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The original plan was to set up base camp at June Lake, then hike the loop to Chocolate Falls & back to the lake on another trail, then spend the night. There were no takers for the overnighter and the weather was questionable, so we opted for a day hike just to the lake & back. Once we made that decision, we saw no reason not to take the dogs.
Dave, Ron, & I arrived at the trailhead at 11:00 to find the parking lot really full, but the trail wasn’t too crowded. The route climbs gently over a trail of loose gravel. We passed a few viewpoints along the way which may or may not reveal Mt. St. Helens on a clear day but we couldn’t tell in the fog. We crossed one footbridge just before the lake, but there wasn’t much to see till we got to the lake at noon.
After the bridge, the trail opens up to a sandy plain with the lake on the right and a huge lava flow on the left. Along here is a little spur trail to the left which is probably the return trail if one completes the loop.
Surprisingly, we had this gorgeous little pond to ourselves for over an hour. Completely still water makes for great reflections in this crystal clear pond.
The hiking partners decided to go explore the base of the falls and some caves in the cliff wall while I waited with the pups.
The book says “40-foot waterfall,” but judging from the comparative size of my husband, it sure looks a lot taller to me. He’s the tiny, blue speck at the base of the falls.
The guys got back to my side of the lake at 1:30. By then, I thought it might be too late to complete the loop trail, but we could certainly hike the 1/3 mile up to the Loowit trail just to see what it looks like. At the far end of the flat area, there’s a little sign tucked among the trees that says June Lake. From here, the trail climbs hard & fast on the steepest part of the hike,
It levels off at the junction at the top where we turned left onto the Loowit Trail. After plowing through some dense brush for a few minutes, we were soon looking up at about a 40’ high lava flow. Again, the specks at the base are my hiking partners. From here, we thought, “Why not complete the loop? How hard can it be?”
When the Sullivan book says, “lava fields so rugged that hikers are left to hop from boulder to boulder…” it’s not kidding.
We started up on an obvious, but rough trail to the top of the flow where there was nothing to see but lava. No landmarks of any kind.
From there, it was hit & miss – sometimes on trail, sometimes looking for the next tall, thin pole or cairn. My pups are not very big, so we carried them about half the time, sometimes handing them off to each other, which slowed us down. Like I said, we weren’t planning to take the dogs across the lava originally.
We crossed a couple of ravines which looked like empty riverbeds. Beyond the second one, the trail vanished entirely, but we could still see the next pole on the horizon about 50 yards away.
Not knowing whether we’d passed the half-way point or not, Ron decided to scout ahead to see what it looked liked beyond the horizon. Dave & I waited for what seemed like a long time while we watched the fog roll in even thicker than before. I knew we couldn’t hike very fast with the pups and no trail. It occurred to me that once the trail is gone, all we have left are those markers, but the fog was about to obliterate those. The thicker that fog got, the more enticing the trail behind us was looking. At least we knew that route.
By this time, it was 3:00, and I didn’t want to be stuck up here after dark, wandering around in circles, so Dave went ahead to retrieve Ron so we could abort this fool-hardy trip. As soon as Ron was close to us, I began up the trail. After a few yards, I turned around and already, Ron had vanished into the fog. But Dave was behind me and assured me he could still see Ron. Needless to say, the poles had vanished as well, so it was good to have that trail, rough as it was.
We passed some people heading up above the lake and discouraged them from going out on the lava beds. It sure felt a lot better once we got back on terra-firma. We all agreed, “Next time, no fog and no dogs!”
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