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Hiking above the fog

Photo by Lee JuilleratLayers of fog shroud lands below Pelican Butte.
Photo by Lee JuilleratHikers make their way along an uphill section of the Peak Tie Trail.

Where were we heading? We thought we knew, but given the weather, none of us had the foggiest idea.

That’s because the road we followed was barely visible in the bleakness of dense fog. Driving in the fog is like running on a treadmill in a darkened room with the lights switched off. There was a definite sense of movement, but nothing we could see in the pea-soup-thick fog. For most of the drive to the Spence Mountain Trailhead, only the sound of tires on pavement and the abrupt flash of headlights from oncoming cars and trucks, just seconds before they whizzed past, verified that, yes, we were actually moving.

Heading up toward the Doak Mountain summit on Highway 140, the fog suddenly dissolved. It was like a wizard had magically waved his wand and — Presto! — blue skies.

Instead of stopping at the Spence Mountain Trailhead off 140 or turning into the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead off the Eagle Ridge Road, we parked near the Doak Mountain summit where a gate blocks access to privately owned Green Diamond Resource Company timberlands. We took care not to park in a way that would block access to the gate. We hustled across the highway and along a short dirt road to Junction 13, where the Mazama Trail meets with the Peak Tie Trail. Gary Vequist, who had scouted the area, led us north on the Peak Tie.

Most of us had hiked Spence Mountain’s ever-increasing network of trails, but this was something new, beautiful and serene. The trail was rated as “easy,” and we hiked north along the Peak Tie, passing and pausing through forests feathered with hearty Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, incense cedars and carpeted with manzanitas. Creating a sense of bewilderment were one-after-another trailside sections littered with the remains of weathered animal bones.

The first 1.25-quarter mile of the Peak Tie is especially inviting. It’s scenic, easily graded and enticing, not just for hiking but also for mountain biking and, if the snow ever falls, cross-country skiing. Forest openings revealed peeks of Aspen Butte and other Mountain Lakes Wilderness and Sky Lakes Wilderness peaks. More dramatic were glimpses of Mount McLoughlin, its pointy summit uncharacteristically frugally spotted with patches of snow.

Fascinating because of their oddity were openings where views of lands surrounding Rocky Point and Upper Klamath Lake were hidden in an ocean of fog.

More views of fog and mountains appeared as the Peak Tie reached and passed the Spence Peak Trail at Junction 12. From there the trail steepened up a mile-plus section to Junction 5, a busy intersection. A one-way, experts-only mountain bike trail dives steeply downhill to Shoalwater Bay. The Captain Jack Trail curls south and west. The Spence Butte, South Ridge and Hooligan trails turn south before parting.

After a lazy lunch we worked our way down nearly a mile to Junction 3, where we followed the one-way Hooligan. After a brief semi-steep, downhill rocky section, the Hooligan eases, following an easy grade with entirely different views than we’d seen earlier. Although lingering fog shrouded whatever was farther below, it had lifted enough to expose water-starved Aspen Lake. Instead of a five-mile-long lake, Aspen appeared as a series of unconnected ponds.

In about 2.5 miles we left Hooligan, turning northwest to follow the Mazama Trail. The trail winds pleasantly, again through another section of mixed conifers, dropping steadily downhill for nearly a mile and returning us back to Junction 13, our starting point.

The drive from Doak Mountan’s summit dropped us back into the foggy bottom below but did not cloud the clear vision of what we’d seen.

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