10/8/2011 – PCT to Pyramid Butte – Ruddy Hill

Date of Hike: 10/8/2011
Location of Hike: Horseshoe Lake, PCT, Pyramid Butte, Ruddy Hill Trails
Trail Number: 712, 2000, 714
Weather during Hike: Sunny but cool
Hiking Buddies: Kirk and Bandit
Start Time: 10:40 AM
End Time: 4:45 PM
Hike Distance: 9 miles
Pictures: Link
Description of Hike:
This was a trip to explore the southern most part of the Clackamas District, and to try and get in some last minute hiking before the winter snows close the higher elevation trails. The Pyramid Butte trail is an abandoned trail that is still in REALLY good shape. I also wanted to explore the PCT farther south in the district. I actually thought this was past the border of the district, as it goes into the northern part of the Jefferson Wilderness, but the district boundary is actually a couple miles farther down the PCT. So, next year I have a trip from Breitenbush south to the border on my list of “to-do” hikes.

The road to Horseshoe Lake campground is pretty rough, and beyond to Breitenbush is even worse. It was quite a wild ride down that rough road.

The Horseshoe lake trail was in great shape, although it was a little cool – we found frost on parts of the trail, and the parts that weren’t icy were very wet. Fortunately, we wore our rain pants to keep the water off our pant legs. After the junction with the PCT, we headed south towards the junction with the Pyramid Butte trail. There were several nice viewpoints, and the trail was in great shape – not too surprising since it was the PCT. Once we got to the wilderness boundary, we knew the trail junction was pretty close. We thought we found the correct trail junction, but we later realized that we took the wrong junction. I think we ended up taking a game trail, even though it looked like a trail, it quickly ran out. We eventually found the real trail, and on the way back found where we made the wrong turn. At the bottom of Pyramid Butte is a junction that goes south on what used to be the Skyline trail. Sometime later, when the PCT came through, it was rerouted a little farther east, bypassing this junction. There was still an old sign at the base of the butte, right where the trails joined. It was very cool to see such an old sign that was in great shape, but you could see how weathered it was. The sign must have been at least 50 years old.

Taking the trail up to the top of the butte was steep, but reasonably easy (since it was pretty short). We saw some old phone line cable and insulators on the way up, and found the old lookout foundation. Interestingly enough, the lookout wasn’t on the highest point of the butte. It was on the northern end which is a little lower than the southern end. There isn’t much left of the lookout, just some piers and metal ties, and some broken and melted glass. The really big draw to Pyramid Butte is the view. The views in almost all directions are stellar, some of the best in the area. To the south, you can just seen Mt Jefferson peeking over the hill – it looks so close you could touch it. To the east, on a clear day, you can actually see central Oregon. To the north, you can see Ruddy Hill and Olallie Butte. The butte is almost completely burned, but the very top was spared.

Hiking back down, we found where we found the wrong turn we took. We found the spring referenced on the map and walked through the burned area – the Pyramid Butte fire of 2010. Parts of it burned REALLY hot, and other spots weren’t too badly hit.

We were still feeling pretty good, and had enough time left, so we decided to hike up to Ruddy Hill. That trail is in good shape, but I forget how steep it is. You essentially walk straight up the hill (a little cross hill, but mostly up). Once on top, the view is great (but not as good as on Pyramid Butte). We got a great view of the butte, and saw the old telephone box at the summit. Met a nice group at the summit and talked for a few minutes. Interestingly enough, there was still wildflowers – Kirk had been up there just a few weeks ago, and there was till a big snowbank there, so the flowers didn’t have much of a season.

On the way to our next stop, we stopped at the Breitenbush campground, which is now on Indian reservation land. We looked at an old stone building, which was interesting. The campground was originally built by the forest service, but when the reservation line was moved, the campground reverted to tribal ownership.

A quick trip back down the hill and back to the campground and we went on to our last destination for the day: The weird, unique springs in the bottom of the Breitenbush valley. The floor of the valley is essentially a bog, but these springs are really weird. They have a “brim” around them that makes the water level a foot or two above the rest of the meadow. One of them looked a lot like the hot springs in Yellowstone park (although these are not hot springs). You could see trees and roots way down in the spring, probably 10 feet deep. Really weird, but cool.

Lastly, we had one more surprise on the way home. After enduring the seeming never ending rough road that is forest service road 4220 (it is hard to call it a road in places), we were stopped about 10 miles from Ripplebrook – someone had run their car into the river and flipped it. There were two tow trucks that were trying to get the car out of the river but were not having much luck. After about a half hour of attempts to get it back up the hill, they moved and let people pass while they were going to re-think their approach. We were told by others who were tehre thatn the driver was OK and was taken from the scene a little before we got there. It was amazing that they weren’t more seriously hurt.

It was one of my best days hiking, and a great way to do what will be one of the last high elevation hikes this year.

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