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Skiing for miles to Fourmile Lake

A commonly asked question is how Fourmile Lake, best known as a popular summertime fishing and camping destination that also serves as a jumping-off point for several trails in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, including Mount McLoughlin, got it name.

As others and I have learned during cross-country ski outings, it’s not because it’s four miles from Highway 140 to the lake. It’s actually about six miles via the Fourmile Lake Road.

“From Abbott Butte to Zimmerman Burn,” a history of the Rogue River National Forest, has the answer. The name Fourmile was given in about 1860 because of a mistaken belief by early Rogue Valley settlers that the lake is four miles long. Not so. It’s less than three miles in length.

According to Jeff LaLande, the retired Rogue River National Forest historian-archaeologist, the lake, which is actually in the Winema (now Fremont-Winema) National Forest, has another claim to fame. As the book notes, “One flowery writer — whose prose appeared in the Oct. 24, 1863 Oregon Sentinel — called the place ‘Lake Enchantment,’ and described it as ‘surrounded on almost every side by a wilderness of dead timber, as far as the eye could penetrate, that stood like an army of specters, hooded and sheeted for some mighty night-errand of terror.’”

There was nothing terrifying about cross-country skiing to Fourmile Lake or even skiing along a small portion of the frozen lake. The closest thing to “terror” came from swooping gray jays, living up to the nickname of “camp robbers” as they aggressively flew kamikaze-style within inches of our faces while we nibbled our lunches.

Our group of six — half from the Klamath Basin and the other trio from the Rogue Valley — began from the Fourmile Sno-Park off Highway 140. Niel Barrett, a Wikipedia of information about ski trails, and I got a head start on the other four — Al Augustine, Pete Reinhardt, Robert Walters and Dan Thorndike — because of confusion about our meeting time. Even with our early start, Niel and I had only briefly settled in for lunch near the Fourmile shelter when Pete appeared. Several minutes later Al, Robert and Dan followed.

We chose our lakeside perch because of its sweeping view of the lake and, even better, an up-close view of towering Mount McLoughlin. With a peak elevation of 9,495 feet, McLoughlin dominates the skyline and rises over Fourmile, an elevation of 5,748 feet.

In any season, Fourmile Lake is impressive with a surface area of 740 acres and a maximum depth of 170 feet. The lake, located in the Klamath River watershed, is actually a reservoir that was created when the 25-foot-tall Fourmile Lake Dam was built in 1906, which impounded Fourmile Creek. The Cascade Canal takes water from Fourmile over the Cascade Divide to Fish Lake, where another dam was completed in 1908. Water from the two lakes is used to help irrigate the Rogue Valley, something that still irritates Klamath Basin water users.

Several lakes are located alongside the Fourmile Lake Road, including Lakes Bernice, Clovis, Janice, Malice and Aphis. Most are hidden from view. On the way to Fourmile, Niel and I briefly stopped at Aphis. What’s an aphis? According to dictionaries, an aphis is an aphid, a minute bug that feeds by sucking sap from plants. We didn’t see any plant-sucking bugs, but we sucked up the stunning view of McLoughlin from along Aphis’ shore.

For the return ski we ventured over a portion of the lake, mostly following snowmobile tracks — something that provided assurance we weren’t likely to take an unplanned, very cold plunge.

After a mile-plus climb to the trail’s highpoint, an elevation of 5,920 feet, it was mostly downhill back to the trailhead-parking area, with sweet kick and glides and let the skis just run free on the sun-softened snow.

“This was perfect spring skiing!” Niel insisted on the drive home, a chant he repeated for miles and miles.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Photo by Lee Juillerat Skiers follow the snowy shores of Fourmile Lake under the gaze of Mount McLoughlin.