Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mount Scott and Garfield Peak

Dinner is just something you do before dessert. And dessert is so enjoyable, (mocha chocolate chip ice cream, in particular) one helping is just not enough, especially after skimping on dinner to leave extra room for ice cream, pie, and/or cake. So, invariably, I find myself standing in the dessert line several times to indulge my inner  candy monster.  

Sounds like a dare!
The same principle holds true in hiking: If you like hiking to the top of a mountain with fantastic views, then two mountains will be twice the fun! And three mountains would be thrice the pleasure, and four times would be frice the joy. At least  that's how the logic went after a few beers the night before.

Sometimes beer is involved here, too
At the 5:30 AM alarm clock cuss-out, doubts about this venture crept into my pre-coffee mind. But fortunately, I really didn't wake up or become alert until I was halfway on the drive to Crater Lake National Park; by that time I was committed to the hike.

Mount Scott
Crater Lake was formed when the Mount Mazama blew its top with the resultant crater becoming the Crater Lake bowl. Mount Scott is just off the lake's rim and is a mountain in its own right as opposed to the lakeside peaks which are just high points on the jagged rim.  A 2.5 mile trail climbs the 1,100 feet to the top of  the 8,929 foot high cone, which happens to be the highest point in Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake, from Mount Scott
As relentless as a teenager arguing with her parents, the trail headed uphill, switchbacking to and fro up Mount Scott. The views gradually evolved and Crater Lake was the star of the show. From anywhere else in the park, Crater Lake is "just" a lake but Mt. Scott provides a view of the volcano aspect of the lake and one can readily see the truncated remains of Mount Mazama.

This is an edgy trail, literally
Eventually, the trail tops out and provides a relatively level walk on Scott's rim before ending at the actual summit and lookout. The Pole Creek Fire to north was dumping a prodigious amount of smoke into the air and while the views south and east were occluded, the skies were fresh and smoke free in the park. Despite the haze, the views nonetheless were impressive.

Up, up, up on the Garfield Peak Trail

After descending from Mount Scott, a short drive on the rim road brought me to Rim Village, lunch, and an after-lunch start on the Garfield Peak Trail. Similar to Mount Scott, the climb up to the top of Garfiled is short and sweet, gaining 950 feet in less than 2 miles.  

Castle Crest
The Garfield Peak Trail is a lot more scenic than the Mount Scott Trail, in my humble opinion. The trail is raw and edgy, hugging Crater Lake's rim as it sashays to and fro on rugged Castle Crest. The crest sports lots of rock towers, pinnacles, turrets, and a good old-fashioned avalanche slope or two. And always, the views of Crater Lake and its amazing blue waters astound.

Crater Lake, from Garfield Peak
It was a pleasant relief to stroll out onto the flat and sandy summit of Garfield Peak and admire the birds-eye view of Crater Lake with pointy Mount Thielsen looming beyond the lake's opposite rim. It was getting to be late afternoon and from the west, a very pronounced storm system was arriving.  

Crater Lake and a change in the weather
Since I am somewhat averse to being struck by the predicted lightning, I departed the summit in a hurry. Since it was getting dark, and my legs were tired, and because of the lightning, it was decided to end the hiking at a mere two peaks. It's not very often  I pass up an extra helping of dessert.

For more pictures of this outing, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rooster Rock

Years ago (and, sigh, how often I say that nowadays) I hiked to the top of Iron Mountain and looked west into the odd towers, turrets, pinnacles and other rock creatures of The Menagerie Wilderness and filed the area away for a future exploratory hike. Well, in mid-September, the future became now when I paid a visit to Rooster Rock.

Sunlight and leaves were one
of the stories on this hike
Basically, there are two trails in The Menagerie: Trout Creek and Rooster Rock. Both are steep but the Rooster Rock Trail can crow as the winner of the steep-off contest between the two trails. Everything else in the wilderness requires cross country bushwhacking. It is possible to connect the two trails as a loop hike but the loop requires a 2 mile walk along busy Highway 20. Not wanting to share our hike with the car crowd, Maggie the Hiking Dog and I opted for the 7-mile round trip out-and-back on the Trout Creek Trail.

A virtual poem
First of all, apart from a brief view at the trailhead, the misnamed Trout Creek Trail never provides another view of the creek, contouring instead on a forested ridge with the creek hidden from both sight and earshot well on the other side of the formidable ridge. The trail could have been more appropriately named by calling it the Really Steep Trail or the Spider Trail.


Spiders were a large part of my Rooster Rock experience. September apparently is the month where the spiders succumb to their biological impulse to snare hikers before the winter snows arrive. Invariably, the webs were strung across the trail at face height. And of course, the fine strands of sticky web were virtually invisible so the only warning was an all too brief cross-eyed glimpse of the spider just before it landed on my nose. I had many opportunities to do the spider dance which consisted of spastic hand-waving and dancing punctuated by panicked shouts of "Gah!"

I can see the top of the ridge!
The trail was beautifully shaded with big leaf and vine maples growing among tall fir trees. There was ample opportunity to admire the leaves filtering the sunlight while bent over gasping for breath. You see, the trail gains 2,300 feet at the challenging rate of nearly 700 feet per mile which works out to be a 12% grade, something cars don't even like to do. All the uphill didn't seem to bother Maggie and she waited patiently at all the frequent master-induced rest stops.

Rooster Rock
Shortly after the intersection with the even steeper Rooster Rock Trail, sky could be seen above the ridge crest which gave me hope the trail was topping out. The topping out did occur shortly after passing Rooster Rock. The rocky tower is probably a thrilling sight to the climbing crowd but was hard to see otherwise what with a forest growing around the base of the rock. Despite being on the edge of The Menagerie, it was difficult and nigh impossible to make out the interesting rock features that define this wilderness area.

Our lunchtime view
Not to worry, though, because a short uphill push on an ever increasingly rocky trail brought us to lunch and rest on a rocky viewpoint. Not quite a 360 degree panorama, trees kept us focused on the east where we looked up the South Santiam River valley to Iron Mountain and Cone Peak; in the hazy distance were North and Middle Sisters. To the north of North Sister a massive plume of smoke demonstrated that the Pole Creek Fire was still misbehaving.


After about 15 minutes or so, another hiker arrived at the viewpoint and we exchanged pleasantries. He complained about all the spider webs across the trail which was surprising because there shouldn't have been any left after I knocked them all down on the way up. He was kind enough to take a picture of me doing my pose (I think I freaked him out when I did that) before he left and after a 15 minute wait, I also headed back down the trail. Surprisingly, there were lots of spider webs back across the trail with more hand waving and face slapping.  Industrious little buggers!

Nothing quite like the sensation of a spider crawling on your face

Forest, on the way down
It was a pleasant descent through forest as the shadows lengthened despite the occasional eight-legged arachnid creep-out. Next time I come here, I'll bring a racquetball racquet to keep the spiders off of my incredibly handsome face.

For more pictures of this hike, see the Rooster Rock album in Flickr.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Seven Lakes Trail

Just south of our beloved Crater Lake National Park lies the rectangular Sky Lakes Wilderness. The wilderness is chock full of lakes surrounded by mountains and is a hiker's and backpacker's delight. Well, the delight part depends on the time of year as the sheer lakiness contributes to a horrifying amount of mosquitoness. There are so many mosquitoes in July that if they were to all flap their wings in the same direction, the earth would be knocked off its axis. It's much better to hike in the Sky Lakes Wilderness in late summer when the lakes and trails are lined with huckleberries and blueberries in a mosquito-free environment.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's on a hike we go!

The Seven Lakes Basin, while located in Sky Lakes Wilderness, is cut off and isolated (just like me!) from the rest of the Sky Lakes by the mountains of Jupiter, Devils Peak, Lee Peak, and the ridge connecting the three summits. My intentions were to either hike to all seven lakes or else to make the long trek to Lake Ivern, the most remote of the seven lakes. This was to be the last hike on my vacation and I had gotten into some pretty lethal shape.  However, because it was my vacation, I slept in simply because I could, resulting in a starting time a tad bit late  for an 18 mile hike.

Frog Lake
The first four miles consist of a pretty good uphill push through viewless forest. The only break in the relative monotony is Frog Lake which is not considered to be one of the seven lakes. The small lake lay at the foot of Venus, a celestially named peak (along with Jupiter, the next peak over from Venus) while the sky above was pretty hazy due to all the wildfires in eastern Oregon and southern Idaho.

It's the Devil!

Topping out at just under 7,000 feet at a pass on Violet Hill, the trail dropped down into the lakes basin and then the cool stuff started. The first cool thing was Devil's Peak, the mountain that dominates most of the views in the basin. A rocky lava thumb protrudes asymmetrically from the top, reminding me of my bicycle accident several weeks ago: no doubt my head had sported some asymmetric protrusions a la Devil's Peak. Avalanche slopes and cliffs decorated and adorned the mountain's face all the way down to yet-to-be-seen Cliff Lake.

Green tiger beetle

What appeared to be waves of flies fleeing in front of me turned out to be, on closer inspection, green tiger beetles. I lost some time taking pictures of the skittish beetles, thanks to my telephoto lens.

South Lake
The first of the Seven Lakes was South Lake, scenically reposing below Violet Hill and an unamed, albeit prominent, rocky knob with an impressive pile of rocks at its base. From there, a short walk around the knob led to a more imposing view of Devil's Peak and the aptly named Cliff Lake.

Cliff Lake is the most visited lake in the basin
Cliff Lake is arguably the crown jewel of the lakes basin, affording ground level views of Devil's Peak and yes, there is a cliff located at the southwest corner of the lake. The Seven Lakes Trail stayed above the lake and much picture taking ensued.

Middle Lake

Call me a centrist, but I much prefer Middle Lake over Cliff Lake on the far left and South Lake on the far right. Continuing with the politics analogy, way out there beyond South Lake is a muddy pond and a metaphor for the Tea Party. Clear and pristine, Middle Lake's transparent waters lapped soothingly upon the shore below the rocky ridge that is Violet Hill. Huckleberries grew abundantly along the shore and my lips and fingers were soon stained purple as is my wont this time of year.

Grassy outlet of North Lake
The trail then dropped, losing elevation rapidly on a descent to North Lake. North Lake is not directly on the trail but a short walk up the grassy but dry outlet creek delivered me to the underwhelming lake. Situated in a grassy meadow, the shallow lake is more bog than lake.

You see trail, I see huckleberry bushes
It was now decision time as to whether to continue to remote Lake Ivern or not. Several factors weighed into the decision: time, miles, and elevation gain. The lake was several miles away and the out and back would add 3 miles to what was already a 13 mile round trip hike. Plus, the descent to the lake would add an extra 500 feet of climb on the return leg which really isn't all that bad but I was already committed to 2,200 feet back to the crest of Violet Hill. And by my reckoning, it was debatable as to whether a return to the car in daylight was possible. So I turned around and headed back the way I had come.

The rocky knob overlooking South Lake
On the way back, I took a brief side trip to a point where I could make out Grass Lake through the trees. So, that meant 5 out of 7 lakes were visited and that is a passing grade in any school.

For the rest of the pictures please visit the Seven Lakes Basin photo album in Flickr.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thielsen Creek

The last time I had hiked the Thielsen Creek Trail, it was the out leg on a lengthy hike that started out on Tipsoo Peak. What I remember about the Thielsen Creek portion of that trek was that it was dry, dusty, and singularly uninteresting as it rambled through a dull lodgepole forest. Actually using the term "dull" with "lodgepole forest" is kind of redundant, kind of like "angry" and "wife" and I had one of those too after the hike.

My view for the next 6 miles
So what would be the point of reliving that forgettable hike? Why, to get close to Mount Thielsen, of course.  I could have gone on the Mount Thielsen Trail along with all the other hordes of hikers and climbers but on the Thielsen Creek Trail, I saw one other person all day. I do like my wilderness with an extra helping of solitude, thank you.

On the Howlock Mountain Trail

This is not the main attraction
Starting at the Howlock Mountain Trailhead at Diamond Lake, the trail quickly crossed under busy Highway 138 as Maggie the Hiking Dog and I headed uphill through the lodgepole. Maybe the mood was right, seeing as I was just starting out, but the trail was not nearly as dusty as I remembered. The lodgepole forest was still kind of dull, though.

Lodgepole pine will grow where no other tree will and the porous pumice soil around Crater Lake was full of them. Since they grow in poor soils, the trees tend to be spindly, scrawny, and full of dead trees. A healthy lodgepole forest always seems sickly at best.

Lodgepole beetle is killing the
trees and the down side is...?
The forest here was infested with the lodgepole pine beetle, making the forest sicklier than normal. Or maybe this is the new normal as the beetle is laying waste to huge tracts of lodgepole here on the east side of the Cascades. In researching the beetles on the Internet, I found a picture of a beetle larva with the caption "Note the anal shields" and all I could think of was "Anal shields? Where can I get some?" But I digress.

Timothy Meadows

After three miles or so of steady climbing, the Thielsen Creek Trail crossed its small namesake creek, intersected with the Howlock Mountain Trail, and peered down into Timothy Meadows. After hiking to Whitehorse Meadows several days prior, I even hate to use the word "meadow" when describing the grass growing under the trees at Timothy Meadows, it just didn't seem very meadowy.

Mount Thielsen makes an appearance
After Timothy Meadows, the trail got a little bit steeper as it stayed above the creek. The trees were healthier too and Douglas fir made an appearance. Also making an appearance was Mount Thielsen, our current raison d'ĂȘtre, the tip of the peak making intermittent appearances at small breaks in the forest.

Thielsen Creek
At the 6 mile mark, the trail simultaneously intersected the Pacific Crest Trail, Thielsen Creek, and the base of Mount Thielsen. From afar, Mount Thielsen appears slender and graceful but up close looks rather squat, just like me.  
A million little bits of Mount Thielsen
The weather and elements have been chipping away at Mount Thielsen for millenia and the avalanche basin was full of rocky chippings which called for future exploration. I may put on a backpack and go cross country to the trailless east side of the mountain at some future date. Lathrop Glacier, or the remnant thereof, was draped around Thielsen's neck like a tattered stole of ice and snow. And of course, crystal clear Thielsen Creek burbled merrily like a just-fed infant through the barren and rocky pumice track.  

It was time for an extended lunch and view soak while the canine half of our expedition frolicked in the icy creek. After a delightful hour-long lollygag, it was time to head back as the shadows lengthened in the afternoon sun. I enjoyed this hike and can't quite recall why I didn't enjoy Thielsen Creek the last time I hiked this trail. I'm betting Mrs. O'Neill still remembers, though.   

Moss carpet
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the photo album in Flickr.