coming from the west so we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of blue sky we found in that direction.
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Instead of turning right at the saddle and following the Elkhorn Crest Trail back to the trailhead we went straight over the ridge onto the Crawfish Basin Trail.
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This was a longer route back, just over 6 miles vs. 3.25 miles, but it would allow us to visit the Hoffer Lakes as well as Anthony and Lilypad Lake and only repeat a half mile of trail from our first day.

After a series of switchbacks down the Crawfish Basin Trail leveled off along the hillside above Crawfish Meadow.
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It also passed below the rocky spires of Angell Peak, Lees Peak, and The Lakes Lookout.
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As we made our way around the hillside Crawfish Lake came into view down in Crawfish Basin.
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The lake is one of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Easter Oregon” guidebook which put it on our list of to do hikes if we are ever going to finish all of his featured hikes. There are no trails between the lake and the Crawfish Basin Trail so we were planning on stopping at the Crawfish Lake Trail later in the day on our way from the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead to Sumpter. For now we continued along the Crawfish Basin Trail which wrapped around The Lakes Lookout before joining an old road bed after two and a half miles.
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Just prior to joining the road we startled a group of elk in the trees below the trail. They were never in view long enough for a picture but we were excited to add them to the deer and mountain goats we’d already seen during the trip.

A tenth of a mile along the old roadbed we came to a fork where a trail to the right led up nearly 800′ to The Lakes Observation Point.
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Rock Creek Butte had been enough climbing for us on this trip so we ignored the side trail and continued on the roadbed toward the Anthony Lakes Ski Area passing views of Anthony Lake along the way.
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IMG_0878Ski lift on the hillside ahead.

Near the ski area we turned downhill on a steep double track instead of continuing around a much longer hairpin curve in the road.
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We then turned right on the road which seemed to see plenty of use.
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In a quarter mile we came to the start of the Hoffer Lakes Trail on the right.
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We followed this trail for half a mile through meadows to the first Hoffer Lake.
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Following the path around the first lake to SE led us across a series of footbridges to the second Hoffer Lake.
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Only a narrow strip of meadow separates the lakes.
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After visiting the second lake we returned to the Hoffer Lakes Trail and followed pointers for Anthony Lake.
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This section of the trail was wide and full of roots. It was also surprisingly steep in places as it followed Parker Creek downhill.
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After half a mile the Hoffer Lake Trail ended at another old road bed near walk-in camp sites.
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We followed a path straight ahead for about 50 yards to get a look at Anthony Lake.
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After making use of one of the picnic tables we followed the roadbed to the right around the lake for .3 miles to a boat ramp where the view across Anthony Lake included Gunsight Mountain.
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At the boat ramp we turned right onto the Black Lake Trail.
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Just 500 feet along this trail was the aptly named Lilypad Lake.
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The trail made a short climb beyond Lilypad Lake before dropping us back onto the Elkhorn Crest Trail a half mile from both the boat ramp at Anthony Lake and the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead where our car awaited us.
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Although we weren’t done with our hiking for the day we were glad to be done with our full backpacks. We took our day packs out and prepared them for the Crawfish Lake Trail then drove 4.5 miles west of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area to the Upper Crawfish Lake Trailhead just off of Forest Road 73.
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The Crawfish Lake Trail began by diving steeply downhill to a creek crossing.
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It then leveled out a bit and descended much more gradually past a variety of scenery.
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There were signs of recent trail maintenance along the way, some more successful than others.
IMG_0961Trail maintenance fail.

Shortly before arriving at Crawfish Lake the trail entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Just 1.4 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the lake.
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We walked along the NW shore for .3 miles to a campsite with a view across the lake to The Lakes Lookout.
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We took a break at the campsite, which was also the location of the continuation of the trail as it left the lake and headed downhill 1.3 miles to the Crawfish Creek Trailhead.

After a brief rest we returned the way we’d come and headed into Sumpter along Forest Road 73. It wasn’t noon yet but the sky was starting to fill up with some ominous looking clouds.

We were planning on staying in Sumpter for two nights. We had unfinished business from our previous visit in September 2017 when snow kept us from hiking up to the lookout atop Mt. Ireland (post). After checking into the Sumpter Stockade we walked through town to the Golden Nugget Cafe.

On the way back to our room we heard the first of the thunder. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that the area was under a red flag warning for thunderstorms through much of Friday with the chance of them occurring into Friday night. Since the top of a mountain is one of the last places you want to be during a thunder storm we decided to scrap our planned hike up Mt. Ireland and return home a day early.

In the end it was probably for the best as we were both dealing with some foot issues after having hiked for six straight days and over 76 miles. Heather was also anxious to meet her new nephew so Mt. Ireland would have to wait for another trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

After we spent our third day in the Elkhorns basically retracing our steps from the second day nearly two thirds of our fourth day would be spent on new trails. Our plan was to leave Summit Lake and return to the trailhead along the jeep track near Cracker Saddle then follow that jeep track down to the Lost Lake Trail which would lead us past Meadow and Lost Lakes before climbing back up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail to the north of Mt. Ruth. From there we would follow the Elkhorn Crest Trail north just under two miles to Dutch Flat Saddle where we would take the Dutch Flat Trail down to Dutch Flat Lake for the night.

There was still a little haze in the air but the smoke didnt’t seem any worse than the day before.
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We could see the haze but never really smelled anything and depending on the angle of the sun and where you looked there were still blue patches of sky to be seen as we left the lake.
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After a mile and a half we arrived at the trailhead signboard and turned right down the jeep track.
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It was a rough, steep road and neither of us would have even considered attempting to drive it.
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It did eventually level out some and was not without some charm as it passed several meadows and through some nice forested sections.
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It also crossed a few wildflower lined streams.
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After one and a quarter miles along the road we came to a signed junction with the Lost Lake Trail.
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Here we turned left on another double track and headed toward Meadow Lake.
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Meadow Lake lay off the Lost Lake Trail to the west just over half a mile from the junction. Both the GPS and the topographic map showed a spur trail/road leading to the lake but we were unable to locate it as we passed by. We used the Garmin to bushwack through some young lodgepole pine trees in the area where the road was supposed to be. After a tenth of a mile picking our way through we came to Meadow Lake.
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It was a nicer lake than we had expected and was home to many frogs.
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There had also been quite an insect hatch (or alien invasion) at some point.
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We walked north along the lake and found a sign near a fire pit.
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A faint trail appeared to lead away from this area back toward the Lost Lake Trail so we tried following it back. It was only marginally better as it too became lost amid the small lodgepoles. Once we were back on the double track we continued north climbing above Meadow Lake to a saddle.
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The old road bed then launched seemingly straight downhill. To make matters worse it was covered with fairly good sized rocks.
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This lasted for about a quarter mile before the trail leveled out in a basin near a nice meadow with a view of Mt. Ruth.
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The trail crossed a stream flowing from the meadow and then began to climb in an equally absurd rocky and steep manner.
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The climb up this side lasted a little over half a mile before leveling off a bit on a forested ridge.
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After passing over the ridge a short and less steep descent brought us to a signed junction for Lost Lake.
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The sign said it was a quarter mile to the lake but it was really only about a tenth of a mile down (steeply again) to the shore.
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We broke out our camp chairs and rested for about an hour. After eating a bit of food and recovering from the earlier climb we continued on. It was another steep, rocky climb for the first three tenths of a mile from Lost Lake.
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The trail then leveled out as it passed a series of meadows below Lost Lake Saddle.
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Gentians were abundant in the green meadows.
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Roughly three quarters of a mile from Lost Lake we passed a rocky ledge where a short side trip brought us to a view of the lake below.
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The trail then passed a couple more meadows before entering an old fire zone where some silver snags still stood.
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A couple of switchbacks brought us back up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail a total of 1.3 miles from Lost Lake.
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We turned right (north) and promptly passed through Nip & Tuck Pass where the trail now traversed along the western side of the crest above Cunningham Cove.
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Just over a mile later we crossed over Cunningham Saddle to a view of Crawfish Basin.
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Three quarters of a mile away we could see Dutch Flat Saddle along the ridge ahead.
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At that saddle we turned right onto the Dutch Flat Trail.
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A short distance down the trail we got our first good look at Dutch Flat Lake.
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For a mile the trail switchbacked down past rocky cliffs and wildflower meadows to a junction.
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Another quarter mile brought us to the meadow lined lake.
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We went about setting up camp then started to explore a bit. I noticed a young bird along the shore so we declared that area off-limits.
IMG_0786I used the 30x zoom for the picture and didn’t get close to the little one.

It was an interesting little lake with a tiny island and lots of jumping fish.
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We found the outlet creek to be particularly unique as it squeezed through a narrow channel between rocks.
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We did find a nice pool along the creek to get water from and as we were doing that we started to feel rain drops. I raced back to the tent and threw on the rain fly just before a decent little shower passed overhead.
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After the rain shower we ate dinner and then walked around the lake which came to a little under half a mile.
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The SW end of the lake was particularly marshy with several inlets forcing us to swing out fairly wide.
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All the wet meadows in the area provided good habitat for huckleberries.
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It also appeared to be an area that would have a lot of mosquitoes but we only noticed a couple and neither of us wound up with any bites. It was the only time during the entire trip that either of us even saw any.

With the hike around the lake our days mileage came to just 10.6 which was the least so far with the following day expected to be even less. We were starting to feel a little worn down but knowing the final day was mostly downhill helped lift our spirits.

As the evening progressed I began to wonder about the possibility of thunderstorms, something that we have yet to encounter while backpacking. Heather is not a fan of thunder and lighting at all and I am not in any hurry to have our first experience with it either. It did shower off and on all night but that was the extent of it and never in any significant amounts. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 3

As far as we know we didn’t have any mountain goat visitors during our night at Lower Twin Lake but I did wake up once and managed to see a streak across the sky which I assume was part of the Perseid meteor shower. Another goat did pass close by in the morning though as we were preparing to leave.
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It wasn’t nearly as chilly as it had been the previous morning and the air had gotten quite a bit hazier overnight.
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The increased smoke made us thankful that we had made our climb up Rock Creek Butte the day before instead of waiting until this morning. We had a fairly straight forward day planned as we would simply be returning the way we’d come the day before minus the side trip up to Rock Creek Butte’s summit. We were still seriously considering not going all the way back to Summit Lake which would be approximately a 13 mile hike. We figured we could shorten that by nearly a mile if we set up camp near one of the streams along the Summit Lake Trail.

As we began the mile climb from Lower Twin Lake back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail we passed the mountain goat who had stop to graze.
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A little further along we spotted three deer doing the same in a patch of yellow wildflowers.
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The hoofed animals weren’t the only ones out this morning.
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As we climbed away from the Twin Lakes Rock Creek Butte came into view.
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When we reached the Elkhorn Crest Trail we turned left and headed toward Rock Creek Butte where we spotted another mountain goat coming down the ridge where we had gone up the day before.
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It turned out to be a mountain goat filled morning. As we were passing around the western side of Rock Creek Butte a herd of goats came up from the valley below. Some of them crossed the trail in front of us while others stayed down in the trees until we passed.
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We had another encounter a short while later as I passed around a rock outcropping and came face to face with a goat heading south on the trail. We were both equally startled and the goat quickly leapt downhill behind more rocks.
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The increased smoke limited the views on the way back so we focused more on the things along the trail.
IMG_0579Mt. Ruth to the north

IMG_0575Rock Creek Butte to the south

IMG_0560Looking east toward the Wallowas

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Curiosity got the best of Heather as we came to a jeep track heading uphill to a ridge 9.3 miles from the Twin Lakes Trail junction and 1.2 miles before the Summit Lake junction.
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Wondering if there might be a view of Summit Lake from the ridge we followed it steeply uphill only to discover that the angle was wrong and we were looking north over Little Summit Lake which was hidden in the trees below.
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We were feeling relatively good all things considered so we had decided to go all the way to Summit Lake and stay there again only this time we would take the first available camp site we came too instead of going half way around the lake. We arrived at the lake to find it a little smokier than we had left it the morning before but it was still a great lake.
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We were the only people there when we arrived and did indeed set up camp in the first available spot.
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We were later joined by a solo backpacker who we had passed along the Summit Lake Trail. We spent the afternoon lounging around camp and hanging out with the locals.
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The total distance for the day was just a bit over 13 miles but there had been a lot less elevation gain making it a fairly mild day. We were dealing with some blisters and Heather was having a little issue with an ankle that was being bruised by her shoe which told her it was time for a new pair. The good news was the next two days were only going to be around 10 miles each, but we were facing some more climbing on day four along the Lost Lake Trail which I had been told was steep and rocky. We turned in after memorizing the route for the following day. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 3

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

The second day of our Elkhorn Crest backpacking trip began with a welcome chill in the morning. It was actually cold enough to break out the beanie, Buff, and gloves.
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We ate breakfast as the Sun came up creating a nice reflection in Summit Lake.
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After packing up we decided to continue around the lake counter-clockwise to complete a loop around the shore. We crossed a small inlet in a meadow at the southern end of the lake.
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Beyond the meadow the trail passed a couple of other campsites with views to the north across the water.
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Birds were busily flying from tree to tree but one sat still long enough for a photograph.
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After completing the loop we began the 1.5 mile climb back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail. The trail crossed over several small streams and meadows as it passed through a forested section. We spotted two does and a fawn in the area.
IMG_0220One of the does (the fawn dashed by moments later)

IMG_0218Close-up of the doe

As we continued along we were hailed by the group of hikers we had passed early on the first day who had said they were aiming for Summit Lake as well. They wound up running out of gas they said so they set up camp on a rocky overlook of the valley below. After talking with them briefly we continued on to the cairn marking the junction with the Elkhorn Crest Trail where we turned left.
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Our goal for the day was Twin Lakes but we also planned to summit Rock Creek Butte, the highest peak in the Elkhorn Range. We were leaving our options open though. The route up was 9.5 miles away and we weren’t sure if it would be better to wait and attempt it the next day when it would be earlier in the day and likely cooler or if doing it today would be better since the sky was still relatively smoke free in the immediate area. Either way we had time to decide as we followed the trail along the western side of the crest.
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We were very interested in a peak on the horizon to the south. It was clearly separated from the Strawberry Mountains further west and we weren’t sure what it was. When we returned home it was one of the first things I looked up and it turned out to be Ironside Mountain.
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We spotted a number of animals along the crest in the morning including the biggest caterpillar either of us had ever seen digging in the dirt.
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Approximately a mile and a half from the junction with the Summit Lake Trail we came across the only water we would encounter along the entire Elkhorn Crest Trail. A small flower lined stream heading down into Sardine Gulch to join Cracker Creek.
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The trail had left the North Fork John Day Wilderness at Cracker Saddle and we began seeing the difference at a hairpin turn around a ridge.
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From above we couldn’t read the sign without the aid of the camera zoom.
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Someone clearly put some work into that. A little further along the trail we started noticing mining operations along the hillside. We could also see 9106′ Rock Creek Butte further along the ridge.
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The trail spent a short while along a wide section of the ridge top before returning to the western side of the crest.
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We would again gain the ridge top with a nice view down the Rock Creek Valley to the east.
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Nearly seven miles from the Summit Lake Trail junction we came to the Pole Creek Ridge Trail which headed faintly downhill along a ridge.
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By the time we’d reached this junction we had decided to attempt Rock Creek Butte on the way by instead of waiting for the next day. It wasn’t too hot and more importantly it looked like smoke was creeping towards us from both sides so we thought we’d better get what views we could while the getting was good. It was still a little over two and a half miles to the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte where we would turn up for the climb.
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We were having a hard time coming from the direction that we were determining which peak ahead was actually Rock Creek Butte. We were hoping that the closest rounded peak was our goal and not the larger one further away. From the angle we were at they appeared to be somewhat similar in height.
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When we gained the ridge top again though we could just make out Rock Creek Lake in the basin below the further peak which told us that was our next goal.
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As it turned out the peak we had hoped was Rock Creek Butte was 500′ shorter although it did seem to have a possible route up.
IMG_0309Looking up “not” Rock Creek Butte

IMG_0310Rock Creek Butte is still a little ways away.

It took another mile and a half to reach the saddle where we would turn up the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte.
IMG_0327Looking ahead to the saddle.

IMG_0330Nearing the saddle.

At the saddle we left the trail and ditched are backpacks in a group of trees in favor of our day packs.
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Before starting the climb we noticed that we weren’t the only ones traveling south on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. A pair of mountain goats could be seen walking along the trail.
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After watching the goats head over the ridge toward Twin Lakes we began our ascent.
Mountain goat sign was everywhere along the rocky ridge and there was no discernible path, although we did occasionally spot a human foot print in the dirt.
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The half mile route gains roughly 600′ with the final tenth of a mile being the steepest portion.
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A large cairn and register box sit atop the peak.
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From the summit Lower Twin Lake was visible to the south.
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Mt. Ireland and Vinegar Hill lay to the west.
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To the NE should have been the Wallowas but smoke appeared to have overtaken them.
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The view to the north included many of the peaks of the Elkhorn Range but there was no view of Rock Creek Lake due to the broad summit.
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A 500′ stroll across the summit though revealed the gorgeous lake below.
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IMG_0370Notice the golden-mantled ground squirrel sitting atop the large rock overlooking the lake.

Mountain goats were grazing in some green grass by a smaller body of water near the lake.
IMG_0375 (Full disclosure neither of us noticed the goats until I was looking through the pictures at home.)

IMG_0373Looking back at the summit cairn from the Rock Creek Lake overlook.

There were a lot of flying ants on the cairn as well as several lady bugs and some butterflies nearby.
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After recovering from the climb up we started back down just as another hiker was closing in on the summit. It turned out that he had been the other person besides us camped at Summit Lake the night before. We left him to the summit and slowly picked our way back down to our backpacks. After retrieving them we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail following a section of trail that had been blasted out of the rocks.
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Soon Lower Twin Lake came into view followed by Upper Twin Lake.
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The trail made a sweeping curve for the next three quarters of a mile above the lakes bringing around to the opposite end of them before arriving at a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail.
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Although the lakes are only about 350′ below the junction the Twin Lakes Trail takes its own sweet time getting down to them via a series of long switchbacks.
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They made for a relatively easy climb out the next day but I was ready to be done for the day and became rather impatient with the slow decent. After a little over a mile we arrived at the lake and chose a camp stie.
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Both our guidebook and signs at the trailheads had warned about the mountain goats in the area being habituated to humans. A good reminder of why people shouldn’t feed wildlife, without the fear of humans the goats have been known to nibble on tents, clothing and backpacks in search of salt. We made sure not to leave anything lying around outside the tent but it wasn’t long before the first goat passed nearby.
IMG_0407You can see Heather’s arm on the left side of the photo.

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About a half hour later a second goat followed.
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After dinner we watched a nanny and kid circle around the lake and graze nearby.
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We did leave our tent for about 45 minutes to visit Upper Twin Lake which was just .3 miles away.
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More mountain goats were grazing on the hillsides above this lake.
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The goats left our tent alone and we turned in for the night after what would be the longest day of our trip at 15.9 miles. Our original plan had been to return to Summit Lake the next day and stay there again but we were now considering camping along the Summit Lake Trail like the other group we had met had done. The nearby streams would allow us to get water and it would shave off a little distance both the next day and the day after when we were planning on heading from Summit Lake to Dutch Flat Lake. We decided to play it by ear the next day and turned in for the night halfway expecting to wake up to a mountain goat staring at us through the mesh on our tent. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 1

A day after visiting Jefferson Park we left Salem early and headed up I5 to I84 to North Powder where we followed signs for Anthony Lakes to the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead.
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Our plan was to follow the Elhorn Crest National Recreation Trail (NRT) to Twin Lakes and back over a period of five days with a number of detours thrown in. Our goal for the first day was Summit Lake which was approximately 10 miles from the trailhead. We had hoped to be hiking by 11am and were right on schedule as we set off at 10:57. After the unrelenting heat two weeks earlier during our Strawberry Mountain trip (day 1 post)we were glad to find that the temperature was much friendlier here.

The trail passed through a forest with occasional meadows and glimpses of Gunsight Mountian.
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At the half mile mark we passed a signed trail junction with the Lilypad Lake Trail.
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This was a possible return route on our final day after visiting both Hoffer Lakes and Anthony Lake. For now though we stayed on the Elkhorn Crest Trail for another 150′ where the Black Lake Trail forked to the right.
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We made a snap decision to check out Black Lake which was just a bit over a quarter mile away. After an initial steep climb the trail leveled out before arriving at the little lake.
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After viewing the lake we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail and continued south where in half a mile it passed near the SE end of Black Lake. If we had looked a little more closely at our guidebook we would have realized this and saved ourselves the extra mileage. Beyond Black Lake the trail continued to climb passing granite hillsides and a few wildflowers.
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IMG_0014Columbine

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As the trail climbed the views opened up to either side of the crest with Antone Creek in the valley to the east and Crawfish Meadow to the west in Crawfish Basin.
IMG_0036Antone Creek

IMG_0039Crawfish Meadow in Crawfish Basin

We reached Dutch Flat Saddle 2.8 miles from where we had taken the Black Lake Trail up to Black Lake. This saddle is the site of a four-way junction with the Dutch Flat Trail dropping to the east and the Crawfish Basin Trail to the west. It also marks the boundary of the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Our plans included both of these other trails with Dutch Flat Lake being our choice for camp on the fourth night and then the Crawfish Basin Trail being our route to the Hoffer Lakes, Anthony Lake and ultimately back to the trailhead. For now though we continued on the Elkhorn Crest Trail which traversed the hillside above Crawfish Basin.
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Although we were too late for the majority of wildflowers a few hardy souls remained.
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After passing around Crawfish Basin the trail crossed over a saddle where the faint Cunningham Cove Trail joined from the west.
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IMG_0065Cunningham Cove

A little over a mile from the Cunningham Cove Trail jct we crossed over the crest at Nip & Tuck Pass.
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IMG_0077View north from Nip & Tuck Pass

Just beyond the pass the Lost Lake Trail joined from the east which was another trail we were planning on taking on our way back.
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The Elkhorn Crest Trail climbed from this junction to Lost Lake Saddle where, despite some smokey haze, we could see some of the Wallowa Mountains to the NE and the Strawberry Mountains to the SW.
IMG_0088Looking NE

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IMG_0092Looking SW

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Along the ridge we also gained a view of Lost Lake below.
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Beyond Lost Lake Saddle the trail crossed back over to the western side of the crest as it passed around Mt. Ruth.
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The scenery along the trail changed often with some sections passing through green trees and others sagebrush covered hillsides.
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A little over three and a quarter miles from Nip & Tuck Pass we reached Cracker Saddle.
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This was by far the most confusing spot of the entire trip. I had been chatting on Facebook with another hiker who had done a similar trip at the end of July and she had mentioned this area as a problem. Even with her information, a topographic map, and our guidebook it took us a bit (including two false starts) to figure out the correct path. Much of the signage here was missing save for a pointer for the Peavy Trail descending to the west to the rentable Peavy Cabin.
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A jeep track came up to the saddle from the east while faint paths appeared to continue north on either side of the ridge ahead. A pair of cows watched us while we stood at the saddle debating which way to go.
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We initially set off on the faint path that forked to the east side of the ridge ahead but quickly realized that it was only a cow path as it dove downhill toward a barbed wire fence. We retreated back to the saddle where I remembered being told that we’d be on a double track for a short bit. The jeep track that came up from the east looked like too sharp a turn based on the map in our guidebook so we started to follow the right hand fork that went around the west side of the ridge which was actually a continuation of the jeep track. We only took a few steps before coming to our senses since Summit Lake was on the east side of the crest. Twelve minutes after arriving at the saddle we picked the correct route and turned down the jeep track to the east. After .3 miles we arrived at a trailhead sign where a Jeep was parked.
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About 150ft downhill to the right of the parking area was a sign for the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
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We turned left at the sign and in another tenth of a mile forked left at a rock cairn at an unsigned junction (after confirming with the GPS).
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This was the Summit Lake Trail which wound around the east side of the crest.
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The lake itself is only 200′ lower in elevation than at Cracker Saddle, but the trail undulated along the hillside creating some climbs along the way. It also passed above Little Summit Lake which we initially mistook for Summit Lake itself. That lake is a little over 250′ lower than Summit Lake so we were thankful that we wouldn’t be climbing up from it the next morning.
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The trail passed below some white cliffs where we encountered a golden-mantled ground squirrel who appeared to be up to no good.
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After a couple of short switchbacks down, the trail made a final climb to a view of Summit Lake.
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It was approximately a mile and a half total to the lake from the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
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Trails went around the lake in either direction. We chose to head left and go counter-clockwise looking for a campsite. There was a couple on the trail ahead of us that appeared to just be there on a day hike (another trailhead is located even further down the jeep track creating a 1.2 mile climb to the lake along its outlet creek from the NE). We passed them and then went by a series of sites before reaching the outlet creek. We had decided that the first site we’d passed was the best but the day hikers were resting there when we went back so we continued beyond the outlet passing another backpacker setting up camp. On the east side of the lake we found our spot and set up for the night.
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It was only 4:30pm so we had plenty of time to enjoy the lake which quickly became Heather’s favorite. Fish frequently jumped after bugs but the bugs weren’t bothering us. Other fish could be seen in the clear water near the lake shore.
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While scanning the cliffs on the far side of the lake we spotted a lone mountain goat.
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It too seemed to think the lake was a good place to sit and relax.
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Early in the day we had passed a trio of hikers who had also been planning on camping at the lake for the night but we hadn’t seen them arrive by the time we turned in for the night. With our side trip to Black Lake, a bit of wandering at Cracker Saddle, and the walk around much of the lake our mileage for the day was an even twelve miles. Except for the short section of the Black Lake Trail the trails were very well graded and the temperatures stayed cool, especially in the shade and anytime a slight breeze kicked up which was quite often. Unlike our Strawberry Mountain Wilderness trip we ended the first day feeling good and looking forward to the next day when we would head to Twin Lakes. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 1