Friday, June 23, 2017

Clear Lake

"Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear..." I may be dating myself by quoting Richard Nixon but the irony is that Richard Nixon's downfall was that he did not make things perfectly clear when he should have. But, if there is one thing perfectly clear in this world, it is Clear Lake. The lake is fed by an underground river that is filtered by miles and miles of porous lava, leaving the lake's waters clearer, purer, and more pristine than any presidential cover-up could ever hope to be.

Warm, but not yet hot
This was late June and it was hot, but not as hot as it was going to get in a few days hence. The temperature topped out somewhere in the high 90's which is plenty warm when exercising under a blazing sun. However, on the west side of Clear Lake, the trail was wonderfully shaded by tall trees, warding off some of that high-90's heat.

Columbia windflower was a common sight
I'm also glad to report the mosquitoes were virtually non-existent. We had more snowfall than normal this last winter; I've been expecting an onslaught of insectile vampiritude with the advent of melting snow. Spring was in full song, what with the forest carpeted with Columbia windflower, lupine, huckleberry. and queen's cup all abloom. Both Fish Lake Creek and Ikenick Creek were flowing fast and clear with spring runoff, and the forest was filled with the musical tinkling of the streams. So, with spring going at it the way it was, I'm not sure why no mosquitoes but hey, I'll take it. 

What, you were expecting a bikini photo?
Other hikers were out and about, too, I ran into one young lady hiking in a bikini. Because I looked into her eyes the entire time I chatted with her, I didn't really notice the bikini was a Pink Mink product manufactured in Bangladesh, with orange, white, and yellow polka dots on a brown background;, and also sporting a white frill edged in red and brown stripes with little yellow daisies having green centers in between the stripes. I also ran into a guy hiking barefoot, he said he just felt more comfortable hiking shoeless. Yikes. Later in the hike, I would run into him in the middle of the jagged lava fields, as we had each hiked around the lake in opposite directions. The slacker had his shoes on too, apparently hiking barefoot through sharp and jagged rocks is not all that comfortable.

Fish Lake Creek
The basic loop around Clear Lake is fairly short, being just over 5 miles long. So, for some extra mileage, at Fish Lake Creek I made a left turn onto the McKenzie River Trail with the intent of hiking a couple of miles to Fish Lake. This section of the McKenzie River Trail was a pleasant amble through lovely shaded forest with the rushing creek always heard and occasionally seen just off trail.

Just gotta love those vine maples
And now a word about the vine maples. The ubiquitous vine maples were all leafed out and a virtual galaxy of seven-pointed leaves were lit up by the sun while I enjoyed the deep shade underneath. The trail had that green illumination from the light of a million little green stars and my progress was slow as I obsessively photographed the glowing canopy.  

Just a gorgeous day for a hike

A short mile of hiking brought me to the Upper McKenzie River Trailhead and I walked down a gravel road to the McKenzie Highway. My planned (if you can call it that!) route to Fish Lake required a cross-country bushwhack from the highway. However, the harsh reality was that I was confronted with a rushing creek, thick brush, and water in a standing marsh; all between me and hidden Fish Lake. Just call me defeated; it was back to the trailhead for me.

Swimming hole on Fish Lake Creek
The McKenzie River Trail officially begins at the upper trailhead and the iconic trail is famed as a mountain bike ride. Accordingly, there was a group of bikers lazing in the shade, eating lunch and chatting animatedly. My ears perked up, because they were speaking my other native language. Turned out they were from Guanajuato, Mexico and were on a mountain biking vacation in the Pacific Northwest. 

First clear look at Clear Lake
At the north end of Clear Lake, the lake finally made an appearance and the tips of Belknap Crater, the Three Sisters, and Mount Washington all made brief cameo appearances over the far end of the lake. Clear Lake is the source of the McKenzie River, which comes up out of the ground, fully formed, at the Great Spring. Filtered by porous lava soils, the water is as pure and as clear as Richard Nixon was not. The water also comes up a uniform 36 degrees all year so the lake never freezes over during winter.

"Let me make one thing perfectly clear..."
The Great Spring would be cool enough as simply being the source of the McKenzie River, but oh, that blue color! The spring, besides being remarkably clear, is a deep sapphire hue, probably in relation to both the purity and the minerals from the lava soil. Clear Lake inherits the clarity of the spring and I daresay you could drop a dime in the middle of the lake and be able to tell whether it comes up heads or tails on the bottom of the lake.

Clear Lake, perfectly clear
Now on the east side of the lake, it was time to say goodbye to the cool shade and experience the heat that can only be experienced when hiking on a hot day in acres of black lava rock. These lava flows emanate from Mount Washington and the sunlight ricocheting on all the dark rock made it feel like it was 150 degrees. On the plus side, great views of the lake were to be had as there was no forest to get in the way.

King of Clear Lake
There was a tall snag with ghostly fingers reaching up to the blue sky; it seemed photogenic so I pointed the camera at it. But wait a minute, what is that thing on top that I was looking at through the viewfinder? It was a bald eagle, looking all regal like he was the self-proclaimed King of Clear Lake. It's always a thrill to see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild, and I had no one to share the experience with. But at that moment, a hiking couple came up the trail and I pantomimed "shhh..." and then pointed up to the tree. They saw the eagle and made silent hand-claps in my direction, that was my good deed for the day.

Where Clear Lake ends and the McKenzie River starts
Just as I was really beginning to hate the hot sun, the trail dropped back into the forest and rounded the south end of Clear Lake. A stout footbridge crossed over the lake's outlet, also known as the McKenzie River. It was amazing to watch the water flow of the river and realize that same flow (plus a creek or two) came from the Great Spring.

CCC Shelter at the trailhead
By now, it was late afternoon, and the sun slanted through the trees while the shadows lengthened. And best of all, the temperature was dropping, making the hiking eminently pleasant. Arrival at the rustic CCC shelter, now a picnic area, wrapped up this hike which wound up being mostly a pleasant heat-beater on warm sunny day.

The trail sliced through all the greenery
In closing, Richard Nixon once said "Let me make one thing perfectly clear..." Now, he could very well have been referring to Clear Lake but the full quote is "Let me make one thing perfectly clear, I wouldn't want to wake up next to a lady pipefitter". Way harsh, and in defense of all my lady pipefitter friends, Nixon wasn't a very nice man and the truth of that little factoid is as clear as the clear waters of Clear Lake.

I only took several thousand vine maple photographs
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. I've camped at Clear Lake twice and it's a wonderful lake to hike around (and escape the heat - except for the lava portion)