Location of Hike: Three Sisters Wilderness
Weather during Hike: Varied from sunny and warm to cold and windy with some rain
Hiking Buddies: Carly, Kirk, Sarah, Jeff
Hike Distance: 68.6 miles Elevation Gain: 16,000 feet
Originally we were thinking about going to Glacier National Park in Montana, but we realized that we needed permits (kind of like when we did the enchantments) and it was too late this year to get them. We decided to do the Three Sisters loop because next year this entire wilderness will be permits only (like the Enchantments and Glacier) and will be more difficult to get into. I knew before even starting that this was going to be a challenging trip (due to the length and elevation). This was the longest backpacking trip I have ever taken, both in duration and mileage. The initial plan was this:
- Day 1 – Lava Camp Trailhead to Alder Creek – About 6.5 miles
- Day 2 – Alder Creek to Camp Lake – About 9 miles
- Day 3 – Camp Lake to the summit of Middle Sister and then back out to Park Meadow – About 12 miles
- Day 4 – Park Meadow to Mesa Creek – About 11.5 miles
- Day 5 – Mesa Creek to Minnie Scott Springs – About 12 miles
- Day 6 – Minnie Scott Springs to Lava Camp Trailhead – About 6 miles
- Total Mileage: About 57 miles
What we actually did was significantly different than the plan, and considerably more mileage than estimated. We added a side trip up to Broken top and some of the distances I calculated were a bit off. This is what we actually did, with actual mileages:
- Day 1 – Lava Camp Trailhead to Alder Creek – 7.5 miles
- Day 2 – Alder Creek to Camp Lake – 10 miles
- Day 3 – Camp Lake to the summit of Middle Sister and then to an un-named lake – 12 miles
- Day 4 – Un-Named Lake to Moraine Lake with a side trip to the top of Broken Top – About 13.5 miles
- Day 5 – Moraine Lake to Sawyer Bar – just short of Opie Dildock Pass (what a name!) – About 17.5 miles
- Day 6 – Sawyer Bar to Lava Camp Trailhead – About 7.5 miles
- Total Mileage: About 68 miles
Day 1 – Lava Camp Trailhead to Alder Creek
The “Blue Adventure Bus” (Kirk’s van) came and picked Carly and I up about 8:30 on Saturday morning. Kirk had already picked up Jeff. The plan was to head out, have lunch on the way, and then get on the trail shortly after 1:00 or so which is why day 1 was shorter mileage (same for the last day).
We ended up stopping for lunch in Detroit since that was really the last slice of civilization with a decent restaurant before the trailhead (even though it was like an hour and a half away). We had lunch at a restaurant called Cedars – It was good to have one last “real” meal before heading out into the wilderness. We ate an early lunch and then continued to the trailhead at the Lava Camp Trailhead on highway 242 near McKenzie Pass. We passed the Dee Wright Observatory which would be an interesting place to explore some day. It is in the middle of a HUGE lava field. I had never realized how much lava there is in this area. We would be seeing more of it as the week progressed.
The other really interesting/weird thing that happened on the way to the trailhead was there were TONS of butterflies on the road. There was literally a swarm of them in places – there were so many we kept hearing “splat” when one would hit the windshield or the front of the van. It was really kind of strange to see SO many butterflies.
After the butterfly massacre, we shortly got to the trailhead and got all our gear on for the start of our 6 days in the wilderness.
We headed down the Millican Crater Trail (4066) – originally I thought we were going to go down the PCT for the first part of the trail, but we found this would make the trip a true loop – we wouldn’t be repeating any part of the trail with the exception of the trip in and out of Camp Lake. We headed down the trail and very quickly came into the burn area. This has been the site of at least a couple of rather large fires – I think one of the latest ones was the Pole Creek fire in 2012 and burned about 26,000 acres. The last one was just last year and was over 101,000 acres! We saw lots of this (and worse) all day long (and into the following day too):
When we got to to the Trout Creek Tie Trail (4067) we took a turn south and headed to Trout Creek. We had a snack there and got water and then continued on the Green Lakes Trail (17). Shortly before Alder Creek (our destination for the night), we got this view of Millican Crater in the foreground with Black Crater behind it:
And a little farther we also caught our first glimpse of North Sister:
Soon we made it to Alder creek and started looking for a campsite. We found one just up the hill from the creek. We were expecting to see some other people but didn’t see anyone camped there at all. Here was our campsite for night 1:
After setting up camp, we cooked dinner, cleaned up and then went to bed.
Day 2 – Alder Creek to Camp Lake
We got up and got going about 8:30 on Day 2, heading to Camp Lake. Shortly after leaving camp, we got a much better look at North Sister:
A little farther down the trail, we got a pretty good look at Mt Washington:
A little farther we got our first real look at South Sister thru the burned trees:
We continued down the trail until we got to the Camp Lake Trail junction and headed west. It was somewhere in this vicinity where I started noticing the mosquitoes more – maybe it was where we came out of the burned area into woods, I’m not sure. I just know that at some point, the bugs started becoming quite annoying, especially when you weren’t moving.
We continued down the Camp Lake trail and we originally thought this creek was Squaw/Whychus creek, but it turned out to be an un-named creek crossing – but it was a great source of cool, clear water:
Shortly after the un-named creek crossing we came to the actual North Fork of Squaw/Whychus creek – here is our group starting to cross it:
A little bit down the trail we got our first really good look at North Sister as well:
Shortly after that view, we started to hit significant snow, which obscured the trail in many spots. We were able to find our way thru (there were little to no footprints to guide us), and soon made it to Camp Lake – which still had quite a bit of snow and was rather un-inviting, windy and cold:
We looked around and set up our tents about the only place we could find to camp – and turned out to be probably the worst place since the wind came from the south across the lake and funneled thru the small opening on the north end of the lake:
We also got a good look at Middle sister above Camp Lake, which would be our objective for the following morning:
We setup camp but as we were setting up camp, one of the poles on Carly’s tent broke. We made a “fix” using some duct tape and were hoping it would hold up in the wind (more on that in a minute). After getting our tents setup we made dinner crouched behind the hills next to our tents – we found enough space to cook out of most of the wind.
We also noticed the huge slabs of snow that were calving off into the lake on the south side of the lake. We would regularly hear one of them crash into the water.
The most significant thing that happened on Day 2 was probably at night. After we cleaned up after dinner we went to bed. It had started to mist a bit and the wind had picked up. We were also planning to get up at 5 to get going up to Middle Sister early – so we would still have enough time to make it to Park Meadow. Shortly after we went to bed, the wind REALLY picked up and was blowing our tent in about a foot when it gusted hard. Some of the gusts were REALLY strong (like 40 MPH+ I think) and we were worried that our cheap tent pole fix would collapse during the night. Fortunately, it held up just fine, but no one got a lot of sleep that night due to the wind. It was the stormiest night I’ve ever spent in a tent.
Day 3 – Camp Lake to the summit of Middle Sister and then to an un-named lake
We got up early (5am), made breakfast and headed out to summit middle sister. There isn’t a trail up to the summit, but Kirk had climbed this peak at least a couple of times before. We kind of picked our path up the hill, choosing what looked like the easiest route. Here is a shot looking back at Camp Lake after we had climbed a bit:
A little bit further up the mountain we started to get into real snow (and the clouds) – we would mostly be in the clouds the rest of the climb – that hill is a lot steeper than it looks in the picture:
We kept climbing and when we got about half way up this was our view – it didn’t look like we had too far to go, but it got harder as we got higher – it was very deceiving:
As we were ascending, someone noticed that South Sister briefly peeked thru the clouds:
After a long, slow climb, we finally made it to the top of Middle Sister, but we were entirely in the clouds. Amazingly it wasn’t very windy when we were up there. We had no views whatsoever:
We spent a few minutes sheltered behind a big rock up on top and looked around a bit and then headed down. As we headed down, it started to really rain. Prior to that it was just misty due to the clouds. The rain was coming down sideways and was really cold. I was kind of expecting some snow, but we didn’t see any.
As we got farther down the hill, I got to experience a new skill – Glissading – this makes it really fast to come down the hill! (this picture was Kirk, but we all did it 3 or 4 times as we hit different snow fields):
We made it back down to camp a little after noon I think. We ate lunch and then packed up and headed out. Just before heading out, I decided to go look at the outlet to Camp Lake. I found this cool little snow tunnel made by the outlet – notice how much snow there is still on the hill:
And then there was this rock with some weird inscriptions at the outlet – I have no idea what it means:
I think we started our journey out about 2pm – we had a ways to go. We weren’t sure if we would be able to make it to Park Meadow, but we figured we would see how the day went.
As we were hiking out, I noticed some neat cliffs that I had not noticed on the way in:
The trip out was pretty uneventful. We made it back to the Green Lakes trail and then headed south. We got back into burned areas and kept hiking south. We were all getting tired and were ready to find a place to camp. We came across a pair of small, un-named lakes, and decided this would be a good spot to camp for the night – it was at least partially unburned, which was nice:
When we first arrived it seemed like there weren’t many bugs, but I think it was just that they hadn’t noticed us yet, as they arrived after we had been there for a bit. The bugs on this trip were pretty much unavoidable – the only things that mitigated them was having a breeze, keeping moving or bug spray.
We setup camp, cooked dinner and went to bed. We were planning on getting another early start as we added a summit of Broken top to our itinerary for the following day.
Day 4 – Un-Named Lake to Moraine Lake with a side trip to the top of Broken Top
We got up early again to get an early start. The plan was to hike to the junction with the climbers trail to the top of Broken Top, drop our packs and then head up. Once we summitted Broken Top, we would come back down and then head south to camp for the night. We were thinking maybe Moraine Lake would be a good spot because the next water was quite a ways from Moraine Lake and we didn’t think we would be able to do an additional 4 miles to get to the next water source.
We got going a little after 7am and continued south on the Green Lakes trail. We finally got to Park Meadow (glad we didn’t try and make it here the night before). The maps were conflicting about trails. Apparently there has been some re-routes and some trails are no longer active, so it made for some confusion about where to go. Park Meadow was a nice place, though (even though the bugs were pretty bad):
We didn’t stay there long – we continued south on the Green Lakes trail. A little further down the trail, we got a good view of Broken Top – our objective for later in the day:
We continued south and soon saw the big Green Lake (there are at least 3 of them):
We stopped here for some water and a rest – we saw a few more people here than we had the rest of the trip. Green Lakes is one of the more popular places it seems.
We got a different view of South Sister from Green Lakes – a perspective you don’t see from the south:
We got to where we thought the climbers trail was (near campsite 10) and dropped our packs in the woods up the hill a bit and then headed up the trail about 10:30. This was the beginning of the trail – it was VERY steep – but it only got worse as we got up higher:
After what seemed like forever (at least for me) climbing up some VERY steep grades (some were literally straight uphill), we got to the saddle, where the trail transitioned to climbing the ridge on the northwest side of the mountain all the way to the top:
On the way up the ridge, we started seeing wave after wave of thousands of butterflies. Here is a video where you can get an idea – the butterflies are hard to see, but you can see some of them. (they are the black spots in the video) It was pretty amazing:
A little further up the hill there was a view to the northeast of this amazing hillside. I wish this picture had turned out better – the colors were VERY vibrant – I still don’t know what it is:
After a LOT of breaks, and huffing and puffing (at least by me) we finally made it to a small ledge near the top of Broken Top. There really wasn’t a safe way to go any farther without ropes – it was steep and narrow ledges with cliffs with small cracks you’d have to climb to get higher. Some cool views from the ledge – The big lava flow south of Green Lakes:
And a reasonably un-obscured view of the three sisters:
Here is a 360 photo from the top of Broken Top.
While the rest of us rested on the ledge and enjoyed the view, Kirk poked around and found a rather dangerous way to the top of the mountain:
Although he required some spotting assistance on the way back down – he couldn’t see his feet to climb back down the crack he went up on. I’m very glad he made it back down safely.
We stayed on the ledge for a half hour or so (waiting for Kirk to come down) and then headed back down the way we came. On the way down, I took a photo of this interesting rock we had noticed on the way up. Kirk thought it looked like a Chinese cat – I think it kind of looks like Garfield the cat:
As usual, the trip down was quite a bit faster than the trip up. We got back down about 3:30 (about a 5 hour trip up and down the mountain) and rested at the bottom for a few minutes before loading up our packs and heading south. We continued south on the Green Lakes trail. We started following one of the lava flows along Fall Creek (I think one is called the Newberry Lava Flow):
We continued south to the junction with another trail which then took us west over to Moraine Lake. This trail gained a few hundred feet of elevation and after the ascent of Broken Top, and all the other hiking, I was pretty tired. It took me longer than everyone else to get to the lake.
We finally got there and looked for a campsite (a post) to use. We ended up finding two since the sites were small. This was our site we shared with Jeff:
It was somewhat windy at Moraine Lake, but nothing like it had been at Camp Lake. Kirk decided to go for a quick swim, although he could only stand it for like 3 minutes it was so cold. He had to try and warm up once back at camp and there were no campfires allowed.
We made dinner and went to bed early again, as the next day was going to be a long one. We needed to make up some time that we had lost due to the extra side trip up Broken Top. We had 25 miles to get back to the van and we figured we would need to do 17 or 18 miles in order to make the last day reasonable enough to get home by dinner time. We had another very full day planned.
Day 5 – Moraine Lake to Sawyer Bar
We started day 5 very early like many of our other days. This day would be all about racking up mileage – no big highlights on this day, but a few interesting things did happen.
We got going about 8:00 and headed west on the confusing array of trails around Moraine Lake. On the way, we noticed this cool Lenticular cloud over South Sister:
It was a bit chilly to hike, but that just makes you sweat less. We continued west, trying to figure out all the confusing trail junctions (we were successful and didn’t have to turn around or anything) About a mile or so from the junction with the PCT, there was this bug that just buried himself half way in the trail – have no idea what kind of bug or why – it was just weird:
We continued on the trail and it starts looping north. Soon, it joins the PCT. As the trails were getting closer, we saw 3 hikers on the PCT. We met them almost exactly where the two trails joined. They stopped and we chatted for a bit. There were two guys and a woman. One man was from New Zealand, the other from Alabama, and we never did quite get where the woman was from. They were thru hiking the PCT and taking their time. They had been out for I think 115 days and he said they were expecting to be out another 115 days. He made it quite clear they were there for the experience. It was an interesting conversation.
After chatting with the PCTers for a bit, we continued on while they rested some more at the junction. We would see them one more time and then we passed them up. A little further up the trail, we hiked along side the Rock Mesa (Lava flow) to our right – it was another HUGE lava flow:
A little further north we came to a neat Meadow near Mesa Springs. This was our original campsite on the 4th night. It is too bad the flowers don’t pop in this photo, they were really gorgeous and colorful:
We stopped at this meadow and filled up with water and rested a bit. The PCT hikers we met earlier passed us as this point. After a little while, we headed out, continuing our journey north. A little further down the trail, we passed them again – that was the last time we saw them.
Nothing terribly exciting happened for a while – we were just trying to rack up some mileage (I kind of felt like a “real” PCT hiker who has to keep moving in order to complete the trail).
We stopped for lunch at Hinton Creek – at first, we were the only ones there, but soon, 3 new PCT hikers showed up. Two women and an older man. One woman was from Germany, one was from Austraiia and the man was from Tampa. Interesting mix. We chatted a bit. They were expecting to be complete with the trail in about a month. Much faster than the other 3 we met. We had lunch, got some more water and then headed out.
A few miles up the trail we got a great view of The Husband (I don’t think we could see The Wife from the trail):
We continued north and soon found ourselves entering the Obsidian Limited use area (Kirk had a permit for us). We didn’t see anyone else there, however and no one checked our permit. About a mile or so into the area, we came to Obsidian Falls, which was really interesting. The waterfall was all set on layers of black obsidian:
Here is a video of the falls in action:
We didn’t stay there too long as the bugs were especially bad. We quickly headed up over the falls into a flat area that had some really neat cliffs:
We continued north and in about a mile, we saw one of the special memorial Plaques up on a hillside (it is almost impossible to see in this photo):
I believe this is the one for Harley H. Prouty – there are 3 of them and all appear to be related to the Mazamas somehow. We couldn’t read this one – it was too far away and we didn’t want to stop to try and read it.
We continued heading north thinking we would stop somewhere before Opie Dildock pass – we thought we would camp in the first place after the Obsidian Limited use area we could find. The first place that was really anywhere we could camp was called Sawyer Bar, which is just Below Opie Dildock Pass – this was our campsite:
Soon after we got the tents setup, the clouds moved in and it started lightly misting. We made dinner and went to bed early again. We wanted to get another early start to make sure we got out on time. This would be our last night in the wilderness.
Day 6 – Sawyer Bar to Lava Camp Trailhead
We woke up early again on day 6 to get an early start. The last morning was a lot tougher than the prior ones. Overnight it went from a light mist to real rain. It rained rather hard at times but by morning, it was mostly just misting (mostly). But our tents were all soaking wet and had to be packed up wet. The good news was that we wouldn’t need them again, so other than some additional weight it wasn’t too bad. Well, that and eating in the rain.
We made breakfast as best we could and got packed up. We then headed up the trail in the rain and wind thru the lava up to Opie Dildock Pass (what a name!? I wonder who it was named after?):
It is a very steep trail that zigs and zags thru the lava flow up to the pass where the trail flattens out for a bit and then starts heading down the other side. It isn’t too far before you get to Minnie Scott Springs (our original target for night 5):
It was wet – really wet but it looked like there were nice campsites there. But I’m glad we camped where we did. After hiking almost 18 miles the day before, doing this pass would have been very difficult. It was a lot easier to do it in the morning after a good nights sleep. We made it thru the pass and then started our slow downhill (mostly) to the van. We had a very steep uphill section near the Yapoah Crater, but we couldn’t see much. I thought the trail routing was really weird. We went up just to come right back down. Anyway, there was lots and lots of this stuff that we went thru – but this was where the weather finally started clearing up a bit:
And shortly after exiting all the lava, we came to South Matthieu Lake (we also passed North Matthiew Lake but we only saw it from high above):
Kirk decided to take the “low road” going down to North Matthiew Lake while we took the PCT (the “high road”). We had thought we might have to gain back a bunch of elevation if we went down to the lake, but apparently not. That route was slightly shorter and Kirk was there waiting for us when we got to the junction. Apparently the downhill was just mostly all at the start.
Shortly after that junction, we got to the last short connector trail to the Lava Creek trailhead and back to the van. We got to the van about 10:30am, so we made good time. It took us just under 3 hours to do about 7.5 miles. After cleaning up a bit and packing up all of our stuff, we headed to Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters for a well deserved post trip meal before our drive home.
A truly epic adventure!
Location of Hike: Redwoods
Weather during Hike: Sunny
Hiking Buddies: Kirk and Sarah
Hike Distance: 31.5 miles
Unlike prior trips, we had kind of a loose itinerary. We had a difficult time finding accurate/current information and maps of the area, so we decided to have a rough plan and then adjust as we went along based on info we got at the ranger station(s). This turned out to be a good call. We found out that the whole Redwood park system is kind of a hybrid – being managed by state and federal (national parks and forest service). It made our trip to the ranger station rather interesting since he had to make a couple of phone calls to verify things for our various stops.
The rough plan was this:
- Wednesday – Drive to the Ranger station to get permits and then stage vehicles for the shuttle hike – hike down Dolason Prairie trail to Redwood Creek and camp on the gravel bar (dispersed camping)
- Thursday – Hike up Redwood creek to Tall Trees Grove – do the Tall Trees loop and then hike as far as we could up the creek and camp again on the gravel bar
- Friday – Hike up Redwood creek to the trailhead – then do some road walking over to the Skunk Cabbage Creek section of the Coastal trail and hike up the beach to the Gold Bluffs campground
- Saturday – Hike back to the Elk Prairie visitor center to get one of the cars – pick up second car and then visit Lyons Ranch, and some other highlights before starting the trip back home. Find someplace to do dispersed camping that is on the way home
- Sunday – drive the rest of the way home
Our actual plan was pretty close, however we didn’t head down the Dolason Prairie trail – we went down the Tall Trees trail (saving us about 3-4 miles of downhill hiking). Other than that, things went pretty much according to the rough plan. Our hiking mileage looked like this:
- Wednesday – 2 miles
- Thursday – 10 miles
- Friday – 11.5 miles
- Saturday – 5 miles backpacking plus 3 miles of day hiking
- Total Mileage: – 31.5 miles
Day 1 – Home to Redwood Creek
We headed out from Oregon City early on Wednesday morning (6:00am) – we had a long drive – google said it would take about 7 hours to get to the visitors center and that was with no stops at all – we figured it would take us at least 8 hours, which turned out to be just about right. We had to get the permits, stage the cars for the shuttle hike, and then hike down to the creek and find a good campsite. We weren’t sure how long all that would take and make sure we had enough time to find a campsite before dark. Fortunately, we planned well, and the elimination of a few miles of hiking helped a bit as well. When we got to the ranger station, he advised us to park at the Tall Trees trailhead instead of Dolason Prairie – it was safer. We got all the permits, staged the cars, went to a different ranger station to get bear canisters and then headed down the Tall Trees trail and almost immediately came to the junction with the Emerald Ridge trail – since we removed a few miles at the start, we figured we could add a little more mileage and see more of Redwood Creek. We took the junction and headed south down to Redwood Creek. Very quickly we got our first glimpse of what was to come over the next few days – Big Redwoods!:
It didn’t take us very long and we were at the creek – at that point the goal was to find a campsite along the gravel bar. In this section, we could camp anywhere along the gravel bar (which was very wide this time of year). When we got to the creek, we waded over to the other side to investigate potential sites. We would be wading the creek many more times over the next two days:
We pretty quickly found a really nice campsite a little south of where we arrived at the creek – nice and sandy with a fire ring and a nice sitting bench:
We were tired from a long day of driving and hiking, so we went to bed early.
Day 2 – Redwood Creek to Redwood Creek (farther north)
We got up early on Thursday, packed up and headed north up Redwood creek. We crossed Redwood creek and found this beautiful deep pool:
As we headed north, we got near the Tall Trees Grove (which was a highlight of the day) – it was at the end of this straight section of creek:
We crossed the creek again, and then popped right into the Tall Trees Grove. Here was the first tree we saw in the tall trees grove which was pretty impressive:
There was a bench in the middle of a bunch of large trees where we changed back into our boots (we had been wearing wading shoes since we had been going back and forth across the creek). We then took the short loop around the tall trees grove. This is one example of the scale of what we saw – and I’m sure this was not the largest tree we saw:
The scale of these trees is just incredible. I saw hundreds of trees over the course of our trip, and they never stopped inspiring a sense of awe.
Another very interesting thing was seeing how tough these trees are. They have a real will to survive. Fire is a part of their existence (the interpretive signs said fire was naturally occurring every 250-500 years). We saw many trees like this – severely burned out from the inside, but somehow still alive and apparently thriving:
We learned that when redwoods are stressed, they release “children” – shoots with the same genetic material – in some spots where trees had been logged, you saw an entire ring of trees around the logged stump – sometimes it is called a “fairy ring” or “family circle”. It just shows how persistent and tough these trees are. They said some trees are over 2000 years old!
Since the Redwoods were the highlight of the trip, here are some more photos for scale:
And this photo is pretty cool I thought – looking straight up from a cluster of trees:
And here is a 360 photo from the Tall Trees grove
After doing the Tall Trees loop, we continued north up Redwood creek, crossing the first seasonal bridge over to the west side of the creek:
From there we continued up to an old road (which was hardly recognizable as a road in most places). We headed north on this old road, a bit above the creek. We got to the Bond creek crossing and found the “bridge” was gone. Most of the bridges were in pretty rough shape. Some with missing handrails, most with missing or partially missing boards:
As we headed north on this trail, there were some pretty large trees here too:
The other unexpected thing was that while we were there for the redwoods, we also saw the largest maple tree I’ve ever seen – it was absolutely huge:
A little bit further down the trail we encountered this cut log that said it was 750 years old and we easily saw trees twice that size still alive:
We had to camp before the last seasonal bridge at McArthur Creek, so we spent a while looking for candidate campsites. We knew the next day was going to be rather long, so we wanted to get as far north as possible to reduce our mileage on Friday. We preferred a shady spot in a sandy area rather than camping on the gravel itself (that would be kind of hard). We dropped our packs and looked around – we crossed the creek and headed north – all the way to McArthur creek. We found what we thought was a pretty good spot a little south of the creek:
And looking upstream from our campsite:
We were tired again and went to bed early (after struggling to get out our messages from our SPOT and Garmin units – apparently even though it had a clear shot of the southern sky, we had to go all the way over to the east side of the creek to get the messages to send).
Day 3 – Redwood Creek to Gold Bluffs
We got up Friday morning and continued north along the old road, shortly getting to the second seasonal bridge on Redwood creek:
After crossing the bridge, the trail became much more “manicured” – I’m guessing that is because in the winter that bridge crossing point is the farthest you can go down the trail without wading the creek (which would probably be pretty tough, since it flows pretty high in the winter):
We soon got to the Redwood Creek trailhead with picnic tables and a bathroom. We took advantage of both, spending a little while there snacking. We then headed up the road – this was the short road walking section we weren’t too thrilled about. But as we were heading up the short trailhead road, Sarah noticed a bear on the side of the road! He was quite a ways away (150-200 feet), and rather small – he took off for the trees as soon as he saw us. He was so fast I was not able to get a photo.
We made it up to highway 101, which had a fair amount of traffic on it – this was the section we were most dreading. We started off facing traffic (as you are supposed to do when walking on a road), however there wasn’t much of a berm to walk on and there was a semi-blind corner. Kirk went across the road where there was a guardrail, and there was a nice concrete path along the outside of the guard rail – much safer than where we were walking so we headed back across the road and hiked behind the guardrail until we got to the road to the Skunk Cabbage Creek trailhead. We headed up that road – no traffic at all. We got to the trailhead and there were no cars there either, which surprised us.
We headed down the trail and soon we were into the lush coastal trail forest with more spruce and fewer redwoods:
And saw some huge skunk cabbage (which gives the creek/trail segment its name):
We continued to the “overlook”, which was rather disappointing since it was rather brushed in. We stopped there for lunch and then headed down to the beach. There were several areas in this section where we were walking in a literal tunnel of vegetation – and some spots were rather dark:
And this shows how lush the understory is – a carpet of sword ferns 5-6′ high in places:
We finally got down to the beach and rested a bit. This is where I made a mistake – I should have left my boots on, but I took off my boots and walked barefoot for a while – later I put on my crocs to try and protect my feet (I had a few hot spots and minor blisters that were getting abraded by the sand). Wearing crocs in the sand isn’t a good idea – it gets trapped in the croc and rubs on your skin anyway. This section of trail along with the sand made kind of a mess of my feet – a bad decision I would pay for the rest of the trip.
This is a shot looking up the beach from where we came down. We would be heading up this way – about 3 miles up the beach to the campground:
After a bit, we got to the beginning of the Gold Bluffs, which were not named for their color, but named for the gold they contained. Early in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s these cliffs were mined for gold using a variety of techniques. It sounded like the location of our campground might have been a mining camp too. Here is a photo of the beginning of the Gold Bluffs:
As we were walking up the beach, we found this almost perfectly intact jellyfish that had washed up on the beach – it was quite interesting:
After what seemed like forever (walking in the sand with a backpack is harder than it sounds), we finally arrived at the campground. We saw not a soul on the trail nor on the beach until we were almost to the campground. The campground was pretty full of car campers, but we had a reservation in the “Hiker/Biker” section. This was our campsite for Friday night – a nice place with picnic tables and fire rings:
They also had water along with real flush toilets and showers. I hadn’t brought soap, but I used some of the hand soap from the bathroom to take some sort of a shower – I felt a lot better after I washed some of the trail funk off me.
While we were at the camp, I was enthralled watching some sort of large bird (vulture?) circle around the cliffs. I took a short video of him/her:
And while I didn’t stay up for the “real” sunset, I did take this photo of the sun setting on Friday night:
I went to bed early, while Kirk stayed up for a while and explored the area a bit.
Day 4 – Gold Bluffs to Elk Prairie, then dispersed camping
We all got up early on Saturday and got ready to head out. Overnight, another pair of hikers had arrived in camp. We talked with them for a bit – We found out They were from Washington and Colorado and had been making rounds around the west to different national parks. They had apparently come in the Miner’s Ridge Trail (the one we were taking to head out) the night before and were surprised at all the cars in the campground – they thought it was a backcountry campground only.
We headed down the road – down the “Tsunami evacuation route” to the Miner’s Ridge trailhead. It starts as a gated road – we were thinking the road was so that people could drive up to safety from a Tsunami. The road ended at a bridge over Squashan creek. On the way up the road, we met a state ranger who was testing the water source for the campground. They pipe water from the creek into a couple of large tanks which feed the campground – but someone comes up every day to test the water to make sure it is safe. We had a nice conversation with him and then headed up the trail:
Of all the trails we were on during this trip, I think this was my favorite one – it had quite a variety of ecosystems and had a lot of Redwood trees on it:
We continued down the trail, encountering no one until we were about 2 miles from the Elk Prairie visitor center. We continued down the trail, encountering more and more people the closer we got to the visitor center. Near the visitor center we encountered a large group of elderly people who were from all over the US. They were taking a short loop trip near the visitor center. We quickly made it to the visitor center and then back to our car. At that point, we needed to return the bear canisters we had “rented”, so we needed to go get the other car since we had left the “covers” for the canisters in that car. It was a bit out of our way, but we made the trip and returned the canisters without incident. While there, we asked about the condition of the Bald Hills Road all the way down to Martins Ferry and Weitchpec – the ranger said it was passable but thought it was a scary road – we just needed to go slow. We decided to try it – we have lots of experience driving narrow, windy gravel roads. It turned out fine. I’m not sure what she thought was so bad about the road – we’ve driven roads that are a LOT worse than that one was.
Anyway, on the way down, we decided to take a look at a couple of other items. Due to my feet, I wasn’t up to explore the old Lyons Ranch (which would have been about a 5 mile hike) – I don’t think we had time enough for that either. But we decided we could go see the Dolason Barn – part of the Dolason Prairie trail that we didn’t end up taking. Plus we got to look at the lookout on Schoolhouse Peak.
Here are some photos of the Dolason Barn – the Dolason family raised sheep on this property for several generations:
And this is a photo of some of the hillside Dolason Prairie:
Although the signs said the barn was only .75 miles from the trailhead, it was more like 1.25 miles – not terrible, but we were kind of in a hurry, wanting to find a campsite for the night before it got dark. There was only one car at this trailhead and we encountered the person partway down the hill. When we got back to the car, ours were the only cars left in the lot. Not a very highly used trail for sure. It is tough in that you go downhill on the way in, having to make up all the elevation on the way out. Maybe that is why it doesn’t seem too popular. It was interesting to see the barn and the prairies though.
Once back at the car, we continued down the road to the Schoolhouse lookout. We weren’t sure what to expect, but found a gated, locked road which led up to an active lookout. We walked up the road and when we got to the lookout the guy manning the lookout popped out on the catwalk and asked if we wanted to come up – of course we said yes! He came down and then led us up the stairs up to the lookout. It was apparently built in the 40’s and then partially burned at some point and then rebuilt/renovated. It appeared to be mostly steel, but looked a lot more modern that the lookouts I’ve seen. It had a big propane tank, a big water tank for fire fighting, and a non potable water tank for washing dishes, showers and the toilet (it must have had a complete septic system too). It was pretty neat to see. The cupola looked a lot like what I’ve seen in many photos – one side had the “kitchen” with a sink, refrigerator and stove and then the other side with a bed. And of course the Osborne Fire Finder in the middle:
We spent a few minutes talking with him (I wish we had gotten his name) – it was great. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of a view due to all the smoke from nearby fires. But getting to see the inside of a real lookout was pretty special. Here is what it looked like from the outside:
We Left the lookout and then continued down Bald Hills road, which was very windy and did go on for a while, but it really wasn’t that bad. At some point it turned back to pavement and was pretty good all the way down to Martins Ferry. We were expecting to find some place to eat dinner before we found our campsite for the night – we found one place – the “Burger Barn”, but when we got there, it had either closed for the day, or was not open at all – we couldn’t tell. We didn’t really see ANY other place to eat, so we stopped at the local gas station/convenience store and got some sort of dinner – it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible.
We headed north on highway 96, which took us into the Six Rivers national forest. We found what appeared to be an old abandoned campground, although all the signage was still in place – it was a little odd, but since we just wanted a place to sleep for the night, it worked out fine. We camped at the Aikens Creek Campground – which does appear on the FS Website, but there are no services (no water, no bathrooms) – that was OK with us. I ended up sleeping in the car – hoping the car seat would be a little better on my back than my pad had been – it was slightly better, but not a lot better.
Day 5 – Dispersed camping (Aikens Creek Campground) to Home
We woke up early on Sunday and then headed out. The plan was to find a restaurant for breakfast as close as possible. We were really out on the fringe, for we saw no restaurant at all until we got to Ashland, which was almost 150 miles away. So, we ended up eating a very late breakfast. We stopped at the Waffle Barn in Ashland – had a great breakfast and then got back on the road.
There was a lot of smoke all over the place, but it seemed like Medford was maybe the worst – it looked like smog it was so thick:
We stopped in Roseburg for gas and then headed the rest of the way home. We ran into some pretty bad traffic in Albany and ended up getting off I-5 at Brooks – it sounded like there were multiple accidents on I-5 – we had already been delayed at least a half hour and we all wanted to get home.
This trip wasn’t quite as flashy or spectacular as some trips we’ve done, but the huge Redwoods continue to amaze me – I never tire of looking at them. It was great to sleep among the Redwoods and to see a lot of the variety of the northern California back country.
Location of Hike: Pettit Lake - Sawtooth Wilderness
Weather during Hike: Mixed - Hot to cool with a little mist
Hiking Buddies: Kirk, Sarah and Carly
Hike Distance: 23.5 miles
Sarah picked out the location this year, which was somewhat close to where Carly is working for the summer – the Grand Tetons. The plan was somewhat loose, since we weren’t really sure exactly what we would encounter. This was the rough plan for the backpack trip:
- Day 1 – Pettit Lake to Farley, Edith or Imogene Lake (depending on how the day went)
- Day 2 – Hike to Alice Lake (needed a relatively short day since we were traveling to the Grand Tetons after we were done)
- Day 3 – Alice Lake out to Pettit Lake and then drive to the Campground where Carly was working
We left home about 7am on Saturday and headed to the Pettit Lake trailhead in Idaho. We were not sure if we would be able to find a campsite at the campground there, but if not, we figured we could do some dispersed camping nearby. The plan was for Carly to meet us there – she worked until 3pm so she was going to be there late. Since there was no cell service at the campground, it was a bit iffy on whether we had all our communication correct. We got to the campground early evening and found it full, so we looked for a good dispersed spot. We found a pretty good spot near the creek and called it good. This was our campsite the first night – I climbed up a small hill to get a better look at things and see if I could get a cell signal to text Carly – but had no luck.
I waited on the road in to the campground (so she would see me), and fortunately, Carly showed up a little after 9pm. I was somewhat relieved that we had successfully met up and we could now begin our 2017 trip.
We went to bed in our camp, had a VERY cold night, kind of slept in a bit due to the cold night, then woke up to frosty tents! We were surprised since it was so hot the day before. Fortunately, it warmed up pretty quickly, so we cooked breakfast, packed up and then drove to the trailhead. Shortly, we were on our way! This was where we started our adventure:
We headed down the trail, shortly taking the uphill junction to the trail that would eventually take us to Farley Lake (I couldn’t find trail names or numbers). After the junction with the trail coming in from Yellow Belly Lake (what a name!), we crossed a small creek. I was the only one who got their feet wet – I didn’t like the log crossing – but the cool water felt good on my feet. While I was putting my boots back on, a packtrain came along and crossed the creek – I think Kirk counted 12 horses:
After letting the packtrain go past us, and me getting my boots back on, we continued up the trail. Soon, we got our first real glimpse of the mountains and a flower filled meadow:
We continued up the trail – it was pretty hot by this time and the trail is pretty exposed – we were all getting really hot and trying to stay as hydrated as we could.
As we got closer to Edith Lake, the trail crossed the creek 3 times on the way up the hill – this was one crossing point:
After the third crossing we finally arrived at Edith Lake:
When we got there we encountered a rather large group – we found out later it was a group of “Father/Child” campers – they had been doing a “Father/Child” backpack trip annually for the last 5 years or so. It was interesting that we were both doing the same thing, although their children were much younger. We set up camp up on the hill above Edith Lake. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad here. Carly, Sarah and I kind of cleaned up at the lake, while Kirk went for a brief swim (the water was really COLD).
We made dinner and then pretty much just went to bed. We were all pretty tired due to the heat. I got up early the next morning and captured the sunrise from our camp on Monday morning:
And here is Edith Lake from our campsite in the morning light – we would be headed up to the pass in the upper middle of the photo. It is hard to see the ridge.
We made breakfast, cleaned and packed up and headed out (and up). We climbed above Edith Lake and started climbing up to the pass – we passed thru this beautiful meadow:
And as the trees thinned out, we saw many of these old, fire damaged trees – I thought they were really neat looking:
As we continued up, we got into more snow, having to find the trail across large snowbanks. Most of the time it was pretty easy since there was already footprints leading the way. Here we are looking back down the valley we came up the day before – Farley and Yellow Belly Lakes below (Edith Lake is not visible):
When we got up to the pass, we climbed up a side ridge/peak (un-named – 9568)to get a good view of the area. The climb wasn’t bad at all – we dropped our packs at the pass and headed up the ridge. The view was pretty spectacular. From on top of the ridge, you could see all 3 lakes – Yellow Belly, Farley and Edith below:
And Toxaway Lake on the other side – we would be shortly heading down to it:
While exploring the peak, Carly heard some noise and saw two deer up on the peak!!! She spooked them and they ran down – but we were all surprised they were up that high. No one got any photos of them, and she was the only one who saw them unfortunately. After enjoying the views for a bit on the peak, we started down – the wind was picking up and we started to get a little light mist. We were concerned it was going to really start raining. Fortunately, that was about all we got – a few very light drops of rain and light mist.
We continued down the long slow, descent to Toxaway Lake (the trails were really well graded), and we walked thru a variety of beautiful wildflower meadows:
When we got down to the trail junction at Toxaway, we saw a couple of guys having a break near the campsite area. We stopped for a few minutes and then continued down around the Southeast corner of the lake and ran into the bottom of an avalanche that occurred last winter:
On top of the avalanche area we got a good view up the hill to where we could be going later. It was a really neat smooth rock hillside where the snowmelt was coming down. We ended up having lunch here and resting a bit. There was another family with small children (you can see them near the water in the above photo) that was ahead of us who we would see off and on up the trail for a bit.
After lunch, we continued up the hill and ran into more avalanche damage up the hill. This damage completely obliterated the trail for a bit and was difficult to figure out where to go:
We successfully navigated the avalanche damage and shortly got to the first of 3 small un-named lakes before the pass:
We continued up (and up and up) – this is almost to the pass – looking back from where we came:
And we finally get to the pass with its 20′ wall of snow – I should have taken a photo of the other side of it. It was pretty impressive (the trail heads off on the left side, hugging the cliff to begin):
Once we were over the pass, you get a good view of the Twin and Alice Lakes below:
We headed down the trail, encountering a few snow fields and quite a few people (including families with small children) coming up. It didn’t take too long for us to reach the shoreline at Twin Lakes:
We went out on the land spit between the two lakes and explored a bit, enjoying the beautiful location – nestled between the mountains. After exploring around the Twin Lakes a bit, we continued on our journey down to Alice lake. On the way, there was this “right turn” waterfall which was really cool:
And finally, we came to our objective for the day – Alice Lake with El Capitan towering over it:
We started looking for a good campsite, and finally found one, although the mosquitoes were TERRIBLE – you could HEAR them buzzing in the swarms. They were close to the worst I’ve experienced (I think Serene Lake and Cache Meadow many years ago was worse):
After we got camp setup, we explored a bit more – here is a cool island in Alice Lake:
As usual, we made dinner, cleaned up and pretty much went to bed – partly due to being tired, but partly due to the mosquitoes. We planned to try and get an early start so we could get on the road to the Grand Tetons (it is at least a 6 hour drive – over 300 miles). We got up the next morning and quickly made breakfast and broke camp. I think we were on the trail by a little after 8. On our way out, we got this great view of Alice lake with El Capitan looming over it:
And then the rest of the mountains surrounding the southeast side of Alice Lake:
Once we got past Alice Lake and its little lakes below it, we saw our final objective for this trip – headed down the valley and back to Pettit Lake:
On the way down the hill, we ran into more avalanche damaged areas and had to find our way around the area where the trail was obliterated. At one point, we got slightly separated and I ended up crossing a creek, only to have to come back over when I heard Kirk yelling at me from up on the rockslide-luckily I heard him over the roar of the creek!. I had gone down to explore what looked like a possible trail (I think it was an old alignment of the trail that was no longer used). We ended up going up into a rockfield and around all the damage and eventually re-joined the trail.
After that experience, shortly after we re-joined the trail, we stopped at a rockslide that was next to the creek. We saw a Pika there (this isn’t a great photo since he was hard to see, but he was pretty cute):
And continued down the hill towards Pettit Lake. I think we counted like 5 creek crossings on the way down. Most were pretty easy, but the last one was rather difficult. There was a family there trying to get across. Carly ended up crossing on a sketchy log, I ended up putting my crocs on and getting wet – Kirk and Sarah crossed on a pair of logs a bit upstream (which was really the best option). After making that last crossing we were almost to the last mile hike to the trailhead:
We finally got there (it seemed like a REALLY long mile). We did a little cleaning up in the bathroom in preparation for our trip to the Grand Tetons, and then headed out – I think it was about 11:30 when we left the trailhead. On to phase 3 of the trip!
On the drive to the Grand Tetons, we went thru the Craters of the Moon park – I snapped this quick photo from the car – we didn’t stop since we had a long ways to go, but it was pretty interesting. Someday it would be nice to stop and investigate it.
We had lunch in Hailey, Idaho at the “Power House” (great burgers and an interesting place – a combination pub/restaurant/bike shop), and then drove to the Signal Mountain Campground in the Grand Tetons where Carly is working this summer. Fortunately, we had a campsite waiting for us. We setup camp and then started our next phase of this trip.
This backpacking trip was tough, but very interesting, and areas that I’d not seen before. It was great to spend several days with Carly. We had a great time and saw some beautiful scenery. I can’t wait for whatever trip we plan for next year.
Location of Hike: Grand Tetons - Mormon Row and Laurel Lake
Weather during Hike: Sunny
Hiking Buddies: Kirk, Sarah and Carly
Start Time: 3:50 PM End Time: 5:50 PM
Hike Distance: 2.5 miles
We started at the visitor center and enjoyed the exhibits and displays and watched a short movie on the Grand Tetons. From there, we drove around to Mormon Row, which is an abandoned row of homesteads. There were several homesteads and buildings along this road, but this is a photo of the Thomas Murphy Homestead:
After walking around the Mormon homesteads for a bit, we got back in the car and went to see the Cunningham Cabin. He was another early settler:
We then decided to go up to the top of Signal Mountain – you can drive to the top and get a great view of the whole valley. This is Jackson Lake from the top of Signal Mountain:
By this time it was almost time for Carly to get off work, so we headed back to camp to get ready for our last short hike up to Laurel Lake. As we were headed back to camp, we ran into a “Bear Jam” – a Bear had been chased out of the campground and was along the road. People had stopped in the middle of the road to take pictures. The bear seemed completely uninterested in all the attention it was getting.
We got changed and met Carly and then headed out to the String Lake trailhead. This “trail” split off from the String Lake trail and then headed (literally) straight up the hillside to Laurel Lake. There were a few very short switchbacks (more like a snake trail than switchbacks) and a lot of the trail was very brushy, but it was pretty easy to follow – you can tell a fair number of people hike this unofficial trail. This is a photo looking down the trail – the hillside is probably 45 degrees or more the whole way – you can see the official trail down near the lake:
We made good time and it didn’t take too long to get up to the lake since the ascent was pretty aggressive. We gained about 850 feet in short order. We found the lake and it was a beautiful small lake in a bowl:
We enjoyed the lake for a bit and then headed back to the car and then on to Leek’s Marina for some great pizza. A great way to end our stay in the Grand Tetons.
Location of Hike: Grand Tetons - Delta, Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes
Weather during Hike: Ranged from Sunny to Misty
Hiking Buddies: Kirk, Sarah and Carly
Start Time: 10:45 AM End Time: 4:30 PM
Hike Distance: 11.5 miles
We started out and headed up the Lupine Meadows trail, which then joined the Amphitheater Lake trail. On switchback number 6, there was a pretty rough side trail (goat path, really), that led you up to Delta Lake. It went thru two rock fields and in some places straight up the hill. It was a challenging route. Here is one portion of one of the rock fields:
And a photo looking up from below on the descent – this hill was probably at least 60 degrees – maybe steeper:
Once we got up to Delta Lake (we would see later in the day how it got its name), we hiked around the north side of the lake to a very large rock in the water. We had lunch on this rock and enjoyed this view of the Grand Teton:
After having lunch and enjoying the view for a bit, we headed back down to the junction with the Amphitheater Lake trail. On the way down, we saw these pouches on a tree and a small placard explaining what they were. They are trying to save the Whitebark pine trees from the mountain pine beetle, and the pouches are “pheromone pouches” which must repel the beetles.
We continued down the trail to the junction with the real trail and at this point, Carly went downhill since she had to go to work. We continued up the hill to Surprise and Amphitheater lakes. On the way up, we talked with a man who said we should continue past Amphitheater lake up to the ridge above the lake – he said it was quite a view and worth the climb.
Shortly after Carly left us, we saw a deer right off the trail. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about our presence. He just kept munching away at the brush as we walked up the trail:
A little later, we started to feel a little drizzle. This continued for a while and got heavier. Unfortunately, I did not bring rain gear on this hike since I only had my little teeny day pack. I did bring my OmniHeat jacket, which isn’t waterproof, but it kept me warm while it rained. The rain let up somewhat, but continued for a few hours.
Shortly, we came to Surprise Lake:
We tried to shelter under some trees at Surprise Lake, but still got wet there. After spending a few minutes checking things out, we went back to the trail and headed up to aptly named Amphitheater Lake:
Since it was still raining, we didn’t waste much time and headed up the north side of the lake on a somewhat legible user trail. We headed up to a small pass between the Amphitheater lake basin and the Delta Lake basin. Although we couldn’t see Delta Lake from there, it was quite a view:
There was also quite a “chute” between the ridge and where we were standing – it went all the way down to the Delta basin-about 1000′ below:
After checking this out for a few minutes, Sarah and I were ready to head back down, but Kirk wanted to explore a bit higher. We were tired, but waited for Kirk to explore up higher. I’m so glad he did, because he found a really cool little platform where we could see Delta Lake (the lake we visited in the morning):
You could see how this lake got its name – seeing the delta feeding it and the sediment going into the lake. It was really interesting to see the lake from 1000′ above like that – you couldn’t even see the brown part of the lake from below!
After enjoying the view of Delta lake from above, we headed back down to Amphitheater lake. When we were coming up, Kirk thought he saw some sort of climbers trail on the south side of the lake up high. When we went back down, there were two climbers heading up (they are pretty small but they are in the upper snowbank in the middle of the photo):
That was really interesting to see. We were thinking they might try and summit one of the mountains.
After watching the climbers for a bit, we continued down the trail. Shortly after that point, the rain mostly stopped, so we took off our rain gear and continued down the hill. The trip down was pretty quick (compared to going up). We got back to the trailhead about 3:30 and headed back to camp – a wonderful days adventure in a BEAUTIFUL place.
Location of Hike: East Fork Quinault Trail
Weather during Hike: mostly cool and misty/rainy
Hiking Buddies: Kirk and Sarah
Hike Distance: 43.5 miles
This was my annual backpacking trip. Unfortunately, Carly was not able to join this year, so Kirk, Sarah and I went to explore the Enchanted Valley in the Olympic National Park. The trip took us up the long East Fork Quinault river valley.
This was the plan:
- Day 1 – Graves creek to O’Neil Creek – ~9 miles
- Day 2 – O’Neil creek to Enchanted Valley – ~ 6.5 miles
- Day 3 – Enchanted Valley to Honeymoon Meadows – ~6.5 miles
- Day 4 – Honeymoon Meadows to Pyrites creek – ~ 10 miles
- Day 5 – Pyrites creek to Graves creek then home – ~ 12 miles
Our itinerary changed a bit during the trip. More on that later.
The first thing I have to say about this trip is that it was absolutely the wettest backpacking I’ve ever done. Technically, it rained every day of the trip. The humidity was so high that it was almost impossible to dry anything out, even though we had a campfire on 2 of our nights. That was not terribly enjoyable, but being in a rain forest, it is to be expected.
Secondly, I found myself continually saying “wow” during this trip. The number of HUGE trees on this trip is incredible. Everywhere you look there were big trees and HUGE trees. Looking at those huge trees never got old.
Thirdly (and definitely not any less importantly), we got to see 2 bears – one up close and personal (20-25′ away), and a big herd of elk as well as a host of other small animals and birds. The wildlife on this trip was really cool.
Now, on to the details.
Day 1 – Graves creek to O’Neil Creek – 9.4 miles
Kirk picked me up about 7am for the long drive to the trailhead (about 4 1/2 hours according to google). We had kind of factored that into the plan so had a relatively short day planned. We had to go to the ranger station at Lake Quinault, register, and we got 3 bear canisters (required in the valley now – you can’t hang your food anymore). The ranger went over all sorts of rules, regulations and told us about the big washout about 7 miles up the trail. He also made kind of an odd comment – that we had “flexibility in our scheduling” – meaning we weren’t REQUIRED to camp in the places on our plan/permit. I just thought it was an odd comment since so many things can change when you are backpacking so your plans need to potentially adjust to the conditions. Maybe he was just assuring us that it was OK to deviate from what we had told them.
Anyway, we got all that done, paid our fees, loaded up our bear canisters and decided to have a “last supper” in civilization. There was a general store with a small cafe in it that sounded perfect. It was quite interesting – we had to wait a while until they cleaned the grill from breakfast – then it took a while to get our orders and finally our food. It was good – it was just kind of slow – they had a sign that say “we can’t promise fast food, but we can promise good food”. I think they lived up to that promise.
After our “last supper”, we headed back to the van and on to the trailhead. Last winter was really rough in this area, and it washed out the road about 2 1/2 miles from the trailhead so we had to park on the road and hike up the road to the real trailhead. We knew about this beforehand, so had planned it into the schedule. We got packed up and headed up the road, making good time since it was pretty easy hiking. Shortly, we got to the real trailhead. We stopped there to use the bathroom (the last “real” bathroom we would have for the next 5 days), and then headed up the trail. The trail starts by crossing Graves creek on a nice bridge (which I didn’t get a picture of). It then continues up what appears to be an old road (it is REALLY wide).
Shortly, we saw an old water tank next to the trail which was obviously not being used anymore. We were thinking it might have been used for water at the Graves creek campground – there was something similar/newer in the parking lot of the trailhead.
A little farther up the trail we got to the junction with the Graves creek trail – a more primitive trail. There was also a really nice sign showing mileage to our various destinations we had planned:
A little farther up the trail we found a very old picnic table (probably used when this was still a road):
Continuing on, we got to our first Quinault River crossing – the “Pony bridge”:
We enjoyed the views from the bridge in this slot canyon and the proceed down the trail. It continues thru the rainforest and shortly crosses Fire Creek:
Shortly after Fire Creek we found the sign for the O’Neil Creek campsite – it is quite a bit below the trail right next to the river. We found a good spot and setup camp for our first night:
We explored the “jungle” that was this camp – it was nestled in a grove of mostly salmonberry and it was over our heads. They have carved a path thru it, but it is still pretty thick. We found the “bear wire” that was there for hanging food:
We made dinner, cleaned up and were all tired so we went to bed.
Day 2 – O’Neil creek to Enchanted Valley – 7 miles
After we went to bed on day 1 it started raining – Pretty much all night. Fortunately, it stopped by morning, but everything was wet by then. So we had to pack up wet tents. We headed back up to the trail and continued thru the magnificent old growth rain forest:
We knew the big washout was not far. We should have known we were in for trouble when we saw this flagging at the start of the re-route:
We were guessing the bone was to keep the flagging visible. It was kind of weird to see, though.
The re-route was really a user boot path thru the area. We had to cross a lot of pretty large downed logs:
Before finally crossing the river on a huge log to bypass the washout:
We then crossed another huge log a bit upstream to get back to the trail – the washout section was about 1/4 mile total. Winter was not kind to this section of trail. Fixing it will be a huge effort.
After successfully traversing the big washout, we continued down the trail, passing huge trees that had been previously cut, as well as some fresh ones:
We then successfully crossed no name creek (yes, that is really its name) and kept hiking thru these giant trees:
And more giant blowdown:
We then started into the beginning of the valley – it is a LONG valley:
And we came across another one of these side channel washouts (I’m not really sure what to call them). This one was kind of unique though, in that it had these big huge cedar trees below which were interesting. We weren’t sure if they were multiple trees that had grown together or if it was one tree that grew multiple stems. They were certainly massive though (as pretty much everything in this valley is).
the trail kind of flattened out and we hike a flat section for a while. We came to this “forest art” (as Sarah called it) – a HUGE cedar tree that had uprooted a long time ago – pretty cool:
And a little bit farther down the trail we found an old phone line insulator – this was not he only one we found, but it is the only one I took a photo of:
Continuing down the valley we found the spot where the trail crews had cut up logs for various projects:
And then this really strange “gate”:
That gate was kind of the beginning of the “real” valley – where the chalet was. Once thru that gate, the trail opened up quickly and we got our first glance at the chalet off in the distance. But before we could get to the chalet, we had to cross the river again – this time at a narrow section. They had this cool, kind of scary bridge to cross:
It was about 80-100′ long and 30-40′ above the river. It was kind of odd it only had one handrail given it was so high up. But we all successfully navigated the bridge and shortly arrived at the Chalet:
Since it was raining we decided to get some cover under the porch of the chalet and figure out where we wanted to camp that night – either in the valley or farther up (to make the trip to Honeymoon Meadows shorter). We scouted the sites around the meadow and found a good one under the trees – it had a fire pit and was pretty sheltered from the rain. Since it had been raining/misting most of the day, we decided that would be a great place to camp. We were hoping we could make a fire to maybe dry a few things out too. We also had firmed up our plans to stay here for 2 nights and just do a day hike up to Anderson Pass instead of trying to camp up at Honeymoon Meadows. That turned out to be a very good idea in retrospect. The going continued to get rougher and the weather continued to get worse.
Once we got camp setup (I did not take a photo of that campsite unfortunately), we started exploring the valley around the chalet a bit. Although it was foggy, you could see waterfalls coming down the west side of the canyon like this one (this was the most prominent one):
We also went up and explored the waterfall on the east side – above the chalet. It appears as though this used to be the source of water for the chalet, although the regular “gulley washers” have destroyed whatever dam or setup they had to capture the water. The line also got exposed part way down and is broken in two. The waterfall was very pretty though:
Before dinner I headed down the meadow a bit further and got a little better look at the lower portions of the waterfall:
As well as another above a snowfield:
Around dinner time, a ragged hiker arrived in camp and asked if he could borrow a pan to boil some water. Apparently he had forgotten to purchase a pan and had lots of dehydrated food which is of little value without boiling water. My jetboil really has to be used on my stove, but Kirk offered up his pan. The man was thankful and said he would eat and then was headed out. I’m not exactly sure what transpired, but he ate, walked around a bit and then setup his tent. He ended up spending the night. Apparently he hadn’t been feeling well, and he decided to stay in our camp for the night and get a good rest and head out in the morning.
After my brief explorations, we cooked dinner, started a fire and attempted to dry a few things out. We were semi-successful and ended up going to bed somewhat early.
Day 3 – Day hike to Anderson Pass and Siberia Camp – 10.6 miles
We got up about the same time (7:00), got breakfast ready, cleaned up and then headed out north up the valley thru the giants:
A bit farther up the trail was the high point of the trip for me. We stumbled upon a large herd of elk in a meadow below the trail:
The elk heard us and got up and started heading uphill out of the meadow. While that was happening, I heard rustling in the bushes beside us, and then I saw a black head. Shortly, he rose up to see what was going on – it was a BEAR – not 20 feet or so from us:
It was kind of scary and kind of exciting all at the same time. He didn’t seem interested in us in the least. Once he saw what was going on, he sat back down and continued to eat the huckleberries in front of him. Once the elk had exited the meadow, we moved down the trail, keeping watch behind us for the bear. He just kept on eating.
With that excitement behind us, just 3/4 mile or so from camp, we continued north. Looking up at the west canyon wall, there were more waterfalls – someone told us this place has the nickname of “valley of 10,000 waterfalls”. I think that is a bit of an exaggeration, but there certainly are a LOT of waterfalls here:
We also got just a hint of blue sky – Kirk got excited, but it was not to stay too long:
We continued on, the brief blue sky turning to mist and then turning to light rain. A bit farther along we got a good look at the carnage of the alluvial plain of the river:
This is a VERY active river, changing channels frequently.
When we got to the white creek crossing, we found the bridge had been tipped over – a temporary log had been put in place to cross, which was good because the creek was flowing fast:
And there was a beautiful waterfall both above:
And below the crossing – this waterfall was interesting because it made an almost 90 degree turn right before going over the edge. There was a rock face that turned the water – it is kind of hard to see in this photo, unfortunately:
We continued up the trail, gaining elevation as we went on our way to Anderson Pass. On a clear day, the views from this portion of the trail must be incredible. But today, we got lots of clouds:
We shortly cane to another one of the many side creek crossings, but this one was particularly interesting. When we got to it, it was flowing pretty well, with muddy brown water:
On the way back, it was barely a trickle:
We continued up the trail and got a pretty good view of the beginnings of the Quinault River – it flows from the lake below Anderson Glacier. you can see it about mid photo below:
We soon made it to Anderson Pass – thru the rain and wind:
We were tired and wet, but our friend back in camp had told us about an old shelter that was just over the pass. We thought if it wasn’t too far we would go explore it before turning around. We all decided that Honeymoon meadows and/or the Anderson Glacier was not in our future. They were just too far. We looked out over the valley and saw a meadow and then I glimpsed the shelter just down the hill. It was not too far, so we headed down to find it. On the way, we got this great view of Mount LaCrosse:
And then shortly to this old shelter which we were later informed was called “Camp Siberia”:
We stopped in the shelter for a bit to dry off and eat something and have a little water. The shelter has had some work done to it recently and there was more wood stacked outside, so it appears as though it will be getting more work done soon. It is amazing it is still standing – a cool artifact from a bygone era.
We knew we had over 5 miles to get back to camp and it was already after 2:00, so we headed back up the hill to Anderson Pass. On the way back I saw all these wildflowers that I had not noticed on the way down:
We got back up to Anderson pass and the small tarn/lake there:
We continued down the trail, back the way we came. Along the way, I saw this view of what I think is that beginning of the Quinault river. It is a different view coming down the trail than going up:
We continued down, making good time since it was mostly downhill. Getting closer to camp, we saw a couple of hikers and then saw a sign pointing to the largest recorded Western Hemlock. We followed a short trail down to the river and found it – it was certainly a very large hemlock:
After enjoying brief moment of sun in the river channel, we headed back to camp. On the way back, the same herd of elk we saw in the morning was in the meadow near our camp. We passed by them on the trail, although this time they did not move since they were off the trail a bit. They watched us intently as we passed by. They were pretty close – this is a shot from next to Sarah’s tent:
We made dinner, cleaned up and then made another fire – in the hope we could dry things out a bit. It seemed like we were having some success, but alas things got wet again so easily.
After dinner, I noticed the cool cliffs behind the chalet:
We enjoyed the warmth and dryness of the fire. Probably around 8:30 or 9, Kirk saw a bear out in the meadow lumbering around. It was too dark to get a picture, but I’m thinking it was probably the same one we had seen earlier. He just kind of wandered around sniffing things until he wandered off into the woods below the waterfall. We stayed up and enjoyed the fire until around 10 and then went to bed.
Day 4 – Enchanted Valley to no name camp near Pony bridge – 9.8 miles
Day 4 was a relatively uneventful day. The goal was to get back so we could have a shorter day on the last day so it wouldn’t be so long of a day (with the 4+ hour drive home). We were thinking of trying to get to the campsites at Pony Bridge, but we would see how things went. I woke up with a huge blister on my big toe of my left foot. Having my feet wet all day long was making it hard on them. Kirk had a safety pin, so I sterilized it and then popped it and bandaged it up as best I could. I was hoping it would do OK.
We made breakfast, cleaned up and then packed up camp, getting on the trail around 9. We got back to the “scary bridge” and noticed it had a Columbia Helicopters sticker on it, so we assumed they were the ones who flew it in. It was definitely quite a job to install this beast:
We went over the bridge, and headed back down the valley, getting our last glimpse of the chalet:
We continued thru the weird horse gate and down the trail. Although this was supposed to be mostly downhill, due to the river and the terrain, this trail has a lot of ups and downs in it. A ways down the trail we found a great bear print in the mud (notice how wet my boots are!):
It didn’t look like a huge bear, but it was cool to see.
As we went down the trail, we met hikers. As we got closer to Pony Bridge, we met a couple of guys who weren’t sure there was any room at Pony Bridge (that is where they were camped). My feet were bothering me and slowing me down as well. Kirk had been looking for an “unofficial” campsite next to the river. He noticed a side trail at one point with no obvious campsite, but headed down there to investigate. It was a ways off the trail, but he found what we think was a camp that the trail crews use. We found stuff stashed behind big logs, including 4 big aluminum bear boxes (we were guessing they must have brought them in via horse or mule at some point). It was a great campsite right on the river with a good access point for water. Even better, we had it all to ourselves! We stopped, setup camp and then it started raining – harder than it had been. There was a relatively dry spot under the tree where the campsite was. You can see a kind of dry spot where Kirk is sitting:
Soon, the dry spot was getting dripped on. We were thinking about doing a fire, but since the fire wasn’t protected like the last campsite we had, and it was raining harder, we decided not to. It was too bad too, because Kirk had carried a couple of pieces of pitchy wood a couple of miles in anticipation of a fire.
I made the following short video – you can hear the rain (you can’t really see it):
We made dinner, cleaned up and then went to bed early because of the rain.
Day 5 – Noname camp to Graves creek then home – 6.5 miles
We awoke to a foreign sight on the morning of Day 5 (Sunday morning) – Sunshine! Real sunshine! It was the first real sunshine we had the entire trip. Unfortunately, it didn’t reach the camp to dry our tents before we had to leave. But it lifted our spirits. I think we were all tired of being wet and stinky and were ready for a good lunch, followed by a warm, dry ride in a comfortable seat and then a hot shower and sleeping in our own beds again.
We made breakfast, cleaned up and then packed up camp. We got going a bit earlier than previous days and then headed back to the trail. Right where our side trail met the main trail, we met two guys on their way in. We chatted a bit and found out that one of them was the guy who moved the chalet in 2014! He was a driving force behind getting it saved from destruction. They were headed in to check it out. It was an interesting conversation.
After chatting for a few minutes, we said goodbye and headed down the trail. Nothing much exciting happened – I think we were all focused on getting home. But a bit down the trail, we encountered 6 happy guys. One of them touched each of us on the shoulder and said something like “have a great day, man”. They were all very happy and smiling – it was a bit weird, and I wondered if they might have had some “assistance” getting happy, but they were harmless. Just kind of an interesting sight along the trail.
Nothing much else happened along the way – we just pounded out the miles. I stopped and got a photo of the Graves creek Ranger station, which is probably no longer being used due to the road being washed out, but is a cool old building:
We continued down the road, and shortly before the washout, came to this neat roadside waterfall:
We made it back to the van about 11:45. We quickly loaded up and headed out. Our goal was to drop off our bear canisters, get cleaned up a bit (Sarah and I had clean clothes in the van) and then head up to a pizza place up the road for lunch. Then head home.
The pizza tasted really good! And it was nice to sit on a seat that wasn’t hard plastic (my bear canister). We made it home by about 5:30, so it wasn’t a late night like we originally thought it would be.
This trip was another difficult trip – for many reasons, but it has to be one of my top trips due to the elk and bear sightings – plus the natural beauty that is everywhere on this trail.
Location of Hike: Fanton Trail
Trail Number: 505
Weather during Hike: Sunny, cold and windy
Hiking Buddies: Kirk, Sarah, Daniel, Emily
Start Time: 11:20 AM End Time: 4:20 PM
Hike Distance: 5.6 miles
Most of the “regular” (higher elevation) trails would be out, since they would be under snow. After much discussion, we decided to try and hike the Fanton trail. We weren’t sure if we could get all the way to the lower trailhead, but we thought the road got plowed to within a couple of miles of the trailhead, so worst case, we could drive to that point and then hike in. Well, it was quite a bit different than we had planned…..The road was clear up to the snowplow turnaround, so we kept going – it went up a hill that was VERY icy, so we put on chains and kept going for a bit. Kirk’s van was having a bit of trouble with the packed snow, so we parked it and piled everyone into the bed of my truck and headed up. What was amazing was how many people were up there – this road gets a LOT of traffic in the winter.
We easily made it to the 4614/4613 junction and I’m sure could have made it to the lower trailhead, but we decided to head up the 4614 road a bit farther to see how far we could go – maybe we could make it all the way up to Squaw Mountain? That would be kind of a neat day! We continued up the road, which got increasingly deep with snow. We finally found an old decommissioned side spur – the trail went right next to it. It was about 2 miles from the junction with 4613. That seemed like the perfect place to park and start our hike. We bundled up, put on our snowshoes and headed out.
Amazingly, the trail was pretty easy to follow, even with the 2-4′ of snow on the ground. We lost it in a couple of places, but for the most part, it was obvious where it went.
We headed east on the trail, and shortly came to the first Landing:
The view looking south from the first landing – it was a winter wonderland!
And here is a photo of most of our intrepid crew (Sarah was adjusting her snowshoes):
We enjoyed the view from the landing and then continued east on the trail. Here is a picture of our broken trail in this clearcut below the landing:
We continued down the trail, alternating people to take the lead – since breaking trail in this snow – even with snowshoes is REALLY hard work. A little while down the trail, we came across this broken snag that is going to fall fall really soon – it was cracking, creaking and groaning when the wind blew:
I thought it might come down by the time we returned, but it must be stuck up high pretty good, as it was still there on the return trip.
We continued down the trail until we got to the next trail access – on an old gated spur off of 4614. There was a nice sunny spot that didn’t seem too windy, so this is where we had lunch:
The only vehicle that had been up 4614 that far was a snowmobile – I’m glad we stopped where we did. We definitely could not have made it this far on the road.
After lunch, we continued east to the junction with the Old Baldy trail. The snow continued to get deeper and more powdery:
I was expecting to see a trail junction with the Old Baldy trail, however we just kept paralleling the ridge. At some point, I realized we must have joined the Old Baldy trail. On the way back down, we found the Trail junction:
It was not apparent due to the snow and the fact it was a Y junction, not a T junction.
It was about at this point we realized we would not have enough time to get up to Squaw/Tumala Mountain. It was getting late, and we wanted to get down off the hill, out of the snow before dark. So, we headed uphill to find a viewpoint so we could see Mt Hood and the mountains north of us. We finally found a few spots where you could glimpse views of the mountains – it was BEAUTIFUL (although rather chilly with the wind).
View of Mt Hood from above Old Baldy Trail:
View of Mt Adams from a slightly different viewpoint above Old Baldy Trail:
After enjoying the views for a bit, we headed back down the the trail to start the trek back to the truck. It was almost 2:30 so we needed to make good time back to the truck – it had taken us 3 hours to get here. We were hoping the trip back would be considerably faster since it was mostly downhill, and the trail had already been broken, so it should be faster and easier.
A couple of interesting points on the way back. There was this REALLY deep canyon of snow on the trail – probably close to 4′ deep – I’m thinking that water came down thru here to melt the snow – there was a small little creek/spring crossing the trail:
And a bit farther down the trail, there was this beautiful un-named creek that was partially frozen:
We did make really good time on the way back down, and got to the truck a little after 4:00, but it was already starting to get dark. We quickly took off our snowshoes and piled back into the truck for the trip back down. We had a little bit of excitement on the way back down – we met 3 trucks on the road – it wasn’t really wide enough for 2 rigs to pass each other, and one of them got stuck – the other 2 backed down and he had a winch, so would be able to get himself out easily. We wound our way back down the hill slowly.
Once we got down out of the really deep snow, we started encountering LOTS of vehicles – this area must be party central at night. Trucks, SUVs, ATVs were all up there around fire pits, and more were coming up. We must have met at least 20 vehicles on the way down.
Once out of the snow and ice, we stopped to take off our chains and then headed back down the hill and out to Estacada for a well deserved post hike dinner at Fearless.
Truly a “bluebird” day in the mountains – traversing lots of untouched snow with beautiful views.
Location of Hike: Enchantments Backpack Trip
Weather during Hike: Sunny and warm - blue skies all week!
Hiking Buddies: Carly, Kirk, Emily and Sarah
Hike Distance: 20 miles
Once we had our permit secured, we then needed to plan our adventure. We were going to have two novice backpackers, and none of us are in outstanding shape, so we had to plan accordingly. We wanted to plan short enough days that were realistic in order to make sure we were able to complete the loop. The entire loop is about 18-19 miles, with LOTS of elevation gain and loss. Actually, doing it counter-clockwise like we did we ended up losing more elevation than we gained (the hike was a shuttle with the starting trailhead about 2000′ higher than the ending trailhead).
The plan was this:
- Day 1 – Stuart Creek trailhead to Colchuck lake – ~5 miles and > 2000′ of elevation
- Day 2 – Colchuck Lake to Leprechaun lake – ~5 miles and 2200′ of elevation (all of it in less than a mile – Aasgard pass)/li>
- Day 3 – Before packing up, backtrack to Prusik pass and out to Shield, Earle and Mesa Lakes, then pack up and head to Upper Snow Lake – ~6.5 miles and a loss of about 1500′ of elevation/li>
- Day 4 – Upper Snow Lake to Snow Creek Trailhead – ~6.5 miles and a loss of about 4000′ of elevation/li>
We deviated slightly from our planned itinerary – we didn’t go all the way to Leprechaun Lake on Tuesday – we stopped just past Sprite Lake which seemed like a good place to camp. We also didn’t go all the way down to Shield, Earle and Mesa lakes on Wednesday – we stopped at Prusik Pass and enjoyed the view.
OK, on to the report. We left home on Sunday afternoon, had our “last supper” in Leavenworth and camped near the trailhead at eightmile creek campground. We got up on Tuesday morning and left my truck at the lower trailhead and then drove the van up to the upper trailhead to start our adventure. We got to the the trailhead about 9:00 and were on our way before 9:30am, heading up the Stuart Lake trailhead.
We headed up the well groomed trail through relatively small timber until we got to the first crossing of Mountaineer Creek:
We continued on to our second crossing of Mountaineer Creek, which was quite different from the first:
We got to the junction of the Snow Lakes trail, and headed up towards Colchuck Lake. After a bit, we got our first glimpse of what was to come:
After climbing in the hot sun for what seemed like forever, we finally got our first view of Colchuck Lake, Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Peak:
We also got our first look at what would become rather annoying over the next couple of days – Mountain Goats:
Although that one was the only one we saw at Colchuck Lake, they would be constant companions once we entered the upper lakes basin. The weird part of them is that they crave salt, and want to lick up people’s pee to get the salt from it. It is really kind of gross, but that is what they do. They were not really aggressive, but they certainly were acclimated to humans and were not afraid of us.
We proceeded around Colchuck Lake, looking for a good campsite for the night. About halfway around, we found what we thought was a good place. It had nice access to the lake (a big rock was just under the water which made for great wading), and enough space for our three tents. It also allowed us to ponder our big challenge for the next day – Aasgard pass – 2200′ of elevation gain in .7 miles:
There was supposed to be a trail up that face, but we couldn’t see anything visible. It was going to be an interesting day on Tuesday. While we were pondering our fate on Tuesday, Kirk decided to go for a refreshing swim in Colchuck Lake:
We went to bed early with a plan to get an early start to try and beat the sun on the rocks up the pass. We woke up at 5:30 and were hiking by 7:15. We started around the lake and our first obstacle was the boulder field at the south end of the lake:
We worked our way through the boulder field(s), and finally got to the bottom of the ascent and started our journey up (it was even steeper than it looks):
We continued our climb, which kept getting steeper and steeper, and the “trail” getting more difficult to follow. They put rock cairns along the way, but it was still difficult to figure out where we were supposed to go. We got up right beside Dragontail Peak, and it had a whole new look to it, although it was still very impressive:
We got up a little higher and ran into a marmot, looking for food – he didn’t seem too interested or bothered by us:
We kept climbing, and climbing and climbing until we finally reached the pass – one last look down at Colchuck Lake:
We were now entering the upper lakes basin – the “good stuff”. All the alpine lakes and really interesting areas – along with the Mountain Goats.
Kind of a mix of moonscape, snow fields, lakes and strangely stunted trees. The scale of everything was way off. The rocks and peaks were HUGE and just popped out of the ground while all the vegetation was really tiny. Ground cover was sparse and short – trees – where there were any were gnarled and short.
After successfully summitting Aasgard Pass, we decided it was time to take a break for lunch. We were looking for some shady spot (it was getting really hot in the sun) and ended up stopping at Tranquil Lake, taking shade against some rocks. It wasn’t much shade, but it was the best we could find.
We also got our first real taste of the goats – Mama and her twins:
After we had lunch, used the “facilities” (there was a toilet on the other side of the lake), we headed down to the next lakes in the chain. Once you summit Aasgard pass, you are on essentially a downhill path – each lake feeds the lake(s) below it, so each lake is lower than the previous lake. When I was looking at the maps, I didn’t really realize this fact, since it is rather subtle. We made our way down to the next un-named lake:
We also got our first glimpse of mountain peaks that would remain with us for the next 2 days – Prusik Peak and McClellan Peak:
We continued across this barren plateau – There was still some snow left from the winter that we had to navigate through – we would encounter that on several different occasions over the next couple of days:
We went to an overlook and saw Crystal Lake – a very beautiful lake down in a bowl:
We then continued on down the trail to Inspiration Lake:
And then headed around the North end of Perfection Lake, seeing all the meadows there:
We also got a great view of Little Annapurna from the North end of Perfection Lake:
And a great view of a really cool waterfall on the West side of Perfection Lake:
We went just a little bit past this and found a campsite near a toilet (to try and escape the goats) with plenty of space for our tents – it was just past Sprite Lake. This photo was taken just above our campsite showing where Perfection Lake emptied into Sprite Lake:
We couldn’t escape the goats, however – they were constantly patrolling the campsite. They were so stealthy – you would look around and not see any, and then all of a sudden they would just appear – a few of the group that patrolled our site:
We successfully avoided the goats on Tuesday night, made dinner, and went to bed early again (we were pretty tired). We woke up on Wednesday, intending to do our side trips before our backpack to Snow Lake, however two of our party were too tired to do the side trip. So we did a shortened trip up to Prusik Pass to take in the views:
And to see Shield Lake, which was on the other side of the ridge:
It was also neat to see a preview of our upcoming lakes – Leprechaun and Viviane:
As well as being able to see where we were camped on Tuesday night:
And getting a more up close view of Prusik Peak:
And a great panorama from the pass:
Moving down the trail towards Leprechaun Lake we found this neat waterfall that drained into Leprechaun Lake:
We negotiated the trail around Leprechaun Lake and got this great view of it below McClellan Peak:
Proceeding, we got to Lake Viviane, with Prusik Peak in the background:
And a view of our destination for Wednesday night – Snow Lakes – WAY down in the valley:
The beginning of this descent started a series of climbing down rock faces – this particular one wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked – everything was dry so it wasn’t slick, but you sure didn’t want to slip off this rock:
We then crossed the outlet of Lake Viviane:
And then continued to make our way down the rock face, following the “trail”:
Until we finally got to Snow Lake:
Where we found a great campsite for the night – near a HUGE boulder:
We setup camp and then played in the water for a while. Later that afternoon, a helicopter buzzed both lakes, and sounded like Nada Lake (the lake below us), left, and then came back a few minutes later and hovered right next to the dam between the lakes:
I always thought it was illegal for helicopters to enter wilderness areas – at first I thought it was for the nearby fire – expecting to see a water bucket or something. Still don’t know what they were doing, but it was really weird.
We made dinner, played some cards and then went to bed. This was to be our last night in the wilderness. I had kind of mixed emotions – while I really enjoyed the trip, I was ready for a nice hot shower and a comfy bed (and flush toilets with no goats!).
The next morning we got up, made breakfast and then broke down camp for the last time. We wanted to get another early start, since the lower part of the trail went through a fire area and would be really hot later in the day. So we headed across the dam, down the hill, ready to start our 4000′ descent to the trailhead:
Soon we came to Nada Lake – much lower than Snow Lakes, but very long and narrow:
After a while, we crossed Snow Creek:
We eventually made it to the final set of switchbacks which would take us to the lower trailhead (if you look really hard you can see the parking lot below):
Continuing down the hill through the burned section, we sampled a few thimble berries. We finally came to the final bridge – the one that crossed Icicle Creek (more of a river!):
We all made it back down to the truck without incident. It was a pretty hot day already. Kirk and I drove my truck up to the upper trailhead to get his van. Once back at the lower trailhead, we headed into town to look for a good, hearty lunch. We found a place and had a feast (as Carly called it). Once done with lunch, we started the long journey home. 5 hours later, we were home again safely.
A truly epic trip – while the mileage wasn’t huge, the condition of the trail and the difficulty of it were incredible. It was quite a challenge, even for experienced hikers/backpackers, and everyone rose to the challenge and successfully completed it. I had a great time visiting a truly special area. While it does remind me of the Wallowas, it has its own special charm – and it requires a great deal of work to be able to see it in person. I hope to see it again some day.