Fall is a great seasonIf you venture into this part of Oregon in the spring, nature will make you pay. One word that says why: Mosquitos Lots and lots of them. Enough to drive sane people crazy if they go unprepared. I had been waiting all summer for the mosquito season to end so I hooked up with my friend Bob Bolton and together we started off on the Clover Creek trail to visit the top of Aspen Butte, a reasonably lofty summit of a bit over 8200 feet.
Located near Klamath Falls, I had been working on the prominence peaks that were nearby and only had three left in the area, one of which was Aspen Butte. Before the next two days were over, I would have all three of those completed. The name "Aspen" conjurs up visions of skiing and trees changing into beautiful autumn colors but neither of those
visions were to be rewarded. Instead, Aspen Butte turned into a relatively long hike of about 12 miles and weather that threatened to either rain or snow on us.
Oh yes, I must add this, we never did see any Aspens. Is the name just wishful thinking or did we miss them?
Bob and I had met in the rest area that is about 50 miles north of Klamath Falls and slept in our vehicles there since it was late thursday when Bob pulled in from Vancouver Washington and I pulled in from Kennewick. Early the next morning we made our way down to the trailhead, taking the time to grab a decent breakfast at a roadside cafe. Following Dennis Poulin's directions, we made it to the trailhead at about 9 a.m. and were on the trail by 9:15. The trail started off in forest and stayed in forest most of the way. Passing one lake about three miles in, a junction with the Mountain Lakes Trail is reached that takes you towards the peak and yet does so in a rather maddening fashion as it meanders all over the place.
The elevation gain on the way in is around 2600 feet, an easy grade that is continued almost the whole way. At the point where the Mountain Lakes Trail drops down after attaining the ridge crest, we continued on up to the right on an obvious path that headed towards the summit. It was easy to lose in a few spots but even without a trail you could find your way to this easy summit. Our first view of Aspen Butte was attained where the use trail goes to the left side of the ridgeline and we noted that it was dusted with a covering of snow (see picture at the top of this report). The clouds were threatening and we thought this would be a summit we would end up enveloped in clouds as is often the case on northwest mountains. We were hoping it wouldn't rain but both of us carried rain gear just in case. As we made our way up the ridge, mostly at times on a use trail, we noted an old wire that used to allow communication with a lookout person at the top of the peak with a station somewhere else. In a few places you had to watch your step so the wire wouldn't trip you as you made your way along the path.
We had some snow to walk through but it was not more than a few inches in depth at any point and made me realize that summer had gone and winter wouldn't be kept from these mountains much longer. Soon, the summit was reached and a benchmark found. No register was present so I left one of my own making for those who venture up here in the future. Bob and I grabbed some snacks and were pleased that the wind stopped when we reached the top and didn't come up again until we were ready to leave.
Nice views despite the cloud cover were available in almost every direction and we could look over and see Pelican Butte, a target for later in the day, and Brown Mountain, our objective for the next day. It was also very easy to visualize how this was once all part of a volcano as the ridgelines were obviously crater rims and time had changed the appearence of the area so that most people would look at this mountain and not see the volcano aspect. I would assume that Mt. Harriman (7,979 ft) and Mt. Carmine (7,882 ft) were also part of the same overall volcano but were now separate peaks and worthy to visit in their own right. Perhaps some day I will come back to visit those two.
Bob and I made our way back down the way we came until we reached a cairn that marked the old trail that once came up from a different trailhead. We proceeded down the old trail until we reached a point where the old trail started heading away from the direction we wanted and we then just followed our GPS track to find the trail that we came up on. The rest of the hike down was pretty uneventful except for the moment when three elk crossed the trail in front of us, one with a big rack that would make a trophy hunter salivate.
We finished the day off with a drive up to the top of Pelican Butte, using the old lookout road on the west side to do so. High clearance is necessary for that road.