Sunday, August 4
Within days of my failure to reach Lake of the Clouds, I decided that Pipit Lake would the be the next destination. I was all set to go on July 28 but the weather was bad so I delayed the hike for a week. Then on Saturday night I consulted the maps again and thought perhaps I’d hike to Junco Lake instead. Both Junco and Pipit require reaching Bluebird Lake first, both are the same distance, and Junco is at a slightly higher elevation. At one point I thought I’d make my decision only when I reached Bluebird, but as I’m hiking alone I thought it was better if I had a definite route planned before leaving the house. Always let people know where you’re going.
Before going to bed I decided to stick with the original plan – Pipit it was. I’ll save Junco Lake for next summer.
On my last hike, I walked alongside the Grand Ditch, a water diversion project started a century ago and still in operation. Bluebird Lake features in the history of water projects in Wild Basin, too. Back in 1915 the Arbuckle Reservoir Company received approval from the state engineer to build a dam at Bluebird Lake (Arbuckle Reservoir #2). I’m having a hard time imagining the effort required to get tools and materials to the lake. Bars of steel reinforcement were chained in bundles to an axle beam connecting two wagon wheels, with the end dragging along the ground behind a team of four horses. Sacks of cement were carried by donkeys, as were the parts of the disassembled rock crusher and the car engine used to run it.
Today, the trail between Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake hardly looks like a pack trail. While most pack trails in the park are quite wide and much improved, this section of trail is narrow and rocky with relatively few obvious improvements. In places, it’s packed dirt a few inches wide running through waist high grasses. The last section of trail is quite steep, switching back and forth. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.
I hit the trail a bit before eight on another brilliant, nearly cloudless morning. Based on the cool temps when I left the house, I was expecting it to be a bit brisk at first but was pleasantly surprised it was quite nice – warm and calm. The first few miles of this trail can be quite crowded; the sandals and no water crowd visiting Copeland Falls, those with a bottle of water making it to Calypso Cascades or Ouzel Falls.
Not long after Ouzel Falls, the Thunder Lake trail meets the Bluebird Lake trail. I stopped here for a few minutes to apply sunscreen. After the junction, the trail climbs to the top of a ridge that was burned back in 1978. Lower on the trail, before Ouzel Falls, the forest almost seems back to its pre-fire condition when you’re hiking through it, but from above the fire’s path is still clear. Here on top of the ridge, the forest has made little progress and the views of the surrounding mountains are still clear and dramatic. While the views are fantastic, it means the hiker is left exposed to the sun and wind for an extended time. It was too early to be hot yet, but I was expecting it to be a bit on the warm side on my way down.
Here I chatted with a couple who had spent the night at Ouzel Lake. He said he’d heard moose were in the area but he didn’t see any. “If there were moose here, they’d have been around the lake where there’s lots of vegetation for them. There are no moose here.”
Spot the hikers
I was dreading, a bit, the section of trail between the Ouzel junction and Bluebird Lake. The trail climbs quite steeply, gaining about a thousand feet in less than two miles. As soon as the trail reenters the forest, there’s a large field of debris left by an avalanche that roared through the trees a few years ago. I stopped here to snack on some fruit but was hounded by mosquitoes so I didn’t dally long.
After a short forest section the trail passes through a series of meadows and rock piles. The meadows are a riot of wildflowers – red and yellow, blue and purple, white. When I say I hiked through mile after mile of wildflowers I’m not being hyperbolic. The last mile or so of the trail to Bluebird, plus the mile from there to Pipit were through these fantastic fields of flowers.
I reached Bluebird in good time. There were six or eight other hikers here, perched on rocks here and there near where the trail ends at the outlet stream. I made my way down into the little chasm the outlet stream passes through; crossed it on some rocks and made my way up the other side. This is where the dam was. There’s no sign of it; a testament to the skill of the rangers who cleared it out. Lisa Foster notes the obvious “bathtub ring” around the lake as indication it used to be dammed up, but I think nature has done a good job of erasing it.
Bluebird Lake and Mt. Copeland
Now on the north side of the lake, I gained elevation slowly as I worked my way west. I wanted to be above a large rock outcropping on the west side of the lake. There is no trail here. I occasionally found a faint path, but the route traverses a lot of talus and I saw few cairns. I made my way up a gully above the rock outcropping and ran into a wall of willow. I immediately flashed back to my hike to Keplinger. But here I was back in the clear after only a few feet and a few minutes later found myself at the edge of Lark Pond.
It occurs to me how many lakes in the area are named after birds: Finch Lake, Bluebird Lake, Lark Pond, Chickadee Pond, Falcon Lake. Those are the obvious ones. Pipit, Junco, and Ouzel are also birds. A few miles away, as the ptarmigan flies, is Ptarmigan Lake. How many more lakes here are named for birds?
From Lark Pond it’s only a few more minutes and a few more feet of elevation to reach Pipit Lake. I was going to say “walk across the tundra and rocks”, but it’s not really tundra here, is it? I don’t generally think of wildflowers when I think tundra. Although the flowers aren’t as dense here as lower on the trail, they’re still quite abundant. I made a point to walk on rocks where I could. Not just to avoid stepping on the flowers, but the ground is marshy in places as well. It looked to me like water was flowing in braids through this area only a few days ago.
Reaching Pipit Lake, I set up the cameras and tucked into my lunch. There’s no shade here, and no shelter from the wind. But it was fairly calm, so not a problem. After only a few bites I was wishing there was a bit more of a breeze, to keep the rich insect life out of my face. I found it better to pace back and forth a bit.
Pipit Lake pano
I’ve been taking a can of soda with me on these hikes for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had a problem with the carbonation before. But today when I opened the can, it fizzed right out of the can. I kept sucking it up but it kept boiling over. By the time it calmed down, I was left with only about two thirds of a can and a sticky hand. I was nearly out of water now, so it was a great time to refill.
I’ve been using a SteriPEN for about a year now and am quite pleased with it. I used to carry two one liter bottles of water. On the longer hikes, I found myself husbanding my water supply somewhat so that I didn’t run out of water before making it back to the trailhead. Now I don’t worry about it at all. I carry one bottle and the device and can drink as much as I want. On this hike, I refilled twice – once at Pipit Lake and again at Ouzel Falls on my way out.
So after getting more water at the outlet of Pipit Lake, I head back past Lark Pond and down to Bluebird Lake. Before long I see another hiker thirty or forty yards ahead of me. How can this be? I hadn’t seen anybody for quite a while, certainly not at Lark Pond or Pipit Lake. I caught up to her a few minutes later and we hiked together until just below Bluebird. She hit the trail at 5:45 and hiked to Isolation Lake. This lake is nestled at about 12,000′ in a cranny between Isolation Peak and Mahana Peak. Looking at the map, I had decided it was beyond my ability, but she told me the hardest part of the hike was crossing the area where we met. Just angle up the slope a little higher than I went to get to Lark Pond and it would be easy to get to.
Further down the trail, still above Ouzel, I met a couple of hikers who told me they’d seen two bull moose farther down the trail. They were below Chickadee Pond and heading west. The next hikers repeated the story. I kept my eyes peeled and occasionally used the camera’s telephoto lens to aid in the search but no luck. The next hikers I caught up to also failed to see the moose. So, contrary to the hikers I met in the morning, moose are in the Ouzel Lake area if you’re lucky enough to see them.
On the hike out, it clouded up a bit (as is not unusual). This made the section through the burn area more pleasant than I was expecting; instead of dealing with bright sunshine on a warm afternoon it was slightly overcast and quite comfortable.
I took a final break at Ouzel Falls for more fruit and a refill of water. Fatigue was finally setting in and my pace slowed a bit. From Ouzel Falls on down the trail is quite crowded. I could see or hear other hikers the rest of the way.
Back at the car I was approached by a couple of park rangers. “We saw your car and wanted to chat with you.” They told me they’d seen me parked at the Sandbeach trailhead last month and were happy to see I didn’t have any hail damage. Evidently it hailed hard enough to set off the car’s alarm. I had no idea. We talked about how often people take pictures of my car. They were amused that with such natural beauty around people would take pictures of a car in the parking lot. We also talked about the sorry state of the dirt road to the trailhead. It’s in serious need of grading. I had to crawl along quite slowly not to fall into the holes. It’s noticeably worse now than it was when I hiked from the Finch Lake trailhead.
And here’s the obligatory time lapse:
|Bluebird trail jct
|Ouzel trail jct