Saturday, September 17, 2022

Fish Lake

Back in 2004, I first hiked along Fish Lake Creek to Fish Lake via the Fish Lake Trail. It had been two years after the Tiller Complex Fire(s) had swept through the area, completely immolating the forest all along the trail, leaving behind an obstacle course of blackened and fallen trees to hike over, under, and around. For me, it has always been interesting to come hike here and observe the forest gradually heal itself after the fire.

Site of the 2002 Tiller Complex Fire

I'm not sure what happened to the piles of trees laying on the trail in 2004, for there is very little sign of the fire damage from twenty years ago. Presumably, they decomposed into the earth, but sheesh, there was about two solid miles of them! At any rate, the only tangible sign of the 2002 fire is a stand of dead trees high on a ridge, bleached by the sun, with new starts taking root beneath the bones of their still standing (but very dead) ancestors. 

Working our way over a woodpile

And speaking of ancient denizens of the forest, the Friends of the Umpqua hiked to Fish Lake on a late summer day. There had been subsequent fires in the area since the 2002 burn and we still had to negotiate our way past individual fallen trees and one rather large and formidable collection of them numbering maybe a dozen. Depending on the preference of individual hikers, we either scrambled over or bushwhacked around. Either way, it was work and tedium.

Queen Anne's Lace zealously
hoards this year's crop of seeds

It was technically summer but not for long. On the day of the hike, the temperature was autumnally cool and the sky overcast, in a clear harbinger of the coming fall season. Thimbleberry leaves were already turning yellow while dried seed heads of Queen Anne's lace were knotted up like so many bony arthritic fists. But it was poison oak that was all in for autumn, their bright red leaves serving as a warning flag to bare-legged hikers hiking in shorts.

The worms are gone but their tents remain

Another sign of autumn were the webby tents of fall webworms, a caterpillar that en masse, defoliates madrone trees and creates web nests on the branches for protection. The caterpillars had already left the nests to pupate but their webs remained on leafless madrone branches for hikers to look at and poke. An odd little factoid is that the caterpillars are social eaters, leaving the nest during the day to forage together in creepy-crawly companionship. Often seen heading to higher branches in large groups, they literally are true social climbers, minus the traits of overtly obsequious sycophants we all know and don't love.

Mike checks out the tall cliff

The trail initially followed Fish Lake Creek but about a mile into the hike, the path peeled away from the stream and headed uphill, inscribing a route around the headwaters of an unnamed side creek. Points of interest along the way were a massive cliff looming over the trail, the aforementioned dead forest from the 2002 fire, and an overlook of Fish Lake Creek's impressive canyon.

Beaver Swamp

Beaver Swamp is a marshy little pond that the trail fishhooks around. Often, turtles are spotted sunning themselves on mossy logs, but not on this overcast day. The waters were quiet, seemingly devoid of animal life, although there were game paths visible in the marsh grasses surrounding the swamp. The picturesque quality of the bucolic marsh almost made us forget we were hiking uphill as we hiked up and around.

Trail through a forest not yet touched by fire

The trail quickly climbed away from Beaver Swamp and entered a forest that was notable because it was the first forest on the day that had not yet been touched by fire, knock on live wood. The undergrowth was vibrant and moss covered most inanimate objects, present company excepted. The trees sported leaves and needles and it was almost jarring to see so much green color and hue after spending several miles and hours in burn zones old and new.

The tip of Highrock Mountain looms from up on high

The reason you slog uphill for four miles is Fish Lake itself. Ringed by mountains and forest, the large alpine lake is a most worthy destination. The massive wall of Rocky Rim, a meritorious hike in its own right, loomed at the other end of the lake. However, craggy Highrock Mountain commanded our attention, lording over the scene like a king's castle proudly surveying its domain. We were but mere vassals in the presence of such majesty, although we stopped just short of groveling at the mountain's feet.

Fish Lake, seen from the wrong side of its outlet

Missy had heard about a really cool campsite on the other side of the Fish Lake's outlet, so we walked across on the logs piled up at the creek's egress from the lake. And speaking of which, Fish Lake is the source of Fish Lake Creek and what were the odds of that amazing coincidence ever happening? At any rate, we did not find a really cool campsite but were nonetheless rewarded with a magnificent view of the lake reposing beneath its mountain friends and neighbors.

A gift for the birthday girl

At Fish Lake, while we lunched, we did engage in a bit of hijinkery. It was Missy's birthday and we all donned tin-foil cone hats and sang "Happy Birthday" before doing the four-mile downhill hike to the trailhead. At the trailhead, I caught a baby western racer snake and offered it to Missy as a birthday present. She politely declined, the snake crapped my hand, and those two things may be related.

Poison oak was easy to spot with its red leaves

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

No comments :

Post a Comment