In late 2015, as we were assembling our hiking to do list for 2016, it occurred to us that we had yet to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established and open federal wilderness areas (Oregon’s Wilderness Areas). Two of the 47 (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks) are closed to public entry (and would require amphibious operations even if they were open). Of the remaining 45, we had, as of 2015, hiked or visited all but 18. So we planned some trips to visit these. We’re not philosophers but suffice to say that wilderness exists just to be wild, irrespective of human needs or wants. So we understood going in that the primary “human” purpose for these wilderness areas is to protect a watershed or a threatened and endangered species or a terrestrial habitat or a fish habitat or all of the above and not for our hiking pleasure. This is particularly true of the smaller, less visited areas, many of which have few or no trails and in which cross-country travel opportunities vary from good to heroically (think Lewis & Clark or Alexander Mackenzie) difficult. So we weren’t planning on long day hikes or multi-day backpacks, just a visit and, if possible without undue heroics, a short hike. We started on the remaining 18 in January 2016 and visited the last one in July 2017. Below is a list of all of Oregon’s established wilderness areas, with a link (if available) to at least one of our visits to each (we’ve visited some multiple times).
As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 45 established and open federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past. We started this project in January 2016 with 18 wilderness areas remaining and closed out that year with just two left: the Menagerie and the Middle Santiam. The Middle Santiam Wilderness is a moderate-sized (8,844 acre) wilderness area whose primary human purpose is protection of the Santiam River watershed. Four trails, most of them seldom hiked, provide access to this wilderness: McQuade Creek (USFS #3397), Chimney Peak (USFS #3382), Gordan Peak (USFS #3387), and Swamp Peak (USFS #3401). The Chimney Peak Trail is the most popular as it provides easy access to the upper Middle Santiam River and, in six miles or so, to Donaca Lake. The Chimney Peak Trail was our Plan A, although we weren’t sure going in whether we’d hike all the way to the lake or just to the wilderness boundary. Why we ended-up doing neither is a twisted tale of plans (and karma) temporarily gone awry.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 45 established and open federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past. We started this project in January 2016 with 18 wilderness areas remaining and closed out that year with just two left: the Menagerie and the Middle Santiam. The Menagerie Wilderness is another of those small (4,962 acre), fairly obscure, wilderness areas whose primary human purpose is watershed protection and not recreation (it’s popular with rock climbers). There are only two trails in this wilderness – the Trout Creek (USFS #3405) and the Rooster Rock (USFS #3399) – of which the Trout Creek Trail (6.6 miles roundtrip; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) is the longer, but easier, one and hence was our choice. Why we hiked this wilderness before the nearby Middle Santiam Wilderness is a twisted tale of plans (and karma) temporarily gone awry.
Stuart Falls is a gorgeous 40-foot or so cascade of silver water nestled in a spectacular forest in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, near the extreme southwest corner of Crater Lake National Park. It has some wonderful campsites at its base and used to be readily accessible via the Red Blanket Trail (USFS #1090) from a trailhead on Forest Road (FR) 6205 to the west. But then this area was touched by the 2008 Lonesome Complex Middle Fork fire, which removed a lot of the understory and ground cover. This was followed by two years of minimal snow cover, punctuated by short, but intense, bursts of rain. No longer slowed by an understory, this water tore down gullies and completely obliterated the #1090 in several places (and also closed FR 6205 2.5 miles from the trailhead). Using my 4×4 to reach the trailhead, I did this hike in 2015 (post) and found the journey to the falls to be difficult at best and possibly even dangerous. A return visit seemed unlikely until I realized there was a safe (but slightly longer) way in from the east via the Pumice Flat Trail. So, leaving the LovedOne immersed in some sort of intricate fabric project, I headed out to return to the falls.
Tipsoo Peak (8,034) is one of the few 8000-foot Cascade volcanos (it ties for #38 in terms of elevation) with a well-graded trail to its summit. Located in Oregon’s Mount Thielsen Wilderness, it is an easy hike to spectacular 360º views, including Howlock Mountain, Mount Thielsen, Mount Bailey, Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters, and Diamond, Miller, and Maidu Lakes. Directly south of its summit is the highest point (7,560 feet) on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Oregon and Washington. We decided to do a quick hike to its summit to: (a) take in the views on what was to be a full bluebird day, (b) check-out snow levels along the PCT, and (c) generate an excuse to stop at Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek for some of their delicious pie (because hiking is hard and you need to stay fueled!).
The South Fork Rogue River, a 25-mile tributary of Oregon’s Rogue River, rises in the Blue Lake Basin of the Sky Lakes Wilderness and flows generally northeast to its confluence first with the Middle Fork and then with the main Rogue slightly upstream of Lost Creek Lake. The South Fork is bordered for part of its length by three hiking trails: the Lower South Fork Trail between Lower South Fork Bridge and Imnaha Creek (USFS #988), the Middle South Fork Trail between the Upper and Lower South Fork Bridges (USFS #988), and the Upper South Fork Trail from near Upper South Fork Bridge to the Blue Lake Basin (USFS #986). Both the Lower and Middle trails are locally popular and are also described in almost every hiking guidebook for this area. The Upper trail is rarely mentioned (if at all) in local guidebooks and is described by the Forest Service as a minimally maintained primitive trail, one not recommended for horses, and a challenging workout for hikers. This made a hike of it sound intriguing for one last venture into the Sky Lakes until the end of mosquito season in September.
Gardner Peak (6,884 feet) sits on the eastern edge of the Sky Lakes Wilderness, overlooking the northern reaches of Upper Klamath Lake. It’s a named peak without a benchmark and the origin and date of this name are uncertain; it was probably named after an early settler in the Wood River Valley around Fort Klamath. It certainly doesn’t get the same attention as does Devils Peak along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to the west. Still, a cross-country hike to its summit was as good a reason as any for a first visit to the Sevenmile Marsh Trailhead and the associated Sevenmile Trail. With its easy trails, plethora of campsites, and over 200 lakes of varying sizes, the Sky Lakes Wilderness is one of (if not the most) beguiling and wonderful wilderness areas in the state. But only the hiking-obsessed (hand raised here) visit before September, when the clouds of blood thirsty mosquitos that hatch from snowmelt until mid-August have dissipated.