Friday, February 19, 2021

Frog Lake Butte

Last year my friend Catherine and I hiked a loop around Frog Lake, over a ridge separating Frog and Lower Twin Lakes, and returned on the PCT.  (See post here)  I enjoyed myself so much that this year I plotted a return trip. 

Sunrise colors at White River Snopark


But first, how about another sunrise?  After being skunked by fog at nearby White River Snopark a few weeks before, I decided to add a sunrise capture to the day's itinerary.  While it meant pulling myself out of bed ungodly early on a cold, dark winter morning and driving on icy roads, I persevered and got myself in place before sunup.


Alpenglow on Mt Hood


I'm happy to report this time my quest to capture sunrise was wildly successful!  No fog to be found anywhere.


Sunrise, White River Snopark


I watched in awe as the eastern sky erupted in a blaze of colors.  Then as the sun emerged, the top of Mt Hood glowed with stunning pink light.  After filling my memory card with a couple hundred images, it was time to drive up the highway to Frog Lake Snopark, the start of today's adventure.


Mt Hood from Frog Lake

As was the case with last year's trek, the lack of fresh snow made me decide to leave my snowshoes in the car and head out with microspikes.  What little snowpack remained had been frozen and thawed so many times it was reduced to an icy mess.


Mt Hood close-up


Not deterred by the crunchy ice, I clomped down the closed Forest Service road towards Frog Lake.  Taking a spur towards the day use area, I arrived at the frozen lakshore.  From last year's experience I knew that the lake's southern end had a wonderful view of Mt Hood.  


Frozen Frog Lake

Clear skies made for good views of my favorite mountain!  Hood was even wearing her cloudy cap that day.


Icy trail to Frog Lake Butte


After circling Frog Lake and wandering through the campground, I began searching for the trail to Frog Lake Butte.  My memory from last year wasn't as good as I thought, and it took a few out-and-back walks along the campground road, plus frequent glimpses at my gps, before said trail was finally located (and, by the way, the sign had been taken down which added to the difficulty of finding it).


Trail junction

Last year's trip on this trail had been a delightful trek through powdery snow.  Today.....not so much. What little snow remained was mostly dirty ice, littered with tree needles, moss and pine cones.   I also remembered this next leg climbed steeply uphill, an unexpected and unwelcome slog that didn't register fondly in my memory bank.  But, telling myself uphill hiking was good for me, I put my head down and covered the 1.5 miles to the next trail junction surprisingly quickly.


Sign selfie


Decision time - should I continue the half mile further uphill to the top of Frog Lake Butte?  Last year, wiped out by the unexpected climb to this trail junction I'd opted to head back downhill towards Lower Twin Lake.  But skipping the summit side trip left me wondering what I'd missed.  Today, feeling strong and confident I decided to go for the top!


I was disappointed to see a cell tower on top of Frog Lake Butte!

Ugh, this trail was steep!  Although I'd noticed the contours and calculated the elevation gain from my map, it was one thing to see it on paper but yet another to actually do the climb.  I followed a well worn track through the snow as it wound through thick woods, with a couple teaser glimpses of Mt Hood through the trees.  Just when I thought I'd never make it to the top, the trees thinned out and my trail flattened.  Snowmobile tracks were everywhere, meandering through the crusty snow.  I followed a well-traveled track to the summit proper.  And...once on top I was disappointed not to see any mountain views, only an ugly cell phone tower.


Killer Mt Hood view on Frog Lake Butte

I'd heard one could see Mt Hood from Frog Lake Butte's summit.  Maybe the viewpoint was nearby?  From the cell phone tower, several snowmobile tracks led into the woods.  Choosing one of the more packed down tracks I began following it.  After a couple of false starts, I finally found the track that led me to an overlook with a killer view of the mountain.


Wonderful lunch spot on Frog Lake Butte

Yeah - success!  By now I was famished and settled myself in the snow for a well-earned lunch break.


Rough trail to Lower Twin Lake

Although it felt good to sit and fill my belly the air temperature here was much colder than in the forest.  Even thorough I was bundled up in my down coat I became chilled by inactivity and had to cut my lunch break short.  Time to get moving again.


Lower Twin Lake


The downhill trek back went much faster (with less effort) and I reached the trail junction in record time.  Continuing my descent I took the tromped-down path through the woods leading to Lower Twin Lake.  Although only 1.5 miles in length, this leg of my journey seemed to take much longer.  The going was rough, navigating bumpy snow thawed and refrozen, and sunken tree wells.  Sometimes it was difficult to locate the trail, but luckily someone had painted red blazes on the trees providing a marker to follow.


Well hello there!

Finally I glimpsed Lower Twin Lake's frozen surface through the forest.  Yahoo!  Time for a snack break.

The other thing I remembered from last year's hike - Lower Twin Lake is full of very hungry Gray Jays, only too happy to steal your lunch.  I'd been seated just for a couple of minutes when I noticed half a dozen of these birds already perched in a tree directly above my head.  I had to watch my food closely.  If I looked away for a second, one of them would swoop in and try to grab a bite.

Trying to snatch my snack


But it was fun to watch the Gray Jay's antics.  And I had a good time trying to get a few photos of them. They had such expressive faces!  

(And no, I didn't give the birds any of my snacks.  The reason these Gray Jays are so aggressive is due to people sharing food with them.  These birds have become dependent upon humans and don't forage for themselves.  Please keep wild animals wild - don't feed them!)


Giving me the stink eye

After a fun break at Lower Twin Lake it was time for the final leg of today's hiking adventure.  The trail climbed out of the lake's basin until connecting to the Pacific Crest Trail.  From there it was a quick mile back to the snopark and my car.  

Although I missed last year's fluffy fresh snow it was still a fun day out in the winter woods, discovering a new viewpoint on top of Frog Lake Butte and teasing the pesky Gray Jays.


  1. What a beautiful sunrise! Mt Hood is a real beauty always! I have heard those birds called robber jays:). Stink eye for sure!

  2. ...Fabulous. If you need your phone in an emergency, perhaps the tower would have looked better!

  3. You are one dedicated photographer to brave those freezing winter sunrises! But, you are right, the results sure seem worth it! I'm just glad it's you, not me, getting up at o' dark thirty for those beautiful shots!

  4. That sunrise certainly rewarded you for your early rise and icy drive. A magnificent outing all round.

  5. Mount Hood is as photogenic as ever. Another cracking set of photos. Our coastal gulls can get like those Jays; they see any food as rightfully theirs!

  6. Hello,
    Beautiful views of the sky and mountains. Love the cute Gray Jay! The cell towers are ugly but necessary. We have some towers they made look like trees. Great series and hike. Have a happy weekend!


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