Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Union Peak

On the way home from our Boundary Springs hike, I couldn't help but notice the surrounding forests draped over the Cascades like an arboreal green blanket. The forests were nice and pretty but more importantly, there wasn't any snow in them thar hills. And while there was a winter chill in the air, the lack of snow meant we could possibly get one more mountain hike in before the snows shut down that wonderfully fun activity. On the drive back to Roseburg, Edwin mentioned he had never been on Union Peak. Since the Veteran's Day holiday was coming up, it was a perfect storm (but with no snow...yet) of conditions so a plan was quickly put together for a Union Peak summit on the holiday.

Hiking in the world's largest walk-in freezer
Eight hikers (nine sort of, but more on that later) decamped from our respective automobiles and set forth on the Pacific Crest Trail just south of Crater Lake. Dang, it was cold! It was close to freezing temp and since nobody had a thermometer, we cannot provide any empirical data; the consensus among all participants was that it had have been close to 30 degrees. The sound of ice crunching underneath our boots was a constant as we hiked through a shady forest for the first couple of miles.

Very large bowling pins
There is not a lot to report about the first two miles on the Pacific Crest Trail as it climbed gently through a singularly uninteresting forest. Add cold temperature to the mix, and my hands were kept nicely mittened up which meant not much photographs were taken.

The pimpled landscape
Leaving the PCT at the two mile mark, the Union Peak Trail climbed a bit more briskly, alternating forest with patches of barren pumice. What little vegetation there was on the barrens had long since turned brown. We were hiking on a rounded ridge that provided nice views of the pimpled landscape dotted with small volcanic cones, courtesy of the Mount Mazama (Crater Lake) lava plumbing system.

Tremble, all ye before Union Peak!
We had been gradually climbing up the aforementioned rounded ridge leading to an unseen Union Peak but finally, we stepped out of the forest and immediately got neck cramps peering up at the massive skyscraper that is Union Peak. In our little group, I was the only hiker that had previously climbed the formidable peak; it was amusing to see all their little legs tremble in trepidation. The sheer steepness of the mountain was daunting and it boggles the mind to know there is actually a trail to the top.

"Trail" shot
But a trail to the top there is, and after hiking on the rocky path across Union Peak's avalanche basin, the real fun began. The route was precariously chiseled into the craggy face of Union Peak, and steep was the watchword as we climbed up the rickety path. The trail was really more of a goat path at this point, switchbacking to and fro. I counted 37 switchbacks on the ascent as we went back and forth like the blip of light between two Pong paddles. I think I just dated myself, my kids probably don't even know what Pong is.

On top of the world
Right about the point where switchback number 38 would have been, was the Union Peak summit. Celebratory accolades were shared among the hikers at the top and a familiar voice bellowed out "About time you got here!" Ray? Is that really you? He had decided to get an early start on the summit and was there waiting in ambush for us, so make that 9 hikers on our trek today.

View towards the Siskiyous

The views were superb from the summit with the Crater Lake rim being most near and dear. Mounts Bailey and Thielsen were nearby with Diamond Peak being visible further north. There was a large white mountain on the horizon and we speculated that was probably South Sister. The Siskiyou Mountain range lay jumbled in blue profusion on the southwestern skyline and a corner of Lost Creek Lake was found. To the south was the large cone of Mount Shasta in California. Truly a vista for the ages and we enjoyed playing the name-that-peak game for a while.

Late afternoon in a pumice barren

But it was getting to be late afternoon and the temperature was dropping noticeably: it was time to skedaddle! Picking our way carefully down the 37 switchbacks, we descended the peak and returned to the Pacific Crest Trail. If anything, there was more ice on the trail than before and I didn't take very many pictures as I was intent on getting back to the trailhead before freezing extremities, as was everybody else. A good time was had by all and that probably will be our last hike (without snowshoes) in the Cascades until next summer.

Crater Lake panorama
For more pictures of the hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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