Tag Archives: McKenzie Highway

Black Crater

What a difference a week can make this time of year. Our previous hike had been up Cooper Spur on Mt. Hood on a beautiful (albeit chilly) day with mountain views in every direction. One week later we found ourselves on a snow covered trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness while hiking to the 7251′ summit of Black Crater.

We were actually in Central Oregon to celebrate our Son’s 21st birthday, but had wanted to fit a hike in as well. As it turned out Dominique really wanted to go on a hike with us which was nice because we hadn’t gotten to hike with him since August 1st, 2015 when we visited Salishan Spit prior to our annual family reunion.

We chose Black Crater due to it’s relatively short distance (a little over 7 mile round trip) and proximity to my parents house. The forecast was for a chance of snow showers which had evidently started the night before because the top portion of Black Crater was white as we headed toward Sisters, OR that morning. The trailhead is located near milepost 80 along the McKenzie Highway 242 just beyond the signed Windy Viewpoint coming from Sisters.
Black Crater Trailhead

A light rain was falling at the trailhead but not enough to make us put on any rain gear. The trail almost immediately entered the Three Sisters Wilderness and began the steady 2500′ climb to the summit.
Black Crater Trail entering the Three Sisters Wilderness

On a clearer day Mt. Washington would have been visible beyond a lava flow at a viewpoint after .3 miles but the clouds were staying low to the NW so we enjoyed the forest scenery instead.
Black Crater Trail

The light rain had quickly turned to a light snow and as we gained elevation we began to see more and more of it along the trail.
Black Crater Trail

Snow along the Black Crater Trail

Black Crater Trail

Black Crater Trail

Black Crater Trail

Snow along the Black Crater Trail

One of the nice things about Central Oregon snow is that it is rarely very wet and this was typical Central Oregon snow. The dry snow on the trail squeaked beneath our feet and the flakes falling on our clothing didn’t cause them to feel damp. We were the first hikers on the trail since the snowfall but we weren’t the first to have used the trail.
Grouse
Grouse tracks

Deer
Deer tracks on the Black Crater Trail

Cougar or bobcat
Cougar or bobcat prints on the Black Crater Trail

After 2 miles of climbing the trail traversed a glacially carved valley with some open meadows.
Black Crater Trail

View along the Black Crater Trail

We were now winding around the east side of Black Crater where the clouds were not blocking all the views.
View along the Black Crater Trail

Gray Butte

Black Butte from the Black Crater Trail

After .7 miles we arrived at the far side of the valley and turned uphill on a series of switchbacks toward the cinder cone’s summit.
View along the Black Crater Trail

Black Crater Trail

Shortly before reaching the summit the trail crossed a barren plateau where we found ourselves in the middle of the clouds.
Black Crater Trail

Heather and Dominique crossing the plateau.
Black Crater Trail

The wind was really blowing as we explored the summit’s rocky crag.
Summit of Black Crater

Remnants remained where a former lookout tower sat perched on the rocks.
Black Crater summit

Frozen rocks at the summit of Black Crater

Remanants of the lookout tower on Black Crater

With the wind blowing and snow falling it didn’t take long to start feeling like we might wind up looking like the nearby whitebark pines.
Frozen whitebark pines on Black Crater

We headed back across the plateau and met the first of a half dozen or so hikers on their way up the trail. We saw them all before we’d finished coming down the switchbacks and then never saw another hiker until we were back at the trailhead. The snow continued to fall most of the way back down but it was not accumulating and much of the snow that had been along the lower portions of the trail was gone by the time we passed again.
Snow falling in the Three Sisters Wilderness

We were on our way back to my parent’s house shortly after 11am where Dad had pancakes, bacon, and eggs waiting. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157674602749496

Belknap Crater

We had originally planned on backpacking around Mt. Hood on the Timberline Trail on our recent vacation but the weather had a different idea. The forecast called for rain and snow showers for most of the week so we started searching for a Plan B. Between active fires and less than encouraging weather forecasts we decided that a backpacking trip wasn’t in the cards. My parents provided a solution though and we were able to pay them a visit in Central Oregon and do some day hikes from there. We stopped on our way over to Bend to take our first hike visiting Little Belknap and Belknap Crater in the Mt. Washington Wilderness.

The hike started off at the Pacific Crest Trail crossing of the McKenzie Pass Highway.
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We followed the PCT through a forest on a small hill surrounded by a lava flow produced by Little Belknap.
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Black Crater rose above the lava flow to the NE.
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The trail left the forested hill and briefly entered the lava flow before reaching a second forested hill.
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Belknap Crater and Little Belknap were visible ahead while the North and Middle Sister loomed on the horizon behind.
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The closer we got to Little Belknap the more detail we could make out of the colors and textures of this geologic feature.
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The lava flow offered many interesting features and it was interesting to see the few plants that had managed to find a foothold in the rocky landscape.
Lichen on the lava
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Turtle
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Little tree
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Ewok waving
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Rock hill
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Just under 2.5 miles from the highway we reached the Little Belknap Trail with a view of Mt. Washington and distant Mt. Jefferson.
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The Little Belknap Trail climbed to the summit of Little Belknap.
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Along the way the trail passes three caves.

Lower cave
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Middle & Upper caves
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Middle cave
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Upper cave (beware it drops about 40′ right near the opening.
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The final pitch to the summit is on a dark red cinder path.
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The 360 degree view includes several Cascade Mountains as well as some lower peaks.
Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson
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Belknap Crater
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North and Middle Sister
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Broken Top
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Diamond Peak
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Black Butte & Black Crater
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The Husband
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Scott Mountain
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After visiting Little Belknap we continued on the PCT until it left the lava flow. Shortly thereafter the trail split at an unsigned junction.
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The PCT continued straight but we forked left on the unofficial trail toward Belknap Crater. The trail climbed gradually through a sparse forest to the base of the crater. The views here were great. The blue sky was dotted with white clouds high above the summit.
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We were surprised by the various colors and different features on Belknap Crater now that we had gotten close.
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The trail skirted up around the north side of the crater before launching more steeply up toward the summit.
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The views were excellent from the long summit ridge, especially of Mt. Washington.
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There was a large crater on the SE side of the summit which consisted of various colored rocks.
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After checking out the summit and crater we began descending down the west side of Belknap Crater toward a smaller crater on the NW flank.
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This crater wasn’t as colorful as it was made up of darker lava rocks. At the bottom we could see lots of tracks in the sand.
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There was an interesting line going up along the east side of Belknap Crater. We couldn’t tell if it was a game trail or just some odd feature but it didn’t appear to be a trail used by people.
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We took a final break on a downed tree near the PCT junction with a great view of Belknap Crater.
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The sky was becoming increasingly cloudy as we headed back to the car. It was a sign of things to come. On this day though the weather had been nearly perfect, and we were looking forward to the rest of the weeks hikes.
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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157658844385675

Proxy Falls & Separation Lake

They say timing is everything. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly can make a difference in hiking. The time of day, of week, and of year can greatly impact the experience on any given trail. That was certainly the case on our recent visit to the Three Sister Wilderness. The plan was to hike to Separation Lake and back, a 13.7 mile trek. While I was planning the hike though I got to thinking that the trailhead was awfully close to the Proxy Falls trailhead on the Old McKenzie Highway (Hwy 242). Proxy Falls was a hike that we had been wanting to do at some point, but at only 1.7 miles it didn’t warrant the 2:45 minute drive. It was only about 11 miles from our turnoff on Foley Ridge Road for the Separation Lake Trail though so we decided we’d do the loop there as a warm up for the longer hike.

Proxy Falls is a very popular hike. The trailhead is located along the highway, the distance is manageable for hikers of all ages and types, and most importantly the falls are quite impressive. During the summer months the parking spots fill quickly, but on this day we were by ourselves when we arrived at 8am. The old highway is closed during the winter months and doesn’t reopen until June, but just a couple of weeks ago the first snow gate had been opened on the west end allowing access to the trailhead. The Proxy Falls trail loops over a lava field and past the two falls before returning to the highway. The falls are the stars of the show, and being the only ones there we were able to explore and enjoy them all to ourselves.

The lava flow
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The first fall that you reach is Lower Proxy Falls
Proxy Falls
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Next up is Upper Proxy Falls. The pool of water at the bottom of the falls flows underground reappearing a few miles away.

Pool beneath Upper Proxy Falls
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Upper Proxy Falls
Upper Proxy Falls
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Upper Proxy Falls

Our timing was great in this case. The falls were flowing very strongly due to the time of year and we had had a very popular trail all to ourselves :). We hopped back into the car and headed back toward the Separation Lake trail for part two of the days hikes.

Unlike the Proxy Falls trail the trail to Separation Lake is lightly used. We weren’t sure what we would find for conditions as it was unlikely the Forest Service had done any trail maintenance since last year. We were once again the only car at the trailhead which suited us just fine. The trail quickly entered the Three Sisters Wilderness as it headed down toward Separation Creek.
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The trail crossed several creeks all of which were easy to manage either on bridges or by rock hopping.
Bridge over Louise Creek
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Another creek crossing
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One more
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At one point we passed a tree stump littered with pieces of pine and fir cones. We’d never seen such a large pile and kept expecting to see the fattest chipmunk ever nearby.
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The path was very brushy in places and our feet and lower legs were soaked as we passed through the damp leaves.
Separation Lake Trail

A number of early flowers were out and many of the bushes and trees were beginning to leaf out.

Vanilla Leaf
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Fairyslipper
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Red Currant
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Trillium
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Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape

George Creek is the final small creek that the trail crosses before reaching the much larger Separation Creek. This was the most scenic of the smaller creeks at it had a small waterfall at the crossing.
George Creek
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After 3.5 miles the trail finally gains a view of Separation Creek. It looked like a river compared to the other creeks we had crossed.
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Separation Creek

After following along the creek for 2 miles the trail splits. The Separation Lake Trail crosses Separation Creek on a log bridge while the Separation Creek Trail continues on deeper into the Three Sisters Wilderness. That trail is apparently no longer maintained and closed due to excessive downed trees. We crossed over the creek and continued on toward the lake. Not long after crossing the creek we were greeted by the smell of skunk. It wasn’t actually a skunk but rather a marshy area filled with skunk cabbage.
Separation Creek crossing
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Skunk Cabbage
Skunk Cabbage

A little over a mile after crossing the creek the trail reaches Separation Lake. It was a nice little lake with a couple of campsites. We were greeted by the usual birds and chipmunks (and a mosquito or two). We took a break here and had a snack at which point a couple of sets of ducks appeared on the far side of the lake followed by an Osprey who was scoping out the small fish that had been jumping in the lake.
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The ducks
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The osprey
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After the food break we strapped our packs back on and made the return trip back to the car. On our way back we finally ran into the first and only other people we would see – a couple and their dog were headed in to camp. We were pretty tired when we reached the trailhead but it had been a great day of solitude in the wilderness. Happy Trails!

Photos on flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644490517611/
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