Note: Originally published in September 2017, this trip report was updated in March 2019 by the author to read more like a travel article.
Trip Report: Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Dates: September 10, 2017, | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding
In Oregon’s Cascade Range an old tree stood guard over a forgotten story. The memory was about an explorer named Judge John Breckenridge Waldo and his intrepid spirit was that of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Waldo is the unsung grandfather of Oregon’s protected lands. It is because of his perseverance that six national forests, Crater Lake National Park, and over a dozen wilderness areas exist today. Yet, few remember Waldo’s name or celebrate his achievements.
The tall perpendicular woods and glassy mountain lake made seeing this old tree even more intoxicating. A year earlier while researching Waldo I spied a grainy black and white photo. The picture was snapped in 1890; it revealed a couple of trees and a canoe by a lake with the handwritten text, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” An interesting yet unremarkable image, except that Camp Edith wasn’t referenced on any map. After a year of research, my fellow explorers and I stood before those words carved into the tree’s hardwood — it was Waldo’s “lost” campsite.
Our morning started with sunlight enriching the blue and turquoise waters of Waldo Lake. The radiant vista poured 5-miles into the distance and an additional 2 miles at breadth. As the sun rose further into the sky it revealed depths of 60 feet or more in the crystalline-like liquid.
From 1877 to 1907 Waldo extensively explored and chronicled the “untrammeled nature” of Oregon’s Cascades. He believed that modern life had “narrowing tendencies” on a person and that wilderness allowed difficulties to “be perceived and corrected, and the spirit enlarged and strengthened.” Waldo was a reflective man who did not seek publicity. Rather, he quietly and diligently advanced his vision: a 300-mile long protected swath along Oregon’s mountainous crest from the Columbia Gorge to the California border. Upon returning from his expeditions he spent countless hours increasing public awareness through letter writing and using his resources as a State Legislator and Chief Justice of Oregon’s Supreme Court to advocate for preservation.
After Waldo’s death in 1907, his writings went missing only to be rediscovered in the 1980s. The papers now reside in the archives at the University of Oregon. This is where I first saw the old photo of Camp Edith. When I inquired with seasoned hikers, campers, and old-timers, they had not heard of the camp. Finally, I met an aged flower child that loved to backpack. Surprisingly, he knew about Camp Edith but only revealed, “When you find ‘the tree,’ you’ll be there.”
The following winter I jumped into reading a rare 500-page copy of Waldo’s transcribed diary. During his treks, he traveled for months at a time to nourish his insatiable wanderlust and love of the Cascades. But like many travelers, he was often homesick. To lessen the loneliness he christened a favorite camping site in honor of his daughter, Edith. A colleague blazed the camp’s name into a tree trunk.
The snow had melted in the mountains and some ground reconnaissance was needed. I enlisted several members from a local hiking group to join me at Waldo Lake. We walked into the forest to find “the tree” provisioned with a photo from 1890, a few telling diary entries, and the mystifying advice of an old hippie.
Progress was slow as we bushwhacked through the woodlands, crossed marshy fields, and scrambled over downed logs. We were close to calling it a day when a member of our team let out a joyous shout. Thirteen decades of bark growth had covered the blaze’s perimeter, but the inscription was legible: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”
We had unearthed a sumptuous moment of discovery.
An excerpt from one of Waldo’s 1890 letters was appropriate to read-
“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.’”
We departed Camp Edith carrying Waldo’s story with us — our spirits nourished and renewed.
The Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon is breathtakingly beautiful. This diverse landscape of volcanoes, snow, forests, creeks, lava fields, and lakes gives hikers the opportunity to explore a vibrant topography. The wilderness encompasses 281,190-acres and is dominated by three volcanic peaks: North, Middle, and South, that each exceeds 10,000-feet in height! Several paved roads around the perimeter of the wilderness allow visitors to see vistas with just a car ride, but to really appreciate the immensity of this setting some footwork is required. Here are some pictures of a 34-mile, 4-day trip along the north and eastern portions of the wilderness ending between Middle and South Sister at a subalpine area known as Camp Lake.
My wife and I began our first day with a late start; we hiked 3 miles south from the Lava Camp trailhead and spent the night at South Matthieu Lake. Smoke from forest fires in the region made everything, even a view of North Sister and the moon, opaque. That night, an anticipated cool breeze was replaced by a warm wind that blew in from high plains of Oregon where a large ground fire was burning. In the middle of the night, the smoke became extremely thick and breathing for several hours was difficult. By morning the winds had shifted and the air was clearer.
The next day we hiked 14 miles; 7 of which reminded us just how destructive forest fires can be, constantly around us were the stark and charcoaled remains of incinerated trees. This conflagration was called the Pole Creek Fire and occurred just 3 years ago in 2012.
Several small creeks crossed our path, most were dry, but Alder Creek’s water was cold and clear even though the flow was very low. The creek offered a respite from a temperature of 85 degrees and hot sun that was beating down. We welcomed the opportunity for rest and refill our water bottles at this little pool.
The North Sister towers in the distance. Continuing south the trail crossed several areas where the fire had not reached; these were often pumice expanses where vegetation was dispersed.
As we crossed Soap Creek we saw a number Bumble Bees buzzing from one flower to another. Soap Creek gets its name from the soapy color of the water; this is because of the sediment that gets carried down in the glacial meltwater.
The trail turned to the west and the terrain gradually increased in elevation. After about an hour and a half we crossed the North Fork of Whychus Creek, which had to be traversed via several logs that served as a makeshift bridge, below us the grey and auburn glacial melt water loudly churned. Its source was about 2 miles upstream at the Hayden and Diller Glaciers. After crossing the views opened up.
A photo of Christiane hiking through a pumice area on our way to Camp Lake; walking on this material is akin to walking on dry sand.
What a beautiful landscape!
A view of South Sister on the horizon; this dramatic peak is 10,358-feet in elevation!
Our destination for the night, Camp Lake at 6,952-feet. The wind here can be unrelenting, this is because the lake’s location is sandwiched in a pass between Middle and South Sister. The wind was strong that afternoon so we found sanctuary behind a glacial moraine and set up camp.
Our original plan was to stay the night at Camp Lake and then in the morning continue over the pass. This would have included: hiking up a climber’s trail for an hour and up several hundred feet in elevation, crossing over a snowfield and down the western side of the mountain and to several remote lakes then overland another 3 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail. But, uncertain weather changed our plans. The forecast had called for a rainstorm along with high winds within the next 24 hours and we were hoping to make it over the pass before the rain. That evening dark clouds marched across the sky. As the sun disappeared under the horizon the temperature dropped well into the 40s and that night we heard several deep and rumbling crashes of thunder. The wind howled into the morning and for several hours we heard rain outside and at times our tent was pelted by ice.
When we woke, the sky was grey in color but appeared mostly calm, though as I stepped out from behind the shelter of the moraine the wind almost knocked me over. I collected water at the lake and was surprised at how chilled I had become in just a few minutes; the wind was deceptively cold. Partially frozen raindrops fell sporadically. My wife and I made the decision to hold off crossing over the pass during this trip. We would return by the route we came.
The area’s starkness was beautiful. Several tents were dotted around the area, all of them, like the tent, is shown in the photo, was strategically placed behind natural wind brakes.
Our hike off the mountain was cold and occasionally it rained on us. At about noon the sun briefly came out, but this did not last long for the sky again turned dark and overcast. We hiked out of the burn zone and returned to the Matthieu Lakes area about dinnertime. That evening, the weather was peaceable, but about 7 pm the wind started up, by 8 pm it roared through camp with gusts reaching 40-50 miles an hour, by 9 pm the rain started. This continued into dawn. We slept comfortably in our tent.
The next morning was drippy and low clouds blew over the treetops. Later that morning we hiked out the last 3 miles. As we approached the Lava Camp trailhead the sky offered us some brief patches of blue. We ended our day with each other clinking together mugs of trail coffee in honor of a good trip.
A high point of summer is witnessing the Perseid meteor shower. Every year in mid-August these cosmic bits of dust and ice streak into the Earth’s atmosphere giving a heavenly spectacle to those on the ground. These ‘shooting stars’ can be seen once every minute and are best seen away from city lights. This year provided an extra challenge because of smoke from forest fires in southern Oregon.
My family grabbed the camping gear and we made our way to the crest of the Cascades in hopes of clear views. Our first stop was at 7,400 feet; unfortunately smoke shrouded the sky and nearby mountains, viewing that evening was very limited.
The next day the winds shifted and skies were clearer. For the second night, we selected a lakeside view at about 5,500 feet. We found a quiet peninsula on the water – the sky theater was open before us and we had front row seats!
As the sun lowered on the horizon it passed behind a thick grey-brown wall of smoke from the forest fires. The pre-show sunset was visually stunning.
For 20 minutes everything around us had a red hue (shown), then the sun completely disappeared behind the wall of smoke. The sky darkened.
Along the shore were gatherings of families, hikers, and campers. On the lake, kayakers began to raft up (shown). Everyone was eager for that evening’s performance. A voice from the water curiously asked if the smudge in the eastern sky was the Milky Way? We turned, behind us the great cross-section of our galaxy began to reveal itself. Someone shouted from the shore, “I saw one!” A wave of audible oohs and aahs was heard from the various groups of people who had seen a meteor streak across the sky.
We laid back on the smooth glacially-carved boulders that would be our theater seats for the evening, and for the next 3 hours were amazed by the variety of meteors that zipped across the heavenly stage; some meteors were micro-sized blips, others were graceful streaks, some dramatically required the length of the entire sky. At about midnight sleep was getting the better of us and we returned to our tents.
I tried to capture some of the Perseids with my camera, out of 80 photos that night this is the best I could accomplish.
Later that night I woke up and walked outside my tent where I could see the sky clearly. The Milky Way was overhead and amazingly bright. I shivered in the night’s cool temperature while looking up. A streak appeared across the star field of the Milky Way; it was bright, then not, then bright again, it rotated about 8 times before disappearing. What an amazing night!
Waldo 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 to 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.
Near 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.
The south shore had some great views of the South and Middle Sisters. The trail now meandered up the western side of the lake.
Close 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.
The 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.
Mile 10. Continuing north. Seen in the right on the image, about 2-miles away is a scarred hilltop within the burn zone.
We 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.
Enjoying a gorgeous sunset. The sky was clear that night when the stars came out they were so bright you could almost touch them.
A 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.
Roughly 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!
Mile 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.
A Couple Selfie taken on the trail within the burn zone.
We’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.
Just as we 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!
Mile 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.
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.
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.
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.
Passing one of the many ponds that dot the northern shore of Waldo Lake.
We exited the burn zone and made camp. Shown are several youthful members of the group seen enjoying the shallow and cool waters nearby.
If you think you’re too old for backpacking? Just look at Jack, at 70 years old he celebrates life by getting outside.
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.
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 of the image). Draw a line from these and go about 5 times the distance to Polaris.
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.
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 number of downed trees we had to climb over – more scampering!
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.
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.
Returning to the shoreline trail we enjoy the sights of Waldo Lake’s varied and picturesque scenery.
My kayak breezes over the surface of the aptly named “Clear Lake” in central Oregon. The lake bottom descends below me ten, twenty, thirty feet, yet I can still see features as though looking into an aquarium.
Each stroke of my paddle dips into the crystalline fluid and scoops out rounded orbs of glass-like liquid, I dip my hand into the water, the temperature is cold, somewhere around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake is fed by mountain springs that course from deep within old lava flows; the water temperature stays a near constant throughout the year.
The sun had been hiding behind a cloud, but now bursts forth illuminating the lake. The clear water that surrounds me now becomes a turquoise pool. The green and the tan forested shoreline is reflected onto this gem-colored liquid. I cannot help but to stop paddling and just watch – immersed at the moment.
A number of Mallard ducks float next to my kayak, some are just a few feet away. One comes abreast to me and looks at me in the eye; he cocks his head as though wondering what kind of strange beast I might be. I can see his little legs moving underneath the water, churning like a miniature paddle wheel.
My kayak hugs a rocky shoreline; it is a jumbled and erratic wall that descends sharply into the water. This is the edge of an ancient lava flow that three millennia earlier was the outlet of a stream. As the water rose, a new lake was created, and the surrounding forest was submerged. The water temperature was so cold that decomposers could not survive and the original forest was preserved. Today, three-thousand years later, several dozen of the ancient trees from that forest remain upright and can be seen from the surface.
A large dark form starts to become visible in the water before my kayak. I stop paddling and the surface becomes undisturbed allowing the shape to come into focus, it is the column-like shape of one of the ancient trees. The trunk appears to be as big around as a dinner platter, and only just a couple of feet below my kayak. I try to gently tap the top of the trunk with my paddle, but I am unable to reach it. The water has played a trick on my eyes by making things appear closer than they really are. I peer down the trunk looking, fifty, sixty, possibly a hundred feet down to the bottom.
The only sounds are people laughing in the distance, and a gentle wind blowing through the trees.
There are no motorboats on Clear Lake, just human powered crafts.
Autumn at Lake Tahoe offers beautiful vistas, vibrant colors and the rare opportunity to see Black Bears along a creek catching spawning Kokanee Salmon.
Recently some relatives, visiting from overseas, made a trip to California and included a side trip to beautiful Lake Tahoe. We suggested they see the Lake’s sights in October during a tourist ‘down time’ when the weather is still warm and the summer crowds have disappeared.
The relatives were not disappointed by their visit. One trip particularly amazed everyone in the family from age 3 to 67.
Walking next to Taylor Creek, at the southern shore of the lake, they saw vibrant red colors moving in the clear and cold water. These were spawning Kokanee Salmon. Then hearing some nearby splashing in the creek they looked up and saw a mother black bear and a young cub wading in the water. They were surprisingly close so everyone backed-off a little to allow the bears their space. The bears were catching fish to build up their fat reserves for the coming winter. Several good pictures were snapped including the picture of this young bear devouring a just caught salmon.
Taylor Creek is a picturesque mountain stream that flows into the southern waters of Lake Tahoe. The nearby U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center at Taylor Creek is a great starting point to learn about the Kokanee Salmon and this wonderful area. The Rainbow Trail is a short hike and very good for families with young children. Make sure to visit the underground Stream Profile Chamber for an up-close and fish-eye view of Taylor Creek.
To continue your own explorations by car drive past the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe drive three miles north on Highway 89 to the USFS Visitor Center. To learn more about this area online, and an annual Kokanee Salmon Festival held at the area, visit the USFS website.
Buck Rock a great day trip for those visiting the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park.
A visit to the Buck Rock fire lookout in Sequoia National Forest is a combination of adventure and play. Just getting there from the main road is exciting: you drive up a dirt road through forest lands, then climb a rugged staircase up to the side of a granite wall to a fire lookout on top of a massive rock dome.
Most people who see Buck Rock will view it from Kings Canyon Overlook along the General’s Highway. The General’s Highway is the primary road between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From this often crowded car turnout folks who look east will see a small, and remote looking fire lookout about 2 miles in the distance.
We wanted to go exploring and take a closer look.
Our trip started from the General’s Highway at the Big Meadows Road turnoff. We drove east on this paved road for about 3 miles through beautiful forest service lands to a Horse Camp. Here we turned north onto a dirt road and continued for roughly another 2 miles. The dirt road became a little rocky in some areas and was a little intimidating. We were glad to have a car with some higher clearance. [Note: later that day we did notice a mini-van and a small sedan that had made the drive.]
The parking area was essentially a pull-over along the side of the dirt road. A sign directed us to walk the last quarter-mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail and saw the impressive looking Buck Rock (shown); a chain of stairs rose from the base of great stone and directed people to the fire lookout at the top.
At the bottom of the stairs were several friendly volunteers from the Buck Rock Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the tradition of fire lookouts and other historic facilities. The volunteers gladly answered questions and told us more about the history of the fire lookout.
We started our ascent on some very rugged and sturdy looking stairs with equally solid side-rails. The wind was a little strong so we tightened down our hats and continued on. The stairs included 172 steps – each with a breathtaking view. Finally, we reached the top of Buck Rock (shown) and entered the 14 x 14 foot, well-maintained fire lookout staffed by Ranger Kathryn. She is on duty 5 days a week during the fire season. Volunteers and other staff help maintain the station during her days off. This tiny station, located at 8,500 feet in elevation, commands some fantastic views!
In the corner of this tiny space was a small, but comfortable looking bed. In another corner was a tiny refrigerator and cooking stove, next to it was a miniature wood stove. All of the food, water, and firewood must be carried up the same 172 steps. One wall included a desk and work area. In the middle of the lookout was an Osborne Fire Finder device, an instrument that allows Rangers to sight a fire and determine the directional bearing (shown). The Ranger demonstrated how it worked by using two sighting apertures on the side of a large circular map. A fire was actually burning in the distance and from this high vantage point, we could easily sight it. The fire was burning 8 miles away! The sides of the lookout had large and roomy windows that made this small space feel spacious. I was surprised at how organized, comfortable and non-claustrophobic this tiny place was.
Outside, the building had a small walkway around the perimeter of the structure. Looking over the edge you felt as though you were suspended over open air. On the roof, hanging from one corner was a Hummingbird Feeder. During our visit, several times a Hummingbird (Anna’s or Rufus) zipped up and drank from the feeder.
We thanked everybody for a great visit and slowly walked back down the 172 stairs enjoying amazing views with each step.
For her adventurous spirit and climbing Buck Rock our youngest family member (age 9) earned an “I Climbed the 172 Steps to the Top of Buck Rock Fire Lookout” certificate. All kids who make the ascent can earn this certificate.