Irish Mountain is truly a forgotten gem. The hike begins at the end of a well-maintained four mile spur road that also serves as the jump-off for Erma Bell Lakes. There is camping along noisy Skookum Creek, just where the trail begins, that would serve as a base for uncovering a network of trails into the outback north of Waldo Lake. One quickly sees that a majority of hikers opt for the Erma Bells, as the trail forks in the first half mile and a sketchy track signed 'Irish Mt." diverges from a well beaten path south to the well known "Bells".
The adventurous hiker soon encounters Otter Lake, a deep, lily pad fringed pool with a thick surround of fir and hemlock crowding the banks. Here the trail begins to climb until it attains a ridge where an easterly tack is begun that continues for a good while. The forest is open with short ground covers of beargrass and huckleberry, extending visibility and the anticipation of a bear sighting, which seemed likely given the remoteness of this ridge. So few people adventure here that the trail required vigilance in many stretches. Everyone helped in locating clues of old blazes and cut log ends that showed the old track.
Half way to our destination we came upon a rockpile that opened a wonderful view to the south. Waldo Lake was the star, ringed by Diamond Peak and the buttes and peaks we Obsidians frequently visit. A few small meadows, former lakes silted in long ago, afforded interesting features until we we gained a pair of small lakes at the foot of Irish Mountain. This was our lunch goal and, indeed, it was noon, about three hours into the adventure. With everyone on board, we set out to summit Irish Mountain. A trail leads to the north end of a ridge that is beset with false summits. We followed the ridge to the south until just below the true summit, where we took a long break and discovered a race of biting mountain ants that were not to be ignored. We tried a traverse on the west side of the summit across a steep, rocky, duff covered slope to a higher saddle. Here we could view Cultus Butte and Cultus Lake to the east, the Ochocos in the far distance. This proved our 'high point'. We triangulated back to the twin lakes by bushwhacking down the steep west slope of the Irish Mountain ridge. The day was warming and puffy white clouds were arriving from the east. We spent the better part of an hour relaxing and swimming in the northern of the two small lakes.
Relaxed and refreshed we began our hike out, encouraged by the knowledge that it was almost all downhill. The hike to the lakes was a strong 'moderate' and a summit try would make it 'difficult'. In either case, this is a trail that is easily reached and offers a variety of landscapes that should appeal to any curious hiker. Thanks to the company of hikers that made this trip memorable.Members: Randy Sinnott, Daphne James, Laurie Funkhouser, Becky Lipton. Nonmembers: Jim Woods.
hikers ready for Irish Mountain—photo by Randy Sinnott
click here for more photos from this trip
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