I’ve been looking forward to spending time in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness area for what’s been years now. Back in 2011 I actually drove to the Varney Creek TH to attempt Mt. Harriman, but I ended up just camping the night before heading back to the east side of the state to get away from the deep snow. I was on my own and felt a little uneasy heading into an unknown wilderness area under the conditions that I was presented with. So, for a couple years I kept trying to plan a trip which for me is all the way across the state of Oregon from the NE to the SW. For the last couple months I’ve been following the snow pack depths from various met stations along with a snow depth model provided by NOAA. Finally everything lined up and my son Jeremy and I traveled over to the wilderness area for an overnight backpacking trip.
We left Walla Walla early on Friday morning for the long, but interesting, drive down Hwy 97 to Kalamath Falls which is only 20 miles from the wilderness area. Our plan was to drive over to the Clover Creek TH and hike up the trail to the ridge leading up to the summit of Aspen Butte. The drive went smoothly and we arrived at the TH at 2:30 pm and we were off and hiking by 3:00 pm. The trail traverses over to Clover Creek then up along the creek to Clover Lake, just past the lake the trail reaches a junction with a trail that heads over to the Loop Trail. We hiked up the connecting trail to the ridge overlooking the center of the wilderness area and numerous mountain lakes and found a spot to camp right along the ridge. While Jeremy set up camp I continued up the ridge just under a mile to the summit of Aspen Butte.
Aspen Butte is the highest peak in the wilderness area and from the summit the views were amazing in all directions. By the time I returned to camp the sun was heading down so I quickly melted snow for water and filled our bottles for the evening and the morning of the next day, then melted a little more for dinner. We sat in the tent, ate dinner, then headed for a good nights sleep.
I woke up early on Saturday morning and while Jeremy slept I headed over to Mt. Carmine which was just over a mile from camp. The hike went smoothly and before long I had descended off the ridge we were camped on and up the ridge to the peak’s summit. I snapped shots of Aspen Butte and the other peaks located around the wilderness area. I love hiking in the early morning, the light on the peaks typically is amazing at sunrise and this morning wasn’t an exception.
All in all it took just over a couple hours to hike up to the summit of Mt. Carmine and back to camp. We had a quick breakfast then packed up camp and headed back down the trail to the Clover Creek TH. From the trail head we drove around the west side of the wilderness area to the Varney Creek TH.
I knew the hike up to the summit of Mt. Harriman would be a little more difficult than the hike up the two prior peaks and by the time we arrived at the trail head the temperature was already up in the 80’s. The hike up to the summit of Mt. Harriman from the parking area is through a fairly dense forest with areas of downfall and rocky soils, oh and there isn’t a trail so it’s all cross country.
Jeremy decided to relax at the car and read while I headed up to the peak, I told him it would take about 2 hours round trip, I definitely underestimated the amount of time it would take to hike the 4 miles round trip to the summit and back. The first mile went quickly then during the second mile the gradient increased and the terrain became more rocky with numerous boulder fields extending up close to the summit. I felt like I earned the summit of Mt. Harriman and enjoyed a few minutes on the top by taking pictures and eating a quick Cliff Bar lunch before I started heading back.
By the time I returned from the hike up Mt. Harriman it was after 3:00 pm so we decided to head into Kalamath Falls for dinner then up to the Cove Palisades State Park where we camped for the evening. Saturday was a long, but very productive day, 3 peaks off the list! We woke up early and drove the remaining miles back home. 88 peaks down, 12 to go!