Last September, Lee Juillerat wrote a piece for our local paper, the Mail Tribune, reminiscing about a trip he’d made to Mystic Lake, which sits at 7,200 feet (2,195 m) in the nearby Mountain Lakes Wilderness. I had passed near this little lake when I did the Mountain Lakes Loop in 2015 but didn’t have time to divert then for a visit. So I put Mystic on the seemingly bottomless hikes to do list, intending it for a late summer hike. Then heat, smoke, other hikes, other adventures, and personal business intervened and voilà it was mid-October. And La Niña was back – bringing with it rain and the first snows of winter. Was it now too late to reach Mystic without snowshoes?

Today was a one day break in the La Niña weather action, so this was it if I was going to Mystic this year on boots alone. With The LovedOne sidelined by physical therapy for her persistent shoulder issue, I drove up alone (😥) to the Clover Creek Trailhead and went up the Clover Creek Trail to its junction with the Clover Creek Cut-off Trail. The air temperature was about 35℉ (1.6℃) and stayed around there all day – my boot prints going up were still crisp and clear as I passed them on the way back.

On the Clover Creek Trail
A spot of frosty color
The now dry unnamed pond just below the junction with the cut-off trail

Snow was insignificant all the way from the trailhead to about half-way to the rim. Then it got a little deeper and more constant but it never obscured the trail. It was deepest (to 6 inches (15 cm)) where the Mountain Lakes Trail descends to its junction with the South Pass Lake Trail. There had been a few rays of sunshine earlier in the day but those were soon eclipsed by various cloud layers thrown ahead of the next storms making their way toward us. It was also impressively windy on the rim.

Mount Harriman and Lake Harriette from the rim
Incoming storm clouds surround Mount Ashland
Mystic Lake (arrow) is barely visible from the Mountain Lakes Trail
Mount Carmine (L), Upper Klamath Lake (C), and Point 7923 (R)
Descending to the junction with the South Pass Lake Trail

The South Lake Pass Trail is less used – and hence rougher – than the loop trail. It’s track on the ground also diverges (as do parts of the loop trail) from what’s shown on the USFS map. But it brought me to the little sign pointing the way to Mystic Lake and, after a bit of a wander in the woods (if there’s a use trail here, it was covered with snow) I reached the lake.

Mystic Lake
Mystic Lake, with Aspen Butte beyond
Mystic Lake and Aspen Butte
Mystic Lake’s shoreline showing loss due to drought

After the lake, I found my way back to the South Pass Lake Trail and then retraced my steps back to the trailhead. Along the way, I got a brief view of Mount McLoughlin framed by two peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.

Mount McLoughlin center, flanked by Whiteface Peak (L) and Point 7703 (R)
One last mushroom

Reaching Mystic consumed 9.8 miles (15.7 km) with 2,100 feet (640 m) of elevation gain. Despite the lack of The LovedOne and the variable weather, it was a good hike. And one done just in time! The wind was howling as I drove home and today it rained. More fresh snow on Mount Ashland! This rain/snow pattern is forecast to be with us for several days (which will help with the drought) – so we’ll have to wait and see whether we can get in a few more boot hikes or it’s time to fire-up the snowshoes. Win-win either way! 😁

To Mystic and back