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The Mystery of Camp Edith – How a Photo from 1890 Helped My Nature Tour Find This Lost Place

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Organization: Obsidians
Dates: September 10, 2017
Participants: 7
Type: Day hike and wayfinding

Camp Edith might not be remembered, but it has never truly been lost. Like many peaceful places in Oregon’s Cascades, it can reveal itself to those who seek it.

A photo of Camp Edith (circa 1890) taken at Waldo Lake, Oregon. I saw this while researching the journals and letters of conservationist Judge John Breckenridge Waldo at the University of Oregon archives. I’ve hiked all over Waldo Lake and never encountered this camp. Where was it? I’ve spent the past year reading, inquiring, and trying to find out where this camp might be, but with little luck. Some fieldwork was needed. I decided to lead a trip with other curious folks to find this historic location using this photo as one of our only clues.

An almost forgotten campsite, Camp Edith was once a favorite destination for Oregon’s most famous outdoorsmen and conservationists, Judge John Breckenridge Waldo. He explored and documented the Cascades from 1877 to 1907, increased public awareness with his letters to state newspapers in support of forest conservation, and steadfastly pushed legislation to preserve the mountains for future generations. Today, Oregonians can appreciate six national forests, a national park, and at least eighteen wilderness areas because of Waldo’s vision and perseverance.

Thank you, John B. Waldo, for helping us to enjoy such beautiful places! A photo of a meadow and Mount Ray, Waldo Lake area.

On his treks, Waldo would travel along the Cascades’ crest for months at a time. Although he traveled with a handful of colleagues and friends it is likely that he became homesick for his family. One of his most beloved destinations now bears his name, Waldo Lake, and it’s upon this magnificent shore where he christened the camp in honor of his daughter, Edith. Today, the campsite doesn’t appear on any maps, it quietly rests with only a century-old blazed tree to signify its human history.

I first learned about Camp Edith while studying Waldo’s journals at the UO Archives last year. In the archives were several photographs, including one photo from 1890 that was simply titled, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” But where was it? I found a few references to the camp in his journals but nothing definitive. An online article said it was in the shadow of Mount Ray near the lake. I met one chiseled-faced and bearded man who said that it was somewhere on the south shore. It was helpful information, but since Waldo Lake has an area of 10 square miles, locating the camp would require some fieldwork.

Part of the marshy south shore of Waldo Lake.

On this trip, our only tools were a copy of the 1890 black and white photograph, several entries from the judge’s journal, and a 2004 Forest Service photo showing a tree with an inscription.

The hike started at Shadow Bay. We were fortunate that thick smoke from nearby fires was blowing in another direction, giving our day a striking clarity. After walking a bit studying the photo, we bushwhacked through the forest, crossed marshy fields, and clamored over downed trees. We made slow progress, partially to avoid stepping on a number of dime-sized toads. One plump toad was the size of an apple.

At the shoreline we again studied the older photo: it showed the campsite in the foreground, and in the distance were what appeared to be several shadowy outlines of land jutting across the lake. As we looked across the water, we could see similar landforms, but our angle was off the mark. We needed to explore further. Several hours after starting our hike one member of our group let out a joyous call: “I found it!”

The rest of us followed her voice through the woods to an area by the shore. Blazed on a tree was a heart-shaped mark. The bark’s growth had covered the outside letters, but the inscription was readable: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”

A close-up of the Camp Edith tree, part of the “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake” inscription is still visible.

We were excited about the find. We enjoyed lunch, shared our own stories, and even read a few of Waldo’s journal entries. We left agreeing to be discreet about the camp’s exact location and left it as we found it.

Standing in front of the Camp Edith tree. This group of curious folks enjoys a good mystery.

One of Waldo’s journal entries from 1890 was fitting for our hike that day,

“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”

A side-by-side comparison of the heart-shaped blaze seen in 2017 and 1890. You can still see the original heart outline in the bark of the newer photo.

Canoeing is still a favorite activity at Waldo Lake as evidenced by paddlers making their way through a channel. Waldo Lake is a gas powered motor-free zone.

Backpacking around Oregon’s Waldo Lake

blog-2015-07-11-image-01Waldo Lake is one of Oregon’s largest bodies of water, though its lack of amenities such as convenience stores, resorts, and ban of motorized motors upon the water makes this destination easily overlooked. If you’re interested in a great overnight backpacking trip try the Jim Weaver Loop, a 20.2-mile trail around Waldo lake, here are some photos taken in early July.

We parked the car and started from Shadow Bay near the southeastern edge of the lake. Our hike around the lake was in a clockwise direction. We were quickly out of sight from the parking lot and headed along the trail.

blog-2015-07-11-image-02Near Mile 2. Our first stop was at the South Waldo shelter, it was fully equipped with wood and a stove; this is a popular destination in the winter. We continued on.

blog-2015-07-11-image-03The south shore had some great views of the South and Middle Sisters. The trail now meandered up the western side of the lake.

blog-2015-07-11-image-04Cascades Blueberry

blog-2015-07-11-image-06Close to Mile 5. Overlooking the picturesque Klovdahl Bay. Overhead, the clouds began building into thunderheads; in the distance we could hear the rumbling crescendo of thunder as though gigantic timpani drums were being struck.

blog-2015-07-11-image-07The western trail has a number of places where the forest looks like it had a close encounter with a forest fire; note the scoring on the tree at the right.

blog-2015-07-11-image-08Mile 10. Continuing north. Seen in the right on the image, about 2-miles away, is a scarred hilltop within the burn zone.

blog-2015-07-11-image-09We spied several campsites peppered along the western shore of the lake, but as we reached the northern shore we discovered a favorite spot was vacant. As evening approached we appreciated a gentle breeze that chased most of the mosquitoes away.

blog-2015-07-11-image-10Enjoying a gorgeous sunset. The sky was clear that night, when the stars came out they were so bright you could almost touch them.

blog-2015-07-11-image-11A very small toad had made its home just outside our tent during the night. It was discovered in the morning hiding next to one of our shoes.

blog-2015-07-11-image-12Roughly Mile 12. Heading east, the trail meanders through the burn zone along the north shore. This day was going to be hot so we tried to cross before the sun rose too high in the sky. Several weeks earlier, during a scamper through the burn zone, we crossed this section and encountered numerous trees that had fallen across the trail, these had since been removed – thank you Forest Service!

blog-2015-07-11-image-13Mile 13-ish. Standing on the north shore looking across to the southern shore. The morning was calm, it was difficult to tell where the sky ended and the lake began. Determining the depth of the logs seen the water was difficult, but if the terrain continued its steep angle into the water, these logs were at least 40 feet deep in the foreground and 60+ feet deep further out.

blog-2015-07-11-image-14A Couple Selfie taken on the trail within the burn zone.

blog-2015-07-11-image-15We’re out of the burn zone and heading south along the eastern edge of the lake. Half of the trail around Waldo Lake is in the woods, with only brief glimpses of the water. Be prepared to see lots of trees.

blog-2015-07-11-image-16Just as were neared the south shore a massive toad was seen at the edge of the trail eating mosquitoes. During the entire trip mosquitoes were not a big issue, though the last several miles of the trail we were devoured by these little flying beasts! I was glad to see this toad!

blog-2015-07-11-image-17Mile 20.2. The best part of finishing the loop trail around Waldo Lake is that you can dip your feet into the lake’s cold and clean water.

We arrived back at the car the next day. Except for people we saw in the campgrounds, we only saw 6 people on the trail.

A Scamper through the Burn Zone at Oregon’s Waldo Lake

In 1996 a forest fire decimated an area in central Oregon that was roughly 5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Much of the fire’s southern advance was stopped by the immense shoreline of Waldo Lake – a glacially carved body of water that is 10-square miles in size!

The titanic forces of fire and ice have affected this magnificent landscape in dramatic and beautiful ways; all of which are best experienced from the trail.

Here are some photos from a two-day, 8-mile backpacking trip along Waldo Lake’s north shore and deep into the burn zone of the Ringdon Lakes area.

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Hiking along Waldo Lake’s north shore. Waldo Lake is considered to have some of the purest water in the world. The lake was named after Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, who is considered to be the “John Muir of Oregon” for his work helping to conserve large tracks of forests in the Cascades.

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Scampering over and under the “blowdown;” these are trees that have been blown down by the wind. In this case, the blowdown are the trees that burned in the 1996 fire.

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Passing one of the many ponds that dot the northern shore of Waldo Lake.

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We exited the burn zone and made camp. Shown are several youthful members of the group seen enjoying the shallow and cool waters nearby.

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If you think you’re too old for backpacking? Just look at Jack, at 70 years old he celebrates life by getting outside.

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A view of the evening sky as seen from our campsite. That night we heard only nature’s sounds…which included the buzz of mosquitoes.

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The night sky was dark on this moonless night. Note the prominent stars of the Big Dipper, in the right of the image is Polaris (the North Star) and the Little Dipper. To locate Polaris, all you have to do is to find the Big Dipper pointer stars, which are located at the outer part of the Big Dipper’s bowl (seen at the bottom on the image). Draw a line from these and go about 5 times the distance to Polaris.

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In the morning, the trail led us north, deep into the burn zone of the Waldo Lake Wilderness. The devastation from the fire continued for miles, but new growth was all around us as we hiked. Also observed were several types of bees, a wasp, woodpeckers, and a small toad.

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Lake Kiwa is shown in the background. The trail junction (not shown) was partially hidden by a fallen tree that also served as the post for the trail sign. The path returning us to Waldo Lake was heavy with blowdown; this two-mile trail required twice the time because of the quantity of downed trees we had to climb over – more scampering!

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Lower Rigdon Lake offered us the visual treat of a deep blue and some much needed shade for a short break. Near the top of the hill is Upper Ringdon Lake.

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Coming down from the Ringdon Lakes; in the distance is Waldo Lake. Note shown, but interesting; there were areas on this section of trail that frequently crossed flat rocky areas where glacial scouring makes could be seen.

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Returning to the shoreline trail we enjoy the sights of Waldo Lake’s varied and picturesque scenery.

A Day Hike Near Mittenwald, Bavaria

A Day Hike Near Mittenwald, Bavaria.

I received an invitation from the locals to go on another day trip. This trip was near the Bavarian town of Mittenwald, just over the German border from Austria. Mittenwald is about a 40 minutes car ride from Innsbruck through some breathtaking country. The kids were going today so the hike would be on the easy side. Our ultimate destination was the inland lake called the Lautersee with a possible side hike to a second inland lake called, Ferchensee.

Overlooking MittenwaldWe drove into Mittenwald and parked on a street just out of town. We walked on steep roads and quiet trails until we perceived ourselves to be deep in the woods, but the little side paths that meandered off here and there revealed the town was only just a short distance away. A lot of people, mostly retirees and were out hiking and enjoying the gorgeous setting. The weather that day was just that – gorgeous; not too hot, not too cold, with a radiant sun and low humidity.

We arrived at the Lautersee and walked around the edge. This inland lake was of good size and required thirty-minutes, at an honest pace, to walk its circumference. The water was glassy, clear and it’s depths accented with gradient shades of blue. Tall green trees surrounded the lake creating a textured, natural and living wall. If this was not bewitching enough the entire scene was even more entrancing from the enormous Lauterseesawtoothed mountains that towered aloft.

Several buildings dotted the edge of the lake, but we were headed to a man-made family beach area. This area included slides and an elevated merry-go-round that swung the kids over the water. The area adjacent to the beach was grassy and allowed people to sun. The kids loved playing and the adults swam in the cool waters of the lake. A small cafe sold coffee, beer and fries while a restaurant next door sold more hearty fare.

To many visitors, this setting was heaven; I agree the setting was glorious, but my Family Beach Areaversion of heaven involves more hiking so I took the opportunity to venture to the adjacent lake known as the Ferchensee. In fact, I took several such walks that day.


During one of these walks I noticed an old and sturdy wooden barn stacked with freshly dried green hay. Outside the barn was a large flat-bed trailer being pulled not by a tractor, but an old World War II American Jeep. The jeep appeared to be well-loved and was in fantastic condition. A large white star still emblazoned the hood. After a few minutes a shirtless farmer rounded the side of the barn and jumped in the drivers seat, started it up and whirred off, bouncing all the way, to a patch at the base of a hill he was harvesting.

Farm Using a WWII JeepThe hike to the Ferchensee was very restorative; everything was green, lots of little springs gurgled along the trail, there was an abundance of vegetation, and a variety of toads and insects moved before me on the trail. The abundance of animals suggested the environment here was healthy and vibrant. At one point a small snake, who had been sunning itself on the trail slithered into the grass. Several people came up and studied it with a keen interest then continued on with there hike. Signs in the area thanked people for visiting and reminded them that the farmers and people who lived there (the folks who hung the signs) obtained their livelihood from this land and to respect that fact.

The Ferchensee was exceptionally pretty. A couple of rustic buildings dotted the edge of this gentle looking blue and clear body of water. The perimeter of the lake appeared to be larger than its cousin. The ground around the lake gently sloped and was carpeted with grass. Forests lay at the far end. Most of the people, just a few dozen of them, were laying on the hypotenuse side of this triangular shaped lake in a large green field sunning themselves and having picnics.

FerchenseeThe hike returning to the Lautersee was equally as stunning as the first; this time I had the pleasure of looking upon the tall and jagged sawtoothed mountains that guarded the nearby town of Mittenwald.

Arriving at the family beach area I again felt uncomfortable, it was too crowded.

Then my wife reminded me of the obvious – out of scores of people, of all ages, from various countries, speaking multiple languages that …no one was being rude. Out of that entire day neither of us witnessed any rudeness. She was right. Everyone was courteous, and would say (in German – even those from other countries visiting the area) “please” and “thank you”, or “excuse me” when they accidentally bumped someone or walked by their space. There was zero if any trash laying around, the visitors policed their own items; and when finished with food cartons or rental chairs returned them to the office; there were no loud people – no one was playing a radio or talking offensively. If people wanted to listen to music they used an iPod or similar so others would not be disturbed. Of all of the people at that beach, no one talked arrogantly, nor looked like a gang member, nor did I feel out belongings would be ransacked if we turned our backs or went for a swim. People were calm, sensible, level-headed and courteous. The kids were also well behaved! I was, frankly speaking, stunned. I was stunned from the display of exemplary human behavior, but also that I had not been more observant with my own perceptions.

For the remainder of the day I enjoyed this tiny spot and observed with a fresh mind as though I had woken from a slumber – I saw it anew. As a traveler, that is my ultimate goal, to not be so comfortable with a situation or place that I only see what I want to see; but instead to see things with open eyes, and the sense of awe that makes traveling, well… fun.

Building a Toad House

“Grandpa, there’s a toad in the drainpipe,” Anna exclaimed!

The sudden and intense summer rain had quickly filled the rain gauge. Critters in the front yard were finding refuge. A small toad apparently found sanctuary in a drainpipe only to be washed away as the rain intensified and quickly flooded the downspout.

Anna saw the toad being tumbled along in the torrent of water. She reached down, carefully cupped her hands and picked up the drenched toad. The toad sat motionless. After several seconds the toad looked at Anna. She studied the big eyes, wide mouth and bumpy skin of this odd creature. The toad apparently studied the small eyes, small mouth and non-bumpy skin of this human. After a minute the toad seemed to sit more comfortably in Anna’s hand. Anna held her hands out and proudly showed this very content toad to the family.

Thunder rolled in the distance. The rain fell more gently now but the previous downpour had washed away the toad’s abode. The toad needed a new home and an industrious seven year old had the answer – a new toad house. But how? The family discussed several options. Grandpa suggested to place the toad near the massive toad home that dominated the front garden. Anna called this monolith Mount Toady. Mount Toady was a large rock supported by multiple stones which formed caves and alcoves at the base. Surrounding the mountain was a lush garden of plants, rooted in rich soil and inhabited by yummy earthworms. To a toad, it was paradise.

Anna had her own idea of a toad home and asked Mom to hold the toad. Mom took the toad and peeked around her fingers into her cupped hand – Mom peered in at the Toad, the Toad peered out at Mom.

Anna found a high spot on the ground that was protected from future flood waters. She dug a shallow hole with her hand then raced around the yard and collected sticks that were about a foot long. The thumb-sized sticks were used as a base. Smaller sticks were crossed to form the roof. After a few involved minutes the toad had a new house. Mom transferred the toad back to Anna who proudly introduced the toad to the new structure. The toad quickly hopped away but could not avoid the determined and quick hands of a child. The toad was again placed near the house, this time the toad made good use of the home.