Time had taken it's toll on the Northwestern Road. Faith, Bryan and I bounced up and down in the Jeep heading east from Big Erick's Road through large potholes and deep ruts. I had driven on this road only a few years ago in my Ford Taurus, but there was no way I would risk a car on it today. We finally pulled up to an overgrown two-track about a mile past Cedar Creek in the thick wooded valley between the northern Yellow Dog Plains and Huron Mountains.
Rain had dampened the vegetation along the path and all three of us were soaked after a short distance on the two-track. We were on our way north to the fringe of the Huron Mountain Club's southern boundary, using a maze of logging roads along the way. The first road we were on had not been used for years, but we were surprised to stumble upon a fully active logging operation up ahead.
After walking down the wide, sandy road past numerous stacks of logs we cut off to the left. If I had known about the active logging operation we probably could have driven in most of the way. After several miles we veered off of the road, wandering through an old cedar and pine forest. A short sidetrack up a small rocky outcropping gave us some views of Burnt Mountain ahead.
Our first destination was Canyon Lake, a small, permanently stratified body of water nestled between Burnt Mountain and the southern spines of Mount Homer. Also known as a meromictic lake, it's deep waters and limited wind exposure prevent usual spring turnover, creating a lower layer of anoxic water that hasn't moved in centuries. Getting there from our cedar forest was not easy, though. We hacked through thick swamps, crept over a deep and mucky tributary of Elm Creek, and pushed our way through deep undergrowth. By the time we reached a small, well-trod path leading to the lake we were feeling a bit tired. An unwelcome sign popped up several dozen yards from the lakeshore - Huron Mountain Club private property.
None of us were ready to turn around and give up after the last mile. We turned away from the trail and headed southwest, away from their property, along the shoreline. After a bit of nasty swamp and a few views of the gorgeous Canyon Lake from the western shoreline we started climbing up the northern slope of Burnt Mountain. The woods here were old and mossy but not quite as scenic as the forest we had left a few miles back. I wasn't sure if there were any rocky outcroppings ahead but I hoped to find a good northern view of Mountain Lake.
We headed west, finding a few minor views of Mountain Lake through the trees, before giving up and cutting back south. The mountain's peak did give us some southern views of tree-covered hills but none of the north or west views I had been hoping for. We soon found ourselves on another two-track, this one leading around much of the nasty swamp we had crossed on our way in, and made good time heading back to the car.
Canyon Lake was definitely the highlight of this hike. The steep canyon walls and eery blue waters, combined with the natural permanent stratification, made this unique lake a neat area to check out. Burnt Mountain has too much vegetation to offer many good views and was more of an interesting side note than a solid destination. The hike was neat, but unless I planned on driving down the recent logging roads to cut the mileage down, I don't plan on tackling it again.