The Sky Lakes Wilderness stretches for 113, 835 acres along the crest of the volcanic Cascade Mountains from the border of Crater Lake National Park on the north to State Highway 140 in the south. As its name implies, it encompasses a large number of named and unamed lakes arrayed in three major lake (former glacial) basins, from Seven Lakes Basin in the north, to Sky Lakes Basin (including the Dwarf Lakes) in the center, to Blue Canyon Basin in the south. Fourmile Lake and Mount McLoughlin lie south of Blue Canyon Basin, on the southern border of the wilderness. More than 200 pools of water, from mere ponds to lakes of 30 to 40 acres, dot the landscape. Fourmile Lake exceeds 900 acres. Despite its fearsome reputation for hordes of ravenous mosquitos in July and August, we have done more than a few summer hikes here – including scrambles to the summits of Mt. McLoughlin and Devils Peak – since first moving to Southern Oregon. Our hike last year in via the Nannie Creek trailhead was cut short when the LovedOne’s knee started acting up (post), so we had some unfinished business with exploring the Sky Lakes Basin from that particular entry point. But, unable to convince her that a hike through mosquitos in hotter than usual temperatures would somehow be FUN, I was left to face the wilderness alone (sigh).
The drive around to the trailhead (USFS TH) via Highway 140, the Westside Road, and Forest Road 3484 was uneventful (FR 3484 is good gravel, but VERY dusty) and I was soon heading up the Nannie Creek trail (USFS #3707) toward Puck Lakes. This winter had been harder than usual – heavy snow, ice, high winds – and the toll it took on old and weak (and not so weak) trees was fully evident in the number that had fallen across the trail. The big logs could be stepped or crawled over but when the whole crown came down on the trail, getting through the resulting tangles of shattered limbs was a struggle.
But only 3 miles in, I came to the clear, emerald waters of Puck Lakes and all the junk on the trail was forgotten. Thanks to the higher elevation of the Nannie Creek trailhead and the short hike in, these lakes are a locally popular dayhiking and backpacking destination.
However the Nannie Creek trail continues westward, breaking out of the forest into a boulder field filled with “shale-like” rocks (not sedimentary rock, but indurated deposits of cinders, scoria, ash, and breccia) that sound like broken porcelain when you step on them.
Up close, you can see the “broken dinner plates” before they come loose to form these boulder (or rock) fields.
On a clear day, this particular spot on the trail gives you a wonderful, widescreen view of most of the major peaks to the south,
including, on this particularly fine bluebird day, Mount Shasta. According to Sullivan, Luther Mountain was named to provide a religious opponent for nearby Devils Peak. Which raises the question of why someone then named another nearby peak “Lucifer?”
I had been jumped by a wad of mosquitos just after leaving the trailhead, had applied a little DEET to fend them off, and wasn’t much bothered by them for the rest of the day. About four miles in, I came to the partially signed junction of the Nannie Creek, Snow Lakes (USFS #3739) and Sky Lakes (USFS #3762) trails. I say partially signed because only the Sky Lakes sign was still on a tree; the others were arranged on the ground. Up to this point I’d had to contend with several clots of fallen trees but as I headed up the Snow Lakes trail the number of downed trees lessened and the last three miles up to the PCT were blessedly dead-tree-free. The #3739 passes through a number of small lakes that are not named individually but simply known collectively as the Snow Lakes (for extra confusion, there are also two small lakes collectively named “Snow Lakes” at the base of Luther Mountain’s northeast ridge).
After switchbacking up through the trees, the trail emerges on to another slope of that tinkly, crunchy “shale”,
with a view down to another of the Snow Lakes, with Klamath Lake just starting to come into view on the eastern horizon.
The trail eventually climbs above the series of “shale” cliffs that sit just below the ridge top. From here I could look north along the cliff line to Devils Peak (post),
and south toward Pelican Butte and down at some of the other named lakes (e.g., Martin, Wind, Snow, Tsuga) in the Sky Lakes Basin.
I soon passed yet another of the Snow Lakes, this one perched just below the ridge top not far from the PCT. By now, the air temp was rising but a cool breeze was blowing across the ridge. And, despite the proximity of several small lakes, there were no mosquitos! I noted several small, but excellent, campsites along here and thought that this would be the perfect destination for an overnight (or longer) backpack, what with the ready availability of water, trees, views, and breezes. Plus this area is kind of off the beaten track, so some solitude seems possible too.
A little more easy climbing,
through the remnants of the 2014 Camp Creek Complex Fire,
with a view of Klamath Lake in the distance,
and – voilá! – I was at the unsigned junction with the PCT. However, I did find the chared remains of a PCT sign on one of the burned, but still standing, trees.
I was thinking about hiking over to Luther Mountain but doing so would have added four miles to what was already a 13+ mile hike, so I opted for a snack, water, and photos at the junction, including one of this Common Mustard (Brassica rapa) – a non-native species – hosting a beetle.
While I was wandering around snapping photos, a PCT hiker came by and I recognized him as a hitchhiker we’d seen three days before in Mount Shasta as we were driving over to Gray Rock Lakes. He was looking for a ride to Ashland, while we were headed west, so we couldn’t offer a ride. But it looks like he got one. Then it was back the way I’d come in, with a look-back at the Snow Lakes trail – PCT junction high on the far ridge.
Despite the downed trees, this was a great hike (13.5 miles round-trip, 1,600 feet of elevation gain) on trails or parts of trails I hadn’t done before, on a bluebird perfect day, with minimal bug action. When the weather cools at bit, I may coax the LovedOne up here for a longish, but moderate, hike to Luther Mountain.