West of Miller Lake (Mt. Thielsen Wilderness) 19-Sep-2015

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon

After hiking the classic Thielsen Creek Loop and scrambling up Howlock Mountain earlier this summer, I got intrigued by the lack of trails on the southeast side of the Mount Thielsen Wilderness. This is the part of this wilderness considered by the Forest Service to be “pristine” as opposed to merely “primitive.” I couldn’t discern any enthusiasm on The LovedOne’s part for a hike that might involve lots of brush thrashing, so I was left to experience pristine by myself. Sigh. 😥

I motored over to Miller Lake (which is a bit of a drive even if you already live in Southern Oregon) on the east side of the wilderness. The lake is not actually in the wilderness and seemed pretty popular with fishing folks.

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Miller Lake

The Miller Lake Trailhead is at Digit Point on the southwest side of the lake. From there, the excellent Miller Lake Trail (USFS #3725) heads around the lake,

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Miller Lake from along the trail

and then climbs easily,

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Climbing toward the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

to a junction with the PCT and the heavily promoted – every tourist brochure for this area mentions it – North Umpqua Trail (USFS #1414).

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
At the PCT – Miller Lake – North Umpqua trail junction

From there, I went south on the PCT through a viewless expanse of trees, fending off fierce wildlife along the way,

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
All summer getting to be the biggest frog in the forest and now this…

to an open area at about 7,200 feet where I could get a view of Red Cone to the east,

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Red Cone pokes above the trees

a snowy 🙂 Howlock Mountain to the south,

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Howlock’s eastern and western summits with a touch of snow

and Tipsoo Peak to the west.

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
The red rock summit of Tipsoo Peak

After lunch, I continued on up to 7,500 feet before heading cross-country back down to the lake. There are some huge meadows just below the crest that make cross-country travel exceptionally easy,

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Large meadows make travel easy

and which continued quite a ways down the slope. There was a lot of deer sign in this area and, remembering that hunting season had started, kept my dayglow orange shirt totally in view at all times.

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Continuing down through the meadows

Eventually, however, I had to go back in to the trees, with one last look at Red Cone.

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Red Cone through the forest

While there were a few spots thick with small trees, the forest floor is mostly open and my downhill travel was fairly easy. Traversing to the north or south is another matter, as it involves tediously going up and down through small ravines and drainages.

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
Going down through a forest with little understory

I had planned to drop into the Tipsoo Creek drainage – mostly to see if/where there might be water – but ended up striking further to the northeast into the upper Evening Creek drainage, which was dry except right near the lake. I’ll need to go back and checkout the upper reaches of Tipsoo and Howlock Creeks, as these might be more reliable summer water sources. The area is truly pristine and, while there are numerous places to camp, the limiting factor could be water. A fun exploration (13.5 miles round-trip; 2,000 feet of elevation gain) which raised more interesting questions that will require (sigh… 🙄 ) yet more hiking.

Miller Lake Mount Thielsen Wilderness Oregon
My track across the east side of the wilderness

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