Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

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bobcat
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Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by bobcat » October 19th, 2011, 4:41 pm

Before beginning this hike, I thought I would be posting the report on the “Lost Trails” forum, but the “abandoned” Gifford Peak Way is obvious and easy to follow from its junction with the Race Track Trail #171 all the way up to the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail is also on the 1983 USGS topo map of the area although the USFS maps no longer recognize it. I had been inspired by airdrum’s trip report http://www.portlandhikersfieldguide.org ... =10&t=6379 from last year, and VanMarmot descended to the Basin (a.k.a. Darlene) Lakes from the PCT this summer: http://www.portlandhikers.org/forum/vie ... f=8&t=9572. The latter also referenced Mel Hansen’s Indian Heaven Back Country (1977), and I checked out a copy from the Multnomah County Library. Two days before the hike, as I was reading Hansen’s account of this loop, I was somewhat disconcerted to read this little caution: “I am reluctant to hike the Gifford Peak Way Trail without a companion and without a side arm because of something up there around the Darlene Lakes. In early December 1976, I traversed the trail with Spencer Frey of Trout Lake. Near one lake we heard the crackling of brush in the trees surrounding a meadow. Near a second lake we heard a growling roar not more than 300 feet away. The terrifying sound was quite foreign from that made by a known animal. Whatever it was stayed out of sight, following us from one lake to another.”

I was going into the lakes alone and without a side arm, but it was 35 years after Hansen had become so thoroughly spooked, and my rational side told me that whatever the creature had been, it had probably long since departed this world. Hansen’s “sasquatch story” is recounted in more detail earlier in the book and merits an entry on the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) site: http://www.bfro.net/gdb/show_article.asp?id=282

I parked at the Falls Creek Horse Camp off FR 65. I was well aware that it was the first weekend of black-tail season in western Washington, but there were no other vehicles around, so I felt secure proceeding up the trail in my orange jacket. I took the tie trail from the campground to join Trail #171 at the wilderness permit box. Fifteen yards beyond this, the unsigned Gifford Peak Way heads off the Race Track Trail to the left at an obvious junction:
Fork, left to Basin Lakes, Indian Heaven.jpg
The path leads up, paralleling Falls Creek, in montane forest of silver fir and mountain hemlock with some noble fir and Douglas-fir. In places, large silver firs have fallen across the trail and need to be scrambled over or detours have to be made. However, these alternate tracks rather clearly reconnect with the main route. The recent rains have spurred the fruiting of many fungi, such as this fly amanita:
Fly amanita, Gifford Peak Way.jpg
The picture below shows silver firs on the trail, one with a small metal marker that was placed there when this was the Columbia National Forest (pre-World War II):
Silver firs, Gifford Peak Way.jpg
There are yellow paint blazes on trees in addition to these metal markers. In the Columbia National Forest days, the trail had apparently not risen to the spine of Indian Heaven, as it does today, but headed north from the Basin Lakes to Umtux Lake. That was the period when shepherds, and not hikers, were the prime users of the back country here.

In no time at all, it seems, you arrive at Janet Lake, one of three named Basin Lakes:
Janet Lake, Basin Lakes.jpg
The Basin Lakes were also known as the Darlene Lakes. There are eight of them (although Hansen says there were seven) and three were named (Janet, Peggy, Darlene), but not officially recognized because they were christened after Forest Service employees’ wives who were living at the time. Since this basin is not large, I resolved to find all of the lakes and name the other five, in renegade USFS employee tradition, after the five living female members of my family. I had checked out the area on GoogleEarth and seen that small bogs and meadows connected most of the lakes, making it easy to orient and do a cross-country loop. I prepared for a possible encounter with a bigfoot by practicing the quick draw with my sheath knife, a couple of feint-and-thrusts (mindful that Skamania County has an ordinance mandating a $10,000 fine for slaughtering a sasquatch), but really hoping that all I would have to activate was my trusty can of Mace.

First then, I followed a meadow below the north end of Janet Lake and came to Peggy Lake, with its wide golden border of sedges:
Peggy Lake, Basin Lakes_2.jpg
Next, I headed uphill from Peggy to “Gillian Lake,” a dark, brooding little body of water:
"Gillian Lake," Basin Lakes_2.jpg
After “Gillian,” I kept looping around to “Joy,” “Cindy,” “Jane,” and “Tina” Lakes (I’ll post pictures of all the lakes below this report). Sometimes I was thrashing through huckleberries and silver fir saplings, while at other points in the loop I was balancing across fallen snags to negotiate boggy stretches. There were also elk trails and plenty of fresh elk sign. I could see that a large herd had bedded down in the meadow north of “Cindy Lake.” I’d wager, come November, there will be one or two elk hunting parties up in here on weekends, so that would be a good time to stay out.

From “Tina Lake,” you can see the saddle between Gifford Peak and Berry Mountain, which is where the Gifford Peak Way meets the PCT. “Tina Lake” is also the only lake clearly visible from the PCT. The final task was to locate Darlene Lake, the only body of water south of the trail. First, I had to reconnect with the Gifford Peak Way and I was unsure whether I’d be able to find it. I dropped down from “Tina Lake” and crossed a stream, actually the beginnings of Falls Creek. The Gifford Peak Way heads east along the low ridge south of the creek and is clearly visible in the bear-grass. I turned left on the trail and passed above a small tarn. The trail drops to a draw. From here, you leave the trail and head south past the tarn and along a wet meadow that leads into Darlene Lake:
Darlene Lake, Basin Lakes.jpg
This is the lake where Mel Hansen had his initial sasquatch experience. Save for one lesser scaup scudding away on “Jane Lake,” the usual skulking Pacific wrens, and a band of gray jays at “Joy Lake,” I had not run into a living creature and had come across none of the normal bigfoot signs (rank stench, size 28 prints, wads of Wookiee-like hair). I left Darlene Lake knowing that I would live to hike another day, but with a certain feeling of disappointment mixed with some relief (My wife had said she would “kill me” if I got to see a sasquatch without her being along - and still I named a lake after her).

The Gifford Peak Way heads up the slope about 450 feet to an old campsite on the PCT. There is only one large tree over the trail on this ascent: the detour is to the right and switchbacks up to the main trail. There are four switchbacks in all up the steep slope and the trail is sometimes partially obscured by overhanging huckleberry bushes and young silver firs, but not hard to follow. You can’t recognize this as a junction from the PCT, but when you come to the campsite in the saddle, head down to the left (facing west) and you’re on the Gifford Peak Way!

The PCT leads south along the slopes of Berry Mountain. Here’s some yellow coral lighting up the forest floor:
Yellow coral, Berry Mountain.jpg
In open areas the slopes were ablaze with huckleberry bushes:
Fiery slope, Berry Mountain.jpg
At various viewpoints, you can see west to the Basin Lakes and Lone Butte, east to the Big Lava Bed and Big Huckleberry Mountain, and north to Lemei Rock and Mt. Adams (obscured on this day by cloud cover). The PCT passes below Berry’s summit on red-cindered slopes and then switchbacks down, with great views of the lookout on Red Mountain, to the junction with the Race Track Shortcut #171A. I headed into the Race Track Meadow, noting its colorful hemline of berry bushes:
Meadow, Indian Race Track.jpg
When I returned home, my son complained rather petulantly when he heard I had not named a lake after him, so I dubbed this seasonal puddle in his honor:
"Jake Lake", Indian Race Track.jpg
Then it was on to the junction with the Race Track Trail #171 and along Race Track Lake:
Race Track Lake, Indian Race Track.jpg
The Race Track Trail is heavily gullied in places, even by Indian Heaven standards, and moves from dry lodgepole pine/noble fir forest to descend in lusher woods to a footbridge over Falls Creek. Here’s a pendulum of stink currant ripe for the plucking:
Stink currant, Falls Creek.jpg
Driving back down FR 65, I made the obligatory stop at Panther Creek Falls:
Panther Creek Falls.jpg
In all, 9.1 miles, about 1,800’ total elevation gain, lots of elk evidence, no humans encountered in this province of Heaven last Sunday, and no bigfoot either.
Last edited by bobcat on October 19th, 2011, 5:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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bobcat
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by bobcat » October 19th, 2011, 4:47 pm

O.K. for posterity, or at least until the demise of the Portland Hikers web site, whichever comes first, here are portraits of all eight Basin (Darlene) Lakes, clockwise from Janet Lake:
Janet Lake, Basin Lakes_2.jpg
Peggy Lake, Basin Lakes.jpg
"Gillian Lake," Basin Lakes.jpg
"Joy Lake," Basin Lakes.jpg
"Cindy Lake," Basin Lakes.jpg
"Jane Lake," Basin Lakes.jpg
"Tina Lake," Basin Lakes.jpg
Darlene Lake, Basin Lakes_2.jpg

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Crusak
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by Crusak » October 19th, 2011, 4:50 pm

bobcat wrote:...no humans encountered in this province of Heaven last Sunday, and no bigfoot either.
My immature boyish side was tempted to 'photochop' one of your pictures, adding a Sasquatch, and reposting for amusement. But I resisted.
:)

Great background info on the hike! And your report has useful, interesting details (like all of your reports).

All these Indian Heaven reports are really making me long for those rolling meadows and cool lakes. I've gotta get up there this month.
Jim's Hikes

Solvitur Ambulando

VanMarmot
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by VanMarmot » October 21st, 2011, 6:40 am

Bobcat,

Great, detailed report & photos. I'm a little jealous you got to see all of the Basin Lakes but maybe I'll try again next summer. I also read Mel's BigFoot story. Yes, it's been 35 years, but what happens if they live much longer than 35 years? :shock:

VM

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bobcat
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by bobcat » October 21st, 2011, 6:50 am

Van Marmot,

Well, piecing together the information from Hansen, airdrum and you, this was an easy hike. It seems that it should be regular loop, but maybe it really is the bigfoot that are keeping people away (I checked - and the plural is the same as the singular, as in deer and sheep).

John

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drm
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by drm » October 21st, 2011, 7:15 am

I can think of so many trails in the region that degrade into terrible condition without massive support. And yet there are many trails in Indian Heaven that have not received institutional maintenance presumably in decades and yet are quite passable. I think that these trails still get reasonably frequent use. This, combined with the history of use, probably makes the footbed very compacted and not likely to grow over. But the lack of serious brush and major downfall is surprising, particularly given how wet this area is.

Gifford Pinchot NF does not put trails on it's maps if they aren't trying to maintain them. Would be nice to get an old USGS paper quad of some of the local areas since they put everything on that they can see of know about. Back when these quads were my primary map source, they included trails (in the Sierra) that not only were not maintained by anybody, but often almost invisible. I still have all of my Sierra quads (somewhere, I think), though since they went on my hikes, some are in pretty bad condition. Anybody have them for this region that they wouldn't mind making copies of?

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bobcat
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by bobcat » October 21st, 2011, 11:42 am

The Gifford Peak Way has been fairly well-traveled up to the lakes, but that's less than two miles. There are old-growth silver firs down over the trail, but because the slope is gentle and these trees are not too huge, it has been easy to go around them. Horses, for example, should be able to get in there. From the Basin Lakes up to the PCT is far less traveled even though blowdown is not much of a problem here. I'd like to promote this as a viable loop to the Race Track - more interesting, with the lakes and the views from Berry Mt., than the in-outs on either the PCT or Trail #171. If you needed more miles, you could make the extension to Red Mt.

Most of the "abandoned" Indian Heaven trails are on the 1983 topo quadrant, which is what National Geographic has in its software. The only major one that isn't is the continuation of the Chenamus Lake Trail from Chenamus Lake to join the CCT just south of Acker Lake. This is the one drm (above) mentions in his recent posting:http://www.portlandhikers.org/forum/vie ... f=8&t=9798 (This loop is also in Hansen's book and I did it as a Placid Lake-Chenamus Lake-Acker Lake-PCT-Placid Lake loop last year).

As for old topo maps, the USGS does provide them for free on its site (I think the Oregon and Washington collections are complete): http://cida.usgs.gov/hqsp/apex/f?p=262: ... 7685213468. In order to search efficiently, you need the exact name for your quadrant. Also, I suspect the Multnomah County Library has a trove, but it would require a trip to the Central Library in downtown Portland to investigate.

John

Mikeph4
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by Mikeph4 » August 1st, 2018, 1:30 pm

I've had this trail on my checklist for quite a while now. As of Monday, I finally checked it off.

The trail was pretty easy to follow starting from the Falls Creek Horse Camp until just after the creek crossing, and just a bit before the first set of lakes. Between the lakes and the PCT Junction up hill climb, it was in fair conditions in a few spots, but very difficult to follow in others. There was lots of downed trees in many areas.

The wife and I spent several hours on our trip back towards Falls Creek Horse Camp, cleaning up the trail as well as marking it with some flagging tape in some areas that had large trees making it hard to see the turn to the trail, or where the huckleberries were overgrowing the trail.
We cleaned up the PCT side of the trail extremely well. So well, that it now looks well traveled and is clear of debris in most places. We have plans to clean it up a bit better in the coming weeks in the areas where the downed trees make it difficult to find, as well as more towards the Horse Camp side.

But as of right now, the trail is pretty easy to follow the entire way, because of the cleanup we did on it. For most hikers, it'll be difficult to lose the trail now.

We also plan on cleaning up some of the other abandoned trails in the Indian Heaven area, as well as just outside of it, given they aren't logged and destroyed this year.

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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by pcg » August 1st, 2018, 8:57 pm

Mikeph4 wrote:
August 1st, 2018, 1:30 pm

We cleaned up the PCT side of the trail extremely well... We also plan on cleaning up some of the other abandoned trails in the Indian Heaven area, as well as just outside of it, given they aren't logged and destroyed this year.
Thank you!
How were the mosquitoes?

Mikeph4
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Re: Indian Heaven: Gifford Peak Way - Indian Race Track Loop

Post by Mikeph4 » August 2nd, 2018, 6:36 pm

The mosquitoes were fairly bad. I'm still itching, as is the wife. We only noticed how bad they were when we were cleaning up on our way back. Not enough moving to keep them off us.
Outside of the basin the mosquitoes were minimal and nonexistent.

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