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. 😎

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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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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.

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Whiteface Peak (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 21-Jul-2018

Whiteface Peak Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

FIRE! SMOKE! FIRE! SMOKE! And so wildfire season begins in earnest… A week ago, huge thunderstorms rolled through our area, igniting a crescent of wildfires to our west and north. Many of these fires are still burning and smoke from them is filling the Rogue Valley with a choking miasma sadly reminiscent of old campfire. Last year, during the worst of the smoke from the Chetco Bar Fire, I sought (and found) clean (or at least cleaner) air atop various peaks in our area (The LovedOne opted for the A/C at the library). One of these peaks was Aspen Butte in the nearby Mountain Lakes Wilderness, which is now one of the few forested areas around here not hosting its own wildfire. Whiteface Peak, at the end of the Mountain Lakes Trail (USFS #3721), seemed like it might be high enough (at 7,684 feet) to afford a breathe of fresh air, so I got an early, but smoky, start for it (The LovedOne again sought refuge in the library’s cellulose-laden air).

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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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Lake Waban (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 15-Aug-2015

Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

The Mountain Lakes Trail (USFS #3721) to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (How many times can you say “mountain lakes?”) was the last of the three major trails into this wilderness that we had yet to explore. It was on the to do list but not a priority until heavy smoke from various wildfires in Oregon and California started blanketing our area. Being somewhat south and east of these fires, the Mountain Lakes Wilderness was being spared most of this smoke yesterday. So the opportunity to explore a “new” trail and not breathe smoke for awhile is what finally got us going on this one.

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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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