Sunday, September 27, 2015

Black Crater

Here it is, late November, and it's quite obvious to anybody living in Oregon that winter has come. Of course, a couple of months ago it was not so obvious and yes, I really am a couple of months behind in my blog postings. At any rate, Anjuli, Daweson, Issiah, Coral Rae, and I enjoyed a beautiful sunny day on a hike to Little Belknap Crater in late September. And while sunny, the air did have a little nip to it and we wore jackets and sweaters as we enjoyed the view from the top of the small crater. Flash forward another week and the weather gods were not as kind.

Little Belknap Crater
Little Belknap Crater is surrounded by taller peaks and cones, one of which is prominent Black Crater. Since I'd never been, it was about time for a Black Crater visit. The weather forecast called for partial sun but it was mostly clouds when I arrived at the Black Crater trailhead. In fact, it was all clouds. mist, and sun at all, darn it. It was frigid c-c-cold too and I quickly donned a few extra layers as teeth chattered in my skull. I daresay it was cold enough to snow but fortunately, there was no precipitation while I was there.

Entering the wilderness

The trail wasted no time charging uphill and that was the pattern for the first mile or so. The forest was fairly homogenous with identical looking trees draped with old man's beard swaying in a soft breeze. It was like hiking through the ZZ Top Tabernacle Choir. There were a couple of open spots offering views of the McKenzie Pass lava flows. Sparse meadows, all gone brown in advance of winter's arrival, flanked the path. I should have been able to get a magnificent look at Mount Washington but there was a large cloud bank where the mountain should have been.

The Black Crater summit is up there somewhere
The trail started out on the north side of Black Crater and would eventually wind its way over to the east side. Fortunately, the grade eased up a bit after the first mile and there actually was a downhill stretch of trail. The crater summit was hidden by the cloud bank camped on the rim but it was a fast moving cloud bank. Obviously, it was windy at the top but the cone was blocking the wind and call me grateful.

Awesome panorama toward Sisters
The route began switchbacking as the forest thinned out, transitioning from tall trees to gnarled and stunted whitebark pines. Despite the cloud cover, there were still some fantastic views to be had. It was kind of like peering under a table because of the cloud cover, but it was an awesome panorama to the towns of Sisters and Redmond with the crags of Smith Rock being faintly visible in the misty distance. Black Butte was mottled with cloud shadows dancing on the perfectly symmetrical cone. It sort of cheesed me off to see sunny patches everywhere else than where I was standing at.

"Crunch, crunch, crunch" go the boots on pumice
By this time, I was hiking in a world of red and brown pumice with stunted windblown trees for company. Because of the mist and clouds, all was quiet and still except for the crunching of pumice underneath my boots. One last switchback delivered me to the crater rim and I quickly took off my pack and retrieved a stocking cap, mittens, and another fleece jacket. Dang, it was cold! The wind was moving the clouds quickly along, biting through multiple layers of clothing.

Awesome view (not!)from the crater rim
The trail wove its way along the rim and I was slightly amused to see a couple arrive on the rim, about 100 yards behind me. Mimicking perfectly my movements from a few minutes prior, they dug through their packs and frantically donned extra layers, mittens, and stocking caps. 

The actual summit of Black Crater
A rocky crag, barely visible in the fog, was the actual summit of Black Crater and I scrambled up to the top just to say I reached the summit. There were no views at all and it was cold, so I didn't tarry and made my way down in haste. 

The lava flows at McKenzie Pass
On the way down, the trail dropped below the cloud cover and I enjoyed the same partial views that I enjoyed on the way up. On a clear day, this has just got to be a truly spectacular hike. The clouds thinned out some and several times on the descent, my shadow made brief appearances. I ran into a couple backpacking up, the dude was taking his wife on her first backpack trip. Hope their marriage survives!

Black Butte
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Little Belknap Crater

"Take me to Mordor!" So said daughter Anjuli as we were discussing hiking destinations. Apparently, she had been browsing hikes on the Internet and had found some pictures of "Mordor" and wanted me to take her hiking in the stark black rock moonscape. To explain what she meant, she showed me the photos she had come across and I just had to laugh: The pictures were mine, taken on a prior trip to Little Belknap Crater!

Little Belknap Crater just got a little taller
McKenzie Pass is situated between the massive volcanoes of the Three Sisters and much older Mount Washington. All the magma burbling miles below our feet has spawned an underground industry of all kinds of cinder cones, pun intended. It is somewhat ironic that it is not the giant volcanoes of the Three Sisters but instead the seemingly insignificant little cones that have produced the massive rivers of hardened lava in the McKenzie Pass area. The lava flows are basically nature's asphalt blacktop and just like the Walmart parking lot, not much grows through the pavement. Just miles and miles of black jagged rock that explains Anjuli's Mordor reference. That, and she's my daughter, too.

My people
Little Belknap Crater is just a little red pimple in the lava fields, dwarfed by nearby (big) Belknap Crater. The hike to the crater on the Pacific Crest Trail is fairly easy and eminently spectacular, the short 5 mile round trip is perfect for children: so grandchildren Daweson, Issiah, and Coral Rae came along with Anjuli, with me being the biggest kid of all!

Suitably awestruck by Black Crater
Leaving McKenzie Pass behind, the Pacific Crest Trail headed up through two tree islands, created when hot lava surrounded a couple of high points, forever isolating the forest on the high points. Once we left the forest, we were treated to an awesome view consisting of the PCT winding up through miles of rock towards Belknap Crater, colored the same tan hue as the cat vomit on the living room carpet that I pretend not to see so Dollie will have to clean it up. In unison, the kids uttered an awestruck "wow!" and I silently patted myself on the back in self-aggrandizing satisfaction.

Heading towards Belknap Crater
It was somewhat of an uphill slog so it wasn't like the kids scampered carefree up the trail, progress was slow and steady through the incredibly rough lava field. We got to see lava in many forms such as the boot-eating jagged rock created when foamy lava hardened before it could melt down like bubble bath foam in a drained bathtub. Thick rolls and braids, resembling the belly folds of a sumo wrestler, were where currents of thick viscous magma once flowed. Lava tubes were a common sight and the kids were tempted to go exploring the tubes like the little geomonkeys they are.

Little Belknap Crater
After a couple of miles of this and right below Belknap Crater, a trail sign marked the intersection with the Little Belknap Trail, the white wood of the sign visually at odds with all the black rock. Seen from McKenzie Pass, Little Belknap Crater had been barely distinguishable in the lava flows but up close, it didn't look so little any more and it was mostly red colored too. The kids clambered nimbly up the slippery slope, stopping to explore a couple of large lava tubes. They were thrilled to enter one and appear about 30 yards downstream, their heads popping up out of the rock like unsuspecting moles in a Whack-a-Mole game.

View of Little Belknap Crater's lava flow
Little Belknap, as previously mentioned, is a small and insignificant pimple surrounded by large and majestic volcanoes and cinder cones. However, the views are anything but small and insignificant, situated as it was in the middle of all the geologic action. Snow capped North and Middle Sister, the two massive volcanoes dominating the view to the south. To the north was pointy Mount Washington, the peak being the inspiration for Anjuli's earlier Mordor reference. Beyond Mount Washington was the tip of Three Fingered Jack with snowy Mount Jefferson just beyond Jack and his three fingers. And all around were rivers of black rock, permanently frozen in time. Just an awesome panorama and kids, both young and old, enjoyed the view.

North and Middle Sister, on the way back
After a lazy lunch, we headed back the way we came, down through the miles of black and jagged rock. The only difference was that we were gawking at the two Sisters the whole way down, instead of gawking up at Belknap Crater like we did on the incoming leg. I'm glad to report a good time was had by all and no orcs were harmed on our hike to Mordor.

Mordor (actually, it's Mount Washington)
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Always have time for a selfie!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fuji Mountain

I finally got around to climbing Fuji Mountain. No, not THAT Fuji (the iconic Japanese peak renown the world over). Nowhere near as majestic as Japan's Mount Fuji but still pretty darn cool, Lane County's Fuji Mountain provides a fantastic view of Waldo Lake while doling out a whole bunch of exercise. And by way of explanation, Fuji Mountain was so named to honor Eugene's sister city, Kakegawa.

All the way to the Coast Range
But me, I really could care less about the cultural explanation about how Fuji Mountain got its name. It could have been named Mount Flaming Moose Poo and all I would care about was that there was a mountain and trail that had not yet been graced by my awesome presence. And since the wildfires in our area called for judicious selection of trails, if one wanted to avoid breathing in smoky air, the narrow window of hiking opportunity said I must go hike in the relatively smoke-free central Cascades.

Ready for 6 uphill miles?
Fuji Mountain is a fairly popular destination as the trailhead is only about 1.5 miles away from the summit. What, a three mile round trip? Not in this blog! There is a longer route that begins from the Waldo Lake Road, making for a more reasonable 12 mile hike. And best of all, the six miles from the trailhead to the summit are all uphill!

Fall has come to the Cascades
From the Waldo Lake Road, the trail wasted no time in heading uphill and I'd wind up gaining 2,200 feet or so in the six aforementioned miles. There were no views to speak of as the trail wandered through forest for about 5.99 of the 6.0 miles. This being late summer, the temps were cool, mosquitoes were not present, and the huckleberry leaves were blushing as red as an abashed tomato.

Birthday Lake
At about the three mile mark, it was time for a birthday celebration of sorts at a brief rest stop at Birthday Lake. Birthday Lake is a typical Cascades lake in that it is shallow and ringed by firs. The air was still, totally devoid of of the thick swarms of mosquitoes that devour hikers in early summer, and the lake's surface reflected the surrounding trees nicely. It wasn't my birthday but it still felt like I had just been given a present.

Verde Lake
Just past Birthday Lake was Verde Lake, a short stretch of level trail was much appreciated on the walk by the small body of water. Just past Verde Lake, the trail then angled upward at a more serious grade and intersected with the trail heading to the south end of Waldo Lake. Looking at the map later, I found out there's a nice network of trails in the area with many combinations thereof available for backpack loops. Because I did look at the map later, thoughts of backpacking routes percolating in my brain will keep me warm during the long, cold, and dark winter. From past experience though, I'll not return in mid-July, the height of mosquito season.

Trail, heading uphill
At any rate, after climbing steadily, the trail intersected with the short and popular trail to Fuji Mountain at approximately the 5 mile mark. Even though it still looked like the same old trees, I was now hiking on the slopes of Fuji Mountain proper. At one point, the forest opened up and I could see a formidable tree-covered wall that was part of Fuji Mountain and I really need to quit looking ahead when I hike.

View to Odell Lake and Maiden Peak

After inscribing several long switchbacks in the aforementioned forested wall of pain, the path broke out into an open and rocky slope and just beyond, the path crested at the Fuji Mountain summit. I gaily skipped up the trail, doing a happy dance at the impending end of all the uphill hiking. Freaking false summits do it to me every time! Yup, I still had some more work to do to reach the summit but the false summit did provide some ample views of Maiden Peak, Odell Lake, and Odell Butte. Lots of pictures were taken and the false summit was somewhat forgiven.

Waldo Lake
One last push up another 100 yards of rocky slope yielded the actual summit and I uttered an awestruck "Wow!", to the amusement of a Chilean family who were already on top of Fuji. Waldo Lake is Oregon's second largest natural lake and I could see all of it about 2,000 feet below. Beyond the lake were Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters (only South and Middle Sister were visible, though; North Sister was hiding behind Middle Sister). A massive canyon which I presume was cut by glaciers contained unseen Black Creek and from there it was hills and mountains rolling all the way to the Coast Range. To the south, Diamond Peak was eminently visible with pointy Mount Thielsen peeking from behind Diamond's shoulder.

Trail shot
Such a view required a lengthy view soak and I obliged, chatting with the steady stream of visitors coming up from the nearer trailhead. I and two college students from Corvallis were the only ones opting for the longer route that day. Eventually, after I had eaten all my sardines and crackers it was time to go. There isn't much to report afterwards, except for some reason the six miles back seemed much longer than the six miles of the incoming leg. All in all, a pretty cool hike, even if it wasn't to the summit of THAT Fuji!

Trail to the summit of Fuji Mountain
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.