Lake Waban Loop (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 05-Aug-2019

We caught a break the other day after a wildfire started near Lake Harriette in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness. In previous years it might have been left to burn “naturally” – thus likely spreading across this fuel-rich wilderness area. But after two summers of devastating 100,000+ acre wildfires and thick, choking smoke in the valleys, just letting fires go isn’t the program anymore. Instead, ground crews and helicopters were on the Harriette fire almost immediately. Despite the difficult terrain, they held it to just 8 acres. The pros and cons of this approach to wildfire management are subject to debate. In the mean time, however, I’m glad we still have a wilderness with green trees in it. 🙂

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Aspen Butte (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 26-Aug-2017

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

At the moment, there are approximately 130,000 acres (200 square miles) of wildfires burning to the north, west, and south of the Rogue Valley. Needless to say, air quality in the valley sucks (if it were possible to breath-in). And, with air temperatures pushing into the triple digits, even Mordor is beginning to look like a better alternative.  And yet, after two delightful weeks of “floating and bloating” on the Salmon River (post), I (or, more accurately, my now bulging gut) needed a hike. But where? Someplace reasonably close, yet high enough for clearer air, and to the east of the wildfires (some of which, sadly, are busy burning away nearby hikes – like Grayback Mountain and Stuart Falls – that we’d enjoyed only a few months ago). After bringing an extra brain cell online, I decided that a hike up Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness was my best choice. At 8,208 feet, it’s the highest point in this wilderness and thus a likely place to find fresher air.  The LovedOne – once again suspecting my sanity – opted instead to spend the day volunteering in the cool, filtered air provided by the county library.  Sigh (gasp, hack, wheeze…).

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Mountain Lakes Loop (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 30-Jul-2015

Varney Creek Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

The Mountain Lakes Wilderness (not to be confused with the Sky Lakes Wilderness just to the north) is an exactly one section square (36 square mile) area that encompasses several lakes within a cluster of old (if they were not, you wouldn’t be reading this) volcanoes. Certainly the “squarest” wilderness area in Oregon. The Mountain Lakes Loop Trail (USFS #3727) circles the biggest lakes within the wilderness. We had previously explored it from the south via the Clover Creek Trailhead, enroute to a climb of the wilderness’ high point – Aspen Butte. The loop trail can also be reached from the north via the Varney Creek Trail (USFS #3718). With The Loved One out of action with a knee injury, I had to explore Varney Creek and hike the Mountain Lakes loop alone. 😥

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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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