Vulcan Lake a Kalmiopsis Wilderness gem near coast
Vulcan Lake is encased by clouds and fog during a drizzly backpacking trip to the western edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness earlier this summer.

On the far west side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Vulcan Lake is a wonderful and odd destination. My trip there involved being stuck in a rain cloud for much of the trip.

Here’s a photo gallery of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and here’s a video.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

I had hiked to the 4,000-foot peak of Moore's Ridge on the far west side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness when I saw it for the first time. A long stream of low-lying rainclouds were rolling in from the northwest, twisting and churning through the mountains like a wide, white river.

This was not an encouraging start to the trip.

The morning sky grew darker and darker as I hiked downhill toward Vulcan Lake when a thin, creamy mist began spilling down the surrounding cliffs and spreading into the valley the way smoke fills a house.

Everything in its path the mountains, trees and sky vanished behind a wall of fog that crept through the woods at a calm, inevitable pace.

Soon I came face to face with the deep white emptiness. I stopped for a moment, stepped forward, and felt the entire world turn milky white.

For the better part of two days, I lived in this alien world of pale twilight.

There was a constant drizzle, and it was always cold and quiet.

I arrived at Vulcan Lake later in the day. I only knew I had reached my destination because I could hear the lap of water on the shore. I couldn't see the lake. Not the water. Not the shoreline. Nothing. It was all shrouded in empty whiteness.

I hiked around the "invisible" lake and eventually found a flat spot for my tent on the red clay of the shoreline. The clay was wet. My gear was wet. All my clothes were wet. But at least the tent was a space not consumed by wet fog. It was my dry haven.

Later that night, a strong wind briefly blew the mist off Vulcan Lake, and I had a fleeting view of the Siskiyou Mountain lake.

The water was emerald glass. The shoreline was burnt orange serpentine bedrock. Gnarled black trees dotted the red desert landscape that recently was ravaged by wildfire.

Then the clouds returned. Small tufts of fog drifted like tumbleweeds across the gemstone water. Milky white mist slowly wrapped its blanket around the lake from the tops and sides. And then it vanished again.

o o o

Vulcan Lake is easily the farthest Siskiyou Mountain lake from Grants Pass that I've explored this summer. You have to drive all the way to Brookings and then follow the Chetco River into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness' far west side to find the trailhead.

The change in landscape is striking.

You go from the lush greenery of the coast to the dry desolation of the Siskiyous in one quick swoop.

The trail is not overly difficult. It's just a three-mile round trip to reach the lake, though it does climb 600 feet up to a mountain saddle and then back down.

There is a variety of plants located here including Sadler oak, manzanita, Jeffrey pine and azaleas. Vulcan Lake is about 30 feet deep and home to a few cutthroat trout.

Just about two-tenths of a mile to the northwest of Vulcan Lake is the smaller Lisa Lake.

One trail running north of Vulcan Lake leads past Gardner Mine and roughly 3.5 miles away is tiny Salamander Lake.

There also is a trail to Vulcan Peak which hangs over Vulcan Lake that can be reached by a steep one-mile trek to a lookout. To find the Vulcan Peak trail, simply follow pointers to the right when you're driving toward Vulcan Lake.

o o o

Life inside a rain cloud isn't all it's cracked up to be.

There are the ever-present wetness and cold breeze, but more than anything else, it's really boring.

Because you can't see anything, it's not a particularly bright idea to go exploring. And fishing is nearly impossible when you can't see the lake.

I got so bored at one point that I climbed back up the trail, skipped over to the highest mountain peak, found cell phone service and called for the next day's weather report.

When I returned to my campsite, I finally decided to try swimming in the invisible lake. I wrote in the first edition of these Siskiyou Mountain lake stories that I'd swim in every lake I explored this summer. And just because the lake in question was covered by impenetrable mist doesn't mean I could just back out from that promise.

I gingerly made my way down the rock shoreline, found the edge of the water and splashed into the lake.

After a few strokes the shoreline completely disappeared, and I was totally surrounded by an empty wall of white nothingness. The Loch Ness Monster could have been just a few feet away and I wouldn't have known.

The experience reminded me of what it would be like to swim in a steam room, right down to the warmth of the water.

The night brought heavy, consistent rain. I spent most of the time reading in the mostly dry paradise of my tent and listening to the plop plop plopping sounds of raindrops on the nylon walls.

In the morning I opened my tent to the familiar sight of foggy nothingness. I waited until around 1 p.m. before I packed up my gear and headed back up the trail toward my car.

At the saddle in the mountain, at around 4,000 feet, I could just see a section of the mountain Moore's Ridge officially sticking up through the the layer of fog.

I put down my pack, and as I scrambled up I felt the warm touch of the sun on my neck. I hiked higher up the ridge and was finally able to look out into clear air. Below me was the same wide, white river twisting itself around the mountains that I'd watched flood the valley around Vulcan Lake the day before.

It was peaceful back to be back in the land of the living.


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