A "Grey" Day Hike

While I'd like to say the sun ALWAYS shines at Elk Lake, it doesn't. Sometimes it snows. Sometimes it rains. And, although a rare event, sometimes it is just 'grey'.

However, when a hike is in the works - well, I'm not one to stay inside just because the weather isn't on its best behavior. Since my hiking companions were of the same mind, we decided to make our hike - regardless of grey skies, threatened rain, soggy trails (from rain the night before), and gusty winds.

We loaded up the packs, the dogs, the lunch, the maps, the bear spray, the camera, the binoculars, the extra warm clothes - well, more than we needed but at least we had all the bases covered. The plan was to hike to Blair Lake - a hike I'd taken last year under very different skies!

We planned to take a similar route. Up the Corral Creek Trail to the juntion with Blair Lake. On up to Blair Lake. On the way back we thought we might take a sidetrip to Hellroaring Creek before finishing the day at the Hellroaring Creek Trailhead (which would require about a 1/2 mile hike to our vehicle parked at the Corral Creek Trailhead).

Well, things didn't go as planned. The higher we went, the lower the clouds. Between cold gusty winds and intermittent rain showers, we were looking forward to reaching our destination, finding a sheltered nook in which to eat our lunches and give our feet a break. However, when we reached the Blair Lake Junction, the mountain did not look inviting. The wind howled up those slopes. The clouds looked anything but friendly. Sheltered nook? Probably not up there. After a brief pow-wow, we decided the wisest choice would be to take the lower trail to Lillian Lake.

In spite of the weather and changed plans, beauty filled our day. While aspens are sparse up that high, the huckleberries and other low-growing bushes brought bright splashes of color to our storm-dulled day. However, what surprised us most were the wildflowers. While nothing to compare to the color profusion we enjoyed on our Sheep Lake Hike, I honestly did not expect to find one, let alone EIGHT different varieties, still blooming at this elevation. In October. After snow! Amazing!

Yet we saw: Common Harebells, Yarrow, Sulphur Buckwheat, Spurred Lupine, Alpine Asters, Indian Paintbrush, Englemann Asters, and Orange Agoseris! Who would have guessed? And these were blooming! While the remaining huckleberries had dried to grey globs, we found edilble Gooseberries, Thimbleberries, Black Elderberries, and Oregon Grapes! Quite impressive for early October at that elevation.

The clouds remained low so the splendid views this area offers were mostly hidden. Nonetheless, even with low clouds and occasional rain showers to obscure things, whenever the weather cleared, even briefly, we were treated to brilliant color in every direction!

It has been several years since I made the trek to Lillian Lake. In fact, I think the last time I was here was on horseback - four or five years ago?? I can not even locate a prior blog post on that excursion.

Lillian Lake, named after Lillian Hackett Hanson Culver, an early Centennial Valley settler, is a small lake tucked into a mountain basin. Blair Lake is larger. Blair Lake offers more spectacular views. BUT, Blair Lake is also near the top of the Continental Divide - up in those clouds and exposed to the gusting wind. Thus Lillian Lake was a perfect destination on this grey day.

Yet, after visiting on a windy day, I found my curiousity pricked. I am going to have to go back to Lillian Lake and do some exploring. That little lake appears to be tucked into a sheltered valley. However, the wind howling, gale-force, over its surface suggested it is less sheltered than I thought. Hmmmm!

Due to the changes in our route, we ended up making a near perfect loop. Up Corral Creek to junction into the Continental Divide Trail. Past the junction up (where, if you were following the Continental Divide Trail you would have to turn) to Blair Lake. Down to Lillian Lake. Across the upper reaches of Hellroaring Creek (I wonder how close we were to the headwaters of the Missouri?). North along the east side of the creek. Back across the creek and a bit west. A brief detour. Then down to the Hellroaring Trailhead and back to our rig.

The photo above, looking south-west from the east side of Hellroaring, shows the country up from which flow those famous headwaters.

I swear trailbuilders get their kicks out of imagining a hiker's frustration at finding a creek crossing without a bridge, a log, or any other 'dry' means of crossing. After all, it happens EVERY time. And so, on a cold, grey, rainy day, we had the privilege of taking off our shoes and socks, rolling up our pants, and wadding / stumbling across a slick-rock creek filled with snow-melt water. Talk about Chinese torture!

And THIS just proves my point. What did we find spanning the next 'trickle' (literally, we could have stepped across it!) merely a couple hundred yards from our frozen feet crossing? Yes - a lovely wide, wood bridge - followed by another just as nice crossing a nearby swampy area (which we could have navigated with dry feet as well!). What about COLD, SLICK, WIDE, and KNEE DEEP did they not understand about the *real* creek crossing? Oh well! I whine - and I didn't enjoy it - not that day - but it did add another element to our adventure.

Our trip would have been about a mile shorter had we chosen not to take our detour. However, Hellroaring Canyon is not a place to bypass - at least not when we were this close and one of the 'gang' had never been there.

So, when we reached this confusing trail junction, we took the trail to the right (the arrow pointing left in the photo). WARNING: Should you decide to take this hike, let's talk first. The maps (even the better ones) do not show the trails. In addition, there are two 'branches of the Continental Divide Trail (thus all the markers on these trees) - and one is only marked at the south end. This is not to say the area is hard to navigate. It is not. But going in with a bit of knowledge sure helps!

Hellroaring Canyon is a magnificent place. The creek really does roar through the canyon (and so does the wind in the winter!). Yet nature's harsher elements are softened by the canyon's beauty. Brilliantly and uniquely colored rocks. Abrupt canyon walls. Abounding color from willows and berries and other water loving deciduous trees and plants. White water flashes while clear still pools attempt to calm the wild stream. It truly is a magical spot. So, we stopped for a picture (note the bridge!) and a look around before heading back to the junction.

Note: it is possible, if one has two cars, to follow this trail to the Red Rock Pass trailhead. This section (see the trail on the right side of the stream) of the Continental Divide Trail takes one along the north face of Nemesis and across Cole Creek (which, I believe, flows from the big bowl one can see on Mt. Jefferson when heading east out of the valley) and finally to Red Rock Pass.

Our excursion came to an end just as the clouds began to break - at least where we were. We walked down to the Hellroaring Trailhead then along the two-track for about 1/2 a mile to the Corral Creek Trailhead and our vehicle. And, while we did not end up going where we 'thought' we would, no one complained. It had been a magical Centennial Valley day - even if the weather did dampen us, literally, it didn't mar our spirits.

Lady of the Lake

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