Jefferson Park

Snow: patchy in Jefferson Park, more prevalent up to Park Ridge
Mosquitoes: awful
Flowers: just getting started

Jefferson Park is one of my favorite places on earth and for a variety of reasons I haven’t been there since 2011. So with the beautiful forecast Greg and I headed there this weekend. This is the first time we’ve gone there in July and it will be the last. Best to wait until the bugs are gone.

We got a later start than we planned on Saturday morning and didn’t get to the Whitewater trailhead until 11:20. We counted 43 cars!

We hiked past quite a lot of bloomed-out beargrass. Looks like it was a good year for it here….about three weeks ago.

Loved the up-close view of the mountain as we hiked.

Whitewater Creek was a welcome and refreshing site on this hot afternoon.

About a mile before Jefferson Park we ran into a wilderness ranger, an experience so rare that I’m not even sure this has ever happened for me before. He reminded us to camp in designated sites only (marked by posts) and that no campfires were allowed. He had been up about two weeks before and dismantled 15-20 fire rings around Scout Lake alone. He said that one time he had encountered two different groups camped in the rain who had built a fire to stay warm, but in the process of doing so just got even more cold and wet, and of course the fire didn’t burn very well. Good grief, people.

We got to Jefferson Park about 3:30 and started looking for a campsite, accompanied by thousands of mosquitoes. We were worried about finding a site, after seeing all those cars at the trailhead. Fortunately we grabbed a spot at the southwest tip of Scout Lake. We quickly discovered why no one was camped there: it was a large site but almost none of it was flat!

I went on a quick jaunt along the shore of Scout Lake to see if there were any better campsites, but there weren’t. Nice view though!

Saw plenty of people not camped in designated sites, including two tents right by the lake shore. We didn’t see those tents later, so I’m assuming the ranger asked them to move.

Rather than tromp around to the other lakes with our heavy packs we kept our sloping site and squeezed our tent into a tiny piece of flattish ground amongst the trees. Our original plan had been to grab a site and then head up to Park Ridge. But due to our late start it was now after 4:00, plus Greg’s foot was bothering him. He would not be deterred, though, so we headed up.

Jefferson Park is still dotted with snow patches, some of which you have to cross. The melting snow has converted the trail into a long puddle in some spots.

The wildflowers are JUST getting started. We saw some paintbrush and heather in bloom, but no lupine. Usually the bugs and the flowers occur at the same time, so the fact that we had to suffer the mosquitoes without the benefit of the flowers felt like a gip!

Up we climbed, looking back occasionally to see the mountain.

My favorite little lupine patch in September 2011:

Roughly the same spot this weekend:

Greg hiking across one of the many huge snowfields we encountered:

Greg took this shot of me climbing up and over a snowfield:

Greg’s foot was really slowing him down. I’m no speedy hiker myself, especially going uphill in the heat. But to my frustration I couldn’t slow my pace enough to match his because the mosquitoes would swarm me if I did. So I kept going to the top. The view north to Olallie Butte and Mt. Hood:

And of course the jaw-dropping view of Mt. Jefferson:

I tried to wait for Greg but the mosquitoes were even worse up on the ridge than down at the lake. After five minutes I had to get moving to get away from the little buggers. On the way down I passed Greg making his slow way up. He was determined to keep going so I kept heading down, going as slowly as possible so he’d eventually catch up. Descending that trail is pretty amazing since Mt. Jefferson is in your face for so much of the way.

Greg finally caught up to me near Russell Lake. We passed a tarn with a fabulous reflection of Mt. Jefferson so of course we stopped and whipped out the cameras.

Home sweet home. It was past 8:30 and I was HUNGRY!

Greg fired up the JetBoil. Love that thing!

We sat on our rock above the lake and gobbled down dinner, then sat for awhile and enjoyed the view. The mosquitoes finally quit bothering us and the temperature didn’t take a nosedive, so it was REALLY nice sitting there sipping wine and nibbling chocolate and watching the light slowly fade.

And then the stars came out. WOW.

After all the hiking we were exhausted and we both slept soundly. Morning was beautiful, warm, and windy, which mostly kept the bugs away.

Greg took this shot of me enjoying the beautiful morning from the comfort of my new Alite Monarch Butterfly Chair:

A high layer of clouds started rolling in as we hiked out, so we were glad for our good timing.

We stopped in Mill City on the way home where we almost (but not quite) devoured an entire large pizza.

So glad to get back up to Jefferson Park after three years away. Despite the mosquitoes (oh, how I itch today!) the scenery was worth the trip!

Tidbits Mountain

For my final hike of the 4th of July weekend I headed up to Tidbits Mountain. It’s a short hike, but with the hot weather I was fine with that, and in any case I had a three hour drive back to Portland.

There were wildflowers blooming along the trail, including beargrass and rhododendron:

Just before reaching the summit I spotted a whole bunch of beargrass below the trail:

A view of the summit from the trail:

The trail takes you to the base of that rocky knob that is the summit. There are still remnants of the ladder from the lookout days.

The small rocky summit and the foundation remnants from the old lookout:

Looking down the rock face I just climbed up:

By the way, here’s a 1927 photo of the lookout. It’s kind of amazing some of the tiny summits that had lookouts perched on them in the old days!

Views all around on this gorgeous day, although the numerous clearcuts were jarring after the pristine view from Olallie Mountain the day before. 🙁 Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range (it’s amazing how you can see that mountain from so many different places!):

Diamond Peak:

Mount Bachelor (small snowy bump on the left):

The Three Sisters:

Mt. Washington, and at center Carpenter Mountain, where I was on Friday:

Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack:

Here is what the view looked like in 1934:

It was so pleasant up there that I just hung out for awhile. A few butterflies kept me company.

At one point I was standing there admiring the view and I heard this humming sound. At first I thought it was the distant sound of ATVs, but then I realized it was a hummingbird. I looked around and spotted it just below the summit. Miraculously I got a halfway decent picture. Cool!

I had a lot of fun getting up to some high points in this neck of the woods last weekend and feeling VERY lucky for such amazing weather the whole time. Three clear warm days! In Oregon! On the 4th of July weekend! As I joked on facebook Sunday evening, “Flying pigs will be seen at any moment….” 😀

A weekend at Snow Camp Lookout

Six months ago Greg and I made reservations to stay at the lookout on Snow Camp Mountain the last weekend of June. This was the first lookout to go on the rental program in 1990 and was very popular. Unfortunately it burned down in the 2002 Biscuit Fire. But dedicated volunteers worked with the Forest Service to rebuild it in 2005 (article here). Yay!

We took Friday and Monday off to make it a four day weekend, but due to an unforeseen family issue Greg had to deal with, we were unable to leave on Friday until after 2pm, five hours later than we had originally planned. We reached Gold Beach at the end of the dinner hour and grabbed dinner at Barnacle Bistro in Gold Beach (highly recommended….they have garlic fries so what more needs to be said?) then headed up into the forest. It was an hour of driving on gravel roads from Gold Beach to the lookout. Some stretches were horribly potholed. It was dark and we were in the clouds, which reflected the headlights and made for challenging driving. But we finally arrived, parked the car at the bottom of the hill (the Outback couldn’t get up it; I tried), and shlepped up the most essential of our stuff the last 0.1 mile. This picture I took later in the weekend gives you somewhat of a sense of how steep that last little bit is, but even this doesn’t properly convey it.

We were unable to build a fire since the woodburning cookstove in the lookout isn’t deep enough to fit the traditional length of standard firewood we brought with us, a fact that the Forest Service neglected to mention on their website. So we went to bed without a fire.

In the light of morning we could finally get a good look at our surroundings.

After breakfast we headed out for some exploring. The forest is all abloom with rhododendrons and other things right now. Beautiful!

We headed over to Wildhorse Lookout, parking at the gate and walking up. Heavy snows crushed the cabin during the winter of 2007-2008 and the Sand Mountain Society is working with the Forest Service to rebuild/restore the tower and the cabin. No signs of recent activity, though.

Greg really wanted to drive out to Gold Beach to buy a hatchet so we made the long curvy drive out of the forest. We drove out via Road 33 along the Rogue River, which had us passing right by an intriguing-sounding place: the Frances Schrader Old Growth Trail. We stopped in and did the short nature loop there. There are some MASSIVE trees here as well as ferns as tall as us!

After buying a hatchet in Gold Beach we headed back to the lookout with a few more stops along the way. We spotted a place called Hunter Creek Bog on the map and as we passed through that area we spotted a sign, so we stopped. It turned out to be pretty cool, with lots of the odd-looking darlingtonia growing here, plus some wildflowers!

Next stop: Pyramid Rock. It was a short hike up the 4WD access road, then up a short trail, then a short scramble to the summit where we had some pretty great views. Someone has rigged up good strong rope here, which is a big help.

Just down the road from there is Flycatcher Spring, an appropriately-named place where lots of darlingtonia grow. They totally look like a gathering of aliens!

Back at the lookout the mountaintop was shrouded in clouds. But after dinner the clouds suddenly dropped down into the valleys and we were treated to quite a show. I was like a little kid in a candy store, bopping around all over the summit taking pictures left and right.

We played gin rummy for awhile, waiting for the stars to come out, then I went back outside to capture the beautiful night sky. I also tried my hand at star trails but didn’t give it enough time. Patience is a requirement with any kind of night photography.

We were treated to clear skies the next morning, although the wind had picked up and was blowing like CRAZY. This is the view of Snow Camp Meadow to the north of our mountain.

Our original plan for this day was to drive south and visit the Quail Prairie Lookout and hike to Vulcan Lake and Vulcan Peak. But then we learned from the ranger station that Road 1376 between our lookout and those spots was closed due to a washed-out culvert. Ugh. We should have changed our plans and stayed in the immediate vicinity of Snow Camp, but we decided to try the detour on Road 1407 instead. This turned out to be a huge mistake. First we had to drive a very rough section of unmaintained Road 1376 directly south of Snow Camp, then pick up rough and steep 1407. It took a very very long time and I regretted our decision to do this. But we kept going and finally reached Road 1917 that would take us up to Quail Prairie.

Here was another dumb decision because a sign on that road said it was washed out 7.3 miles ahead (ANOTHER washout? Sheesh!). We should have just said forget it and go on to Vulcan Lake/Peak. But we didn’t and we drove up as far as the washout, which was “barricaded” on either side by a single cone. This washout has been here for at least two years, probably longer. I could find not a single mention of it on the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest website when we got home.

We got out and started walking.

1.8 miles later we reached the lookout. This one used to be on the rental program. But it sustained storm damage in 2010 or 2011 and because the Forest Service doesn’t have the funds to fix it, they’ve abandoned it. So sad.

Back to the car and the drive over to the Vulcan Lake trailhead. The last stretch of road to this trailhead is rough and super scary since it hugs a cliff and has no turnouts. If you encounter someone coming the other way you’re both screwed. Fortunately that didn’t happen. The trail to the lake is rough and rocky. Shade is lacking since this area was burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

But there are some really great views.

We could even see Quail Prairie Lookout where we’d been earlier.

Almost there!

The lake was really lovely. It reminded me of the lakes in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, except the rocks here are brown instead of white/gray.

Cooling off on this hot afternoon:

A newt! I get a kick out of watching these little guys.

The day was wearing on so I turned back while Greg popped down to explore the lower lake. He met me back at the car and we began the drive out. We didn’t have time for Vulcan Peak, unfortunately. I wished that we had skipped Quail Prairie so we could have done both Vulcan Lake and Peak. (The hike up the peak is separate and unconnected to the lake trail, with a different trailhead two miles down the road.)

Due to the awfulness of the detour we’d driven in the morning, we returned to Snow Camp Mountain via a different route, driving out to Brookings, up 101 to Gold Beach, then onto Hunter Creek Road, the way we drove in Friday night. We didn’t get back until 10:45. We had spent about 7-8 hours in the car that day, mostly on rough roads, and my nerves were frazzled. I don’t enjoy car travel in the best of circumstances. I was so glad to get out of the car and get some fresh air! Despite the hurricane winds buffeting the summit I did a few quick star shots before going to bed. The glow in the lower right corner is Brookings.

The wind pounded the cabin all night long. The place is very sturdy, but wind is LOUD and neither of us slept soundly. Monday morning we slowly packed up our stuff, hauled it down to the car, and began the very long drive home.

We had a great weekend. If I had to do it over again I’d plan differently/better so we didn’t spend SO MUCH TIME in the car. We spent more time in the car than out of it all four days. Still, it was cool to see an area of the state I’ve never visited before. This is the third lookout I’ve rented and it continues to be a fun and amazing experience! (A bit more about the lookout itself over on my lookout blog.)

A warning if you visit this area: The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest does not keep their website updated with road or trail conditions, nor do they maintain their roads. A high clearance car is a must. Signage on roads is almost non-existent. A good map and a GPS are required to successfully navigate your way through the road system. Even with these tools at our disposal we still made some wrong turns several times.