About three weeks ago, I did a long loop in the southern Sky Lakes Wilderness involving Fourmile Lake and managed to miss the famous Judge Waldo Tree. I’d vowed to return in the Fall to rectify this miss but dropping temperatures and a freakish absence of mosquitos in this wilderness (which is/was infamous for its biting hoards in July and August) encouraged us to look for this tree sooner. Although the hike in from Fourmile Lake to the south has its charms, we decided instead to try using the Blue Canyon Trailhead coming from the west side (Hike #46 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon guide (3rd Edition)).
Access to the Blue Canyon Trailhead is mostly on paved roads (good gravel for the last six miles or so). The Blue Canyon Trail (USFS #982) [The Forest Service website shows this as the #976 but it’s the #982 in all the guidebooks and on most maps.] shares this trailhead with the Cat Hill Way Trail (USFS #992), so we could make a loop through the Blue Lake Basin. We started down the well-maintained Blue Canyon Trail through open forest.
As I noted before, this is an area for forest and lake-lovers, as there are very few views to be had along most of these trails. We passed Round Lake,
which was presided over by a juvenile Bald Eagle.
Then on past Blue Lake and a junction with the Upper South Fork Trail (USFS #986),
to nearby Meadow Lake (which, excpet for some open water at its north end, is mostly more of a meadow than a lake).
Between Meadow Lake and Horseshoe Lake, we passed a junction with the Meadow Lake Trail (USFS #976), a short, steep connecting trail to the Cat Way Trail on the ridge above. Then it was on past Horseshoe Lake,
to glorious Island Lake.
Judge J.B. Waldo was an early voice for conservation of the Cascade forests. In 1888, during an extended journey along the Cascades, the Judge carved an inscription in a tree on the shores of Island Lake – one of several trees he inscribed in the Cascades. The tree is located on the south shore of Island Lake and is accessible via a short unsigned use trail (now covered by several fallen trees) off of the Blue Canyon trail. It’s obvious – since it’s surrounded by a wooden fence – once you get within about 50 feet of it but I’d managed to miss it by a little more than that on the last go around.
The sign points toward the lake and is invisible from both the main or use trails.
The inscription was (to us at least) largely indecipherable but we could make out “Judge JB Waldo.” A really neat piece of Oregon history associated with one of the earliest proponents of forest conservation and stewardship.
However, after enjoying the sublime beauty of Island Lake and this charming piece of Oregon history, we turned around to find a fire ring – not more than 20 feet from the tree – filled with someone’s breakfast trash! 👿
Ignoring the fact that now is NOT the time for campfires in the forest, most of this trash isn’t even flammable! How to describe the individual who would do this? Ineffectual? Impotent? Inspid? Idiotic? Indolent? We decided on TOTAL DOUCHEBAG LOSERS as an apt descriptor. That settled, we packed up a pound or so of this drooling incompetent’s trash and headed back via the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Cat Hill Way Trail. This return loop was along gentle trails through the forest but, near Cat Hill, shortly before we got back to the trailhead, there was a big view of Mount McLoughlin.
Our chore as sanitation engineers aside, this was a very pleasant hike past a variety of lakes to an interesting historical landmark (13 mile loop; 1,400 feet of elevation gain). If you were to just go out and back along the Blue Canyon Trail to the Tree, you’d knock two miles off the hike. Full bluebird weather and, except near some bogs on the southeast side of Island Lake, no more than a few mosquitos – that’s amazing!