Saturday, October 13, 2012

Clear Lake plus Sahalie and Koosah Falls

I always seem to catch Clear Lake on a dark and dreary day. There's a reason for that as Clear Lake gets visited (by me) in early winter or spring when snows conspire to keep hikers out of the mountains. Situated at just over 3,000 feet of elevation, Clear Lake offers a year-round hiking nibble at the mountains when the higher mountain trails are off limits. And even on a not so nice day, Clear Lake is reliably enticing as a hiking destination, especially when adding Sahalie and Koosah Falls into the hiking mix.

Maybe we should hike on a real trail

So, the drizzle in the air on a gray day came as no surprise when the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club disembarked from their vehicles at Carmen Reservoir. Of course, the wet and cold weather meant there were only 8 hikers on hand to follow their fearless leader, which would be me. The hike got off to an awkward start when the trail we grabbed quickly degenerated into a brushy game trail alongside the McKenzie River. We had to backtrack and look for the official McKenzie River Trail. Oops, my bad!

Koosah Falls

Restarting the hike on the correct trail, we followed the McKenzie River upstream on cliffs above the river where we had nice views of the McKenzie tumbling down the mossy canyon. In less than a mile, a roar heralded our arrival at Koosah Falls, with a dizzying view thereof. We were on a "real" trail which meant no hand rails and you better watch your step. On the other side of the river was the "tourist trail" which meant handrails, pavement, and stairs and we could see hordes of gawkers on the other side while we we ran into only two other hikers on our side of the river.

Sahalie Falls
Just a relative hop, skip, and an uphill climb away was thundering Sahalie Falls, with more gawking ensuing. We worked our way downslope a bit for better views, hanging on to tree roots and branches for support. The people on the other side of the river didn't have to do any of that.

Yellow is the color of the moment
As we continued up the considerably calmer McKenzie above the falls, it was obvious that this was going to be a good autumn hike as the vine maples were flashing yellow along the river banks. I think I tried to take a picture of every leaf on the way. A log bridge across the river signaled the temporary end of the river portion of the hike as we crossed Highway 126 and continued on to Clear Lake.

Clear Lake is just that

Clear Lake is aptly named as the waters are remarkably pristine. Allegedly, boaters can see a dead forest about 100 feet deep on a sunny day and that would not surprise me one little bit. The lake's source of water is the Great Spring whose waters are filtered and purified through miles of porous lava. Not content with only being clear, the lake's waters are a picturesque sapphire blue color even on a gray day.

As red as a sunburned tomato
Working our way around to the lake's eastern shore, the autumn colors tended towards the reds due to increased exposure to sunlight. The combination of blue water, yellow and red leaves under a gray sky was entrancing and camera-afflicted hikers made slow progress.

Fire and lava

Also on the eastern side, were some extensive lava flows that emanated from a distant Sand Mountain millenia ago. Fortunately, the trail was paved through this section and I'm happy to report no boots were harmed in the hiking of this hike. Not much grows in the lava except for the odd vine maple or two, their red leaves resembling fire fountains. With a little imagination, one can picture the hot lava burping fire as it oozed along.

The Great Spring, followed by the So-So Summer
The next item of interest was the Great Spring, a deep sapphire pool where the McKenzie gushes out of the ground, fully formed. The water comes out at a uniform 38 degrees all year and as a result, Clear Lake never freezes over.

Sushi, anyone?
While we were at the Great Spring, a merganser paddling in the water dove and came up with a wriggling fish in its beak. We watched, totally enthralled, as the bird swallowed its Great Spring sushi; the fish probably did not appreciate the experience as much as we did.

Time to admire the colors

Rounding the north end of the lake with maple leaves gone wild with color, we returned to civilization as we hiked past cabins and the Clear Lake Resort. Returning to the McKenzie River, we continued on the touristy side of the river, taking advantage of the railed viewpoints to take better pictures as we didn't have to cling to tree roots with one hand while snapping photographs with the other.

Steamy Carmen Reservior

As we reached the end of the hike, a cold mist had settled in, clouding up the Koosah Falls view. Carmen Reservoir was steaming, due to the warm waters emanating several miles upstream from the Great Spring. Peeling off my wet raingear, I promised myself a return to Clear Lake on a clear day.

For more pictures of this picturesque hike, click on this link for the Flickr photo album.

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