Last fall I filed a trip report of a hike into the Sky Lakes Wilderness to get an up close look at the Lonesome Complex Fire burning near Crater Lake.
I have wanted to get back and travel through the effected area to see first hand the resulting damage. This past weekend a friend NZ, my dog Moxie and I made the journey into the area.
We started, as with my trip last fall, at the Nannie Creek Trail Head off of West Side Road. Our plan was to travel light and fast knowing we would be required to cover big miles over tough terrain.
NZ, packed and ready to hike, signing in at the trail head. His footwear selection, though lite, would effect the outcome of this trip in a big way.
Soon after starting up the trail we entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
We continued up the Nannie Creek Trail, past Puck Lake, to the Rock Slide View Point. This location provides a sweeping view of the Sky Lakes Basin and beyond. The PCT follows the ridge line in the horizon, we would hike into the basin and climb past Snow Lakes to intersect with the PCT.
Dropping off the Rock Slide View Point we continued into the Sky Lakes Basin and would soon hook onto the Snow Lakes Trail. We climbed this trail up to Snow Lake and then continued upward to the rim and the PCT.
The view back toward the Sky Lakes Basin was somewhat obscured by the haze of smoke from fires burning further south.
Upon reaching the PCT we turned north and headed in the direction of Crater Lake. The trail would climb at a steady rate until we would turn off to Alta Lake. The PCT offers spectacular views in every direction along this section.
Having now turned off of the PCT we started to drop toward Alta Lake. The views on the horizon showed the first signs of the fire damaged area we were heading for.
In my previous trip report I hiked into Alta Lake to observe the Lonesome Complex Fire and the fire fighting efforts. Alta Lake sits above the Seven Lakes Basin and offers an impressive view of the entire area. The lake is long and shaped roughly like an hour glass, wider at the ends and narrow in the center.
With a lot of hard miles still ahead of us we did not take time to enjoy this lake or the views offered by its cliff side location. We continued heading north/west to where we would drop into the canyon and the Upper Rogue River. The view across the canyon clearly showed the effects of the fire. We would hike into the canyon, the trail taking us around the base of Boston Bluff.
As we hiked deeper into the canyon we skirted the base of Boston Bluff and continued heading lower to follow the Upper Rogue River down stream to our crossing point. We entered the area damaged by the fire as we approached the canyon bottom.
The trail into the canyon was steep, overgrown and very challenging. The trail along the river was even in worse shape, the result of last years fire and erosion.
We finally arrived at our crossing point after miles of difficult and hard to follow trail. We would ford the Upper Rogue River and continue Day 1 with a very hard climb up the steep and hot Halifax Trail to Solace Cow Camp.
Having crossed the river the view back the way we came shows what was the fires edge.
We would now be heading into the true fire zone. The resulting damage from the fire would be reflected in both the trail conditions and the blackened scenery.
The damage caused by the fire continued the entire climb out of the canyon. As seen lower in the canyon erosion from snow melt and spring rain was causing damage to the now fragile landscape.
We finally arrived at our Day One destination of Solace Cow Camp. There is an old cabin at this location offering a look back in time when cattle were brought into this area to summer graze.
It appeared that a special effort was made to prevent fire damage to this historic area. The view of the meadow from the cabin was the first green and living forest we had seen in some time.
My legs and shoes showed the result of an estimated 30 miles, many of which were through the challenging and rough terrain.
The adventure of the first day would end in a bang, literally. The darkening sky was little warning to the fierceness of the storm that would soon be upon us.
We experienced the hardest rain I have ever seen lasting a solid two hours. Thunder and lightning added to the storms effect providing both a visual display and deafening sound track.
The storm tapered off enough to allow me to set up my camp for the night.
As bad as my feet looked NZ's were far worse. He had paid the price for his footwear selection and the resulting blisters were tough to see. He had continued from the river crossing up to our camp destination by sheer toughness and determination. All blister prevention efforts were no match to the long miles, the rough terrain and damaged trail conditions we had experienced.
We would have to make some tough decisions in the morning as to how we would proceed.
The storms continued off and on throughout the night in varying levels of intensity. My oware tarp (I went old school, for me, on this trip) and MLD bivy performed perfectly in very harsh conditions. Weather conditions were not conducive to taking multiple gear pictures.
We would both be awake at 4:30 and packed, ready to hike, by 5:30.
Our plan was simple and aggressive. We would hike together until reaching the PCT where NZ would continue at his own pace and exit the Sky Lakes Wilderness via the Sevenmile Trail. I would be free to up the pace and continue per our original route up and over Devils Peak and out to the Nannie Creek Trail Head. Between the storms rolling through during the night and my anticipation of the challenges that were yet to come I slept little during the night.
Day Two would start with a long climb from Soltace Cow Camp up to our connection to the PCT near Maude Mountain.
The trail ahead continued through a forest reflecting damage even greater then any we had encountered the day before. The conditions more closely resembled a war zone then a forest, hiking with only the light of our headlamps added to the eerie grave yard type feel of this section of the trip.
We continued to climb toward our connection with the PCT as the sun started to come up.
Trail conditions were a challenge and we were required to back track on multiple occasions to re-establish our route.
As we approached the PCT we finally were back into living forest conditions. Trail signs confirmed we were close to reconnecting with the PCT north of Sevenmile.
We hit the PCT just before 8:00 am, I debated having Moxie exit the trail with NZ but in the end decided she was up for the challenge that lay ahead. We would test each other with the miles and the pace we would keep. My goal was to top out at Devils Peak around 10:00 am and continue on after a short break to the trail head at Nannie Creek hoping to arrive between 12:00 and 12:30. NZ would "hang out" at the Sevenmile Trail Head in his Warbonnet blackbird hammock and wait for me to pick him up.
I passed the sign to Sevenmile Trail, where NZ would exit, and continued climbing to Seven Lakes Basin which sits below both Devils Peak (to the east) and Alta Lake (to the south). The PCT provide the best trail conditions of the trip. The lack of trail maitenance though, as reflected by the large number of down trees blocking the trail, added to the challenge of meeting the goals I had set for myself.
There are numerous alpine meadows between the area of Seven Lakes Basin and the lower slopes of the climb to Devils Peak.
Moxie and I continued climbing past the Upper Seven Lakes Trail and started the serious climb to Devils Peak.
I continued to push the pace even as the grade became increasingly steeper. I could start to see the ridge high above, a reminder of climbing still to come.
The trails grade continued to become steeper and more aggressive as we neared the pass.
I arrived at the pass on Devils Peak at 10:05 am, five minutes behind my scheduled goal. I had planned to allow Moxie a 15 minute break, this would now be cut to 10 minutes in an effort to stay on schedule. My goal was still to reach the trail head and my vehicle by 12:00 pm.
The view back down from Devils Peak showing the way we had come up.
After a short break to rest and refuel we were ready to drop back into the Sky Lakes Basin. I would follow an abandoned and unmaintained trail to reconnect with the Snow Lake Trail. This would complete our loop and leave Moxie and I with only the remaining miles back to the starting point.
We ran the entire length of the abandon trail where conditions would allow. We reconnected with the Snow Lake Trail and continued down hill to connect with the Sky Lakes Trail.
Just before climbing back up the Rock Slide we crossed the last oppertunity for Moxie to get water.
I was now on the home stretch. I would climb back to the Rock Slide View Point and continue on climbing past Puck Lake. I would then drop the final 2 miles to the trail head, where the trip had started on Day One.
With one last look back at the direction from which we had traveled it was time to keep moving.
As I approached the top of the final climb I gave Moxie one last break.
Somewhat rested I pushed on. It was all down hill on fairly nice trail. I was cutting it close and would have to pick up the pace to have any chance of hitting my goal of a 12:00 finish.
Back at the Nannie Creek Trail Head it was time to load Moxie and head to the Sevenmile Trail Head to pick up NZ.
I will continue to add pictures and comments, thanks for reading.