Friday, August 7, 2020

Mount Scott

Mount Scott summit ridge
5 miles round trip, 1250 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Crater Lake National Park entrance fee required

Mount Scott is the highest point in Oregon's Crater Lake National Park and thus the highest remnant of Mount Mazama, delivering sweeping views of the southern Oregon Cascades and Crater Lake itself. If counted as the peak of a Cascade volcano, this would be the easiest major Cascade volcano to summit. The high peak and its views can be reached via a half-day hike with some elevation gain from the park's East Rim Road. As the peak is slightly set back from the lake, its lakeviews are not as impressive as those from hikes like Garfield Peak or the Watchman; however, the views of the Cascades' chain of volcanoes to both the north and south is quite satisfying.

I hiked Mount Scott during a road trip from Seattle to California with Anna. Crater Lake National Park is a ways from any major city, although Medford, Klamath Falls, and Bend are all close enough that you could make a day trip out here from those towns. The Mount Scott Trailhead is off of the park's East Rim Drive, which is closed through the winter and may not open until mid-July or later some years. From Rim Village, you can reach this hike by taking the West Rim Drive south to Mazama Village and then turning left here to take the East Rim Drive to the Mount Scott Trailhead, where there is roadside parking on the east side of the road.

Leaving the trailhead, we immediately arrived at a pretty meadow in a wide basin set at the foot of Mount Scott. Mount Scott towered above: both the high ridge that we would later hike and the fire lookout at the summit were visible.

Mount Scott
The flat trail skirted the west side of the meadow, with views of both Mount Scott above us and north out to the forested volcanic landscape of the Cascades.

Meadows in the basin below Mount Scott
After tracing the meadow for the first 0.4 miles of the hike, the trail arrived at the base of the mountain's northwest ridge and headed off into the forest on the west side of the ridge, before wrapping around onto the mountain's south slopes as it ascended steadily. Soon, views to the south began to emerge due to the sparse tree cover here. Mount McLoughlin rose prominently to the south, the next major stratovolcano in the Cascade chain, while Mount Shasta, the snowy southern anchor of the range, was just barely visible even further. While visibility was decent on the day of our hike, wildfires in Northern California were obscuring faraway landmarks to the south.

Mount McLoughlin rises over the forests of the Oregon Cascades
At 1.5 miles from the trailhead, after a steady climb on the south slopes, the trail began to switchback. Mount Scott's upper slopes are dominated by whitebark pine, a hardy species that can survive the wind, snow, and exposure of being high up on a Cascade volcano.

Whitebark pines on the trail
There were some scattered summer wildflowers blooming here, dominated by penstemon and paintbrush. On the whole, I found the wildflower show in this park to be just okay, stunted by the dry climate and soil.

Penstemon and paintbrush
A series of six moderately steep switchbacks brought us higher and higher up the mountain, with continuously improving views to the south. At times, the ends of the switchbacks would approach the mountain's west ridge and provide glimpses of views to the north. As we gained elevation, the lake also came into view behind us. 

At 2.2 miles, as the switchbacks concluded, the trail got quite steep, rocky, and a bit narrow. This uphill push- probably the most difficult stretch of the trail- concluded with the trail leveling out as it reached the level of the summit ridge. Here, views began to break out to the north, where Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen were visible on either side of Diamond Lake.

Ascending to the ridge
The last stretch of trail was a spectacular ridge walk with nearly 360-degree views; in fact, the views here were better than those at the summit itself, where some trees block a full wraparound view. To the south, we could see McLoughlin, Shasta, and the many other forested volcanoes that define the Oregon Cascades, some shield volcanoes like Pelican Butte, others small stratovolcanoes or simply forested cinder cones. The great grassy expanse of the Klamath Basin lay to the east of the volcanoes, nestling the shimmering waters of Upper Klamath Lake near the horizon. Crater Lake has no surface inlets or outlets, but some of the water seeping through the caldera walls feeds into rivers flowing into Upper Klamath Lake, which itself is then the headwaters of the Klamath River, a major Northern California river that meets the Pacific near Redwood National Park.

Mount McLoughlin and Klamath Basin from the ridge
As we walked the dramatic summit ridge, the fire lookout at the high point of the peak appeared ahead of us. Around us, many trees had been shaped by the wind into krummholz, an adaptation to survive in this harsh environment.

Mount Scott Lookout at the end of the ridge
Views north along the Cascades were best here along the ridge: we could see the chain of volcanoes defining the range. Crater Lake, to our west, lies in the caldera of former Mount Mazama, once a great stratovolcano of the Cascades. To the north, Mount Thielsen is the eroded remnant of a volcano, while Mount Bailey across Diamond Lake is a more recent shield volcano. Unfortunately, Thielsen largely blocks off the view of Diamond Peak from here; Diamond Peak is an eroded shield volcano that rises above the headwaters of the Willamette River. Fading off into the distance were the great volcanoes of the bend area: the Three Sisters, each a snow-capped stratovolcano, the eroded Broken Top, and Mount Bachelor, a minimally eroded stratovolcano. 

Mounts Bailey and Thielsen rise above Diamond Lake
Oregon Cascades: Thielsen, Diamond, Three Sisters, Broken Top, the Bachelor
A final uphill push brought us to the fire lookout, which sat at the 8934-foot summit of Mount Scott. The lookout was boarded up, clearly no longer functional or open to the public; trees growing around the lookout made the views up here far inferior to those along the ridge. Still, we could see south along the ridge towards McLoughlin and the Klamath Basin and west to Crater Lake itself.

Mount Scott is a stratovolcano as well, but it is parasitic to the larger Mount Mazama. Mazama would at one point been one of the greatest stratovolcanoes of the Cascade Range; based on the size of its base, its summit would likely have reached to over 12000 feet, making it the third or fourth tallest of this chain of volcanoes. However, a cataclysmic eruption some 7700 years ago emptied out the magma chamber below and caused Mount Mazama's summit to collapse, forming a 4000-foot deep caldera. This caldera was then filled by the rains and snows of the Pacific Northwest to create the Crater Lake that we see today: intensely blue, dazzlingly clear, the deepest lake in North America.

From Mount Scott, we could see many of the high points of the rim and a good portion of the lake. Applegate and Garfield Peaks rise above the lake's southern end, while the Watchman guards the western rim of the lake with Hillman Peak, the highest point on the lake's rim. Llao Rock towers on the northern side, while Cloudcap on this side of the lake blocks the view of a good portion of the northern lake.Wizard Island, a cinder cone formed in subsequent eruptions, rises from the lake near the base of the Watchman.

Crater Lake from Mount Scott
This is an enjoyable hike in Crater Lake National Park and a chance to bag an easy Cascade stratovolcano, although it does not deliver Crater Lake views as impressive as hikes to points on the lake's rim. However, the views of southern Oregon's forests, lakes, grasslands, and numerous volcanoes are excellent and the hike is not terribly crowded, with just a fraction of visitors compared to more popular park trails like Cleetwood Cove

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