“The heat is on,” said Chris Sabo, U.S. Forest Service trails specialist. This means higher-elevation trails are melting rapidly and wilderness access will be here soon.
But some popular areas in the high country are still not recommended. Green Lakes, Moraine Lake, South Sister, Todd Lake and Broken Top trails are not ready for hikers due to snow and fallen trees that will not be cleared until after the snow melts.
Sunday marks the official day the dog-leash regulations go into effect on those trails — so be sure to leash your dogs if you take them there when the trails melt out. Dogs are allowed off-leash in those areas only for water play.
The “wavering” snow line is around 5,700-6,200 feet within the wilderness areas, Sabo said. He suggests planning your hiking routes around elevations. “Folks can look at their maps ... for an idea of where they’re going to start encountering snow.”
Snowy and patchy trails are vulnerable to erosion impacts, so “some more patience” will be necessary “to avoid impacting trails needlessly,” Sabo said. Hikers should also be aware of the hazards of softening and mushy areas of snow which can cause postholing and personal injury.
The good news is that more trails are becoming snow-free in the midelevation zone, Sabo said.
Newberry Crater is 95 percent snow-free, with “pretty much just patchy snow at the highest elevations,” and is a good spot to hang out in the high country, Sabo said.
Paulina Peak Road is open to vehicle traffic, though it is restricted to vehicles longer than 25 feet.
Other roads that are now accessible include the roads to the Irish and Taylor lakes area and the road to Summit Lake, both of which are recommended for four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles only. Road access for the Windigo Pass is now open; the road is rough but passable by a two-wheel drive vehicle, Sabo said.
In general, low-elevation trails are in good condition. Volunteer crews are clearing fallen trees from trails as they are able.
Diamond Peak Wilderness Area is improving. The trails are melting out and show very limited numbers of fallen trees.
Canyon Creek Meadow is not accessible yet due to substantial numbers of fallen trees on the loop and snow in the canyon. The trail is impassible to stock and hazardous for most users, Sabo said.
There are high numbers of fallen trees in beetle and fire kill areas this year, particularly in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area. Trees in those areas are still falling readily, Sabo said. It is important to stay aware of your surroundings, especially since thunderstorms are in the forecast for the weekend and often come with gusts of wind; even mild wind can topple a damaged tree.
Some trails in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area that are not advisable to attempt due to heavy brush, substantial erosion, post-fire damage and large numbers of fallen trees include the Jefferson Lake, Sugar Pine Ridge, Brush Creek and Minto Lake trails. These trails are effectively blocked, Sabo said, and hikers are likely to lose the trail.
Even when choosing a trail that is reported to be in good condition, it is important to consider your survival skills and supplies and go prepared. “Always ask yourself: Am I prepared to do that? Do I have enough supplies to make it the night?” Sabo said. “You never know what conditions you may encounter out there ... that may put you into a difficult predicament.”
For more information on preparedness and current trail conditions, check the Deschutes National Forest website: www.fs.usda.gov/central oregon. Look for the link at right called Current Conditions.
Prepare also for noticeably “friendly and passionate mosquitoes” on the trails, Sabo said — the kind that “just love to dine on warm-blooded animals, like humans.”
Be sure to check bulletin boards at trailheads for wilderness permits (required, free and self-issuing) and for any posted restrictions.