Blue Canyon Basin

I love a hike that lets you see five (or more) lakes on one trail. Sky Lakes Wilderness is a place I usually avoid in the warmer months just because it gets so damn buggy. Plus, there are usually a lot of people and we know about my aversion to people. But, seeing as it’s mid-October and the first snows have started to fall in the mountains, I wanted to check out the Blue Canyon trail before it became impassable.

When I got to the trailhead, there was a group of 6 or so about to start hiking. The ice and snow in the trees was warming up and ice chunks were hitting their cars hard, which I don’t think they realized. I backed up my car enough that it wouldn’t be affected as badly and took off down the trail with the dogs.

About 1 mile in, Round Lake appears on the left side of the trail. The sun was starting to melt and evaporate some of the snow and the surface of the lake was cold enough that it made for some really pretty fog.

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Enough snow to make it more difficult to hike, but not so much that it required snowshoes

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First view of Round Lake

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Fog rolls over the lake

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More fog

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After another mile, around 2.10 miles in total, I reached Blue Lake. Although there are clearly signs prohibiting camping, there were tons of campsites everywhere. The group of six was yelling across the lake as they searched for the perfect spot to camp.

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Blue Lake

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The trail follows the shore of Blue Lake for a while, then there’s a fork. The left goes to Mud and Beal Lakes, whereas the right goes between Blue and Meadow Lakes, heading for Horseshoe and Pear Lakes (I know, so many freaking lakes!). I decided to go right.

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Meadow Lake, obviously in a meadow

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More pretty fog

Before long, Horseshoe Lake came into view. Whenever I go to a Horseshoe Lake, I have to go to the middle of the U. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing. So, I found a somewhat trail that led to a flooded camp in the middle of the U, then came back to get some last pictures of Horseshoe Lake and go home.

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Horseshoe Lake as I headed for the middle of the U

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More Horseshoe Lake

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At this point, I had to decide whether or not I was going to go the extra .6 miles to get to Pear Lake. The sun was getting lower in the sky and that extra mile meant I could be pushing dusk by the time I got to the car, especially if I had any issues. Yet, I couldn’t pass up seeing one last lake. Plus, I was looking at the map and it looked like I would get a good view of the full length of the skinny lake, so I went the extra bit to see Pear Lake.

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Looking down the length of Pear Lake. Look how there are two suns in the water!

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In 4 short miles, I saw 5 new lakes and I could’ve seen more if I’d hiked a bit further. Heading back home, I started getting into the golden hour and the light was amazing. What a wonderful hike in the snow!

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One more shot of Horseshoe Lake

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Mt. McLoughlin ❤

If you’re curious, here’s the map and elevation profile for my hike:

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7.49 miles, 922 ft elevation gain, 3 hrs 19 mins. That’s Four Mile Lake at the bottom and Island Lake at the right.

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Cowhorn Mountain…again

I recovered enough from last week’s strenuous hike to Grizzly Lake so I decided I should get my hiking muscles moving again with a dayhike. I tried Cowhorn mountain twice last year (here and here) but I never was able to summit due to deep snow.

In my head yesterday I was thinking, “It’s only September, so Cowhorn should be summitable still.” The reality of it is that it’s late September, which is pretty much October, so the snow has already started to hit the higher Cascades. If you go during a warm spell in the fall, you might be able to catch the mountains with few snow patches and be able to hike pretty far. If you go when it’s been cold, however, obstructions due to snow are basically a given. These are all things I should’ve thought about before choosing my gear yesterday.

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Following footprints in the snow

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Not the proper footgear for this much snow…and I had Yaktrax in the car!

Regardless of the slidy, slushy mess that resulted from wearing tennis shoes in snow, I was able to get closer to the summit than I ever have before. I could’ve tried to get to the top, but I like being alive. There’s always next summer.

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The view from 2 miles in

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Probably .2 miles away — as close as it gets when you have tennis shoes, an expensive camera, and a dog

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Looking down over Crescent Lake toward Mt. Bachelor and the Sisters

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Off in the distance, Mt. Thielsen on the left and Bailey in the middle

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In total, 8.33 miles and 1800 elevation gain — just shy of the summit

Grizzly Lake

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I’ve been looking forward to this hike for such a long time, but I never seemed to muster up enough courage to try it out. Grizzly Lake, located at the top of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, is a demanding, yet rewarding hike. At about 8.75 miles, 4012 elevation gain AND 1591 elevation loss from China Gulch trailhead, it is a beast of a journey. And that’s just one-way. My roommate, the badass that she is, came along with me this last weekend to finally conquer the hike in an overnighter.

There are two routes to Grizzly Lake, but the more commonly used route starts at China Gulch trailhead, goes up over Hunter’s Camp, back down to Grizzly Creek, and then all the way back up and then some to reach the lake.

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Damn that Hunter’s Camp part

In every post that I read, everyone mentioned how much the climb up to Hunter’s Camp sucks, especially on the way out. I completely concur. It’s not so bad at the beginning, but the backside is a bitch. The ever steeper trail makes you wade through scratchy brush and hop across deadfall on the way down to Grizzly Creek.

The rest of the hike steadily climbs up to Grizzly Meadows, following the creek the whole way. There are many waterfalls within earshot and many good ones in sight on the way up.

Finally, around 6.5 miles, patches of meadow start to become visible near the trail. There are a lot of decent-looking campsites right on the creek. We, however, headed on until the very end of the meadow, where there is an amazing view of the waterfall at a huge campsite just across the creek.

The next morning, we went back and forth about how we were going to get to Grizzly Lake. I’d read that it wasn’t a trip that dogs could make, so we had to leave the pups unattended at camp (secured, of course). The climb to the top is about 1000 feet and .85 miles from the end of the meadow, where the path turns super bouldery. I made the mistake of taking us left way too early and we had to do a bit more rock climbing than the main trail would’ve had. There are cairns for three or four different paths, but the best one is the one that’s visible from the meadow winding through the green brush.

Eventually, we found our way to the rim of the bowl that Grizzly Lake occupies. It was an amazing payoff with turquoise blue waters and sheer granite cliffs. The geology of the place is set up just so that the lake’s only outlet is a 600-foot waterfall that falls dramatically to the canyon below. Someone told me that you can literally straddle the outlet and look over the edge — and you can! I have a terrible fear of heights, so I tried not to get too close, but it took my breath away.

After getting back to camp, eating, and packing, we made the long journey back to the car. As anticipated, Hunter’s Camp was still a bitch, probably moreso than on the way in. But my roommate and I agreed that the memory of Hunter’s Camp and sore feet will fade while the impact of being in that beautiful place will never go away.

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Goosenest Mountain

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3.46 miles round-trip, 1073 elevation gain to the highest point of the rim

We’ve had a bit of a smoky summer in the Pacific Northwest, especially at the end of August. So, I haven’t gotten out of the house as much as I wanted to recently. I did a short hike up to Boccard Point in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, thinking I could at least get above the smoke, but it was still pretty smoky at the top.

Down in the valley, life was smoke-filled and depressing. Finally this week we had a day of pretty decent rain and it started to clear all the crud out of the air, which raised everyone’s spirits. Since I’d pretty much been lounging around the house eating the past few weeks, I wanted to get out this weekend and get my hiking legs again, but I didn’t want to overexert myself with a full backpack of camping gear to do an overnight. Doing a dayhike to a place like Goosenest Mountain was just the ticket.

Goosenest Mountain looms off in the distance every time I drive down I-5 through northern California (when there’s no smoke, of course). It’s an old volcano that collapsed in on itself, leaving a small crater instead of a peak at the top. I had some issues navigating there, mainly because I trusted Google Maps over written directions — almost always trust written directions more, especially if they are from an official source like forest rangers.

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Pretty hilly prairie on the drive in

Eventually, I made it to the trailhead and it was time to climb. Goosenest trail is pretty short and climbs pretty quickly to the rim around the crater.

Around 1.30 miles in, I arrived at the rim of the crater and could see my endpoint, the “summit” of the mountain.

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It was pretty smoky in the areas around Goosenest, so I didn’t get incredibly great views. Still, it was nice to summit a mountain.

On the way back down, I had enough cell reception to read up about Grass Lake, which is a big open grassy area that has a rest stop on the side of Hwy 97. Grass Lake was really pretty from the highway and from above. On my map, it showed up as water, though it only looks like grass, so I was confused. According to the Mail Tribune article that I found from 2009, it used to be an actual lake, but someone set off dynamite and accidentally drained the lake into the porous rock below. Today, there’s enough water to sustain a meadow of grass, but the lake is no more (at least not on the surface). Interesting stuff and beautiful area

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Grass Lake with Hwy 97 skirting the right side

Total Eclipse along the Elkhorn Crest Trail

Living in Oregon, I had a wonderful opportunity this year to be able to experience a total eclipse from the mountains. To be able to achieve this, however, it took a lot of planning and preparation. For months, I’d been narrowing down my list of places that I wanted to go for the eclipse. I knew that fire season might throw me some smoky obstacles. On top of that, there were certain areas that would be so inundated with people that traffic would cause some issues. So, I had to build a flexible plan so that I had alternatives in the case of problems.

Twin Lakes, in the heart of the Elkhorn Mountains, ended up being my top choice, where before it was my plan C. My other options just didn’t seem feasible after I talked to rangers in the week before the eclipse. Reading about the Elkhorn Crest Trail made me salivate and I knew that it would work out perfectly. The biggest issue that I had to prepare myself for — one that is pretty unique to the area — was mountain goats. The ranger at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest office told me that they have become increasingly attracted to human salt (read: sweat and pee). As a result, you have to keep all sweaty clothing out of munching distance and urinate more than 200 feet from campsites. In other areas, like Olympic National Park, the mountain goats that have grown accustomed to humans destroy campsites in search of their salt. It’s kind of like not giving a mogwai food after midnight; no one wants to camp with gremlins. She urged me to tell any other campers around me about her advice, since many of them would not call ahead and get her warning.

I left Medford at 2:15 AM on Friday, 4 days before the eclipse. I took some of the lesser-used highways and got to Baker City by 10 AM. There are two trails that go to Twin Lakes — one that has a lot of climb in a short period and another that has longer distance but less climb. I chose the latter, even though it has an agonizingly rough road. I got to Marble Pass just as two Portlanders were getting ready to backpack in. There were already 4 vehicles at the upper trailhead.

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4.79 miles and 709 elevation gain — not too bad if it weren’t for the full backpack!

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Just like it sounds, the Elkhorn Crest Trail stays on the crest, so you get incredible views the entire time. I chatted with the Portland guys for a while and ran into another guy from Washington (who was smart and attractive).

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We made our way down into the cirque and parted ways to go claim the best campsites before everyone else got there. There were probably only 9 or 10 of us at first, but it turned into 15 or 20 by nightfall. Here are some more pictures from that first afternoon:

I also had some time to play around with the supertelephoto lens that I rented. These are the better goat pictures that I was able to get, though the focus is a little soft for my taste.

The next morning, a group of people from Washington went exploring with me up on the crest. Here we are leaving camp:

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Upon reaching the saddle, we ran into this guy (or girl?). Either way, it was mean-looking.

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About a mile past the turnoff for Twin Lakes, the trail goes through an area that they had to blast clear with explosives. The trail gets to be only about 3 feet wide and it has sheer drops into the valley below.

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I didn’t really come prepared for bagging a summit, but the group was all under the impression that we were going to keep going to the summit of Rock Creek Butte. So, with a little encouragement, I continued on with them. It was a lot of bushwhacking since there really isn’t an official trail. We followed mountain goat trails as best we could. Be the mountain goat.

After bagging the tallest mountain in the Blue Mountains, I broke away from the group and headed back since the sun was beating down on my pale skin. I took the other spine back down to the trail and headed back to camp.

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5.62 miles and 1476 elevation to go up to Rock Creek and back down to Twin Lakes

The next day, I didn’t do much more than lay around reading and listening to the dumb people that arrived. One nugget that I overheard — “I think the weather’s gonna be mild. I mean, I don’t really know because I never go camping.” It was 41 degrees that night. I was absolutely baffled with the amount of underprepared, inexperienced hikers that filled the area. Twin Lakes only had a limited amount of established campsites, so any newcomers just had to fill in where they could. One guy from Vancouver set up camp in the same place that I’d been using the bathroom for two days, which didn’t bode well for him and his son (remember — no gremlins!).

There were a lot of cool people that I talked to. Others weren’t so cool. Many newly-arrived people that walked by my campsite made some offhand comment about wanting to steal it from me, saying that they’d worked hard enough to deserve a nice spot. I don’t think they knew that I overheard them expressing their inflated sense of entitlement, nor did they know that I only had that spot because I know how to plan better than they do. Then every night there was always that girl who doesn’t know volume control, talks about stupid gossip, and laughs like a mule. Also, one family brought their three-legged hound dog, which would howl every time it was startled or another dog walked by, so pretty much every 15 minutes. People all around the lake thought it was funny and egged him on, so it became this loud howling fest. Humans are irritating, sometimes, especially when you go somewhere to get away from them and they show up there anyway.

The morning of the eclipse, I got up around 5 AM so I could frantically pack up my gear and head up to the pass near Rock Creek Butte before anyone else. On the way out, I snapped some pictures of how many tents there were. There must have been 60 or 70 people staying that last night. I pack out my own poop (Google PVC poop tube) but I can only imagine how shitty the whole area became. Literally.

On the way up to my eclipse viewing spot, I ran into a group who was freaked out about a herd of mountain goats that had just harassed them. I listened to their warning to not go forward, then went forward anyway after I saw the goats on the ridge above. One little guy came up on my spot after I had eaten breakfast. Grace was convinced that she had a fighting chance, but luckily the goat took off down the mountain in a cloud of dust.

Finally, the eclipse had begun. I quickly realized how much I was messing up the pictures. I was trying to get a picture from each of the different phases so I could later edit it all together into one photo strip. The lens could not get clear focus due to the wind shaking my tripod. My cheap solar filter was not staying in place. I ditched my plan to get pictures of all the different phases and decided to focus on totality alone. The same mountain goat from before came up on me about two minutes to totality and Grace almost knocked over my tripod. Through all those obstacles, however, I was able to get these. The first video is the last minute before totality (I was distracted and didn’t always have the mountains in frame LOL). The second video was directly after. The videos are arguably better than my fuzzy picture.

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One of the better totality pictures I got — look at those pink prominences! Pity that the focus is so soft.

As soon as totality was over, I grabbed my gear and headed back to my car. It was a long four days and I did not want to spend another night listening to mule laughs and hound howls. As I left, a person flew by on a powered parachute, which made me think about how incredible (and terrifying) the eclipse must’ve been for them.

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Powered parachuter over Rock Creek Butte

As I walked back down to Marble Pass, I had a lot of time to reflect on the entire experience. I’ve already got a few spots in mind for the eclipse in 2045, which is going to go right through the Trinity Alps in Northern California and will last up to 6 minutes (shhhh…don’t tell anyone so I can have a campsite to myself!)

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Walking the last mile to my car — exhausted, stinky, and craving greasy food

Wright Lakes

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Big Meadow trail up to Upper Wright Lake (2.65 miles, 1200 ft elevation gain) with a little extra added to hike to the road

Date: 8/12-8/13/17

Hike Difficulty: steep at times — difficult, especially with a full pack
Total Distance Hiked: 8.95 mi (not the real trail length)
Total Elevation Gain: 3233 ft
Total Time Hiking: 5 hrs 25 mins

This weekend my roommate took me to Marble Mountain Wilderness to visit Wright Lakes. I had never been to either of them, but she had gone there years ago with a friend and they’d used a less-common route of getting there. It involved turning off of Quartz Valley Rd, going through a maze of logging roads, and ending up at Big Meadow trailhead. From there, it was a rather steep climb through some meadows before popping over a ridge and down to the campsites at Upper Wright Lake.

According to various sources, there were many roads that you can take to get there. So, using a map with good detail, we picked the roads that were supposed to be better maintained. However, that ended up leading us down some very poorly maintained logging roads. After turning around and rerouting we ended up at a closed gate .3 miles from the turnoff for the trailhead. Since we had no way to get the car through, we had to walk up the road to the trailhead, adding an extra mile and a half, plus a lot of climb.

The trail itself was pretty, but hot and climby. Most of the time, we were pushing our way through some thick meadow overgrowth as we tried not to fall backwards down the mountain. There was a lot of flowers, and water, and mud. At the junction with the trail for Calf Lake, we lost the trail and had to find some cairns to get back on track. Eventually, we reached the crest and it was all downhill to Upper Wright Lake. I followed one of our maps to a really cool campsite higher up off by itself. There was only one other person when we got there. He came to tell me he was going home and that there had been four bears coming every night to eat off a carcass close to his campsite. We never had any problems, but it was good info to know!

All in all, this was a pretty awesome backpacking trip. Upper Wright Lake is gorgeous, though not very popular. And I didn’t get eaten by bears. It was a great place to recharge and get ready for the week.

Horseshoe and Ward Lakes

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From Swift Creek Trailhead to Horseshoe Lake — 8.9 mi and 3593 ft elevation gain

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Elevation profile for that leg — I almost died on those stone steps at 7.70 mi

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Horseshoe Lake to Ward Lake — 1.15 mi and 1217 ft elevation gain

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The rocky journey between Horseshoe and Ward

Date: 8/4-8/6/17

Hike Difficulty: very difficult with a loaded pack — take breaks, drink water, eat a snack
Total Distance Hiked: 18.65 mi
Total Elevation Gain: 6653 ft
Total Time Hiking: 9 hrs 30 mins

I’ve been backpacking pretty much every weekend and I’ve gotten fit enough to take it, so I figured I’d throw myself a challenge this week. I love any hike in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, but I’ve been shying away from some of the super-long ones. On paper, the hike to Horseshoe Lake looked intimidating. The reality of it was that it was even harder; both sources I read from had underestimated the amount of elevation gain and I found myself climbing way more than I wanted to with a heavy pack (600 ft more!!).

Swift Creek Trailhead is a new one for me, but is incredibly popular in the area as an access point to many of the Trinity Alps trails. Usually people use this trailhead to go to Granite Lake, one that is on my list still, but I wanted to get away from people so I went the other way at the fork. The trails are pretty well-marked, so I just followed the signs for Foster Cabin (about 5 miles out), which led me to signs for Horseshoe Lake.

The trail is long and follows Swift Creek through granite canyons and open meadows spotted with boulders. There are LOTS of meadows to cross, all of which have tall plants and are pretty sopping wet so I had to boulder hop whenever I could. There was one meadow in which it was somewhat confusing which way to go because the signs had been destroyed, but luckily someone put a shard that said “oe Lake” on the right-hand trail, so I didn’t end up on the wrong trail.

As I said before, there was a lot more climb than I thought there was going to be. By the time I climbed those evil stone steps and made my way to Horseshoe Lake, I was starving and about to collapse. I stayed and recuperated for a little while. There was this really cool osprey that came in sounding like a jet plane, but then a group of about 8 teenage girls arrived and started to be incredibly loud. Instead of screaming at them about how this place isn’t their private water park, I packed up and made the transition to Ward Lake, which was a bit prettier and 100% mine for two days.

BTW, is 34 pictures too many? I don’t think so… 🙂