My wife and I had been on a week long road trip vacation through Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington, and Northern Idaho. We had to turn for home and I wanted to get in one more hike before returning to Medford. Previously, I had hiked a little in the Blue Mountains, so I knew I wanted to come back and hike more peaks. I looked at my maps and picked Van Patten Butte as a worthy destination for a dayhike on 7/7/2007. It had all the promise of a beautiful lucky day.
I chose to approach the area from Ukiah off of US Hwy 395. Ukiah isn’t much of a town, with a café and a place to get gas. Road 52 heads up from Ukiah and is called the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. It is a long lonely scenic drive towards Van Patten Butte. Follow the signs to Anthony Lakes and Road 52 changes to Road 73 as you start getting close to the area. We stopped at Anthony Lakes to check out the camping area and the day use area. There were several campers, but the campground was still half empty. It is a beautiful spot really.
We could see Van Patten Butte looming high above the lakes to the southeast. We continued along the road and found our signed turnoff for Van Patten Lake. The road only goes about .2 mile before turning sharply to the left in front of the building and gravel pile. I drove up the road a little until I found a spot I wasn’t going to drive over. I turned around and parked at the bottom of the hill.
It was already warm when I started hiking up the road but it was a beautiful clear day. I made good progress up the road. There are more bad spots at the switchback and just before the small parking area at the trailhead. Not bad for walking, but I was glad I wasn’t driving.
It didn’t take long to walk the mile and climb 650ft to the trailhead. From there, a well used trail continues southwest towards the lake. The trail climbs more and in another .5 mile I came to a beautiful natural alpine lake. Van Patten Lake is worth the hike all by itself. I hadn’t seen any other climbers or campers even though there were a couple of other cars parked at the bottom of the hill. I took a few pictures and continued down the right or west side of the lake. There are several large beautiful camping spots on the west side of the lake and a large rocky area from which people jump into the lake on warm days.
At the far end of the lake I found the small creek feeding the lake and followed it up into the trees to the south. It was real green with tall grass in the area and even a little brushy in spots. I stayed on the west side of the creek until I could see that the east side was less brushy and then crossed over. The footing was good without any obstacles as I climbed up to the low spot on the ridge above. If there had been snow still in this little basin, it could have been challenging to get on top of the ridge itself, but today was my lucky day. It was 7/7/7 after all and the snow was all gone.
Once on the ridge I expected to find a trail, but there wasn’t anything except game trails. The game trails were enough to lead up towards the summit. Point 8,648 on the topo is a rocky outcropping that looks like it could be problematic. Fortunately you can bypass the steep rocks to the right and there is no obstacle in getting to the summit. The summit itself is comprised of some large rocks that you have to scramble up. No problem here unless you go too far and fall off the cliff on the other side towards Anthony Lakes.
There were hundreds of butterflies up here this day and it was a beautiful clear day with magnificent views in all directions. I called my wife on the two way radio and let her know where I was. I had a little lunch and soon had to head back to the trailhead and then back to Medford. No problems were encountered heading down. There were other hikers at the lake now and on the road leading up to the trailhead.
I did see someone in a new H2 Hummer drive up the rocky road. He bottomed out on the rocks near the beginning of the road and had to back up and try another angle. I’m glad I didn’t try to drive up…
Overall the hike took me about 4 hours, I covered a little over 6 miles, and I gained about 2,500ft in elevation. I hope to come back soon and climb more of these Blue’s.