Saturday, September 14, 2019

Square and Booth Lakes

The hike to Booth Lake was like Chapter Two of the Santiam Pass hike I had done a couple of weeks prior. Both routes begin from the Pacific Crest Trailhead, amble through the same fire-scarred scenery of the B&B Fire burn zone, and share many of the same views of the surrounding mountains and landscapes. Incorporating both routes, it is possible to do a 25'ish mile backpack loop by hiking past Square Lake, reclaiming the Pacific Crest Trail at Minto Pass, and then returning by way of the PCT to Santiam Pass. I ran into and spoke with various hiking parties doing the loop trip and it's now on my very lengthy list.

Buttes Hayrick and Hoodoo, to the south of Santiam Pass

I was on the PCT for only a quarter-mile or so before making a right turn onto the Old Summit Trail, which immediately beelined for Square Lake. Obviously, this trail does not get as much love as the PCT for the trail tread was rough and rocky in places, and also severely encroached by brushy vegetation exuberantly reclaiming the burn area. However, the views were predictably awesome with the spire of Mount Washington finger-poking the sky to the south, Beyond, were the Three Sisters and Broken Top while the perfectly symmetrical cone of Black Butte rose up in the haze to the east. Nearby, the flat-topped mesa of Hayrick Butte stood next to the ski resort of Hoodoo Butte.

Sadly and truly, this is a trail shot

Also encroaching the trail was a new forest of young trees as forest begins its unruly return to the Santiam Pass area. Here, the path inclined as it climbed up to a broad pass covered with young trees, chest-high brush, and ghostly white snags. The pass marks entry into the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, and there is a nice view of the rocky tower of Peak 5133 looming on a nearby ridgecrest as the trail began a descent down to Square Lake. By the way, since I also had a long and enjoyable look at Square Lake as I hiked past, I can honestly say Square Lake is indisputably round. There is a Round Lake nearby so maybe Square Lake is so named because Round Lake was already taken.

Square Lake, in the round

Square Lake is fairly large so it was a nice extended walk along the scenic lake, replete with surrounding snags and brush underneath a blue sky full of wispy clouds. There is a backpacking campsite on the north side of the lake and I exchanged friendly waves with a group camping there. But, after passing the lake, the trail began switchbacking to and fro up a rough and rocky slope rising ever upward in the open and exposed burn zone. 

View on the climb out of the Square Lake basin

As I slogged upward for next couple of miles, the tip of Three-Fingered Jack became more and more prominent on the north skyline. The going was slow because of the sustained uphill hiking on a day that was trending from warm to hot, making me wish Three-Fingered Jack would cast some cool shade in my direction. As elevation was gained though, the views improved and behind me, Square Lake became more distant but it was still an impressive big-picture vista of the blue lake pooling in a basin with high Cascades peaks rising beyond. 

Booth Lake sprawls below Three-Fingered Jack

At another pass with a stand of dead trees on top, the first view of Booth Lake presented itself. I called it good with the look at the lake, eschewing the descent down to the actual lake basin. While I admired the view, the camera was entertained by huckleberry bushes going autumnal red and by at least one fat toad surprised by my presence in his neighborhood. 

Attack of the killer orange fleshy caterpillars

Late season flowers such as pearly everlasting, miniature lupine, fleabane, and aster were doing their flowery thing and the asters seemed to be a favorite delicacy for some fleshy orange caterpillars spotted munching on the plant leaves. Some photography ensued, providing rest and temporary relief from an increasingly sore right ankle.

Pearly everlasting was one of the few flowering species still in bloom

I'd like to say I rolled my ankle or kicked away a charging bear or something totally awesome that would explain why my ankle decided to throb so agonizingly. But no, the ankle simply began screaming all of its own accord and for no obvious reason at all with about two miles left to go. So, it was a very slow walk back with lots of stops and ankle massages and some photography of fleshy orange caterpillars. Perseverance won out in the end though, and I did make it out to a two-week involuntary recuperation period filled with ice packs, Advil, and several chiropractic appointments to snap my ankle bones back into place. But, sore ankles aside, this hike was a fun one and almost worth temporarily sacrificing an ankle or two.

The texture of a sun-bleached and weathered snag

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Thielsen Creek

This is another hike that was done in 2019 and since I'm writing this in 2020 and knowing what I know now about events that transpired in 2020, I can say this trail was in the middle of the Thielsen Fire that nearly burned down the resort at Diamond Lake. Certainly, the trailhead complex was right inside that mess and may not be accessible for quite some time. The southeastern boundary of the Thielsen Fire reached out to the Timothy Meadow locale so who knows what that area will look like next year. It's pretty much a no-brainer that there will be no hiking allowed on the Thielsen Creek or Howlock Mountain Trails in 2020 and beyond. But anyway, our 
(me, Patti, Coreena, and Terry) visit here was done during less disastrous times and this is the tale thereof. 

The fourth Mouseketeer was the one taking the photo

The hike began by going underneath Highway 138 and every hike should begin with a walk through a dark and dank tunnel, just to set the right tone. After some mugging for the camera, we headed up the trail which began inscribing an uphill route that was nowhere near as cool as hiking in the the tunnel. The steep trail wiped the smile right off our faces, it did. But speaking of cool, the day was just that, being overcast by ominous clouds that threatened rain, and that was either a good or bad thing depending whether you are forest or hiker. However, in spite of the cloud menace, the rain held off for the duration of our hike.

We hiked under threat of rain

Several days before, in a harbinger of things to come in 2020, a lightning storm had started many small fires in the Crater Lake and Diamond Lake area and the Forest Service had frantically dispatched crews to scramble and find the fires, and then extinguish them. Accordingly, it had been very smoky days before this hike. However, the evening prior to the hike brought rain with little or no lightning, thereby putting out the fires and scrubbing the smoke from the sky, both of which we were most appreciative of as we hiked into the Mount Thielsen Wilderness. 

A beautiful friendship between moth and groundsel

In relatively short order, we hiked past the green pasture of Timothy Meadow and then stopped for a snack and rest break where clear flowing Thielsen Creek crossed our trail. Groundsel was blooming next to the creek and an en masse gathering of small brown moths alit upon the flowers. The moths seemed tame, for they were not at all concerned at all about my taking close-up photos of them.

We hike through dusty pumice

After crossing Thielsen Creek, the path commenced a mad charge upward through forest interspersed with pumice barrens. My legs were feeling tired and wobbly (damn diabetes, anyway) so I turned around at the five-mile mark while everybody else hiked 1.5 miles further to the intersection of the Thielsen Creek and Pacific Crest Trail(s).

A salamander and I mutually surprised each other

Left to my own devices as I hiked down to the car, my photography muse was well indulged as I took pictures of most everything. Coral fungus was pushing up through the earth, lifting up clods of dirt and forest duff and I lifted one such clod up to see what was growing underneath. Well it wasn't fungus emerging from beneath the earth but I did surprise a large brown salamander. Because the soil is so dry and dusty here, it was surprising to me to find a large amphibian living in this relatively arid biome. I'm no expert in salamander species but I'm thinking it might be a Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile)
. Per Wikipedia, the Northwestern Salamander lays eggs in a firm mass that "Feels much like a brain with a jelly layer around (it) ". In other words, the salamander lays eggs in a mass that feels much like Richard's brain although my jelly layer covers a mass of porridge according to my Probability Theory professor when I was back in college.

A burl on a burly tree

Because I'm so easily entertained, my photo album from this hike has lots of photos of knobby lodgepole burls that resembled tumors, boils, goiters, and other assorted anatomical appendages. Many of the trees along the trail were dead, so these malformations were on full display since the snags generally no longer had any bark covering to hide the burl formations. 

Dead wood, just waiting for a lightning strike

Not as surprising as a salamander under a dirt clod were dense stands of dead lodgepole trees, fallen where they stood before getting slain by lodgepole beetles. Other parts of the forest were a mix of both live and dead trees. Clearly, the forest here is highly stressed and in reviewing my Flickr album of this hike, there were plenty of what in hindsight, were prescient remarks about so much fuel in the forest just waiting for a lightning strike. I called it, but sure wish I would have been wrong in my assertion. I hate it when I'm right about forest fires.


A tree decomposes, one wood chip at a time 

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