Hiking & Photographing Dutch Flat Lake
Today I am going to write about hiking & photographing at Dutch Flat Lake. Of course, you know that I love photography, but I also love hiking and backpacking. Fortunately, both endeavors go hand in hand. Although… I will admit there are other reasons to visit Dutch Flat Lake. The high mountain lake fishing is also great… just ask my husband, Dan. He thoroughly enjoyed the fishing & we had fresh brook trout for dinner every night. Yum!
Located in the Elkhorn Mountains of Eastern Oregon, Dutch Flat Lake and is an excellent weekend destination. It is perfect for backpacking or a beautiful day hike. The trailheads are approximately a 45-minute drive from either Baker City or La Grande Oregon. Dutch Flat Lake is not far at all from Anthony Lake so if you are in the region for a few days, it’s very easy to do both.
Our plan was to hike the entire length of the Elkhorn Crest Trail from Anthony Lake to Marble Creek Pass. It was the long 4th of July weekend & we had 4 days set aside. Our backpacks were all packed, unpacked & packed again… don’t know why we do that but we always do.
The Hike Begins
We started our hike on the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead near the Anthony Lakes Campground. This is one of my favorite hikes & I believe this part of the Elkhorn Crest Trail is the most beautiful. However, I knew that the snowpack had been deeper and the snowmelt had been slower this year… I expected to run into sections of the trail that would be covered by lingering snow fields.
We started hiking around noon. The trail to Dutch Flat Lake was only 4 miles, so I knew we had plenty of time. However, as the afternoon rolled on, storm clouds began to build and I could sense a storm coming, even though the weather report reported a 0% chance of rain…. typical mountain weather! We could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance and knew it was getting closer & closer. Before long, lightning was cracking all around us and it began to rain & hail. We took temporary shelter under a tree, making use of the time to eat a trail snack and pull our rain gear out of our backpacks.
Thankfully, the cloud the moved off just about as fast as it came. We climbed out and resumed the trail. At the pass between Antone Creek and Crawfish Basin, we encountered the remains of a snowdrift. The wind had whipped the snow into a large wave. Melting had really emphasized the bottom part of the wave leaving an overhang of snow, requiring a bit of effort to climb over. We had to remove our packs and jab our toes into the snow to create almost a step ladder like path up the drift. Then we passed the packs up by hand. We had to lift poor Ruby up by the handle on her new doggie backpack.
Ruby, the Photog Dog, Goes Backpacking
Oh, I did not mention Ruby’s new pack. Dan & I decided that if she was going backpacking, she had to carry her own food. We heard a story about a hot and tired dog jumping into a lake to go swimming with its pack on before the owner had a chance to remove the pack. As the food inside the dog’s pack got wet & heavy, the excess weight nearly pulled the dog under. Thankfully, the dog’s owner jumped in and rescued the dog and all ended well… but I learned a valuable lesson from that story… pack Ruby’s food in zip lock bags! Fortunately, Ruby minds well and we were always able to get her pack off before swimming, although she still managed to get it quite dirty.
On To Dutch Flat Summit
We had approximately 1 mile to go to reach our turn off at Dutch Flat Summit. Our original plan was to spend our first night at Dutch Flat Lake then move on to a new camping spot the next day. When we saw that the next section of the Elkhorn Crest Trail was still completely covered in snow, we quickly changed our plans and chose to linger and relax at Dutch Flat Lake instead. Not a bad choice at all for a Plan B.
As we turned off the Elkhorn Crest onto the Dutch Flat Trail, the sun was dropping in the sky. Twilight was not far off. Thankfully, the lake was only 1 mile further. It was nearly dark by the time we reached Dutch Flat Lake. We located a beautiful campsite with a great view of the lake and a nice granite face beyond. We set up camp and settled in for the night.
The storms had passed and the skies were all clear by morning. It was a beautiful crispy blue-sky day. After breakfast, Dan went fishing and I went scouting for my shooting locations. My eyes almost immediately fell upon an old bleached log in the water. It made a great leading line pointing right to a granite mountain in the background. That was it! I had found my first shot. I shot off a few test shots, working on my composition. Now all I had to do was wait until twilight. Hopefully, a few clouds would come our way and provide a nice sunset. If not, I knew that the Moon & stars would be out later too.
Warning! The Rant Begins…
I cannot believe what happened between then and sunset. A young couple also hiked up to the lake. They decided to go swimming right at the spot I had planned to shoot. No problem, surely they would be gone by sunset. Well, the man, for some unknown reason decides to move the log. What!? I can’t imagine why he did that. It had obviously been there for many years, you could even see the log on the Google maps. But that’s exactly what he did. He twisted it so the rotten side was up and moved it to a position out in the lake where he gave up and left the log.
It didn’t totally ruin my composition, but it certainly made it less attractive. When they sat on the shoreline to dry off, they kicked their feet and totally uprooted about 6 square feet of beautiful wildflowers, leaving them in a torn out wilted heap, dead all of them.
I don’t believe the people were mean spirited, merely ignorant. I can’t believe the destruction to the natural beauty they did in only an hour’s time. My biggest regret is that I didn’t see what was going on while it was happening. I missed my opportunity to say something to them about leaving it as it was for others to enjoy. That was the dark spot of the trip… leaving me disappointed in the carelessness of some people. I would like to think that people who go to the trouble to get to such a beautiful place would also be the ones who know how to respect it.
Day Three – The Hike Out
One of the last things on my list was to get up early and take some shots for a time-lapse. I set up my camera to run for 18 minutes; grabbing 380 consecutive shots, each shot 5 seconds apart. I got the shots, but I still have to find a good way to put them together. I know how to do a short time-lapse in Photoshop, but you cannot open 380 images at once… didn’t know that before. I will be looking at some new programs to assemble the shots, even yet another opportunity to learn something new.
I had my time-lapse shots so it was time to head back to camp, have breakfast and begin packing up. We decided to ‘see some country’, and hike out the lower Dutch Flat Trail. It’s 9 miles but all downhill. The first section of the trail traversed an open hillside. This is also the part of the trail that has a few switchbacks.
Apparently, this trail has seen little, if any maintenance for a long time, especially on the upper end. Multiple trees have fallen over the trail, each one had to be overcome by going over, under or around… sometimes it was rather challenging! After the first mile or two, the trail dropped down into the draw where it was shady and much cooler. Much of the trail ran along side Dutch Flat Creek, giving us an opportunity to stop and cool our feet in the water while having a nice lunch.
Nine Miles is Nine Miles… Even if it is Downhill!
Soon Dan was saying, “Only a mile more.”
A little while later… “Only a mile more.” He said again.
I think he said that very same thing at least 3 or 4 times. Although I must agree, it felt like we hiked a hundred miles and surely the trailhead couldn’t be much further? The true last mile or so crossed a beautiful steep hillside, covered in tall green grass and bluish purple lupines in full bloom. It was like the parting gift from Mother Nature.
At long last, we spotted the lower Dutch Flat Trailhead #1607 and our son, Jace, who was so kind as to come pick us up!
I should mention that over the course of the nine miles from the Dutch Flat Trailhead to Dutch Flat Lake, the elevation gain is 2313 ft. If you hike to Dutch Flat Lake from the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead, the total elevation gain is only about 976 ft. which makes for less elevation gain and a hike that is less than half the distance of the hike in from the lower trailhead.
If you have any thoughts, questions or comments on this article, please feel free to comment below. If you know someone who you think might also enjoy this article, sharing is encouraged & appreciated!
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Waypoints Along the Trail:
- Elkhorn Crest Trailhead #1611 – N44° 57.778′ W118° 13.491’
- Dutch Flat Summit – N44° 55.784′ W118° 13.597’
- Dutch Flat Lake – N44° 55.813′ W118° 13.201′
- Dutch Flat Trailhead #1607 – N44° 57.750′ W118° 07.035′