Mystic Lake (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 19-Oct-2021

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?

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Getting to the Point (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 11-Jul-2020

Southern Oregon’s Mountain Lakes Wilderness (the U.S.’s only wilderness with a perfectly square boundary) was once believed to be the caldera of one huge collapsed volcano (like Crater Lake to the north). But more recent research suggests it was created from calderas of four overlapping shield volcanoes. Eight prominent peaks – and several lesser ones – remain on the rim of these calderas. Aspen Butte (8,208 ft / 2,501 m) is the highest point in the wilderness but there are several other rocky summits that offer spectacular views of the surrounding area and as far south as Mount Shasta. Today we decided to take advantage of some excellent weather to take in the views from Point 7703 located between Whiteface Peak and Greylock Mountain.

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Clover Creek (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 23-Aug-2019

This has been the first August in two years that has not been blighted by smoke from huge wildfires burning to the west, south, and north. This year’s fires have been either small or quickly suppressed (we now have an air tanker base at our local airport). Otherwise it’s just hot here in August (as it should be) and that heat can sap ones enthusiasm for hiking. But we wanted to get out and figured that a stroll along shaded Clover Creek in the nearby Mountain Lakes Wilderness would be cool enough since it starts at around 6,000 feet and goes up to over 7,000. 😎

So we moseyed up along the creek, past Clover Lake (still on the full side thanks to our snowy winter), and on up to a saddle on the Mountain Lakes Loop. There’s one spot on this trail where you get a good view of Mount McLoughlin – this year happily free of wraiths of smoke. At the saddle we took a snack break, briefly contemplated scrambling up Point 7703, then decided that this was far enough for this nice day in the forest. So we retraced our steps to the trailhead, looking at little things along the way. A simple, but satisfying, hike (9 miles round-trip; 1,600 feet of gain) on a good trail in the only square wilderness area in the U.S.! 🙂

Along the Clover Creek Trail
The small meadow along Clover Creek
The creek is still running in August!
Clover Lake
Point 7703 from our snack break on the Loop Trail
A snow (and smoke) free Mount McLoughlin from the Loop Trail
A spent hornet’s nest
A face in a tree
A pine cone after the squirrel
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Crater Mountain (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 27-Jul-2018

Crater Mountain Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

Wildfires, many started by lightning two weeks ago, continue to burn (and, in some cases, grow) to the west and north of here. They’re still pouring smoke into the Rogue Valley, continuing a choking miasma that has lost any connection (if it ever had any) to the charms of a campfire. The town of Redding, California, some 150 miles to the south, is under siege from a human-caused wildfire that has grown from a spark to almost 50,000 acres in only a few days, fueled by hotter and drier weather, high winds, and the consequences of a lingering drought. Similar wildfires burn elsewhere in the world.  Hikes we did just within the last few months have burned and others have burned yet again. Pundits, particularly the ones who are ideologically challenged, resist calling wildfires of this scope and intensity “the new normal” as though we’ll soon (if we cross our fingers and hop on one leg long enough) be right back to a cool, green, smoke-free world.  Well, sorry, we won’t. Science can help but this is ultimately a political – that is a purely human – solution, not a scientific one. We’ve dithered past any hope for a quick fix and it looks like it’s going to take some time for the occupants of the political clown car to craft a long fix; so, in the interim, we’ll need to get on with adapting.

Understanding that hiking doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, I (The LovedOne was sticking with the A/C, as was the cat) nonetheless needed to find some solace in a forest. The desire to avoid a lot of driving took me (again) to the nearby Mountain Lakes Wilderness, this time at the higher, and only slightly less smoky, Clover Creek Trailhead. Last week (Whiteface Peak), I’d seen Crater Mountain off in the distance (through the smoke) and figured that it too might be just high enough (at 7,777 feet) to afford more air and less smoke, and so it did. The Clover Creek Trail was a smooth walk past Clover Lake to the saddle below Whiteface. From there it was an easy up and down walk along the ridge – through open forest and across boulder fields – to Crater Mountain. The view from 7,777 feet was of a thick blanket of reddish smoke choking the valley floor and of thin wisps of smoke trying to force their way higher.  But the hike and the summit both offered some solace, which makes getting on with adapting just a little easier. Continue reading “Crater Mountain (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 27-Jul-2018”

Aspen Butte (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 06-Jun-2015

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

Aspen Butte (8,208 feet) is the high point in the six mile square Mountain Lakes Wilderness just west of Klamath Falls, Oregon. In 2007, Terry Richard (The Oregonian’s outdoor writer) climbed the butte and described this wilderness as “…unappealing, although the lakes down below must have their charms.” we thought this comment was a bit harsh and dismissive. Given how little wilderness there is, and how hard it is to get, dissing what we have seems counter-productive. Sullivan, on the other hand, describes the loop trail as gorgeous. Never having visited a wilderness area that we couldn’t find to love in some way, we headed out to test the charms of the Mountain Lakes for ourselves. There are three trailheads into this wilderness – Varney Creek, Mountain Lakes, and Clover Creek; the latter is the start of the shortest path to Aspen Butte.

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