Bull of the Woods Loop Backpack

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Charley
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Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm
Location: North Portland

Bull of the Woods Loop Backpack

Post by Charley » October 4th, 2017, 1:01 pm

This fall, a friend and I hiked the Bull of the Woods Loop from Douglas Lorain's Backpacking Oregon guide. It's a 29 mile loop of the wilderness, visiting most of its high country, and one of its three major creek drainages. We spent the first night at Twin Lakes, and the second along Elk Creek. There are probably other practical ways of hiking this loop but starting at the Pansy Lake Trailhead allows one to see most of the area in a timely fashion. Approaching from Bagby Hot Springs or Dickey Creek would give one a longer trip; parking at Elk Lake would shave off mileage, and avoid a 3,000 foot climb on the final day. We saw one couple and a solo woman on the trail. That's excellent!
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Before we left town, I checked three sources (a phone call to the Estacada Ranger Station, Mt Hood and Willamette National Forest websites) and determined that the route was open to travel. We were thus dismayed to find a sign telling us that the Elk Lake Creek trail was closed due to the presence of firefighters in the area. Since the rainy weather tamped down fires, though, we went on through, and of course had no trouble (the Whitewater Fire closure, not to mention the fire itself, was far to the south, and no fire entered the wilderness). When I got home, I checked the same websites and confirmed that it was all open. I know the Forest Service has a lot going on, but it would be nice if they update their on-trail signage, because that closure would have made our loop impossible. The real shame, though, is that this kind of inconsistency and apparent arbitrariness breeds the kind of casual disobedience that is going to be a real problem in the Gorge this winter. When out-of-date signs indicate that rain-doused, unburnt trails, miles from any fire, are just as closed as still smoldering landslides-in-waiting, people will start ignoring *all* the signage.
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Anyway, here are some photos!

Our first views of the trip: Mt Jefferson from Trail 558.
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Despite Lorain's warning, there was a good bit of water in Mother Lode Creek.
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We saw so many Alaska yellow cedars! Lorain mentioned that some particular area had a great number of pacific yews, but I've rarely ever been able to find them in the wild, and this trip was no exception.
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View of Pansy Mountain and Mother Lode Mountain from Trail 558. I'm hoping to come back and do some scrambling here.
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The trail passed through a burned forest on the way to Twin Lakes. From what I can tell, parts of the Wilderness burned in 2008 and 2010 (Lake Lenore and View Lake Complex fires). This area had lots of fireweed to fly in the face, but also a good number of live trees, and few logs over the trail.
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The real reason I was interested in this route was the old growth. After all the wildfires this summer, I was jonesing to see a healthy, ancient forest. This tree is near Twin Lakes.
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We camped at one of the numerous, spacious camps at Upper Twin Lake (having somehow missed Lower Twin Lake entirely). This camp had a few tables built into live trees. I wouldn't ever build such a thing in a Wilderness, but I'm not above using one for an easy-on-the-back cooking table.
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Well, it's not the Enchantments, but it was pretty enough, and neither as far nor as crowded (we saw one lady camping there).
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Charley
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Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm
Location: North Portland

Re: Bull of the Woods Loop Backpack

Post by Charley » October 4th, 2017, 1:06 pm

Fall has definitely hit the high country; the vine maples, mountain ash, and huckleberry bushes were brilliant.
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Along the way up to Battle Ax, we passed a rock pillar, and I scrambled up to enjoy fine views of the Wilderness.
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The pathway up the ridge of Battle Ax is a great ridge walk.
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From the slopes and summit of Battle Ax, we had views of Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Hood, Mt Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt Washington, all Three Sisters, and Mt Bachelor. That's an eleven stratovolcano day! (Twelve if you count Ollallie Butte, which is a shield volcano.) Below us is our next destination: Elk Lake.
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We enjoyed many fine views along Trail 3340 down to Elk Lake. Much of the trail passes open slopes with big views and interesting rock formations.
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Elk Lake was really pretty, and the campground looked really nice, but I've heard it is usually very busy. Seems like the road closures down by Detroit Lake (due to the Whitewater Fire) might be keeping people away.
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Elk Lake:
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Along Trail 559, down Elk Lake Creek, there were many groves of giant old trees.
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We camped by Elk Lake Creek, at a large backcountry camp at the junction with Trail 558.
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Charley
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Location: North Portland

Re: Bull of the Woods Loop Backpack

Post by Charley » October 4th, 2017, 1:15 pm

The following day we negotiated three unbridged crossings of Elk Lake Creek. It was either a balancing act on downed trees...
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... or a tricky, cold crossing with bare feet.
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Along the way, more old growth:
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After our final crossing, the hardest work of the trip: a climb from 2,600' at Elk Lake Creek up to 5,523' at Bull of the Woods Lookout. We began in a partially burned forest and worked our way into a completely burned forest.
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We worked our way up into a completely burned forest. This section of trail is overgrown and covered with dozen of downed trees. It's marked in a few places with flagging, because it's not always clear.
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Lower Welcome Lake isn't easy to get to.
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Upper Welcome Lake, on the other hand, has a few campsites with views and easy water access.
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Still climbing.
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By the time we reached the Bull of the Woods Lookout, the weather had closed in. We hiked in a fine mist, and only had views of Big Slide Lake.
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Bull of the Woods Lookout was closed up. I spent the night up there with a friend, in late November 2007. I seem to recall the building being open to access; currently it would take a lot of work and maybe some tools to get in. It's a good thing we hadn't planned on camping in it!
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Down Trail 550 in a mist, and surrounded by fall colors:
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Class Northwest fall color!
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The final sightseeing was accomplished at Dickey Lake, which is is beautiful but doesn't have any campsites.
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retired jerry
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Re: Bull of the Woods Loop Backpack

Post by retired jerry » October 4th, 2017, 1:30 pm

thanks, I keep meaning to do a trip there some time, good beta here

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