Burnt Lake

burnt_lakeI’ve been out for a number of hikes this year, but I’ve been rather lazy when it comes to writing about them. In fact, as I look back over my archives, I realize that I haven’t blogged about hiking since last July. That is sad, considering how much I enjoy hiking. How about I start to fix that by telling you about my latest hike, up past Burnt Lake to the peak of East Zigzag. The sky was clear and the views were wonderful.

As usual we headed out early. Z and I got a little lost, flummoxed by unclear signage, but we eventually found our way. The final stretch of gravel road up to the trail head was easily one of the worst stretches of road that I have ever been on, quite capable of ripping apart a city car. Though it was slow going, Z was happy to finally put his Subaru through the paces. Of course when we finally reached our destination, the other cars there were predominately Subarus, as ubiquitous up here in the Cascadian states as ironic facial hair and unnecessary bacon.

We barely made it past the parking lot before passing into the Wilderness Area, where I was suddenly declared to be team leader and thus responsible for filling out the required paperwork. A few frustrating moments with a golf pencil and a carbonless form and I had a tag on my pack and a copy in the box. I can only assume that the Forest Service uses these little forms to compile some mass of data about park/trail usage, but it was the threat of a $100 fine that got that fluttering tag onto my pack.

The trail began calm and well-groomed. A wide bed of needles and leaf mulch made for a comfortable start, and we both remarked on how long it had been since we’d hiked on the slopes of Mt. Hood. Though it is easy to think of the forests here as monolithic, a vast stretch of solid green, it is only when I am hiking that I really appreciate the micro climates and ecologies. The forest has some many faces, different characteristics telling the story of the weather, geology, and land use. I’m not an expert in any of those things, but I find it easy to have a lay enjoyment of the differences.

The hike up to the lake felt a bit easier than described in the Red Book. Burnt Lake itself is a modest placid body, with trees growing right up to the water, hemming it tightly. A trail, dotted with a small number of campsites, circles the lake. We stopped for a short while, but decided not to explore or dally, since we were already starting to experience the worst aspect of the hike: bugs! The big downside to this hike was biting flies, which attacked us to one degree or another on nearly every mile.

Heading up from the lake the trail started to get harder, climbing up our of the trees to follow an exposed ridge. The views as we climbed were awesome, with Mt. Hood at a perfect distance and many other peaks visible along the horizon. The last half mile or so things got rough. The steep, exposed trail was daunting to our tired bodies and though we were both hungry, neither of us wanted to eat in the company of the flies.

The summit of East Zigzag was a bit anti-climactic. The view was great, but the flies were as bad as could be, infesting the pile of rocks and ruin. On a side note, it appears that there must have been a fire lookout on the peak at one time, and I noticed some remnants of construction: rusty metal fittings and broken pieces of concrete. These fragments always intrigue me, making me wish that there was more written about the history of the trails and the lands they traverse.

As usual, the trip back was a bomb. We chuffed hard and barely stopped, drinking the last of our water and stopping to eat our sandwiches even though the flies drove us to madness. The final miles always seem long when I am tired, plodding back down the trail, hoping that I’ll turn a corner and find the parking lot and the sweet relief of a cushy seat. It was a great hike and, aside from the bugs, the conditions were just about perfect.

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