Royal Basin and Royal Lake

My sister and I spent five days up at Olympic National Park in early August. Despite living in Portland my whole life, I have never set foot on the Olympic Peninsula. It was amazingly gorgeous up there and we will definitely be going back!

With limited time, we only spent one night backpacking. We chose Royal Basin as our destination, where beautiful Royal Lake lies surrounded by rugged mountains. Depending on which guidebook you consult, it’s either six or seven miles to the lake, and about 2,300′ elevation gain. Whew! This is a very popular place, so you have to reserve ahead of time and then pick up a permit from the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. Plus you’re required to carry a bear canister, which you can rent for cheap from the WIC. It’s a preventative measure; they don’t have a bear problem yet and they want to keep it that way. But those canisters are pretty heavy!

The hike starts out easy, climbing ever so gradually through a beautiful and pleasant forest for the first couple miles. You start out alongside the Dungeness River, and then the trail cuts over to follow Royal Creek upstream to Royal Lake. Soon the forest thins out and every once in awhile you cross an avalanche chute or rockslide. This was the first one, where we finally got a view of our distant destination.

The trail climbs up and up and up, getting pretty steep in some parts. The warm day felt quite hot, especially in the open areas where the sun beat down. I spent all of May and June laid-up with my broken foot and lost a lot of fitness which I have not yet regained. So I was really hurting on this hike.

I don’t have many pictures from the hike in. I was too busy sweating. My sister, in better shape and a faster hiker anyway, had hiked ahead of me after lunch and I hadn’t seen her for hours. When I finally reached the lake, I saw from the little map of campsites that they were quite scattered around the southwest side of the lake. So I set off to find her, pausing often to admire the gorgeous lake.

I spent half an hour looking for her. There were plenty of people and nearly every campsite had been taken, even on that weeknight (don’t come here for solitude). But I ended up exploring nearly every single scattered campsite before finally finding her in one of the last few spots I hadn’t looked yet. Man, I was SO ready to take that pack off! She had set up the tent and was holed up inside hiding from the mosquitoes, which were quite prolific. We rested awhile and then decided to hike to the upper basin. We were tired, but we knew it would be pretty and that we would regret it if we didn’t go. At least we didn’t have to put our packs on again.

It WAS worth it. It was really pretty up there, even though it was all in shadow because the sun had dipped below the high mountains. We saw a marmot….

…and admired the awesome view.

There was a surprise waterfall flowing down into the basin. It’s not on the topo maps and seems to have no name. I climbed up the hill a little bit to photograph it while Deborah continued the last stretch to the upper reaches of the upper basin (I was too tired for that).

Deborah took some shots on my point-and-shoot. Here is a pretty little tarn…

… and a look down at the meadow that was my stopping point.

On the way back down to the lake, Deborah saw a doe and two fawns. Awwwww….!

After photographing the waterfall in the upper basin, I had hiked back down to the lake. While waiting for Deborah to return, I took pictures of the GORGEOUS lupine near the lake. There were several little meadows like this chock full of blooming lupine. It smelled fantastic!

Once we were both back at camp we set to work making dinner. It was a challenge since we wanted to keep our gloves on to protect our hands from the mosquitoes, but we couldn’t prepare the food wearing our gloves. Thank God for the headnets at least. Here we are sporting our stylish nets and our mugs full of wine (yes, my crazy awesome sister hauled a heavy bottle of wine up there!)

At dusk, a deer wandered into our camp. She was clearly used to humans.

I went down to the lake with my accompanying hoard of mosquitoes and experimented with some long shutter speed shots of the lake at dusk, not knowing what kind of results I’d get. Turned out pretty nice!

We slept pretty well that night since it didn’t get very cold at all. We were at 5,100 feet and were expecting colder temps but it was actually quite comfortable. We woke with the light at 6 a.m. and decided to go around to the east side of the lake to watch the rising sun paint the western mountains with light. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning and the mosquitoes were only out in half-force at that hour, lucky us!

Before we headed back to the trailhead, we decided to find the waterfall that we had caught glimpses of and could hear from many areas around the lake. It looked to be near the ranger tent (unstaffed during our weekday visit) so we followed the trail to the tent. The trail kept going so we kept following it and sure enough it led us to an amazing waterfall. Like the one in the upper basin, this one is not on the topo map and appears to have no name, which is a shame since it’s so huge and cool.

We hung out by the waterfall for a long time, not only because it was so pretty and the day was so warm and beautiful, but because the mosquitoes were pretty much non-existent there. Ah, the relief of escaping those little bastards!

After we packed up camp, Deborah took a little swim in the lake, brave girl. The water did look very refreshing, but I didn’t want to expose so much skin to the blood-sucking mosquitoes swarming about.

And then we headed out, sadly leaving behind the gorgeous mountain lake and the stunning scenery around it. Here’s Deborah hiking across the lower part of Royal Basin, where there are a few campsites.

The hike out was long and hard because we were tired and sore and it was quite warm. I was so tired that I tripped and fell twice, twisting both my ankles. Thank goodness for hiking poles or the fall would have been worse. But we finally made it back to the trailhead. I look a little worse for wear.

But I made it and it was totally worth the trip. What a beautiful backpacking destination! I highly recommend this hike. As I said, it’s quite popular, but since they do limit the number of campers allowed that helps. I hope to go back again someday, hopefully when the mosquitoes are not around!

Pamelia Lake

After our marathon trek to and from Marion Falls, we headed over to Pamelia Lake, even though it was late in the day. We didn’t want our permit to go to waste.

The November 2006 storms wreaked havoc on the trail. Part of the Milk Creek Glacier up on Mt. Jefferson broke loose and sent a torrent of debris downstream. The debris flowed down Milk Creek and spread out towards Pamelia Creek, causing the creek to carve a whole new channel in places. It obliterated large sections of the trail but the Forest Service has done a good job rebuilding the trail. The forest in there is incredibly surreal. Rocks and boulders litter the forest floor and in many places they are resting on the “upstream” side of a group of trees, unable to go any further during the debris flow.

After hiking in and out of patches of this bouldery forest, the last stretch towards the lake was fine. About 6:00 we reached Pamelia Lake.

According to Sullivan’s hiking book, we could go around to the south shore of the lake for a view of Mt. Jefferson. We were unable to find a way to do so and we eventually realized why. Sullivan describes how the lake level drops by mid to late summer so that the shoreline is exposed. It is along the shoreline that he tells you to walk to get the view of Mt. Jefferson. You can see in the photo below that all the logs that would normally be high and dry by late July are in fact anything but. But this, of course, is not a normal year.

Greg explored in the bushes along the lake, but even if we had tried to bushwhack over to the south shore, we would have had to wade the outlet creek, which again is apparently normally pretty dry. So we gave up and simply hung out on the north shore, admiring the lovely evening and the peaceful lake.

Pamelia Lake is nice and I’m glad we went there. But I’m not sure what the huge appeal is. Why is this lake so popular? So popular that the Forest Service has had to limit access! There are several prettier lakes with hikes that are of similar length and difficulty, both in the Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood areas.

I would like to come back here to explore the area further up, including Grizzly Peak and Hunt’s Cove. I have barely seen any of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, and I hope to spend more time there next summer.

Gooch Falls and Marion Falls

Last fall when I hiked to Marion Lake, I attempted to find Marion Falls but failed. While Greg and I were camping at Marion Forks Campground a few weeks ago, we hiked the Marion Lake trail for the sole purpose of visiting Marion Falls. Greg had been there before, so this time I knew I’d get to see it. I was also intensely curious to see where I went wrong in my attempts to find it last year.

Before heading up to Marion Falls, we stopped to see Gooch Falls, which requires a short hike up a logging road and a short hike down an unofficial trail to the cliff above the falls. (You can find directions here.)

Gooch Falls is IMPRESSIVE. I’m amazed that such a beautiful and easily-accessed waterfall doesn’t have an official trail and signs. So much water was roaring over the falls that the spray rose up in huge amounts to shower us and our cameras with water. We were pretty wet when we were done, as were our cameras. With frequent lens-wiping, I managed to get a good shot.

I also took a video.

Before heading up to the Marion Falls trailhead, we went back down the road a short ways to filter water, since our campground didn’t have any. After doing so, I took a photo of lovely Marion Creek from the bridge that spans it.

And then we were finally ready to hit the trail. There were quite a few cars at the Marion Lake trailhead, including a large group of Youth Corps folks. But for all the cars at the trailhead, we ran into only a few people on the trail, most of them being backpackers on their way out.

We ate lunch at Lake Ann, where we saw some nice beargrass.

At the junction after Lake Ann, we took the right fork, and a short while later reached the obvious (but unmarked) trail heading off to the right. We took this up and over a hump and down to Marion Creek. I had gotten this far last year, but lost the trail then. Turns out you go downstream from there. The “trail” is faint, pretty much non-existent. But there is barely any undergrowth so it’s easy walking.

You soon reach a viewpoint at the top of Marion Falls, but you can’t really see much. So we took a trail to the right which heads steeply down the hill near the creek and waterfall. This is VERY steep. I fell once, my feet slipping out from under me. Thanks to my hiking poles I caught myself and just got a few scrapes.

We reached a spot where we could see the upper tier of Marion Falls. Greg went all the way out beyond the green vegetation you see here in the foreground, but it’s steep and wet out there, so I took my picture from back at the edge of the trees. There was A LOT of spray.

I was a little reluctant due to the steep difficult trail, but Greg convinced me that going further down was worth it to see the bottom tier. So we made our way further down and it was indeed worth it.

See the video here.

As with the upper tier, there was a lot of spray here, maybe even more than above. It was pretty damn impressive. Once again, I can’t believe the Forest Service hasn’t built an official trail out here.

I’m glad I had Greg to show me where this was. Even if I had been able to find the top-of-the-falls viewpoint last year, I’m not sure I would have been up to tackling the steep scramble trail down for a better view of the falls. It was nice to get a gander at this impressive waterfall! If you go here, be careful. The trail to the viewpoint is fine, but the scramble trail can be difficult.

We didn’t go to Marion Lake, although we wanted to. We had planned on fitting both this and the Pamelia Lake hike into one day and it was already 3:00 when we got back to the main trail. So we booked it out to the car and headed over to Pamelia Lake.

Echo Basin

July 26, 2008

The Echo Basin trail seems to be a little-known and seldom-visited hike near Santiam Pass. It’s not very long but passes through a beautiful wildflower meadow. Greg and I did this after the Cone Peak hike earlier in the day. Here’s his wildflower report.

The hike starts out climbing up an old overgrown logging road that is so steep that it seems hard to believe a logging truck – or any other vehicle, for that matter – could have handled the grade. Thick clumps of alder grow alongside the road/path, growing in weird arcs as seen below. Why they don’t just grow straight up is beyond me. Maybe it has something to do with snow? (We saw several patches of snow alongside the trail on this hot July day. Seemed incredible that any could still be lingering!)

2737875335_e9a48a350c.jpg

The trail reaches a junction where you can either go right or left to complete the loop. We went right, climbing still more up through the trees. There is old growth here and the forest is very pretty.

2737798724_7ee0656e10.jpg

The trail then passes through a big field chock full of False Hellebore. There was A LOT of it.

2736962875_5d9c363c12.jpg

Finally we reached beautiful Echo Basin. What a lovely spot! It was full of wildflowers with several gurgling streams flowing down from above. It was a pretty and peaceful spot. Some of the wildflowers we saw:

2737799024_d620ef7930.jpg

2737799060_4b3bdb7755.jpg

2737799222_30da717d31.jpg

Echo Basin does indeed have an echo, although not a very significant one. We had fun testing it out. The view below shows part of the basin. I didn’t have a wide enough lens to capture it all.

2738714162_abc611cbdd.jpg?v=0

Hiking back down on the other side of the loop, I got a shot of Greg in front of one of the huge Alaska Cedars for perspective. This area is unique because Alaska Cedars don’t usually grow this far south.

2737875225_6e5c1c52be.jpg?v=0

And back at the junction we made the knee-aching descent back down the old road to the car. The hike is only about 2.5 miles in total, with an elevation gain of about 600 feet. Very much worth it for the cool old growth and beautiful wildflowers.

Cone Peak

July 26, 2008

Greg and I went camping at Marion Forks Campground a few weeks ago and did lots of great hikes. The first one we did was Cone Peak, which is right next to Iron Mountain. We didn’t do the whole trail, just up to Cone Peak and back. The wildflowers were wonderful! (Greg wrote up a wildflower report on his website.)

2731591515_06b547f578.jpg
A wide shot of the flowered slopes of Cone Peak

2731591625_34f92a9060.jpg
Very cool cloud formation

Some of the wildflowers we saw up there…

2731591713_b90124d188.jpg

2733751769_8727beb913.jpg

2734582272_0d6f540451.jpg

2735198719_9670002089.jpg

2735200637_dbba3c1ac7.jpg

And finally, looking west at Iron Mountain and the view beyond

2736035220_eb40595703.jpg

Great little hike with beautiful flowers! As with everything this year, the blooms were several weeks behind. The flowers were at peak when we were there on July 26, but last year I hiked there on the 4th of July and they were at peak, which I think is more normal.

After this hike, we headed to nearby Echo Basin for more wildflower action!

Little Eagle Meadows

After our three-day trip with the Wallowa Llamas, Greg and I had one free day before driving back to Portland. So we went on a day hike up to Little Eagle Meadows, starting at the Summit Point trailhead. This hike to the meadows was the first part of the longer hike up to Pine Lakes, which is the hike we were supposed to have done with the llamas. But there was too much snow higher up, so our llama guide took us to Eagle Meadows instead.

My sister and I did this hike last year in late June and it was too early for the massive lupine displays. All we saw were thousands of lupine leaves. Fortunately, Greg and I saw plenty of blooming lupine. Here he is coming up the trail behind me, surrounded by the purple wildflowers.

The trail climbs up and up and up. It was fairly brutal in parts. I was very tired. Fortunately, it wasn’t hot. In fact, we got drizzled on a little bit. It’s amazing how fast the weather changes. At the trailhead it was hot and sunny and I left my rain jacket in the car. Half an hour later the sun was gone and it was drizzling.

Finally we reached the massive meadows. It really should be called Big Eagle Meadows, not Little Eagle Meadows. Cornucopia Mountain makes a nice backdrop.

The lupine was EVERYWHERE and it was gorgeous. And for every blooming lupine we saw, there were even more that hadn’t bloomed yet. I’ve never so many lupine in one place before.

There were other wildflowers blooming up there too.

We had a nice view of the mountains and the distant rain on the hike out.

Beautiful hike! Probably about five miles round-trip to the meadows and back, with about 800 feet elevation gain.

Trekking with the Wallowa Llamas in the Eagle Cap Wilderness

When Greg won the 2006 Oregon Wild photo contest, one of his prizes was a gift certificate for a three-day, two-night trip with the Wallowa Llamas. So we redeemed that gift certificate on July 18 and went on an awesome trip into the beautiful Eagle Cap Wilderness. The whole set of pictures is here.

We started out on Friday at the llama ranch just north of Halfway. Seven llamas got loaded into the back of an old school bus (bwahahahaha!). We humans rode up front.

We were supposed to start at the Summit Point trailhead and hike up to either Pine Lakes or Crater Lake. But the trail went into higher mountain territory where there was still snow, so we started at the Boulder Park trailhead and hiked into Eagle Meadows instead, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I’m still not in the best of shape after being laid up with a broken foot all of May and June.

After the hour and 45 minute drive up and down Forest Service roads, we arrived at the trailhead. The llamas were unloaded, saddled up, and laden with heavy packs. (We humans just carried day packs…woo hoo!)

Besides me and Greg, there were four other guests in our group, in addition to our tour guide, Raz, and his assistant Lisa. Raz and Lisa brought up the (distant) lead with the llamas while the rest of us hiked on ahead to our lunch spot. The scenery was instantly spectacular. This is the meadow we crossed just before reaching our lunch spot 2.5 miles from the trailhead.

We ate a delicious lunch (all the food was provided on this trip) by Eagle Creek. Raz has these two wooden cook boxes that when put on the ground side by side served as a nice flat preparation area, with the utensils and supplies inside within easy reach. Our feast of a lunch consisted of bagels, bread, salami, cheese, homemade red pepper spread, fresh veggies, and delicious cherries from their orchard!

After lunch, we had to cross Copper Creek, which had no bridge. I chose to wade rather than risk falling off one of the logs spanning the creek. The creek was wide, but only ankle deep. Shortly after crossing the creek, we could see Copper Creek Falls crashing down a cliff.

Greg bushwhacked over there when we hiked out on Sunday and although it was too sunny for a photograph, he got a video of the falls. Pretty impressive.

This is Bench Canyon Falls, which splashed down right by the trail.

In the late afternoon, after hiking 4.4 miles from the trailhead (and gaining about 1,300′) we arrived at beautiful Eagle Meadows. It stretches a lot further than this picture conveys. Eagle Creek runs through it. What an idyllic setting!

After Raz, Lisa, and the llamas arrived, some of us helped Raz lead the individual llamas to grazing ground. You take their lead rope and they follow you around without question. They’re quite curious. They grazed a little distance from camp and whenever we were out peeing or collecting firewood or taking pictures, they would watch us intently.

We set up tents while Raz and Lisa started on dinner. In addition to a stove, they had an oven setup which was pretty nifty, allowing Raz to heat up the meals that his wife had cooked and frozen for us a few days before. We had fresh veggies with ranch and blue cheese dip, merlot and chardonnay, raging bull chicken over quinoa, homemade Scottish oat bread, plus banana bread for dessert and a post-dinner drink of tea or hot chocolate.

We were all feeling pretty tired, so by the time dinner was done and cleaned up, we were ready to turn in. The days are long this time of year, so it was still a little light out when we went to bed. I slept better than I did when I went backpacking last summer. I stayed warm, for one thing, despite the fact that we woke up to frost in the morning. I woke up in the middle of the night and stuck my head out of the tent to see the stars, but it was just past the full moon, which made the sky too bright to see all the stars I might have. Still, there were a lot, and the bright moon illuminated the mountains and meadow all around us. It was VERY cool!

Morning dawned bright and beautiful and despite the overnight frost it warmed up very quickly as the sun came over the mountains.

After a breakfast of fresh cantaloupe plus Swedish pancakes and coffee and tea, Greg and I wandered the meadow taking pictures while Raz and Lisa moved the llamas to fresh grass. The scenery was stunning and vast. I wished I’d had a wide-angle lens! Next time. This is stitched from two shots.

We all set off on a day hike up to Eagle Lake, the source of Eagle Creek. It was 2.9 miles away and 1,300 feet above us. The scenery along the way was fantastic. Here is the group hiking toward Needle Point.

We saw lots of different wildflowers, including more penstemon than I’ve ever seen in my life.

We stopped about halfway up and Raz made us lunch, which included fresh veggies, gouda cheese, brie cheese, crackers, slices of baguette, and kippered herring. For dessert we had homemade ginger cookies plus apple slices with gjetost, a Norwegian goat cheese that made a pretty good pairing with the apples. One of the best trail lunches I’ve ever had!

Being out of shape and picking my way carefully up the rocky trail, I found the going tougher than I normally would. It was also pretty hot, well into the 80s, and the stunted trees provided little or no shade. But the scenery kept me motivated.

Beautiful Eagle Lake was a welcome sight. At 7,500 feet, it still had large patches of snow on and around it. Not surprising, considering the winter we had this year. The water was VERY cold! I was hot and could have used a refreshing toe-dip, but I refrained. Lisa, however, dove into the icy water not once but twice! Brrrrrr!

There was heather growing along one side of the lake. I sat on the shoreline surrounded by it and admired the lovely view. Damn, the Wallowas are gorgeous!

The hike back down was just as hard as going up because of the rocky trail. I was paranoid about my foot and where I put it, so it took a lot of concentration to watch where and how I walked. I stumbled a few times, but made it back down okay. Back at the meadow, Greg and I washed up at the creek while dinner was being prepared. Ah….so refreshing. The creek ran along the edge of the meadow near our tent and made for pleasant background noise while we slept at night.

My hunger overcame my general dislike for lasagna and I ate some at dinner that night. That was after having eaten quite a few crackers with sundried tomato pesto and cream cheese. As if that weren’t enough, we had salad with pomegranate vinaigrette (YUMMY!) and garlic bread, plus apricot bread for dessert. I will never eat this good in the backcountry again!

During dinner we saw a deer in our camp nearby. She seemed wary, but definitely not frightened of us. We would see her again periodically throughout the evening and next morning. She passed within 20 feet of me when I was back in the trees peeing. I spoke softly to her so as not to startle her. She looked at me and decided she didn’t like being that close and walked (not ran) away.

No frost Sunday morning, but it did sprinkle a few times in the early morning. But it didn’t last and once the sun was up it warmed up even faster than it had the morning before. After a breakfast of Mexican grits, muffins, and oranges, we packed up and headed out.

Whereas the llamas had been half an hour behind us on the hike in, they were about 15 minutes behind us on the first leg out. So after crossing Copper Creek, waiting for Greg to come back from his waterfall expedition, I was able to get a shot of the llamas in action, fording the creek. They are very sure-footed, not giving a second (or even a first!) glace to where they’re setting their feet.

Back at the trailhead, the llamas were loaded in the bus and we set off back towards Halfway, where I had a delicious shower that night at the hotel. Oh those post-backcountry showers are so wonderful.

All in all, we had a wonderful time! Our group wasn’t too big (they can be as big as ten guests) and they were fun people to talk with. Raz and Lisa were awesome leaders and cooks and they handled pretty much everything having to do with the llamas. They seem to be gentle patient creatures. The only troublemaker was three-year-old McNash. It was his first time doing this and he gave poor Lisa a hard time. He wouldn’t walk with the other string of llamas and Lisa had to lead him by himself. Even then he gave her some trouble. Here he is getting saddled up at the beginning:

We didn’t see many other people. Over the course of our three days, we saw a few people with horses, a few hikers, and a few backpackers, probably a dozen people total the whole weekend. The scenery was stunning, the food was awesome, and the llamas carried all our stuff! This is the way to go! I was enchanted with the Wallowas after my visit last year, and I remain enchanted. Greg and I both want to go back again. And again. There are a lot of trails to hike, lakes to see, and mountains to gaze at.