It’s been a somewhat below normal snow year in Oregon, particularly down here in Southern Oregon. “Low” snow does not mean, however, no snow – particularly along the Cascade crest on north- and east-facing slopes at about 6,500 feet or above. Plus, a persistent low centered over Nevada has been sending waves of clouds (and some rain) at us for the past two weeks. So, as the saying goes, maybe summer doesn’t actually start in Oregon until the 4th of July? That said, I nonetheless felt impelled to venture up into the Sky Lakes Wilderness to see conditions for myself.
There are several trailheads giving access to this wilderness, but the Seven Lakes Trail (Trail #981) provides the most direct route to Devil’s Peak and the Seven Lakes Basin from the west. So I went with the Seven Lakes Trailhead, which had the most cars parked at it that I’ve seen in 6 months of hiking down here (must be a holiday weekend! 😉 ).
Unfortunately, clouds had settled in for the day – there would be a brief respite later on – so this hike did not occur under the usual bluebird conditions – it was definitely a day spent inside the gray jay. About two miles up the trail, I came to fog-shrouded Frog Lake,
and then about four miles in, to the junction of the #981 and the Devils Peak Trail (USFS #984). Here the 981 drops down to the Seven Lakes Basin (the route taken by the seven hardy backpackers I passed on the way in) and the #984 contours below the summits of Venus, Jupiter, and Lucifer to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) just south of Devils Peak. There had been some annoying patches of snow up to this point (about 6,800 feet) but none of consequence. However, as I went east on the #984, the patches of snow got bigger and bigger,
until, just north of Jupiter, the trail disappeared entirely under snow.
It was at this point that a guy wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a cotton jacket and carrying a very small pack and surrounded by four enthusiastic (but otherwise friendly) dogs caught up with me. He didn’t seem to have any navigation gear. So when he announced he was “just following” me, I wasn’t too surprised (or too happy). Sigh. 🙄 My original plan was to work my way over to Devils Peak but the deep snow (no snowshoes), gloomy cloud cover, and thought of having the unprepared tagging along convinced me to shift my objective to Lucifer, now directly above me. So I climbed a steep snowfield to the ridge that runs northwest from Lucifer’s summit. The dogs were smart enough to not try to follow me up this slope – judging from the tracks I found on the way back, the guy and his dogs eventually turned around and got back safely at least to the 981/984 junction. I was surprised to find the ridge top both devoid of snow and cleared for a fire line (probably to keep the 2008 Lonesome Complex fire from spreading north). So, 3 to 4 feet of snow on the north side, no snow on the south side.
This unexpected fire line meant that I could easily follow the ridge to the summit and avoid having to scramble over the unstable, dinner plate-like “shale” (it’s actually volcanic in origin) that is a notable feature of these peaks.
Lucifer’s summit was socked-in when I got there but, after killing time with lunch and an uncharacteristic nap, I was granted a brief parting of the gloom for a view of Klamath Lake to the east (note the snow on the right – where the PCT is – but none to the left),
and, to the north, of the ridge leading to Devils Peak (sorry – no views of the Devil today 😦 ).
On the way down, the sun actually came out, 😮
and the marmot saw his shadow – which hopefully doesn’t really mean six more weeks of winter!
But then, the gloom returned, enveloping Venus,
and the forest below.
A good hike (9.3 miles round-trip; 2,200 feet of elevation gain), with extra points (sprinkles?) for plowing through snow. There’s still snow in select locations above 6,500 feet but it’s generally clear below (where the lakes are). This was not a good weather day but the brief glimpses of sun reminded me of how beautiful this area is when it’s fully sunny. Winter – it ain’t over till it’s over! 😎