Photograph Memories – Donaca Lake

This year I have a goal to become a better writer and publish more of my stories.  For years I have hidden my stories in a black leather bound journal.  Hidden from others to enjoy. Hidden from me to learn from.  With that said, I will be the first to admit that some of those stories should remain hidden, but some, many actually, should be made public for others to enjoy.  So in honor of my goal and as one of the steps to becoming a better writer I am going to attempt to publish two stories (blogs) a month.  This entry is the second for January (yeah, mission accomplished for January).  The first was submitted a few weeks ago and can be found here.   This entry is actually an assignment for a course I am taking online, Writing Creative Non-Fiction from The Great Courses.  I cannot promise greatness or writing prowess in these stories.  They are stories about me and my adventures.  So please travel along with me and my companions and enjoy the ride.

It was late summer/early fall and the weather in the Cascade foothills had already started to turn, even though the trees still held their flavorful lush green color.  It was the time of season when the lower vegetation was laden by dew covered leaves.  The air was crisp but not cold.  The sun was shining but not producing summer heat and there I was resting on the tailgate of an SUV with two of my favorite companions who like the White Chevy S10 Blazer are now also resting in a forever sleep.  Nate on my left and Riley on my right as they often were on and off the trail, forever the companions.

As I stare into the photograph of the dogs and I after our hike (An original selfie except this time a tripod mounted Nikon D40 on a timer instead of a stick mounted hand propelled iPhone); I am swept into the memories of that day and many other trips that these two have accompanied me on.  Maybe it was I accompanying them.

On September 8th, 2008 we set out early morning to discover a lake known as Donaca.  For those who are not aware of Donaca lake it is located in the Middle Santiam Wilderness deep in the heart of the Old Growth section.  This area is know for it’s immense Douglas Fir, Hemlock and Red Cedar, which really was my reason for going.  To stand amidst Giants and get lost in their silence.

Our trip took the Chimney Peak route and even 8 1/2 years after the event I can remember the day vividly.  The plan was take the Chimney Peak trail and then fork off to Donaca lake, about 6.3 miles one way.  Explore Donaca lake a bit and then head back.  All and all a 12 – 13 mile day.

We started on a well-marked trail with Riley taking point and Nate taking his point off my left heel.  He had grown accustom to sticking to my left heel ever since he started to lose his eyesight a few years prior.  Whether it be on a run, on a hike or just meandering around he could be found just behind my left side, eagerly trotting along the beaten path (but more about Nate the wonder Lab later).  Riley on the other hand was still very much a pup (2 years of age at this time), rambunctious and playful as most were.  He was always over anxious and tenacious as most Poodles can be, it really was the Labrador side of him that balanced his personality out.  There we were;the 3 adventurers, off for our day of solitude and revitalization in the Middle Santiam Cascade Wilderness.

About a mile into the trail we hit a stand of new growth trees that pretty much had over taken the trail.  They were not much taller than my own six foot and at some time in their life they would not be as overbearing on the trail as they currently were but as most adolescences they were making their presence known and proud of it.  Bright Chartreuse in color and full of morning dew.  In we went and dew covered we became.  As blazied our way through the drive through car wash like environment, almost losing the trail at times and then stumbling on it again my clothes and the dogs coats had taken on a significant amounts of water.  Dampness had turned to wet and wet could only be used as another word for soaked.  I could only hope for an air dryer effect at the end of this section like a car as it emerges from a car wash..

We did eventually emerge from the denseness and unfortunately the end did not provide the insta-dry cannons, instead we were greeted with the majesty of the old growth.  As we continued our journey our landscape was transformed before our eyes and our wetness was quickly forgotten.  The trees were tall, very tall, like skyscrapers reaching for the sky and providing a canopy of deep green foliage.  Very unlike the chartreuse green of their offspring that we were just assaulted by.  Instead this forest was stoic.  The lowest branches were far beyond reach of even the tallest of individuals.  The path ahead was open and clear and ground was covered with Oregon Grape, Trillium (although not blooming), and Wood Sorrel.  The trail was clearly visible.  Moss and Lichen covered the trees and both standing and fallen much like wrinkles and grey cover the skin of the experienced and aged.  The image was only that out of an old world fantasy movie and was the main reason for our trip.  With each and every breath I was inspired and intimidated by these immense giants and their surroundings.

About half way through the land of the giants we encountered a road block.  One much larger than I expected.  Let me explain.  Given the fact that at this time in my life I was often accompanied with two four legged animals that require water.  Also given I don’t want to have to carry thus said water so I try to pick trails that will have water provided.  So in my research of this trial I discovered that there are multiple creeks along this hike.  This is fantastic news, except that what we encountered was not what I was prepared for.  Instead of a creek that we could easily jump across or ford we were faced with a raging creek that at best guess was waist deep, possibly deeper.  To add to the dilemma the trail on either side of the creek dropped about 10 feet before the water started.  Yep we (“I”) had a decision to make, turn back or ford on.  Well as you might of guessed I (“We”) forded on.

We did divert from the trail a bit, instead of fording at the point of the trail I choose to hike up stream about 100 yards from the trail point where the creek was wider but there was a pool so the current would not be as swift.  I buckled the dogs to their harnesses and then to my pack.  Picked my pack up over my head and in we went.  Fortunately for me the deepest point of the creek was about to my armpits.  Sometimes I really wish I was a dog because for them it was easy, just paddle and follow.  For me on the other hand I slowly stepped from rock to rock as as the currently gradually pushed us down stream.  About 25 feet later and 50 yards down stream we emerged from the depths to safety.

Safely to the other side we all shook off, yep all three us in similar fashion starting from our heads and working to our bottoms we swaggered the water off as much as we could.  I assume it was quite the scene for the innocent bystander.  A middle aged man and two dogs shaking randomly but in unison.  Once complete staring at each other with similar grins on their faces.

After we had gathered ourselves we were off again.  By my calculations we had about a mile or may more before we got to the lake.

Arriving at the lake we were not disappointed, although not large it was a great half way point.  A small camp ground sit amidst the shore.  I happily took advantage of this find and made lunch and a hot pot of coffee.  We sat on the shore and admired the cutthroat trout jumping for food and the surrounding scenery.   Well I should say as I sat on the shore and the dogs swam.  Like I am going to keep a Lab and a Labradoodle out of water.  Donaca lake certainly is a prize of the forest and a great base camp that I will use some day when I finally summit Chimney Peak.  It was a place that you could spend the afternoon or a few days at.  During our time there (a few hours) we were not visited by any other hikers.  Pure solitude.

Donaca Lake  
Area: Middle Santiam Wilderness
Size: 3 Acres
Depth: 41 Feet
Elevation: 2700 Feet
Elevation_Gain: -1400
Snow_Free: Apr 06
Camp_Sites: ?
Trail: Gordan Peak and Chimney Peak Trails
Misc: Named after Lebanon merchant W.B.Donaca who came to Oregon in 1852.
Difficulty: experienced only
Notes: Using the Gordan Peak Trailhead is also the shortest route to hike up to Scar Mountian.
Trail_Number: 3387 & 3382
Route: from highway 22 take National Forest Road 11 and 1152 to Gordan Peak Trailhead
TH_Access: May 24
TH_elevation: 4100
Distance: 4.8
Features: solitude
USGS_15: Detroit
USGS_75: Chimney Peak
Reference: Guide to the Middle & South Santiam Roadless Areas/ Exploring Oregon’s Wild Areas/ Oregon Geographic Names / Complete Angle’s Guide to Oregon by Shewey

From <>

GPS Location Provided from Mapcarta:

The trip back was fairly uneventful.  We followed the same path as we took out except this time we were prepared for our encounters.  The day was fantastic.  All in all one of the more memorable adventures that I have had with my furry four legged friends and one that I will never forget.


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