Wood Lake – Indian Heaven backpack, Sep 13th to 14th

Almost at the very last minute and eager to go out and spend a night, Val and I packed our gear and headed to Indian Heaven. This wilderness is a place that both Val and I have visited numerous times in the past but stopped because the window is a bit small if you want to avoid flooded trails and mosquitoes. It also holds a special place for me as it’s the first place I backpacked when I moved to Oregon and where I did a solo with Shia. While planning and getting the gear ready, I recalled how much fun Shia used to have every time we went there. It was hard for her to choose where to go first but she made certain that every lake, pond and even mud puddle was properly tested by jumping head first. I realized that I had to take her with me one more time and let her go.

Day 1: Thomas Lake to Wood Lake

We got to the trailhead in good time and hit the trail going towards Thomas Lake. The parking lot was pretty packed so we didn’t know what to expect in terms of people but we had an open plan. The only almost fixed idea was to follow the old Cascade Crest Trail that has been decommissioned for some years when the PCT was established. The first part of the hike was as I remembered it. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, you reach the Dee Lake and from there on is one lake after the other. The new thing I found is that some of the closer lakes now have designated campsites so I guess a lot of people don’t go far into the wilderness but prefer to stay closer. We didn’t make any major stops on our way in until we got to what looks like a junction near Rock Lake.
The Thomas Trail at that point makes a sharp turn right to head towards Blue Lake. Right across from the turn there’s a log and beyond what looks like a foot path left by people going to the bathroom. That was actually our sign to leave the main trail and go exploring. In all the times I’ve been to Indian Heaven, I had never explored this trail so all this was new to both Val and I. The trail gets a bit faint in the beginning but after that is real easy to follow as it travels north passing several open meadows. It clear why the trail was decommissioned as the area is very fragile. Some parts of the trail go thru pine forests and then open grassy areas. Being late in the season, we were welcomed with bright reds and yellows. That in contrast with the deep blue skies made for some very beautiful scenery. We passed several dried ponds and a couple of streams. Towards the north end of the trail, shortly before joining with the Elk Lake, we came to Acker Lake.
The trail passes on its East side by a huge pine with a very nice campsite and fire ring. We thought it would make for a nice place to spend the night but since it was still very early in the afternoon, we opted for a short lunch stop by the lake before continuing on. At that point we looked at the map and considering how much we had traveled we decided to try to get to Wood Lake to camp. Neither of us knew that lake so we didn’t know what to expect in terms of people and campsites. Continuing north, we got to a trail which I though was the PCT but son realized it was the Elk Lake trail. We could see Bear Lake thru the trees and discussed whether we wanted to go check out Elk Lake farther west. We opted to skip it as we saw some campers already on Bear Lake. Then we joined the PCT and continued North thru the forest passing just a couple of ponds and gaining some elevation. I remember doing this trail while backpacking solo with Shia to go around Bird Mountain and descend towards Cultus Creek on the other side. Back then, we got scared out of our pants when an elk came running and crossed the trail to disappear almost instantly on the other side. I remember only seeing the white butt at face level as it faded thru the trees. This time we didn’t see elk but the trail was pretty quiet and desolated. We stopped and evaluated for a minute the possibility of checking Placid Lake but then, realizing it was a long walk down and that Placid Lake has a trailhead close by we decided against it to avoid filled campsites. We pushed on until we found the junction with the Wood Lake trail and took the turn. The trail itself looked like a deconditioned trail or a trail that is rarely visited. Branches and overgrown grasses obscured part of the path as we lost elevation. At some point we got our first glimpse at the lake with its beautiful blue sheen.
We got excited and continued as it was looking very promising. Finally we got to the lake and found a foot path that went around. We took the west side just because and almost bushwhacked our way around looking for a campsite. We noticed then that we had a steady wind blowing thru so temperature seemed to be going down quick. Finally towards the northwest side, we found a shallow meadow with a big tree in the middle and a campsite. We dropped our bag and explored a bit just to be sure but we stayed there. While setting our tent up and filtering water we had what would be the first weird encounter of the weekend. Out of nowhere came to guys in full camo with bows and arrows. Silently they walked out of the forest, waved at us, made a turn west, continued and disappeared thru the forest. It left us with a bit of an uneasy feeling knowing we had a couple of hunters close by. As the sun went down and the wind kept blowing it got pretty cold quickly so we made dinner, ate and went for a quick walk to check the colors as the sun illuminated Mt Adams and Rainier red.

Day 2: Wood Lake to Thomas Lake

We woke to a sunny and equally spectacular day on Sunday. After doing our normal chores and packing we started our hike back by climbing back on the Wood Trail back to the PCT. At the junction we met the first couple as they were pushing north to go back home. We retraced our step on the PCT for a while and met more people heading out – all the people we missed the previous day I guess. Just before Deer Lake, we reached the form with the Cultus Creek trail that connects with the Cultus Trailhead and the Lemei Lake trail. That trail circles around Lemei Lake before joining the PCT again.
Since we had done that section the day before, we took the alternate route to enjoy the different scenery. We passed a couple of lakes and hiked next to big rock slides on our way to Junction Lake. After the lake, at the junction with the East Crater trail is when we had our second weird encounter. As we approached the junction, we saw an older guy with three teenagers. The older guy was resting a bit while the “kids” were playing. As we got closer, I noticed one of them was actually carving his name on the PCT sign. I got really pissed as the signs were pretty new and this – guy – was already defacing it. When we got close, I thought about saying something to the older guy but then I noticed the jean overall and the three packs, all with hunting rifles propped next to a tree. I thought it was illegal to hunt in wilderness areas. Maybe carrying a weapon is not, who knows, fact is, it was depressing to see that. We got on the PCT and for a while I couldn’t get the image of my mind. I recalled talking about with Val who felts roughly the same way as I did. Continuing on, the PCT gained a bit of elevation as it went around the East Crater. There’s no trail that goes there but I’ve read reports of people going in to explore – is on my list. On the way down from East Crater though we met another couple hunters dress in camo with bows and arrows. We were both very perplexed as we passed them by while they were putting on some deer pheromones or something to get in the woods. Disturbing. Finally the PCT took us to Blue Lake where we stopped for lunch.

I showed Val the place where I pitch the tent the first time I was there and how Shia would run around the lake and jump in to go get a stick. After lunch, we sat for a bit in front of the lake and I dispersed some of her ashes keeping the rest to disperse in some of the other lakes she jumped and swam in. It took me a bit to recover from the sad moment but then we continued our path on the Thomas Lake trail going back towards the trailhead. With the time we had, we were able to make several stops in several lakes along the way. We hiked quiet most of the way as I was remembering Shia. We made a final stop at Thomas Lake were Val dropped her pack and read for a bit while I got my feet wet. Finally we hiked the little last portion of the trail back to the car to finish another great adventure.

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Cooper Spur, Sep 7th

It had been a long time since Val or I did this hike. I do remember that I had never done it with her so my best guess is that it’s been over three years. We picked it because we hadn’t done in a long time and also because it’s relatively short – although you gain significant elevation. We had plans that night so knowing the weather was going to be nice, we woke up early and head for the mountain. I remember the trail being very easy to follow and a separate path that followed a straight approach over the ridge. The part I wasn’t aware was a well-travelled foot path that climbs on an adjacent ridge. By mistake we took that path which gave us pretty interesting views of the Eliot Glacier and Langille Crags. We discovered pretty soon we were not on the trail but decided to continue on for a while as the ridge veered towards our destination. Towards the end of it, we noticed it would have been a hard climb over scree to continue on that direct path but right then we found a spur trail that crossed a small valley and ascended to the other side right above the Cooper Spur Shelter. Once on the trail, we continued climbing up steadily until we reached our destination. The ridge was clear of snow allowing people to continue much higher to the bottom of the glacier but being a bit short on time, we decided to turn around and head back down. This time though, we took the correct trail back to the parking lot.

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Foggy Flats backpacking weekend, Labor Day Weekend

In my search for new places to explore I found a series of trails that travel on the north side of Mt Adams. These trails are not visited as much part because there’s not a lot of information and part because some of them enter the Yakama Indian Reservation which requires special permits that are difficult to obtain. Still, I had my sights on Foggy Flats and Avalanche Meadows. While thinking about it, I noticed that Zach had posted a trip with the group to the north side of Mt Adams which was this exact same trail so I decided to join. The plan was to leisurely head out on Saturday and hike to Foggy Flats to camp, explore on Sunday and then head back out on Monday.

Day 1: Muddy Meadows to Foggy Flats

On our drive to the trailhead, we noticed that weather was looking kind of rainy and on the colder side. We got to the trailhead and just when we started hiking, we felt the first drops of rain. It was just a mist so we decided to just keep on going. From pictures I’ve seen in the past, I knew Mt Adams was right in front of us, but the low clouds were completely obscuring the view. The only thing in front of us was a big meadow and a dark sky. After passing Muddy Meadows, we started our slow climb towards the PCT. The trail in this area is very dense and covered so there are practically now views. We did get a bit lucky with Huckleberries though so we made numerous stops to grab some and eat.
We made a short stop at the PCT junction, part to grab a bite and another because we were right on the dates a lot of PCTers pass by so it’s always nice to see them and give them some trail magic. That day, we saw nobody. From there, we continued our climb towards the Highline trail. The skies looked very menacing and every so often, we would get some rain that would quickly dissipate. Then we got to the junction with the Highline trail and it started pouring. This time it was for real so we had to stop and quickly get our rai gear out. It took no time for our feet to get wet and I was already almost lamenting a bad call on my part regarding gear. I was wearing the kilt which can be the best or the worst depending on conditions. We pushed on with the rain hammering on us up until we got to Foggy Flats. The rain had stopped but everything was soaked, including a potential campsite with great views of the mountain. We dropped our packs and started wondering around looking for sites and finally, after a while, we spread out and set up our tents. I decided to set up by the open meadow with direct view of the mountain. One of the plans I had was to take pictures overnight so I needed a good spot. After that we did all of our camp chores and had dinner. The wind picked up later that evening making the temperature drop abruptly. It got really cold so we all hit the bed relatively early.

Day 2: Devils Gardens exploration

On Sunday we woke up to a bright, sunny and very windy day. Clouds were moving incredibly fast above us so it was difficult to know what the weather was going to be like for the rest of the day. After breakfast, we grabbed our day gear and continued on the Highline Trail. Little did we know that only a couple of minutes later we would find plenty of dry and much better campsites than the ones we picked. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t know. The other incredible thing was that we left the forest behind and entered open semi-arid meadows. I was completely different scenery. The trail crossed several affluent of the Muddy Fork which at times can be tricky.
We got lucky that water was not too high and crossing was a breeze. After the last crossing we got the first views of Red Butte towards the East and the mountain in front of us. It was an image out of this world. It really looked like we were on another planet. WE followed the trail as it meandered thru the lava fields skirting the mountain. At a certain point, when Red Butte was almost directly south of us, we saw a small group of people on the ridge signaling to us to go over. That was right before reaching the Yakama Reservation boundary. Checking the map, we noticed that we were just south of the Devils Gardens, so we left the trail behind and started going off-trail. Once we reached the ridge, we saw the expansive area in front of us and understood why it’s called Devils Gardens. The whole area is completely desolated, there’s practically no vegetation and the only thing you can see, besides Mt Adams, is volcanic rocks that seem like the exploded from underneath and were frozen in the act.
As we hiked closer, we passed several of these formations and you could also see them moving as they were taking shape, not in a slow way though. The literally looked like someone had stopped time as they were moving. WE continued towards the mountain aiming for a ridge right in front of Lyman Glacier. Once there, we went up a bit to catch some better views of the mountain but by then the wind was howling. We saw very dark clouds coming around the mountain. As minutes went by, the mountain disappeared and reappeared in front of us several times. We decided it was time to stat heading back. We followed the ridge going down trying to cover ourselves from the wind until we reached the Highline Trail again. From there, we retraced our steps back to camp keeping our fingers crossed that it would not rain on us. It didn’t. And despite very dark and heavy clouds moving quickly above us, we got not even a drop of water that night. That evening, while I ate, I did a time lapse video of the fast moving clouds. I also tried taking pictures of stars for the first time.

Day 3: Foggy Flats to Muddy Meadows 
Monday was even a better day, dry, crisp blue sky and less wind than the previous days. We took our time to have breakfast, pack out gear and hike back down retracing the step we had taken on Saturday. The trail was the same with limited views but now we were able to see Mt Adams from the meadow near the trailhead and on the drive back. It was a glorious short day as we were already on our way home Interactive map To see the full map, click Menu and select Full Screen. You can also click Terrain to change the map style

Gales Creek, Aug 24th

About five or six years ago, while trying to find new areas to discover and explore, I found information about Gales Creek. The description talked about a beautiful fern covered forest with multiple streams flowing towards Gales Creek. I made plans to go check it out only to find that they trail had been closed due to a washout. While I waited for the trail to reopen, I explored other trails in the area but then I learned that the trail closure was going to take longer. Not only they needed to reroute a big portion of the trail but an accident involving one of the crew workers delayed the whole thing. About a year ago, without a lot of noise, the trail reopened and I found when a friend went there. Finally it was time for me to check it out again so I planned a hike with the group to do it. I can say I was pleasantly surprised with the hike even though there was something missing. Certainly the area has enough greenery to feed your needs. The tall skinny trees and the ferns make the forest almost magical. The missing part was all the streams. Although I lost count of the number of streams that appear to cross the trail, none of them had any water. With the dry summer we had, all of them were dry. Not only that, Gales Creek itself was running lower than usual, something that was easy to note just by looking at the creek shore. I may need to revisit this trail when the water comes back

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Twin Lakes - Sawtooth Wilderness backpacking loop, Aug 11th and 12th

Continuing our honeymoon, Val and I spent a couple of fabulous days in Boise after backpacking the Teton Crest Trail. Our original plan was to hit the trail again on Sunday for a 5 or 6 day loop in the Sawtooth Wilderness, but after dealing with rain for 5 days, we decided to take an extra day and shorten the trip. That changed our trailhead as well so Sunday we drove around the wilderness to Stanley, ID were we stayed the night. That night we checked weather forecast and packed our gear for an early departure the following morning. The forecast was not very promising but we still opted for following the plan and hitting the trail.

Day 1: Pettit Lake to Twin Lakes

After a quick breakfast in Stanley, we drove the ten or so miles to the trailhead and got on the trail in no time. The morning was spectacular and very promising with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. At first the trail took us on the north side of Pettit Lake all the way to the end were, after passing a small meadow, left the valley behind and started climbing towards Alice Lake. It didn’t take long for us to leave the lake behind and start traversing a canyon with huge granite walls on both sides. It almost seemed like every other step, the scenery was different and we had traveled a long distance when in reality it was just a different perspective. The trail follows a creek most of the way that in most places you can only hear. After several turns and crossing a very shallow creek we finally got to the first lakelet below Alice Lake. In front of us was a cirque of tall peaks and incredible scenery.
For a while we walked around the north side of Alice Lake enjoying the views of towering El Capitan (not to be confused with the California Version) on the other side. WE left this scenery only for a moment to climb just a bit more and then descend towards our destination. We arrived at Twin Lakes right to the stretch of land that separates them. Just by instinct and because that was the way we would follow the next day, we turned right and continued north on the shore of upper Twin Lake until we found a campsite. We dropped our backpacks and went checking for other sites but didn’t find any. It was still pretty early in the afternoon so we set up the tent and relaxed a bit. I got in the water for a while and stayed there for as long as my legs were able to comfortably take the cold water. After that, I went exploring a bit, first back towards lower Twin Lake. I walked pass the junction we had arrive from and decided to explore a bit around the stretch that separates the lakes. In that area I found the best campsite. It had big fire pit and views to both lakes. We had already set up so moving was not an easy option. On my way back, I passed or campsite and continued on the trail we would take the following day towards the north end of the lake. The trail starts climbing quickly on that side so that extra elevation gave a really good angle and view of the lake. I took a couple of pictures but made a mental note to go later in the afternoon to get some nice light and take more pictures. We had a nice dinner that night and after putting everything away and hanging the food, I went back to the north end to sit and take some pictures. By then, he sky was already graying out a bit. There was no rain yet but it wasn’t looking very promising.

Day 2: Bail out

The next morning we woke up to a very grey and almost cold morning. We guessed we got some drops of rain thru the night but nothing like we had in the Tetons. Still, the clouds and sky were corroborating what the forecast said. The original plan for the day was to go over the pass towards Toxaway Lake and then continue north towards Kramer Lakes or west towards Edna Lake. Either of these routes included going over passes or hiking on ridgelines. With bad weather, that didn’t seem like a very good idea. So we started our hike going north passing by the spot I had gotten to take pictures the previous night. From there, the trail just traversed the hill on a couple of very long switchbacks until we got to the saddle.
At that point we got our last view back at Twin Lakes which, at that elevation looked just fantastic. From there we stared descending quickly towards Toxaway Lake. On the way we passed a couple of very shallow lakelets filled with turquoise water. Above us, the clouds still looked very menacing. This chain of lakelets was connected by a creek that moved water from the ridge down to the lake. So the trail continued traversing the hills close to it. The final approach to Toxaway was a series of switchbacks on the right side of a huge rock filed were you could see numerous waterfalls. Going around Toxaway was not very interesting as view of the lake were limited. That was until we got to the north side. The lake itself is beautiful especially because of a small island in the middle. About half way on the north side, we found the trail junction going up to the saddle around Sand Mountain. By then the sky was not showing signs of improving so we called it and decided to continue down towards the car rather than risk it and go over the pass. From there to the next lake, Farley Lake, the trail took us by several small lakes and ponds.
I recall one in particular that might have been no more that 10 or 12 feet in diameter but very deep. It almost looked like a small crater filled with water or a sink hole. While passing by Farley Lake, the sky cleared up a bit and it almost seemed that it was going to hold but that didn’t last long. By then we were already descending towards the forest as the clouds were quickly moving in. We kept on hiking trying to maintain a good pace as we knew the rain was coming. We could even smell it in the air. The wind picked up and then the first clear sign, thunder. At first it was far away but as we continued, they seemed to be getting closer and closer. We got our rain gear out and put it on when it started raining, lightly at first but getting worse by the minute. When we passed the lowest point of the connector trail that would take us back to the trailhead, the sky was incredibly dark and the sound of thunder was almost nonstop. We pushed on. Right after passing the last ridge line, where we knew it was all downhill from there, we got the think of it. At first it was pouring rain with wind, lighting and thunder, but then it started hailing. Finally we saw the shore and we knew we would be out quickly; we just needed to hike around the north side of the lake to the parking lot. As we did, I looked back to a complete different image of the lake than the image we saw the day before. From our point of view, we couldn’t see the other shore much less the towering peaks on the other side. Not only that but we also so waves on the lake.
It almost looked like we were on an ocean coast. We finally made it to the car just when the rain stopped so we had a chance to put our gear away, dry up, change and start driving. The dry spell didn’t last long and we got more of the storm while on the road. As we drove away from the Sawtooth we couldn’t believe the clouds around us. We knew then it had been a good call to bail. We got a nice glimpse at this magnificent area that we’ll certainly visit again sometime, hopefully with better weather.

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