Living in two different parts of Oregon, Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey headed down and I headed up as we went over to Linton Lake for a 2-day off-trail adventure spread over seldom-seen areas. This is a culmination of our prior trips into the Linton Lake area east of Eugene.
We started by parking near Alder Springs campground, then hiked down into Linton Lake. Jeremiah, Quinn, and I posed for the team photo by the car. Notice how I took the high ground in the picture...again...HA! Shortstuff.
"Where should we take the picture?"
"How about over there? You stand on the left."
This is what it would look like on even ground. It's hard to be good friends without pranks, jokes, and ruthlessly making fun of each other. Too much fun!
I only had a daypack, which has minimal shoulder straps and fairly nonexistent waist straps. While it's light and fairly perfect for short hikes, it's barely passable for backpacking. I realized this the first second I put it on at the car and my shoulders immediately cried out in pain. By the end of this, my shoulders and hips had noticeable bruises on them from the straps. My pack weighed in at around 25 lbs. Jeremiah's was around 35, but he at least had a real pack.
Linton Falls. Eh, it's okay... This is the lower portion. I've been here 5-6 times now and it is jaw-dropping, every single time. I had to try for a different angle, partially to get a different look than prior trips, but also to try and mitigate the partial direct sunlight.
This is the little island in the middle of Linton Creek, just below Linton Falls.
What's special about this pic? Check out the rock jutting out from that boulder. It was literally hanging by a thread. It made me a lot more nervous than it did Jeremiah. (note: It was still there 2 years later...)
We started the steep trek to the plateau:
This last picture was while we heading back down, but this is where it fit best. The second picture is the way closest to the creek. We chose the less-steep route, which is still really steep. In-person, the two are not even close.
As we hit the top of that old stream bed, we heard a strange chirping sound:
...pika. It is the first pika I've seen that wasn't yellow and shooting lightning and looked like this. I took a few pictures of this little guy and they all turned out with the little thing being blurry. Must be a sasquatch in a pika costume.
Interestingly, pika aren't known to be in this location. There's an Oregon pika research group looking for pika locations that I tried notifying but their system was obtuse. I have the GPS coordinates, eyewitness accounts, and photos of a pika well-outside of their known range...and I can't get the info to researchers? If one of them happens to stumble across this, I'm glad to help. To get my information from this trip, there's a 37-step signup process and then it won't work anyway. Or you can simply send me an email and I'll get back to you shortly...
This nice little unnamed waterfall is a very short distance above Linton Falls. It looks like the lower portion of that waterfall, only 1/3 the size.
These are called pink wintergreen and we saw along them along the game trail.
I don't remember taking this picture but the photo numbers put it right here...
The first meadow above Linton Falls was the wettest, to the point it is a marsh. There's just no dry way through it. These frogs were everywhere. I believe it is a Columbia spotted frog.
We made our way through the swamp, found dry land, then another smaller swamp within a forest, which was pretty peachy. While making our way, part of the elevated log I was walking along gave way and I began an instantaneous 6' fall. Right before I hit the ground, my eye caught a large branch hanging above and my arm grabbed it enough to change my trajectory, all within a split second. I still hit the muck, but inches away was a branch protruding up sharply over a foot from a log already on the ground. I laid there for a second, with that sharp branch poking well past where it would have jabbed completely through me, had I not had that glancing snatch of the upper branch. Jeremiah and I made eye contact and he gave me the, "Dude, that was about it for you..." look. They say it's better to be lucky than good, and I was probably luckier than good right then, but if you're going to do stuff like this, it really helps to be a little bit of both.
Another unnamed waterfall. So far, I've been too lazy to climb down and get a better picture of this one. Between this waterfall and the next pictured one, there's another, but it seems to avoid capture somehow.
The next unnamed waterfall we came upon was this little thing. It's actually a nice one, even though it's not all that tall. It was in this area where we first discussed finding a spot to set up camp. The goal was to hit Linton Meadows, which was still quite a ways ahead through unknown territory. We had a topographic map on my GPS, but it doesn't show brush or any other obstacles. We decided to chance it and venture on. This was the 3rd or 4th unnamed waterfall along this stretch.
The next set of falls was up ahead, though the plan was to avoid them and try to hit them on the way back. We split up and traveled a short distance apart to find the best route up the hills. If that doesn't make sense, you are probably right. As much as we enjoy each other's company, we both enjoy solitude immensely and this is one of the best places to do that. Brush and downed trees kept pushing me further away from Jeremiah and closer to Linton Creek. I then heard a massive roar and realized I was only about 50' from the creek. I peeked over to find this:
This is Duncan Falls and it is massive and glorious. This pic was taken on the way back. I did not expect to see this caliber of waterfall here. It's pretty lightly traveled, as you may guess. The only documented mention of this waterfall is from around 1910 by the legendary Mazamas Hiking Club, then information falls silent...until this trip report from 2013. I would think someone could have been in here between those two dates, but I'd be shocked if there were very many human eyeballs on it over that span.
It looks fairly easy to get to the bottom of Duncan Falls, too. Next time... We caught a glimpse of another waterfall just above this one, though the large blowdowns and sheer number of them made it more work than we were willing to put out to get to, especially given time restraints.
We came to the top of that ridge, then stumbled across each other. I circled back to the hard right without knowing Jeremiah started heading left up ahead of me. "Go left," is what I kept telling him while I was unknowingly quite a ways to the right by that point. Even with walkie-talkies, it's not always easy to find the other person. We ended up whistling to find each other. Another funny thing is that most everything in this area is not named, so to help us navigate, we started making up names like Deer Meadow, Surprise Meadow, Swampy Meadow, etc. There are lots of meadows.
We came up over one last, long ridge and dropped into Linton Meadow and began to hunt down a campsite as dusk approached.
We headed along Linton Creek, which is severely mis-marked on the topographic map. For a creek that is wild and tumultuous down low, it just lazily pokes along the meadow. Older Google Earth images show it has changed course many times. As we walked along it back toward the treeline, we started to hear a familiar roar. Both of us looked to the sky, expecting a jet overhead. Instead, it was Linton Creek carving holes in the meadow.
Some odd and crazy things happening under the water along here.
We ventured back a bit toward the trees and started to set camp a ways to the right of this photo of the South Sister overlooking Linton Meadows. I noticed a moving dirt clod by Jeremiah's feet as we were setting up the tent.
This small western toad was pushing it. He put it back into it's hole and covered it up a little, along with a marker to we wouldn't step on it.
With the camp set and dinner having been eaten, we decided to do the most obvious and predictable course of action for us:
grab our headlamps and go find trouble.
We headed across Linton Meadow during straining dusk looking for some animals. We found nothing but mosquitoes, so we crossed the creek and headed back, though that's not the way we came. We stumbled across a killdeer's nest and while Jeremiah was investigating it, I became intrigued by a large rock in the middle of the meadow that was about 50 yards away. By this point, it was dark and we both had our headlamps on. He followed me and we became mesmerized by this series of huge rocks that were sitting in a line further near the scree slope. As we kept walking and wondering how they got there, we walked directly into an 8-foot tall wall of impenetrable brush. It left us three choices: go back and find another way around (we're stubborn, so that one's obviously not an acceptable option), plow through the brush (impossible), or over a nearby boulder field (stupid). We tightened our dunce caps and headed slowly over the boulders and eventually made our way back to camp.
Jeremiah's tent has a mesh top so we stared at the stars for a while. According to multiple light pollution maps, where we were and the reaching surrounding area are immune to light pollution. This meant we were looking at the stars without impact from any unnatural light. They looked the same that night as they did a billion years ago. It was an incredible show.
Having hit the meadow near dusk, we didn't really get to take in the views. The next morning, we did. I woke up first and while looking out the mesh side facing this direction, deadpanned to a just-waking Jeremiah, "There are worse places to wake up." We spent a lot of effort and took a bit of a chance on camp location, but it turned out perfectly. The west edge of Linton Meadows, facing the South Sister. Everything else is tied for second.
This is a comparison of my photo with one from a trip by the Mazama's hiking club into the area back in the early 1900's, around 1908. I found it later and was able to place it about 75 yards from where I took this photo. It is kind of fascinating, that over 100 years later, we stood in nearly the same spot out in the most somewhere version of the middle of nowhere as that legendary hiking club.
We got moving and decided to head over to Eileen Lake , which was 1.5 miles away. We picked a course with the GPS map and headed out. The mosquitoes were brutally thick. I never got bit (until later), but they were an obscene pest the entire time. When we stopped moving for more than about 5 seconds, they'd swarm like crazy. They would land, but the eucalyptus spray kept them from biting.
This was dubbed Surprise Meadow because we weren't expecting it. I had never really been to this type of an area before this trip and I found it unbelievably beautiful. Peeking up behind the trees is The Husband.
We ventured on and made our way to Eileen Lake:
This is essentially the first thing you see as you pop out to the lake. It's not a big lake, but the views here are fantastic. We also saw our first human, which is odd after seeing no one besides ourselves for a day. He was tall and gangly and jogging without a shirt. He had headphones in and didn't notice us standing 30 yards away. We just stared as he ran by, reminded that we actually were not the only humans on Earth, and then went on about our day.
I tried to take one without and one with the flowers. Even after moving, the mountain stayed in almost the same spot, totally by accident.
Yes, I am easily amused.
We started heading back and of course decided not to retrace our steps. We went past Eileen Lake and onto the Pacific Crest Trail for a few hundred yards. As you leave Eileen Lake, this is what you see:
The Middle Sister in the middle of another stunning view as we drop down onto the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through this section of the valley below.
After a couple hundred yards, we again headed off-trail and followed Linton Creek. As we crossed a tiny creek no more than 2 feet wide, Jeremiah fell in. It was hilarious. (For the record, I fell twice over both days and neither time was it hilarious.) We were going to follow the creek back to camp, so we couldn't get lost. Right?
There is meadow after meadow up here, each special in its own way.
Along here, the creek turns so sharply, the grassy part of the ess is only a few feet wide.
We wanted to go by Linton Springs, but were a little disappointed. I think we expected something spectacular. Forgive us for being greedy. We could have made it up there, but didn't see the point. (Edit - this isn't Linton Spring. This is a spot marked "Spring" a ways below Linton Spring. To quote Kris Kristofferson, "I'd go crazy if I paid attention all the time".) (Second edit - in spite of this not being Linton Spring, a later look makes me realize it is worth checking out.)
We were heading back along the creek. There are some single-track horse trails through here, but we eventually ventured off them to stick with the creek and scenery. There was some very nice looks through here. At one point, we came through some trees and over a hill that stood atop Linton Meadow. We stood for a few minutes, taking it in. We felt either like explorers from the 1800's or survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. It was a surreal experience. I didn't take a picture because the picture would take away from the emotional memory.
We packed up camp and took a short breather before heading back. Well, one of us did...We wanted to try and pick our way into the unnamed waterfall above Duncan Falls, so I scouted ahead while Mr. Lazybones took a siesta. I came back a while later and Quinn was in the same spot.
[Here you again see Quinn. What an amazing thing he is. As the three of us have gone through these adventures over the years, a bond forms for what we have undertaken together, from our shared endeavors. That transcends human-dog and instead becomes equal participants, to where I respect him not as a dog, but as "one of us". As I edit this post, Quinn passed this week and it is truly crushing to the Osborne-Gowey family. Even though he was not my dog, I still found myself mourning as I would if it were a person close to me. He was loved and absolutely will be missed.]
I found a huge swath of intense whitewater, most of it inaccessible due to the sheer and crumbly terrain. This junky pic shows the creek right when things start getting exciting. Just below this, there is some interesting stuff, but we were being pushed by the clock and unwilling to put out the effort to get in there. From this spot, there is continuous whitewater and/or waterfalls for the next 1000+ feet of creek.
In all, we did in the neighborhood of 19 miles, 90% of it off-trail (literally, I did the math, so...~17 miles). Except for a very short bit near Eileen Lake and down by Linton Lake, we were on our own, as far as navigation goes. We went over and through a variety of difficult terrains and elevations. Probably about half of the time, we couldn't see what we were stepping on due to the vegetation. Amazingly enough, by the time we got back, neither of us had much more than a minor scratch. When people ask about these trips and they naturally think about undertaking one themselves, the ability to avoid major injuries is an incredibly valuable and underrated outdoors skill to have.
The mosquitoes were unbearable, but the eucalyptus spray worked. That said, I didn't put any on for the trip back (stupid) and my forearms were eaten alive. I think I only had one or two bites up to that point.
I later read (and re-read and re-re-read) a book by the Mazamas hiking club about their adventures into this area in 1908 and (I think 1910). It is a fascinating read and I was taken aback by the fact they turned around at the ledge near Linton Falls on their way down to Linton Lake. Their reason for turning back? It was too dangerous. And Jeremiah and I plowed right up and down it. And the Mazamas went everywhere back then. That made us both feel pretty good about accomplishing what we did over these two magical days.