Friday, August 17, 2012

Canyon Creek Meadows

The day after I ran the Haulin' Aspen Half last year, I stopped for a hike at Smith Rock State Park on the way home.  This year's original plan was a repeat visit.  But temps were predicted to be toasty again Monday.  On an average summer day, Smith Rock is already a hot place.  Extreme heat turns it into an absolute oven.  Not wishing to endure more physical activity in the blazing sun, I perused my hiking books for an alternative spot.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

The trail beckons....

Within my "100 Hikes in Central Oregon Cascades" book (by none other than William L. Sullivan!) there's a description for the trail to Canyon Creek Meadows - a moderate trek to flower-filled alpine meadows with dramatic mountain views.  The book's narrative included a photo of an incredible in-your-face view of Three Fingered Jack Mountain from the lower meadow.  I've looked at this image many times thinking "I want to go there!"  Reading the directions, I was pleased to discover the trailhead was on my route home.  That made for a very quick decision.   

Three Fingered Jack makes a perfect reflection on Jack Lake

A bit tired and sore from the race, I didn't get as early a start as hoped.  It was midday before I pulled into the trailhead parking lot.  But the sky was a cloudless brilliant blue, and the scenery wonderful from the very start.  The trail began with a circuit of tiny Jack Lake.  This small body of water was ringed by silvery dead trees, remnants of a 2003 forest fire.  As I rounded Jack lake's eastern shore, Three Fingered Jack appeared above the trees, and reflected perfectly on the lake's calm waters.

Ghosts from a past fire

Of course I couldn't pass up a photo op like this!  After dozens of shots, I packed away my camera and continued to climb above the lake.  The trail wound through the burned-out forest.  Temps were already rising, and sweat began to pour down my face.  Some friendly mosquitoes decided to get up close and personal with my exposed arms.  That lead to another stop to apply bug spray.

Flowers brighten up the side of a pond

The trail passed the wilderness boundary sign, and continued its ascent through forest that was a mix of healthy green and gray dead trees.  The thick wooded areas gave cool relief to the already sizzling sun.  I passed by a couple of tiny ponds, one thick with lily pads, another its shoreline covered with fuzzy bright pink flowers.

Mt. Jefferson glimpse between the dead trees

Ambling through a barren, burned out area, I was delighted to see bright green undergrowth and lovely purple lupine flowers reaching up from the forest floor.  A wonderful sign of rebirth for this area so devastated by an inferno.  Looking through the tree skeletons, I noticed the fire had opened up views of adjacent terrain.  Through a large gap, I spotted Mt. Jefferson outlined against the sky.

Lupine going strong underneath the burned out area

I never knew there could be so much beauty in an old burned-out forest.  But the silver ghostly trees were quite scenic.

My first amazing view of Three Fingered Jack

I came upon a lush green meadow with a small tarn on the far edge.  Thinking the tarn might be a good photo subject, I shortcut through the meadow.  But up close, the dark murky water wasn't very interesting.  Preparing a return to the trail, I looked up and saw an incredible sight.  Rising above the trees like a huge, rocky fortress, was the craggy east face of Three Fingered Jack.

Amazing lower meadow

It was a most amazing, breathtaking view of the mountain!  TFJ looked like a huge wall of rock towering over the meadow.  The sun reflected off the mountain's crumbly basalt cliffs.  It appeared close enough to reach out and touch.  Sighting TFJ meant that the lower meadows were not far away.

The flowers were going strong

A short distance from the tarn, I came to a trail junction beside a small stream.  And beside this stream the trees parted to reveal a lovely green meadow chock-full of wildflowers.  A kaleidoscope of color. Such a beautiful place! 

"The hills are alive....."

I slowly made my way through these wonderful meadows, stopping for many, many "Kodak moments."  At the far end, the trail again climbed through a small wooded area.  But again the forest cleared and the terrain opened up into a breathtaking lush, green alpine wonderland, bookended by the mountain's rocky wall.  It looked as if I was in Austria. I felt a strong urge to do my Julie Andrews impression.  Or at least attempt a yodel.

Looks like  you can reach out and touch the mountain

The trail led straight into the very heart of the mountain.  I followed the path, reveling in the dramatic views.  Three Fingered Jack kept getting closer and closer, until it's bulk totally filled the sky.

View from the saddle

Then the forest and meadow terminated into a barren, rocky slope.  It was the moraine for the mountain's glacier.  I crossed a snowfield, and picked my way up through a steep climb in loose rocks and gravel.  There was a very faint user path through the rubble, but I lost it several times.  Route-finding became a challenge. 

Small lake in the crater is still not melted out

The book described a path through the moraine to a saddle high above the meadows.  After reaching the top of the first rocky slope, my legs, tired from the previous day's run, screamed uncle.  Looking ahead, I could see there was still a fair amount of climbing left to reach the saddle.  Although I'd been told by another hiker on the trail of amazing views from this perch, my body didn't have the energy to continue.  So I took a snack break and admired the scenery from where I stood.

A few hardy flowers grow amongst the rocks

And the sights were plenty nice.  Three Fingered Jack's steep cliffs dominated the western view.  The mountain's crater directly below it's summit was still snowed in.  A cirque lake in this crater, normally melted out by now, was just beginning to thaw (marked by a small blue ring in the snow).  Looking towards the north and east, miles of forested valleys spread out before me.

Lupine madness

It was breathtaking to be so close to this massive mountain.  I stayed atop the moraine for the better part of 30 minutes, just soaking in the views.  But then I noticed the sky starting to cloud over.  There had been a thunderstorm the night before, and the clouds looked as if they could do repeat of last night's performance.  Not wanting to be up so high if that happened, I decided it was time to go.

Purple meadows

I slid down the rocky slopes, and wandered back into the lush meadows below.  Now safely back in the forest, I embarked on a marathon lupine photo session.  The lovely purple flowers were everywhere.  They appeared to be at their peak, providing a colorful accent to the scenery.

Lovely forested meadow

Visitors to Canyon Creek Meadows have the option of returning on a loop hike via Wasco Lake.  Always up for seeing new places, I happily headed this way.  After leaving the wonderful meadows, the trail followed Canyon Creek, silty and roaring from the previous night's rain.  The path returned into the dense forest, but did open up occasionally to offer views of meadows richly carpeted in green.

Stark beauty of the burned area

And then I was back into the old forest fire area.  The bad news - no more shade.  It was afternoon by now and temps were plenty toasty.  But the good news - wide open views and fascinating scenery.  The stark gray tree trunks of the burned out forest were really great photo subjects.  The brilliant blue sky made for a nice contrast.  And it was good to see a huge amount of green undergrowth, signalling the forest's rebirth.  I even spooked a deer and got a quick glimpse as it ran away.

Quite a fire!

As I climbed back to the trailhead at Jack Lake, some of the clearings enabled me to see the wide extent of this fire.  I could see acres and acres of gray, dead trees.  Very sobering to think of the amount of devastation.

Jack Lake in the afternoon

Finally I was back to where I started, following Jack Lake's shoreline.  I passed by this morning's viewpoint of TFJ, and smiled remembering my amazingly close encounter with this stunning mountain. 

Although hot, dusty and tired, I was happy to discover yet another beautiful trail in the Central Oregon Cascades.  My trip to Bend was great fun - hanging out with my brother, completing a challenging trail run, and, best of all, discovering two new favorite hikes.

Linking to Share Your Cup Thursday and Sunny Simple Sunday.


  1. That first pic of Three Fingered Jack literally took my breath. How gorgeous! Would love it if you'd add total length you hiked and elevation change numbers to your hike reports. Also curious about wildlife in the areas you hike since you do so much solo hiking - is there anything you have to be alert for? This may be my favorite yet!!

  2. I thought the first shot of "Jack" was my favorite as well. I'm always amazed at the amount of snow this late in the summer. Do you take your hiking book along with you on your hikes to reference while climbing?

  3. Hi Sharon - Yes, I always mean to include the hike stats and get busy writing and forget. This hike was about 6.5 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain. They say there are cougars and black bears in the Cascades, but I've never seen any. I often hike with my dog and I think that keeps the predators away.

    Hi Kim - yes, it's common for snow to linger on these high peaks into September. I don't usually take my hike book with me, I copy the page and put it in my pocket for quick reference. Works really well.

    Thanks both of you for reading and being such regular commenters. Much appreciated!

  4. Wow - beautiful! I understand the pacific northwest has been getting it share of hot weather recently. And do be careful with those pesky mosquitos. The meadows in that part of the country can just be so beautiful...and there is nothing like that beautiful blue sky!

  5. Yep think that was a good choice for a hike. Love smith rock but a hot day there seems even hotter. Beautiful shots

  6. I am so impressed with your stamina, photography and writing!!!! What an amazing hike to complete your weekend. Wonderful to share via this blog.

  7. Wow, thanks for taking me on this journey!

  8. That looks like a wonderful hike and your photos are beautiful!

  9. Hi Linda, the ghostly trees really did make for some wonderful pituresque photos. The beauty of nature always amazes me. Thought for sure you'd be in bed after that long and hard event. lol! Thanks for sharing your hike with Share your Cup. Love the pics with the bits of snow!

  10. Linda, you've definitely captured the beauty of a burnt out forest. I loved seeing the color that came through brought by the flowers, sky, reflection, etc. I love your photograph captioned "the hills are alive." Looks like a fun hike. I'm adding that to my hiking list when we return the PNW :)

  11. Hi Linda!
    How nice of Elaine to feature your lovely blog on her "Sunny Simple Sundays"!
    It's amazing to be so close to Three Fingered Jack (thanks to you, my friend!) Each time I go for a walk I am treated to the view of it from a far away perspective. How glorious the meadows are at it's feet. Blue Lupine and soft grey timber...Oh, such beauty!
    Thank you for allowing me to tag along on your heavenly hike!
    Blessings from Bend,


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