Hiking up South Fork Mountain was an experience in which I encountered two firsts: 1) It was the first time I ever traversed an “unmaintained trail” (as it was from Memaloose Lake to the South Fork Mountain summit), and 2) The first time on all of my treks thus far this year in which I did not encounter a single soul, from the trailhead and back. I was the only car there when I arrived and the only car when I returned. It was as eerie as it was peaceful.
My lone, trusty steed Sylvia at the trailhead. She’s a city car that I’ve molded into a backcountry beast.
The drive to the trail itself was an experience in itself. The final road to the trailhead, Memaloose Road, is a 12 mile exercise in patience and caution. This road is extremely narrow and curvy, many points in which you can’t see further than immediately in front of your car as you navigate some of the sharpest turns. I spent the entire 12 miles worrying whether or not another car was going to come down in the opposite direction, and how in the world we were going to navigate around each other (which is almost impossible, as there is a mountain wall on one side of the shoulder, and a steep drop off on the other side). Fortunately, no cars came down and my worry never came to fruition.
Once at the Memaloose Lake trailhead, you will immediately begin your ascent to Memaloose Lake, switchbacking about half the way up to the lake for about a mile and a half. Memaloose Lake itself is very idyllic, small, and free of frills such as benches, picnic areas, or a dock. It’s almost refreshingly untouched aside from one or two fire pits at the fork heading up to South Fork Mountain. My trailbook says this is the perfect swimming spot for summer, and I believe it, though I didn’t walk around it to find an opening where people could easily get in and out of the lake.
Autumn at Memaloose Lake. I love that burst of color amidst the green!
To make the ascent to South Fork Mountain, take the trail to your right. After crossing a creek and making your way through the forest, you’ll soon come to the sign designating the South Fork Mountain trail, with the disclaimer that it is an unmaintained trail. The good news is, 95% of the trail is visible and easy to follow. The bad news is, you’re going to be climbing over a lot of downed trees that, because the trail isn’t maintained, have been left there in the middle of the trail in nearly a dozen or so places. There was only one spot in which the trail got a little dodgy and vague, but some kind soul marked this section of trail in two places with neon pink ribbon indicating the right path to follow.
The summit of South Fork Mountain itself is… rather anti-climactic. It turns out you can actually drive up there, and it shows, as evidenced by all the tire tracks, a beer can laden fire pit, and a good deal of other miscellaneous discarded trash. However, there are some really great spots in which you can peek out to see some mountain views, including Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.
The always photogenic Mt. Hood.
I was just slightly too short to get more than a couple of good shots, but I imagine in winter after the leaves have fallen off the trees here, the look outs are better. As this is an out and back (or rather, up and down) hike, you’ll then turn around and go back the exact route in which you ascended back to the parking area.
Treks Down: 31, Treks to Go: 21