September 6, 2012

Finding solitude on a day hike within driving distance of Portland

Big Slide Mt. and Big Slide Lake from Bull of the Woods near lookout

One of my favorite wilderness areas within driving range of the Portland area for a day hike is Bull of the Woods Wilderness. One of the reasons is because every now and then, you can hike a trail and meet, see, or hear absolutely no one. Unfortunately in Oregon's mountains, there are no guarantees you will find the complete serenity found when only you and the mountains interact, without any interference from the outside world. However, there are areas where one has a much better chance to find solitude. I have found this on a few hikes on the Dickey Creek Trail.


This trail begins like few mountain trails do - downhill. The entrance into the creek's canyon is so steep it is as if the trail has an insatiable thirst, racing down hill toward the creek without switchbacks or any other hint of hesitation.


At the canyon's floor, the trail levels off and winds through a boulder strewn forest floor covered with a shaggy moss carpet. After wandering through a tree jumbled meadow, the trail returns to the forest near a pond.


After crossing the creek at the 2.9 mile mark, the trail becomes a well mannered uphill jaunt to Big Slide Mountain's rugged flank. From there, Big Slide Lake is a short distance, with the total trailhead-to-lake mileage 5 miles. When I arrived at the lake, I was surprised to find it frozen over, even though I had crossed a snow field along Big Slide Mountain's flank.


The snow and ice lingering over the lake was not only due to the lake's elevation - it was also because of lake's setting. Lying at the bottom of a cirque and surround by adult forest, the lake sees less sun than the exposed ridges high above.

            Snow covered Big Slide Lake

I walked along the lake's western shoreline and noticed the shallow water was covered with only a thin layer of ice produced from the previous night's low temperatures. From the shoreline out into the lake for about 30 feet, the ice was thin and clear, absent of the snow covering the rest of the lake. A hole in the ice, where a small creek tumbles into the lake and kept ice from forming, made a nice feeding area for the lake's brook trout. While some of the fish were daring, swimming clearly within my view, most of the trout were suspended just inside the dark shadow created from the snow covered ice.


High above the lake's basin, atop Bull of the Woods Mountain, the old fire lookout, still staffed by rangers during the summer months, can be seen.

            View of Mt. Jefferson, Three Finger Jack from Bull of the Woods
A year later I would again hike to the lake. This time, I hiked beyond the trail and up to Lake Lenore, a small, narrow body of water a little over 4,800 feet in elevation. There was no ice or snow on my second hike into the area, which led to great views of trout roaming along the lake’s shallows.

Lake Lenore
 had heard lore about the fishing in these wilderness lakes, including Pansy Lake and Welcome Lakes, where catching 60 trout in a day wasn’t out of the question.


The third trip to into Big Slide Lake included my fishing pole. The lake did not disappoint. Any lure tied to the end of my line attracted a swarm of fish that could be seen in the clear waters following the lure. After they caught on to one lure and stopped biting, I simply tied another lure, threw it out, and tricked more fish into biting. It was a great day on a picturesque lake – and I had the entire lake all to myself.
Lake Lenore
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