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‘Want to try it?’ – Taking a peek from Devils Peak

Photo by Lee JuilleratDanny Hawkes, left, and Steve Underwood atop Devils Peak.
Photo by Lee JuilleratFour of the lakes in the Seven Lakes Basin can be seen from the summit of Devils Peak.

Editor’s note: Second of a two-part story about a backpacking trip into the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area.

Credit Stevie with finding the way.

We made the hike from our Cliff Lake campsite to the saddle between Devils Peak and Lee Peak. Once there, we considered following a rock-chunky way-trail up to Devils Peak’s summit but instead continued southwest along the Pacific Crest Trail toward a junction that would loop back down to the Seven Lakes Basin and our camp.

The section of the PCT south from Cliff Lake toward Devils Peak took us up a steep-sided, rocky talus ridge made gentle by sweeping switchbacks, an elevation gain of about 800 feet in three miles. At its high point the 7,300-foot elevation saddle offers views of the Sky Lakes Basin, but the Basin’s many lakes — Snow, Trapper, Sonya, No-See-Um, beautiful Margurette and many others — were hidden underneath tree canopies and lingering forest fire smoke.

Then, just before reaching the trail junction that would take us back to the Seven Lakes Basin, Stevie — Steve Underwood — stopped.

“I think I saw what might a trail up to the summit. What do you think? Want to try it?”

Up we — Stevie, Danny Hawkes, my daughter Molly, her dog Loki, and I — scrambled, following a scree-filled, unmarked talus path that eventually reached a mostly obvious route that wove up and around trees and rock outcrops, sometimes forking off in multiple directions over shale-splattered which-way-to-go sections.

I’ve climbed up the trail from the saddle, but this route to Devils Peak’s 7,582-foot summit was far more enjoyable. It’s less exposed and, even better, is decorated with a variety of wildflowers, a nice surprise because most in the lower elevations has passed their peak.

Among the flowers were frequent patches of western pasque flowers, which in late summer and fall reveal silky-like, dish mop wig-like seed heads. They are flowers of many names — tow-headed baby, mop-top, hippy-on-a-stick, old man on a mountain, Muppets on the mountain.

Along the ledge leading to the rim are whitebark pines, high-elevation trees that have been bent, twisted, mangled and shaped into odd configurations by decades of blustery winds, subzero temperatures and seasonal mountains of snow.

From the top of Devils Peak the views were, appropriately, heavenly. The wow-inducting panorama is especially alluring because the view north features most of the Seven Lakes Basin’s cobalt blue lakes. While the sweeping, 360-degree view didn’t reveal the Sky Lakes Basin’s lakes, it did include neighboring high points, most prominently Lee Peak, an intimidating rocky prominence, and, less dramatically, a trio of peaks to our west, Lucifer, Jupiter and Venus.

Devils Peak was a literal high point of our four-day backpack into Sky Lakes Seven Lakes Basin that included a loop trek from Cliff Lake to Alta Lake and a cross-country scramble to Lake Ivern, three of the five lakes we saw from our Devils Peak overlook. Another summit surprise was a painted rock snugly secured in a section of a whitebark pine stump. The painted rock featured, appropriately, the image of a snow-capped mountain. Appropriate because the painted peak resembles usually snow-capped Mount McLoughlin, one of the many mountains visible from Devils Peak.

Below the summit was the thumb-like knob that, from Seven Lakes Basin viewpoints, is often mistakenly identified as being Devils Peak. According to William Sullivan, author of “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon,” geologists describe the knob as “the old volcano’s original plug, stripped bare by the Ice Age glacier that carved the lake basin below.”

From the summit we followed another way-trail down — a steeper, more direct and more exposed route that deposited us back on the PCT at the pass between Devils and Lee peaks. We retraced our steps on the PCT, past where we’d begun or summit climb to the junction with the Devils Peak Trail. Skirting Lucifer, Juniper and Venus peaks, the trail dipped steadily downhill before reconnecting with the Cliff Lake Trail. Before reaching Cliff Lake, we halted briefly at South Lake, where Loki happily retrieved sticks tossed from shore to the lake.

The next morning we loaded our backpacks to return to the Sevenmile Trailhead. Instead of going directly to the PCT, we followed a prettier route along meadows filled with past-their-prime huckleberries and past Middle and Grass lakes, their shorelines alive with hoppity Cascade toads and flittering dragonflies.

There are lots of ways to explore the Seven Lakes Basin. From within we’d taken a peek at its lakes, and from above a view from its not-all-that-devilish peak.

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