Judge Waldo Revisited (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 31-Aug-2020

Our first try at finding the inscription Judge Waldo left on a (now dead) tree in the nearby Sky Lakes Wilderness wasn’t successful. We found it on our second try in 2015. That was the last time we managed to visit the tree or the Blue Lakes Basin. 😦 It’s odd how that visit years ago seems like it happened just last week (of course, five months ago now seems like another world, but I digress…). So when the weather offered-up a dry front that temporarily dropped the air temperature and pushed the wildfire smoke south, we took it as a favorable augury for another Waldo visit. And it proved to be a superb day for a hike – mostly cool with an easy breeze, full sunshine, just a little on the warm side in the afternoon, and no mosquitoes (fiends this wilderness is unfortunately famous for). There were a few fallen trees but otherwise the trails were in good condition despite having missed a year (or two or three) of maintenance.

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Hiking Southern Oregon: 25 Hikes (February 2020)

To celebrate our 600th post on WordPress, we’re highlighting a select few of the many hikes we’ve enjoyed here in Southwest Oregon.

As we’ve perused lists of Oregon’s greatest hikes, we’ve come to notice that these lists are heavily skewed, with a few exceptions, toward hikes near Portland.  The Portland metro area’s greater population helps if a list is based on some kind of vote.  And proximity to its major airport helps get votes from those who drop in for a brief Western adventure.  Even some of the classics, like the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon or the Three Sisters in Central Oregon, often don’t make these lists because they are too far away.  So a lot of “great” hikes get done near Portland – the state’s most populated town. And then the complaints roll in about how there’s no parking, the trails are too crowded, you need a permit or must pay a fee, it’s raining, etc.

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McKee Lake (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 14-Oct-2019

The 117 square mile Sky Lakes Wilderness extends north and south along the Cascades between Crater Lake National Park and Highway 140. Within this wilderness are over 200 lakes both scattered across the area and gathered in three major (Seven Lakes Basin, Sky Lakes Area, Blue Canyon Group) and two smaller (McKee, Dwarf Lakes) lake basins. Established trails provide access to the three main lake basins and human use can be heavy in those. Hence my interest has been drawn to outlying lakes (like Lake Ivern at the northern end of the Seven Lakes Basin) and those in the smaller, trailess basins (like the Dwarf Lakes). Today was McKee Basin’s turn for a visit. Sans The LovedOne, who had to attend a library board meeting instead. 😦

The lake and basin were named (about 1907) for Silas McKee, an early-day Forest Service ranger who regularly hunted in this area. They are located just north of the Blue Lakes Group and various maps show no established trail accessing them. But Oregon Fish & Wildlife stocks McKee Lake with brook trout so I figured it could probably be reached via a use trail. The closest road is Forest Road (FR) 3770, which is the access road for the Blue Canyon Trailhead. Two miles south of the junction of FR 37 and FR 3770, there is a not too obvious junction with a now long abandoned logging road (FR 3770-400).

The remains of FR 3770-400

I followed old FR 400 (which still shows on some maps, is now long gone as a road, but remains very good as trail). October is popular month in Oregon’s big game hunting season and the woods were swarming with hunters. It was they who were keeping this old road alive as a trail. It was also why I was festooned with pieces of fluorescent orange clothing [the few hikers who have criticized my “too bright” clothing have obviously never hiked during a hunting season 🙄 ]. After a half-mile on FR 400, I came to another old and unmapped road going due east. Since it was heading toward the lake, I turned and followed it.

The old road going east from FR 400

A little under a half-mile up this road, which got progressively more bedraggled, I came to what I would later learn was a key junction. I went left, which took me on a circular, cross-country journey past an unnamed pond.

The little pond on the way to McKee Lake
The little pond

Eventually, I circled back around to the east side of McKee Lake. There are a lot of very pretty little lakes in the Sky Lakes Wilderness and 3-acre McKee has to rank high among them. My first impression was probably enhanced by the fact that it was also a mild, sunny, clear Fall day.

McKee Lake from its eastern shore
McKee Lake

I began testing my theory of a large campsite connected to a use trail by circling the lake counter-clockwise. A small site appeared at the south end of the lake, but with no obvious use trail, so I pressed on.

McKee Lake
Clouds over McKee
From McKee’s south side
From McKee’s south side
Looking north
From the small camp on McKee’s south side
McKee’s western shore

I eventually worked my way completely around the lake to (yeah!) a large campsite on its northern shore, with a view of Smith Rock to the south.

The large campsite (arrow) with Smith Rock in the distance

Smith Rock protrudes from the ridge that extends northeast from Blue Rock, site of the former Blue Canyon fire lookout. The first lookout tower was constructed there in 1934 and an Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) cabin was added in 1942. The tower was replaced in 1963 and then moved to Robinson Butte in 1973. Today only some scattered bits of foundation remain on Blue Rock.

The 1934 Blue Canyon Lookout, with the 1942 AWS cabin
The 1963 lookout tower, now on Robinson Butte near Mount McLoughlin

From the campsite at the north side of McKee, an obvious – but sketchy in spots – use trail took me back to that key junction I’d missed on the way in (should have gone right instead of left). In my defense, let me say that this key junction, and several other turns along the use trail, were not all that obvious. Despite this navigation faux pas, it was a short (3.2 miles round-trip; 700 feet of gain), but good, hike to a wonderful little lake. It’s a good memory to have with me as I go off-trail for 2 to 3 weeks (if all goes well) to deal with a medical issue that has made hiking increasingly difficult. 😦 Hopefully I’ll be back on my feet in time for the start of the snowshoe season. 🙂

Track was edited to show the shortest way to McKee Lake. (1) Turn from FR 400 to old road. (2) Key junction where the use trail goes southeast.
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Upper South Fork Trail (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 03-Jul-2017

Upper South Fork Rogue River Trail Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon

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 #988).  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. Continue reading “Upper South Fork Trail (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 03-Jul-2017”

Judge Waldo Tree (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 22-Jul-2015

Judge Waldo Tree Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon

About three weeks ago, I did a long loop in the southern Sky Lakes Wilderness involving Fourmile Lake and managed to miss the famous Judge Waldo Tree. I’d vowed to return in the Fall to rectify this miss but dropping temperatures and a freakish absence of mosquitos in this wilderness (which is/was infamous for its biting hoards in July and August) encouraged us to look for this tree sooner. Although the hike in from Fourmile Lake to the south has its charms, we decided instead to try using the Blue Canyon Trailhead coming from the west side (Hike #46 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon guide (3rd Edition)). Continue reading “Judge Waldo Tree (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 22-Jul-2015”