Saturday, May 3, 2014

Buckeye and Cliff Lakes

The weather is messing with my hikes! That might seem like an ironic statement, considering some of the weather I've been known to hike in, but I'm a little more respectful of the weather in the higher elevations. Since the week before had 90 degree temperatures, that was all the cue I needed to plan a weekend backpack trip to the Grasshopper Mountain area. Wednesday...Thursday...Friday...all of them gloriously sunny days that left me deliriously giddy with warmth and joy. And then came Saturday, one of only two days in the week available for the pursuit of the true happiness that can only be acquired on the trail. And the weather forecast called for cold, rain, and wind. That sound you heard was me wailing in despair as I returned my backpack to its lonely little hook in the basement.

South Umpqua Falls

However, totally at odds with the dire forecast, Saturday dawned sunny and beautiful so I headed out to the Skimmerhorn Trailhead for a day hike to the top of Grasshopper Mountain. Sure enough, the clouds came over on the drive to the trailhead. Still, it was spring on the South Umpqua River where I paid a quick visit to beautiful South Umpqua Falls before continuing on to the trailhead.

Woodland violet
Fire has come to visit the area more than once during the last decade or so and initially, the forest along the trail consisted of singed trees that are still so very much alive. The forest floor was a tangle of dead trees with rhododendron bushes sprouting in all the jumble. Trillium and calypso orchids were blooming everywhere and much photography ensued.

Feel the burn
After a mile of steady uphill, the trail entered a burn zone where the damage was more severe. The slope was covered with acres of white ghostly snags pointing up to the dark and cloudy sky. Trees died here and I gave this forest graveyard my most reverent respect as I trudged up an increasingly steep trail. The shade loving trillium and calypso orchid gave way to the sun loving gooseberry and red currant. A steady rat-a-tat from jackhammering woodpeckers was a nice counterpoint to the sound of one lone hiker panting as he hiked up the steep trail.

Buckeye Lake
The line of demarcation for this former hot spot was a ridgecrest where the trail entered a forest, totally untouched by fire. And shortly thereafter, a small lake appeared, its proximity to Buckeye Lake giving me cause to dub it "Buckeye Jr". I usually spot beavers in this pond but not on this day. A small strip of rocky land separates the pond from Buckeye Lake itself and I grabbed a faint use path and walked along the Buckeye Lake shore. There were a couple of fishermen there and one waved at me and then lost his balance and staggered wildly like an inebriated Mardi Gras reveler. I thought I was about to blame for an impromptu swim but fortunately for us all, he saved it.

Grasshopper Mountain and Buckeye Lake

Ages ago, half of Grasshopper Mountain snapped off and the resulting landslide dammed Fish Lake Creek and formed Fish Lake in what was truly a remarkable coincidence. A couple of dimples on top of the landslide debris soon filled up with water and that is how Buckeye and Cliff Lakes came to be. The Grasshopper Mountain cliff looming dramatically over Buckeye Lake is the scar from the ancient landslide.

Cliff Lake

A couple of minutes walk through a forest past some large bouldery remnants of the landslide brought me to lunch at Cliff Lake. This lake is appropriately named because some guy named Cliff lives there. Just kidding! The lake sits at the very base of Grasshopper Mountain and exposed in the landslide scar, amateur geologists can see all the layers and strata that compose Grasshopper Mountain. I sat down in a meadow and the sun came out and I became very sleepy, like the cat in the living room morning sunbeam.

Buckeye Creek outlet creek

No sooner had I laid back in the grass for a hiking nap (the best kind!), dark clouds came scudding in and the wind gusted noisily. The temperature dropped rapidly and nap time was over before it begun; it now felt like rain was on the way. Losing enthusiasm for hiking to the top of Grasshopper Mountain I continued anyway to the junction with the Grasshopper Trail. Just as I got there, thunder rumbled and how's that for a sign? With only a wide brim hat to ward off a mountaintop lightning strike, I turned around and gratefully headed back the way I came.

Bye, blue sky...for a few minutes
And of course, minutes later the sun came out again. Apparently, that was not thunder I heard, it  instead had been the sardonic laughter of the weather gods. Sun notwithstanding, the general weather trend was toward inclement weather as the trail dropped down.

Little Fish Lake

Not all hikes have to be long, but they don't have to be so short either. For extra mileage, I took a short side trip up the very rough Acker Divide Trail to a small swampy body of water that is overly dignified with the name Little Fish Lake. Probably because the water is so fetid and the "lake" so small, any fish that live there are permanently stunted, hence the name. Or maybe the copious amount of mosquito larva swimming in the mire were thought to be little fish by the person responsible for Little Fish Lake moniker.

Castle Creek
At any rate, it was back to the Lakes Trail and a descent through the burn zone while the rain thankfully held off. After the hike was over, I swung by Castle Creek, to observe what has to be the largest log jam in the world. At the front edge of the jam, Castle Creek waterfalled out of the log pile.

I also took a short walk on the Campbell Falls Trail but was prevented from seeing the falls by the South Umpqua River. The falls are on the other side of a large rock and the South Umpqua, swollen with spring melt, had turned the rock into an island and I could not get to the viewpoint to observe the falls. Oh well, at least I had a nice walk through all the poison oak.

Odd little fungus
For more pictures of this short but scenic hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Was there in 2013 and it was my first time back in 30+ years, I was part of troop 180 boy scouts from Martinez ca. I personally spent 4 summers there, making small creek bridges, signs, picnic tables, bathrooms, received my mile swim badge in cliff lake, and believe it or not we carried an aluminum row boat up there, 2 canoes and a few kayaks, every year and our evening activities was swimming and taking a boat out on the lake. Sadly the growth is over taking the lake where we once couldn't see the bottom, and the size was much bigger. We had the fish and game come in one year and net the lake, we all ate good for a few days, but we couldn't catch a fish there, until that day I refused to believe their was any fish at all in there. In the 70's buckeye lake was covered in a green algae and this time in 2013 it was simply beautiful. I went with three other old scouting buddies and we are planning another return soon.

    1. Cliff and Buckeye Lakes are a special place for me too. My wife and I went for a drive up the South Umpqua many years ago and we saw a sign that read "Wilderness Trailheads" Following the signs, we ended up at the Skimmerhorn Trailhead and without knowing anything about the area we randomly took right and left turns at the intersections and wound up at Buckeye Lake. It was divine providence, the lake was beautiful and I was hooked and never have stopped hiking since. Glad to see someone else looks at the lakes with the same nostalgic degree of sentimentality I do. Happy Trails and enjoy your return visit with your buddies and thanks for sharing!

  2. I first went to Buckeye in 1977 with my Dad when I was 12. Went every year for the next 8 years. Haven't been there in about 18 years, headed down in September with my two adult sons. Can't wait!

    1. Wow, seems like there are a bunch of Buckeye Lake reminiscers out there! As you can see from my previous comments, I too wax nostalgic about Cliff and Buckeye because that was my first hike and the lakes were so pretty I had to keep going! Despite all the trails I've hiked, there's no hike like your first. Happy Trails my friend and enjoy your September visit

  3. Hey (AnonymousJanuary 21, 2015 at 10:50 PM) I too was part of the troop 180 during that time. I think of that special place often and want to make to trip there again this summer. I would be very interested in knowing more about your recent experience. I remember Johnny Marlow trying to catch fish everyday and when they netted all the fish exceeded everyone's expectations.
    Please send me a note at

    Mike Fitzhugh
    Rattle Snakes
    Trail Blazers
    Troop 180

  4. I also went there with my Dad and family. In 77 or 78. It was an amazing experience. We drove from Southern California and my Uncle, Aunt, Sister and cousin and I spent 10 days there. The hole in with 50lb old school pack was intimidating at that age...but the trip started me down a path of hiking, camping and outdoor life that my children carry to the next level these days. We never caught fish, but saw them near the log jam...each morning I would watch mink, weasels or otters ( I can't remember which) do there lap around the lake. We also had a young fawn swim out of the lake right at our camp sight. I hope to get back some day.

    1. Ah yes, those old school packs! My first pack was made out of heavy canvas and I think it might have weighed 50 pounds all by itself! I enjoyed hearing about your Cliff and Buckeye Lake story, those two little lakes certainly had an impact on my life!

  5. Going there next month with my adult son. Its almost been 50 years since I was there last with troop 180. Great memories and looking forward to sharing the experience again.

    1. This is a special place, perhaps made even more special by the memories of yesteryear. Have fun on your upcoming visit!