Saturday, September 25, 2021

Suttle Lake

Didn't see that coming! I had planned on an easy hike around Suttle Lake, anticipating I'd simply enjoy the blue waters of the lake all day long, barely breaking a sweat on the level trail circumnavigating the azure body of water. And for the hike along the sunny north shore, I was mostly right. However, upon rounding the western end of the lake and commencing hiking on the shadier south shore, brightly colored vine-maple leaves served notice that this from here on in, this would be a quintessential autumn hike and never mind the lake.

Suttle Lake on a grand autumn day

At the start, it was a gorgeously sunny day, although there was a bit of a cold snap in the air. Winter's opening salvo, in the form of a wet rainstorm, was predicted to arrive the following evening and while the sun was out, a brisk breeze of cool air hinted at the cold weather to come. At least the coming rain will help extinguish the forest fires currently plaguing the Cascades and scrub the smoky haze out of the otherwise blue sky.

Creature of the Blue Lagoon

Fire has been a thing here before, and Suttle Lake is surrounded by a vast wasteland of dead and alabaster white tree trunks (also known as snags), a veritable tree graveyard left over from the 2003 B&B Fire. A young forest is taking root at the skeletal feet of their deceased ancestors and provide a close-to-the-ground green counterpoint to the colorless dead trees they are replacing. Over time, a number of the burned trees toppled (and still continue to topple) into the lake, and the branches made it appear like the partially submerged trees were swimming for their lives.

Woodsy trail along the shore

If you ignore that large lake thing on the left, then this trail might best be characterized as "woodsy". The pathway wove its way through trees that, because of their proximity to the lake, generally avoided the fiery death that their upslope brethren had to endure back in 2003. The trail was mostly level, although there were some small ups and downs along the way. A steady stream of hikers walking in the opposite direction exchanged friendly greetings with me before we each continued on with our respective journeys around the lake. Most of us would meet again on the southern shore as we completed our loops.

A watercolor painting by Mother Nature

The peaceful backwoods vibe came to a busy halt at the Link Creek boat ramp, frenetically bustling like a riled up ant's nest, but with picnickers and paddleboarders instead of ants. But that's alright, because a footbridge offered a nice view of Link Creek flowing into Suttle Lake. The creek was placid and unusually calm, like me on tranquilizers, and the surrounding woods reflected on the perfectly smooth creek surface, the reflections looking all the world like an abstract watercolor or an impressionist oil painting.

Bridgeway into darkness

You would think Link Creek got its name because it links Blue Lake to Suttle Lake. But a quick perusal of a topographical map shows that Link Creek also links Link Lake to Blue Lake and who knows where Link Lake got its name in the first place. Allegedly a trail runs from Suttle Lake to Scout Lake and Dark Lake. Sounded good, so I ducked onto the campground road with the intent of adding some more lakiness to this already lakey hike. However, after wandering lost through the braiding roads of the campground like a rat in a maze, I never did find any trail other than the one going around Suttle Lake. Hmm, I now have a mystery that needs solving.

A lone kayaker enjoys an outing on the lake

I'm not sure if this is a seasonal thing or because of the wind sweeping across the lake, but Suttle Lake was swarming with paddleboarders having a grand time in the sparkling lake. Kayakers also partook of the lake's delights, although they tended to paddle closer to shore. I found out that as slow as I walk, it's generally faster than a kayaker and I wrestled with the rare sensation of overtaking and passing as I walked.

The south shore was golden 

Once the west end of the lake was rounded, the trail went colorful with individual vine maple trees displaying their autumn foliage below the dark green of the surrounding firs. In the shade, the colors tended to be pale green or light yellow, but where the sun shone directly upon the leaves, it was the opening verse of a multi-volume sonnet about the oncoming colorful autumn season.

Yellow-veined hands grab at me as I hike by

Basically, all hiking progress came to a screeching halt on the south shore, thanks to the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges flanking the trail. Many of the leaves were red, splotched with orange, with veins running yellow down their fingers as if they had bile for blood. Under the vine maple canopy, it then seemed as if the very air was suffused with color, like ambient sunlight on an alien planet. 

Lake Creek speeds by on its way to to the Metolius River

Link Creek enters Suttle Lake at the west end of the lake and Lake Creek leaves the same lake at the east end. The Suttle Lodge and resort were eminently visible on the other side of wide Lake Creek but unless you wanted to swim across (and I didn't) then there was still some hiking to do. The trail followed the creek to the paved road leading to the lodge and then the loop was closed off by hiking past the resort cabins before reaching the old stone and wood shelter at the trailhead. I did notice the Lake Creek Trail leaving the day use area, heading to the small community of Camp Sherman on the Metolius River. me intrigued although the chill wind has me thinking that'll have to wait till next year.

Every leaf a work of art unto itself

So, this was not the hardest or longest hike I've ever done, coming in at 4.3 miles with maybe 2.3 inches of elevation gain. But, it certainly was one of the most colorful and can only be the harbinger of a vibrant and beautiful autumn season.

Autumn is here!

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

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