Friday, October 30, 2020

On the Shores of Crater Lake

Like many folks, this year's COVID pandemic has forced hubby and I to vacation closer to home.  For us that meant taking more in-state camping trips.  In mid-August I booked a site at southern Oregon's Diamond Lake.  Our favorite camping spot when the kids were young, it had been years since we'd spent time here.


First overlook

Although Diamond Lake itself is a worthy destination, one of the great things about staying here is it's close proximity to Crater Lake.  Oregon's lone National Park, this ultra-blue mountain lake is a photographer's dream.  The deepest lake in the US (1,943 feet), it's deep blue color is due to the extensive depth and purity of the waters.  Fed only by rain and snow, scientists consider Crater Lake to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.

Beginning the hike down


Created from a great eruption of Mount Mazama around 5700 BC, this lake formed in the large caldera that remained after the mountain's explosion.  Scientists believe this eruption deposited ash as far east as the NW corner of what is now Yellowstone National Park, as far south as central Nevada, and as far north as southern British Columbia.  This destructive event is thought to have created 150 times more ash than the May 18, 1980 eruption of nearby Mt St Helens.

Fabulous lake views


One of my brothers lives in nearby Central Oregon, and we invited him to join us for the weekend.  And outdoor enthusiast like my hubby and I, it didn't take any convincing.  After spending the first day fishing (the guys) and walking around Diamond Lake snapping photos (me) I suggested a visit to the more famous lake for the following day.


The lake's water changed color near the shore

The 30-mile Rim Drive that encircles Crater Lake is a worthy trip.  Open only in the summer, this road provides visitors magnificent views of this natural wonder.  Numerous auto pull-outs, scenic viewpoints, and trailheads enable visitors to enjoy this park's impressive scenery.  But access to the lakeshore itself is only allowed at one point - via the Cleetwood Cove Trail.


Almost there!

Although I've visited Crater Lake numerous times in the 30-plus years I've lived in Oregon, I'd never hiked this trail to the water's surface.  So I suggested to the guys that we check it out.


Here I am at the shoreline of Crater Lake

Hot weather was predicted that day, so we got an early start.  That meant the first few viewpoints we stopped at were uncrowded, which in this time of COVID was just fine.  After a short drive down the rim road, we came to the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead's huge parking area.  Again, our early arrival guaranteed our pick of parking spots.  I grabbed my camera stuff and followed hubby and brother across the road to the trail.

I was surprised to see people swimming in the lake

The Cleetwood Cove trail isn't very long - only 1.1 miles to the lakeshore.  But it is steep, dropping 700 feet in elevation as it switchbacks down the crater's rim.  For this reason the park rates this trail as strenuous.  As we started down the trail, we were met by intermittent groups of people huffing and puffing their way back up.

Lots of people gathered at the shore


Oh the were the views stellar!  As I descended I couldn't help stopping frequently to capture the scenery.  It was a new and different perspective of the lake and I wanted to get as many images as I could.  Of course, the guys kept walking and I began to lag far behind.


Loved the clear waters


Probably the most exciting part of this short hike was seeing the lake's surface getting closer and closer the lower I traveled.  Soon I was able to notice the difference in water color - it was an aqua shade in the shallow areas nearest the shore.  And of course the lake's crystal-clear waters meant I could see all the details on the rocky bottom.


Last look before climbing back up


Finally I reached the trail's bottom and the lakeshore.  It was really interesting to see Crater Lake at water level, with the rim rising above, instead of viewing it from the top of the rim.  I found my hubby and brother near the boat dock, waiting patiently for me.  A couple of men were casting fishing poles into the water, but I didn't see any fish caught.  I was amazed to learn there were fish in this lake.  Six species of fish were introduced into Crater Lake between 1888 and 1941, but only Rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon have survived.

View (rest) break on the way up

The most unexpected surprise was seeing people swimming in Crater Lake.  As I hiked downhill many of the folks trekking back up were wearing swimsuits and carrying towels.  When I finally reached the shore, I was shocked by the large number of people already splashing around in the water.  Later, checking the park literature, I discovered that, yes swimming, fishing and wading are indeed allowed.  However, to keep the lake water pure, scuba equipment, inflatable items, boats, waders and life jackets are not allowed.  (I don't understand the logic of allowing people in the water but not items - I would think all those bodies wouldn't be good for the water's purity either.)  It was interesting to see so many people swimming despite the cold water.  In summer, the lake's surface temperature averages only 57 degrees.  Even though it was a hot day, I wasn't interested in dipping my feet in the lake's chilly waters.

At this overlook I could almost fit the entire lake in my frame!


And speaking of boat dock, the National Park Service normally offers boat tours of Crater Lake during summer months.  However, just like everything else, COVID cancelled all boat tours for the 2020 season.

Phantom Ship

After spending a half hour wandering around the short path at the water's edge, taking photos, and watching the crazy swimmers, we decided it was time to head back.  By now more and more people had arrived and the lakeshore starting to get crowded.

What goes down must come up, and the hike back to the parking lot was brutal.  By now temps had risen significantly and it was hot!  Hiking uphill in the heat was not any fun.  My hubby, the mountain goat, marched up the trail like it was no problem.  However, my brother and I slogged uphill at a much slower rate.  We took advantage of a bench near the halfway mark for a quick breather.


Wizard Island from Discovery Point


Back at hubby's truck, we discovered the huge parking lot had now entirely filled in.  As a matter of fact, a vehicle hovered nearby waiting to snatch our parking spot the minute we left.


Fireweed at Diamond Lake

We finished driving the entire Rim Loop road, stopping at the scenic viewpoints that looked interesting.  By now it was midday, and the park was full of visitors.  There were lots of vehicles with out-of-state license plates - and not just from the states adjacent to Oregon. (I even saw a car from Florida!)  The virus wasn't stopping people from traveling, that's for sure.  Our final stop, Discovery Point, was swarming with so many people that I snapped a few quick images and we got the heck out of there!  Time to head back to our campsite at Diamond Lake and chill in the shade.


Dramatic storm clouds over Diamond Lake


That evening a huge thundercloud drifted by, grumbled a bit, but didn't drop any precip.  But it did make for an amazing sunset over Diamond Lake, which I was fortunate to capture.

Fabulous sunset

A wonderful weekend exploring a favorite National Park, catching up with my brother, and relaxing at a beautiful lakeside campsite.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Fabulous Indian Heaven Wilderness

One of my favorite fall hiking destinations is southwest Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness.  This 20,700 acre forested high plateau has numerous meadows, full of huckleberry bushes, and more than 150 lakes.  Due to the plethora of lakes, it's known as "mosquito heaven" during summer months.  But once September rolls around and the insects die off, this wilderness area turns into a wonderland of brilliant autumn color.


Tiny lake reflections


Beautiful fall colors aren't the only attractant.  The Indian Heaven Wilderness is also famous for the abundance of huckleberries ripening at summer's end.

Junction Lake surrounded by color

By late September I was yearning for my yearly autumn visit.  A few text messages later, I'd recruited my friend Catherine and her family to join me.

Colorful trail


Driving separate vehicles (COVID precautions, you know!) we embarked on the 2-plus hour drive to the East Crater Trailhead.  My all-time favorite Indian Heaven Wilderness hike originates here - via the East Crater Trail, a lollipop loop that circles Junction Lake, wanders past Lemei Lake and Clear Lake, before joining the PCT to complete the loop back at Junction Lake.  It's a route I try to hike nearly every fall season.

Blazing red huckleberry leaves

Joining me on today's trek were Catherine, her husband, and her youngest daughter.  After mostly hiking solo all summer I was thrilled to have the company.  Having other humans to chat with made the first two miles of the East Crater Trail go by in a flash.

Navigating a flooded trail

Before I knew it the huckleberry bush-filled meadows surrounding Junction Lake came into view.  Not only were the meadow grasses a lovely golden hue, the huckleberry bush leaves had turned brilliant shades of red and yellow.  A few (dozen!) photographs may have been taken by yours truly......

Golden meadow


Although Junction Lake was lovely, there was lots more to see.  So after tearing myself away from photographing it's colorful shore I hustled to catch up with my friends who were by now halfway up the ridge separating Junction and Lemei Lake.

More waterlogged trail


On top of the ridge our trail meandered through many truly spectacular subalpine meadows.  The autumn colors were some of the best I'd ever seen.  Backlit by the sun, huckleberry leaves glistened a fiery red.  Others glowed in bright yellow hues.

Meadow fringed with red

I didn't think September was particularly rainy, especially the first two weeks with all the smoke and wildfires.  However recent rainfall had saturated the meadows here and we encountered several places where the trail was very much underwater.  Most of the time my friends and I were able to rock-hop to avoid wet feet, but one particularly marshy spot I misjudged the water's depth and ended up nearly ankle deep.  (Good thing my hiking boots are waterproof!)

More fab fall colors


Soon my friends and I were descending the steep hill to Lemei Lake, our designated lunch spot.

Posing on a rock beside Lemei Lake


From past year's hikes, I remembered a couple of nice rocks along the lakeshore that made great sitting spots for lunch breaks.  However not only did the recent rainstorms flood nearby trails, they also swelled Lemei Lake's banks so much so that my favorite boulders were nearly into the lake.  Although we couldn't use the rocks for lunchtime seating they did make for some fun photo ops.

Red alley


As Catherine, her husband, and I rested and filled our bellies (their daughter decided to continue on with the understanding we'd catch up to her later) we noticed two horses emerge out of the woods and amble into the nearby meadow.  One of the horses had long ears and looked almost mule-like.  After much discussion whether the horse in question did indeed have mule blood, (and wondering if it would be rude to ask) Catherine's husband walked over, struck up a conversation with the riders, and was able to learn that one of the steeds was indeed part mule.

Droplets on the huckleberry leaves

Lunch break now finished, it was time to explore more of the trail.  My friends and I followed the path as it crossed Lemei Lake's outlet creek and wandered through more fabulous meadows.  At one point I left the trail for a quick "nature break" only to be distracted by the dew-dropped-covered huckleberry leaves.  I got so busy taking photos I nearly forgot the main reason I'd come here.

Looking for pikas on the talus slope


At the next trail junction we were reunited with Catherine's daughter who waited to ensure she was going the right direction.  Wandering past Clear Lake, we were passed by a huge group of backpackers, heading home from a weekend trip. (With it's many lakes, Indian Heaven Wilderness is a very popular backpacking destination)

Pride rock pose


Then we came upon a large talus slope.  From prior hikes, I remembered hearing and seeing pikas - tiny rabbit-like creatures, in between the rocks.  Catherine, her husband and daughter paused to see if we could find any.  Sure enough Catherine's eagle-eyed daughter spotted a pika perched on an outcropped rock, posing like "pride rock" in the Lion King movie.

Pika super close-up


Surprisingly the little creature didn't move.  I quickly switched to my zoom lens and crept closer.  Since pikas are extremely shy, I was expecting it to bolt at any moment.  But the pika remained sitting on the boulder.  I was able to get within 10 feet of the tiny rock-rabbit before he finally noticed my presence.  Once I lowered my camera lens, scared by the motion, he emitted a loud "meep" before bolting into a crevice between the rocks.

For those that are unfamiliar with pikas, I found the above short video online, and it does a great job capturing the personality of these cute little critters, as well as the unusual squeaking sound they make.

Lovely Junction Lake


After our one and only wildlife encounter, we continued on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for the final leg back to Junction Lake.  Along the way, Catherine and her daughter found a few edible mushrooms, and we were passed by our new horseback rider (and mule-rider) friends.  We lost the equestrian duo when they were forced to detour around several large downed trees blocking the trail.

Junction Lake was especially scenic


Back at Junction Lake I launched into a final photographic frenzy, capturing more vibrant fall shades of the huckleberry leaves.

Back through the fall colors


The it was time to retrace our steps back along the East Crater Trail to our waiting vehicles.

Huckleberry picking


But not before Catherine filled her bottle with huckleberries!  We came upon a patch full of plump, ripe berries.  And once you get started picking, it's hard to stop.  It took some convincing before Catherine was ready to move on.

Backlit huckleberry leaves look like stained glass


As we ambled out of the berry patch, who should pass by but our horse-bound friends once again.  We waved final greetings as they cantered down the trail.

Horseback riders

A beautiful autumn day made even better by the fantastic changing leaf colors.  The Indian Heaven Wilderness is indeed one of the best places to hike in September.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Autumn Surprises at MSH

This is the year for Mt St Helens area hikes.  It's no secret I love the trails around this mountain.  The scenery is mind-blowing, the devastation sobering, the recovery amazing, and there's no lack of wildflowers, critters and beautiful views.  

Morning reflections on Coldwater Lake

Although hiking the Boundary Trail from Johnston Ridge Observatory during wildflower season is normally an early summer ritual, this year for some reason I didn't make it up for the bloom.  So, in mid-September I decided to see what autumn looked like on one of my favorite summer trails.

Ripple capture


When visiting MSH's north side, I always make a stop at nearby Coldwater Lake because the restroom there is open 24/7 and has running water.  And while I'm at it, I always walk down to check out the lakeshore, because the early morning views never disappoint.  Today although thick clouds obscured nearby mountains, they made for some awesome reflections on the lake's surface.


Clouds engulfing Mt St Helens

Then it was a short 9 mile uphill drive to Johnston Ridge Observatory, the parking area and beginning of today's hike.  This year due to COVID, the visitor center was closed.  But in past years I've always arrived well before it's 10 am opening, so it didn't seem any different.

Clouds lingering over the hills

I set off along the Boundary Trail.  Normally this path is surrounded by wildflowers, but by mid-September they were long gone.  The nearby mountains (including MSH) were shrouded by clouds.  With not much to see (or photograph) I put my head down and marched through the first two miles in record time.

Golden grasses

Today's hike was hard - first I had trouble getting excited to wake up early and drive 2+ hours.  Then the cloud-obscuring lack of views bummed me out.  And as I walked I began ruminating on several things - the recent horrible wildfires, reliving my COVID fears (I'm forever worried about my family members contracting this awful virus), and issues at work.  I drug along, a black cloud of emotion darkening my enjoyment.

Wide open views


Finally I topped out on a wide saddle overlooking Spirit Lake.  The ridge below Coldwater Peak loomed above me.  I had another 700 feet of climbing ahead.  Fighting a gloomy attitude that screamed "turn back" I gripped my trekking poles and turned uphill.


Still a few straggler wildflowers


Ascending the ridge a remarkable thing happened.   Fall colors began to pop out - golden grasses, yellow leaves, red huckleberry bushes.  And the oppressive cloud cover began to lift.

MSH behind the clouds

True to form, over the next two miles progress was slow.  I was too busy taking out my camera every other step to document yet another lovely autumn scene.

St Helens Lake

When I finally topped the ridge overlooking St Helens Lake, I gasped in happiness.  The lake was ringed with an absolute beautiful kaleidoscope of fall finery.


Coldwater Peak in the clouds

I thought nothing could top the summer wildflowers.  However, this display of fall color might have nudged into first place!

Close up of floating logs

The Boundary Trail meandered around St Helens Lake and I followed it the full distance until it dipped down and began to veer away towards the Mt Margaret Backcountry.  Although I'd considered hiking this trail further, a grumbling tummy had me deciding it was lunchtime.  Seeing a nice vantage just off the trail, I perched on a downed log and enjoyed my PB&J sandwich.

St Helens Lake surrounded by fall hues


After a nice break, I decided I'd hiked far enough and began to retrace my steps back along St Helens Lake.  By now the clouds had lifted enough to let intermittent sunlight shine over the landscape.  This made for a whole new view of the scenery I'd just passed.

Wide-angle lake view


Backlit by the sun, huckleberry bushes glowed a fiery red.  Puffy clouds reflected on the lake's surface.  And the water itself shone in bright blue hues.

Lovely red huckleberry bushes


I think it took longer for me to hike around St Helens Lake the second time!

More colorful slopes

Not much else for me to write, so instead I'll go quiet and let you all enjoy the rest of the lovely images.

Lush meadow

Cloud reflections on the lake

Colorful wild strawberry leaves

Spirit Lake

Huge ripe huckleberries!

Another stunning view of Spirit Lake

Colorful slope

Trees starting to grow back

Loved the puffy clouds!

I had no idea fall colors would be so wonderful along a trail I've only ever hiked for summertime flowers.  A September trek along the Boundary Trail might become a new tradition.

MSH trying to hide

I returned to the trailhead thoroughly rejuvenated by the autumn finery, my bad mood evaporated into thin air.  Nothing like a hike through outstanding scenery to banish the blues!