Luther Mountain Loop (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 23-Aug-2015

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon

The Sky Lakes Wilderness is as famous as the Indian Heaven Wilderness for the dense swarms of winged vampires that make hiking and backpacking there in July and August an ordeal. Well, not this year. Probably the only good thing to come from the prolonged drought and dearth of snow here in Southern Oregon is the devastating effect it seems to have had on the mosquito population (oh, boo hoo 😈 ). Except for some pathetic stragglers attempting to get in a bite at the trailheads, mosquitos have been largely absent from the lakes this year. That, combined with most of this wilderness being on the less smoky (but far from smoke-free) side of the Cascades, has prompted several dayhike explorations of the area. Yesterday, I used the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to make a loop from the Cold Spring Trailhead up to Luther Mountain and back.

It was very, very smoky in the Rogue Valley but not too bad at the 6,000 foot trailhead. The majority of the trails in this wilderness, while they are mostly in the trees, are also gentle and in good condition, allowing you to focus on the scenery rather than the tread. I took the Cold Spring Trail (USFS #3710),

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Cold Spring Trail

north to the Sky Lakes Trail (USFS #3762) and that west past Deer Lake,

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Deer Lake

to its junction with the PCT.

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
At the PCT

The PCT going north is, of course, another easy-to-follow wonder, even if what’s on the ground doesn’t exactly align with what’s on the map(s).

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
North-bound on the PCT

Here the PCT climbs up to the ridge on the west side of the wilderness where, if it were not for the smoke haze, I’d have gotten some good views. Best I could get was Pelican Butte to the south.

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Pelican Butte buried in smoke
Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Pelican Butte Lookout (arrow)

My return loop involved the Divide Trail (USFS #3717), which starts at the saddle below Luther Mountain and drops into the Margurette Lake and Trapper Lake area.

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Luther Mountain from the PCT

It works its way around an escarpment which overlooks Deep and White Pine Lakes and the smoke-choked Cherry Creek drainage,

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
View(?) from the Divide Trail

and Margurette and Trapper Lakes,

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Margurette Lake (foreground) and Trapper Lake

before descending past Lake No-See-Um.

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Lake No-See-Um

I had planned to loop around Deep Lake before heading back south but the smoke was starting to get to me – extra dry mouth, tightness in my chest – so I did a short cross-country shuffle from Lake No-See-Um over to the Sky Lakes Trail. Of course, as soon as I headed south, the wind shifted and the smoke got pushed somewhere else for a moment, giving the illusion of hiking under clear, sunny skies. Perverse!

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Suddenly, clear sky!

I encountered a tiny bit of Fall color,

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Fall comes to the wilderness

before passing Heavenly Twin Lakes,

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Heavenly Twin Lakes

enroute to the trailhead. Despite the heat and smoke, this was a good hike (14.6 mile loop; 1,600 feet of elevation gain) that allowed me to explore a bit more of the Sky Lakes. I can have another go at the Trapper Lake area from the Cherry Creek Trailhead once the smoke abates in the Fall (?). Again, if you want easy backpacking with lots of lakes to choose from for camping, then this is your wilderness! 😀

Luther Mountain Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Heavenly Twin Lakes

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