Olallie Lake Region Exploration, 2009
For the past dozen or so years I have been eyeing a group of lakes in north
central Oregon. They are to the west of large Olallie Lake, but are
isolated from the motoring public by trails. As such, they offer the
lure of some back country camping and, perhaps, fishing, but without the
crowds of folks bound to the road. These lakes are all at elevations
from about 4700 to 5400 ft, suggesting that they can be reached without excess
hiking difficulty. I'm getting old enough that this is a consideration.
This was the year that I would finally explore these mountain gems.
I decided not to fish this year. The north half of the lakes
are on the following map.
I drove to a trailhead at "Lower Lake Campground" on Sunday and got started
hiking at about lunch time. Lower Lake was reached in the first
few minutes of walking. This was one of the larger and deeper of the
lakes I would visit.
The only camping related to Lower Lake was at the roadside campground, which
was of no interest. I continued to a trail junction and followed
it toward Fish Lake, which sits in at a much lower elevation. I had
no desire to loose 500 ft of elevation, only to gain it back, so I stopped
at an overlooking cliff that offered good views.
Looking down on Fish Lake.
After a bite of lunch, I returned to the trail junction near Lower Lake and
headed SW, shortly encountering a way trail to the left. Although
unmarked, it was clear on the map that this led down to Gifford Lakes.
A quarter of a mile through the woods put me at the larger of the Gifford
Gifford Lake. Note the folks floating on the lake.
Another shot of Gifford Lake from the land between the main lake and the
smaller Gifford Lake.
My initial, albeit casual plan had been to camp at Gifford Lake. I
had not appreciated just how close it was to the trailhead. I had
also not appreciated just how crowded the place would be. There was
a group of 8 or 10 there. Some were leaving to hike out while others
were arriving in the few minutes I was there. I quickly decided
that this would not offer much solitude and pulled out after snapping a few
photos. It might be fun to return to the place, perhaps to try my
luck at some mountain fishing, something I've not done for more than 40 years.
I hoofed it back to the trail and continued to the SW. I saw
nobody else that day, so the crowds were lured by the easy hike to Gifford.
Eventually I came to Fork and then Sheep Lake, shown below.
I must have passed Middle Lake, but it must have been uninspiring enough
to keep my camera in my pocket.
Sheep Lake. I carried a single trekking pole on this junket, which
turned out to be a reasonable compromise. I have not really adjusted
to the athletic game of dual trekking poles except in the winter when snowshoeing.
Wall Lake was within a couple of hundred feet of Sheep, and Averill Lake
was just a bit further.
Averill Lake. This seemed like a good place to camp, for it was completely
secluded. By now it was about 5 in the afternoon, which was
a reasonable time to stop. I cooked dinner that evening and
got the rest of my camp established. This included rigging a bear
line for my food, although this really seemed redundant. I was not
even seeing deer, much less any remote sign of bear. If there
had been bear in the area, they should have been in heaven in this country,
for the blue berries (or are the huckleberries?) were abundant and tasty.
After all of the chores were done, I stuck my camera and a headlamp in my
pocket and continued west on the trail to visit Red Lake.
Red Lake. This one was essentially a carbon copy of the earlier ones.
The tip of Mt. Jefferson could be seen above the trees.
That evening was delightful, for the sky was completely clear and moonless.
There is so much light in my neighborhood in Beaverton that
it is almost impossible to see stars. So going to the mountains on
a clear night is always a treat.
I arose on Monday morning, ate some breakfast, packed up, returned to Sheep
Lake, and then stashed my pack. I took a small water bottle and some
GORP and headed up a side trail toward Potato Butte. The trail was
flat until reaching a meadow at the base of the Butte, shown below.
The meadow at the base of Potato Butte was probably a lake as recently
as 100 or 200 years ago. Mt. Jefferson can be seen at the far end.
The hike up the Butte was generally easy, but well worth the effort.
Reaching the top produced a sign with an elevation mark of "5280 Feet."
The summit of Potato Butte. Mt. Hood can be seen in the distance
to the north.
The view to the south from a ridge on Potato Butte. The lakes seen
here are probably Sheep and Wall. Mt. Jefferson is prominent
to the south, although obscured in this photo from the poor lighting. The
closer high feature is Double Peaks.
After dropping down from Potato Butte, I continued hiking past Fork Lake
and to the southeast. Eventually, I left the map shown at the beginning,
emerging onto the following:
My route south climbed a few hundred feet, taking me above the top of the
morning's Butte. The vegetation was never dense, but it became less
so as I gained elevation. I soon came to Cigar Lake. Although
shallow, it was extremely scenic.
Cigar Lake .
Another view of Cigar Lake.
By now I had changed to a different trail and was now on the Pacific Crest
A PCT marker on a tree along the trail.
Looking at the map suggested that Upper Lake might be interesting, so I continued
south on the PCT. Upper Lake, shown below, is less than a mile from
Upper Lake with one of the Double Peaks in the background.
I decided to camp at Upper Lake. It was cool and scenic, but there
were no good camp places further to the immediate south. After
visiting with some interesting through hikers, I cooked an early dinner and
again rigged a bear line, again redundant. I then took my camera and
continued south. This was quite interesting, for I encountered
some burned country, the northern fringes of the massive 2003 "B and B Complex"
forest fire. The trees were black and there was minimal brush.
Otherwise, the devastation was not nearly as bad as I had imagined.
Perhaps this is the best single lesson from this trip.
One of the cool views was of Mt. Jefferson in the evening alpine glow as
While on the PCT, I reached the high point of my trip, about 5700 ft at a
viewpoint overlooking the large lakes to the east. The dominant Lake
was Olallie Lake with Monon a close second. Unfortunately, the
light was poor and the photos were compromised.
That evening brought a couple of more through hikers. These two fellows
had adopted the practice of others, using names of their own choice that
had nothing to do with their given names. I was told that this
was done to symbolize the personal rebirth that comes from a hike of 2600
miles. The folks heading south to north (starting in Mexico)
had just hit the 2000 mile mark, so they were well accustomed to their new
tags. One of the fellow who blew in just after dark that day
had just done a personal best of 34 miles in a single day. Also
a veteran of the Appalachian Trail, he was well accustomed to long hard days.
I wish that I remembered their trail names.
My camp was minimal, although not in the extreme. I used a bivouac
bag instead of a tent. But I did carry a 3/4 length sleeping
pad that provides insulation as well as a modicum of comfort. The
down sleeping bag then sits on that. I slept well. I had a
very small shelter tarp available, should it be needed. I'm glad that
it was not, for I would not want to miss the star show.
My sleeping quarters.
This view shows the kitchen. My pack is the green job while the brown
sack is the food bag that goes up the bear line. My stove and some
water bottles are included in the stuff.
After breakfast, I broke camp and headed north again on the PCT.
The trail between Upper Lake and Cigar Lake is very scenic with open woods
and small tarns.
More of the PCT.
A small tarn on the trail, perhaps half an acre in area.
Eventually I returned to Cigar Lake.
After a final glance and morning photo of Cigar Lake, I left the PCT
to take another trail that would provide a couple of addition lakes in my
Top Lake is only a mile or less below Cigar Lake.
A worthwhile side trip was required to visit Timber Lake. The place
was deserted on this Tuesday morning, but one could tell that it was more
civilized than the others, for one camp area included an outhouse.
A final glimpse of Timber Lake.
The hike out from Timber Lake was only about a mile or two before I reached
the road along side Olallie Lake. I hiked up the road for another
mile and a half until I came to my car.
All in all, it was a great trip. I'll have to study the map to figure
out the total trail mileage, but it can't be more than 15 or so. The
country is scenic and fairly secluded. I was disappointed that
one of the more interesting Lakes, Gifford, was crowded. In
many ways, this country is like that at the south end of the Three Sisters
Wilderness with lakes almost too numerous to count. I visited
that area, also in late August, and also found a lot of people at some selected
lakes, but none at most. There were almost no flowers and no
flowing water in any streams between the lakes. It would be very interesting
to visit this area earlier in the season when there are flowers, some flowing
water, and even some snow patches.