Mount Thielsen is, justifiably, “the” summit in the the Mount Thielsen Wilderness and is the focus of much of the scrambling/climbing activity in that area. But it sits near the end of the north-south ridge that divides this wilderness and which is itself studded with peaks and peaklets. One of these, Tipsoo Peak, has its own easy trail to its summit (and to some grand views). The other, multi-summited Howlock Mountain, is a short but intense exercise in cross-country trail and scrambling over loose rock and scree. But the views to be had – wow!
The Tipsoo Peak Trailhead is about four miles north of Diamond Lake off of Highway 138 (USFS #1472). It’s Hike #16 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition). It was piping hot down in the valley but up here at 6,500 feet hiking conditions were ideal and even a little chilly first thing in the morning. This trail climbs languidly on large sweeping switchbacks through an open forest,
and some open meadows,
to Tipsoo’s red volcanic rock summit. This is probably the easiest, family and kid friendly hike with the best views in this wilderness.
From there, I had a great view south down the ridge to Mount Thielsen and my next objective – Howlock’s eastern summit,
north to the Three Sisters,
and east to Miller Lake and Red Cone.
The #1472 trail ends on Tipsoo’s summit but it was an easy cross-country descent down it’s southeast slopes to intersect the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in a large meadow,
with a view back to Tipsoo,
followed by a visit to the PCT’s highest point in Oregon and Washington. Up in Washington, in the 1970s, the PCT informally climbed the north shoulder of Old Snowy Mountain to a height of 7,630 feet. However, in 1978, the Forest Service blasted a new, lower “official’ route for the PCT so it no longer goes “officially” to 7,630 feet up north. I suppose this is a sore point with Washingtonians but, hey, they got Microsoft to make up for it!
I followed the PCT south until I was lined-up with the valley just south of Howlock’s western summit and then headed to the saddle at the top of that valley. I went up the north side of the valley and had to negotiate more scree slopes that I’d have liked. Coming back, I dropped directly off the saddle into the forest, thereby reducing scree travel to only a few hundred feet – definitely the way to go as travel through the open forest is almost as easy as along the PCT.
From the saddle, I had a good view to the west of the large open meadows that also facilitate easy cross-country travel.
Then it was up some gentle scree slopes,
to Howlock’s higher (but this has been disputed) eastern summit and an encounter with the dinner plate, broken china rocks that make scrambling here (but more so on the western summit across the way) somewhat exciting.
The views from Howlock were stunning – of Diamond Peak and the Three Sisters to the north,
Mount Bailey and Diamond Lake to the west,
and of Mount Scott in Crater Lake National Park and Mount Thielsen to the south.
There are seemingly no trails on the east side of the Mount Thielsen wilderness and I’ve been wondering if that was because the terrain was particularly difficult or because there was no reason to build trails there. Looking toward Miller Lake (an obvious east side trailhead) from Howlock’s summit, the latter possibility seemed right – just no reason (i.e., mining or logging) for trails or roads that became trails. While water might be a limiting factor, cross-country exploratory travel looks entirely possible on the east side (another something to add to the already bulging to do list. 🙄 )
After lunch on the summit, I retraced my steps to the PCT and went north on that to where I was on the same contour with one of the switchbacks on the Tipsoo trail. After 0.6 miles of easy cross-coutry travel across the open forest floor, I intersected the #1472 at the 7,200-foot level and took it back to the trailhead. A wonderful hike (11 miles round-trip; 2,800 feet of elevation gain) through a pleasant forest to some outstanding views! 😀