Burnt Lake and East Zigzag Mountain

October 16, 2010.

Burnt Lake Trail > Zigzag Mountain Trail > East Zigzag Mtn summit | 9.6 mi | 2400′ ele. gain | 4.5 hr with 1 hr summit break

On a cold, crisp, Saturday morning, I left town to set off on my first solo hike since my foot injury. I didn’t realize how much I missed solo hiking until I completed this adventure. Since my camera is still nonfunctional I will have to paint a picture of this hike using only words.

I’d been up to East Zigzag before but never from this side. The trail began at an easy grade, rambling through a spacious forest with enormous trees in every direction. There always seemed to be one creek or another meandering through the trees, occasionally making an appearance near the trail. The trail crossed the creeks at several locations, but the water was low and the crossings were easy. I walked along at a reasonably quick pace, since the trail was gentle and wide, and the air was quite chilly. The forest floor was decorated with a vast array of colorful and interesting mushrooms. To my left and right stood fire-scorched sculptures of trees that once were; several of the snags were hollowed out, while others were shaped into unique forms. These trees were simply gigantic. The cavity of one of these big, burned trees looked to be about 8 feet across. It would have made a nice camp site with a tarp thrown over the top of it.

Eventually the trail started gaining elevation a little more steeply. The trail got more muddy, and narrow, and at one point got a little dicey. The brush dropped away to the hillside below, leaving only a very small patch of irregular rock to cross. The upside was a tremendous view of the southeast side of Mt. Hood, the first view of the day. I paused a moment to let the image embed into my retinas. This view of the mountain was a different side than I was used to seeing, and it took some time to evaluate the glaciers, ridges, and other geological features.

I continued along the sometimes muddy and narrow trail until it led to a sign announcing the presence of Burnt Lake. I never have been a fan of visiting lakes, which are basically glorified puddles of water. I walked briefly down to the lake’s bank to take a gander. Yep, sure enough, it was a hole filled with water. In honor of the lake I took a sip of my own water that I’d carried with me, then turned and walked back up to the trail. There were posted maps of the day use sites and campsites located at and around the lake. It took my brain a bit longer than it should to figure out how to avoid the lake loop and choose the trail that would bring me up to the ridge. It seemed the signage could have been much clearer; that, or my brain should have been less foggy.

I successfully avoided a needless trip around the lake and instead began hiking, at a slightly more elevated grade, towards the summit of East Zigzag Mountain. I passed two guys and a dog, the first people I had seen all day. The upper section of the trail involved turning up many sharp switchbacks in order to gain the ridge. I felt really disoriented for most of the length of the trail, since it seemed like I kept turning towards the lake. But eventually it became clear that the ups and downs were mostly ups, and I reached a junction in the woods with the Zigzag Mountain Trail. Shortly after taking a right turn onto this trail I enjoyed expansive ridgetop views, including a front-row seat look at Mt. Hood. Ahead of me lay a bare, rocky ridgecrest with a clear path to the next bump, which turned out to be the endpoint of the hike. I walked in spurts along the trail, stopping to look up at the mountain, then down at the vibrant red fall foliage, and then back up again. It was a tremendous sight.

At the actual summit, a pile of blocky bits of rock provided an array of seating and napping options. I chose a comfortable spot, put on an extra layer and enjoyed a summit treat. The sun felt warm on my face. The air was perfectly still; it felt eerie to be sitting in the sun, high on a mountain ridge, on such a beautiful day in October. I had about 40 minutes to myself before another party arrived from the south approach. We chatted for quite a bit and then I took off down the ridge.

There were lots of excuses to stop and ogle the view before re-entering the woods. Once I returned to the trees, however, I turned on the afterburners and jetted down the trail. I figured I could test out the integrity of my ankle on this easy hike, in a relatively controlled setting. My ankle performed pretty well, and in 90 minutes I was back to my car. Based on that hike, I’m feeling like I can try taking on longer mileage as well as overnight pack weight. Next weekend’s goal is to do a backpacking trip…I’m just not sure how long or how fast I can move with a heavy pack on.

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