Smoked pelican is probably a delicacy somewhere.  Might be a bit fishy tasting. And chewy. Today, however, it was just Pelican Butte (8,036 ft / 2,449 m), a dormant {Heck, why not erupt in 2020 – everything else has!} shield volcano mired in a sea of wildfire smoke. Its northeastern flank was carved into a large, steep cirque by Ice Age glaciers. On one side of this cirque, a little over a mile north of the summit, sit Lakes Gladys and Francis, the two named lakes in the Cloud Lake Group. Plan A, formulated before the onset of this season’s ruinous wildfires, was to drive up to 7,600 feet on the rocky, rutted, high-centered dirt road that services the comm tower on the summit (this road was built in 1934 by the CCC). From there we’d hike the three miles round-trip (with 1,000 feet of gain on the way back) to visit Gladys and Francis. Well, I’ll bet you can guess what happened to Plan A…  

A few unrequited clear days passed us by until the wind shifted and we were forced back inside by air that is mostly particles of various sizes. So, in desperation, Plan A became Plan B. We’d drive up Pelican Butte to 7,600 feet based on the absurdly optimistic belief that this smoke wasn’t vertically integrated all the way to the doorstep of Heaven. In this delightful fantasy world, we’d then walk in high, clear air down to the lakes and back. Brilliant! Except…except…as we drove east toward Klamath Falls we didn’t notice the smoke getting any thinner. Nor did it get any thinner as we ground our way up the side of Pelican Butte. It was, in fact, waiting for us at 7,600 feet – and, in fact, it smelled worse up here than it did in the valley. So good-bye Plan B. No lakes for us today. 😥

Smoke fills the forest as we start our drive up Pelican Butte

Well, lawn troll poop! 😐 Time for Plan C. We were only a half-mile from the summit, so we’d drive up there, commiserate with what was once an old fire lookout, and see what we could see. The first fire lookout was sited on the summit in 1934, upgraded in various ways in the years that followed, and eventually replaced by a steel tower hung with various kinds of communication gear in 1986.

The tower in 1942 (USFS archive photo)
The comm tower today…
Is not a thing of beauty

We’d read (mostly on 4WD enthusiast websites) that the view from Pelican was sweeping. The view of Mount McLoughlin to the southeast was supposed to be particularly impressive. We have no doubt that it is – when everything isn’t buried in dense smoke some 6,000+ feet (1,800+ m) thick. Mount McLoughlin is 1,400 feet (426 m) taller than Pelican Butte and it too looked (unlike in 2017) stuck in the smoke.

Mount McLoughlin from beneath the comm tower
Mount McLoughlin from Pelican Butte
Mount McLoughlin noire

From the summit, we could sorta see through the smoke to the route we’d planned to take to Gladys and Francis. If we squinted real hard, we could also just make out Francis’ shoreline, only a mile or so to the north. Because of sunlight reflecting off the smoke, we couldn’t see Upper Klamath Lake (or anything else) to the east. Sigh.

Plans A & B: Along the ridge (arrow) to Gladys (G) and then down to Francis (F) and back
The ridge out toward Gladys that would have been our route is pretty obvious

Well, maybe one day we’ll be able to get back to Plan A – it would be nice to eventually see the Cloud Lake Group up close. But Plan C was fine too. We got to see more smoke than we ever thought possible ( 🙄 ), visited, the site at least, of an old fire lookout ( 🙂 ), and scored a new summit the easy way ( 😀 ). And there is promise of real rain tomorrow! Hopefully it’ll be real and wet and not just another episode of Delightful Fantasy World (the most watched show in Washington, DC).

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