Saturday, September 25, 2021

Suttle Lake

Didn't see that coming! I had planned on an easy hike around Suttle Lake, anticipating I'd simply enjoy the blue waters of the lake all day long, barely breaking a sweat on the level trail circumnavigating the azure body of water. And for the hike along the sunny north shore, I was mostly right. However, upon rounding the western end of the lake and commencing hiking on the shadier south shore, brightly colored vine-maple leaves served notice that this from here on in, this would be a quintessential autumn hike and never mind the lake.

Suttle Lake on a grand autumn day

At the start, it was a gorgeously sunny day, although there was a bit of a cold snap in the air. Winter's opening salvo, in the form of a wet rainstorm, was predicted to arrive the following evening and while the sun was out, a brisk breeze of cool air hinted at the cold weather to come. At least the coming rain will help extinguish the forest fires currently plaguing the Cascades and scrub the smoky haze out of the otherwise blue sky.

Creature of the Blue Lagoon

Fire has been a thing here before, and Suttle Lake is surrounded by a vast wasteland of dead and alabaster white tree trunks (also known as snags), a veritable tree graveyard left over from the 2003 B&B Fire. A young forest is taking root at the skeletal feet of their deceased ancestors and provide a close-to-the-ground green counterpoint to the colorless dead trees they are replacing. Over time, a number of the burned trees toppled (and still continue to topple) into the lake, and the branches made it appear like the partially submerged trees were swimming for their lives.

Woodsy trail along the shore

If you ignore that large lake thing on the left, then this trail might best be characterized as "woodsy". The pathway wove its way through trees that, because of their proximity to the lake, generally avoided the fiery death that their upslope brethren had to endure back in 2003. The trail was mostly level, although there were some small ups and downs along the way. A steady stream of hikers walking in the opposite direction exchanged friendly greetings with me before we each continued on with our respective journeys around the lake. Most of us would meet again on the southern shore as we completed our loops.

A watercolor painting by Mother Nature

The peaceful backwoods vibe came to a busy halt at the Link Creek boat ramp, frenetically bustling like a riled up ant's nest, but with picnickers and paddleboarders instead of ants. But that's alright, because a footbridge offered a nice view of Link Creek flowing into Suttle Lake. The creek was placid and unusually calm, like me on tranquilizers, and the surrounding woods reflected on the perfectly smooth creek surface, the reflections looking all the world like an abstract watercolor or an impressionist oil painting.

Bridgeway into darkness

You would think Link Creek got its name because it links Blue Lake to Suttle Lake. But a quick perusal of a topographical map shows that Link Creek also links Link Lake to Blue Lake and who knows where Link Lake got its name in the first place. Allegedly a trail runs from Suttle Lake to Scout Lake and Dark Lake. Sounded good, so I ducked onto the campground road with the intent of adding some more lakiness to this already lakey hike. However, after wandering lost through the braiding roads of the campground like a rat in a maze, I never did find any trail other than the one going around Suttle Lake. Hmm, I now have a mystery that needs solving.

A lone kayaker enjoys an outing on the lake

I'm not sure if this is a seasonal thing or because of the wind sweeping across the lake, but Suttle Lake was swarming with paddleboarders having a grand time in the sparkling lake. Kayakers also partook of the lake's delights, although they tended to paddle closer to shore. I found out that as slow as I walk, it's generally faster than a kayaker and I wrestled with the rare sensation of overtaking and passing as I walked.

The south shore was golden 

Once the west end of the lake was rounded, the trail went colorful with individual vine maple trees displaying their autumn foliage below the dark green of the surrounding firs. In the shade, the colors tended to be pale green or light yellow, but where the sun shone directly upon the leaves, it was the opening verse of a multi-volume sonnet about the oncoming colorful autumn season.

Yellow-veined hands grab at me as I hike by

Basically, all hiking progress came to a screeching halt on the south shore, thanks to the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges flanking the trail. Many of the leaves were red, splotched with orange, with veins running yellow down their fingers as if they had bile for blood. Under the vine maple canopy, it then seemed as if the very air was suffused with color, like ambient sunlight on an alien planet. 

Lake Creek speeds by on its way to to the Metolius River

Link Creek enters Suttle Lake at the west end of the lake and Lake Creek leaves the same lake at the east end. The Suttle Lodge and resort were eminently visible on the other side of wide Lake Creek but unless you wanted to swim across (and I didn't) then there was still some hiking to do. The trail followed the creek to the paved road leading to the lodge and then the loop was closed off by hiking past the resort cabins before reaching the old stone and wood shelter at the trailhead. I did notice the Lake Creek Trail leaving the day use area, heading to the small community of Camp Sherman on the Metolius River. me intrigued although the chill wind has me thinking that'll have to wait till next year.

Every leaf a work of art unto itself

So, this was not the hardest or longest hike I've ever done, coming in at 4.3 miles with maybe 2.3 inches of elevation gain. But, it certainly was one of the most colorful and can only be the harbinger of a vibrant and beautiful autumn season.

Autumn is here!

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

Friday, September 10, 2021

London Peak


"Call of the Wild", "White Fang", and "Sea Wolf", epic and renown novels all, were each penned by the great American author Jack London. When I was back in school (in the previous century), the aforementioned novels were rightly required reading in literature class. However, my favorite Jack London book is little known "The Star Rover", a sort of science-fictionish novel about astral projection, which is best described as the ability to experience out-of-body travel. London's biography reads like one of his books and he led a busy life full of adventure and travels of the non-astral variety. One such journey was a long and arduous horse buggy trek to Oregon, where he guested at historic Wolf Creek Tavern. After he departed, a small peak overlooking the town of Wolf Creek was then given the name London Peak in honor of the inn's famous guest.

Spectral fern from the shadow realm

Nowadays, a well-maintained trail departs from Wolf Creek County Park and goes up to an overlook perched just below actual summit of London Peak. It's just 2 miles to the top but oh my, it's over 1400 feet of elevation gain, which works out to a daunting 14% grade. From personal experience, that kind of a grade will have you wishing in no time for a leg-relieving astral projection to the summit. But at least the tasking grade of the trail gave my legs legitimate reason to complain, which is when I'm happiest. 

Wolf Creek was not all that creeky today

The hike began with a "wade" across Wolf Creek, completely dry this time of year apart from a few isolated pools of standing water. Ironically, a sign at the edge of the stony creek bed warned "No Lifeguard on Duty". There should have been a sign warning about the prodigious amounts of poison oak encroaching the trail, though, something like "Wear Pants" (I was in shorts). However, the leaves of Satan's favorite plant were already in their autumn glory, the bright red color of the foliage being sufficient visual warning in and of itself. I'm glad to report that despite the sweet caresses of the poison oak leaves on my exposed calves, I managed to evade the madness-inducing itch that sometimes follows.

All that poison oak and me with shorts on

Immediately, the trail began inscribing switchbacks back and forth up the forested slopes of London Peak and had I known the trail would be like this, I would have counted the switchbacks. But I didn't so we'll just have to go with my unsubstantiated estimate of 927 switchbacks, with a margin of error of +/- 900. I know the switchbacks meant well but despite their best efforts to ameliorate the grade, legs were soon burning and lungs heaving as I trudged ever on upward.

One small piece of a lush forest

If you are going to struggle on a hike, you might as well do it in a beautiful forest lush and green (and red too, thanks to the poison oak). Here the woods were almost Siskiyou-like, being comprised of that odd mix of madrone, oak, maple, and conifer you tend to find in the aforementioned Siskiyous. Further adding to the Siskiyou vibe were the dried out husks of ground cones strewn about the forest floor, 
desiccate and shriveled leftovers from this year's spring season. The vegetation was generally dense and tangled throughout, making me grateful for the well-maintained path.

Madrones strive for the sky

At one switchback, I stepped on a branch and it snapped noisily, rendering a loud crack that permeated the very stillness of the forest. Suddenly, a large stampeding animal began running uphill, close enough that I could feel the vibration in my feet. Because of the dense undergrowth, I never got a look at whatever creature that felt the need to flee my presence in terror. I was guessing deer, or perhaps bear after I encountered wet bear scat on the trail when I was coming back down. The scat had not been there when I was hiking up. Yikes.

Whether stairs or switchbacks, the trail was still steep

Eventually, the trail steepened even more, to the point that wooden stair steps were required, which in turn inspired a next-level type of leg-muscle agony. On the map, there was an acute switchback that was the last one, and from there on in it was a straight walk on a ridge crest. I was hoping it would be easier, but of course, it wasn't. It was pretty much a straight charge up a heavily wooded crest that had me wishing for more stairs, with old growth trees guarding the trail like silently disapproving sentinels. 

The reward for the uphill hike

Finally! The trail ended at a viewing platform with a blessed bench on it, and I promptly put it to use. The view from the platform aerie was amazing, although only the vista north of the mountain was visible under a mostly blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Below, lay the small community of Wolf Creek, ensconced in a pronounced valley. From this height, Interstate 5 looked more like country road than freeway, and the cars and semis resembled Tonka toys for ants. Peaks and hills surrounded the area and of course, the terrain was blanketed by forest. Two large towering clouds marked the pyrocumulus clouds of the nearby Devils Knob Fire and the more distant Jack Fire and/or Rough Patch Fire complex.

This trail guarded by tall trees

The path continued past the viewpoint, where it would eventually wind up at a nearby BLM trailhead. After the hike, I perused the BLM brochure and apparently there are other worthy views to be had on that section of trail. But at the time, I was unaware and accordingly, after a nice little lunch 'n laze on the viewing platform, I just hiked back the way I had come, startling yet another large beast that could not be seen in the dense vegetation. I was thinking it would be nice to hike downhill for a change but after 787 of what seemed like 900,000 stairs, my aching knees changed my mind. It was just as hard hiking down as it had been hiking up!

Lichen clings to life on tree bark

While I did not experience any sea wolves or white fangs, there definitely was a call of the wild. But hey, that's what a trowel and toilet paper are for! I kid of course, but on the serious side, I do need to master the art of astral projection if I'm going to continue visiting the summits of peaks.

A California Sister (Adelpha californica) visits Oregon

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