Category Archives: Mt. Washington Area

Sand Mountain – 6/23/2019

For our second trip this year we had planned on heading to the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness and then to the John Day area for a couple of days but the week before our trip our 16 year old cat Buddy wasn’t doing well. After a couple of visits to the vets (and having nearly a pound of fluid removed from his lungs) he was placed on several medications. He’s doing much better now (he is currently on my lap helping me write this entry) but we didn’t want to leave him so soon so we decided to stay home and do a series of day hikes instead.
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Not only was this a fairly last minute change of plans but the forecast for the week was all over the place concerning chances of precipitation and the amount of clouds vs sun. We decided on a handful of potential hikes then checked the forecast for each one trying to come up with an optimal schedule. The process led us to choosing Sand Mountain for our second hike (Vista Ridge and Owl Point (post) being the first).

Sand Mountain is located near Santiam Pass in the Cascade Mountain and is a geologic study area. The U.S. Forest Service and the Sand Mountain Society seasonally staff the Sand Mountain Lookout in part to keep off highway vehicles from damaging the fragile area. Off trail travel off any kind is banned in the study area, but as we were shown by one of the Rangers in the lookout all the signs and barriers in the world can’t stop some morons from doing whatever it is they want to do as there were several tracks visible in the volcanic soil where OHVs or snow moblies had torn things up but I digress.

We chose to follow William L. Sullivan’s suggestion in his “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” guidebook (hike #129 in the 4th edition) by parking at the intersection of FR 810 and Big Lake Road.
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To get here turn south off of Highway 20 toward the Hoodoo Ski Area and follow Big Lake Road for 3.1 miles. FR 810 is open to vehicles which allows one to park 2.9 miles closer to Sand Mountain, but why drive on a rough 15mph dirt road if you don’t have to? Additionally FR 810 follows the route of the Santiam Wagon Road which connected the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon and was used from 1865 to 1939. The 400 mile long route is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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It was a pleasant walk with a few scattered flowers along the way.
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IMG_9968Beargrass plumes amid the trees

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At the two and a half mile mark we came to a somewhat confusing junction.
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There were snow mobile signs here, one of which had a pointer for Sand Mountain.
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We turned left here following the pointer.
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After about a third of a mile we realized that we were on the wrong side of Sand Mountain so we pulled up the map and compared it with GPS to confirm our suspicions of being on the wrong track. We were indeed so we turned around, but not before getting a decent view of the Sand Mountain Lookout which appeared to be in a bit of a cloud.
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We turned left after getting back to the junction and continued on the Santiam Wagon Road another .4 miles to a sign for the Sand Mountain Special Interest Area. This would be the starting point for the shorter hike option.
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Here we turned left again passing a gate and several notices regarding the prohibited activities in the area.
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The road bed passed by a dark bed of ash as it began climbing up Sand Mountain.
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We were seeing a bit of blue sky overhead as we climbed around and up the west side of the cinder cone but the only cloud free mountain we could make out was Iron Mountain (post).
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IMG_0011Iron Mountain

After a mile and a half we arrived at the old trailhead, now a large parking area for the Forest Service and volunteers who staff the lookout.
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We headed up the trail which again had several notices stating foot traffic only and reminders to stay on the marked trail.
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From this trail we could see Hoodoo, Hayrick Butte, and Black Butte (post)along with the blue waters of Big Lake.
IMG_0029From left to right – Hoodoo, flat topped Hayrick Butte, and Black Butte (behind Cache Mountain).

There was just a bit of snow left over on the trail and a few western pasque flowers were starting to bloom and a western toad was out and about.
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We arrived at the base of the lookout tower after climbing for about a third of a mile.
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A Forest Service Ranger came out to greet us and give us an informative lesson on Sand Mountain and the surrounding geologic area. Sand Mountain is the largest in a series of 23 cinder cones formed along a N-S fissure which also includes 42 distinctive vents and over three quarters of a cubic mile of lava. She informed us that the snow melt from Sand Mountain seeps through the cinder and ash into a large aquifer where after approximately 2 years it makes its way into Clear Lake via the Great Springs and then down the McKenzie River. (post)

We were also informed that Sand Mountain is home to pygmy short-horned lizards but the ranger wasn’t sure that we would see any given the cloudy conditions and chilly breeze. She let us know that we could follow a path down to a viewpoint on the rim of the northern crater and that we were also allowed to hike around the rim if we wanted but she did mention that the climb up the northern end was somewhat steep. We thanked her for the information and headed down to the viewpoint.
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20190623_085411Dwarf lupine at the viewpoint.

The clouds appeared to be breaking up to the west over the Old Cascades.
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The same didn’t appear to be true to the SE though where the snowy Cascade Mountains were still squarely behind the clouds.
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We opted to go around the rim in a counter-clockwise rotation. That way we would be hiking directly toward the Cascades as we looped around in hopes that they might yet clear up.
IMG_0057Starting the loop from the viewpoint.

There really wasn’t any visible tread to speak of on the side of the rim below the lookout and we briefly wondered if we had done something wrong. We stepped as lightly as possible and avoided the patches of vegetation along the way.
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We eventually made it to what appeared to be an old road bed where the path became a bit clearer.
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The hike around the crater was very interesting. A surprising amount of wildflowers were blooming in the rocks and the views down into the crater were impressive.
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As we rounded the crater there was a nice view across to the lookout.
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About this time the Old Cascades had finally shaken off their cloud cover allowing us to identify some additional features.
IMG_0089The Three Pyramids with Scar Mountain (post) to the far right.

IMG_0090Crescent Mountain (post)

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As we continued toward the Cascades things began looking up that way as well.
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We paused when we were directly across the crater from the lookout to watch the Three Sisters become nearly cloud free.
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IMG_0120Belknap Crater (post), the Three Sisters, and the Husband.

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I pushed on heading steeply uphill now hoping to get a view of Mt. Washington as well. As I was climbing I thought I saw another toad, but it turned out to be on of the pygmy short-horned lizards the ranger had told us about.
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IMG_0143Mt. Washington joining the show.

Another short but steep section of climbing brought me up to an even better view which now also included Big Lake and to a second lizard.
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I waited with the lizard for Heather who had stopped at the first lizard.
IMG_0152Can you see Heather’s hat?

We hung out with our new lizard friend while we watched the mountains uncover further.
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IMG_0171The Husband

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IMG_0182Scott Mountain (post) and a snowy Maiden Peak (post) in the distance.

The only one that wasn’t playing nice was Three Fingered Jack to the NE.
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Near the viewpoint area below the lookout we spotted our third lizard.
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Interestingly they all seemed to have slightly different coloration but each blended very well with their surroundings.

From the viewpoint we could now also see part of Mt. Jefferson, but like Three Fingered Jack it was still partly obscured by clouds.
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IMG_0190Maxwell Butte (post) in front of Mt. Jefferson.

We headed back down Sand Mountain hoping that as we did so the other peaks might come out.
IMG_0197Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a quarter to ten.

IMG_0215Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a quarter after ten.

IMG_0224Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a 10:23am.

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As we wound our way down we ended up heading directly toward Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters. Each of the Three Sisters seemed to be working on small lenticular clouds.
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We returned the Santiam Wagon Road and headed back. On the return trip we spotted a few butterflies, a golden-mantled ground squirrel and some orange agoseris which we had somehow missed on our way in.
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I also briefly detoured to check out a beargrass patch along some of the official OHV trails.
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With our .6 mile detour up the snowmobile track we wound up with an 11.3 mile hike, another 5.8 of which could have been removed by driving up FR 810.

We took the long way back to Salem opting to follow Highway 20 over Tombstone Pass to stop at the Rooster Rock Trailhead.
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This was less of a hike and more of a quest for a picture of a Menagerie Wilderness sign. We had hiked to Rooster Rock in 2016 (post) from a different trailhead but there had been no wilderness sign on that route. The shorter but steeper Rooster Rock Trail enters the Menagerie Wilderness less than a quarter mile from the trailhead and before the trail starts its climb so I hopped out of the car and hustled up the trail to see if there was a sign along this path.
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There was part of a sign at least at the wilderness boundary which was better than nothing.
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I did do a quick search in the immediate vicinity hoping to locate the other half but was unable to. Satisfied with the outcome I returned to Heather and the car and we headed home to Buddy (and Hazel our other kitty). Happy Trails!

Flickr: Sand Mountainm

Mount Washington Meadows

One week after returning from our Northern California trip we found ourselves headed to Bend to drop off some furniture to our Son who had recently moved.  It wasn’t going to be a long visit due to his having to work so after a quick tour of his new apartment we were back on our way home.

Our plan was to stop for a hike on the way home along the Pacific Crest Trail near Santiam Pass south to Mount Washington Meadows. We had left Salem at 5am so it would still be fairly early when we hiked. Just after 8:30 we pulled into the PCT trailhead near Big Lake.

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We headed south on the PCT which quickly entered the Mt. Washington Wilderness amid trees burned in the 2011 Shadow Lake Fire.

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The first two or so miles passed through the burn where despite most of the trees being dead, there was plenty of green and other colors present.

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The lack of living trees did allow for some views of both Mt. Washington ahead and Three Fingered Jack to the north beyond Big Lake, the Hoodoo Ski Area and the flat topped Hayrick Butte.

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We could also see two small buttes just to the SW of Big Lake which we had hiked around in 2012 when we visited the Patjens Lakes.

That hike was also done during the first week of August, but less than a year removed from the Shadow Lake Fire. It was interesting to see how the forest was recovering with the passing of several more years.

Patjens Lake TrailPatjens Lake Trail – August 2012

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A wider variety of plants including various berries were present now.

We left the burn area where we were able to see what the forest will look like again eventually.

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We passed several small meadows and lots of wildflowers as we went.

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We had been gradually climbing and when a break in the trees allowed us a view to the north where we spotted Mt. Jefferson over the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack.

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It was a bittersweet view as it reminded us that the Whitewater Fire was burning on the west side of Mt. Jefferson and had already burned over portions of several trails leading to Jefferson Park.

There was no real visible smoke but we knew that it was there and those trails would look a lot like what we’d passed through earlier in the Shadow Fire area.

When the PCT began to curve around a ridge to the left the Spire of Mt. Washington came into view.

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An open hillside then opened up views to the south were several other familiar peaks were visible.

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These included the North and Middle Sister, Belknap Crater, the Husband, Diamond Peak, and Scott Mountain.

IMG_6783North & Middle Sister with Belknap Crater

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As we continued we passed through some increasingly impressive meadows until reaching a large lupine filled meadow below Mt. Washington.

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Mt. Washington rose above the meadow where we were able to get a great look at the eroded volcano.

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Lupine wasn’t the only thing in abundance in the meadow. There was also a large number of tortoiseshell butterflies who seemed to be overly attracted to me.

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We continued through the meadow where we found a nice display of cat’s ear lilies still in bloom amid the lupine.

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At this point we’d gone a little over 5.5 miles, but the level grade of the PCT and the great scenery so far enticed us to continue a little further to see what else the area had to offer. We decided to follow the PCT until it began to lose elevation as it crossed a valley between Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater. We soon found ourselves in another area affected by fire.

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We ended our hike as the PCT bent around a ridge end where it would begin the 400′ elevation loss before climbing up to the shoulder of Belknap Crater which was visible across the valley.

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From this vantage point we could also make out Little Belknap Crater.

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After a short break we headed back through the meadows and returned to our car.

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The 12.4 mile round trip had proved to be a lot more entertaining than we’d expected. We hadn’t really known what to expect having selected the hike from the back of our guidebook in the additional hikes section, but it had been a thoroughly enjoyable outing. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mount Washington Meadows

Blue Lake

On Father’s Day we were joined by our Son, Dominique, on a jaunt to Blue Lake before heading home. Blue Lake is located south of Highway 20, just east of Santiam Pass. Much of the lake is privately owned but the Elliott Corbett Memorial State Park occupies the western end of the lake.

This area burned in the 2003 B & B Complex Fire and we began our hike at a fire interpretive kiosk in a large paved sno-park lot.
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Starting here meant a road walk of 2.5 miles before reaching an actual trail but the description in Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Reagion” (we highly recommend this guidebook) called the final stretch of road “narrow, brushy, steep, rocky and subject to occasional washouts that turn the road into a series of deep gullies”. Given that the hike would still only be between 7 and 8 miles (and an extra 700′ of elevation gain) by starting here we felt it was worth avoiding any more ugly roads for the weekend.

We walked through the parking area, which had a nice view of Mt. Washington, to FR 2076.
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We followed this road downhill. It was a beautiful morning and the view of Mt. Washington was spectacular.
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The summits of the North and Middle Sister also made a brief appearance.
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After .7 miles we came to a junction with Road 200 which had a sign warning it wasn’t suitable for trailers. We got ourselves confused here due to not re-reading Matt’s description but instead looking at the topographic image in the entry that showed the lake and trail but not the entire road walk. We should have taken Road 200 here but where the map picked up in the book the track was no longer on Road 200 so we mistakenly thought we needed to stay on FR 2076.

FR 2076 was in fairly good shape and was certainly not steep. It was traversing a hillside south toward Mt. Washington.
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After almost a half mile we knew something was amiss. Looking at the GPS showed we were indeed heading for a lake but it was Island Lake dead ahead not Blue Lake. We pulled the book out and read the directions and realized our mistake. We backtracked to Road 200 and once again headed downhill.

Road 200 was not great, and maybe the previous days short but horrific section of Forest Road 2630 in the Ochocos unduly influenced us, but most high clearance vehicles would probably be fine. Although, meeting a vehicle going the other way would be tricky as there weren’t many wide spots.

Walking the road had its advantages though. In addition to the mountain views were wildflowers including a surprising group of rhododendron.
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The rhododendron were upstaged by a nice buck with velvet antlers which Dominique spotted.
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We took our second wrong turn 1.5 miles down Road 200 when we forked right on Road 200 when we should have stayed straight at what appeared to be a pile of rocks. We’d only gone a tenth of a mile when we caught this one and headed back to the rocks to find a road continuing on the other side. Another .4 miles brought us to a parking turnaround. Here we ignored an obvious trail straight up a hill and took a faint path to the left.
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This path began to climb up a ridge to a sign announcing the end of the Blue Lake Nordic Trail.
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Once we gained the ridge we had a view of Blue Lake below and Suttle Lake a little further to the east.
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Blue Lake fills a collapsed cladera to a depth over 300 feet. The trail followed the ridge along the western end of the lake. We followed it around to a knoll described in the guidebook as the start of private land.
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Opposite the lake, on the other side of the ridge, lay a meadow with Mt. Washington looming behind.
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In addition, the seasonal Cache Falls could be seen flowing down the hillside below hidden Cache Lake.
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After visiting the knoll we backtracked a tenth of a mile along the ridge then headed downhill on a faint path heading toward what appeared to be an old road bed. There was a bit of maneuvering around blowdown to get to the road bed where we discovered a clearer path coming down from a point further along the ridge. Here was also the memorial plaque for the Elliott R. Corbett II Memorial State Park.
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The trail led into and through the meadow before arriving back at the turnaround at the end of the road walk.
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On the way back up we spotted a toad and a frog along the roads.
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As we neared the sno-park Three Fingered Jack came into view through the trees.
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Remember my comment earlier about avoiding any more ugly roads for the weekend? Well Google got us again. We had originally planned on visiting the nearby Skylight Cave after the hike. In June between the hours of 9 and 11 am sunbeams come through an opening in the roof a short lava tube. The driving directions in our “Bend, Overall” guidebook were from Highway 242 but a look at Google Maps had shown what appeared to be a pretty straight forward 5 mile(ish) drive from Highway 20. We had written directions for that route but about 4 miles into our attempt we came to a 4-way junction with no road signs. Our written directions indicated we should go straight but we were on a gravel road crossing a gravel road and the road ahead was a narrow dirt track. We tried using the Garmin to figure out where we were, but the Garmin showed far more roads than Google had and it seemed to agree that the dirt road was the one we were looking for. After some indecision Heather decided to give it a go. It was quickly obvious that that was a bad choice as the road was narrow, overgrown, and rocky in places. When we spotted a wide enough spot to turn around we did so retreating once again to the 4-way junction. It was after 10am and now we had no confidence that we were even where we had meant to be. So we threw up the white flag and decided to try again some other time when we can follow the guidebook directions.

When we got home we looked again on Google and discovered that the dirt track had been the correct route and we’d only been about 3/4 of a mile from the cave. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Blue Lake

Throwback Thursday – Patjens Lakes

On 8/2/2012, a day after our mosquito filled visit to Miller & Maidu Lakes, we were heading home. I had injured my right knee running down the trail to Miller Lake in an attempt to thwart the mosquitoes and it was feeling a little off, but I wanted to give a hike a try on the way over Santiam Pass.

We decided to try Patjens Lakes due to it being relatively short, right around 6 miles, with only 400′ of cumulative elevation gain. The trailhead is located on the NW side of Big Lake off of Forest Road 2690 which is also the entrance road to the Hoodoo Ski Area.
Patjens Lake Trailhead

We stayed right at a fork near the trailhead planning on doing a counter-clockwise loop. A 2011 wildfire had burnt much of the forest along the loop but signs of life were already returning.
Patjens Lake Trail

Goldenrod, penstemon and aster

Pearly everlasting

Patjens Lake Trail

Mt. Washington and Big Lake were visible along the first portion of the trail.
Mt. Washington

The trail looped around a small butte passing a series of meadows and view to the NW of the Sand Mountain Lookout.
Meadow along the Patjens Lake Trail

Lupine

Sand Mountain Lookout

Shortly after passing a horse trail joining on the right the we entered the Mt. Washington Wilderness and began the only real significant climb of the hike.
Wt. Washington Wilderness sign

The trail climbed to a saddle between the butte and a small hill. At the saddle the Three Sisters were visible to the south.
Forest along the Patjens Lake Trail
Small hill from the saddle.

Patjens Lake Trail

The Three Sisters

As the trail descended from the saddle it entered forest that had been spared by the fire.
Patjens Lake Trail

We passed through a series of meadows full of ferns and scarlet gilia.
Patjens Lake Trail

Tall cascade lilies rose above the ferns.
Cascade Lilies

Cascade lilies

Cascade Lily

As we were passing through one of these meadows we encountered a foul reek. There was obviously some sort of rotting carcass out in the brush but we couldn’t see anything. We were a little concerned that it might have been a mountain lion kill or that a bear might be feeding on it so when we heard a ruckus off to our right we were on high alert. The noise turned out to be a pair of turkey vultures who had apparently located the dead animal.
Turkey Vulture

Turkey vulture

We left well enough alone and continued on our way paying extra attention for any large predators that might have been attracted by the smell. Around a mile from the saddle we came to a small body of water on the right side of the trail.
Patjens Lake #1

The first Patjens Lake was approximately .7 miles from the pond on our left.
A Patjens Lake

The trail then passed a large meadow reentering the burn area before reaching the second Patjens Lake.
Meadow along the Patjens Lake Trail

Patjens Lake #2

The third lake was just beyond the second and it looked like they were probably connected for a brief times during high water. We left the trail and began to loop around the third lake in a clockwise direction.
A Patjens Lake

A number of ducks could be seen in the reeds.
Ducks on a Patjens Lake

From the north end of the lake there was a nice view of Mt. Washington rising over the forest to the south.
Mt. Washington from a Patjens Lake

We took a break here watching the ducks and admiring the mountain then continued around the lake back to the trail. A mile and a half from the last lake we came to a junction near Big Lake where we turned left following the lake shore back toward the trailhead. Flat Hayrick Butte and round Hoodoo Butte rose above the blue waters of Big Lake.
Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes from Big Lake

Hoodoo Butte
Hoodoo Ski Area

Looking back over our shoulders provided big views of Mt. Washington.
Mt. Washington and Big Lake

A mile from the junction at Big Lake we were back at the trailhead. Despite a little discomfort going downhill my knee had held up which was encouraging. The hike had been a good choice for it and it had been a really nice hike even with the burned forest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Patjens Lakes

Throwback Thursday – Alder Springs

This week we’re going to throwback to a hike that had a profound impact on how we hike. In 2011 the snow melt was unusually late and wound up impacting us on our vacation in Central Oregon during the first week of August. On 8/3/2011 we had planned on hiking the Benson Lake Loop. We took the McKenzie Highway (Hwy 242) from Sisters and headed for the trailhead.  It was a beautiful morning and we stopped at the Dee Wright Observatory to take in the spectacular views.

Dee Wright Observatory

Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater and Mt. Washington

Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater and Mt. Washington

Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Jefferson

Black Butte

Black Butte

Black Crater

Black Crater

North & Middle Sister

North and Middle Sister with the Little Brother

We continued on to the trailhead near Scott Lake and set off on the Benson Lake Trail.

Benson Lake Trailhead

In the mile and a half to Benson Lake we encountered a few snow patches and lots of mosquitoes.
Snow along the Benson Lake Trail

From Benson Lake we could see our next planned stop,Scott Mountain which appeared relatively snow free.

Benson Lake

The trail conditions deteriorated quickly beyond Benson Lake as the mosquitoes were thick and relentless and the trail was covered in snow.

Snowmelt pond near Benson Lake

Snow along the Benson Lake Trail

We were still quite inexperienced hikers with raw map skills, no GPS, and we hadn’t learned to look for blazes yet so we were relegated to following a lone set of footprints which worked until they disappeared. While we struggled to locate the trail Heather had a mosquito fly directly into her eye where it stuck. It remains the most disgusting hiking moment ever for us.

After extracting the kamikaze mosquito we surrendered and turned back while we knew we could still find the trail back.

We had only hiked around 4 miles by the time we were driving back toward Sisters and began looking for another hike that we might be able to do. We landed on the Alder Springs trail which would be snow free being in the high desert and at an elevation of only 2600′. Even better the trailhead was less than 20 miles from Sisters.

From the trailhead parking area Mt. Washington and the North Sister were visible. It was odd to think we’d just been forced by snow to turn back from a hike on the other side of those two mountains and now we were standing amid the sagebrush and juniper in the high desert. Not only was it a drastic change in scenery but it was also a lot warmer.

Alder Springs Trailhead

Mt. Washington

Middle and North Sister

The view here also included a look down the Wychus Creek Canyon which is where the trail would be leading us.

Wychus Creek Canyon

The Alder Springs Trail descended .2 miles to a fork where the Old Bridge Trail split to the left.

Old Bridge Trail sign

We took this .4 mile path down to the site of a former bridge and then down to the bank of Wychus Creek.

Site of a former bridge over Wychus Creek

Whychus Creek

Wychus Creek

We then returned to the Alder Springs Trail and followed it 1.2 miles to Alder Springs. This section of trail provided some nice views of the canyon before descending to the creek.

Wychus Creek Canyon

Wychus Creek

Whychus Creek Canyon

Rock formations along the Whychus Creek Canyon

A short narrow slot in the canyon wall was a neat little detour along the way.

Whychus Creek Canyon

Dry waterfall

The scenery became a little greener as the trail dropped to creek level and neared Alder Springs.

Alder Springs Trail

Alder Springs Trail

Interpretive sign at Alder Springs

We faced a choice here, turn back or ford the creek and continue a little over a mile and a half to the Deschutes River at its confluence with Wychus Creek. It was too nice a day and the scenery was too good to turn back so we forded the shin deep creek. Downstream the creek seemed to flow right into the canyon wall.

Whychus Creek

Whychus Creek

Springs bubbled up in several spots joining the waters of Wychus Creek along the far bank.

Alder Springs

Alder Springs

Beyond the springs the trail stuck fairly close to the creek as it met the canyon wall and turned north.

Whychus Creek

Soon we were once again traversing the hillside a bit above the creek due to the thick vegetation along the creeks banks.

Whychus Creek Canyon

Whychus Creek

At one point the trail split with the right hand fork dropping down near to the creek in a thistle filled meadow. We took this path thinking it would be fun to be in the thistle and closer to the creek but as we made our way into the meadow the a distinctive sound of a rattle rose up.

Thistle meadow along the Alder Springs Trail

We slowed up and realized that there were at least two maybe three alarms being raised from different sides. We proceeded slowly making plenty of noise ourselves keeping our trekking poles ahead to give any snakes plenty of time to leave the area. We never saw any but they made plenty of noise. On the way back we skipped the meadow and stayed on the path that passed higher up the hillside.

We continued on, now on high alert, to the confluence of the river and creek. On the far side of the water rose a spectacular striped rock fin.

Rock fin near the Wychus Creek and Deschutes River confluence

Rock fin

A sign on a ponderosa announced the end of the maintained trail.

End of the Alder Springs Trail

A rock ledge along the Deschutes River provided a perfect lunch spot across from the fin where we could watch the river as it headed further down the canyon.

Deschutes River

Deschutes River

Rock fin from the Deschutes River

Having arrived at this spot from the Alder Springs Trailhead gave this spot a real feeling of remoteness. The fact that we hadn’t seen any other hikers since the parking area and having to ford the creek added to the sensation of solitude. In actuality the homes of Crooked River Ranch were not far away on the other side of the river and the Scout Camp Trail loops around the fin that seems so remote.

The Alder Springs Hike was a little over 6 miles round trip with about 650′ of elevation gain.

The experience at Benson Lake was a key motivating factor in our decision to make getting a GPS unit before the 2012 hiking season a top priority. It also reminded us that we needed to improve our map and navigational skills which we began to focus more on. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Benson Lake & Alder Springs

Scott Mountain Loop Day 2 – Mt. Washington Wilderness

We had set our alarms for 5:30am hoping to get a jump on the day and be ready to start hiking as soon as there was enough light. The forecast had called for increasing chances of rain as the day went on and we had watched an increase number of clouds fill the sky the night before including some low clouds descending to the tree tops around the Tenas Lakes. When we stuck our heads out of the tent we were pleasantly surprised to see a sky filled with stars overhead. We turned our MPOWERED Luci inflatable solar lantern on and began packing up. As we cooked breakfast and finished packing the sky filled with color.
Sunrise from our campsite

Sunrise from our campsite with North Sister peaking through the trees

Sunrise from the little lake near our campsite

Sunrise from the little lake near our campsite

We began hiking shortly after 7am returning to the Benson Trail where we headed north .2 miles to the Scott Mountain Trail. Scott Mountain was already catching the morning sunlight as we approached.
Scott Mountain

We momentarily considered heading back up to the summit, but neither of us really felt like hauling our full backpacks up the steep trail. We settled for the few views along the trail below Scott Mountain where the Three Sisters appeared cloud free through the trees.
North Sister
North Sister

Middle Sister
Middle Sister

Middle Sister

After a mile on the Scott Mountain Trail we took the Scotty Way Trail and began descending toward the Hand Lake Trail.
Scotty Way Trail junction with the Scott Mountain Trail

Scotty Way Trail

We followed this trail approximately 1.7 miles to its end at the Hand Lake Trail where we turned left.
Hand Lake Trail junction with the Scotty Way Trail

As usual I had checked the Forest Service websites for the trails that we would be using a couple of days before our trip to make sure there were no closures or alerts we needed to be aware of. The Willamette National Forest page for the Hand Lake Trail listed the current conditions for the Hand Lake Trail as ” open and cleared” as of 7/22/2016.
What part of this picture is “cleared”?
Blowdown over the Hand Lake Trail

For the next two and a half miles the trail (when there was one) passed through burnt forest with faint tread and a good deal of blowdown. For awhile we were able to follow tracks left by a horse; that helped keep us on the right course.
Hand Lake Trail

More blowdown over the Hand Lake Trail

When we weren’t searching for the trail there were some decent views.
Black Crater and North & Middle Sister
Black Crater and the North & Middle Sisters from the Hand Lake Trail

Mt. Washington
Mt. Washington from the Hand Lake Trail

Mt. Washington from the Hand Lake Trail

After approximately 1.75 miles we lost the hoof prints and were forced to make a wide arc to the south away from where the map showed the trail should have been. We were coming up on a steep drop down into a basin where the map showed the trail descending in a series of six switchbacks so using the Garmin we worked our way back toward the location where the switchbacks began on the map.
Looking west from the Hand Lake Trail

With no obvious trail visible we searched around a bit and found what may have been part of the original trail but now it appeared to be a simple game trail from the amount of deer and elk sign we were seeing.
Following a game trail down into a basin

In any event it was the only trail in sight so we followed it steeply downhill reaching the basin where we were able to relocate the actual trail near an unnamed lake.
Unnamed lake along the Hand Lake Trail

Unnamed lake along the Hand Lake Trail

After another quarter mile of faint trail and blowdown we entered unburnt forest on a much clearer trail.
Hand Lake Trail

Hand Lake Trail

A mile and a half on this nicer trail brought us back to the junction with the Deer Butte Trail we had passed the day before.
Hand Lake Trail junction with the Deer Butte Trail

We followed the Deer Butte Trail just over two and a quarter miles back to the Robinson Lake Trailhead ending our final backpacking trip of the year.
Deer Butte Trail

The distance from Tenas Lakes back to the Robinson Lake Trailhead came to 8.9 miles according to the GPS which was almost a mile further than we had expected, but we hadn’t planned on wandering back and forth trying to keep on the Hand Lake Trail. Had we known what a mess that 2.5 mile section was we wouldn’t have even tried it, but we made it and it was another chance to put our navigational skills to the test. Happy (blowdown free) Trails!

Flickr (both days): https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157674905089576

Scott Mountain Loop Day 1 – Mt. Washington Wilderness

With our hiking season starting to wind down we took advantage of a decent weather forecast for one final overnight trip. Our plan was to begin at the Robinson Lake Trailhead and take the Deer Butte Trail to the Benson Trail then follow that trail up into the Mt. Washington Wilderness where we would set up camp in the Tenas Lakes area. After setting up camp we’d visit the summit of Scott Mountain and Benson Lake to fill out the afternoon/evening. This would be our third attempt at getting a decent view on Scott Mountain. We never made it to Scott Mountain on our first attempt in 2012 due to not being prepared for the amount of snow covering the trail, and although we reached the summit on our second attempt in October 2014 we found ourselves in a cloud with no views whatsoever.

We began both of our previous visits to the area from the Benson/Tenas Trailhead near Scott Lake off of the McKenzie Highway (242). In order to do something a little different and see some new lakes we started on the other side of the wilderness at the Robinson Lake Trailhead. This trailhead is located at the end of Robinson Lake Road (2664) off of Highway 126 4.7 miles south of the Clear Lake Resort.

Robinson Lake Trailhead

The short half mile hike to Robinson Lake is included in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades guide books as a non-featured hike in the more hikes section in the back of the books. The hike is also included in another of our guide books, Bend, Overall 2nd Edition (Hiking and Exploring Central Oregon)written by Scott Cook. The Robinson Lake Trail actually begins .4 miles from the trailhead where it splits from the Deer Butte Trail which is the trail that leaves from the trailhead.

Deer Butte Trail junction with the Robinson Lake Trail

The Robinson Lake Trail leads a tenth of a mile to a campsite near the little lake.

Robinson Lake

Robinson Lake

After visiting Robinson Lake we returned to the Deer Butte Trail and continued another 1.2 forested miles to an unsigned junction with an unofficial trail to Kuitan Lake.

Deer Butte Trail

Deer Butte Trail

Unofficial trail to Kuitan Lake to the left:

Side trail off of the Deer Butte Trail to Kuitan Lake

Kuitan Lake

Kuitan Lake

From Kuitan Lake we followed the Deer Butte Trail another .8 miles to a junction with the Hand Lake Trail.

Deer Butte Trail junction with the Hand Lake Trail (our return route)

Originally we were going to take this trail and do our loop around Scott Mountain clockwise but after doing some distance calculations it appeared that doing the loop counter-clockwise would leave us with a slightly shorter hike out on the second day so we stuck to the Deer Butte Trail and continued south skirting the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

Deer Butte Trail

Mt. Washington Wilderness boundary

Just under 1.5 miles from the Hand Lake Trail junction the Deer Butte Trail passed a small unnamed lake.

Deer Butte Trail

Unnamed lake along the Deer Butte Trail

Unnamed lake along the Deer Butte Trail

Another 2.5 fairly level miles beyond the unnamed lake we a arrived at a 4-way junction with the Benson Trail.

Benson Trail junction with the Deer Butte Trail

Here we turned left and began climbing into the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

Benson Trail

This section of the Benson Trail was in pretty good shape but it was a bit overgrown and the recent wet weather made it a wet 2.6 mile, 1200′ climb to our next junction. The forest was nice but there were no views or wow scenery along the way, but we did startle a grouse out of the underbrush.

Grouse

When we arrived at the junction with the Scott Mountain Trail we stayed on the Benson Trail and headed for the Tenas Lakes area.

Benson Trail junction with the Scott Mountain Trail

The Tenas Lakes area is home to a number of lakes and smaller ponds filling glacier carved bowls. We headed cross country past one of the smaller lakes/ponds to find a campsite near the largest of the Tenas Lakes.

One of the many bodies of water in the Tenas Lakes area

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

We didn’t see any other tents set up anywhere in the area and chose a spot following Leave No Trace Principles.

Our initial campsite

After setting up camp we had a choice between heading north to Scott Mountain or south to Benson Lake. We had decided to base the timing of our visit to Scott Mountain on the weather conditions. The sky seemed fairly clear so we decided to go to Scott Mountain first and then to Benson Lake later in the day in case more clouds moved in. We took the Tenas Lakes Trail .1 miles from the largest lake to the Benson Trail and turned left for .2 more miles back to the Scott Mountain Trail junction.

Tenas Lakes Trail junction with the Benson Trail

We followed the Scott Mountain trail for a mile to yet another trail junction getting a nice view of the cloud free summit along the way.

Scott Mountain

Scott Mountain Trail junction with the Scotty Way Trail

We would be taking the Scotty Way Trail the next day on our hike out, but for now we stuck to the Scott Mountain Trail and headed up toward the summit. Heather had remembered that .7 mile climb to the summit was on the steeper side, but I hadn’t. She had remembered it correctly (no surprise there). On the way up we passed some small patches of snow presumably left over from the week before when we had been hiking in snow on Black Crater.

Snow along the Scott Mountain Trail

Near the summit the trail began passing through open meadows where the snow gave way to butterflies and few left over flowers.

Scott Mountain Trail

Fritillary butterfly on some leftover aster

As the trail wound its way up to the former lookout site atop the mountain The Husband come into view.

The Husband from the Scott Mountain Trail

The Husband

Just a bit further the snow covered lower portions of the Three Sisters joined the view.

The Three Sisters and The Husband

At the summit the view to the north opened up.

Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater

It was interesting watching the clouds. There were two lines of clouds that seemed to be headed for one another in the gap between Mt. Washington to the north and the Three Sisters to the south. We had brought our Alite Mayfly chairs with us and set them up on the summit watching the clouds move, yet not appear to get anywhere. Occasionally more of a mountain would appear but every time we thought we might get a clear view of one of the major cascade peaks more clouds would arrive.
Double, Belknap, Little Belknap, and Black Craters

Double Craters, Belknap Crater, Little Belknap Crater, and Black Crater

Mt. Jefferson and the lower portion of Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Jefferson and the lower portion of Three Fingered Jack beyond Hayrick Butte

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

The Three Sisters

View from the summit of Scott Mountain

The clearest major cascade peak was actually the furthest away – Diamond Peak to the south.

Diamond Peak

Despite the pesky clouds the view was infinitely better than it had been in 2014.

No view from Scott Mountain

After making good use of our chairs we packed them up and headed back to our campsite where we grabbed a couple of extra clothing items and then began exploring the Tenas Lakes area passing a half dozen lakes and ponds.

Pond near the Tenas Lakes

North Sister beyond a Tenas Lake

Scott Mountain from one of the Tenas Lakes

One of the Tenas Lakes

Looking south from the Tenas Lakes area

Pond/lakelet in the Tenas Lakes area

One of the lakes in the Tenas Lakes area

The largest of the Tenas Lakes

We had seen a number of empty campsites as we looped around, but when we arrived back at the Tenas Lakes Trail we noticed that a small group of people were setting up tents along the big lake not 20 yards from our site. We prefer to have as much privacy as possible when we’re out, but more disappointing was they were setting up right between our site and its view of the lake. We discussed whether or not to move our campsite as we returned to the Benson Trail and headed toward Benson Lake.

It was just under a mile from the Tenas Lakes Trail to Benson Lake. We hoped to be able to hike around the lake, something we had not tried to do on either of our previous visits. We had followed a fisherman’s path a short distance along the southern end of the lake and seen people camped on the far side in 2014 so we knew that we should at least be able to get part way around the west side of the lake. The issue with going all the way around appeared to be a rocky outcrop jutting out into the water on the NW side.

Benson Lake

We started around the lake clockwise crossing the dry outlet creek then climbing up onto glacially scarred rocks with a nice view down to the lake.

Scott Mountain from Benson Lake

Benson Lake

We climbed up to the top of the rocks which provided some great views but not a path around the lake.
Scott Mountain

Scott Mountain from the rocks above Benson Lake<

The Three Sisters and The Husband

View from the rocks above Benson Lake

North Sister

North Sister

Middle Sister

Middle Sister

South Sister

South Sister

Mt. Washington, Belknap and Little Belknap Craters

Mt. Washington and Belknap Crater from the rocks above Benson Lake

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

Heather had seen another possible route as we were heading up the rocks so we backtracked a bit and found the trail she’d seen which did indeed lead us further around the lake.

Benson Lake

The trail petered out at a rock slide near the outcrop that we had seen from the far side of the lake. We rock hopped across the slide then picked up a faint trail before coming to a very short but steep section where we were forced to scramble along a rock face. We both wondered if it would have been better to have tried to get up on top of the outcrop which it turns out is a sacred prayer site for Native Americans. Statesman Journal article

On the other side of the outcrop we picked up the user trail again and followed it back to complete our loop.

Benson Lake

We returned to camp having decided that we would indeed change our campsite. We had our pick since there still wasn’t anyone else camped in the area save us and the group that had set up next door. We chose a spot about 100 yards away near a smaller lake. We were able to carry our tent there without having to take it down making the move pretty simple.

IMG_7262

Huckleberry leaves near the small lake

We ate dinner by the lake, went to one of the larger lakes to pump water, and watched the sunset before turning in for the night.

Sunset from the little lake

With all the side trips and exploring our distance for the day wound up being a little over 18 miles which was more than planned but we’d gotten to see a lot and finally gotten some views from Scott Mountain. Happy Trails!

Flickr (both days): https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157674905089576