Emigrant Lake (Ashland, Oregon) 10-Mar-2020

The last time Jennifer (former colleague and long-time friend) and I did a hike together was when she introduced me to the Mountain of the Rogue in 2018. This week she was down here helping her parents and reached out to see if we could do a hike. Absolutely! I’d been in a bit of a hiking dry-spell for the last few days what with work (my side hustle has its moments), fiendishly fickle weather (I’m going to rain; no, no I’m not, just cloudy; no, wait, how about some snow; no, no snow, let’s just do overcast gloom and a little drizzle, shaken not stirred…), the library’s quarterly book sale, and vague concerns about “the virus.” So it was definitely time for the boots again. The LovedOne was sidelined with a publicity meeting for the library. 😦

I’d come across a short (5 miles round-trip) partially cross-country hike along Emigrant Lake on the Hiking Project and we decided to give it a try. It’s on the east side of the lake across from Songer Butte but there’s no established trail (yet) – just a collection of game trails, some more clearly etched than others. The north end of this route is at the RV parking lot in Emigrant Lake County Park and its south end is at a section of the Old Greensprings Highway. We started at the RV park so I could amortize my county parks pass. 🙄 Unlike our last hike together, which was under cloudy skies, today we were graced with clear, sunny skies. 😎

This hike was mostly strolling through open country but there are a few tricky spots. The first of these came when we had to get around a cliff on the west side of the eastern dam (it took two earth-filled dams to create this lake). These cliffs are a popular rock climbing spot and the trail to them is wide and well worn. To reach the dam from here, we could have gone up and over the cliffs (the all-year route) or down along the base of the cliffs (the low water route). The lake (reservoir) is still down so we scrambled below the cliffs and then up on to the dam.

Going below the cliffs
View from below the cliffs
Crossing the dam with the rock climbing cliffs in the distance
View of still slightly snowy Grizzly Peak from the dam

The next tricky spot is the short traverse across a steep slope from the east end of the dam to more open ground near the lake. Fortunately there’s a good use trail here to ease the traverse.

A use trail helped us past a steep section

After that, we followed a collection of faint game and use trails across gentle slopes toward Helms Cove.

Looking north: (S) Little Songer Butte, (W.) Wagner Butte
Looking south, with Pilot Rock in the center

A prominent feature along our route was Helms Cove (this name only appears on the USGS map), where Cattle Creek enters the lake. Had the lake been fuller, we would have had to go wide here. As it was, we just strolled across what might be lake bottom if the drought we’re in eases and the lake fills.

Approaching Helms Cove
Helms Cove with Wagner Butte on the far horizon

There’s another tricky spot just past Helms Cove, where it’s necessary to again traverse a steep slope. But, again, there was a decent use trail here to ease our journey. Past the cove, the terrain opened up, a use trail became more pronounced, and we were able to wander south to the point across from Songer Wayside with no problems.

Flatter ground south of Helms Cove
An old corral with Major Butte in the distance

You can continue around the point to the southern trailhead but we decided to call the hike here and head back. The possibility of lunch at Caldera Brewing may have influenced our decision. 🙄

Heading back
Looking north from near Helms Cove
On the “trail” toward Helms Cove
The dam and the rock climbing cliffs
Looking south from near the trailhead: (L) Little Songer Butte, (S) Songer Butte, (P) Pilot Rock

It wasn’t a long hike but it was a good one and the weather for it couldn’t have been better. 🙂 We had a good time catching-up with changes in our respective lives. Then after lunch at Caldera, Jennifer headed back to be with her parents and I went home to do a little more work (to support our extravagant hiking lifestyle). o_O I should note that this is a low altitude hike best done between late Fall and early Spring. By late spring, the ticks can be out in force, the poison oak in full (toxic) leaf, the temperature too hot, and the rattlesnakes restless.

Our track along the east side of Emigrant Lake
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