Friday, July 1, 2022

Nip and Tuck Lakes

Now seemed like the time for my very first hike to Nip and Tuck Lakes, or the Plastic Surgery Lakes as I like to call them. Yeah, that's a bit of a groaner but seriously, if you like pristine lakes with plenty of solitude (and who doesn't?) then Nip and Tuck should suture needs. Sorry about those atrocious puns but hopefully they'll leave you in stitches. There's more where that came from and that's why I usually hike alone.

The last vestige of winter

Snow played a big part in my deciding to hike here. Our little corner of Oregon had experienced a pretty good winter and as a result, snow was still lingering on the ground and covering up trails about three weeks later than normal. Eager to get up into the mountains and ascertain where exactly the snow level was, I penciled this hike in for a sunny but mild day in the Windigo Pass area.

The trail was actually Forest Road 60 at first

From the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Windigo Pass, it was a three-quarter mile hike down a dusty forest road to the official Metolius-Windigo Trailhead. The MWT runs over one hundred miles in distance between the Mount Jefferson area and our own Windigo Pass but today I'd be hiking just about three miles of it.

The trail had kind of a dry vibe about it

Dry and dusty. That about sums up the hike to Nip and Tuck Lakes, although you'd never know it from the trailhead. There, several patches of snow lay underneath the trees and the melting thereof created several very cold but clear running streams but that was it for the snow and water. Once I left the trailhead it was all tan-colored pumice soil underneath a thin forest with little to no undergrowth.

Beetle markings on a lodgepole victim

Lodgepole pine grows where other trees can't, like in the pumice-based soil I was hiking on. Accordingly, thin stands of scrawny lodgepole trees grew along the trail, which ran unerringly straight through them. Because of the harsh environment they grow in, it's hard to become a successful adult lodgepole pine tree and accordingly, the bleached bones of failed attempts at treehood from years past were strewn along and on the trail. At least the carpenter ants and woodpeckers were happy.

Nip Lake in all it's nippy glory

After almost three miles of hiking on a gently undulating up-and-down trail, the path to Nip and Tuck Lakes was arrived at. It's almost as if Nip and Tuck Lakes are one single lake. You don't say "I think I'll nip over to Nip Lake" or "Tuck me in at Tuck Lake". Nope, it's "Nip and Tuck", forever inseparable as one, like Batman and Robin, like Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, or maybe like Lane and Richard. Just a narrow wooded isthmus about 20 yards wide is all that keeps us from referring to a single lake as "Tucknip". 

Tuck Lake in all it's tucky glory

Tuck Lake is the larger of the two lakes but smaller Nip is not without its charm. Marshy meadows surrounded both lakes and made shoreline exploration nigh impassable. Fortunately, this hike took place before mosquito season so no Deet was needed as I ate an active lunch, walking back and forth between the two lakes so as to give each equal viewing time. Come back in a few weeks though, and the mosquitoes will be most appreciative of your unwilling donation to their blood bank.

Pink heather was abloom along the lake

Small clumps of pink heather, which incidentally was my stage name when I was in the theater, bloomed within the lakeshore grasses along with some isolated specimens of shooting star. The color yellow was represented by the odd buttercup or two and "odd buttercup" is what they called me on the work crew. I'll stop now.

The Pacific Crest Trail had no snow on it

The easy terrain encountered on the hike in meant that it was also easy terrain on the hike out. And, after several miles of easy walking, I found myself back at the PCT Trailhead at Windigo Pass. It was still relatively early in the day, I had only hiked about five miles, and certainly I was dressed for the occasion, so I concocted a brilliant plan to bushwhack over to the Windigo Lakes for some extra lakes and mileage.

Time to bushwhack in slushy snow

The Windigo Lakes are two lakes that lie in the forest east of the Pacific Crest Trail. There is no trail to the lakes, so out came my GPS and I hiked up the PCT until I reached 5,900 feet of elevation, which was just a bit higher than the first of the two lakes. I then stepped off the PCT and headed out into the forest and that was when I found out my well-crafted plan had a major flaw. While the PCT had no snow on the trail tread, underneath the shady trees lay a veritable winter wonderland of slushy and mushy snow, and me without snowshoes. It was a tedious post-holing slog to the first Windigo Lake and a tedious slog back but I did get a nice view of Cowhorn Mountain in the distance. The second lake will have to wait for a snow-free day.

The view at Windigo Lake's outlet

So that was it for the hike to Nip and Tuck Lakes: short and sweet, just like me. The snow surrounding Windigo Lakes won't be there much longer and I may bring my backpack with me when the Friends of the Umpqua hike to nearby Cowhorn Mountain. The many lakes surrounding Nip and Tuck just beg for further exploration. Stay tuned!

Clear running creeks were full of melted snow

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

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