Saturday, June 07, 2008

Clackamas Lake Tour

On June 22nd I lead a tour for the Clackamas River Basin Council to the Clackamas Lake area. This was relocated from the original Right Angle Viewpoint area due to the late lying snowpack, which at this time prevents driving anywhere near the trailhead up there. Clackamas Lake is a good 1600 feet (500 meters) lower than the viewpoint and well below the snow zone. A peculiarity of this season is that once you reach the snow its depth increases very rapidly.

The route for this Tour is past Estacada on Highway 224, which becomes Forest Service Road 46. The ‘turnoff’ onto Forest Service Road 57 is actually a ‘straight ahead’, with 46 turning sharply south towards Bagby. 57 is followed to its end at Forest Service Road 42, where you turn right for the short jog to the historic Clackamas Lake Guard Station. This is now a museum which celebrates the long history of this locale.

Bigleaf lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus, along Forest Service Road 46

The first point of interest we stopped for was the large masses of bigleaf lupine. Its located on the recently built section of road before Ripplebrook Ranger Station. After the 1996 floods proved the old section of road unstable, a new shorter and steeper section replaced it. The lupines were planted only along this new part of the road. The photo was taken at about 1300 feet (400 meters) elevation, higher than the native range of this lowland native. It is thriving along the new section of road in huge drifts.

Vanilla leaf or Moose plant, Achlys triphylla

The trailhead closest to the museum is perhaps a hundred feet past it to the left and downhill. The path immediately enters a conifer woodland floored with huckleberry and patches of herbaceous material. The season at this elevation was mid-spring, and the vanilla leaf or moose plant was flowering. Small spikes of white wave over the triple clusters of leaves, which bear some resemblance to the antlers and nose of a moose.

The trail soon reaches Clackamas Lake Campground. A short sidetrail leads to a boardwalk across wetlands to the edge of spring-fed Clackamas Lake. Shrub birches line the wooden trail, and occasional stunted spruce occupy the wetlands along with many more usual residents. From this angle the water appears teal rather than blue.

A little ways past that another spur to the left drops down to the location of many of the springs that keep the lake full. None are more than a few feet above the surface of the lake, and likely more are hidden in its waters.

Clackamas Lake from near the springs.

Large patches of monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus guttatus) cover big areas around the springs and in the short streams that drop into the lake. It was too early to see this in bloom. the mountain bluebell was at its peak. A large plant overhung spring and lake, its roots bathed in cold springwater.

Mountain Bluebell, Mertensia paniculata borealis,
overhanging the springs at Clackamas Lake

Broad grassy meadows surround the lake, and continue downstream - and up the Oak Grove Fork that enters below the lake. No stream directly enters the lake but those fed by nearby springs. Stunted, scrawny spruce and lodgepole pine dot the grasslands, which are mostly wetlands. There is a fringe of low shrubs and then dryer meadows. A heavy forest covers the uplands. The area appears to have burnt in the distant past, with a few larger trees scattered among thickets of their offspring. Lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and silver fir are the main trees.

Clackamas Meadows

Heading downstream across the road the stream wanders through more wet meadowland. The stream moves but slowly. Past the end of Road 57 the Oak Grove Fork picks up speed and enters deep forest.

The meandering outlet stream is
the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas.

A variety of plants bloomed on the forest floor and the patches of meadow. The low shrubby evergreen woodland Oregon grape (Mahonia/Berberis nervosa) was providing a scattering of yellow.

Cascades or woodland Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa)

A sunny spot and the shade of a rock provided a shot of the Cascades penstemon (P. serrulatus), happily growing in an apparently dryer habitat.

Penstemon along the trail (P. serrulatus)

Some large lodgepole pines grow around the meadows. Here there is no sign of the bark beetles which have been destroying so many pines nearby. They are quite happy in the meadowside sun.

Lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta latifolia with Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, in the background left.

The widespread blue violet (Viola adunca) grow in the dryer meadows above the narrow shrub belt. These plants are usually assumed to be woodland plants are happy on a sloping southern exposure.

Blue violets, Viola adunca

Past the end of the lake, hidden anyway in the large meadows, some sizeable old growth firs still grow. The picture below shows their scattered nature. Marked with fire and woodpecker scars and surrounded by young thickets of many species, a few of these centuries-old trees survived long ago a major fire, and now stand nearly lost in a much younger pole forest. Such dual-age stands are indicative of past fire history.

One old growth Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Old corrals and barns from the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps still stand in the forest near the big trees. Once upon a time most forest service trail maintenance was done from horseback, and this was a busy place indeed. Lookouts were supplied monthly mostly by mule train, and the mostly college-age lookouts had to be careful to make that food last. The long trails to the lookouts before many roads penetrated the mountains meant that few if any casual hikers would be seen in a summer season.

After a splurge of road building following World War II a decision was made to stop using horses and mules, and the colorful pack trains and mounted crews disappeared. Trails have deteriorated since.

Old corrals at Joe Graham Horsecamp

This spot is known as Joe Graham Horsecamp, and it still sees quite a bit of recreational use. This area was early accessible by road but only from the east, away from the populated Willamette Valley. Pack Trains would start instead at the now disappeared Oak Grove Ranger Station, since replaced by Ripplebrook on the present highway. Oak Grove was a little west of the junction of the present FS Roads 4630 and 4635, then the only and furthest access from the west up the Clackamas. Only abandoned roads, concrete slabs and an opening in the fir forest mark what was once a thriving and crucial camp. At that moment, Bagby Guard Station was 22 miles by trail. Later the road crossed the Clackamas at about Riverford Campground, and from there it was 13 miles to Bagby and 19 to Bull of the Woods Lookout.

Historic barn at Joe Graham Horsecamp

Nowdays its a mile and a half to Bagby Hot Springs, within reach of teenagers carrying large coolers full of beer. Bull of the Woods Lookout, no longer manned, is but 3.2 miles, an easy and worthwhile dayhike.

For a short 2.5 mile (4 km) hike at Clackamas Lake, turn left at the paved road past Joe Graham and continue back to the Museum. Good views of the meadows and streams line the road. For a longer day, continue northwest on the trail to Timothy Lake. One trail is northwest of the Oak Grove Fork and the return trail is southeast. Linking the two is a mile and a quarter (2 km) trail along Timothy Lake. This route totals about 6.2 miles (10 km).

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