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Mother Lode Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
Vine maples, Mother Lode Trail (bobcat)
Old growth on the Pansy Basin Trail (bobcat)
Pansy Lake, Bull of the Woods Wilderness (bobcat)
Detritus at the Geronimo Mine site, Geronimo Trail (bobcat)
Welcome Lakes and Schreiner Peak from the Geronimo Trail (bobcat)
Route of the loop shown in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Pansy Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Mother Lode Creek Crossing
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 13.5 miles
  • High Point: 5,150 feet
  • Elevation gain: 3650 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer to mid-fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

This remote loop begins at the Pansy Lake Trailhead and heads up over a pass and down into the forested bowl of Mother Lode Creek. Then it’s a hard slog on an abandoned trail up the Geronimo Ridge above the Welcome Lakes and then below the Bull of the Woods Lookout back to Pansy Lake. The southern part of this loop has been affected by two recent fires: the View Lake Fire Complex of 2010 to the east and the Mother Lode Fire of 2011 to the west. The area also attracted prospectors in the late 19th century and some mine relics can be seen at the site of the Geronimo Mine.

WARNING: In order to complete this loop, you will need to use the Geronimo Trail, which ascends the east side of the Mother Lode basin. This trail has been abandoned by the Forest Service and can be difficult to follow in places.

The trail begins across from the parking area, enters the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, goes up through old growth Douglas-fir, western hemlock, noble fir and silver fir, and crosses a few small creeks. Vine maple, rhododendron, and huckleberry predominate in the understory.

At a switchback, you can take a spur leading steeply down to a secluded campsite. From here, you can head into the Pansy Basin’s big meadow, which glows golden in the fall below red vine maple bursts on the scree slopes above. Pansy Creek flows through a bog and down the west side of the basin, which attracts elk in the mornings and evenings. There is no easy bushwhack from here up to the lake, so return to the main trail and switchback up past the Pansy Basin-Dickey Lake Trail Junction. The trail rises gently to the short spur that leads west along shallow Pansy Lake’s north shore. On the slope above the lake’s western shore, you can search for Robert Bagby’s Pansy Blossom Mine, where he dug for copper in the late 19th century.

From the lake, switchback up scree slopes with two excellent viewpoints down to Pansy Lake. Alaska yellow-cedar, mountain hemlock, and western white pine predominate on the open slopes. Reach Mother Lode Pass and the Pansy Basin-Mother Lode Trail Junction. Keep right here and drop down the east slope of Pansy Mountain, getting a view of Mount Jefferson and the forested Geronimo ridge, your ascent route. A tongue of the 2011 fire burned up the slope here, but soon you will be in pristine forest and crossing Mother Lode Creek, just a bare trickle here at the end of summer. There is a campsite here also. The trail leaves this old growth bottomland with some large Douglas-firs and heads along the slope of Mother Lode Mountain. The trail rises, passing a small tarn meadow, and reaches an opening shaded by lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, and rhododendron. The path continues to traverse the slope and eventually reaches the Mother Lode-Twin Lakes Trail Junction still high above the creek.

Right after this junction, an open knoll carpeted with grouseberry and pinemat manzanita affords a vista up the Mother Lode Basin to Pansy Mountain and the Bull of the Woods Lookout. Then the trail drops steeply down and begins to traverse the slope again. In this area, you could search for a use trail down to the site of the Porcupine Mine on the creek itself. Soon you will be in the eastern zone of the Mother Lode Burn and descending to the Mother Lode Creek Crossing, here a limpid, burbling spate compared to the trickle that you had stepped over higher up in the basin. Yews and rustling alders shade this peaceful place.

Cross the creek, head up, and meet the Mother Lode-Geronimo Trail Junction. Since the Geronimo Trail #557 has been officially abandoned by the Forest Service, the junction may not be all that obvious, and the tree that holds the sign for the trail has crashed to the ground. There is some blowdown to negotiate as you head up, still in the burn zone, but it can be stepped over or circumvented. Still in the burn, reach the site of the Geronimo Mine, where you can poke around among the old tin cans. The stone structure at the filled-in mine entrance is still there, but most of the old timbers that lay around here have been consumed by the recent fires. There’s a small spring right above the cabin site.

Then, it is a matter of seriously tackling the Geronimo Ridge on one of the steeper and vaguer trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest. It’s 2,000 feet in two miles relentlessly up the ridge crest. The trail is easy to follow in some places but gets lost in others although one usually just needs to keep to the general alignment of the ridge crest. The burn here was a ground fire that lasted late into the fall, so the large trees are alive and healthy. Leaving the burn, one enters typical montane woodland. A clearing gives a view to the iconic shape of Battle Ax. The trail becomes overgrown with chinquapin bushes and passes through a bear-grass meadow. High on the rocky ridge and back in the 2010 burn, one begins to get views north and east to the Welcome Lakes, Schreiner Peak, and Big Slide Mountain. The vista has expanded markedly as this was a crown fire all the way up.

Reach the Welcome Lakes-Geronimo Trail Junction and drop to the west side of the ridge before making two switchbacks up. You are out of the burn area now and there are some big Douglas-firs on this west side. A snow brush clearing gives a great view to Battle Ax, Coffin Mountain, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, and the Three Sisters. Keep traversing below the ridge crest to the Welcome Lakes-Schreiner Peak Trail Junction with its sign for Big Slide Lake. Continue straight, dropping gradually for a quarter mile in beautiful ridge crest woods to the Mother Lode-Welcome Lakes Trail Junction.

There’s a viewpoint on the ridge crest near the junction offering a vista of Big Slide Mountain’s south side and Mount Hood.Turn off on the Mother Lode Trail and descend westward in old growth woods with some fine noble fir and Douglas-fir. Switchback down twice and traverse. Near a scree slope blazing with vine maple in the fall, there’s a magnificent view south to Mount Jefferson. Reach the Pansy Basin-Mother Lode Trail Junction at Mother Lode Pass go right to return to the trailhead.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Battle Ax, OR #524
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area (Geronimo Trail not shown)
  • Geo-Graphics: Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Information board at trailhead
  • Self-issued wilderness permit

Trip Reports

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.