Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trillium Lake

Friday March 7th we skied and skijored into Trillium Lake. This former swampland and meadow was turned into a 65 acre lake in 1960 by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The first picture is from the road atop the dam. A little known historical fact is that the Oregon Trail (AKA The Barlow Trail in this area) headed North toward Summit Pass on land now under this lake. Logs were placed over the marsh to make the route possible for the pioneer wagons. Some distance North of the lake the Trail route angles left towards Summit Meadows and the Government Camp area.

Shadows on Trillium Lake

All of the old Barlow Trail in this area offers good cross-country skiing, some of it demanding, some easy. The section nowadays called The Toboggan Run features a moderately steep sharp angled twisting run, some of it still a single head-high rut left by the pioneer wagons of 130 to 170 years ago. Its a great practice run for anyone wishing to learn quick turns-on-demand with cross-country gear. The easier route down to Summit Meadows connects with the access road to the campground and hence onto the Oregon Trail. This leads to easy access to the high route along the West side of the lake, dropping down to the dam.

We took the road route from Trillium Lake Snowpark. This leads to the campground and boat ramp at the southeast edge of the lake. These are hidden in the trees on the right of the trees in the first picture. Despite being widely touted as a beginners area, Trillium Lake features a steep initial run which can be challenging in fast conditions. Today the ten inches of fresh snow over a dense snowpack was slow and easily managed. The loop around the lake is groomed regularly, and in fact was groomed while we were there in preparation for the weekend.

Trillium Lake Skiers

The grooming is great for skijoring. Let the dogs run to the bottom of that initial hill, and then hook them up. The terrain around the lake is easy to moderate and well within the ability of a trained skijoring dog.

This area with its large parking area sees quite a bit of use. Years ago this was primarily a cross-country area. More recently the slower sport of snow-shoeing has become very common here as elsewhere. Skijoring is the newest variation and is rarely seen. I thought I spotted one on this trip but it turned out to be someone holding their young brittany spaniel on a leash. Most dogs love the snow. Overheating is their great foe and the cold mountain temperatures and snowpack is to their advantage during exercise. Temperatures started out in the low 20’s f. and rose only a little. Trees in bright sun dripped a little but the forest remained snow-covered.

As there is some longer climbing ski routes in the Trillium Basin the area attracts skiers of many abilities. In the second picture two skiers are barely visible seemingly skiing the edge of the cloud-shadow near the North end of the lake. Their shortcut will save a mile or two of road skiing but leads to steep bushwacking on the west side. East of the lake on sideroads you can climb to viewpoints and some moderately challenging downhill return runs. Years ago one such trip lead to a pleasant moonlit ski back. There is nothing better than skiing under clear skies and a full Moon!

This is Tannhauser - trail training name Tanner - cooling off after release from skijoring duties. A chocolate lab - German shorthair mix, he has the stamina and energy to make a great skijoring dog. Husky, Bernese or Swiss Mountain Dog, and general mutt also all can make useful dogs. Avoid dogs with long hair between the pads which will collect balls of snow, such as Golden Retrievers. They otherwise would be great, but snow collecting on the feet makes them a no-go. In Scandinavia where skijoring began a Greyhound-German Shorthair cross is widely used as the ideal combination of traits.

He pulls strongest with other dogs, and needs more training. I’ve only had him a month so this is hardly surprising. The stolen Maya was further along on training but has been gone for over a month. Another dog is in the offing, both for skijoring and a playmate and training partner for Tannhauser.

We were attended to by a small flock of gray jays. These are a restrained white, gray and black combination. I’m more used to seeing the larger, solid gray and more jay-like Clark’s Nutcracker.

After taking photos here, we turned back, and there was a raven inspecting our pack! Tanner made a run at the bird but cut it short as the bird quickly returned to the sky. More interesting were the otter tracks.

This picture is from the dam and shows the outlet of the lake. The long track is that of an otter. Other partially snowed-over otter tracks are visible nearby. The recent track heads directly to an otter den at the far edge of the lake.

The Long Trail

Otters are distinctively thick-tailed creatures, and the track clearly show that. The small roundish footprints were mostly rubbed away by the tail dragging behind.

Doubtful or disinterested or tired otters will drag their tails. We had a demonstration of that on our riverfront in 1996 after the massive floods of that year left bare sand everywhere below about the 40 foot elevation mark. That silty sand recorded well the tracks of all animal traffic. Mink, sandpiper, and weasel tracks were spotted.

Though always present in the Clackamas River, this time of bare earth gave us a chance to observe their behavior though tracks the April following the big flood. Two of them came up out of the river from different locations, tails dragging. They sauntered their individual wandering routes towards a large rock which was then located in what is now our labyrinth. The pair headed uphill across an eroded riverbank to the edge of a flat area with foot-high grass. An area of grass larger than a pair of otters was knocked down. Pleased with this roll in the hay, the pair walked back to the river side by side. The pair was enthused enough to hold their tails high the whole way, leaving only their round footprints.

At Trillium Lake the tracks head one direction, judging from the small sprays of soft snow along the outside edge of the marks. The direction of travel is away from the lake outlet area. The route ends at the otter’s den at the edge of the lake.

Since the tracks all head one direction, the otter (or otters) must enter the lake at the den, fish their way over to the drain opening, and return back across the snowy ice. The two openings each may access the lake. The narrow track coming in from the right shows they slide in, legs tucked back, leaving no footprints.

The larger opening has approach slides in three directions. The small root highlighted by the snowy background shows the den is underground.

Tanner, nosey dog that he is, wanted to investigate further, but I would not let him. The photos were taken with a telephoto to avoid disturbing the residents.

Want to visit this area? From Portland proceed up Hwy. 26 past Government Camp and look for signs directing you to the Trillium Lake Snowpark on your right. The parking area is large but can be about full on weekends. In Summer you can drive in.

View Larger Map