Backpacking to Wall Lake and Hiking to Potato Butte

On Friday Jason and I met up with our friends Kyle and Tiffanie for a backpacking trip in the Olallie Lake Scenic Area. The weather forecast was great and we were excited to do some backpacking with good friends. Our intended destination was Sheep Lake, a 2.3 mile hike in on the Red Lake trail #719. The main trail begins off spur road 380 from FS road 46. In the interest of cutting off some elevation gain on our hike, we intersected the trail off spur road 076 thanks to Kyle's navigation and 4x4 driving skills (high clearance 4x4 vehicle required).

Wall Lake Trail Elevation Profile
Potato Butte Trail Elevation Profile

We got a late start out of Portland, as we all had to work on Friday. The temperatures were quite warm when we left, but cooled considerably by the time we reached the trail at 8:30PM. We parked on the side of spur road 076 near the trail. We set off under a cloudless sky with Willy, Kyle and Tiffanie's daschund, at our heels. The trail began its 800' elevation gain right away, leaving no time to ease into the short hike. After about 1 mile, the trail leveled off and we reached the first of many lakes along our hike.

Lupine Wildflower     Wildflower near Trailhead
Tiffanie, Kyle, and Katie Getting Ready to go Backpacking to Sheep Lake     Red Lake Trail #719 from Spur Road 076

As we hiked, the skies darkened considerably. Coupled with the fairly dense forest cover, we were soon forced to stop and dig out our head lamps. In the dark we passed Red Lake, then Averill Lake and Wall Lake before arriving at Sheep Lake. The hike took about 50 minutes. When we reached Sheep Lake, we found its two easily accessible camp sites were already taken. Instead of setting up camp unnecessarily close to another group, we decided to turn back and try to find a spot at Wall Lake where Tiffanie and Kyle had been before. Kyle led us off on a spur that skirted the lake and we soon arrived at a very nice camp spot on a small peninsula of Wall Lake. We set up camp and Jason quickly got a nice fire going in the primitive fire ring. As soon as we stopped moving, we realized that the temperature was barely in the 50's. Little did we know that our summer-weight gear would not be warm enough overnight.

Wall Lake after Sunrise     Wall Lake with Potato Butte in the Background
Wildflower Near Wall Lake     Spider on Wildflower

After spending a chilly night (the low was around 38°F) in our tents, Jason got a nice fire going early Saturday morning. We had breakfast while warming up by the fire. Jason went fishing after seeing a few fish jump but was unable to entice them to bite. Following a leisurely morning at camp, we set off on a hike to Potato Butte. The temperature had warmed considerably and we were soon in summer clothing again.

Tiffanie and Kyle Cooking Breakfast     Katie Sitting by the Campfire
Katie, Kyle, and Tiffanie at Potato Butte Trailhead     Wildflower on Potato Butte Trail

Potato butte is 5,280' tall and sits to the Northwest of Wall and Sheep lakes. The trailhead for this 0.6 mile (one way) hike is at an unsigned junction on the North side of Sheep Lake. At the junction, one turns North to head toward the butte. The trail is well-worn and easy to follow (shown in yellow on the map at top of page).

Potato Butte Trail     Wildflower on Potato Butte Trail
Dry Lake/Meadow Where We Lost the Potato Butte Trail     Small Lake off the Potato Butte Trail

However, we made the mistake of turning away (right) from the meadow partway along and ended up having to scramble up the upper half of Potato Butte when we lost the formal trail. This was a bit grueling but Kyle and Tiffanie were troopers and Willy put us to shame going up (although he was on all four's with the benefit of long toenails!).

Kyle, Katie, and Tiffanie Back on the Potato Butte Trail     Summit of Potato Butte

Thankfully, we all made it to the top of the Butte without injury. Once atop the butte, we were rewarded with good views of Mt Hood and Olallie Butte. We rested at the top for a few minutes before following the formal trail back down.

Mt Hood from Potato Butte     Kyle, Tiffanie, Jason, and Katie on Potato Butte
Olallie Butte from Potato Butte     Olallie Butte from Potato Butte

Just before the trail begins its descent from the flat top of the butte, the trail splits. If one follows the spur to the left, there is a large volcanic rock "wall" that offers a great view of Mt Jefferson and many lakes below Potato Butte.Though littered with scree and a bit dusty, the trail was easy to follow on the way back. We returned to camp in approximately 45 minutes. Just before reaching Sheep Lake, we met a man who commented that he thought a wildfire had started nearby. He reported seeing a large plume of smoke suddenly rise off in the distance. Thinking nothing of it, we continued back to camp.

Mt Jefferson with Several Lakes Below     Closeup of Mt Jefferson
Katie, Tiffanie, and Kyle Coming Down the Potato Butte Trail     Meadow with Mt Jefferson in the Distance

Upon reaching camp, we soon realized that the man's report of fire had been correct. What initially appeared to be a cloud soon proclaimed itself to be a fire to the East of Wall Lake. Not long after, we also saw another plume of smoke to the West of Wall Lake. Not long after spotting these smoke plumes, we began to see planes and helicopters circling, presumably monitoring and/or helping extinguish the fires. Thanks to the quick suppression efforts, both fires were put out by sunset.

After enjoying an afternoon nap and a nice fireside dinner, we headed off to bed. It was pleasantly warm and a light breeze had come up. The overnight temperature remained in the low 60's. We slept much more comfortably Saturday night and didn't feel like we needed winter clothes.

Small Wildfire West of Wall Lake     Larger Wildfire East of Wall Lake
Sunset at Wall Lake     Kyle and Tiffanie Relaxing in Their Hammocks at Camp

On Sunday we packed up camp after breakfast and headed out. On the 2.1 mile hike back, we stopped at both Averill and Red Lakes to check out the camping. Each lake seems to have a couple nice lakeside campsites. Some offer more shade than others but all are very pretty. Our return hike was much quicker thanks to the daylight hours and downhill terrain.

Wall Lake     Tiffanie, Kyle, and Their Dog Willie
Averill Lake with Potato Butte in the Background     Red Lake

We reached the car in a little under an hour and quickly stowed our packs in order to enjoy the luxury of air conditioning inside the car. On the way back we enjoyed lunch at Fearless Brewing Company in Estacada. It was a nice way to relax and unwind after our hike. Though we aren't able to get together too often, we hope to enjoy more adventures with Kyle and Tiffanie in the future.

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Disclaimer: You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards of backcountry travel and taking the necessary precautions. Loomis Adventures may not be held liable.