After spending the night in Pendleton we headed back to the same area in the Blue Mountains where we had hiked the day before on the Wenaha River Trail (post). We started our day at the Jubilee Lake Campground. (We had passed the entrance road the day before on our way to the Timothy Springs Trailhead.) An earlier version of this trip had us staying at the campground given the hike here and it’s proximity to the other two trails that made up the trip but sleeping in a comfy bed won out over a tent in a busy campground. After paying the $3 day use fee we parked near the boat ramp where the morning sunlight was just hitting the lake.
The Jubilee Lake Trail loops around the the lake and is one of two hikes Sullivan lists for hike #42 in his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” 3rd edition guidebook. He recommended hiking the loop counter-clockwise so we headed right from the boat ramp past a picnic area and onto a paved trail.
From the boat ramp the trail winds around the lake for three quarters of a mile to the lake’s dam which was built in 1968. We passed several picnic tables and viewpoints along this stretch.
The trail passed over the dam and continued on the far side switching from paved to dirt tread.
This squirrel was making an impressive amount of noise with its mouth full.
Passing around one of the lake’s arms.
One of several bridges over creeks.
There were several benches positioned along the trail. We got a kick out of this one which was right next to a nice view of the lake but it was facing directly into some trees.
The view next to the bench.
The view from the bench.
Going around another arm.
Forest as we neared the campground again.
Arriving back at the ramp.
The loop around the lake came in at just about three miles which we thought was a perfect distance for a hike around a lake. Longer loops around lakes often begin to feel repetitive but this one didn’t. We were also glad we stopped here first as there wasn’t anyone out on the lake while we hiked nor did we pass any other users on the trail (there were a couple of fishermen/hunters behind us at one point). From Jubilee Lake we then drove to our second stop at the Rough Fork Trailhead near Mottet Campground. The final 1.5 miles to this trailhead on FR 6043 were rough and probably only passable with a high clearance vehicle.
From the trailhead we followed a sign for the Rough Fork Trail.
The Rough Fork Trail descends nearly 1900′ in 3.3 miles. Twelve switchbacks allow the grade to never be too steep and there were nice views nearly all the way down to the South Fork Walla Walla River Trail.
The first part of the trail passed through a stand of trees.
View to the west along the South Fork Walla Walla River canyon.
Loved the top of this tree.
Another view, there was just a hint of smoke in the air giving the hillsides a blue tint which is where the name “Blue Mountains” comes from. Apparently smoke has been a common occurrence here for a long time.
There was a lot more Fall color along this trail.
Aster amid some thimbleberry leaves.
Looking down toward the Sheep Creek.
Finally found the river.
There was a 6 to 8′ waterfall along Sheep Creek but no way to get a clear view of it through the thick vegetation on a steep hillside.
As we neared the river the trail leveled out in a lusher forest.
Two types of clover.
Footbridge over the South Fork Walla Walla River.
There was a small campsite near the bridge where we took a break and watched an ouzel dip up and down on rocks in the river.
Reser Creek on the left joining the South Fork Walla Walla River just upstream from the bridge.
There was another small cascade on Sheep Creek near the river which I was able to reach with a little effort.
There were just enough exposed rocks for me to work my way downstream from the bridge to Sheep Creek.
After enjoying the river we headed back up having completed Sullivan’s suggested hike here. We could have continued two more miles downstream to Box Canyon but adding another four miles to our day didn’t seem necessary. The climb up wasn’t as bad as we’d feared. The grade along with a cooling breeze that would come and go helped immensely.
A couple of the larch trees were just starting to turn color for the fall.
A scarlet gilia blossom waiting to fall off.
A final view back over the canyon with the crooked tree.
The hike came in at the expected 6.6 miles giving us a total of 9.6 for the day.
We were done early enough to spend a relaxing afternoon in Pendleton where we discovered that a lot of the downtown restaurants were closed on Sundays. We wound up eating at Thai Crystal which turned out to be a good choice. These two hikes finished off Sullivan’s featured hikes in the northern Blue Mountains but that doesn’t mean we wont be back. There are more trails in the area and all our hikes there so far have been enjoyable. Happy Trails!
For the second year in a row our September vacation plans were disrupted by wildfires. The reality we are facing is that this may well be the norm now and maybe September isn’t the best time to try and take a hiking trip. We’d been avoiding October due to the erratic weather that time of year but it might be time to rethink that. Unlike last September when we scrapped our plans and just stayed home staying inside to avoid the smoke this year we had a viable back up plan. Our original plan was for a long weekend in Union Creek near Crater Lake National Park but that area seemed to be ground zero for unhealthy air quality so we canceled our reservations there and watched the weather and smoke forecast waiting until Friday to make our final decision. A favorable forecast put Pendleton as our first choice but according to the Forest Service website two of the three trails we planned on hiking were showing as closed. The entire Umatilla National Forest had been closed earlier this year due to wildfires but those were either out or mostly contained and the closure area had been greatly reduced. I reached out to the Forest Service and they confirmed that despite what the website said the trails we were planning on hiking were open.
It was a 5 to 5 1/2 hour drive from Salem to the Timothy Springs Trailhead for our first hike of the weekend on the Wenaha River Trail. We had hiked on this trail in 2019 but from the other end near Troy, OR (post). The trail is just under 31.5 miles long but for this hike we planned on following the trail downhill for 4.5 miles to Milk Creek which is Sullivan’s longer option for his featured hike #43 in the 3rd edition “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon”. We arrived to find the campground at the trailhead full of bow hunters which we had expected this time of year. We parked in a dirt area not far from the historic Timothy Springs Guard Station because the only spot open at the actual trailhead would have meant parking over grass which we didn’t want to do given the fire danger.
The guard station.
The only “parking spot” open near the actual trailhead.
The trail descended gradually through a the forest crossing a couple of small streams before reaching the South Fork Wenaha River at the 2.3 mile mark.
There was a lot of cone flower along the trail.
It had rained the night before but most of the moisture had already dried up or evaporated.
There were just a few flowers hanging on.
There was also a nice variety of mushrooms.
One of the small streams.
There weren’t many views along the trail but this one was nice.
This was one of the smallest frogs we’ve seen. When I first saw it jump I mistook it for a grasshopper.
A short distance before reaching the river we passed what Sullivan described as 6′ waterfall. There wasn’t much water flowing this time of year so we had to picture it mostly.
South Fork Wenaha River
The river was just wide enough and the logs wet enough that crossing dry wasn’t an option so we forded the river, it was maybe mid-calf at its deepest. A brief climb on the far side quickly put us above the river as the trail traversed a rock hillside.
The views were better along this section as it gradually descended to Milk Creek 2.2 miles beyond the South Fork Wenaha ford.
One of two snakes we came across, both the harmless types.
South Fork Wenaha River
Fall colors along the trail.
Milk Creek with the Wenaha River Trail continuing on the far side.
Milk Creek joining the South Fork Wenaha River.
Elderberry near Milk Creek
After a nice break at Milk Creek we began the 1300′ climb back to the trailhead. It was a fairly uneventful return trip but we managed to spot a few flowers and mushrooms along the way that we’d missed on our first pass.
Might be an aven?
A lone arnica still blooming.
This was a pleasant 9.1 mile hike and despite it being bow hunting season most of the hunters were already back in camp when we arrived so we only saw one group of three people the entire hike.
It was interesting to see the difference in the forest and terrain between the upper and lower ends of the Wenaha River Trail too. We then drove to Pendleton and after a little hiccup in our plans checked into a motel and then went to OMG! Burgers & Brew for dinner. Happy Trails!
For our third and final hike in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness we had originally planned on a 13.9 mile loop using the Buck Creek, Lake Creek, and Buck Mountain Trails. That plan had been scrapped due to the damage caused by the February 2020 flooding in the area which left the roads and trails damaged. We parked as we had the two previous days at a gate along Bingham Springs Road (NF-32). Unlike the previous two days though it had rained overnight and the clouds were still breaking up as we set off on the 1.4 mile road walk to the Buck Creek Trailhead
There were no masses of swallowtails along the road this morning (post) but we did see a merganser across the Umatilla where some of the butterflies had been.
While the first two hikes in this wilderness had been featured hikes in Sullivan’s guidebook the Buck Creek/Buck Mountain Trails were back of the book entries. The Forest Service again had listed them both as open but the latest update (late May 2021) indicated that only the first 2 miles of the Buck Creek Trail had been cleared since the flooding and just the first 1/2 mile of the Buck Mountain Trail had received any maintenance. We were prepared to turn around when the maintenance petered out on both of these trails and we decided to start with the Buck Mountain Trail since it was said to be steep. We figured climbing first thing in the morning was better than later in the day.
Buck Creek Trailhead
Buck Creek Trail straight ahead with the Buck Mountain Trail to the right. Notice that the Buck Mountain Trail didn’t receive a nice new sign. (Not pictured is the Ninemile Ridge Trail to the left.)
Just a few hundred feet down the Buck Mountain Trail we arrived at Buck Creek where there was no bridge nor any way to cross dry footed.
It would have been an easy enough ford but starting the morning of with soaked feet didn’t sound appealing to either of us, especially to simply climb for 1/2 a mile and turn around assuming no further maintenance had been done on the trail. Since we weren’t willing to get wet we decided to return to the trail junction and head up the Buck Creek Trail.
It didn’t take long to realize that fording the creek or not we were not going to have dry feet today. The Buck Creek Trail had been maintained but not brushed out. The overnight rain transferred easily from the vegetation to our clothing and soon not only were our feet wet but so were our pants and at least the lower half of our shirts.
Nice new wilderness sign along the trail.
Signs of the flooding.
Washed out section of trail.
Recent trail repair here.
Slugs didn’t mind the damp conditions.
We made it a little over 1.75 miles before stopping at a deep washout.
There was no visible tread entering or leaving this deep ditch and we had spent the previous tenth of a mile or so pushing our way through the wet vegetation so we assumed the maintenance hadn’t gotten any further. We turned back and did our best to pick up any water that we’d missed on the first pass.
Honeysuckle was everywhere in this wilderness, on all three hikes.
We took a short detour when we reached NF-32 to check out some damage to the bridge over the South Fork Umatilla River.
There were no swallowtails today, and the merganser was no longer where we’d seen it but now there was a spotted sandpiper on the rocks where the swallowtails and merganser had been.
Apparently that is a popular spot for wildlife. We returned to car and drove back to Pendleton for the last time on this trip. For dinner we walked from the Rugged Country Lodge to Hal’s Hamburgers, in business since 1952. It was a nice ending to our stay in Pendleton. A brief but wet 6.5 mile hike with only a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain and a good old fashioned hamburger. Happy Trails!
For the second hike in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness we chose the North Fork Umatilla River Trail (Hike #40 in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” 3rd edition). We began our hike as we had the prior days for Ninemile Ridge (post) by hiking up the closed portion of Bingham Springs Road but this time after 0.3 miles we noticed a sign post for what apparently is the Lick Creek Trail which connects to the North Fork Umatilla Trail in 0.6 miles near the North Fork Umatilla Trailhead located at the Umatilla Forks Day-Use Area.
Closed portion of Bingham Springs Road (NF 32).
We had completely missed this trail along NF-32 the day before having been distracted by the large number of butterflies in the area.
Slugs were everywhere on this trail and became a theme for the day.
The trail climbed up from the road and traversed the hillside above the Umatilla River before dropping down to the North Fork Umatilla Trail.
We stayed right at this junction to head down to the North Fork Umatilla Trail.
Evidence of the February 2020 flooding covering the North Fork Umatilla Trail, also there is a squirrel on the base of the tree at center.
There was a warning on the trail sign regarding the flood damage. The Forest Service website had been updated in late May to say that the trail had been maintained as far as Coyote Creek (approx 2.7 miles from the trailhead) though so we figured that we would be able to get at least that far. The Ninemile Ridge Trail had received more maintenance than the Forest Service page had said so we thought there might be a chance that more of this trail had been cleared since the last update too.
Some signs of recent maintenance.
North Fork Umatilla River
We were excited to see that there was an actual wilderness sign on this trail. We hadn’t seen one along the Ninemile Ridge Trail, just a small metal sign plate.
It was evident that a lot of work had been put into restoring the trail given the number of slides we crossed and cut trees we encountered.
Debris from the flood in what appeared to be a new route for the river.
This big slide was across the river.
Some of the trail side was also lost.
A section of trail that survived intact.
Looking down another small slide.
More maintenance along another washout.
A number of slugs on the trail, Heather counted at least two dozen in just a few feet.
Stonecrop along an exposed section.
Ragged robin in the exposed area.
At one point this guy was hitching a ride on my pant leg.
View from the trail.
This section was a little overgrown.
I believe this is Sabin’s lupine.
Spur trail to a large campsite near Coyote Creek and the North Fork Umatilla River.
The footbridge at Coyote Creek was washed out in the flood and now lay broken on the far side of the creek. I crossed over on some nearby downed trees to scout out the trail ahead. Sullivan had shown a rough 0.9 mile scramble route leading up to the left on the far side of the creek while the North Fork Umatilla Trail continued 1.6 miles up river to more campsites before turning away and begin a climb up Coyote Ridge. In 1.2 miles the trail met the scramble route at a viewpoint then climbs another 1.6 miles to a fork at the tip of Coyote Ridge. Originally our plan had been to hike to that fork for an 11 mile out and back (from the Umatilla Forks Day-Use Area). Having to park at the gate would have made it closer to a 13 mile hike but after crossing the creek it was apparent that the Forest Service website was still up to date and the trail had only been cleared to Coyote Creek. Pink flagging marked both the scramble route and official trail but it appeared that was as far as anyone had gotten.
Missing a footbridge.
I crossed on that log.
Found the footbridge.
Flagging for the scramble route.
Flagging for the North Fork Umatilla Trail
We took a short break at Coyote Creek then explored the nearby campsites before heading back.
Butterfly on a cinquefoil?
Confluence of Coyote Creek and the North Fork Umatilla River.
Deep hole below the campsites along the North Fork Umatilla
Campsite near Coyote Creek.
Heading back on the trail.
Checkerspot on honeysuckle
As we neared the junction with the tie trail to the Lick Creek Trail we met a three person trail crew heading for Coyote Creek. They were going to be working on the trail beyond and added that a larger crew was coming in to camp at Coyote Creek and continue restoring the trail. We thanked them for their efforts and briefly discussed the Ninemile Ridge Trail which they were happy to hear was passable to the cairn at the high point. Instead of taking the tie trail back we hiked out via the day-use area and followed NF-32 back to the car.
Signboard at the trailhead.
Sign for the Blues Crew at the trailhead. These volunteer organizations are so vital to keeping the trails open.
We were delayed twice along the way by swarms of swallowtail butterflies.
Not swallowtails but these lorquin’s admirals sure liked this scat.
The first mass of swallowtails was on the far side of the river along this stretch.
The second and larger group was at this wet spot along the road.
In addition to all of them on the ground dozens more were swirling around our heads. It was one of those moments on the trail (even if it was a road) that we wont forget.
Our hike came in at a reasonable 8.5 miles round trip with a little under 500′ of elevation gain. A much more manageable day than the one before. While it was a bit disappointing not to reach Coyote Ridge it was probably for the best for our bodies in the long run. It helped that we had gotten plenty of views of the area on Ninemile Ridge too so we didn’t feel like we missed out much there.
We drove back to Pendleton and after cleaning up had dinner at Moe Pho before turning in for the night. Happy Trails!
As we continue to explore the trails in the Pacific Northwest we are working on completing a number of “goals”, one of which is having hiked in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. We began the year missing just two, Gilliam and Umatilla. We checked Gilliam off our list over Memorial Day weekend with a hike at Cottonwood Canyon State Park (post) leaving just Umatilla County. One of our other goals is to hike in the 46 Oregon wilderness areas open to visitors (post). (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks off the Oregon Coast are off limits.) We began the year with just four wilderness areas left to visit; Black Canyon, Devil’s Staircase, Monument Rock, and North Fork Umatilla. We used a week of vacation to finish the county hikes, visit the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness, and check off three more featured hikes in one of William L. Sullivan’s guidebooks, this time his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (3rd edition). Our long term goal is to complete the 100 featured hikes from at least one edition of each of Sullivan’s five guidebooks; Oregon Coast, NW Oregon & SW Washington, Southern Oregon & Northern California, Central Oregon Cascades, and Eastern Oregon (post).
We started our week off by driving to Pendleton stopping along the way at the Cold Springs Wildlife Refuge near Hermiston, OR. This stop came about while I was looking for hikes in areas around Oregon where we hadn’t hiked yet. At four hours from Salem the short Memorial Marsh Trail system looked like a good leg stretcher on our way to Pendleton and it would be our first hike in Umatilla County. We parked at the trailhead for the Memorial Marsh Unit at the east end of an access road.
The brochure, which is available online and at the trailhead, is dated 2014. We didn’t realize that when we grabbed one to use as our map. What we should have done is paid more attention to the laminated map posted on the trailhead signboard.
The brochure map shows a total of three loops (see above). There is a triangular loop from the parking area, and two loops around marshes. The laminated map however only shows the triangular loop. While the brochure indicates that there are loops around both the Lower Pond and the Upper Pond the other map did not. Having missed that detail we set off with a plan of staying left at junctions to complete the non-existent loops. The trail led us through a sagebrush landscape similar to what we had seen at the nearby Umatilla Wildlife Refuge (not in Umatilla County) in 2019 (post).
After .3 miles the dirt trail met a gravel roadbed at the Lower Pond.
Looking right down the roadbed which would lead back to the parking area.
We weren’t off to a great start as we were already confused at the roadbed. We weren’t sure exactly where we were on the brochure map and spent some time debating on which direction we should go. Before we figured that out though Heather realized that we’d left her GPS unit sitting on top of the car so she headed back to retrieve that and I wandered to the right up the road a ways where it became clear that it was going to lead back to the trailhead which let me know that it was part of the triangular loop.
Ducks in the Lower Pond
A lone phlox blossom
Having retrieved the Garmin and figured out where we were we headed left from the dirt trail along the gravel road which curved around the Lower Pond.
Female red-winged blackbirds
Blue-winged teal and a black-necked stilt.
When we came to a “Y” junction in the road we went left.
This road led between the hidden Cold Springs Reservoir on the left and the Middle Pond on the right. We spooked a couple of deer along this stretch but they both vanished in the sagebrush before I had time to retrieve the camera.
We ignored a side road on the left for hunting blind 5 and then again forked left when the road split at the Upper Pond.
Spur road to hunting blind 5. The blinds were well signed but not marked on the brochure map. The laminated map at the trailhead though did show the blinds which would have also been very helpful.
Yellow headed blackbirds
We wrapped around the pond to the edge of the refuge where we were carefully watched by a herd of cows on the other side of a barbed wire fence. The gravel road eventually gave way to a cut grassy track near blind 1b and then vanished altogether.
Not going to be making a loop around the Upper Pond.
A little confused we turned around and passed the equally confused looking cows. We backtracked to the fork between the Middle and Upper Ponds and went left thinking that maybe we had misread the map and this was the loop.
This roadbed began to loop around the Upper Pond before petering out near blind 8 (again all of this would have been clear had we used the laminated map). The saving grace here was we got to see an owl fly out of the trees along the pond (no time for a photo though) and we saw another deer which I did manage to get a picture of.
Once again we found ourselves back tracking. Having not yet learned our lesson when we made it back to the split between the Middle and Lower Ponds we once again attempted a loop and headed between them.
Great blue heron
The road had turned into a grassy track before ending in some sagebrush where a faint trail? could be seen.
We did pass at least one sign facing the other direction which indicated that at least at one time this had been a loop but it was now very overgrown.
We passed blinds 7 and 7b which were also quite overgrown and in the process I manged to pick up at least a half dozen unwelcome guests in the form of ticks.
When we finally made it back to the gravel road we stopped for a tick check to try and make sure there were no stowaways left and then followed the roadbed .3 miles back to the trailhead. I wound up doing 4.4 miles here (Heather wound up with ) which was quite a bit more than we had planned due to the backtracking for the GPS unit and the non-existent loop around the Upper Pond.
Before we started our drive to Pendleton we did attempted another full tick check. Despite stripping and attempting to look under any flap on our clothing we somehow missed two of the little blood suckers. One we spotted crawling up my pant leg before we started driving which we quickly dispatched of but the second appeared on my knee while we were on Interstate 84. Heather attempted to get it into a container since there was nowhere for me to pull over at that moment but instead of going into the container it wound up on the floor and vanished (at least for the time being). For the rest of the drive we were on high alert watching for it to reappear.
We still had a second hike to do so after filling our gas tank (and searching in vain for the missing tick) we drove past Pendleton to a temporary trailhead along Bingham Springs Road (National Forest Road 32).
Severe flooding in February of 2020 washed out roads and trails in the area and work is still being done to repair the damage. We had actually planned on doing this trip in 2020 before the flooding (and COVID) and at that time were planning on camping at the Umatilla Forks Campground since our next three hikes all began within a half mile of the campground. Since that option was off the table staying in Pendleton (just 31 miles from the temporary trailhead) made the most sense.
After searching again for our missing tick we set off on the closed road which we followed for 1.2 miles to a fork at the far end of the campground where we turned up FR 045 for another 0.2 miles to a trailhead sign.
The road walk wasn’t all that bad as it followed the Umatilla River the whole way.
This was a popular spot with the butterflies, particularly swallowtails.
Dragon fly watching the butterflies
Approximately 3/4 of a mile from the gate we passed a sign for the North Fork Umatilla Trail which was our destination for the next day.
Just beyond the sign we crossed the North Fork Umatilla River.
FR 045 on the left.
Another gathering of butterflies
Three trails start at this trailhead, the Ninemile Ridge, Buck Creek, and Buck Mountain Trails.
Today’s plan was the Ninemile Ridge Trail. In the original plan this was the shortest of the three hikes with Sullivan listing it as a 7.2 mile out and back. Adding the road walk was going to add close to 3 miles round trip but the road walk was necessary for the other two hikes as well. We weren’t sure though how much of the trail we were going to be able to hike. While the Umatilla Forest Service listed all the trails in the area as open the most recent updates from late May 2021 indicated that only parts of the trails had been maintained since the flood damage. In the case of the Ninemile Ridge Trail the webpage stated that as of 5/20/21 the trail had not been logged out.
We headed uphill from the signboard a tenth of a mile to a 4-way junction.
Here the Ninemile Ridge Trail headed uphill to the left while the Buck Creek Trail was straight ahead and the Buck Mountain Trail was to the right. We turned uphill onto the Ninemile Ridge Trail and soon entered the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness for the first time.
It was evident fairly early on that some maintenance had been done since the last update on the webpage.
The trail climbed steeply through the forest at first but soon the trees gave way to open hillsides.
Ragged robin (Clarkia pulchella)
Lingering snow in the distance.
While manny of the flowers were well past there were quite a few ragged robins blooming and few other flowers at the lower elevations.
Bettles and a crab spider on rose
As the trail traversed up the hillside it passed through some forested gullies where some maintenance had been done to remove the worst obstacles while those that were more easily navigable were left for later.
As we climbed the views kept getting better.
You might be able to make out the trail continuing up the far hillside.
Now on the far hillside heading for that small tree on the ridge end.
Looking back along the trail and at Ninemile Ridge.
Near the 2.25 mile mark from the trailhead signboard (3.6 from the temporary trailhead) we reached the ridge end and turned up Ninemile Ridge.
South Fork Umatilla River from near the ridge end.
Heading up to the ridge top.
Gaining the ridge and a view ahead of what’s to come.
From the turn at the ridge end it was another 1.8 miles to a cairn at the high point of Ninemile Ridge. The trail gained over 950′ in this stretch, often times in very steep sections. The steepness combined with the heat (it was a warm day) made for a challenging climb.
Paintbrush and prairie smoke
Turkey vulture checking to see if we were dead yet.
Ravens also interested in our carcasses.
There was a 20% chance of showers according to NOAA so these clouds forming weren’t a surprise.
A flat stretch along the ridge before another steep climb.
Buckwheat and Large-flower triteleia
The trail was actually down to the left but the ridge seemed like it would take less climbing.
Ball head sandwort?
Paintbrush along the final climb.
A parsley and naked broomrape
The trail became suddenly overgrown near the high point and I left the trail and headed uphill cross-country to a cairn near the top.
Cairn on the right.
Heather had stopped a couple of climbs back under a tree unsure if she was going to attempt reaching the top or not. I wasn’t alone at the cairn though as I made friends with a local lizard.
Clouds starting to pass over.
High Ridge Lookout to the left
High Ridge Lookout
Looking back down Ninemile Ridge
I spotted Heather making her way up the trail again so I waited at the cairn for a while.
Heather making her way up.
I had just started down thinking that she may have balked at the final steep climb when I met her just below the start of the off trail climb to the cairn so back up we went. I was looking for more flowers to document.
Blue-eyed Mary and elegant mariposa lily
Hoary balsamroot (most of it was way past)
After a nice rest at the cairn we headed down under increasingly cloudy skies.
A welcome. albeit brief, shower passed overhead as we were in one of the small forested sections of the trail.
Arnica and small flower miterwort
We were nearly out of water by the time we reached the road walk and wound up getting more from the Umatilla River before continuing on to our car. We had originally planned on a 9 to 10 mile day which we then had bumped up to 11 to 12 due to the road walk but the hike at Ninemile Ridge came in at 10.9 miles for me (I added a 1/4 mile coming down from the cairn to find Heather and go back up).
Add the 4.4 miles from the Cold Springs Wildlife Refuge and it came to a 15.3 mile day with 2200′ of elevation gain. It was also a lot later than we’d expected. We didn’t get back to the car until after 6:30pm (having left Salem at 5:00am) and it was close to 7:30pm when we finally checked into the Rugged Country Lodge in Pendleton. We did however finally find that missing tick. At some point, despite all our searching, it managed to get onto Heather’s back. I used our tick key to remove it and we kept it in a plastic container just in case but it couldn’t have been on there too long given the number of times we checked for it.
Despite that and a couple of other misadventures it was a good but tiring start to six straight days of hiking. Happy Trails!
After dealing with snow the day before at Freezeout Saddle (post) we called an audible and decided not to try hiking at Hat Point. That trailhead is a little higher in elevation along Hells Canyon than we had been during the Freezeout Saddle Hike. We turned instead to the Wenaha River Trail starting from Troy, OR. This trail provided us with the opportunity to make our first visit into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. We planned on visiting this wilderness later on this year but knowing our plans are always subject to change we jumped on the chance for a warmer, drier hike that visited another of Oregon’s wilderness areas.
The drive to Troy from Wallowa Lake was an eventful one. The wildlife was out in force. We kept our eyes on the numerous deer that we spotted along Highway 3 between Enterprise and the turnoff to Flora. At one point several elk ran across the highway ahead of us from one field to another. There were two deer in the second field that upon seeing the elk running away from the road toward them decided they should run too, only they ran toward the road (and us). The lead deer realized its mistake and turned around chasing after the elk leaving the second deer looking confused before also turning around. A short while later we were slowed by a turkey in the road. Its escape plan appeared to be to try and outrun our car. If you’ve seen a turkey try and sprint its a pretty funny sight. Eventually it remembered its wings and flew to the side of the road.
Thirty five miles from Enterprise we turned left at a sign for Flora, a ghost town that peaked in the early 1900’s. Beyond Flora the road was paved for the first 4 miles but then turned to mostly dirt with some gravel. For about 7 miles this road wound steeply down to the Grande Ronde River and Troy. Numerous hairpin turns with steep dropoffs made for a bit of a tense drive down but we arrived at the Troy Trailhead in one piece.
Not only were we at a much lower elevation (under 2000′) but the forecast was for just a 30% chance of showers on this day so we were optimistic that we’d have a little better weather experience. The sky seemed to back that up as we looked back over Troy and the Grande Ronde River.
This lower portion of the 31.3 mile long Wenaha River Trail passes through the 2015 Grizzly Fire scar.
Some of the trees survived the fire.
We had seen a trip report from the end of April over on Oregonhikers.org which indicated that the trail was in pretty good shape, but might be a bit brushy in spots. The author had also spotted big horn sheep during the hike so we were going to be keeping on the lookout for those.
In April it looked like there had been a nice display of balsamroot along the trail but most of that was now done but we were pleased to still find some flowers in bloom.
Wild rose with a beetle
sticky purple geranium
The trail itself began above the Wenaha River but soon dropped down to river level passing through a flat. This pattern would repeat itself over the course of the hike. The sections along the flats ranged from open grass to overgrown brush. We appeared to be the first to be going through the brush since the leaves were heavy with water which quickly soaked the lower halves of our bodies.
As we made our way along the trail we discovered additional flower types.
Blanket flower with two sleeping bees
After a mile we arrived at a gate which we at first mistook for the boundary with the Umatilla National Forest.
While we were on the lookout for big horn sheep it was colorful birds that we kept seeing (and hearing).
Yellow breasted chat
The contrast in the hillsides on the opposite sides of the river was interesting. The north side consisted of smooth rounded terrain while the south side was much more rugged.
While we were admiring the ruggedness of the opposite hillside we spotted some promising brown dots (they are in the picture above). With a little help from the zoom on the camera and our monocular we were able to confirm they were some of the big horn sheep we’d been looking for.
Just a bit further down the trail we spotted another group. These were engaged in some rowdy play around a burnt ponderosa trunk.
We watched them for quite a while before continuing on. The north side of the river became a bit more rugged and the rockier terrain provided more diverse flowers.
More spreading dogbane
While the trail was up on the hillside we had nice views of the Wenaha below.
A little over two and a half miles in we passed a second fence which was the actual forest boundary.
Just beyond the boundary was a viewpoint across from Dry Gulch.
From the viewpoint the trail made a couple switchbacks down to another brushy flat.
Although it wasn’t thick there was a few pockets of poison ivy along the trail so we kept a watchful eye when the vegetation was close to the trail. It was along these flat sections where we spotted most of the birds.
Woodpecker with a snack.
Black headed grosebeak
We also spotted a few big horn sheep on our side of the river.
After climbing up a bit again we found a nice combination of false sunflower and balsamroot blooming along a ridge end along with a few other flowers.
Blue dicks with a beetle
Clarkia with beetles
View from the ridge end.
We repeated the dip and climb a couple more times before arriving at a neat rock overhang a bit before the 6 mile mark (at least according to our GPS). Along the way spotted more birds, a deer, and what appeared to be a rattlesnake that had met its demise along the trail.
Beyond the overhang we could see Crooked Creek Canyon ahead to the right where it joined the Wenaha to the left.
From the overhang it was a little over a mile to Crooked Creek. The stretch began with another nice selection of flowers.
The the wildlife kicked back in and not in the most welcome way for Heather. I had stopped to try and get a picture of a garter snake that had just moved off the trail.
I heard Heather say snake a couple of time and I was thinking “Yeah I know I’m trying to get a picture of it” only she was talking about a second garter snake that was slithering into the grass on the other side of the trail. Then she notice the third one coiled a couple of inches from her left foot. She is not a huge fan of snakes but has gotten quite a bit more comfortable around them, but three in one spot was getting close to too much. The third snake slithered away when I approached and we continued on.
More welcome wildlife came in the form of a family of geese, a pair of Lewis’s woodpeckers, and butterflies.
At the 6.3 mile mark we passed a rock cairn with a “6” on top. We weren’t sure but thought that it might have been marking the boundary of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.
Whether or not that was the official boundary somewhere near the cairn we did enter the wilderness crossing one more off of our list to visit.
Officially inside the wilderness
We followed the trail to the site of the former footbridge over Crooked Creek which was lost in the Grizzly Fire.
We spent some time pondering what the crossing would be like for backpackers wanting to continue on the Wenaha Trail. The water level looked like fording would be possible but we couldn’t see how one would get up to the trail on the far side. The best we could figure is that you would need to ford closer to the mouth of Crooked Creek and not at the old bridge site but we didn’t investigate further.
We turned around and headed back the way we’d come. The day was warming up nicely as blue sky began to emerge overhead. We ran into several groups of backpackers heading in and they all asked about Crooked Creek. We told them that we thought fording would be possible but they’d need to find a spot to get back up to the trail. One of them mentioned what we had suspected, that there was a way up a little further downstream.
On the way back we kept our eyes open for anything we might have missed the first time by.
Spider and blue dicks
Old man’s whiskers
Near the spot where we had seen the first group of big horn sheep across the river Heather spotted a small group on our side along the river bank.
By the time we made it back to the trailhead the sky was mostly blue and temperatures were in the upper 70’s. It was a far cry from the snow shower the day before.
The bees woke up at some point.
For some reason I had started craving pizza near the end of our hike so when we got cell signal I did a quick search of restaurants in Joseph and decided a calzone from Embers Brewhouse which really hit the spot and provided breakfast for the next day as well. Happy Trails!