Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fish Lake

It had been over 7 years since the last time I hiked up to Fish Lake from the Lakes Trailhead. At the time, the area had been ravaged by a series of wildfires and the trail was nearly impassable due to all the dead trees laying across the trail. Because most of the erstwhile shady forest was strewn over the trail, it was hot and because it was hot, it seemed like it was a really long and steep slog up to Fish Lake. For some reason known only to my inner sadist, I volunteered to take the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club on a reprise of that challenging hike. So imagine my surprise when the first mile of the 2015 version took us through a pleasantly shaded forest with green undergrowth bursting forth in the usual spring exuberance with nary a log to step around, over, or under.

Shade? There's no shade in hiking!
The Forest Service had cut and/or removed the logs on the trail and the scraggly trees then struggling for survival are now thriving and providing welcome shade to erstwhile overheated hikers. What a change from seven years ago! It's safe to say the forest on Fish Lake Creek is in full recovery and the trail is in great shape. And because the trail was nicely shaded, hikers were cool, and the uphill grade didn't seem all that bad. I think the only person disappointed the hike wasn't tougher was my inner sadist.

A bee enjoys brambles because it
does not have to hike through them
Fish Lake Creek was coursing nearby but we mostly heard the creek as the rushing stream was hidden from view by all the vegetation. After a mile, the creek noise receded into the distance as the trail inscribed a climb up a side canyon. Here the scars of the fires were still visible as the forest was fairly thin and sparse. No complaints though, as we had nice views of the Fish Lake Creek canyon several hundred feet below. Periodically, the tip of Highrock Mountain peeked over the forested ridge immediately in front of us.

Feel the burn!
At about the halfway point, the route captured some of that previous hike-as-a-test-of-manhood (and womanhood, too) flavor. On the upper reaches of the Fish Lake Creek canyon rim, the "forest" was comprised of dead snags rising above the ceanothus and other brushy friends. During my 2008 visit here, the brush had encroached the trail and I continually plucked ticks off of my clothing for most of the latter half of the hike. But now, the trail had been cleared and was both brush and tick free. Despite the ample sunlight, temperatures were mild and my inner sadist uttered a dispirited "meh!" and went back to sleep.

Lane and Colby cruise past a cliff
Along the way to Fish Lake, the trail hugged the base of a massive cliff and hikers with shorts on had to step carefully around the poison oak growing along the path. That was pretty much the lone travail on this hike, darn it. Again, great views of the Fish Creek Valley abounded.  One last uphill pull from the rocky cliff then delivered us to Beaver Swamp.

Beaver Swamp
This time of year, the swamp is more lake than swamp and the trail made a U-turn around the small body of water. Fish were jumping, causing ripples to expand zen-like upon the tranquil surface. Small logs in the water were populated by turtles sunning themselves as they too enjoyed this fine spring day. A pile of branches indicated the location of a beaver nest and small beaver-made paths through the aquatic grasses showed Beaver Swamp is aptly named.

Fish Lake
The last mile was probably the toughest, hiking-wise, as the trail steepened on the final push up to Fish Lake, our most worthy destination. The large lake reposed lazily (as did we when we ate lunch) underneath the warm sun. Massive Highrock Mountain loomed overhead and further to the north we had a nice view of the ramparts of Rocky Rim. Such fantastic scenery requires an extended lunch-n-laze and we obliged.

Rhododendrons bloomed next to the lake
The nice thing about a moderate uphill hike is that it is moderately downhill on the way back, making for a relatively quick exit back to the trailhead. We got to partake of the shady and log-free (darn it) scenery all over again and everybody enjoyed the hike, except for my inner sadist.

Star-flowered Solomon seal
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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