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.


  1. Ahhh, brings back memories. Once did a hike to all the lakes while camping at Cliff Lake, accessed from the Ft Klamath side. we did a loop that included Ivern and then bush whacked without a trail to Alta Lake, that was an adventure to be remembered.

  2. Richard, I've been intrigued by this area for several years. Your advice about avoiding the mosquito months sounds very wise, especially for a camping trip... Nice pictures, as always.

  3. I last hiked this trail in the late 60's. I was one of the crew members that built the trail. There were five of us on the trail crew. We would hike in and work for 10 days then 4 days off. Pack mules brought our supplies in - tent, cots, chain saw, fuel, dynamite, rock drill, food and misc other supplies.
    Our first camp was at North Lake, it was late spring or early summer and still lots of snow banks. We used them as a refrigerator and drinking water. As we got closer to Lake Ivern we moved our camp to the lake. Most of the snow was gone and the trail went past some springs. We used the best spring, Buckley Spring (mine), for water and we put a large bucket in it covered with a burlap tarp. We put our perishables in the bucket and the evaporation from the wet tarp kept things cool.
    One night we had quite a discussion about the progress we were making on the trail and the issue of naming things came up. The decision was made: we built the trail so it must be our responsibility to name things. The crew was down to 4 because a slacker got fired. The foreman, Frank, wasn't interested and neither was George so we came up with Jahn Spring (Phil Jahn), Buckley Spring (Bruce Buckley). One spring to go... North woods back country?, had to be Big Foot Spring. Then we promptly named our campsite "Big Foot Spring Campground". I haven't seen any reference to the campground just Buckley Spring and Jahn Spring.
    I was using Google Earth and decided to look at Seven Lakes Basin. What a surprise to see the caption "Buckley Spring" and a picture. I never even considered that the name would stick - a real treat. I hope to get up there this summer with my daughter. Got to start hiking and get in shape.

    Bruce Buckley

    1. Bruce that is an awesome story! I am deeply indebted to you and your friends for building the trail that I have enjoyed so much over the years. It's nice to know the stories behind the place names on the maps, too.

  4. I finally got back here after nearly 50 years. When we finished building this trail you could have driven a car on it, a bit of an exaggeration, but our boss did drive his Tote Gote on it. Rather quickly too as we had just stirred up a yellow jacket nest while getting ready to blast a stump. It was great to visit but I was disappointed in the condition of the trail. It looks like the Forest Service has abandoned it. Numerous trees across it that have clearly been there for a few seasons. Understandable, trail maintenance is a lot of work and costs money.

    I went as far as Buckley Spring which was my goal. I would like to have gone all of the way to Lake Ivern but to much dead fall and I was tired. Spent a peaceful night a South Lake and hiked back to the Seven Lakes trail head the next day.

    The Basin is a great place. Glad I made the trip.