Northwest of Three Fingered Jack in Oregon's Cascade Range, overlooking the Eight Lakes Basin lies Duffy Butte. A twin-summited pile of boulders, Duffy Butte oversees Duffy Lake and Mowich Lake. The hike in to the lakes is a popular one although most seem content to hang around on the shores without trying to scale this one. There is no trail to the top and indeed the last couple hundred feet are a sandy and steep scree mess with a few rock piles to scramble up.
My altimeter puts the north summit as a bit higher and indeed it appears that way to the eye. You can go cross-country from either the north or the south on this one depending on which side of the lake you are coming from. This area was devastated by the B & B Complex Fire in 2003. (More of the fire stats) As such, it was off limits for a while. Because there is no maintained trail to the top you will have to deal with spikey snags and thorny trees along with small sinkholes where the fire burned roots under the ground creating gaps in the sandy soil. There is some plantlife returning so be careful not to trample any.
Views of Three Fingered Jack are the best but you can see down to Broken Top. To the north, Jefferson dominates. It's interesting to do this climb as you start out in old growth fir forests which are lush and green. You leave the greenery behind shortly after starting up from the lake. Brown and black tree trunks and crispy soil over sand then take over followed by a rock scramble. You get to see it all from the top, Cascade volcanoes and green forest islands amid brown seas of burnt trees dotted with lots of blue lakes in this region. It's quite the treat and it only costs you about 7.5 miles roundtrip with 1800 feet of elevation gain.
Getting ThereFrom Portland/Salem, take I-5 south to Highway 22 east. Take Hwy 22 about 76 miles east. Near milepost 76, turn left onto Big Meadows Road and follow it about 3 miles to the end at the trailhead. There is one fork to the left that is marked with a sign to the Duffy Lake Trailhead.
From Eugene, you would take Highway 126 east to Highway 20. Turn right on Hwy 20 and go a few miles to the Santiam Junction of Highways 20 and 22. Turn left onto Hwy 22 and proceed to the same Big Meadows Road which will be on your right near milepost 76.
From Bend, take Highway 20 to Highway 22 and proceed as above.
Red TapeA Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead.
In addition, a Wilderness Permit is reuired to be completed and carried with you. These are available free at the trailhead.
When To ClimbJune to November is best. The trailhead is at 4050 feet so snow will be the deciding factor if you can get to the trailhead. Since Highway 22 is plowed through the winter, you could conceivably pull off and park at this road and hike in from wherever you can get but I don't have any idea if this area is patrolled to tow cars. I wouldn't think so but who knows....
CampingThere are established campgrounds at both Duffy and Mowich Lakes on the eastern flanks of Duffy Butte. Camp only in designated sites. Do not go into recovery areas. Campfires are prohibited. The trail in will take you right to these areas.
Mountain ConditionsDetroit Ranger District
HC73, Box 320
Mill City, OR 97360
Summer hours: 7 days a week 8-4:30 Memorial Day - Columbus Day
Regular hours: Monday-Friday 8-4:30
Detroit, OR Weather
Things to keep in mind in this area:
There are bear, cougar and rattlesnakes in the area.
The fire burned badly here and in places it burned the roots underground. This created gaps in the sandy soil and may cause you to sink in in areas that are not established trails. Be careful where you step.
The small branches on trees burn into a spiked shape creating sharp thorns at the least and dangerous impaling spears at the worst. Watch your step so you don't fall into one.
Blue green algae dangers in the lakes