Lake Ivern Loop (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 01-Sep-2019

Lake Ivern sits by itself at the north end of the Seven Lakes Basin in Oregon’s Sky Lakes Wilderness. While South, Cliff, and Middle Lakes get a lot of visits (particularly from hikers on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail), Ivern’s location two miles down a one-way trail leaves it kind of isolated. I wanted to visit it but was put off by the long out-and-back which that would entail. Then I read in Lorain’s Backpacking Oregon (4th printing) that you could go cross-country from the end of the lake to the Middle Fork Trail #978 to complete a loop back to the Seven Lakes Trailhead. He made it sound easy – which should have been a warning. It didn’t help that I decided to give the old King Spruce Trail #980 one more shot – the last having been in 2015. The LovedOne, sensing unspecified levels of adventure in all this, wisely demurred and stayed home to continue work on another sweater (it better be one heck of a cold winter).

I took the Seven Lakes Trail #981 up past Frog Lake and over the divide to Middle Lake, passing South and Cliff Lakes along the way. This was all on trails that were, except for a few downed trees here and there, in good shape.

South Lake with Lucifer in the distance
Cliff Lake (photo taken during the Rogue Wolf backpack)
Many, many tiny toads festooned the outlet from Cliff Lake
Middle Lake

At Middle Lake, I left the Seven Lakes Trail for the Lake Ivern Trail #994 and followed it north to the lake. It’s an easy trail which passes four named springs and a boulder field with squeaking picas. The journey was enlivened by my fifth black bear 🐻 sighting this summer! I imagine some careless campers around the lakes were presenting buffet opportunities. 🙄

Along the trail to Lake Ivern
Buckley Spring, one of the four named springs along the trail
Lake Ivern
View from the north end of the lake. S: burn scar from fires in 2008 & 2017, C: Cinnamon Peak, M: Mudjekeewis Mountain, T: Tom Mountain, J: Jerry Mountain, U: Union Peak

From Ivern, Lorain implies that you just stroll westward over to the Middle Fork Trail. Ah, no, as the terrain north and west of the lake is very steep and heavy with brush. Instead I went up and over the bump just north of Point 5910 – staying on its brush-free slopes – then dropped down to the creek flowing out of Lake Alta. I crossed the creek and came upon an old campsite with a fire ring and cut logs. With no sign (such as an old use trail) of how anyone got to this camp, it was a tedious 0.4 mile brush and fallen tree thrash over to the Middle Fork Trail. In this particular spot, that trail has been re-routed farther northwest than where it’s shown on the Forest Service and USGS maps.

Starting up the open slope west of Lake Ivern
Connecting with the Middle Fork Trail

It was a 700-foot climb on the Middle Fork Trail to its junction with the Alta Lake Trail #979, then a short walk south on that to the King Spruce Trail #980. I could have taken the #979 all the way south to the Seven Lakes Trail and the trailhead but, noooo, I had to give old #980 one more shot. Well, it still sucks. The first mile and the last half-mile, while encumbered with a number of fallen trees, are still relatively easy to find and follow. The middle mile-and-a-half, particularly where it passes below the springs, is an extended exercise in slow, hunt-and-peck trail finding. It would be very easy to lose the trail here. I came across other boot prints from time to time, so there was some consolation in not being the only hiker to be fooled by old #980. But fooled twice? That’s on me. 😦

At the start of old #980
What old #980 looks like near the springs

I was heartily glad to finally get back to the rocky clarity of the Seven Lakes Trail for the brief downhill hike to the trailhead. Thus ended a 13.3 mile, 2,300 feet of gain loop through the Seven Lakes Basin. Even allowing for the bushwhack from Ivern to the Middle Fork Trail, it’s not a particularly hard loop. And it’s the only way you can visit Lake Ivern without doing an out-and-back hike. BUT make your return via the Alta Lake Trail and NOT the King Spruce Trail! That trail needs to be consigned to history…

The Lake Ivern Loop (blue dots are the bushwhack from Ivern to the Middle Fork)
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