September 28th I headed back up to McKenzie Pass and hiked the loop of trail on the east side of the Matthieu Lakes ridge. I hiked the PCT from Lava Lake Camp to South Matthieu Lake, then I took the Scott Pass Trail all the way to it’s eastern trailhead. I then back-tracked to the Trout Creek Tie Trail, which I followed to the Millican Crater Trail. Heading east again I followed through to the eastern trailhead of this trail as well. Finally, I followed the Millican Crater Trail back to Lava Lake Camp. My plan was to check out Yapoah Lake and perhaps climb Millican Crater along the way.
I drove up to Lava Lake Camp the night before and stealth-camped for the night. This let me get up just before dawn for a nice early start. I had a long day planned. Temperatures were in the low 40s to high 50s, but with a strong wind it was fairly chilly out there all day. Luckily it didn’t rain.
I spotted this downed tree caught in the split of another fallen tree’s trunk. It’s a bit hard to see in the picture, but it was amazing in person:
As usual for this area, there were some great views. Here’s Belknap Crater:
Since I took the official PCT route and not the old Skyline Trail route, I only saw North Matthieu Lake from well above:
Because of the elevation, however, I got this great view of Mt Washington:
The view to the southeast was obscured by clouds though. This should be an awe-inspiring lens-filling view of the rugged North Sister. Instead, you can see Yapoah Crater to the right and not much else really:
Sited pretty much at the cusp of the old pass, South Matthieu Lake was cold and lonely:
They have made improvements since I was last through here. Before, you were simply admonished to not camp anywhere near the lake. Now they have a system that designates campsites. Stay within 15 feet of a campsite “post” and don’t build a fire. This reduces the camp footprint and preserves the area:
Here’s an example of one of the campsite “posts”:
As I turned east and crossed the old pass I got a view of Millican Crater – one of my targets for the day. It looks very doable:
On the east slope I had to traverse some switchbacks as I descended. In this section the ferns were all dead:
Very quickly, the number of dead trees started to be greater than the number of live trees. I didn’t see anything to indicate fire, so it seems reasonable to attribute this to disease or insects:
Coming down from the pass I located the unmarked side-trail to Yapoah Lake:
It seems like a nice lake. It would be good for camping:
It looks like the water level is usually higher, so I doubt that there would normally be so much beach-like shore, but there are a few good campsites. And if you use hammocks like I do, there are a million places to camp:
Someone went to the trouble of building a windbreak. I would normally dismantle something like this if I found it in the wilderness, as it isn’t supposed to be here. I had a lot of miles to go, however, so I left it:
Climbing back up from the lake to Scott Pass Trail again, I continued east. The proportion of dead trees increased significantly. I started to see signes of fire at this point. Now I know what killed all the trees:
Here there is a convenient log to cross the creek on. In this case the creek s was nearly dry, however:
As I neared the Scott Pass Trailhead I ran across a women’s top and sports bra hanging from a tree. What is it with abandoned women’s clothing? In the 300+ miles I’ve hike in the last year I haven’t seen any men’s clothing left behind like this, but I did spot some women’s underwear along the McKenzie River Trail when I visited Tamolich Pool.
The farther east I went, the more burned the forest was:
I even spotted some firefighting tools, although they didn’t look like they had been out there for long, so I doubt they were left behind after putting out the fire that ravaged these trees. More likely they were being used for trail maintenance. I left them as I found them, of course:
After taking the Trout Creek Tie Trail to the Millican Crater Trail I headed to the eastern trailhead of that segment. Along the way I crossed another creek with a convenient crossing log. This one had water in it still:
I then took the Millican Crater Trail back to Lava Lake Camp. It turns out that the Millican Crater Trail doesn’t get very close to Millican Crater. There would have been significant off-trail hiking just to get to the base, and you can’t even see Millican Crater from the trail. Since I was short on time I decided this climb would wait for another day. At least I made it to Yapoah Lake.
This little creek was picturesque:
It was pretty nice by late afternoon – warm enough to hike in a t-shirt:
As I neared Lava Lake, the trees were less likely to be damaged:
It was a great hike, even if I didn’t achieve all of my goals. I knocked out 16 miles and saw what wildfire can do to a forest even when it doesn’t burn everything to the ground. Here is my KMZ file with my route. Please feel free to download the file and view it in Google Earth.