Tag Archives: grouse

Bear Point – 7/22/2019

We had passed the Bear Point Trail twice when hiking into Jefferson Park on the South Breitenbush Trail, most recently last August. (post) It was finally time to tackle that trail which gains almost 1700′ in just over one and three quarters of a mile to the site of a former fire lookout.

We set off from the South Breitenbush Trailhead a little after 6am hoping to get the climb over before the day heated up too much.
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We followed the familiar South Breitenbush Trail for 2.2 miles to a signed junction.
IMG_3870Lots of spent beargrass along the trail.

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At the junction we went left on the Bear Point Trail.
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At first this trail continued the gradual climb that we’d been making on the South Breitenbush Trail as we passed around a spring set in a green forest.
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IMG_3886Thimbleberry bushes near the spring.

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IMG_4179Spring near the trail.

Shortly after passing the spring the trail began to climb in earnest via a series of swithbacks. The hillside below Bear Point was covered in talus slopes, the perfect spot to see a pika.
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IMG_3901Spotted the first pika of the day at this switchback (it’s on one of the red rocks)
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The hillside was pretty dry and the trees began to give way to manzanita, chinquapin and snowbush which allowed for some excellent views of Mt. Jefferson and the surrounding area as we trudged up the switchbacks.
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IMG_3921The Three Pyramids, Bachelor Mountain, and Coffin Mountain in the distance with Triangulation Peak in a cloud shadow along the near ridge to the right.

IMG_3928Mt. Jefferson with Three Fingered Jack now fully visible.

IMG_3935Three Fingered Jack

IMG_4169Grouse in the brush to the left of the trail.

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As we neared the top the trees began to reappear in larger numbers and the beargrass was still blooming.
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We spotted the second pika of the day in a talus slope just below the summit.
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Despite the 3000′ of elevation gain to reach the summit the climb wasn’t particularly steep until the final 100 yards or so.
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IMG_3981Almost to the top.

IMG_3989Bear Point summit.

The views from the summit were amazing and there were a few wildflowers scattered about. We would have loved to have spent quite a bit of time relaxing there but the mosquitoes were a nuisance and there was no breeze to keep them at bay.
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IMG_4018The Three Sisters and Three Fingered Jack

IMG_4009Mt.Jefferson

IMG_4013Park Ridge (post)

IMG_3991Bear Lake, Dinah-Mo Peak, and Park Ridge

IMG_4146Triangulation Peak and Devils Peak

IMG_4148Boca Cave below Triangulation Peak (post)

IMG_4147Devils Peak (high point to the right of the ridge), which we had just hiked to a couple of weeks earlier (post)

IMG_4152Mt. Hood and Olallie Butte (The Breitenbush Cascades are also out there amid the trees.)

IMG_4137Mt. Hood with Slideout and Mildred Lakes in the forest below.

IMG_3986Fleabane

IMG_3996Columbine and fleabane with Bear Lake in the background.

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The round trip to Bear Point is just 7.6 miles so we had some energy left and with the early start coupled with not stopping for very long due to the bugs we also had some time so we decided to tackle another challenge and visit an off trail lake. Due to the lake being off-trail I’m not going to go into much detail although it probably wouldn’t take a lot of detective work to figure it out. This was a challenge to reach and required route finding and navigational skills.
IMG_4031Typical terrain, it’s hard to tell here but this was a steep hillside.

IMG_4023There were tons of these butterflies around.

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IMG_4045Crossing a talus slope.

IMG_4050More typical conditions.

IMG_4053Pond near the lake.

IMG_4055Bird at the pond.

IMG_4058The lake

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20190722_094856Crab spider with a bee

IMG_4080The lake

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There were of course mosquitoes here too, being July and near water, so we didn’t linger and were soon attempting to follow our route back. It was slow going but we managed to get back just fine. It was a fun and challenging day and it felt good to be able to practice our off-trail skills a bit. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Bear Point

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 2 – Wildcat Basin to Slide Lake

After a long, hot day the day before we were hoping to wake up to some crisp mountain air. Alas it was not to be as the temperature didn’t seem to have dropped all that far overnight. It was cooler than it had been but we could tell it was going to be another hot one.

After applying a little Deet to deter the mosquitoes that had been waiting for us to wake up we had breakfast in a small meadow near our campsite.
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After breakfast we packed up and headed out of Wildcat Basin via the Pine Creek Trail.
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One of the reasons we were hoping it would have been colder was that the Pine Creek Trail gained nearly 800′ in less than three quarters of a mile as it steeply climbed out of Wildcat Basin.
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As it climbed we passed some interesting ash formations.
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We had read that above these ash formations the trail would become obscured by brush for a short distance. After the previous days bushwacking around Indian Creek Butte (post) we were fearing the worst but it turned out to not be anywhere near as bad as that had been. It was a much shorter stretch and there were less obstacles to maneuver around. We hadn’t been at it long before Heather spotted the trail veering to the right into burned trees.
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The trail leveled out a bit as it crossed a ridge top where we spotted the first of the yellow paintbrush that is plentiful in the area.
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The trail bent around to the north as it crossed the ridge and soon Strawberry Mountain came into view.
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Our plan was to take a side trip up to the summit once we made it to the saddle below the peak, but for now we were focused on the trail at hand which was passing through some nice wildflowers.
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We also flushed out several deer but they escaped before I could get any photos.

A mile and a half from Wildcat Basin we arrived at a junction with the Indian Creek Trail #5001.
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Here we turned right crossing a saddle and climbing for .3 miles to another junction, this time with the Onion Creek Trail #368. The view from the old roadbed here was good and we could see Indian Creek Butte as well as Strawberry Mountain.
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IMG_9198Strawberry Mountain

We took a short break in some shade near the junction having already climbed nearly 1200′ on the day. From this spot we had another 450′ to gain over the next 1.4 miles just to reach the saddle below Strawberry Mountain.

A golden-mantled ground squirrel came out to check on us as we recovered.
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Fortunately some of this section of trail was still shaded from the Sun and once again there was a nice display of wildflowers to help distract us.
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We arrived at the saddle just after 9am. To reach our goal for the day, Slide Lake, we needed to take the right hand Strawberry Basin Trail toward Strawberry Lake.
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Before we did that though we wanted to summit the 9038′ Strawberry Mountain which was to the left.
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Since we would have to come back by this junction after summiting the mountain we pulled our daypacks out and stashed our backpacks in a group of nearby trees. The lighter packs felt great as we traversed across the rocky terrain below the summit.
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The trail climbed gradually across the shaley rocks about a half mile before entering a stand of white bark pines.
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Several grouse were present in this area.
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Three quarters of a mile from the junction we arrived at the junction with the summit trail marked by rock cairns.
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We took another short break in the shade of the white bark pines watching the many butterflies that were flitting about.
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After catching our breath we headed up the left hand fork for the final .4 miles and 350′ to the former lookout site atop Strawberry Mountain.
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Butterflies were swirling around atop the summit, never sitting still for long. The views were good but not great due to the presence of smoke from wildfires. We weren’t sure which fires the smoke was from but with a number of them burning across the northwest it wasn’t a surprise to have hazy skies. It unfortunately seems to be the new default for the summer months.
IMG_9244Looking north toward the John Day Valley

IMG_9239Looking SW toward Wildcat Basin

IMG_9238View west toward Indian Creek Butte and Canyon Mountain

IMG_9241Looking NE

IMG_9247View east

With all the haze it was tough to make out much in the distance but we were able to make out the Elkhorn Range off to the NE.
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It was a little cooler at the summit where we rested once again before starting back down. As we were traversing the rocky hillside on the way back we encountered another group of hikers on their way up to the summit. They mentioned that they had stashed their packs as well after coming up the Strawberry Basin Trail. They let us know that some of the trail to Slide Lake had suffered from a near washout so there might be a little exposure along that stretch. After thanking them for the heads up we returned to the saddle and retrieved our packs.

It was just before 10:45am when we started down the Strawberry Basin Trail. There was a nice view of Strawberry Mountain as we dropped into the basin.
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After approximately .4 miles of descending the trail leveled out somewhat and we passed the ruins of a cabin and a minute later Strawberry Spring.
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This was followed by a series of meadows, some filled with wildflowers as well as views back to Strawberry Mountain.
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We got our first look at Strawberry Lake as the trail began to bend around a ridge.
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We were now heading south, continuing our descent into the Strawberry Basin. Across the valley were the rock formations known as the Rabbit Ears over Little Strawberry Lake which was hidden in the trees.
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Although this side of the ridge was drier than the north side had been there were still some good displays of color.
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The Strawberry Basin Trail wrapped around the basin eventually reaching the side trail to Little Strawberry Lake, two and a half miles from the saddle junction with the Onion Creek Trail.
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We turned right onto the Little Strawberry Lake Trail for the .6 mile side trip (1.2mi round trip) to the lake. Heather asked about stashing our packs again but I chose poorly and we kept them on. The trail crossed Strawberry Creek and climbed about 150′ through the forest to the little lake.
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That shouldn’t have been too difficult a trek but it was so hot (How hot was it?) that we truly regretted not having left our full packs back near the junction. It was also pretty hazy in the basin here so our views of the cliffs backing Little Strawberry Lake were not clear.
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The water however was clear which made it really easy to watch the fish swim about.
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After another short break we strapped on our packs again and returned to the Strawberry Basin Trail. It was obvious by the state of the trails and the number of other people we were seeing that this part of the wilderness is significantly busier than the eastern end.

We turned right and promptly crossed Strawberry Creek again.
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We were just a bit above Strawberry Falls here and I suddenly thought we might not get to actually see the waterfall.
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My fears were eased when Heather correctly pointed out that the trail switchbacked down to the base of the falls.
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The base of Strawberry Falls was by far the most comfortable spot we would be in during the entire trip. We took our packs off again and allowed the mist from the falls to cool us down. Unfortunately we could not take that feeling with us and shortly after leaving that heavenly place we were once again sweating profusely.

After descending a little over half a mile form the falls we came to a fork in the trail near Strawberry Lake.
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Both trails led around the lake with the right hand fork being the shorter but the left hand fork reportedly having the better views. We opted for the left hand fork and descended to the southern end of Strawberry Lake.
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A series of stream crossings followed as we worked our way around to the western side of the lake.
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Eventually the Rabbit Ears came into view across the lake.
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It was time for yet another break once we reached the northern end of the lake but here even in the shade it was stupid hot.
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Since there was no real relief from the heat we quickly decided to press on. After crossing the lakes outlet we turned left and then followed pointers for Slide Lake.
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We climbed gradually for nearly a mile gaining 360′ from Strawberry Lake.
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We were struggling with the gradual climb and now the Slide Basin Trail launched more steeply uphill gaining an additional 350′ over the next half mile. After cresting a ridge we arrived a split in the trail where a horse trail went left and a hiker only trail right.
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Thankfully the trail leveled out quite a bit on this side of the ridge as it traversed the hillside.
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The bad news was we were now out of water, tired, hot, and the trail was indeed semi-washed out in spots. We were almost too miserable to enjoy the scenery which included quite a few wildflowers of which I took almost no pictures.
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We had two overriding goals. First was to stay on the trail and second was to find water. There was a spring shown our our map about three quarters of a mile from the fork but it was dry. To make matters worse we could hear and see Slide Falls in the valley below. It was taunting us with all that water.
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The trail reentered the trees just after being rejoined by the horse trail.
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A short distance later we came to the Slide Lake Trail.
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We veered left for a quarter mile to the lake.
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We claimed a campsite just across the outlet creek and Heather set about refilling our water supply while I set up the tent.
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When we arrived at Wildcat Basin the night before Heather had been done, tonight it was my turn. After setting up the tent I set up my camp chair and just sat there. IMG_9354View from the chair.

It was only 3:30pm but I was done for the day. Heather would later ask if I wanted to do the 1 mile loop around the lake and I said no. That was when she knew I really was wiped out, I rarely pass up a side trip but at that point I had no desire to get up. We had covered 14 miles and climbed over 3700′ that day and that was enough.

As I was getting ready to start dinner I thought I heard voices and assumed that there were other people camped to our left along the lake. After dinner a woman from the group of hikers we’d run into on our way down from Strawberry Mountain showed up. She said that they were equally finished for the day having gone to High Lake after summiting the mountain. She said that they had gotten to High Lake at 1:30pm, took a swim and a nap, then decided to push on to Slide Lake for the night. They set up camp somewhere on the opposite side of the outlet creek and we never did see them again. The next day Heather solved the mystery of the voices I had heard when she suggested that it may have been this group coming down the trail from High Lake which was located in the same direction that I had heard the voices from.

We stayed in our chairs until a little before 7pm. Out of nowhere a host of small insects appeared which we took as are queue to turn in for the night. It was another warm night which told us we were in for more of the same the following day, we just weren’t sure we were ready for it. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 2

Horsepasture Mountain

After our last two hikes coming from Matt Reeder’s 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region we went back to work on our goal of completing all of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes guidebooks. We are just over 75% through his 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades 4th edition and had our eyes set on checking off one more with a visit to the former lookout site atop Horsepasture Mountain.

The hike up Horsepasture Mountain provided a bit of a logistical challenge for a couple of reasons. First is our self imposed guideline of trying not to spend more time in the car than we do on the trail and the 1.4 mile length of the Horsepasture Mountain Trail meant we’d need to come up with some additional trail time. The second issue was the continued closure of a section of Forest Road 1993 which adds nearly 45 minutes to the drive to the Horsepasture Trailhead. Prior to the closure the drive to that trailhead would still have been over two and a half hours but with the detour Google put the time at three hours and fifteen minutes. We also have a rule against driving over three hours to any trailheads for day hikes so I began looking for alternatives. A little online research led me to a solution, the Saddle Trail which is part of the O’Leary Trail Complex.

The trail begins at the East Fork Upper Trailhead which brought the drive time from Salem under two and half hours. We parked at a small pullout on the right side of FR 1993 across from the signed Saddle Trail.
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There was a caution sign on the post regarding a burn area but that was referencing portions of the O’Leary Trail Complex burned in 2017 which did not include either the Saddle Trail or the Horsepasture Mountain Trail. We were facing a nearly 1700′ climb over the next two miles to a junction at Horsepasture Saddle. Luckily the trail was well graded and in good shape as it switchbacked up through a green forest.
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Wildflowers in the forest included a few washington lilies, penstemon, northern phlox and tiger lilies along with the typical group of white flowers.
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As far as markers went on this trail it did cross closed Forest Road 590 after .4 miles and passed a single rocky viewpoint near the 1.75 mile mark.
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Near its end the Saddle Trail passed through a small meadow with a few remaining wildflowers.
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The trail ended at a signed three way junction with the Olallie Trail.
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Here we turned right passing through thimbleberry bushes for a little over 100 yards to a four-way junction.
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We turned onto the Horsepasture Mountain Trail which climbed gradually at first.
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Flowers here included lupine, lousewort, wallflower, valerian, and fleabane.
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After nearly three quarters of a mile of gradual climbing the trail steepened as it climbed through meadows with beargrass. It wasn’t quite the beargrass display we had been hoping for but there were some nice blooms along the way.
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Other flowers in these meadows included coneflower, owls clover, and cat’s ear lilies.
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After 1.2 miles the Horsepasture Mountain Trail began to climb the mountain’s south side through a drier wildflower meadow.
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The Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor were visible to the east as was snowy Diamond Peak to the south.
IMG_8304Middle Sister

IMG_8323Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor

IMG_8326Diamond Peak

There was a nice variety of wildflowers on display.
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A large cairn and remains of the old lookout marked the summit.
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The view from the summit included Cascade peaks from Mt. Hood to the barely visible tip of Mt. Thielsen.
IMG_8337Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, and Mt. Washington.

IMG_8381The Three Sisters (with the top of Broken Top over South Sister’s southern shoulder) and Mt. Bachelor.

IMG_8345Diamond Peak(Mt. Thielsen is out there too)

IMG_8385Cowhorn Mountain on the left and the tip of Mt. Thielsen to the right.

We took a nice long break at the summit enjoying the views and the flowers. Birds and insects were our only company.
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The only negative was seeing the fire scars left in the Three Sisters Wilderness from the awful 2017 fire season. We returned the way we’d come passing two other sets of hikers making their way up the Horsepasture Mountain Trail. We also ran into a family of grouse. A single chick flew across the trail then mama landed in the trail.
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Her display of feathers and her posturing let us know that she had other chicks in the area so we stopped and waited until two more flew across the trail.
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She then flew up into a tree to let us pass. The remainder of the hike was uneventful as we descended the Saddle Trail back to the trailhead. The seven mile hike and extended stay on the summit kept us within our driving to hiking time ratio but more importantly the hike had been really nice. Good views and wildflowers combined with solitude made for another great day in the Willamette National Forest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Horsepasture Mountain

Browder Ridge Trail to Heart Lake

It has become a tradition to spend the first half of our 4th of July hiking. This year we revisited the rocky viewpoint on Browder Ridge which we had previously hiked to via the Gate Creek Trail on 9/18/2012 (post). This time around we decided to start at the Browder Ridge Trailhead based on Matt Reeder’s hike description in his 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region guidebook.

The Browder Ridge Trail set off from paved Forest Road 15 near a small parking area.
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The trail climbed gently through a forest for the first half mile before steepening as it entered a series of large meadows.
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These lower meadows were filled with ferns and a smattering of wildflowers.
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IMG_7759Cone flower and columbine

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After two sets of switchbacks the trail began to traverse SE along the hillside below the ridge top. The wildflower display really picked up along this traverse. Purple larkspur, red paintbrush, blue gilia, and white cat’s ear lilies joined several varieties of yellow wildflowers to paint the hillside with color.
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The Three Sisters could be seen at times as the trail alternated between forest and meadows.
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The flower combinations always seemed to be a little different in each of the meadows. At the 3 mile mark the trail entered a short stretch of burned forest along the ridge top.
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Just beyond the four mile mark there was a short side trail to a rocky viewpoint.
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Beyond the viewpoint the trail climbed gradually for three tenths of a mile to its end at an unsigned junction with the Gate Creek and Heart Lake Trails.
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Here we turned left regaining the ridge crest in the forest where we encountered the first downed trees of the hike and a huge cascade toad.
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The Heart Lake Trail then dropped over the ridge to the NE passing beneath some basalt cliffs through another wildflower meadow.
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The trail climbed through the meadow to a forested saddle a mile from the trail junction.
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The saddle is the official end of the Heart Lake Trail. Here we faced a choice, we could turn left on the unofficial continuation of the Heart Lake Trail and climb up the rocky ridge crest to a summit viewpoint or we could attempt to visit Heart Lake. Heart Lake was a little under three quarter miles to the north and 750′ below the saddle. In the guidebook Reeder used the terms “not for the faint of heart” and “hell on the knees” to describe the trip down to the lake on the abandoned portion of trail. Heather had been dealing with a calf strain and it had been acting up on the hike so she decided against the side trip but I was feeling adventurous. She would head up to the summit and wait for me there so we set a time that she should expect me to meet up with her. I gave myself an hour and a half figuring that we typically hike at a 2 – 2.5 mile per hour pace and the round trip to Heart Lake should have only been about 1.5 miles.

I set off downhill from the saddle on a well defined trail.
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In the first quarter of a mile the trail dropped into a basin losing 150′ at a not too steep grade. Being on the north facing side of the ridge at an elevation of 5400′ meant that there was still a decent amount of snow in this area though.
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I quickly lost the tread so I turned to the Forest Service Map loaded on the GPS unit in an attempt to re-find the trail. Unfortunately this was one of those instances where the location of the trail on the map is inaccurate. Reeder had included a GPS track on the topographic map in the guidebook but I’d left that with Heather so I didn’t immediately realize that the Forest Service map was wrong. The Forest Service map showed the trail passing through a meadow (where I found some marsh marigolds and shooting stars).
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At the far end of the meadow I spotted a couple of old fire rings amid the trees which made me think that maybe I was on the right track but less than 20 yards from the meadow I came to a line of impassable cliffs. Using the GPS I wandered to the right then back to the left several times looking for where the trail might possibly be. According to the GPS I had crossed and recrossed the trail multiple times but there was no way anyone was getting down that cliff. I was just about to give up when I suddenly remembered to use my brain. I thought I remembered that the track in the guidebook spent most of the time to the left of a creek and when I zoomed out a bit on the GPS I could see a creek to my left. I decided to bushwack over toward the head of the creek to see if I might be able to find something there. I could also see that the trail on the Forest Service map crossed the creek further downstream so if nothing else I might be able to follow the creek down to that point. As I neared the creek the forest opened up and I was able to spot what appeared to be a blaze on a tree on the opposite side.
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I crossed the creek on a log and sidehilled my way down past the blaze where I once again spotted trail.
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Once I had re-found the trail it was easy enough to follow. The tread was faint but visible with little blowdown and there were some remains of pink flagging to assist me.
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I disturbed a family of grouse as I descended.
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It was quite a descent too! This was one steep trail which mostly just headed straight down a ridge-line for about a quarter mile before beginning to level out as it neared a large meadow to the south of Heart Lake.
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Elephant head flowers bloomed in the marshy meadow along with some other wildflowers.
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The area was damp but I was able to find enough dry spots to make my way down to Heart Lake.
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The old trail shown on the map had passed around the lake on its west side to a campsite on the northern end. I found a brushy path that I was able to follow through more marshy meadows and a tangle of trees to that campsite.
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Due to all the wandering around I had done in the basin looking for the trail it had taken me nearly 40 minutes to reach the campsite which was 1.2 miles from the saddle. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me to climb back up so I didn’t stay at the campsite long before heading back. The climb back up was brutal but it only took me a half an our to reach the saddle but I still had a .3 mile climb up the ridge before I reached Heather.
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I managed to make it with a little under 15 minutes to spare. The meadow at the summit didn’t have quite the impressive flower display as the lower meadows had had but the view was nice even though it was a bit hazy.
IMG_8033Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack

IMG_8070Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8030Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor

IMG_8040Diamond Peak to the south

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After catching my breath we headed back returning the way we’d come. On the way back several flowers were now open making the view a little different.
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The pollinators were also now busy doing their things.
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We only encountered 8 other people, all on our way back to the car, which was surprising to us given how great the wildflowers were. We both preferred this approach to the shorter Gate Creek Trail, but to be fair it was a different time of year. Either way the views at the top are great and for those wanting some extra adventure there’s the option to visit Heart Lake. All in all another great hike in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Browder Ridge Trail and Heart Lake

North Fork John Day River

A day after a cold, wet hike in the North Fork John Day Wilderness by Olive Lake we were headed back to that wilderness for another go around. We had decided to hike the North Fork John Day River on Tuesday because it was the lowest elevation hike we had lined up for the week and Tuesday was supposed to be the coldest day of the week.

We waited until 7am to leave Sumpter hoping that the slightly later than normal start would allow time for any potential snow on the roads to clear, especially over the 5860′ Blue Springs Summit between Granite and Sumpter. Ironically there was only a few patches of snow along the road at the summit but 15 miles further north the trees were flocked and snow was falling steadily at the 5500′ Crane Creek Trailhead. There was a good chance we would passing by this trailhead on our hike if everything went according to plan.

Our starting point for the day was another 2.5 miles away at the North Fork John Day Trailhead.

This trailhead is located at the North Fork John Day Campground at the junction of roads 73 and 52. At an elevation of 5200′ the trailhead was low enough that there was no snow and only a light rain was falling as we set off on the trail.
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We crossed Trail Creek on a log then passed through a section of forest before arriving alongside the North Fork John Day River.
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Soon we entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Just two weeks before we’d spent Labor Day weekend backpacking on Mt. Adams (Day 1 and Days 2 & 3) in 80 degree temperatures and we’d just driven through snowy winter landscape but along the river was the first time this year that it had felt unmistakably like Fall.
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We passed several mining ruins before arriving at the “Bigfoot Hilton” at the 2.6 mile mark.
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We hopped across Trout Creek just beyond the Bigfoot Hilton and continued further into the wilderness occasionally being startled by grouse.
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Four miles from the Bigfoot Hilton we came to a junction with the Crane Creek Trail.
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Here we turned left for .2 miles down to the North Fork John Day River.
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After talking with a group of bow hunters camped near by we faced a choice, go back the way we’d come or ford the river and continue on a loop. It would have been a little shorter to go back the way we’d come but the prospect of a loop was too appealing, besides we were already wet so staying dry wasn’t an option.
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The calf deep water was reasonably warm all things considered which was a nice surprise. On the far side we met a couple of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees on their way to do a three day Chinook salmon survey. We wished them luck with the weather before continuing on our respective ways.

The Crane Creek Trail was much more overgrown than the North Fork John Day Trail but it was relatively free of blowdown.
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The trail climbed steadily for 4.1 miles to the Crane Creek Trailhead, the last portion passing through the meadows of Crane Flats where we found most of the snow had melted.
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At the Crane Creek Trailhead we picked up the North Crane Trail which would lead us back to the North Fork John Day Trailhead.
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Remnants of the morning snow remained along this 2.6 mile trail as it passed through alternating meadows and forest.
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We had been expecting to have to ford the river again to get back to the trailhead but ended up taking a right at some point when the actual trail veered left and popped out onto Road 73 just before the river a quarter mile from our car. We crossed the river on the road and walked through the campground to our car.
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It was a much warmer hike than we had been expecting and a really enjoyable 14 mile loop. We would be heading back to the same area the next day for another hike at a higher elevation but for now it was time to head back to Sumpter and get cleaned up. Happy Trails!

Flickr: North Fork John Day River

Windy Lakes and Beyond

The third, and what turned out to be final day, of our trip around Cowhorn Mountain was originally going to be a 10 mile hike moving our camp near Indigo Lake on the west side of the Cascade Crest to the Windy Lakes on the east side. That would have left us about 11 miles from our car for the final day’s hike out. I had already begun rethinking that in the days before we started out because we’d likely be at the Windy Lakes before 1pm which would mean we’d be hanging around that group of lakes for half of the day when we could have been shortening the distance for our final day.

After going over our maps the night before and discussing it we had decided that we would continue past the Windy Lakes and set up camp at one of several other lakes along our route. We would let our bodies and the time of day decide when it was time to stop. Our options were Suzanne and Darlene Lakes which were a mile beyond the Windy Lakes, Oldenburg Lake which was another 4 miles along, or go another 2+ miles to Nip & Tuck Lakes.

Before we could decide where to camp for the night though we had to get to these lakes. We said goodbye to the little lake we had been staying at and set off a little before 7am.
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We took the Indigo Extension Trail down to Indigo Lake then followed the Indigo Lake Trail nearly 2 miles to the trailhead near the Timpanogas Lake Campground. A short road walk into the campground brought us to the Lake Shore Trail along Timpanogas Lake.
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We followed the Lake Shore Trail for .4 miles to the Timpanogas Shelter.
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Just beyond the shelter were signs for the Start O’Willamette Trail.
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We turned uphill on this trail and climbed nearly 600′ in just over a mile to the Windy Pass Trail.
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There were several unnamed lakes shown on the map near the junction and we quickly passed on after turning right onto the Windy Pass Trail.
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From the junction we needed to follow the Windy Pass Trail for 2.7 miles to the Cowhorn Traverse Trail where we had come down from the Pacific Crest Trail two days before. This section of trail gained almost 900′ but it was never steep making it a fairly easy climb. The trail was forested but there were occasional views of Sawtooth Mountain across the valley we were circling.
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We were in a zone and making good time when a pair of grouse startled us.
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After stopping to watch the grouse we continued on to the junction with the Cowhorn Traverse Trail where we turned left and followed it .3 miles to the PCT.
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If we turned right (south) on the Pacific Crest Trail it would be about than 5 miles to our car, but we turned left and headed north. The PCT traveled along the Cascade Crest offering some big views in all directions as the trial occasionally switched sides along the ridge.

Diamond Peak to the north
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Maiden Peak, Mt. Bachelor and Crescent Lake to the NE
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Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Bailey, and Sawtooth Mountain to the south
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Mt. Thielsen, peaks around Crater Lake, Union Peak, and Mt. McLoughlin
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The trail began a series of sections where it would switchback down through the forest on the west side of the crest before popping out at a viewpoint along the ridge. The Windy Lakes were below the ridge to the east and we were gaining better views of them each time we reached the ridge.
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Our plan to visit the Windy Lakes included some off-trail hiking because there was no direct route from the PCT to the Windy Lakes Trail. We spent quite a bit of time looking at the topographic map determining where we thought the best spot to head cross country would be. We identified a switchback due west of Middle Windy Lake as the best option. We used the GPS to make sure we were in the right area when we finally decided to leave the PCT just under 3 miles from the Cowhorn Traverse Trail.
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The cross country route was much easier than we could have ever hoped for with very little blowdown and no underbrush to speak of.
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We used the GPS to make sure we were staying on the right heading and were quickly approaching a lake. For all the good the GPS does it occasionally messes with us. The lake we were approaching was the furthest lake shown on the display to the south. We had expected to be headed toward Middle Windy Lake but the furthest Windy Lake to the south is South Windy Lake. We would have preferred reaching South Windy Lake first because we planned on visiting it in any event and it would have been out of the way to head there from Middle Windy Lake. As we approached the lake shown on the GPS the Windy Lake Trail was shown on the map on the opposite side.
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We decided to go around the southern end of the lake to meet up with the trail closer to its end. I should have realized something was amiss when I noticed that the GPS showed the trail continuing even further south even though there was no lake shown at its end. I was too busy enjoying the scenery of the lake though to pay much attention to a trail to nowhere though.
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We located the Windy Lakes Trail near a campsite at the SE end of the lake and turned left hiking along the lake.
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We decided to take a break and sat on a log along the sandy beach watching some birds hunting for food.
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From there we continued north on the Windy Lakes Trail passing briefly through forest before arriving at the next lake.
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We thought this must be Middle Windy Lake and it had a bit of a view of Diamond Peak.
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It also had a nice looking peninsula which was a little odd because we remembered from the maps that East Windy Lake had peninsula.
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The peninsula prompted me to look at the GPS again and I noticed that we were getting pretty close to our next trail junction and we’d only passed two lakes not the three we were expecting. I scrolled the display back up to the where it showed the end of the Windy Lakes Trail and zoomed in to find that instead of showing a lake the map had the area labeled as a marsh. We don’t know why the map (Google is the same) didn’t show the actual lake but we knew it was there having seen it from the PCT. We briefly considered skipping it, but that just didn’t sound like us so we turned around and headed back up the Windy Lakes Trail. After passing East Windy Lake and the correctly identified Middle Windy Lake we came to the campsite where we had first stepped onto the Windy Lakes Trail and continued into the forest.
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It was just under a half mile to South Windy Lake from the campsite.
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The lake was in a bowl at the head of the valley and the shore was heavily forested with a lot of brush making it a little less inviting than the other two lakes we had visited. We both thought it was prettier to look at from above through the trees where it was a little more colorful.
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In any event we’d seen it and now had our lakes properly identified so now we could continue our loop. We passed Middle and East Windy Lakes once again and then turned right following a pointer for Oldenburg Lake at a 3-way junction.
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After passing an unnamed lake we arrived at a second 3-way junction where we once again turned right ignoring the pointer for the Spring Trail.
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The next lakes up were Suzanne and Darlene. Suzanne Lake was a quick, level mile from first 3-way junction.
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There were a couple of established tent sites here but it was still too early in the day for us to want to stop so we continued to Darlene Lake which was only a quarter mile away.
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The summit of Cowhorn Mountain was visible over the forest on the far side of the lake.
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We took a short break on a log at Darlene Lake but it was only just now after 1:00pm and Oldenburg Lake was less than 4 miles away so we sallied forth.
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It had been growing increasingly cloudy which was something we had been keeping our eyes on. We had come prepared for rain, but we hadn’t really expected any based on the forecast the morning we had left. We had noticed though that the forecast for some of the rest of Oregon had suddenly been calling for rain over the final days of our trip so we knew there was a possibility that the forecast might change while we were out. Not far from Darlene Lake a light rain began to fall. Heather was the first to suggest what we had both been considering, hiking all the way to the trailhead instead of stopping at one of the lakes for the night. We discussed it briefly and decided that we’d both prefer not to mess with the rain gear and since we would still be getting to visit everything we’d planned on we wouldn’t be missing out on anything. With that settled we picked up our pace and really started moving.

The forest began to change as we got closer to Oldenburg Lake and we were soon hiking through lodgepole pines on a dusty trail.
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We arrived at Oldenburg Lake just after 2:30 having traveled the final 3 miles in about an hour.
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We took another short break at Oldenburg Lake before continuing on toward Nip & Tuck Lakes. This next section of trail was a little slower due to a gentle but steady uphill. Just over 2 miles from Oldenburg Lake our GPS showed that Nip & Tuck Lakes were off the trail to the east. They were hidden by trees so we were watching for any sign of a side trail down to the lakes. According to the maps we had there was no official trail leading to them. When it looked as though we were about to pass them completely we decided to attempt a cross country route but were quickly stymied by closely knit lodgepole stands. We decided to skip these lakes after all and returned to the Oldenburg Lake Trail. About a hundred yards from where we had left the trail to go cross country we came to a junction with a signpost for the lakes.
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It was less than a tenth of a mile to this pair of little lakes. They were unlike any of the other lakes we’d visited during our trip. They were smaller, shallower, and ringed mostly with grasses and reeds.
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When full it is actually one continuous lake but this late in the year the two parts were separated by a grassy meadow.
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We took one final break at the larger of the two bodies of water before setting of on the final stretch. We were a little under 2 miles from the Oldenburg Lake Trailhead and it was just about 3:45pm. The final section of trail was only sightly uphill so we made decent time and managed to arrive at the trailhead along Forest Road 60 just after 4:20pm.
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We were soon on our way home. The GPS put us at 22 miles even for the day which was the most we’d ever done with our full backpacks and our feet knew it. 🙂 We don’t know how much it rained or if it even did where we would have camped, but we drove through plenty of it on the way back home. It had been a great three days with some amazing views and above all it had been another great adventure. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157672911107731

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebel Creek Loop – Three Sisters Wilderness

The Three Sisters Wilderness hosts approximately 260 miles of trails. Some of them such as Green Lakes and Obsidian are overused while others see little if any use. The 12.3 mile loop starting at the Rebel Trailhead on the Rebel Creek and Rebel Rock Trails is on the lesser used end of the scale. The trailhead is 14.5 miles from Highway 126 along paved Aufderheide Road 19.
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The loop starts on the Rebel Creek Trail and quickly comes to a fork where the Rebel Rock Trail splits to the right. We stayed on the Rebel Creek Trail and would meet back up with the upper end of the Rebel Rock Trail in 5 miles.
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The forested trail led along Rebel Creek, crossing twice on footbridges, while it gradually climbed up the valley.
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The hike through the forest was peaceful with the sound of the creek below and birds singing in the trees. We didn’t see many of the birds we were hearing, but we did spot a nice variety of flowers along the way.
Prince’s Pine
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Pink pyrola
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Spotted coralroot
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Fringed pinesap
Fringed pinesap

Rhododendron
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Tall bluebells
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Yellow coralroot
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Bunchberry
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The trail was in pretty good shape despite it’s light usage. There were a few downed trees and near the upper end it became a little brushy in spots.
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We met back up with the Rebel Rock Trail at the edge of thimbleberry meadow where a post with no signs left marked the junction.
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The Rebel Creek Trail technically continued to the left to the Olallie Trail but that section is, according to the Forest Service, faint due to lack of use/maintenance. After a short break we turned right onto the Rebel Creek Trail skirting the meadow and climbing up and over a ridge near the hidden Rebel Rock. More thimbleberry filled meadows awaited us as we traversed along what was now a west facing hillside. The meadows contained a few flowers beside the white thimbleberry blossom and also allowed for views across the valley to the opposite hillside.
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Lupine
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Columbine
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Larkspur
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Cat’s ear lily
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Whenever we have views of distant meadows we try and scan them for wildlife. It always seems like we should see deer, elk or even a bear and on a couple of occasions we have managed to spot deer or elk. More often than not though we get our hopes up only to discover we are staring at a rock or downed tree. This time though I was sure I’d seen a dark object, I had my eyes on, move so I used the 120x digital zoom on the camera to take a closer look. It turned out to be a bear wandering around in a meadow full of white valerian flowers. Given the distance the pictures didn’t turn out great but we watched it for a while before it disappeared into the trees.
With 30x optical zoom.
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120x digital zoom
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The trail continued to pass through similar meadows until finally reentering the forest where we startled a grouse.
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Meadowrue
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Coneflower
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Blurry grouse photo
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A short distance later it crested a ridge where we entered a drier environment as we moved to the south facing side of the ridge.
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The first snowy peak of the day came into view to the south, Maiden Peak near Waldo Lake.
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The trail had entered a wildflower meadow filled with bright red scarlet gilia.
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There were several other types of flowers mixed in as well.
Cat’s ear lily
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Oregon sunshine
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Blue gilia and buckwheat
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Paintbrush and penstemon
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Clarkia
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As we worked our way through the meadow the view behind us to the east opened up revealing the only view of Rebel Rock’s spire, the top of South Sister and Mt. Bachelor.
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The trail passed into another section of trees where we noticed what appeared to be a faint trail to the left leading to a possible viewpoint. We followed it out to an open rocky ledge which allowed us to see the old Rebel Rock Lookout further to the west.
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We returned to the trail and continued west watching for the side trail to the old lookout building. A rock cairn along an open area marked the path.
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The lookout itself was not visible until we’d gone a couple hundred feet on the side path. The windows were mostly broken out and several boards were missing from the deck but the view was nice.
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After a break at the lookout we returned to the trail in the rocky meadow. The flower display was pretty nice here too with a few different flowers that we hadn’t seen yet during the hike.
Bastard toadflax
Bastard toadflax

Catchfly and a yellow composite
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Owl’s clover and blue gilia
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A half mile from the side path the the lookout was yet another meadow and the best viewpoint of the day.
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From this meadow Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor were all clearly visible.
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The meadow sported another nice collection of wildflowers.
Phlox
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Penstemon
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The Three Sisters
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The trail began to descend beyond the viewpoint through another series of thimblerry meadows. The tread here was often hidden by the thick vegetation.
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The trail switched back just before reaching Trail Creek and reentered the forest.
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This section of trail gradually descended through the forest. Along the way were a couple of additional meadows where there were again some different flowers.
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Oregon sunshine and clarkias
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Farewell-to-Spring
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Diamond clarkia
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There was also a nice supply of ripe, warm, strawberries to munch on.
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Although a few cars had joined ours at the trailhead we completed the loop without seeing any other people along the trails. Any time the number of bears you see is more than other people it’s a good day on the trail. After doing this loop we were left wondering why it isn’t a little more popular. Although there are a couple of longer stretches without view there were some nice ones and the amount and variety of flowers had surprised us. There is a cumulative elevation gain of 3300′ but the trail was never particularly steep and it was spread over such a distance that it didn’t feel like we’d done that much climbing. The fact that the trailhead is an easy drive on good paved roads is an added bonus. It is definitely a hike we’d recommend. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670151874216

Three Sisters Wilderness Days 3 & 4

I am combining the final two days of our Three Sisters Backpacking trip because the last day was simply a 7 mile hike back to the trailhead along portions of the Louise Creek and Separation Lake Trails that we had done on the first day.

The day after our successful off-trail exploration of Linton Creek it was time to pack up camp and move on. We woke to find that the clouds had finally won out overnight and now covered the Three Sisters.
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We were once again visited by the deer who stayed back in the trees this time as they made their morning rounds. We packed our things and ate some breakfast then headed back toward Husband Lake. The frog situation around Eileen Lake seemed to have worsened with the arrival of the clouds. There were even more frogs on the trail and the going was pretty slow.
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We discovered that tapping our trekking poles on the ground in front of us got the frogs to start getting out of the way sooner so we tapped our way through the frogs and past the lake. The frogs weren’t the only animals out as we had spotted several different types of birds by the time we’d gotten to Husband Lake.
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We topped off our water at Husband Lake and then headed for the big trail junction where we would be looking for the Separation Creek Meadow Trail which would take us down to Indian Hole Falls. We had not seen the trail when we were at the junction on the first day and when we got back there we still didn’t see it. Heather thought it might be just a bit up the trail toward the James Creek Shelter and went to investigate. She was right and just over a little rise there was an unsigned but clear trail heading down to the right.
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The Forest Service described this trail as “a primitive trail that may be hard to find at times.” That sounded a lot better than the impassable due to heavy blowdown description of the Separation Creek Trail. There were a few downed trees but the path was easy to see and some trees had been blazed to mark the trail.
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The trail met Separation Creek in what must have been a spectacular field of lupine. Now it had all gone to seed.
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It had also been invaded by grasshoppers.
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As we walked they would all jump in unison and make all kinds of noise. I would have liked to get a better look at them but there were also plenty of mosquitoes present and whenever I stopped they landed. We were just about to Separation Meadow and we hadn’t had any issues following the trail up to that point. Then the trail just disappeared. We knew it was to the right of the creek and we noticed a tent set up at the far end of the meadow so we simply aimed for the trees between those two things.
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We had to hunt for a couple of minutes to find the trail again once we arrived at the trees. We managed to follow it fine after that all the way to a trail junction with the trail from Buck Meadows. This junction was also unsigned but it was marked with a rock cairn.
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We turned left at the junction and began to descend toward Cole Chuck Meadows. Views included Sphinx Butte and The Wife.
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The trail went around Cole Chuck Meadows without ever entering it then headed steeply downhill. There was a large meadow below to our left and we could hear Separation Creek roaring in the distance. The trail had loose rocks and dirt and it also passed below the Indian Holes, springs that flowed across the trail and down toward Separation Creek.
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The trail then entered the large meadow at a narrow point. The grasses were tall enough to hit us in the face as we passed through. We then entered another treed area before arriving at Separation Creek.
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The creek was much wider and deeper than it had been in Separation Meadow. Several other creeks and springs had fed into it since then. We crossed on an old log and and quickly arrived at another unsigned trail junction with the “impassible” Separation Creek Trail.
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We could hear Indian Hole Falls from the junction. It was only a couple hundred yards to the top of the falls. This was another impressively massive waterfall. An upper viewpoint allowed for a close up view of the top portion of the falls while a steep scramble down along the creek led to a lower moss covered viewpoint where the entire cascade was visible.
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The Three Sisters Wilderness had managed to wow us again and we sat on the mossy ledge of the lower viewpoint in the cool breeze of the waterfall. We climbed back up from the lower viewpoint and decided to head out the the upper one.
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After checking out that view we headed back up to the trail to pick up our packs. It was my turn to get stung by an angry yellow jacket. Just as I was about to step back onto the trail I felt a sharp pain on my ankle bone. It took me a minute to figure out what was causing it but once I realized what it was I was able to knock it out of my pant leg. I took a moment to be a bit of a baby then we resumed our hike and head back toward the creek crossing.

As we were passing back through the tall grasses of the meadow we heard some strange noises ahead. It was a family of grouse. The adult stood watch as the young made their way into the safety of the trees.
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She stood guard until they were all safe then headed into the trees herself.
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We climbed back up the steep trail past the Indian Holes and went straight past the rock cairn. Our plan was to stop at Honey Lake to fix an early dinner and fill back up on water for the final day since we knew there were no sources from Buck Meadows on. We weren’t sure what we’d find at Honey Lake because none of the maps or the Forest Service showed a trail going to the lake but we had seen the pointer for it at the junction by Buck Meadows. As we were looking for the mystery trail we spotted various wildlife along the way.
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Sure enough we came to a side trail with a pointer for Honey Lake.
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We momentarily had second thoughts about our plan when we saw how far below us the lake actually was.
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We knew we needed water though and the lake looked very pretty so we headed down the steep path to the lake shore. It really was a pretty lake and larger than we had been expecting.
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We noticed a tent back up in the forest on the far side of the lake and headed around the lake counter-clockwise looking for a good spot where we could set our things down and cook dinner. We found a pair of spots where people had obviously camped, fire rings and all, both of which are illegal within 100 feet of water in the wilderness. One of the fire rings was full of cigarette butts. Yay for people, not 😦 We took off our packs and wandered out to a little peninsula where the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.
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We took a nice long break at the lake and felt recharged after having our dinner and we were ready to tackle the climb back up from the lake.
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The climb back up turned out to be a lot easier than we’d expected and we were soon back on the trail to Buck Meadows. We stuck to the trail this time when we arrived at the meadows and wound up going right around the area we had considered camping in. Once we saw that we had passed it we decided to just keep going and we’d look for a spot further along the meadows. The view from the meadow was changed a bit from our first day with clouds now hiding The Husband.
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There wasn’t a viable spot to camp anywhere else along the meadows that we saw so we just kept going keeping our eyes open for an acceptable site. About 1 1/2 miles from the junction at Buck Meadows we came to a dry pond. On the opposite side of the trail was a flat area perfect for setting up camp.
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We woke up so early the next morning that we needed our headlamps as we began packing up. We ate breakfast at the edge of the dry pond and then set off down the trail. The 2 man trail crew had done a fine job clearing the trail and we were making great time since we’d just been on this trail a few days earlier and weren’t distracted by many new sights. There are always some new things to see though and we noticed a few flowers we’d missed on the first day.
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We reached the Separation Lake Trail a few minutes before 9am and according to our Green Trails map we then had 1.2 more miles to go to the trailhead.
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We figured we’d be back at the car around 9:45 based on our normal pace so we were surprised when we saw a familiar wooden bridge that we remembered being near the trailhead sooner than we expected.
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We actually wound up back at the car before 9:15. We were moving pretty fast but not that fast. Checking another map it showed the distance from the trailhead to the junction as 0.9 miles which made a little more sense. We were happy to be able to change into some clean clothes and different shoes, but we were also sad to have the trip end. We were already thinking about our next backpacking trip, wondering what new adventures awaited us. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157654071670793