Bull of the Woods Lookout

On Sunday I hiked up to Bull of the Woods Lookout via Pansy Lake.

There were about a dozen cars at the trailhead. When I got out of my car, ACK! Mosquitoes! Swarming me! I scrambled for my long-sleeved shirt and headnet, which of course were buried in my pack. Mosquitoes swarmed into my car. I hoped that the car would warm up as the day progressed and that the heat would kill the little bastards. (It didn’t.)

I marched through the forest at a steady pace, which was the only way to escape the mosquitoes. There were lots of rhododendrons but only a few were blooming. Snapped a quick picture and kept on hiking.

Took the side trip down to Pansy Lake, which is really more of a marsh. To my surprise the bugs weren’t that bad here. I took the opportunity to switch out long sleeves for sunscreen and bug spray due to the weather warming up.

The Pansy Lake Trail climbs up away from the lake and you get views of Pansy Mountain towering to the west.

I picked up Mother Lode Trail #558 and continued climbing. There were occasional views.

There was a nice little rock garden area at one spot where wildflowers were blooming.

Saw quite a few bleeding heart in the forest.

There are huckleberries EVERYWHERE. This would be a great hike in August. Actually, this would be a very slow hike in August, nom, nom, nom.

This must have been a great hike last year during the banner beargrass bloom. I saw hundreds of dried up beargrass stalks from last summer along the trail and at the summit. Note to self: come back and hike this again next time we have a good beargrass year.

I got to a spot where there was a wide view to the south and southeast. Not knowing which direction I’d have views at the summit I took a panorama photo here. (Turns out you CAN see this direction from the summit.) The snowy peaks on the left are the Three Sisters and the big bump on the right is Battle Ax Mountain.

I saw a really weird phenomenon that looked like a reverse rainbow. Later at the summit I saw that it actually encircled the whole sun. Is this a sundog?

After 2,000 feet of climbing I finally got a glimpse of the lookout.

Yay, I made it! And there are no mosquitoes up here…thanks, breeze!

The lookout is getting pretty run down. You can walk around on the catwalk but the lookout has a steel cable wrapped around it to keep the shutters closed and door barricaded.

Here it is in better days:

Part of one shutter was missing and I could see through the window that there was a bunch of junk inside, including a new-looking metal ladder. I thought that the lookout was considered officially abandoned, but judging by the stuff inside I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t know what, if any, plans the Forest Service has for this place. I know that the Wilderness Manager for the Mt. Hood National Forest is dead set against having any structures inside wilderness and won’t allow maintenance on existing structures (which is why the Upper Sandy Guard Station is falling to pieces). On the other hand, they did take the trouble to wrap the lookout in fire protection during a 2010 wildfire, so who knows.

Bull of the Woods wrapped

Anyway, from the catwalk there are views. So many views! Everywhere! Looking east:

Looking north (that’s Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in the picture but I could also see Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier):

Looking south:

Big Slide Mountain and WAY down below is Big Slide Lake:

The little white speck in the center is Gold Butte Lookout, where Greg and I stayed on a rainy weekend last September:

Sisi Butte and its lookout tower:

The views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters were especially nice.

I like to compare lookout views of today to the old panorama photos, if they exist. Here’s how the views looked in 1934. Southwest:



Saw a woodpecker. Cool to see him up-close!

This lookout hasn’t been staffed in many decades so I was shocked to see the old outhouse still standing!

I wasn’t alone up there; people came and went, but it was never crowded. I lounged around on the summit for a few hours, just soaking up the views and (finally) the sunshine, once the high level of clouds burned off. This weird little cloud looked like a doodle across the sky.

Finally with a parting shot I tore myself away and hiked down the Bull of the Woods Trail to finish my loop back to the car.

I picked up the Dickey Lake Trail and headed downhill. This trail has A LOT of downed trees on it. Some of them are situated in such a way that the only way to get past is to get down on your hands and knees and crawl under.

And then I saw a grouse chick! I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a mama grouse, and then I got just a glimpse of a fuzzy chick disappearing down the trail ahead of me. Mama was acting very protective and making all sorts of noises. She seemed like she might act aggressively towards me if I tried to pass (she was just off trail in the forest). I stepped back and gave her a few moments, thinking she’d follow her chick (and, presumably, its siblings), but I later realized she wouldn’t do that, drawing attention to her babies. I eventually hiked past very quickly and although she flapped around and got upset, she didn’t attack me. I didn’t see any more of the chick.

I took the little side trip to brushy Dickey Lake, then kept moving to escape the mosquitoes.

Back at the car I dumped my gear in, did some very quick stretches so I wouldn’t be limping today (all the while flapping and flailing at the mosquitoes) then jumped in the car and drove away. I didn’t even take the time to change from boots to crocs.

There are only seven lookouts still standing in the Mt. Hood National Forest and after today the only one left I haven’t visited is Sisi Butte. (Well, Hickman Butte, too, but I’ll never get to visit that one since it is in the Bull Run Watershed.) This was a totally GREAT hike for a clear summer day.

By the way, there must have been at least 100 people backpacking in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness this weekend. I saw plenty of backpackers just in the little corner of the wilderness I hiked through. I’m sure that there were lots more in other areas.

Fish Creek Mountain

After doing the Serene Lake loop on Saturday, Greg and I checked another wish list hike off our list on Sunday: Fish Creek Mountain.

Before 1996 you could access the trailhead for this hike via Fish Creek Road and Road 5420. But all those roads in the Fish Creek drainage were removed after the floods and landslides that year. Now you can access a different trailhead on the other side of the divide via Road 4620. Trail Advocate has directions.

When we got out of the car it was 50 degrees and buggy. Fortunately that didn’t last. We encountered no mosquitoes on the whole hike. Phew! The first section of trail climbs right out of the gate, gaining 500 feet in 0.7mi. It’s quite pretty, though. There are tons of vine maple so this must be lovely in the fall.

Then the trail comes out on what used to be Road 290, now incredibly overgrown. A handy rock cairn is here to help you find the trail again on the way back.

Fortunately there is a trail carved through the mess. Otherwise this would be a nightmare.

After 0.4mi the old road forks and the trail goes right up between them. This is where the old trailhead used to be prior to 1996.

The trail goes up, up, up through the trees.

We passed by a nice little meadow where some wildflowers were growing.

In fact, we were surprised by how many wildflowers we saw on this hike. Greg made a complete list: Sitka Valerian, Vanilla Leaf, Smith’s Fairybell, Inside-Out Flower, False Solomon Seal, Star-Flowered Solomon Seal, Oregon Grape, Yellow Violet, Wild Strawberry, Red Flowering Currant, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemon, Vanilla Leaf, Smith’s Fairybell, Spring Beauty, Oregon Fawn Lily, Larkspur, Small-Flowered Blue-Eyed Mary, Arrowleaf Groundsel, Indian Paintbrush, and Prairie Star. We also saw plenty of Western Columbine, but it wasn’t blooming just yet. WOW!

Here’s penstemon:

And fawn lillies:

We saw AT LEAST a dozen active ant hills along the trail. I have never seen so many ant hills on one hike before. Crazy!

At one point there was a really short side trail to the right that led to a rock garden of flowers and a view of Mt. Jefferson through the trees.

There wasn’t a ton of blowdown, but we still navigated over and under plenty of fallen trees. This was the worst. In bushwhacking around this mess Greg cut his leg on a broken branch that was sticking out. Ouch.

We knew there were no views of Mt. Hood from the summit, so we enjoyed the peeks we got through the trees on the way up.

There was a 12-foot-tall lookout tower here from 1933 to 1967. But the summit is now quite overgrown and views are very limited.

The only peak we could see from the summit was Mt. Jefferson.

Looking west into the now-roadless Fish Creek drainage. The whole time we were up on the summit we could hear target shooters down there. UGH.

After leaving the summit we took the trail down to High Lake. There was copious amounts of snow on the lower part of the trail, and when we got to the lake we were surprised to discover that it hadn’t even fully thawed out yet!

I was DONE with the snow, but Greg made his way around to the other side of the lake and took this panorama photo on his iPod Touch.

Navigating back up the trail through the snow was no more fun than coming down had been, but we managed. Then it was an easy downhill hike back to the car. We didn’t see a single person the whole day. I suspect that because there are no jaw-dropping 360-degree views at the summit this hike doesn’t get much attention. But there are views along the way if you look for them, and the many different wildflowers were sure a pleasant surprise. High Lake would also be a worthy destination later in summer (once the bugs have come and gone). Two thumbs up!

Serene Lake Loop

May 31, 2014

The loop through the Rock Lakes Basin has long been on my to-do list and Greg and I decided to give it a try this weekend, even though it’s a tad early.

Serene Lake

I had heard nothing but bad things about the road to Frazier Turnaround. I remember seeing one post here where it took someone more than 40 minutes to drive the final 4.4 miles to that trailhead, and Bill Sullivan calls it a “rocky, slow track.” Not a road, a track. No thanks. So we parked at Hideaway Lake instead, even though that meant adding additional mileage to our hike.

Just after passing the wilderness sign are two old signposts on the left. We knew there was an old abandoned route from here up to Cache Meadow and we decided to try it on our way back.

Just half a mile from the trailhead is lovely Shellrock Lake. Looks like a great spot for a swim on a hot day!

The snow had only recently melted here and it felt like we had stepped back in time a few months when we started seeing trilliums blooming everywhere. Then we stopped noticing the trilliums because the trail turned miserable. Very rocky and very rooty. Sometimes it was so bad that there wasn’t even a discernible trail.

We encountered our first patch of snow at 4,600 feet and continued to encounter vast swaths of it until we got to Frazier Turnaround.

The trail joins up with the Grouse Point Trail, which we followed a short distance down to Frazier Turnaround (deserted) and picked up the Serene Lake Trail. Some nice forest hiking ensued.

We reached the junction where a side trail heads off toward Middle Rock Lake and headed down it.

A newt!

The shoreline was too brushy to eat lakeside, so we ate our snacks in the nearby campsite before moving on. Next up was Lower Rock Lake, where there’s a delightful campsite and a pleasant lake.

Then there’s a two-mile stretch to the next lake. We built up our trail karma by moving MANY branches, big and small, off of the trail. Trekking poles really help with this task! Some things were too big for us to move, though! We climbed over or under at least two dozen fallen trees on this hike.

We crossed the South Fork of the Roaring River. It’s no more than a stream here.

More lovely forest.

At one point we got a view across the Roaring River canyon to Indian Ridge. There used to be a lookout up there (off frame to the left) and you can hike down the old closed lookout road along that ridge to Shining Lake, just below the old lookout site.

Serene Lake definitely lives up to its name. There was a couple camped here but it was very quite and peaceful here. We sat and enjoyed the ambience for quite awhile.

With many more miles to go we finally tore ourselves away and continued on, climbing up away from the lake and picking up the Grouse Point Trail, which eventually brought us to a nice viewpoint of Mt. Hood and Serene Lake. Apparently you can see the Washington peaks from here on a clear day, but as it was we could barely see Hood through the clouds.

More snow. This picture was taken up near the viewpoint, but there were also large amounts of snow on the descent down to Cache Meadow.

Cache Meadow turned out to be a wonderful little place. And it stretches for quite aways along the trail. It’s really a series of several linked meadows. I don’t know if the mosquitoes have come and gone or if they have yet to make an appearance. In any case we didn’t encounter any here, in what is surely a horribly buggy place during the wrong time of year. We saw thousands of marsh marigold along with mountain shooting star and marsh cinquefoil.

False hellebore just starting to shoot up:

Nom, nom. Yummy sign.

At the far end of the meadow the trail actually crosses the meadow, which was a bit tricky since it’s very wet.

It was also near this spot that we saw a couple camped on the trail with an off-leash dog who barked and barked and barked at us. Dude, control your dog.

If we stayed on the 517 trail we would end up back at Frazier Turnaround where we would retrace our steps back to the car. That would have been a lot longer, though, so we kept an eye out for the abandoned trail. A little ways after crossing the meadow the main trail takes a hard left turn and the old trail goes straight. It’s so obvious that I wonder if a lot of people accidentally head down it. This picture was taken a little further along, but you can see that it’s pretty obvious (although it wasn’t like this the whole way).

Along this old trail were several nice spots.

We saw an old trail marker on a tree.

The abandoned trail goes up and over a ridge, and it was on the way up the ridge that we lost the tread. There was no undergrowth at that spot so the whole forest floor looked the same everywhere. We had seen occasional flagging, but not enough to be of use since it was so widely-spaced. And we didn’t see any now. So we just headed straight up the hill to see what would happen. Amazingly enough we found the tread again up on top of the ridge and we were able to follow it almost all the way down to the Shellrock Lake Trail. We lost the tread again in the last tenth of a mile but by then we were so close it didn’t matter. Somehow we still managed to come out right by the old sign posts. Then it was a short jaunt back to the car.

We were camped at Hideaway Lake that night and thank goodness for that because I was HUNGRY! After a 10-mile hike it’s nice to have dinner close at hand, instead of an hour’s drive away.

Greg wants to go back and see Cache Meadow again to see how it looks after a few weeks. I think we’ll try the Cache Meadow Trail that starts on Road 140. It would be nice to do a loop with the unnumbered trail along Cripple Creek, but it doesn’t look like that trail goes all the way through to connect up with the Grouse Point Trail. I imagine it’s fairly easy to go cross country there.

Here is our route: