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.


  1. Sounds like a great trip and hike. We have the Eb and Zeb lakes in our future plans for a day hike....may have to venture over to Lake Como now too just to see "Stump Guy"!

  2. Eb and Zeb are nice but Harriette Lake is awesome. You'd have to be in the mood for a 12 miler but it's worth it, much more awe-inspiring than Eb and Zeb

  3. beautiful pictures, and as always clever and informative narrative; thanks. how far to Harriet Lake and what elevation gain. sounds like a BP I would love to do if I am ever able to do that again.

    1. Hi Susan! It's about 6 miles one way to Harriette Lake, the trail gains about 1,000 feet but it's a gentle grade except for the half mile past Lake Como. It's an awesome little weekend backpack


  4. Beautiful Richard! Where are you walking in Aug/Sept? We will be in Takilma for the Blackberry Festival Aug 14-15, and likely exploring the community, rivers & forests between there and Selma for a week. Interests are wildlife, forest-biome restoration, indigenous cultural legacy. All our sacred relations. Millennium Twain

    1. Hello Millenium! Matilija is a name I recognize from one of my hometowns:Ojai. In fact I was there just a couple of weeks ago! Takilma is near the Siskiyou Wilderness which is a beautiful place that I'm always happy to visit, Have a good time at the Blackberry Festival and thanks for stopping by to visit