|All decked out in hunter orange!|
The month of October was dedicated to visiting my favorite fall trails. First up on the list, the East Crater Trail into Indian Heaven Wilderness. I'd hiked here Labor Day weekend last year when the huckleberries were ripe. But in early October, it was fall color I was after.
|Cute mushroom family|
The Indian Heaven Wilderness is a lovely high altitude plateau located roughly between Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. Numerous trails crisscross it's forests, the most famous being the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Dotted with dozens of small lakes, this place is known for mosquitoes in July and huckleberries in August. And, if you catch it just right, spectacular fall colors in October.
|Nice pond reflection|
My friend Mary Ellen was a willing partner for this latest adventure. From past experience, I knew hunting was allowed in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, so we both made sure to sport plenty of orange attire. Although an online check showed deer season wouldn't start until the day after our hike, I wasn't taking any chances.
|Vivid red huckleberry leaves|
The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in southwestern Washington. The East Crater trailhead was a long drive from Portland, so Mary Ellen and I got an early start. Despite the nice weather, mine was the only car in the gravel parking pullout.
|Nice color mix in the meadow|
Autumn colors had started in earnest. We hadn't traveled very far down the trail when the first reddish-orange huckleberry leaves were spotted. Although the berries were long gone, the bright colors were a fine substitute. From there on, my friend and I were treated to a continuous display of fall finery.
|Junction Lake shoreline|
We passed a couple of tiny ponds, their still waters providing perfect reflections of the trees towering above.
After 2.5 miles, Mary Ellen and I reached Junction Lake. Located at the crossroads for many trails (including the PCT) it was appropriately named. Colorful huckleberry bushes circled the shore, brightening up the already beautiful woods. Some of the red and yellow colors reflected in the lake's ripply surface, the mirror images resembling a Monet painting.
|Mary Ellen relaxing at Junction Lake|
My friend and I took a short break here, admiring the beauty all around us. Such a peaceful place!
|More colorful huckleberry leaves|
After a short rest and snack, it was time to start our loop through the heart of Indian Heaven. Leaving the East Crater Trail, we climbed short, steep path that led us over a ridge and down to Lemei Lake. Puffing up the incline, my legs, not yet a week post-marathon, protested. But happy to be out hiking on this glorious day, I ignored their complaints and soldiered on.
|A patchwork quilt of color|
We descended the ridge into a lovely alpine meadow, decked out in golden hues. Lemei Lake, a shallow, but scenic water body became our lunch stop.
|Lemei Lake outlet creek|
After refueling with PB & J, apples, and some of Mary Ellen's sea salt butterscotch caramels (my new Trader Joe's fave!) my friend and I followed the trail's continuation, past Lemei Lake's scenic outlet creek.
|This path leads to a junction|
After two miles on the Lemei Lake trail, we reached a junction with the Indian Heaven Trail. Our path to this trail sign was lined with more golden fall goodness.
|Mossy old forest|
We hiked through a gorgeous, mossy old growth forest.
|Hiking past a talus slope|
And past several talus slopes, complete with chirping pikas. We stopped, looked, and listened, but were unable to spot any of the elusive rock rabbits.
|Clear Lake's gorgeous shoreline|
A short 0.3 mile romp brought us to the shores of lovely Clear Lake, and the PCT. For 1.6 miles, we traveled an especially beautiful stretch of the PCT, past small, sparkling lakes and giant fir trees.
|Vintage PCT trail sign|
Mary Ellen spotted this vintage PCT trail sign nailed to a tree. Cool!
|This way to Lemei Lake|
And then the PCT took us back to Junction Lake, where we'd started our loop. The fall colors were so nice here, Mary Ellen and I thought it warranted another short break.
With gorgeous scenery like this, who wants to head home?
|New life from an old stump|
But sadly, we couldn't stay forever. My friend and I finally tore ourselves away from this special place, and headed back down the East Crater trail.
|Yellow leaves light up the forest|
Not only did we hit the fall colors at peak, Mary Ellen and I saw only one other hiking party the entire day (and no hunters). The weather was warm and sunny and we had the place to ourselves - fall days didn't get any better than this!
With tired feet, but a happy face, I headed home. My camera full of colorful images, they would provide good memories from this perfect autumn day.
Stats: 9.2 miles, 1000' elevation gain.
Sharing with: Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World.