Late last year, the original 488 acre Oregon Caves National Monument was expanded by about 4,000 acres (becoming a National Monument and Preserve in the process) to better protect the watersheds that feed the underground river in the cave complex. A preserve of this type allows for the continuation of hunting, which is not allowed inside the smaller monument boundary. As a result of this expansion, the monument/preserve boundary has been pushed to the tops of the surrounding ridges and now includes the Bigelow Lakes, Mount Elijah (both of them), and Lake Mountain. Last February, we had explored this new part of the monument by hiking in from Sturgis Fork to the east. While you can also reach this area from the visitor center to the west, doing so involves a long drive around to Cave Junction and then up to the caves. A little map research found that a hike in from the west was possible – with much less driving – by using the more readily accessible Elk Creek Trail (USFS #1230). So the plan was to use this trail to visit Mount Elijah (again), checkout the old lookout site atop Lake Mountain, and hike another short stretch of the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207). Unfortunately, The LovedOne’s knee starting acting up again, so this became a solo hike. 😥
There was actually a sign at the trailhead (!) and the trail itself was in pretty good condition. I climbed it steadily, but relentlessly, toward the divide, passing Delmor Healy Spring – a local favorite not shown on most maps. Even late in the season and after 2+ years of drought, this spring was still producing enough water to fill a water bottle in short order.
Up on the divide, I came to Sparlin Camp (an old hunting camp used for generations by locals) at the intersection of the Elk Creek Trail, the Boundary Trail, and a shortcut trail to Mount Elijah and the Bigelow Lakes This is the “motorcycle route” described for Hike #70 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition), but not shown on most other maps.
I took the shortcut through the camp,
up across one of the large meadows that dot this range – with a view of Preston Peak, the high point in the Siskiyou Wilderness in the distance,
to the saddle between Mount Elijah and Lake Mountain, for a view down the Bigelow Lakes basin toward the Oregon Caves.
I collect old hiking guides and one of these, the Lowe’s 1969 guide to hikes in Oregon, tipped me to the former fire lookout site atop Lake Mountain.
The lookout blew down in 1953 but the Lowe’s reported that the trail from the saddle to the site was still mostly intact as of 1969. I was pleased to find that this is still the case – first a pretty good trail to within about 0.25 miles of the summit,
then a brief bushwhack up to and along the rocky ridge to the lookout site, which looked like this back in the day,
but has come to this. 😦
But the view – be still my beating heart! Even with a cloud deck, I had a full 360º panorama.
It was windy and “crisp” on Lake’s summit, so I scurried back to the saddle and up to Elijah for a quick lunch, with a view of Lake Mountain in the background.
Then, to make a quasi-loop, I descended the Mount Elijah Trail (USFS #1206) back to the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207), took that back to Sparlin Camp, and descended the Elk Creek Trail to the trailhead – passing an unusual species of soft tree fungus along the way.
A short (8.7 miles round-trip; 2,200 feet of elevation gain) hike that gave me an me opportunity to explore some of the history of this newest piece of the Oregon Caves National Monument. And the short hike to the top of Lake is well worth it for the view. 😀