Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lemolo Lake Loop

I was reading the News-Review the other day and it was all about politics, weather, sports, blah, blah, blah, when all of a sudden the headline leaped off the page and slapped my hind with a melon rind, fully getting my undivided attention: "New trail coming to Lemolo Lake". Finally, something worth reading! Well, besides well-written and semi-regular stories about hiking in the Outdoors section titled "Richard Hikes", that particular column is always worth reading.

Where mosquitoes come from
Seems the Umpqua National Forest was wrapping up construction on a new trail, making possible a 10'ish mile hike all the way around Lemolo Lake. There already was an existing trail connecting East Lemolo Campground to Lake Creek, and the North Umpqua Trail sideswipes the lake on the north side, but until now, the trek around the lake on established trails was not possible. Also, the the new trail was built with mountain bikers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and even us lowly hikers in mind. Accordingly, the trail was designed to be fairly level and wide enough in most places for two bikes to ride side by side. Just saying, but if this would have been a hiker-only trail, it'd have charged straight uphill because nobody cares about hikers and no, I'm not bitter.

View to Bunker Hill from across the lake
Because the trail was built in soft pumice soil, the Forest Service is going to let winter rain and snow tamp down the poofy soil. Therefore, the official ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated to take place sometime next year. All of this was set out in the newspaper article, but what again leaped off the page and slapped my lid with a thawed out squid, was the one sentence towards the end, which stated hikers could "...use the trail after its construction is completed this Sunday." Well, I know what I'm doing next weekend!

Hazy view to Cinnamon Butte
Well, after impatiently waiting through the longest week ever, it turned out that hiking at Lemolo Lake might have been somewhat questionable, since fire season had begun the week prior. Roseburg had been putting on its best Los Angeles imitation, what with solid air being dirty and brown with smoke. All the particulate matter discoloring the sky was primarily from the Spruce Lake and the Blanket Creek Fires (the two would later be combined into the High Cascades Fire) in the Crater Lake area, but things would get worse when North Umpqua Complex fires started up 3 days after this hike.

New trail!!!!

At any rate, I was pleased to park the car at the Lemolo Lake dam, where the air was only slightly hazy. It could easily have been a lot worse. Southern Oregon was in the throes of a protracted heat wave so I was equally pleased to see the temperature was 86 degrees, it could easily have been a lot worse too. What was disappointing, though, were the black clouds of mosquitoes pestering me as I laced up my shoes, it could easily have been a lot less worse, but it wasn't.

I love shade on a warm day
The new trail was prominently visible, as it had been recently cut into the ashy slopes. The trees were festooned with pink ribbons marking the route, which was a good thing in a couple of places, as there were absolutely no signs posted yet. The pink ribbons also made me wonder if Lane had hiked here before me. I was pre-excited to be the first to set foot on this trail but, alas, I noticed other footprints and bicycle tire tracks on the path, some other trail lovers had beat me to the punch. "Good thing I don't really care" I thought to myself, as I blinked back my tears of disappointment.

Confusing trail junction
The dusty trail wandered through the woods before spitting me out onto the boat ramp at Lemolo Lake Resort. After exchanging pleasantries with cabin residents, I followed the trail as it wandered over to the road to Poole Creek Campground. Here, I lost the trail, as I didn't see where to pick it up again on the other side of the road. I followed a use trail along the lakeshore, muttering lots of "excuse-me(s)" as I walked through people's campsites. Eventually the path petered out as I left the campground behind, but I spotted the trail in the forested slope above. Apparently, I had needed to walk up the road instead of going straight across like I did. Oh, well, it's all part of the teething process for an infant trail.

The new trail was in soft pumice

Pumice and volcanic ash had been deposited here about 7,000 years ago, courtesy of Mount Mazama blowing itself out of existence. Nowadays, Mount Mazama's crater is referred to as Crater Lake National Park. The pumice and ash had lain undisturbed for at least 7 millenniums, until a small bulldozer scraped off the vegetation and topsoil when the trail was constructed. My feet sunk a couple of inches into the dusty soil and it was a lot like walking in soft sand.

Lake Creek
Occasional views of the lake allowed me to see the east end of the lake several miles ahead of me. But before I could round the lake, a two-mile detour around the arm of Lake Creek was required. As the trail approached the meadows and swampy area at the Lake Creek inlet, a small herd of deer took off running, startled at my arrival. That felt good: me startling deer, for a change. After a bridge crossing of the fairly large creek running with crystal clear water, the route resumed on a real trail.

Some of the old trail is in Lemolo Lake

Also very real, regrettably, was a noticeable increase of mosquitotude, apparently they are happy to live in creeks, meadows, and swamps. Go figure. The trail climbed up to some pumice cliffs that provided great views of Bunker Hill across the lake. Did I mention the pumice soil was soft? Some of that softness was evident where the cliffs had been eroded, taking a piece of the Lemolo Lake Trail with it. I had to bushwhack above and around the small slide to continue on my journey.

What lodgepole beetles do to lodgepole trees
As I approached the East Lemolo Campground, the trail entered a stand of dead lodgepole pine trees, apparently pine beetles have done a number on the trees here. Both East Lemolo and Inlet Campgrounds are sited near the confluence of the North Umpqua and Spring River(s). The confluence is predictably marshy, swampy, and meadowy and the mosquitotude just ramped up by a factor of 17.1. I took few pictures here because the mosquitoes were truly horrendous, I didn't dare stop for fear of being eaten alive, one mosquito bellyful at a time. I had put on plenty of Deet but it didn't matter, I was below the bottom rung of the food chain and it was feeding time. Amazingly, the campgrounds were full of people apparently willing to feed their small children to the mosquitoes for a weekend.

The North Umpqua River
A short walk on a paved road took me across the North Umpqua River, looking particularly scenic as it rounded a bend before entering Lemolo Lake. The loop around Lemolo Lake would then be closed by walking on the North Umpqua Trail. I had hiked this section of the NUT before, but remember being not particularly impressed. Yes, the trail provides no views of the lake but does provide great views of cars whizzing by on paved Forest Road 2612.

The North Umpqua Trail passes through some burn zones

In 2015, this section of the trail was closed due to a complex of fires burning on Bunker Hill and now, the NUT goes in and out of the burn zones. The shady bits were most welcome but the open burn zones were bursting with sun-loving greenery and the whole vibe was quite peaceful. I'll have to revise my previous snooty opinion of this section of the NUT. After two miles, the trailhead at the dam came into view and the hike was over after crossing the dam.

Lemolo Lake, from the dam
At the dam, Lemolo Lake stretched out before me and the haze had dissipated, leaving snow flecked Mount Thielsen, Howlock Mountain, and Cinnamon Butte eminently visible beyond the lake. Also visible above the mountains was a wall of black clouds: an incoming thunderstorm was coming in. The subsequent week's worth of lightning was sufficient to set most of the Umpqua National Forest ablaze and the highway linking Roseburg and Crater Lake was and will be closed for an extended period of time. Because of the fires, this hike will probably be my last hike in this area until next year but it was nice to get in a new hike on a new trail. Hopefully, wildfire won't ruin this trail before it can even officially open.

Bunker Hill, from the south shore of Lemolo Lake
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Always wonderful to "test drive" a new trail. Yes, I hope all those fires don't damage this lovely area. It seems like our entire state is burning up right now....

    1. It's so bad, isn't it. Yesterday I drove up to Eugene and it was like the apocalypse is upon us, that is, if the apocalypse has lots of smoke in it. I've never seen it this bad

  2. New trail is noted for our future hikes...when the fires, heat, smoke, etc stop. Hope Autumn is not ruined by all the fires and smoke. Always our favorite time of year to hike.

    1. Yikes, what a year! Looks like Bigelow Lakes needs to be off the hiking list this year. And the Red Buttes, Azalea Lake, Grayback Mountain, and...and...and....