17 Oct Mountain Lakes Wilderness
The Mountain Lakes Wilderness is located in the Southern Oregon Cascades between Klamath Lake and Lake of the Woods. It is the only square wilderness area, on the small side, but filled with four old volcanoes that have been carved up by glaciers. There are a number of lovely lakes in the wilderness area, connected by a loop trail. We hiked in on the Varney Creek trail which, not surprisingly, follows Varney Creek up a glacial valley. The trailhead is about a 3 hour drive from Bend.
We left Bend at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, October 9. Six were signed up, but two were injured on mountain bikes just before the trip and had to cancel. Mike Caccavano, Sally West, Brandon Simonds and Karen Bonner hit the trail after eating lunch at the trailhead. The 6.6 mile hike to Lake Harriette was pretty mellow for most of the way getting a little steep just before the lake for an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. We found a good campsite near the lake and well off the trail. With temperatures in the low 70’s, we decided to jump in the lake after setting up camp, but didn’t last long because the water was frigid.
After dinner and a nice campfire, we hit the sack under clear, starry skies. In the morning we waited for Brian Keith who was planning to join us, but we missed him. We headed up to Aspen Butte late in the morning. From Lake Harriette the hike is about 2.5 miles and 1,500 feet to the 8,208 foot summit of Aspen Butte. There is a maintained trail for about 2/3 of that distance and a climber’s path that ascends the north ridge. Views from the summit of the old volcano were great with Mt. Mcloughlin looming to the west, Mt. Shasta in the distance to the south, Klamath Lake nearby to the east and the Crater Lake rim to the north.
At the summit, we met up with Brian Keith, who hiked up to the top with a full pack. As forecast, the wind was fairly strong on the summit although it was mostly sunny. We ate lunch on top and headed down. Brandon wanted to add another summit to our accomplishments so on the way down after dropping 800 feet to a saddle we bushwacked up the southwest ridge of Mt. Carmine. Mt. Carmine, at 7,895 feet, is a spur of Aspen Butte separated by a glacial cirque. The mountain is a tease, with several false summits and views that were not quite as good as Aspen Butte.
Back in camp after 7.5 miles of hiking, it was windy and the clouds were thickening. We got a little rain during the night, then the wind calmed and the drops froze to our rain fly. The hike out was enjoyable in cool, sunny weather. We enjoyed some good, greasy burgers at the Diamond Lake junction to wrap up another great Cascades Mountaineers outing.