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Walk Your World: A drive to visit the Vulcans

After about a mile on the trail, both Vulcan Lake and Vulcan Peak come into view. From this point, the descent to the lake begins.
After about a mile on the trail, both Vulcan Lake and Vulcan Peak come into view. From this point, the descent to the lake begins. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens
This column usually focuses on what happens afoot, but if you’re thinking about heading for Southern Oregon’s Vulcans, the lake and/or peak, the first thing to consider is the drive.

The Vulcans are about 30 road miles northeast of Brookings, but the last 14 or so miles are on gravel and get increasingly dicey as you climb. Laura and I drove them the other day in our Honda Civic, but the bumpy ride had us missing our old Jeep Cherokee. We probably wouldn’t do it again in a sedan.

The real adventure came near the top. We’d planned to head for the Vulcan Peak trailhead first, but we missed the unmarked turnoff. Plan B kicked in as we drove the last 1.7 miles of Road 1909 to the Vulcan Lake trailhead. One of our hiking books describes this stretch of road as “rough.” That’s one accurate word for it.

It was a white-knuckler. The path narrowed and bigger rocks proliferated. Fearing for the Civic’s undercarriage, I stopped twice to toss aside the largest stones. Gazing at the drop-off’s expanse of scrubby pines, I was reminded of our off-roading days in the Colorado Rockies. Did I mention we used to have a Jeep Cherokee?

There was no turning back and eventually we reached the road’s end where, miraculously, another couple was pulling hiking gear out of their sedan. Hard as they are to get to, the Vulcans attract their share of visitors.

Great views and the snags of dead trees are among the most prominent features along the trail.
Great views and the snags of dead trees are among the most prominent features along the trail. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens
That’s because they are unique for these parts. While there are many glacial lakes in the mountains of this region, most cannot be reached from the coast. Our ambitious plan going in was to climb 900 feet to the peak, then descend and climb 650 feet to the lake. Having missed the turnoff for the peak, we set out for the lake.

Following an abandoned mining road for a few yards, we reached a junction with the Johnson Butte Trail and turned right onto a switchback path that felt like a miniature version of the rocky road we’d just driven. With snags of long-burned trees the predominate foliage, this was stony, desolate country — but the view out into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness was impressive.

After about a mile of steady climbing, we curved right and looked down on not one but two lakes. It turns out Vulcan has a little sister. And if you want to keep the metaphors all in the family, both lakes have a big brother — the 4,655-foot peak itself, which came into view at the same moment.

At first glance the water appeared brownish, but after a descent of 4/10ths of a mile, Vulcan Lake spread out before us clear and green. Its rocky bottom merged with the reflection of trees on the far shore in a memorable mosaic. We took off our shoes to test the water — fairly warm like everything else out here — then planted ourselves for a picnic and gazed up speculatively at the craggy peak.

Back at the trailhead, one of the other hikers had told us there was a way to climb the peak from the lake. That sounded more interesting — and potentially easier — than driving to a second trailhead.

As we retraced our steps back up from the lake, we spotted a faint side trail we’d missed on the way down. The secret passage to Vulcan Peak?

Its accessibility from the coast makes Vulcan an unusual glacial mountain lake for this region.
Its accessibility from the coast makes Vulcan an unusual glacial mountain lake for this region. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens
We followed it up onto a ridge that stretched toward the peak. When the trail petered out, we turned into amateur mountaineers for an ambitious while, picking our way upward and hoping another trail would emerge. When it didn’t, we stopped, took in the views, and began working our way back down.

Someday we’ll have another SUV or ride with friends back up to the real Vulcan Peak trailhead. This day, we were content with reaching the lake and coming close to the peak.

We knew more adventure awaited behind the wheel on the long drive back to the lowlands.

Reach Richard Wiens at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  

 


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