Saturday, June 20, 2015

Diamond Peak Loop

Many years ago, I went on my first backpack trip as a mature adult. Well, the "mature" part might be debatable but anyway, I showed up with a pack that must have weighed at least as much as a blue whale, or so it seemed. Overly heavy to be sure, but I was prepared for every conceivable calamity ranging from earthquakes to a rabid moose bite. My friend Ned Landis, with nothing but kindness in his heart, went through my pack and offloaded a lot of that unnecessary weight. Even so, the pack was too damn heavy. From that fateful trip, I did learn one lesson that still stays with me to this day: weight does matter!

Dinner is a dehydrated dragonfly head
Nowadays, I get mad at myself if my pack is over 30 pounds and just like Ned did so many years ago, I go through newbie's packs and remove stuff and preach the gospel learned on that fateful trip "Weight does matter!" Newbies tend to overpack just as I did on that fateful first trip, it is up to us grizzled veterans to demonstrate our lighter packs and total backpacking knowledge and general all-around awesomeness. That's why it was disconcerting when newbie Kevin showed up with a lighter pack than both mine and Dale's. We were both showed up by a rookie!

Day 1

Bridge over Trapper Creek
Although this trip consisted of five days in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the hike got off to a decidedly non-wilderness feel when right at the start we crossed several railroad tracks, our heads swiveling back and forth as we kept a watchful eye out for any speeding trains. The tracks concluded the civilized portion of the hike as just on the other side, a wooden sign marked our entry into the wilderness.

The Yoran Lake Trail initially climbed gently through a beautifully greened out forest. Trapper Creek was full of water and was running fast with spring snow melt. The mosquitoes weren't too bad and we enjoyed our nice little forest stroll. 

Diamond Peak, from Yoran Lake
After several miles, the uphill slant increased in severity as the trail gained elevation. Pretty much all 8 miles of the first day's hike was spent plodding uphill. Just as we were starting to get bored with viewless forest, the trail did a walk-by past an unnamed lake, Karen Lake, and then Yoran Lake, each lake larger than the one before. Yoran Lake in particular provided us some wow with a great view of snowy Diamond Peak looming over the body of water. The mosquitoes increased in number and became generally annoying but not voracious enough (yet) to make us lose our sanity.

I'm following Richard, I better check my GPS!
We had been hiking on the Yoran Lake Trail and the trail ended at its namesake lake. It was a little bit of a problem because our route required us to be on the Pacific Crest Trail which ran almost a mile to the north and was slightly uphill from Yoran Lake. Armed with compass and GPS we left the trail, following Yoran Lake until there was no more Yoran Lake to follow. Continuing northward beyond the lake, we bushwhacked through the forest, placing an inordinate faith in all our electronic navigational gadgetry.

Lils Lake
Exactly according to plan, we popped out of the forest at scenic Lils Lake and one short uphill bushwhack spit us out of the forest and onto the Pacific Crest Trail. All total, the day's hiking would gain over 2,100 feet of elevation with a substantial amount of the total gain taking place on this section of the PCT. In short, it was a tedious slog up to a pass below Mount Yoran, Diamond Peak's immediate neighbor. 

Mount Yoran, above an unamed lake near Divide Lake
All that uphill became a very steep drop to the base of Mount Yoran and Divide Lake, our home for the night. Just a small, seemingly unremarkable lake but Divide Lake is all about location, location, location! The lake is strategically situated at the base of Mount Yoran and the view of both lake and mountain was breathtaking.

The mosquitoes were kind enough
to share Divide Lake with us
Camp was pitched on a rocky bluff overlooking Divide Lake, to the accompaniment of thousands of buzzing mosquitoes. Dale discovered he had forgotten not only his cool hat with the neck shade, but he had also forgotten his spoon. Improvising, he used his Deuce of Spades trowel (which he swears had only touched dirt during its lifetime) much to the perpetual amusement of Kevin and I. If I had forgotten anything, I'm not telling because its my blog and I can write whatever I want to. Newbie Kevin, on the other hand, had not forgotten a thing. Anyway, much merriment ensued along with puns about the trowel doing double doody and how Dale could really shovel the food down, etc.

Day 2

All that steep drop down to Divide Lake made for a big climb back up to the Pacific Crest Trail; might as well get the hard stuff done first thing in the morning. Our reward for returning back to the PCT was a relatively level trail and some world-class scenery as the venerable trail contoured below the massive rock wall of Diamond Peak. The easier walking was much appreciated, coming as it did after a tough hiking day.

Our view for most of Day 2
This was my favorite part of the trip. The PCT undulated gently in slow rolling ups and downs through an alpine rock garden. Snow drifts covered the trail and small tarns collected snow melt just off trail. Penstemon and partridge foot bloomed between rocks as we walked through miles of delightful rock gardens. Nascent streams trickled musically across the trail, the crystalline clarity of the water entrancing passing hikers. And always, Diamond Peak, its rocky crags flecked with snow, loomed above the trail. Kevin admitted that on the Day 1 slog, he wondered why he had volunteered to come along, but it all made sense on Day 2.

We could see all the way to Mount Shasta
We pretty much had the PCT to ourselves although we did run into two scrawny ladies doing a marathon trail run and one backpacker who'd been hiking since starting at Mount Shasta about a week prior. Speaking of Mount Shasta, amazingly we could see the peak on the horizon as we rounded the south end of Diamond Peak. The sky was cloudy and it felt like rain was coming, yet there was Shasta, faintly visible from a mere 145 miles away! Other peaks nearer and dearer to us Oregonians were eminently visible from the PCT: Middle and South Sister, Maiden Peak, Cowhorn Mountain, Sawtooth Mountain, Union Peak, Mount Thielsen, and Mount Bailey.  Sounds like a roster of my blog posts over the years!

Colorful Rockpile Lake
A trail junction past the southern end of Diamond Peak was our cue to jump off the PCT and take a side trail to Rockpile Lake. Nearby Marie Lake gets a lot of backpacking love as it's the logical starting point for those climbing up to the top of Diamond Peak. However, stunningly colored Rockpile Lake is much more scenic and we had the place to ourselves, although the mosquitoes drove us into our tents well before the sun went down.

Day 3

Celebrating Clean Underwear Day
Day 3 of a 5 day trip marks the halfway point and as such, is that cherished and special day euphemistically referred to as Clean Underwear Day! Clean underwear is not overrated and let's just say we left Rockpile Lake with buoyant enthusiasm engendered by the wonderful sensation of freshly laundered clothing "down there", to put it delicately.

Mountain View Lake view
It was an uphill trudge for the first couple of miles on the hike away from the Pacific Crest Trail. After cresting a broad rise, a rest break was taken at the aptly named Mountain View Lake. There was a mountain, there was a view, and there was a lake. Seriously, the little lake provided an awesome vista of snowy Diamond Peak rising above the waters. After a short view soak, it was then all downhill for the rest of the day. As the trail lost elevation, the scenery transitioned from all that wonderful alpine wonderland to dull, drab, and dusty lodgepole forest that was singularly uninteresting. The main excitement on this part was reaching the Whitefish Trail which then delivered us to Diamond View Lake, our home for the next two nights.

A perfect ending
It had been a short 6.7 mile hike to Diamond View Lake so there was plenty of time to kill. Kevin and I sat by the lake all afternoon, cameras clicking all the while,  If anything, the view here of Diamond Peak was even more scenic than the view at Mountain View Lake. The sun eventually sank behind the mountain and more camera clicking took place with the advent of a spectacular sunset.

Day 4

Why we hike
There's a "Leave it to Beaver" episode where Ward Cleaver takes Wally, Beaver, and friends to the movies. When they exit the theater, they find Beaver is still in the theater. Lumpy goes back into the theater to find Beaver but Beaver comes out and now where's Lumpy? So Wally goes to find Lumpy and Lumpy comes out and then someone has to go find Wally, and so on so forth for 30 minutes. Well, we were ready to start our day hike to Saddle Lake and Dale has to go back and get his GPS. But wait, I have to go back and get my hiking poles. Now, are we ready, guys? Whoops, I forgot my GPS. Even Kevin got into the act, having to go retrieve a hiking pole. Cue the laugh track and cut to commercial!

Saddle up, Kevin, we're going to Saddle Lake!
Anyway, Day 4's festivities got off to a great start (once we actually started!) with Diamond Peak reflecting on the mirrored surface of Diamond View Lake in a quintessential postcard view. If every day of the rest of my life started out like that, I'd probably be much easier to get along with. Our itinerary  for Day 4 was a short day-hike to aptly name Saddle Lake, which sits on a forested saddle between Peak 6982 and Redtop Mountain. It was a brisk climb away from Diamond View Lake and we were all glad we weren't toting fully loaded backpacks. Most of the day hike was spent in forest but here and there the crest of Diamond Peak appeared between the trees on the climb up to Saddle Lake.

Bug with a heart-shaped butt
It was a lengthy and enjoyable lollygag next to Saddle Lake, the time spent watching mothy little bug things swim across the surface of the lake. Periodically, large armored beetles with heart-shaped carapaces crawled on us, triggering the occasional "Gah!" moment. The day and lake water were each on the cool side, otherwise we may have gone swimming with the mothy things.

Dale and his amazing Sooper Dooper Pooper Scooper spoon

Back at camp, we shared Diamond View Lake with some Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers whose trail names were Bubba Gump and Smiley. Pleasantries were exchanged from a safe distance as they had that certain air about them that comes from way too many miles on the trail between showers, even the mosquitoes laid off of them. And speaking of showers, Day 4 was Bath Day and all members of our party at various junctures waded into Diamond View Lake (sorry, fishies!) to remove trail dust and that certain air about us.

Night light
Just like the night before, the sunset at the lake was spectacular, albeit cloudier. Much photography ensued while slapping at mosquitoes. Back at camp, our sleep was interrupted by a sick sounding croak emanating from the trees. Dale was sleeping in his hammock and although the croak sounded a lot like Dale, the croaking originated from a point much higher in the trees than his hammock. It was probably a dyspeptic crow, expressing displeasure with our uncommonly clean camp.

Day 5

Not the most interesting trail ever
Day 5 was getaway day and the hike out was about 5 downhill miles. As the path dropped down towards Odell Lake, Trapper Creek showed up next to the trail again as the forest morphed from dull lodgepole to a verdant forest draped with old man's beard. Lupine and beargrass bloomed next to the trail, providing a colorful counterpoint to all the greenery.

As usual, we had to step over the odd tree that had fallen across the trail, nothing new there. However, there was a large patch of downed trees that made the trail darn near impassable and we had to snake our way through the branches and trunks, passing our packs forward hand to hand like a bucket brigade from a 19th century house fire. Kevin's pack was still the lightest, darn it.

Back to civilization!
As we continued to lose elevation next to Trapper Creek, the trail tread widened, the ground well-tamped by frequent use in an indication we were nearing the trailhead. And sure enough, after a perfunctory 5 miles, we crossed the railroad tracks that had an Amtrak passenger train parked on a railway siding, waiting idly for no apparent reason. From there, it was off to a real breakfast at Odell Lake Resort where we ate outside so as not to "perfume" the restaurant. And I'm both happy and sad to report Kevin did not fall for the "guy with the lightest pack buys the meal" trick.

Sunset at Diamond View Lake
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Harriette Lake

So Lane and I sit down for lunch at Lake Como and Lane notices the silhouette of another hiker sitting on a shaded stump across from the lake, also eating lunch. Obviously lost in thought and totally unaware of our presence, the hiker's head rested pensively on a hand propped up on one knee, a la Rodin's "The Thinker". However, the dude was sitting way too still, prompting a debate between Lane and I whether he was an inanimate object or somebody who didn't twitch even one arm hair in the mosquito-filled air. Time passed and the sunlight moved in the forest and illuminated what was obviously a tree stump, earning Lane the trail name "Stump Guy". The rest of the weekend was replete with sudden bursts of "Look at me, I'm Stump Guy!" and we'd freeze in place.  Or we'd point at a stump and say "Look, it's another hiker!" Lane and I are easily amused and will work the same joke over and over for weeks at a time, unlike Stump Guy. Unlike some of our fellow hikers too, I might add.

Lake Como and Whiteface Peak (not named after me!)
This particular Lake Como was not the famed Italian lake of note, but is instead a small body of water in Oregon's Mountain Lakes Wilderness, a volcanic caldera south of Crater Lake. Basically, the caldera is the left over basin from a volcano that blew itself up just like Crater Lake did millenia ago. Oregon could have been blessed with two Crater Lakes but alas, glaciers intruded their icy heads into the mix and eroded the walls surrounding the Mountain Lakes caldera and all that potential Crater Lake fame and glory drained ignominiously down into midge-infested Upper Klamath Lake. No complaints though, as the caldera basin now has mountains and lakes in it, as befits a wilderness with the name Mountain Lakes. And best of all, the wilderness has hiking trails in it, too.

The bridge Lane
At first the Varney Creek Trail descended gently for a mile or so, dropping through a shady forest to a crossing of like-named Varney Creek. The creek crossing used to take place on a dilapidated and rotting boardwalk through a bunch of dead trees covering a swampy mire. However, the High Desert Trail Riders have rebuilt the bridge and cut a path through all the dead timber; it's now an easy cross over Varney Creek. Because of the new bridge, even Stump Guy was able to make it as far as Lake Como.

Greylock Mountain
It's a 1,300 foot climb to Harriette Lake but the grade was quite kind and gentle for the first 4 miles. The forest was thin and interspersed with meadows which both Lane and I waded into, each armed with camera in hand. The slopes were colored red in places due to skyrocket and paintbrush putting on a floral show. We enjoyed views of Mount Harriman and Greylock Mountain, both peaks part of the caldera rim.

First look at Harriette Lake
After Lake Como, where we made our aforementioned acquaintance with Stump Guy, all that easy uphill came to an abrupt end. Leaving the lake, the trail went rocky all of a sudden, the incline ramped up, and dang it, we suddenly had to work hard at this backpacking stuff. But at least it was quick work, because after only 0.6 miles of the steep crap, we hit a pass and Harriette Lake made a stunning first impression, just like I've been known to do! In a rocky basin below the pass, reposed half of blue Harriette Lake (the other half was hiding behind a forest). The wall of rock above the lake had created an awesomely large avalanche basin containing all the boulder you could ever want to look at. Aspen Butte (the highest point in Mountain Lakes Wilderness) rose up to the south and to the east Mount Carmine lay a lot closer to the lake.

Be it ever so humble...
After the rigorous climb to the pass, we were only too happy to descend to the lake shore and set up camp. We had neighbors, sociable Scott and Tina from Grants Pass, and we exchanged pleasantries and trail stories (some of which were true). Tina was on her first backpack trip and was holding her own, especially with Scott carrying most of the gear. I think I'll do likewise and have Lane carry most of our gear next time!

View from our camp
The lake shore shallows were covered by an unappetizing film of pine pollen and I somehow became the one designated to wade deep into the lake to filter cleaner water. As the sun set, the breeze abated and mosquitoes happily came to greet us. The feeling was not mutual. However, the sight of the shadows lengthening across the lake while the high peaks caught the the last light of the sun was simply sublime, annoying mosquitoes notwithstanding.

Mount Harriman
Early the next morning and before breakfast, Lane and I bushwhacked to an overlook with a partial view of nearby Echo Lake, giving us both the opportunity to yell "Echo...echo...echo...". Like I said before, we are easily entertained. After our Echo Lake sojourn, we struck camp and headed up and then down the pass above Harriette Lake.

Whiteface Peak rises above Eb Lake
Shortly after passing Lake Como, we stashed our backpacks behind a log and headed up the Mountain Lakes Trail. After a short walk, the trail crossed a narrow spit of land between Eb and Zeb Lakes. We stopped at Eb Lake first before looking at Zeb Lake. Or was it the other way around? I can't tell them apart and only their mother knows for sure. At any rate, the picturesque lakes offered views of Whiteface Peak and some of the lesser surrounding peaks and ridges.  And then the fun started.

Why we did not summit Peak 7703
The trail would climb over 800 feet in 1 mile to a pass which I kept referring to as "south pass" when it fact it was the northern pass of the two passes on this pass through. As the trail switchbacked to and fro, the trees thinned out and rocks ruled this little corner of the world. We had some notion of summiting Peak 7703 and/or Whiteface Peak but our enthusiasm waned when we saw a treeless rocky slope rising all the way up tp 7703's top, about 800 feet above us. We took one look at the rocky slope and wordlessly communicating like a long-time married couple, Lane and I knew we weren't going to do any summitting on this day. However, just to keep things platonic between us, I did utter the phrase "Oh, hell no!" Whiteface Peak had a similarly demanding route if we wanted to stand on top of it. The terrain was hot, rocky, and treeless and we were baked like a pair of purple Peruvian potatoes. Covered by an unappealing slime comprised of sweat, blood, Deet, and trail dust, we called it good at the pass.

You can see Upper Klamath Lake from here!
At the pass, we did have an awesome view to Mount McLaughlin, its symmetrical cone dry on the west side but snowy on the east side. Nearby Brown Mountain was equally visible as was an impressive Peak 7652. To the east, we could see the caldera drainage running down all the way to Upper Klamath Lake. So after soaking in the views, down the hot and mosquito-infested trail we went, stopping only to put snow (from a small drift) underneath our hats to cool our hot heads. We didn't get brain freezes though, as that would require brains.

Cameras got a workout, too
Just past Eb and Zeb Lakes, we retrieved our packs and began the hike back to the trailhead. We only had 4 miles to go but it was the longest 4 miles in the hot sun on a dusty trail. It seemed like it was 14 miles but we eventually made it back to the trailhead. Stump Guy, on the other hand, is still hanging out at Lake Como.

Hey, you're bugging me!
For more pictures of this trip, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Buck Canyon

It seems like just a month ago that I visited Buck Canyon. Oh wait, I did visit Buck Canyon a month ago. This time however, I brought the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club with me. The majority of the hikers were at a club campout elsewhere so my little hike was sparsely attended. Or as Lane put it, the hike was like a slow night at the tavern because there were only 7 guys, 1 woman, and a dog in attendance. Sounds like the chorus of what could be a great country song too, in my opinion.

A moldy gray blanket of a meadow
At any rate, we started our hike at the Hummingbird Meadows Trailhead and the first series of meadows were colored an odd gray color due to a thick carpet of flowering blue-eyed Mary. The blue-eyed Marys are half blue and half white but when combined in mass, the net result visually is a moldy gray blanket of a meadow. 

"I'm not falling for that!"
Everybody tried to pick their way carefully across the East Fork Muir Creek but in spite of our care, feet got wet anyway. Julie had a moment where she slipped on a rock and took a spill but thankfully, she was uninjured except for her pride. She also was not willing to reenact the fall so I could get a picture for my blog.

Gawkery at Hummingbird Meadows
A month ago, the sprouting stubble of vegetation at Hummingbird Meadows was only a few inches high and the alder thickets were leafless and twiggy. What a difference several weeks can make! The hellebore nubbins were now knee-high or better and the alder provided ample shade as the trail worked its way through the thickets. One small drawback to the later hike was that there were more mosquitoes buzzing around too, but nothing a splash of Deet couldn't handle.

The best lunches take place in a meadow
Gradually climbing up Buck Canyon, the trail alternated between wonderfully shaded forest and green meadows under blue sky. Mushrooms and other assorted fungi sprouted from the decaying biomass underneath trees, joined by saprophytic (lacking chlorophyll) coralroots. After several miles of this, we arrived at Devils Slide and we all sat on logs in the meadow and ate lunch.

Larkspur was a common sight
This is a fairly short hike, so after eating lunch we all dispersed through the meadows to examine the plant and animal life there. Those with cameras were happily snapping away while those without still enjoyed the meadow exploration despite their handicap. After an hour of this, it was time to head back.

Stonecrop grows in the cracks between rocks
To make the hike longer and more interesting, we took a side trip into the rocky trash pile that is Devils Slide. It was interesting to explore the remnant of an ancient landslide, and some of us were grateful no snakes were encountered in the black rock while some of us were disappointed no snakes were encountered in the black rock. Other side trips involved some off-trail forays through several meadows and feet got wet as we splashed through the mire. 

Part of Hummingbird Meadows
I could go back to Buck Meadows in another month and the hellebore should be blooming like mad and swarms of hummingbirds would rival the mosquito swarms in number. But other trails beckon, so I will make a mental note to hike this in July at some future year. All in all, this was a good hike on a good day and now it's time to go write that country song.

Baby grasshopper
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.