Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tipsoo Peak

On the hike up to Tipsoo Peak I wondered what I would write about. The trail switchbacks through a singularly uninteresting forest with no plants or flowers growing underneath the trees. There weren't even mosquitoes buzzing in the shade. The trail is writer-unfriendly and has only one purpose in life, and that's to deliver hikers to the summit of Tipsoo Peak without ceremony or preamble. I could probably come up with more wit and witticisms writing about a half-hour workout on the treadmill than 6 miles of the Tipsoo Peak Trail. So, why bother hiking at all to Tipsoo Peak? It's simple: the view of the highlands surrounding pointy Mount Thielsen are first-rate and well worth the tedium.

Let's go hiking!
Joined by about 20 Friends of the Umpqua-ites, I headed up the aforementioned drab forest and took like two pictures in the first three miles. Those of you who regularly hike with me know that never happens. However, there is always something to see on any hike and this was no different. For instance, I saw a number of four-legged carnivores prowling the trail but fortunately they were all leashed to their respective owners. I heard several birds tweet. I took several drinks of water. I may have tied my shoes, but if I did, it wasn't in my notes. Yup, not a lot happens on the Tipsoo Peak Trail.

Break out the snowshoes!
Once the trail attained the high ground after a couple of miles, then things got pretty cool. The trees thinned out and sparse meadows tried to thrive in the dry pumice. In the shady parts, a few snow drifts were still hanging around despite the heatwave baking our little corner of Oregon like a ripe spaghetti squash.

Howlock Mountain
Tipsoo Peak is actually a pair of rather nondescript cinder cones surrounded by several larger volcanic brethren and sisterns. The area near the peak is all tortured red rock with a large snowdrift on it. However, no crampons were required and at the summit we all predictably oohed and aahed at the views. Jagged Howlock Mountain is Tipsoo's nearest neighbor and was all bristly with sharp edges and jagged rock. Just beyond Howlock was the prominent spire of Mount Thielsen.

World-class view
Below Tipsoo Peak, lies a sparsely vegetated pumice plain. The Pacific Crest Trail runs right between Howlock Mountain and Tipsoo Peak and as a matter of fact, the dusty saddle between the two peaks is the highest point on the PCT in either Oregon or Washington. Several backpackers were spotted from our 8,000 foot high perch, presumably they were on their way to Canada.

Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey
To the west of Thielsen was the round mound of Mount Bailey, it's round unless you are hiking to the summit, it's incredibly jagged up close. Below Bailey were the sapphire waters of Diamond Lake. Miller Lake, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, also had blue waters but Maidu Lake and Lake Lucille were both colored an unappealing green. Maidu is the source of our North Umpqua river. Nice to visit this time of year but don't drink the water.

View towards Diamond Peak

Beyond the two small lakes rose the two lesser peaks of Sawtooth Peak and Cowhorn Mountain. I've hiked to both summits and at the time they didn't seem lesser, but from Tipsoo Peak they were both dwarfed by the snowy Diamond Peak massif. Beyond Diamond Peak, and hazy in the distance were South and Middle Sister, Mount Bachelor, and Broken Top. There was some debate whether the tip of North Sister was visible or not, count me in as one of the naysayers. The view in that direction was hazy due to the wildfires burning near Bend.

Dried up wet spot
On the way back, for variety's sake a number of us took a side trip through a pumice meadow just off trail. A dry depression showed where a temporary pond resides during thawing time. A few mats of pink heather were blooming along with partridge feet in the rock gardens. That was all the excitement we experienced before re-entering the mind-numbing forest.

Tipsoo Peak, or the tip thereof
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Nice trip report, Richard. But you failed to mention the lack of oxygen in that particular part of Oregon. That's what I recollect.

    1. I thought the lack of oxygen existed only in my neighborhood...that's why I didn't mention it

  2. Hey, is that John in the group of hikers? Glad he's back again! :-)

    1. Yup, that was John's first hike since the Lost Coast, he said he is about 80% healed