Trip Report: Olallie Lakes 3-Day Backpack
Trip Report: Olallie Lakes 3-Day Backpack
August is an awesome time to be in the mountains. The days are warm, the nights are cool, the mosquitoes are fewer, and the huckleberries are ripe and delicious.
Summer vacation is over, and the kids are heading back to school, so the trails are less crowded. Unless you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The long-distance hikers that have been at it for four months have covered California's dry deserts and Sierra Nevadas. Now they are in Oregon, strolling through the Cascade Mountains' sub-alpine wonderland.
Next Adventure Outdoor School was back in the Olallie Lakes National Scenic Area for a 3-day backpack trip, which included hiking a stretch of the PCT. We saw thru-hikers on the trail, but mostly we had the lakes and woods to ourselves. The mountain weather was perfect, and a new moon meant that we were overwhelmed by a bright starry sky.
The hike in to camp was less than two miles, so we had plenty of time to enjoy our outdoor classroom. After selecting our sites and demonstrating how to set up different tents and discussing the basics of backcountry camping, we had some free time. Some stayed in camp, resting and enjoying the setting. Some took off on their own to hike more on the trail. The rest of us bushwhacked our way around the lake, stopping to collect some huckleberries along the way. All of us ended back at camp in time for dinner. We savored and compared both Backpackers' Pantry and Mountain House freeze-dried meals.
We collected wood and built a fire. We sat around the fire and talked as the stars came out. And boy, did the stars come out. The milky way was thick and bright. It was difficult to discern some constellations because so many other stars were visible.
The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast in camp. Some sat in stillness by the lake, while others gathered around the fire pit to talk.
We set out on a day hike and soon connected with the Pacific Crest Trail. We headed south on the PCT and paused by picturesque Upper Lake before stopping for a picnic lunch at a rocky viewpoint with views of Mt. Hood, Olallie Butte, and some of the lakes.
After taking in the views, we pulled out map and compass to review basic orienteering and routefinding skills. Then the group split. Some headed back to camp for an easy 5-mile day of hiking. The rest of us plunged on south along the PCT, summiting Ruddy Hill's volcanic cinder-cone for spectacular views of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness and its glaciated peak. The return hike was mostly downhill, making a 10-mile round-trip day for most of us.
Back in camp, it was time to cool off with a swim. The lake's water was pristine clean and not too cold. A perfect way to top off a long day of hiking. We sat on the rocks drying off in the late afternoon sun, the mountain breeze both warm and cool. We didn't say anything as we soaked in the amazing natural scene. Dragonflies buzzed past us. Water Striders skimmed about on the water's surface. A juvenile duck paddled past us. A nuthatch chortled in the trees.
Dinner was followed by ice cream (the freeze-dried astronaut kind). Another campfire and conversation. More amazing stars.
Everyone slept in a bit later the next morning. We dragged our heels through striking and packing up camp. No one really wanted to leave our idyllic site.
But after one final lesson on fire safety, we put on our packs and hit the trail. We didn't go back out the way we came in. Instead, we hiked a loop that connected with the PCT for our exit. There were more rocky viewpoints of Mt. Jefferson, the trees, and many lakes.
Alpine wildflowers were found at the higher elevations, including pussy paws, alpine buckwheat, and pink heather. The bear grass had already gone to seed, but red paintbrush, fireweed and asters were found along the trail at lower elevations. The huckleberry leaves were starting to change color, hinting at Fall.
Speaking of Fall, the fungi were fruiting. Quite a few Russullas were popping out of the forest floor, and a fresh orange sulfur shelf fungus presented itself near the trail. Mushroom season is just waiting for a bit of rain to get going.
Back at Olallie Lake, we had another picnic and unpacked our gear before loading up the van and heading back to Portland. It was hard to leave beautiful Olallie Lake, but we had enjoyed three days of spectacular Cascade Mountain sub-alpine splendor, and learned about backpacking at elevation in the mountains.
The PCT thru-hikers that we saw have probably already hiked over Mt. Hood and reached the Columbia River. However, there will be more behind them, and they will be reaching Cascade Locks just in time for PCT Days. You can join Next Adventure there September 5-7 for the event with free camping.
Next Adventure has more fun events, presentations, trips and classes for you this fall. Join us:
Tuesday, September 9th at the Next Adventure Grand Avenue Store for a free Lightweight Backpacking clinic.
Tuesday, September 16th for a free presentation by Heather Knight on Walking the Camino Santiago.
Tuesday, October 7th for a free presentation on local mushroom identification.
Thursday, October 9th for a free presentation by National Geographic Adventurer of the year at the Paddle Sports Center.
Tuesday, October 14th at the Grand Ave Store for a free Map and Compass skills clinic.
Next Adventure Outdoor School has trips to take you out on the trail this fall:
Greg Hill is Lead Guide and Program Manager for Next Adventure Outdoor School, Portland, Oregon.
Next Adventure is a fully-insured licensed Outfitter and Guide with the State of Oregon. Next Adventure is an equal opportunity Recreation Provider operating under special use permit on the Mt. Hood National Forest and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, USDA Forest Service.