Indian Heaven: Red Mountain, Racetrack, East Crater

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Chip Down
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Indian Heaven: Red Mountain, Racetrack, East Crater

Post by Chip Down » October 19th, 2019, 6:51 pm

I was exploring on Google Earth when I spotted a crater with a green bottom, partially burned on its outer flanks, surrounded by meadows, lakes, and even a trail! What could this be, and why didn't I know about it? Pulled back, and laughed at myself when I realized it was East Crater in Indian Heaven. Many years ago (20+) I went looking for the crater, but after a miserable bushwhack I never found it, either because I had bad directions, or because I didn't follow directions well.

Looking for a good starting point, I spotted Indian Racetrack Trailhead, on top of Red Mountain. Who the heck puts a trailhead on the top of a mountain? Well, it's a moot point, as a little research revealed the road is gated. Great way to start a hike, walking up a gated road. Oh well, gotta be done.

I dropped my car at the PCT crossing of Rd 60 (slightly confusing, because Google Maps incorrectly shows PCT meets another nearby road, but some pre-hike research showed me how things really are). Walked back west on Rd 60, downhill (dammit) just about a half mile or so, then turned and started up the 3 mile trudge to the TH, which is maybe about a quarter mile shy of Red Mountain's summit. Along the way, in the dark, I spotted a pair of beady eyes, a small creature, maybe about the size of a cat. As I drew closer, it scampered off, and I could see what it was. Skunk! I've never seen one in real life that I can recall, and hope I never do again. I reached the first clearing/viewpoint as the eastern horizon was red, and noticed a curiously sharp crisp lenticular on Jefferson. After a brief pause, I continued up, and noticed how steep the road was getting. It's very well maintained, due to radio equipment at the summit, but I suspect I'd feel a little uneasy driving the steepest sections. Soon, I saw the trailhead kiosk, confirming there really is a TH up here. Switchbacked past it and continued to the summit, where I poked around a bit and enjoyed what was left of the sunrise. It was breezy, and I donned hat/gloves/jacket, which I never needed again after that.

I had planned to drop north into a saddle, and continue to a little sub-summit of Red Mt (presumably a satellite vent). The Indian Racetrack trail took me to the saddle, but then dropped left/west, so I left the trail and ascended to the next peak, where I could look down on the Racetrack and lake. I had spotted these in my pre-hike GE exploring, so they were on my itinerary. Bushwhacking to them took longer than expected, but following my gut was perfect, put me right at the closest edge of the meadow, which I crossed to the lake and trail junction.

From the Racetrack/Lake, I made the mistake of following what I now know is #171, the continuation of the trail I started out on, back at the Racetrack TH. I was randomly exploring. As long as it kept rising, I hoped it would take me to PCT, which I would follow north to East Crater. But it started dropping, veered left/west, so I gave up and turned back. I now realize it goes all the way down to Rd 65, so it's a good thing I aborted. Back at the Racetrack, I took an eastbound trail which I figured would take me to PCT. It did.

Up to this point, I had endured misleading signs, incomplete signs, missing signs, a faint trail that was the official trail, a clear trail that turned out to be a dead end, and now I was on the PCT, but no sign, just a weathered PCT logo to offer reassurance. Such is the nature of Indian Heaven. It's confusing, but fun.

I headed north, through flat pleasant scenery, as expected. I knew the trail would turn right/east and curve past [what I now know is] Berry Mountain. But it went up, up, up, and then up some more. Eventually, I realized I couldn't be on PCT. And the bicycle tracks, which I assumed were left by a scofflaw, started to make me wonder if I wasn't even in wilderness anymore. I wasn't lost; I knew I could get back to my car. But I sure didn't want to go that way, which entailed some uphill travel back to Red Mt, followed by 3.5 mi of road walking.

I continued up my mystery trail, which started undulating and weaving along the crest of Berry Mt. Got lucky and picked up cell service, and confirmed where I was, far from the PCT down to my right/east. As I dropped to Blue Lake, the trail was elaborate, and I saw the back of a big sign in the distance. I started to suspect I really had been on PCT all along, on a newer alignment. When I reached Blue Lake, it looked familiar from my visit a couple decades ago, and a sign confirmed I was on PCT. I continued to the East Crater burn zone, and up to a point on a shoulder of East Crater where the PCT dropped as it continued north.

I paused to weigh my options. I was getting tired, and I was close to my self-imposed turnaround time, and I guess I was a little timid after being semi-lost for a while. But I was too close to give up now, so I picked a route up East Crater and set off. I was on a ridge, close to the edge of the burn zone. I didn't think it would be hard to find my way down, so didn't bother setting flags. I kept an eye out for the pond on the west slopes of the crater, but I knew it was a needle/haystack situation. Fortunately, stumbled into it. It wasn't particularly scenic, but it was a satisfying find anyway.

When I arrived at the crater rim, I could see down to the crater floor through the burned trees. It didn't look all that great. But I figured it was maybe ten minutes down, twenty up. Worthwhile. And I'd hate myself if I didn't. At the crater floor, I was as disappointed as I thought I would be when I looked down at it. Smaller than expected, and no lake. Still, it could have been worse. The lakebed was grassy, not muddy. There was a trace of snow to liven up the scenery. There were boulders, and a mix of burned/green trees (mostly burned). If I had stumbled upon this on my own, I'd probably be excited about my find. It just didn't live up to my hopes.

I climbed out of the crater, to the rim, explored just a bit, and headed back down to PCT, past the other side of the pond. At PCT, I checked the time. More than 5 hrs to sunset. Should be no problem, but I was slowing down, and my feet were aching.

Back along the trail's highest points on Berry Mountain, I failed to see the alluring offtrail ridgecrest routes I had wondered about when I was northbound. By the time I realized it, I was too far south to justify turning back.

At the junction where I first joined PCT in the morning, I headed back to Racetrack on an abandoned trail, wondering exactly where it would take me. Disappointing; it just connected with the official trail about half way to the Racetrack. I continued to the lake and took a break, then back to PCT, and down southbound towards the road.

With my earlier worries about where the PCT was, and in the absence of a perfectly clear sign stating Rd 60 was ahead, and with at least one map showing I wasn't even parked at PCT, my state of mind here was just slightly anxious. I was glad that when I started out in the morning, I walked a bit up the trail where I left my car, just far enough to see a PCT logo. So yeah, I was about as sure as I could be that this trail would take me home. It was more pleasant than I expected. Lots of clearings, a view up to the Red Mt lookout, not too steep, a nice little stroll to finish the day.

Other parties: As I was ascending the switchbacks up the south slope of Berry Mountain, I encountered an older gentleman (sorry) jogging downhill in Birkenstocks. I was perplexed. And in the last stretch of the PCT at the end of the day, an equestrian was headed up. And there were shooters in the distance. And I kept hearing a couple dogs barking, but turns out it was just my feet.
Red Mountain lookout.
View out a window of the lookout. No, I didn't go inside, but this is a reflection in the widow, so it's about the same as the view would be looking out.
St Helens and a barn/shed on Red Mt.
Adams from Red Mt, Sleeping Beauty to left.
Looking back at the lookout from the north peak of Red Mt.
Looking down at Racetrack Lake from north summit of Red Mt.
A lucky bushwhack took me right to the closest clearing. You may be able to see a trail sign in the meadow, just above that solo little tree.
This sign wasn't much help. Yeah, it was marked on the other side, but still confusing.
The pond on the west slope of East Crater.
The little dry lakebed in East Crater.
Looking across East Crater, rim to rim.
Last edited by Chip Down on October 19th, 2019, 7:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chip Down
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Re: Indian Heaven: Red Mountain, Racetrack, East Crater

Post by Chip Down » October 19th, 2019, 6:55 pm

Oops, forgot one. For me, this is the essence of Indian Heaven: Rocks/water/grass.

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Re: Indian Heaven: Red Mountain, Racetrack, East Crater

Post by Bosterson » October 19th, 2019, 7:39 pm

Was this today (10/19)? I guess the rain really did wash all of the new snow away. Were the lakes still frozen? Or did fall get a second wind before winter actually sets in?

For reference, here is East Crater last weekend (10/12):


And here is the pond on its slope (note that the grassy part of the surface is frozen):


Also, good to see pumpkin beers still exist, I haven't really seen them so far this year. Seems like they all got released in like September or something last year; this year I thought maybe they'd jumped the shark and were no longer trendy since everyone is buying alcohol-ized fizzy water or whatever now. :roll:
#pnw #bestlife #bitingflies #favoriteyellowcap #neverdispleased

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Chip Down
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Re: Indian Heaven: Red Mountain, Racetrack, East Crater

Post by Chip Down » October 19th, 2019, 8:38 pm

My hike was Tuesday 10/15.
The snow in my crater pic was typical. That's about how it looked on Berry Mountain and Red Mountain. There was just one patch of substantial depth spotted all day (see my Adams from Red Mountain pic above).
Regarding temperature, there wasn't so much as a fringe of ice on any pond, but little puddles had a crust of ice over the top. So I suppose it must have been just barely below freezing overnight. I was surprised that when I returned to the Racetrack area, those little puddles looked exactly the same.
Other than the top of Red Mountain, I wore summer garments all day, with no hat or gloves. Couldn't ask for better hiking weather.

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