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‘Take a hike’ then ‘go jump in a lake’

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Both retorts are good advice when exploring Sky Lakes Wilderness Area
Swimmers cool off in the waters of Isherwood Lake. [Photo by Sharon Leedhan]
A hiker and her dog enjoy views of Isherwood Lake in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Fire damage is still obvious along sections of trails in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

When it’s roasty-toasty hot and someone says: “Go jump in a lake,” I don’t take the comment as derogatory.

It was good advice, especially after hiking several miles to Isherwood Lake during a day outing in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area earlier this week. Jumping in the lake was a brilliant idea, so some of us literally jumped at the opportunity. Within minutes, four of us were cooling off in Isherwood’s surprisingly refreshing waters.

Isherwood is one of several lakes in the appropriately named Heavenly Twins Basin, which includes Natasha, Lisa, Elizabeth, Deer and, of course, Upper and Lower Heavenly Twins.

Actually, a late-morning swim was part of the plan when our group reached Isherwood. We had hiked in from the Cold Springs Trailhead along Cold Springs Trail before heading north along Isherwood Trail. How far we’d hiked is uncertain. One GPS unit recorded the distance from the trailhead parking area to Isherwood at 3 1/2-plus miles and another reported 4 1/4 miles.

Isherwood is a popular stopover for day hikers and backpackers for good reasons. The large lake offers spacious views of its waters and bucolic setting in a forest of pines and firs. We stopped along the trail but other times have stopped for swims and overnights at less visited areas easily accessed along the lake’s eastern shore.

Along the way to Isherwood, we had paused at Natasha Lake, another beauty, before continuing past Lake Elizabeth on our way to Isherwood.

Like quick-change artists, our quartet of swimmers slipped into shorts or swim trunks, made our way to the lakeshore and escaped the heat in Isherwood’s cool, but not cold, waters. We stayed relatively close to shore, but Ted Vanderlip told of other visits when he swam across the lake to its eastern shore and back. Ted stayed closer this day.

Like many sites in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Isherwood has a story. According to “Abbott Butte to Zimmerman Burn: A Place Name History and Gazetteer of the Rogue River National Forest,” the lake was named in the late 19th century to commemorate Felix E. Isherwood of Portland. Isherwood was among the exploration team led by Judge John B. Waldo on an 1888 horseback trip along the Cascades from the Three Sisters area to Mount Shasta.

According to “Abbott Butte,” “Isherwood, as junior member of the expedition, had the duty of carving the group’s names on a tree at each camp; the lake almost certainly received its name due to one of these inscribed trees along its shore. However, no such tree has been found during repeated searches along the lakeshore, and it may have fallen down and been used as firewood by campers long ago.”

Over the years, no one has found the rumored tree. It wasn’t found during our visit, and nobody was looking. With temperatures climbing into the mid- and high-80s, the trees we wanted to find were those providing shade to escape the heat while munching lunch.

Most times hikers follow Isherwood Trail east to its junction with the Sky Lakes Trail, then aim south past the upper Heavenly Twin to the junction with South Rock Creek Trail back to Cold Springs Trail and the Cold Springs Trailhead. But at the advice of Anthony Benedetti, who oversees trail maintenance in the Fremont-Winema’s wilderness areas, we doubled back the way we came in.

Benedetti had cautioned us that Rock Creek Trail, which is in an area severely burned by fires a few years ago, is littered with many downed trees that have created obstacles for hikers and equestrians. It’s hoped that fire crews, who annually face challenges in clearing the Fremont-Winema’s 100 miles of wilderness trails, will be able to remove trees and other hazards from South Rock Creek this summer.

Among the delights of the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area is its proliferation of lakes, lakes that offer cool respites from the summer heat. So whenever someone says: “Go jump in a lake,” I’m all in.

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