Wickiup Plain - July 30, 2010
Coordinator Richard O'Neill, narration and pictures by Richard O'Neill

Just call me Wrong Way Richard. It began on the drive to the annual Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club picnic when I missed the Cascade Lakes Highway turnoff and found myself in Lapine. So we continued on Hwy 97 and took the Crane Prairie Lake turnoff and turned north at a junction. The road went north for a bit and then headed east to Bend, counterintuitively I should have turned south at the junction.

So it should have been no surprise when at the Devils Lake Trailhead, I did it again. Lagging behind while lacing my boots I hurried down to the trailhead where nobody waited for me and headed up the steep trail, Edwin and Phil trailing after me. After a half-mile or so, my radio squawked; it was Ray wanting to know where I was at as they were at the trailhead waiting for us. You mean there is more than one trailhead?

Dollie and I had hiked through spectacular Wickiup Plain (in the Three Sisters Wilderness) while in the middle of a 78 mile backpack trip several summers ago. It is a pumice desert where very little plant life grows and the views of South Sister and all its attendant geological features are quite stunning. However, there really wasn't much to see for the initial 2 mile dusty slog through the lodgepole. Lodgepole pine grows where no other tree dares to grow and they tend to look scrawny and stunted as a result. Lodgepole forests are not pretty. 

But two miles into the hike, the forest ended without preamble and let the views begin. Snow flecked South Sister dominated the scene with the massive rock wall of The Mesa looming below it. Broken Top and Bachlelor Butte also starred in this feature. To the left was the small round grassy mound of Le Conte Crater, that was a port-of-call for us. At the base of Le Conte, the mound no longer looked small or round. It looked tall and straight up. We just walked up the very steep grassy slope to the summit only to find out it was a false summit. Dropping down through a knot of trees the real summit started, and a faint path charged virtually straight up to the crater rim. 

At the crater rim, we found out Le Conte Crater is a snow cone. Inside the actual crater was a small pond in a snowy bowl, making the climb worthwhile. We could see some stuff too, we observed the leading edge of The Mesa and it was obvious where the lava flow buried some of the plain many centuries ago. The top of The Mesa was a jumbled mess of rocks with South Sister looming over it all. And to the south and west were the bare lands of Wickiup Plain. A great place to have lunch.

And speaking of lunch, we observed a wasp hauling a spider it had killed to its lair. The spider was too big to fly with so the wasp was dragging the carcass overland like an ant would.

After lunch we descended off of Le Conte and exited Wickiup Plain to the south on the Pacific Crest Trail, running into some PCT through-hikers on their way to Canada. From there it was back to the lodgepole for several miles before arriving back at the trailhead. And of course, I missed the turnoff to the campground. It's a wonder I made it home.


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