I hoped the toe wasn't broken, as I'd made big plans the following weekend. Friday, I was driving to Bend, hiking Canyon Creek Meadows on the way, and Saturday I'd signed up to run a 6-mile trail race.
|Reflections on Jack Lake|
Of course the only way to tell for sure was an x-ray, but there really wasn't anything you could do whether it was broken or not. So I vetoed seeing a doctor. Instead, I limped around for a week, hoping things would magically get better. Thursday night I saw some fabulous photos on a local hiking website from a recent trip to Canyon Creek Meadows. The lupine was in full bloom and it looked incredible. That did it. Friday I was hiking there, sore toe or not!
Canyon Creek Meadows is a beautiful alpine meadow at the foot of Three Fingered Jack Mountain. Located on the eastern fringe of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, it was barely outside the Whitewater wildfire's closure area. This fire had been raging for two weeks, consuming vast portions of forest, with no sign of stopping.
|Three Fingered Jack rises above an alpine meadow|
So that mid-August Friday I woke up ungodly early and made the three-hour drive to Canyon Creek Meadow's trailhead at Jack Lake. I drove by a very smoky Detroit Lake (which necessitated turning car headlights back on) and caught the fire crew's vehicle convoy heading out from their camp near Santiam Pass to the front lines of the Whitewater fire (I sent those brave folks good vibes and silent thank yous as they drove by).
|Lotsa lupine in the upper meadows|
I pulled into Jack Lake's parking lot at 8:30 sharp. Being a weekday, there were only a few cars already. Stuffing my feet into hiking boots, I noticed my swollen toe wasn't too happy about being confined. Hoping it would loosen up as I walked, I shouldered my backpack and headed towards the trailhead.
|The mountain, up close and personal|
The trail started out following the shoreline of Jack Lake. This tiny water body sat in an area that burned in a 2003 wildfire. Ghostly silver dead trees rimmed it's shores, making nice reflections in the calm waters. I stopped to take a few images before moving on.
|Bands of color in the rock|
I'd just passed the wilderness boundary sign when my foot started complaining. Wedged into my boot, the sore toe was not happy. I stopped to loosen my bootlaces, and while I was at it, downed a couple of ibuprofen. Hopefully that would keep things under control for awhile.
|Glacial cirque lake at TFJ base|
The path climbed gradually, through an area of burned-out trees. I spied a smoky outline of Mt Jefferson through their silver trunks. I then passed through a lovely meadow of tiny lupine, their leaves spangled with sparkling dewdrops.
About two miles in, I came to a junction with the trail that led hikers to Canyon Creek's scenic meadows. Crossing Canyon Creek, I could see Three Fingered Jack's outline rising above the trees.
|Huge field of lupine|
A little more climbing, a bit more wandering through several green meadows containing withered remnants of what looked to have been an impressive wildflower bloom. Then I climbed a ridge, trekked through a forest, and came out into the grand meadow I remembered from my last visit five years ago. Three Fingered Jack rose like a wall above the forest. Lupine bloomed in the green meadow. A calendar-worthy shot! It looked like something you'd see in Switzerland. (Although there's no photographic evidence, I did have a "Sound of Music" moment)
But the best was yet to come. Traversing the wonderful alpine scene, I passed through another grove of trees, and on the other side was a huge meadow right below Three Fingered Jack. And it was chock-full of lupine.
|Smoke begins to obscure the mountain|
Wow! Best lupine bloom this year! But Three Fingered Jack loomed above, beckoning. From my previous visit, I knew there was a pretty glacial cirque lake in the gravelly moraine at it's base. I really wanted to see that first, so I decided to climb up the moraine.
It was a tough climb. The loose gravel was treacherous. I'd take one step up and slide a half step back. I had to be careful my footing, as some of the rocks would slide out under my feet. It was kind of like climbing on a slope of ball bearings. At one point, I slipped and landed hard on my knees. But I picked myself up and kept going. Finally, I found myself on top of the moraine. I rested, had a snack, and enjoyed the views of the tiny lake nestled in between the moraine and the mountain. It was still mostly covered in snow.
|Time for your close-up!|
Although the views were fabulous from this high perch, the weather was not. Strong winds buffeted the mountain, blowing silt in my face. Although I'd been lucky to have clear skies thus far, I began to smell smoke. The northern skies started looking hazy. As I was beginning to climb down, a band of smoke began to drift into the area, darkening the air and ruining my view of Three Fingered Jack.
|Lots of butterflies|
My sore toe had been behaving itself thus far. I don't know if the ibuprofen finally kicked in or it became numbed by the walking, but it wasn't bothering me much. Then, as I was descending the moraine, both feet slid out from under me. I came down hard on my bad foot. That inured toe took the entire impact. I could feel it wrenching under me, moving in a way toes aren't supposed to move.
I couldn't talk, couldn't yell, couldn't swear. All I could do was gasp in pain.
|Yellow flowers beside a stream|
Oh no....if it wasn't broken before, I was pretty sure I'd broken it now. I gingerly limped down the rest of the moraine very slowly. Making my way through the fantastic lupine field, I saw a tiny stream winding through the middle. Maybe soaking my foot in it's cold waters would help a little.
So I took another break, and stuck my aching foot into the stream. Although not as cold as I expected, it did feel good. I opened my first aid kit and downed another couple of ibuprofen. Hopefully the combination of meds and cool water would be enough to enable me to walk the 3.5 miles back to my car.
|A cold stream brings relief to my aching toe|
After a good 10 minutes in the cold water, I removed my foot, gingerly put my boot back on, and meandered my way back through the meadow. The flowers were so fantastic, I made frequent photo stops to document it all. Lupine, magenta paintbrush, asters, yellow Oregon sunshine, and other wildflowers brightened the area, making me temporarily forget my pain. By now it was early afternoon, and hundreds of beautiful butterflies soared through the flower fields. Truly a magical place, it was hard to leave.
|Pretty blue butterfly|
But I needed to get back to my car before my foot got any worse. So I limped down through the meadows, past tiny Canyon Creek. At the trail junction, I looked back for one final view of Three Fingered Jack, now almost entirely obscured by smoke. Then, taking the recommended right hand turn, I followed Canyon creek for the next mile.
|Smoke is getting thicker|
I didn't remember much above this leg from my previous visit, but it turned out to be a delightful trek along a charming mountain stream, gradually transitioning into another burn zone from the 2003 fire. Fireweed and white pearly everlasting flowers bloomed underneath the charred, gray trees.
|Flowers blooming in old burn area|
At the junction with the Wasco Lake trail, I came upon a lovely cascade, spilling over a small rocky outcrop.
|Canyon Creek Falls|
Then I hobbled down the last leg of my journey, another mile through the burned forest. Although somber, I was pleased to see a solid mat of green across the forest floor. Small pine trees, some now almost five feet high, were rising from the ashes. The trees were almost big enough to begin overtaking the desolate gray burn area. It cheered me to see this forest coming back to life.
|Butterfly on pearly everlasting|
About a half mile from Jack Lake I began seeing bushes loaded with ripe, purple huckleberries. Mmmm! I picked and snacked as I hiked along. The berries sweet goodness helped me forget about my foot for a few minutes.
Although the lovely sights and yummy berries helped distract me from my throbbing toe, I was never so happy to see Jack Lake. A short half mile trek and I was back at my car, tugging off that darned boot, and gratefully sinking into the driver's seat of my car.
|New trees beginning to overtake the burn area|
Now - on to Bend, to see my brother and his family. But sadly, I realized tomorrow's race was not gonna happen. With my toe swelling and throbbing the way it was, there was no way I could run six miles. But as a happy alternate, I ended up instead at the Bend Brewfest with my brother (and it was much more fun than running.)
I wouldn't have my broken toe diagnosed for another month. Just this week I saw my podiatrist and she confirmed via xrays that it was indeed broken. (And wasn't very happy I'd been hiking on it.)
But, I'm still glad I decided to hike the Canyon Creek Meadows loop. The flowers and mountain views were so spectacular, it was totally worth it - broken toe and all.