Saturday, December 14, 2019

Eel Lake

Eel Lake is a reliable go-to hike during Oregon's wet winter and does provide a healthy dose of lakeside scenery while tracing a route along the lake's forested shoreline. And so it was that on a damp and dreary December day, about eight of us set out on the trail to partake of the lake, rain, and all the mushrooms you could ever want to look at. Didn't see any eels though, not that we necessarily would have in any case.

Eel Lake on a gray day

This was mid-December, right on winter's cold and watery cusp, and naturally our venture turned out to be your basic quintessential winter hike. The sky was gray, full of pregnant clouds seemingly just about to deliver the baby, and we hiked underneath them while waiting for the water to break, colloquially speaking. There was nary a ripple on the placid surface of the lake which was as glassy as the eyes of a losing boxer. The recent rains had rendered the trail a muddy mess and the sound of boots slipping and sliding in the ooze could be heard as we hiked. Vegetation was wet and the sounds of complaining hikers with soaked pant legs could also be heard as we hiked. Winter is mushroom and fungus season and the forest was full of all kinds of them, slowing down a certain hiker with a compulsion to photograph each and every one.

A clump of ginormous mushrooms

As the civilized environs of William Tugman State Park receded behind us, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves. The basic rhythm of the hike was a walk through dark and damp woods to a viewpoint of the still and quiet lake on a gray day, then rinse and repeat for about six miles. The path also went up and down along the lake so we were able to keep internally warm from the exertion of hiking. Most of the alder trees flanking the path were bare but maples still sported a yellow leaf or two in a vestigial remnant of the recent fall season. 

The lake had more arms than a mutant octopus

Eel Lake at its widest point is only about a third of a mile wide, but the lake consists of two long arms making the body of water look like perhaps a U-shaped eel when seen from above. Each of the two arms have lots of little coves and bays serrating the eel-arm shoreline. The ins and outs add to the mileage of the hike but the trail only manages to conquer about 3.5 miles or so of lake shore. Frustrating, because there are several dozen more miles of shore to follow. I'd love to see a trail go all the way around.

Some of that swampy mess on the "trail"
After passing an idyllic little backpack campsite, the damp footpath rounded the entrance to a small cove and plunged down to lake level. The trail was slippery with mud and we sort of mud-skiied down to the bottom. I say "lake-level" but to call that swampy and fetid water part of the lake is an insult to lakes the world over. Basically, this was where forest met lake and if we thought it was muddy before, this was a whole other level of boot sucking. There was a sign that said "End of Trail" but you know us, we shouldered our way past and continued on to see what we could see.

On a winter's day

And what did we see, boys and girls? Muddy water, muddy boots, and muddy mud! We also saw an impenetrable wall of brush and a trail that faded into all of that tangle. It really was the end of the trail, so we turned around and headed back the way we had come. As we hiked back to the trailhead, the day became noticeably much more beclouded and quiet. The lake was like a slab of polished onyx and the whole lakeside atmosphere had that air of wet expectancy about it.

On a rainy December afternoon

Sure enough, the rain arrived as we were about a mile and a half away from the trailhead. Fortunately, raincoats and rain hats in combination with heavy forest cover aided in keeping us mostly dry. The smooth polished surface though, was now ruffled by thousands of overlapping concentric ripples caused by thousands of rain drops simultaneously striking the surface of the lake. The day was gloomy to start with but had darkened considerably, annoying those hikers toting cameras and trying to take pictures of everything.

It's now official: It's raining!

So, the hike finished with somewhat of a wet splash but you know what? It would have been a lot worse up high in the mountains. Besides which, we were all pretty much in unanimous agreement that a wet December hike was more fun than mowing the lawn in the sun. 

Dainty mushrooms thrive in a bed of moss

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

No comments :

Post a Comment