Sunday, March 23, 2014

Little Hyatt Lake

The first order of business is a well deserved plug for a couple of backpacking gear companies. When I took down my tent on a short February backpack trip in the Tahkenitch Dunes, I noticed one of my tent poles was cracking lengthwise. An email was subsequently sent to tent maker Kelty, my intent being just to simply purchase a replacement. Their response was unexpectedly pleasant: just send the poles in and the repairs would be done free of charge.  Well, that was cool, so a similar email was then sent to Osprey Packs concerning a broken buckle. The email plea for help yielded the same result, and now that I'm fully armed (and dangerous!) with a newly repaired pack and tent pole, let the backpacking begin! Once again, go buy something from Kelty and Osprey Packs and tell them you want the Richard Hikes discount. And after they finish hysterically laughing at you, just buy something from them, at full price of course.

Break out the crampons!
Commercial over, now let's talk about hiking. I had recently read an article about our ongoing drought and among all the boring predictions about water shortages and extended fire seasons, what really caught my eye was that the current snow level was at 7,000 feet. Yeah, yeah, dryness, fire, blah, blah, but WE CAN GO HIKING UP TO 7,000 FEET!!!

Life is good
So, last weekend I and my misplaced priorities set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, starting at Green Springs Summit, just north of California. A short walk through a forest of orange-barked Ponderosa pine brought me to the first of several road crossings and my first encounter with winter elements. Well, to be clear, the day was sunny and springlike but a layer of slushy snow lay wherever there was shade. Crampons weren't needed but the trail was quite muddy in places. Despite the sunlight, it was c-c-cold in the shade.

Snow queen

This surely will be a superb hike in a few more weeks when the meadows green out. On this day however, the meadows were still an unfortunate dull brown color as winter had just departed probably about an hour before I showed up. When not hiking in brown meadows, the trail went through shady forest with purple snow queen abloom everywhere on the forest floor. Well...abloom at least on the parts not covered by snow.

Rocky things in the forest

At the two mile mark and just after yet another dirt road crossing, the PCT intersected the Green Springs Mountain Loop Trail and it was decision time. The PCT makes a protracted trip around the mountain while the Loop Trail basically short cuts straight past the mountain.  In the simplest of hiking terms, the PCT was long and the Loop Trail was short. So naturally, I chose the PCT while leaving the Loop Trail in play for the return leg.

Happy, happy, happy!
Contouring around the west side of Green Springs Mountain, the PCT left the forest and snow behind for sun drenched meadows with stunning views. Ah, all life should be like this section of the hike. The grassy and oak studded slopes dropped away down into Bear Creek Valley with snowy Mount Ashland rising on the other side. The towns of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix lay nestled together on the valley floor. Pilot Rock was prominent to the south, playing caboose to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument train of peaks. Tall mountains, deep valleys, warm sun: happy, happy, happy!

A small piece of Hyatt Meadows
Over the next 2.5 miles, the trail returned to the forest and gradually lost elevation, the joy at walking downhill tempered by the knowledge I'd surely have gain back all that lost elevation on the return leg. At the lowest point, the trail spit me out like a used chaw onto expansive Hyatt Meadows.

Cairns along the trail
I really need to come back here later when the grass and flowers run riot in this meadow which happens to be the same size as the state of Rhode Island. A series of rock cairns marked the way even though I could see the trail tread just fine. Much photography ensued, although the photographs don't do justice to the grand splendor of the prairie.

Little Hyatt Lake spillway

From Hyatt Meadows, it was a series of ups and downs through forest and meadow before the sound of roaring water carried throughout the forest. That sound happened to be Keene Creek pouring over the spillway of the small dam to which Little Hyatt Lake owes its existence. From a picturesque footbridge below the dam, Keene Creek flowed south through another large meadow, the waters sparkling in the afternoon sun like a thousand points of light.

Little Hyatt Lake
The guidebooks I've read have described Little Hyatt Lake as stagnant pile of watery goo, encouraging PCT backpackers to continue hiking to Hyatt Lake. However, Little Hyatt Lake was a pleasant surprise as its crystal clear blue waters lay in a small bowl ringed with pine trees. Probably this was an early spring phenomenon but nonetheless I was impressed with the pre-stagnant waters of the small lake.

The dividing line between brown and white
The idea floating in my head was that the hike to Little Hyatt Lake was a 9 mile round trip, but it was actually 6 one-way miles to the diminutive lake. Returning the way I came would make for a 12 mile round trip but on the way back, I grabbed the perfunctory and rather businesslike Green Springs Mountain Loop Trail, eventually winding up with a healthy 10.7 mile hike. I'll have to come back for the full spring glory, maybe take a weekend backpack trip to Hyatt Lake...with my newly repaired tent and pack, of course.

Ponderosa trunk
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. If you go for a weekend backpack trip here, let me know!!

    1. Ray and Lindsay are game to go too! Ray says May, I say June, it just depends on snow conditions which probably have changed with this week of steady storms. I'll keep you in the loop!