Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summit Lake

Summit Lake. Two words that go together, conjuring visions of magnificence and beauty, just like "Siskiyou" and "Mountains"; and "Sonny" and "Cher".  Of course, "mud" and "puddle" go together as do "false" and "advertising". In short, there was no summit and the swamp atop Elliot Creek Ridge could in no way ever be mistaken for a lake. Not even after licking the sunscreen and repellent combo off my sweaty forearm. So why go there, then? Simple: because I had never been.

There were plenty of wildflowers on this hike
Starting on a gorgeous morning in the Applegate Lake area, Maggie The Hiking Dog and I set off into the woods on a pleasantly level trail underneath a cool maple canopy. After about 10 inches of hiking, the trail headed uphill and we never saw level again. And that was the story of the hike for the next 2.5 miles. There were some switchbacks but a switchback on a trail this steep is like taking one bite out of an habanero chile instead of two:  it's still painful, either way.
Steep is as steep does
However, despite the relentless grade of the trail, this was a very pleasant hike. Virtually all of the hike was in deep shade, the temperature was pleasantly cool. and the mosquitoes left me alone for the most part. There were all sorts of flowers to take pictures of while providing a utilitarian rest stop at the same time. Woodland phlox, Oregon grape, Indian paintbrush, Siskiyou iris, and wild strawberry were all in full bloom at different points on the trail.

Madrones provided plenty of shade
The saprophytic community of plants (those without chlorophyll) were well represented by spotted coralroot, striped coralroot, and one lone specimen of phantom orchid. Near the top, there were thick patches of lupine and Oregon tea tree, but no tea. The closest thing to tea was the brackish water of Summit Lake which matched both the color and temperature of warm tea.

Striped coralroot

Summit Lake is pitiful

As a destination, Summit Lake was a bust; especially after all the hard work climbing through the forest before topping out on a level jeep trail on Elliot Creek Ridge. All that anticipation of summity and lakey goodness resulted in one rueful "pffft!" from yours truly. My disappointment was offset by Maggie's exuberance as she threw herself into the water and leaped for joy (no exaggeration, she really did leap for joy) at the wonder of it all. I cannot get that dog into the bathtub at home without a stun gun and here she was, rolling doggie somersaults entirely of her own volition at the water's edge.

So after a brief lunch, we headed back down the trail, leg-braking all the way on the steep descent. The hike had been kind of shortish so we continued past the trailhead to Lower Squaw Lake. This was a real lake, unlike Summit Lake, and we followed the crude road alongside the scenic lake to the far end. There was more canine frolicking in the reeds while I took pictures. 

Lower Squaw Lake is a real lake

The road less traveled
Sometimes, a hike will be all about the journey and not the destination. It was so with this hike and we both enjoyed the trip despite the underwhelming mud puddle "reward" waiting at the top of all the uphill hiking.

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