Lily Pad Lake (Red Buttes Wilderness) 16-Jul-2021

The Bootleg Fire, which has now exceeded 273,000 acres (110,450 ha), continues to march east, chewing-up the forest and spewing out great volumes of smoke as it does so. Sadly, it is now eating its way into the Gearhart Wilderness, which has a plentiful supply of dead trees to act as fuel. This was another place that we’ve now apparently missed our chance to re-visit. 😥 The smoke from the Bootleg and other fires in Oregon and California is pushed mostly east by the prevailing westerlies. But winds shift, bringing this smoke to us when they do so. That, combined with that heat dome thing, has made cool, smokeless hiking a rare commodity thus far this summer.

The out-and-back hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Cook and Green Pass to Lily Pad Lake is an easy one – a gradual climb with usually big views, amid a complex geology. But, with The LovedOne busy volunteering at the (air conditioned 🤔) library, I was drawn to Lily Pad today simply by the promise of a hike in cooler, less smoke-infused air at and above 6,000 feet (1,828 m). And so it was – at least for a while. I arrived at the trailhead about 0800 to relish air that was actually chilly and tinged with the scent pines rather than an old campfire. At the trailhead, I was reminded that this area had been impacted by two wildfires in 2017 – the Abney and the Cook. Fortunately, the stretch of the PCT between Cook and Green and Lily Pad had been spared from these conflagrations.

Leaving the trailhead through trees scorched (but not killed) by the 2017 Abney Fire
Looking east toward Cook and Green Pass from the PCT – trees killed by the 2017 Abney Fire in the foreground; smoke from the Bootleg Fire on the horizon

The PCT climbs steadily up and around a ridge to a view of the twin Red Buttes. None of this part of the PCT is actually in the Red Buttes Wilderness, as the wilderness boundary runs right through the Red Buttes along the crest of the ridge.

The twin Red Buttes (center), with Kangaroo Mountain (L) and Point 6532 (R)

The views to the south from along here are usually spectacular, with Mount Shasta taking center stage. But not today thanks to wildfire smoke that was coming in from the south. Some artful squinting made it possible to just barely see Shasta – or make you think you see Shasta.

Mount Shasta (arrow) was barely visible through the smoke

At 2.5 miles (4 km) from the pass, the PCT reaches a saddle where there’s a junction with the Horse Camp Trail and a view down to Echo Lake.

At the saddle: Point 6532 on the right with Red Butte straight ahead
Echo Lake from the saddle, with Grayback Mountain (arrow) bathed in smoke
A tiny crab spider contemplates a meal while perched on a Tall Sneezeweed

I crossed an old mine road, circled around Bee Camp, and continued on to Lily Pad Lake. On previous early and late season visits, the lake has been open water, with only a few stray water lily plants showing. This time it was swathed in them.

The Red Buttes from Bee Camp
Lily Pad Lake covered with Water Lilies

Above Lily Pad Lake, the PCT brushes the end of the old mine road, which is marked by a low stone wall and a gate – presumably to keep cattle from straying over into the wilderness area. On a clear day – which was not today – there are some amazing views out over Lily Pad Lake toward Mount Shasta.

The end of the old mine road, with Kangaroo Mountain in the distance
The view south from the gate on a crisp day in October 2016

I continued on the PCT to the west side of Lily Pad, amazed at the difference between today’s green-blanked water body and the barren, open water I’d seen on hikes earlier and later in the year.

Lily Pad Lake (R) with Red Butte peeking over the ridge (L)
A verdant Lily Pad Lake today
A senescent Lily Pad Lake in early Spring (2015)

Having climbed Red Butte a few years ago, I thought I might add Kangaroo’s summit to the list. But the route up from the PCT looked to be some combination of nasty manzanita thickets and boulder-hopping. My enthusiasm for brush-choked rock hopping failed me at this point and I headed back instead. I opted to return on the old mine road instead of the PCT just for something a little different.

The road was built in the late 1930s or early 1940s to access a chromite mine (variously referred to as the Kangaroo Mountain Mine, Kubli-Scott Claim, Anniversary Claim, McGuire) in Hello Canyon. The mine itself never happened and its site is now within the Red Buttes Wilderness. This road is, however, not and the area it traverses (in parallel with the PCT) was (as of 2008) claimed by the Beyond Tomorrow mining company of Eureka, California, who had plans to strip mine the area for low-grade chromite ore. The current status of any such plans is not known but this area (despite being adjacent to the Red Buttes Wilderness and crossed by the PCT) is without wilderness status and thus remains vulnerable to such extraction schemes.

One last look at the Red Buttes

Soon after I started back, the wind shifted and rancid smoke smells once again filled the air. But the air remained fairly cool, so, overall, it was a good walk (8.3 miles (13.3 km) with 1,200 feet (365 m) of gain) and a pleasant change from being smoked-cured in the hot valley below. I also crossed paths with five thru-hikers who were – impressively – pressing on north despite all this heat and smoke. 😁 Here’s hoping they get to Canada without being blocked by weather or fires!

Out-and-back to Lily Pad Lake
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