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MARCH/APRIL 2022,
OUR 26TH YEAR
 
 
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ALMOST THE SEASON FOR SKITTERS
  Visiting the 'Grand Central Station' of Mosquitoes
 
 
Story and Photos by Lee Juillerat
 

It’s almost the season for hiking and backpacking. And, uh-oh, mosquitoes.

Around many areas of the Pacific Northwest early season hiking also means getting drilled by ravenous, blood-sucking mosquitoes. Depending on your location and the time of year, the hungry little buzz-ards enjoy feasting on arms, legs, necks or any part of a body that’s exposed.

“all is dead/but for the mosquitoes/singing/their blood cold,” Thabo Jijana.

Mount Thielsen from the Maidu Lake area
Mount Thielsen from the Maidu Lake area

Each year, as spring nears, friends and I make plans for hikes and multi-day backpacking trips. And, because my home is Southern Oregon, an array of choices is possible, including the many miles of the Cascades, including hikes on and near the Pacific Crest Trail and at less traveled destinations like Hart Mountain and Steens Mountain in Eastern Oregon’s High Desert.

Crossing a footbridge alongside Miller Lake
Crossing a footbridge alongside Miller Lake

Last year, an early spring backpack trip led me and a trio of friends to a place I hadn’t seen, Maidu Lake, just off the Pacific Crest Trail between Klamath Falls and Bend on the east side of the Cascades, just north of Crater Lake National Park. We went in early summer, late enough that the snow had melted and, we hoped, early enough that the ferocious hatch of mosquitos hadn’t yet happened. The snow was gone but, darn, the skitters were alive and hungry.

“Maidu Lake, as far as I can tell, is the Grand Central Station of mosquitoes in the Cascades” Zach Urness

That first night at Maidu Lake our foursome retreated about 7:30, long before sunset. Why? Because as the welcoming breeze faded, some silent hordes of mosquitoes flew kamikaze-style around our heads and faces while others quietly drilled their needle-like proboscises into exposed skin. The swarms were intense, but we mostly kept them from getting too intense inside our tents.

“I hate mosquitoes … I mean I know I’m delicious, but damn!”

Mosquitoes, for sure, are an annoyance but not a deterrent. Once settled inside and safe, other sounds of nature, those of croaking frogs - or were they toads? - penetrated the calm. Sometimes they sang/croaked in a chorus of blended harmonies. More often it was an abrupt cacophony of competing, out-of-sync deep-throated belches. And at other times a single croaker expelled elongated, low-pitched guttural groanings. And when it stopped, the silence was deafening.

Frog hiding in Maidu lake
Frog hiding in the lake

Mornings inside our tents were brightened with the wake-up sounds of nature. Before the sky lightened, we heard the thrilling, trilling melodies of unseen song birds. Then, as the sun slowly rose, more sounds resonated – the hard edged “caws!” of crows, the deep-pitched screeches of who-knows-what, and the rat-a-tat hammerings of woodpeckers.

View of Mount Thielsen from the tent
View of Mount Thielsen from the tent


“If you stay long enough in paradise you’re bound to get bitten by mosquitoes,” Bert McCoy

As we left our tents that first morning, it quickly dawned on us that being outside required liberal coatings of mosquito repellent. The critters were annoying, but mostly controllable. But not on the second morning – they were voracious. One companion, Sharon Leedham, complained about skitters in her cereal. “They’re hungry,” agreed Diane Miller. But Cheryl Brown was prepared. After gobbling her breakfast, Cheryl fashionably covered her head and shoulders with a meshing curtain of mosquito netting.

Cheryl Brown with her head mosquito net
Cheryl Brown with her head net

“You do not respond to a mosquito bite with a hammer,” PLO Lumunba

But let’s backup a day. The hike to Maidu from Miller Lake was delightful. The first mile of trail ambles along the shores of beautiful Miller Lake, known for its usual swarms of skitters but over this long weekend, the Miller Lake area was amazingly bug-free.

Young swimmers enjoying Miller Lake
Young swimmers enjoying Miller Lake

We knew that we’d have to tangle with mosquitoes, which are notorious in Southern Oregon’s Cascades from June into early August. But, skitters be damned, and as I said, we wanted to keep alive this previously-planned three-day, two-night backpack to Maidu Lake. Reaching Maidu requires a four-plus-mile hike from the Digit Point Campground at Miller Lake, 12 bumpy unpaved miles off Highway 97 just north of Chemult.

  Trail sign to Maidu Lake   Looking back at Miller Lake  
 
Trail sign Maidu Lake
 
Looking back at Miller Lake
 

Hiking through the dense Mount Thielsen Wilderness
Hiking through the dense forest to Maidu Lake

Not so bumpy farther up the trail. And what a beautiful trail it is. Our hike to Maidu included footbridges that crossed a series of bubbly lake-feeding creeks. Just steps past the Evening Creek bridge we reached a junction where the Miller Lake Trail continues its five-mile loop circuit. Instead, we followed the fork that quickly entered the Mount Thielsen Wilderness. We passed through lush stands of mixed conifers as we climbed to an intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. We crossed the PCTrail, continuing west downhill for nearly a mile through stands of lodgepole pine to Maidu Lake.

Maidu Lake
First glance at Maidu Lake

I’d heard and read about Maidu for years, but I’d never been there. It won’t take much urging to lure me there again. Maidu is beautiful 20-acre lake encircled by trees. Two backpackers, the only other people we saw during our three days, were camped where the trail meets the lake, a place with stunning, expansive sights of semi-snow-covered Cascades peaks.

The North Umpqua River’s marshy headwaters
The North Umpqua River’s marshy headwaters

We hiked east, making camp where the trail circling the lake meets the North Umpqua Trail. Maidu is the source of North Umpqua River. But at the outlet where Maidu feeds the river, it seems impossible that the trickle of water that filters through a marshy area is the headwaters of a 110-mile river, one that eventually merges with the South Umpqua on its journey to the Pacific Ocean.

  Watching the Maidu Lake shadows   We set up tents and picked a lakeside cooking-eating spot. The choice proved prophetic, providing views of ducks performing all sorts of shenanigans – zooming in pairs like fighter jets on reconnaissance missions, sometimes belching quacks that echoed across the lake. Twosomes paddled side-by-side or merged to flotillas of four or five and, appropriately, ducked underwater seeking snacks. Close to shore, eyes of curious frogs watched us from the weeds. A snake slithered past. And, of course, we felt more than saw the ever-present mosquitoes.  
 
Watching the Maidu Lake shadows
     

“Man, they got mosquitoes ‘round this place big enough to rape a chicken,” Elizabeth Gilbert

The mosquitoes proved to be motivators. The first morning they spurred us to leave camp and head down the North Umpqua Trail. A detour took us to nearby Lucile Lake, Maidu’s beautiful little sister. The second morning, with the air hmmmmming with skitters, they hastened our return back to Miller Lake.

“If only mosquitoes sucked fat instead of blood,” unattributed

  Flowers along the North Umpqua Trail   A small feeder stream of the North Umqua River  
 
Flowers along the North Umpqua Trail
 
A small feeder stream
 
         
  Spongy marsh along the North Umpqua Trail   Mushrooms along the North Umpqua Trail  
 
Spongy marsh along the trail
 
Mushrooms
 

The hike along the North Umpqua Trail was enticing, but challenging. We had encountered a few fallen trees on the hike from Miller Lake to Maidu. But from Lucile on, past where the forest boundary changes from the Fremont-Winema to the Umpqua National Forest, we faced dozens of obstacles - trees we had to climb over, detour around or even slither under. The rewards were bucolic places where bridges crossed over lush, often mossy creeks that flow to the unseen North Umpqua.

Beauty along the North Umpqua Trail
Beauty along the North Umpqua Trail 

After lunch we retraced our steps back to Maidu to enjoy mid-afternoon sightings of elusive frogs and snakes and showing-their-stuff cavorting ducks. By now, warming temperatures seemed to quell the – we hoped – napping skitters.

“I noticed, as I had done before, that there was a lull among the mosquitoes about midnight and that they began again in the morning. Nature is thus merciful. Apparently, they need rest as well as we do,” Henry David Thoreau

  Mosquito biting arm   Mosquito biting  
 
Mosquitos at work
 
 
Photo by Jimmy Chan/Pexels
 
Photo by Ravi Kant/Pexels
 

As the mosquitoes reminded us, nothing in nature is perfect. But, as the overriding beauty and experiences proved, everything in nature is perfect. A lesson learned but often forgotten, or more accurately ignored, is that in many areas of the Pacific Northwest the skitter swarms of early summer disappear in the heat of summer.

“Early in August, Lan came and found me down at the creek. It was a Sunday afternoon and so hot that even the mosquitoes were drowsing instead of biting people,” Patricia C. Wrede.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance and, in their prime season, far worse. And far more hungry for blood.

Mosquitoes were using my ankles as filling stations”

Looking back on Cascades peaks
Looking back on Cascades peaks

Oh, well, this spring and summer I’ll again relearn another mosquito truism - If we walk in the woods, we must feed the mosquitoes.

About the Author

  Lee Juillerat is a semi-retired reporter-photographer who lives in Southern Oregon and is a frequent contributor to several magazines and other publications. He has written and co-authored books about various topics, most recently "Ranchers and Ranching: Cowboy Country Yesterday and Today.” Lee has produced photo-stories about U.S. and worldwide travels for High On Adventure for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net.   Lee Juillerat