June 26, 2005
Choosing to look at the positive side of the forecast of “mostly cloudy, chance of showers”, hoping instead for “partly sunny and good chance of not raining all day” five of us left in two vehicles from Eugene at 7:15 a.m. We arrived at the Gate Creek Trailhead at 9:00 a.m., where we were to meet two other members of the party who were traveling via Highway 20 from their home in Monroe. After waiting a short while, the five of us preceded up the trail about 100 yards when our late-arriving hiking partners arrived. The hike began in earnest at 9:30, once the group was finally assembled.
Since the only Obsidian summer trips the leader had previously participated on have been mountain climbs, this was an unusual outing for him because the destination was not the actual goal of the trip. It was more like a fine meal, to be enjoyed every step of the way. The hike was billed as a “wildflower hike,” yet none of us knew much more than the others about the wildflowers we would be seeing. We distributed “cheat sheets” of colored photos of a dozen flowers expected to be seen on the hike (compiled from images found with a Google search) which got us going right from the start on the lower slopes by helping us identify three-leaved anemones and vanillaleaf.
After climbing the switchbacks for the first ¾ mile, the trail flattened out and we were treated to the beauty of six-foot diameter old-growth firs. Within a few minutes, we reached a steep meadow filled with chest-high bracken ferns that delighted several of the hikers. The weather turned out to be perfect, warm enough for T-shirts and shorts, and clear enough for us to stop at the top of the fern meadow to enjoy the first of several views of the major Cascade volcanoes from Mt. Jefferson south to Diamond Peak!
After a short break, we reached the lower end of the ridge and were treated with the sounds of elk talking to each other in the dark, north-facing slopes above Gate Creek. A few minutes later we heard the drumming of grouse from below on the south slope. We continued on, never in a hurry, and identified yew trees, devils club, western columbine, blue bells, cat’s-ear lily, penstemon, and cliff larkspur, among many others, several of which we could not identify. Big hits with some of the hikers were the large clumps of false hellebore with their swirling patterns, reminding us of wind- and water-carved patterns found in canyons in the Southwestern U.S., and patches of bear grass in full bloom. We enjoyed recognizing the transitory nature of the meadows, knowing that some of the meadows currently painted yellow or pink would soon be taking on other colors as large fields of lupine were just beginning to bloom.
We stopped for a lunch just after reaching the intersection with the Heart Lake Trail, then hiked another mile to where the trail begins to descend to the lake. Because of the time and ebbing energy levels, we opted not to leave the trail for a cross-county ascent to the summit knoll. Instead we turned back and finished finding all the flowers on our “cheat sheets”, much like playing “Bingo”, and found stonecrop and spreading phlox near the upper reaches of our hike. On our way down, we were taunted by a pair of noisy ravens and met three other groups of hikers headed uphill. We reached the trailhead at 3:15 and headed home after a very pleasant hike. The hikers were non-members Courtney Abbot, Pat Bean, Jenny Gray, Mary Hamilton, Debra Higbee, John Norrena, and Obsidian Brian Hamilton (leader.)
—photos by Brian Hamilton