As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established federal wilderness areas (less the two – Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks – that are closed to public entry). Now that summer is here, the snow has retreated (mostly), and the trails are open (mostly), we were able to visit, and actually hike in, two wilderness areas in the High Cascades: Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake.
Diamond Peak Wilderness
This 52, 459 acre wilderness straddles the crest of the Cascades, largely beneath a dense forest of mountain hemlock, lodgepole and western pine, and silver, noble, and other true firs (details). Snowfields remain most of the year in pockets above the tree line, and dozens of small lakes, one to 28 acres in size, speckle the high country. We had considered having a go at 8,744 foot Diamond Peak, but were dissuaded from doing so (this time) by lingering snow and variably cloudy weather. However, a short hike to Divide Lake and a 2nd/3rd class scramble up 7,100 foot Mount Yoran seemed like a suitable substitute. So, after a night in Oakridge, Oregon (and a great dinner at the Brewers Union Local 180 pub – it’s a mountain biker hangout but they’ll serve hikers too), we drove out of Oakridge on Forest Road 23 up to the Vivian Lake trailhead (USFS). This is #15 in Bond’s 2005 75 Scramble in Oregon.
Stepping out of the truck at the trailhead, we were greeted by some super aggressive mosquitos and cloudy skies – both of which we’d have to contend with for the rest of the hike. The Vivian Lake trail (USFS #3662) was in good condition – few fallen trees – as it climbed steadily (but not too steeply) up past cloud-gloomed Notch Lake.
Just past the lake, we came to the junction with the Mount Yoran trail (USFS #3683) and took that east toward Divide Lake. This trail climbs a little more steeply through the forest, during which time we were teased by fleeting glimpses of the sun,
before the trail mostly leveled off along a ridge,
before reaching Divide Lake, nestled below Mount Yoran and Point 7138. It’s a pretty little lake – but a showing of its better visual qualities was hampered by the overcast skies and lack of sunshine.
But we were here to scramble up Mount Yoran, which looms imposingly over the north end of the lake and looks like (but is not) an intimidating and difficult climb. In short, we went straight up the boulder field (white arrows), moved to the right side of the gully below the big gendarme, followed an obvious path of least resistance up that gully to the ridge (green arrow), went over the ridge, and then followed the less steep rocky slope on the other side to the summit. On the way back, we went about halfway down the gully and then traversed southeast (left, red arrow) to connect with the climber’s trail up from the lake.
The boulder field – if you stayed out of the smaller stuff – was actually quite stable and was a lot like climbing stairs, lots of stairs,
but with a much better view! And it was also free of mosquitos!!
Higher up, we were able to move right on to more solid rock (that dead tree directly below the LovedOne is a guide to that),
and reach the point (to the left of the tree behind the LovedOne) where the climber’s trail joins the gully. If we’d had the patience to find the not-so-obvious start of the climber’s trail down by the lake, we could have avoided the boulder field.
The route up the gully from here looks like a rock climb but it’s not, as it’s not that steep and there are innumerable hand and foot holds for support. The biggest danger along this part of the route is knocking a rock (or rocks) down on folks climbing below you. You also have to avoid slipping on the loose rock and dirt that adorns some of the ledges, so as to not knock yourself on to someone below.
We swung out into the gully to climb the last bit to the ridge, with a good view of a much prettier-looking Divide Lake below,
used what might rate as a simple 3rd class move to reach the ridge,
and moved over the top of the ridge to less steep slopes on the other side.
It’s definitely easier going on this side but it doesn’t pay to get complacent here because, if you were to manage an uncontrolled tumble, you’d go over a cliff, not just down a boulder field.
We only do this stuff for the view (well, not really…) and Mount Yoran didn’t disappoint with that. As we worked our way up this last slope below the summit, the view – even hampered by the clouds – kept getting bigger and bigger,
until we reached the flower bouquet, and small rock wall, that marked the summit.
After a quick snack, we headed down (rain was forecast for later in the day – it never materialized – and we didn’t want to find ourselves descending wet rock), which proved to be easier than we’d thought – just maintain a 3-point stance at all times.
About halfway down, we found the end of the climber’s trail going down the ridge to the southeast,
and followed it down as it transitioned from loose dirt to forest floor duff,
before ending behind a large boulder just above Divide Lake. If you want to ascend the climber’s trail, look for this boulder.
On the way back, we were granted a few more sunbreaks,
all the better to see (and avoid stepping on) this year’s crop of trail-crossing microtoads,
and experience a somewhat brighter Notch Lake.
This proved to be a truly excellent way to “visit” this wilderness – a fun hike on good trails (8.7 miles round trip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain), with lakes, a superb scramble, a summit, and big views!
Waldo Lake Wilderness
This 36,868 acre wilderness surrounds Waldo Lake on three sides (details). At 10 square miles (6,700 acres), Waldo Lake is one of the largest natural lakes in Oregon (Klamath Lake is largest by surface area) and, plunging to 420 feet at some points, is the second deepest after Crater Lake. It has no permanent inlet to bring nutrients into the lake for plant growth and this lack of plant life contributes to its purity – you can see to depths of 120 feet on a calm day – making it one of the purest lakes left in the world. Waldo Lake is also the source of the nationally-designated Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River. The lake was named in honor of Judge John B. Waldo who helped push for preservation in the Cascades, beginning with the Cascade Forest Reserve established by President Cleveland in 1893 (Judge Waldo Tree). On our way into Oakridge, we drove up to the lake to get a look at it from its eastern shoreline, which is outside the wilderness area. It was a cool, partly-cloudy day and the views of the lake were everything good that we’d expected (as were the hoards of very, very aggressive mosquitos).
So, after our Mount Yoran adventure, and another night in Oakridge (and another dinner at the Brewers Union), we headed out of Oakridge on Forest Road 24 to the Salmon Lakes (#3585) – Waldo Mountain (#3592) trailhead (USFS). There was only a small hiker symbol sign at the trailhead, so we were a little amazed to find an intact permit box, with a new trail sign and new style wilderness permits! Not something you see too often in Southern Oregon. Just past the permit box, we came to the junction of the Salmon Lakes (#3585) and Waldo Mountain (#3592) trails. To get the climbing out of the way in the cool of the morning – and to get to the views from the lookout as soon as possible – we opted to start with the Waldo Mountain trail.
This well-maintained and fallen tree-free trail climbs easily, but steadily, up through the forest,
incluidng through a long, beautiful avenue of blooming rhododendrons.
In three miles, we reached the lookout. A a pole and shake structure was erected here in 1926, then replaced with a D-6 cupola in 1929. That was replaced in 1957 with the current 15 foot bt 15 foot R-6 flattop ground house. The station is still staffed by Middle Fork Ranger District on an emergency basis during lightning storms. Though built in the 1950s, it is outfitted and furnished with original furniture and cabinetry, making it very authentic as well as comfortable.
Unlike yesterday, today was utterly cloud-free, and the view from the lookout was magnificent.
Diamond Peak to the south,
all of the major peaks in the Cascades to the north,
east toward the devastation wrought by the 1996 Charlton Fire,
and southeast toward Waldo Lake and Maiden Peak.
After tearing ourselves away from the view, we continued east and down on the #3592 toward Lake Chetlo.
Here the trail was less distinct, a little overgrown in spots (particularly near its eastern end), and seemingly less-well used. But there were ample offerings of flowering beargrass along the way (note the bee – there were a lot of these too).
We followed it steadily down, past a junction with the Winchester Ridge trail (USFS #3596), to its end at the Wahanna Trail (USFS #3583). From there, we diverted a short ways northeast along the #3583 to see beautiful Lake Chetlo, whose clear waters reminded us of those in its much larger neighbor a half-mile to the southeast.
Then we retraced our steps on the #3583 back westward to its junction with the Salmon Lakes trail (USFS #3585). From this junction, you can follow the #3585 for a little under a mile east to Waldo Lake but since we’d already visited the lake, we opted to continue back on the surprisingly level #3585. This trail passes through a series of meadows, which at this time of year were filled to capacity with a wide variety of flowering greenery, including cow parsnip, California corn lily, tiger lilies, and large expanses of Oregon Checkerbloom – and lots more bees too!
So we ambled back under the forest canopy, surprised at how generally level the trail was – this would be a very mellow way to reach Waldo Lake from the west. And, surprisingly, without too many attacks by mosquitos.
When we got back to the truck, we found this fulsomely colored Jewel beetle firmly attached to it. This beetle spends most of its life as a larva, burrowing in dead wood. The larva has the remarkable ability to go into a sort of suspended animation for apparently decades, then pupate and become an adult. We carefully moved him/her off the car and into the woods, where finding a mate was more likely…
So we were two for two with truly excellent “visits” to two wilderness areas – another fun hike on good trails (9.4 mile loop; 1,100 feet of elevation gain), with lakes, a lookout, big views, and flower-filled meadows!