Friday, July 3, 2020

Fuji Mountain

Familiarity breeds contempt so they say. If true, then most of the trails in the Umpqua National Forest had to have become pretty contemptible by now because they had long since become oh so familiar to me and my hiking buddies. In a desperate search for something different, we decided to undertake a very long journey to far off exotic lands and that is the story of how we wound up on top of Fuji Mountain. And no, I'm not talking about iconic Mount Fuji in Japan but Fuji Mountain located instead in the Willamette National Forest near Oakridge. For some people, Oakridge might not qualify as a far off exotic land, but still it's pretty cool to say in a braggadocious way "I hiked to the top of Fuji today".

Drab flower in July, juicy huckleberry in August
The only other time I had hiked to Fuji Mountain was several years back, starting out that day from Waldo Lake Road and that turned out to be a long taxing hike where it was six all-uphill miles through mostly viewless forest from traihead to summit. Today's venture however, would be much kinder and gentler, consisting of the short route beginning from Road 5883, with some extra miles tacked on by taking the side trip to Verde Lake (in the mistaken belief we were at Birthday Lake) after the Fuji conquest.

Snow-covered trail
We'd been having a run of warm weather, so it was nice to begin walking through old snowdrifts laying on the ground in a shaded forest. Thanks to the snow, the air underneath the trees was refreshingly cool, like the air inside the beer cooler at your local convenience store. It was nature's air conditioning at its best! Unfortunately, the cool air went hand in hand with dense clouds of mosquitoes. The miniature vampire swarm was savagely ravenous and it was like an airborne piranha feeding frenzy, where we were the food being fed to the frenzied fish! It was definitely going to be a Deet day and my precious bottle of repellent was kept conveniently close at hand, as it was destined to get plenty of use.

Trail maintenance crew at work
The hike up to Fuji Mountain was not particularly exciting, just a steady uphill walk through woods with little or no undergrowth. The only thrill in this section of trail came from watching John whip out his saw and perform some impromptu trail maintenance. Edwin, Cleve, and Penny all assisted, while I photographed the activity. They will all go to hiker heaven for their good deeds. I'm not so sure I'm going with them because I think you actually have to do work to get into hiker heaven, and photography doesn't count.

Getting close to the Fuji summit now
After about a mile of steady uphill hiking, the trail began to switchback to and fro across a forested ridge that was part of Fuji Mountain proper. As we neared the ridge crest, the trees began to thin out and the trail traversed large patches of old snow as the terrain morphed from forest to full-on rocky. There were a few minor slips here and there in the snow but we all thankfully remained upright.

Godzilla hangs over the western skyline
One last switchback and one last uphill push on a bare and rocky slope delivered us to the top of Fuji, and now it was time to ooh and aah in earnest. Fuji sits on the boundary of the Waldo Lake Wilderness and its 7,144 foot height allowed us to peer down into the wilderness area like the hiking voyeurs we are. The landscape below was stunning but unfortunately, the sky above was a little on the dirty side, quite literally. There had been some buzz in the news about "Godzilla", a gigantic dust cloud from the Sahara Desert that blew across the Atlantic Ocean, triggering air quality alerts across the southern United States. Eventually, the monster cloud swung up north and as all good tourists should, made a visit to our beautiful state. All the way from Africa, there it was in its dirty brown glory, parked on the Oregon skyline surrounding Fuji Mountain. And we thought we had made a long journey on our drive from Roseburg!

Speaking of Saharan dust clouds...
So, the views were well hazed over and a tangible layer of brown stuff took away the normal blue color of the sky in places. In fact, to a man (and woman) we were remarkably uninformed about the Saharan dust cloud invader, we all instead supposed there had to be a wildfire nearby, thinking the dust cloud to be acrid fire smoke. At any rate, it was hard to see into the distance but the nearby views were still impressive.

Fantastic view from the Fuji summit
Waldo Lake is the crown jewel of its namesake wilderness, and the sapphire blue waters of Oregon's third-largest natural lake spread out below us in its forested basin while snowy Middle Sister, South Sister, Broken Hand, and Mount Bachelor rose up beyond the lake. Nearby Mount Ray was much smaller than Fuji and did not look so formidable from here, although it was large enough to hide Gold Lake reposing behind it. To the east were the symmetrical cones of Maiden Peak and The Twins, while small lakes dotted the forested terrain surrounding Waldo Lake. To the south rose the formidable snow-covered Diamond Peak massif and despite the haze, we could pick out Mount Thielsen and the peaks of Crater Lake, located further at quite some distance. I pointed out Yoran Peak which allowed me to trot out the old line "That peak's his'n and this peak's Yoran!" It's no accident I usually hike alone. Not all the sights were mountainous though, as the deep (and what I assume to be glacier-carved) Black Creek valley went on to join up with Salmon Creek first, and the Middle Fork Willamette River second, each with its own deep valley to rampage through.

We carefully pick our way down the trail
All of this was way cool and we enjoyed a lengthy view soak, taking in the splendor of it all, especially since by doing so, we were postponing an eventual reunion with the mosquitoes impatiently waiting for us to resume hiking in the forest. But alas, it was eventually deemed time to leave. Now, the hike to Fuji Mountain is only a three-ish mile round-trip hike, so clearly some extracurricular hiking was called for in order to justify the two-plus hour drive to the trailhead.

Jacob's ladder thrived in Fuji's rock gardens
We grabbed the Fuji Mountain Trail in the downhill direction, which obviously leads away from Fuji, heading toward the distant trail terminus at at Waldo Lake Road. We weren't going all that way though, our plan was just to hike no further than Birthday Lake. It was mostly downhill from Fuji and we weren't all that appreciative of the drop through the forest, for we were well aware we'd have to regain all that elevation again upon the return to our vehicles.

Sedge pokes through a layer of snow
As mentioned, the intended destination was Birthday Lake and as we walked, the trail took us past numerous stagnant ponds that answered the age-old philosophical question of where did all the mosquitoes come from. At an intersection with the South Waldo Lake Trail, we had a brief discussion about whether to continue on to Birthday Lake or alternatively, make the rather rigorous uphill pull to Island Lakes. It was at this point that my GPS sort of let me down, although to be honest. we can chalk up my little map reading woes to user error.

One small place of birth for millions of mosquitoes
I had purchased a new map program for the GPS, one with more detail than what I had been previously using. More detail meant it was hard to make out landmarks without unduly zooming in a lot closer. On the GPS screen, our trail was clearly visible, denoted by a square hiker symbol that was neatly pasted over the Birthday Lake area, preventing me from seeing important data like the name of the lake. So, when we reached the first lake, we all assumed it was Birthday Lake when in fact, it was much smaller and less scenic Verde Lake.

Verde Lake made for a second lunch stop
Oh well, the small lake made for another nice lunch and laze, where the only physical exertion came from slapping at persistently annoying mosquito clouds. When we resumed walking, all that nice downhill hiking became a tiring uphill slog through a mosquito-infested forest, made somewhat more taxing as the day had warmed up considerably since our morning start. There weren't enough snow drifts to cool us off at this point but I'm glad we persevered and made it to the finish, all of us happy with the day's work. Plus, each one of us can brag to our non-hiking friends "Hey, I hiked to the top of Fuji!"

Beautiful forest full of mosquitoes
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

No comments :

Post a Comment