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Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Steens Mountain Trip report

Steens Mountain Summit – 08/18/2021

On Tuesday a change in the weather had pushed much of the smoke away from Steens Mountain which is what we had hopped would happen in anticipation for our drive up the Steens Mountain Loop Road on Wednesday. The shift in weather also brought cooler temperatures which had made the previous days hike at Big Indian Gorge one of the more comfortable (temperature wise) of the year thus far. We once again got an early start hoping to reach the first of four planned stops around 6am and immediately realized that it was a lot cooler than it had been Monday or Tuesday. In fact the car was showing 39 degrees when we set off. Since the Steens Mountain Resort where we were staying was located along the Steens Mountain Loop Road we simply left the resort and turned right driving past the entrance to the Page Springs Campground and gradually climbing up the fault block Steens Mountain. By the time we arrived at the left turn for our first stop the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint 19.1 miles beyond the Page Springs Campground the temperature was down to 30 degrees. Luckily we try and come prepared so we had jackets, Buffs, and gloves although in hindsight we could have been a little more prepared. There was a decent breeze which made it feel a lot colder than 30 degrees.
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The Kiger Gorge is one of 5 glacier carved valleys on Steens Mountain and is the largest and most scenic. We were fortunate to arrive just before some clouds moved in.
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IMG_2689Still some smoke to the east as shown by the red Sun.

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IMG_2699Here come the clouds.

With the clouds moving in we hustled back to the car and continued on the loop road another 2.7 miles to a four-way junction where we turned left at a pointer for the East Rim Viewpoint where the clouds had not yet reached.
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IMG_2717Between the Sun and haze it was hard to see much of the ragged eastern side of Steens Mountain or the Alvord Desert (post) below.

IMG_2713Frozen thistle

IMG_2718The Alvord Desert through the haze.

IMG_2716A look back at the parking area.

After checking out this view we returned to the 4-way junction and turned left at a pointer for Wildhorse Lake following this road for almost two miles to a parking area below the 9741′ summit of Steens Mountain. A gated road led uphill the final half mile to some towers on the summit.
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IMG_2731Wildhorse Lake below the summit.

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IMG_2734The rocks here provided a little protection from the freezing wind.

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IMG_2743Big Indian Gorge (post) from the summit.

IMG_2747Heather getting a closer look at Wildhorse Lake.

IMG_2752Not much snow left up here.

After checking out the summit we walked back down past the gate and turned left at a post on a trail heading downhill to a registration box.
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The trail split here with the left hand fork heading downhill for a mile to Wildhorse Lake. The tread was a little dicey near the top but soon became better as it switchbacked down to a small bench before steepening quite a bit along a small stream.
IMG_2772Typical tread near the top.

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IMG_2782The bench.

IMG_2786The small stream.

IMG_2788A wren.

IMG_2791Wildhorse Lake from near the end of the bench.

IMG_2792We were a little disappointed to see just how late we were for most all of the wildflowers. I don’t know how much the drought this year affected the timing or if it blooms that much earlier in SE Oregon but the remains of what looked to have been an excellent display were all we were left with.

IMG_2793A few stone steps began the steep descent along the stream.

IMG_2796A few of these little yellow flowers were still in bloom.

IMG_2799This was a mass of pink monkeyflower a few weeks ago.

IMG_2801A look up at the summit.

IMG_2803The trail descending less steeply to the lake.

IMG_2815A lone lupine blooming near the lake.

IMG_2821A pair of paintbrush and the remainder of some aster or fleabane.

IMG_2822A ground squirrel near the lake.

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We rested for a bit by the lake where there was thankfully not much of a breeze and then explored along the shore.
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DSCN0790The only pink monkeyflower blossom we spotted.

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IMG_2853Ranger buttons

IMG_2854Mountain coyote mint

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IMG_2831Cascade grass-of-parnassus

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IMG_2873Looking down along Wildhorse Creek.

20210818_084407Wildhorse Lake and Steens Summit.

After checking out the lake we started back up the trail as a few more clouds began to move in.
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IMG_2933Raptors soaring above Steens Mountain.

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When we had both reached the registration box we took the other trail fork downhill. Sullivan shows this unofficial trail leading to a pass above Little Wildhorse Lake after in a mile but mentions having to use your hands in an update on his website Oregonhiking.com but that “adventurous hikers should have no trouble”.

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IMG_2959Big Indian Gorge

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IMG_2965The summit from the unofficial trail.

IMG_2966The trail on the ridge.

IMG_2967Looking ahead at the ridge the rocky outcrop looked a bit intimidating.

IMG_2968The view out over Big Indian Gorge.

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After a small saddle the trail came to the final rock fin along the ridge and I followed some clear tread along the left side of the outcrop.
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In hindsight the correct route was probably up onto the top of the ridge and the right hand side was a very steep loose rocky slope because the path I was following just ended at a small slide.
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IMG_2975I turned back here, I’m not that adventurous.

I retraced my steps and met Heather at the small saddle. She was not liking this little trail and at that point neither was I. Between the cold, incoming clouds, and steady breeze we decided we’d seen enough and retreated back to the trailhead.
IMG_2990Darker clouds over the summit from the trailhead.

IMG_2991A little better view of the Alvord Desert.

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51394274589_2328a93b39_c.jpg&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_2994">Here comes the cloud.

IMG_2995The view as we prepared to drive off.

Our hike here came to a little over 6 miles with approximately 1400′ of elevation gain.

Track for Steens Summit

We drove back the way we’d come instead of completing the loop. Two reasons, the final downhill stretch to South Steens Campground was reportedly rough and recommended for 4×4 high clearance vehicles (In fact the folks at the resort recommended going counter-clockwise and driving up from that side if we were going to drive the loop) and we had a low tire pressure light on. It had come on when we’d driven over a cattle guard that morning which we were hoping was simply due to the cold temperatures but we didn’t want to try driving a rougher road in case. Going back the way we’d come would also gave us an opportunity to stop at the viewpoints again if the conditions looked better. The East Rim Viewpoint was in the middle of the clouds though so we drove on by but did detour to the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint again.
IMG_2996We did stop along the way to take a couple of photos.

IMG_2997Our planned hike for the next day was up this gorge.

The view was a little better and a little warmer at Kiger Gorge.
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We made one final stop on the way back to the resort by pulling into Fish Lake (5.7 miles from the turn for the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint). There is no hike here but we wanted to see the lake.
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The tire pressure light was still on when we got back to the resort so after showering we made the hour plus drive north into Burns to visit Les Schwab. Ironically we had had to stop in this same Les Schwab the last time we were in the Steens area due to a low tire pressure light in our Rav 4. That turned out to be a nail stuck in the tire but this time it was simply a low reading in the right rear tire. They made sure there was nothing stuck in it and that it wasn’t leaking and they had us back on our way in no time. We really appreciate the service we get from every Les Schwab we visit. It was a nice evening at the resort and the clouds made for a dramatic setting Sun.
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DSCN0804The historic Frenchglen Hotel zoomed in on from the resort.

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This was our final night here and we’d be leaving early the next morning to hike along the Little Blitzen River before driving on to Fields (and getting milkshakes). Happy Trail!

Flickr: Steens Summit

Categories
Hiking Year-end wrap up

The Hikes of 2018 – A Look Back

It’s hard to believe that it’s time for another year end wrap up. This will be our 6th such post since we started this blog in 2013. It’s even harder to believe that we still have so many hikes yet to do before we are finished with our long term hiking goal of completing at least some portion of all 500 of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s five “100 Hikes…” guidebooks.

A goal we are closing in on is visiting all 45 of the accessible designated wilderness areas in Oregon. (Three Arch Rocks and Oregon Islands, both off the Oregon Coast, are off limits to visitors,) We now have just seven wilderness areas left to visit after spending time in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide (post), Steens Mountain (post), Strawberry Mountain (post), and Copper-Salmon (post) wildernesses this year.

With so many different hikes available we were once again able to spend most of our year exploring new trails and areas. We took hikes on 61 different days, 51 of those days were spent on trails (or sections of trails) that were new to us this year. Six additional days were partially on new sections of trail while just four days were repeated hikes.

Many of our hiking days consisted of multiple stops this year which resulted in a nice round 100 separate “hikes” varying in length from a quarter mile at the Pillars of Rome (post) to 20.3 miles in the Waldo Lake Wilderness (post).

Of those 100 hikes 89 were brand new, 6 were partially new, and 5 were repeated. The number of repeated hikes is 5 and not 4 because Saddle Mountain was done on the same day as three new hikes (post). Below is a map showing all of our stops.

2018 Trailheads
Hikers=Trailheads, Houses=Tent Sites, Binoculars=Short Walk/Viewpoint

Although the majority of our hikes were done in Oregon we did manage to spend one day each in Washington (Falls Creek Falls), California (Lava Beds National Monument), and for the first time Idaho (Jump Creek Falls).Falls Creek Falls

Falls Creek Falls

View from the Schonchin Butte Trail

Lava Beds National Monument

Jump Creek Falls

Jump Creek Falls

We did spend more time east of the Cascade Crest this year compared to years past including trips to SE Oregon in June (amazing scenery/horrible roads), the Strawberry Mountains in July (beautiful but HOT), the Elkhorns in August (mountain goats galore), and Klamath Falls in October (lots of wildlife). Our other vacation was a trip to the Oregon Coast in September (Bandon = new favorite coast town). Hiking in so many different areas once again provided us with a wide variety of scenery.Cape Meares Lighthouse

Cape Meares Lighthouse

Footbridge along the Old Growth Trail

McDonald-Dunn Forest

Lower South Falls

Lower South Falls – Silver Falls State Park

Balsamroot

Balsamroot at Memaloose Hills

Lone Wolf Meadow

Perham Creek

Perham Creek – Columbia River Gorge

White River Falls

White River Falls

Deschutes River

Deschutes River near Macks Canyon

Upper meadow of Buck Canyon

Buck Canyon – Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness

Mt. Thielsen

Mt. Thielsen

Cupola lookout on Black Butte

Cascade Mountains from Black Butte

Salmon River

Salmon River

Frustration Falls

Frustration Falls – Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness

Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Peter French Round Barn

Peter French Round Barn

Coffee Pot Crater

Coffee Pot Crater – Jordan Craters

Timber Gulch

Timber Gulch

Waterfall at Three Forks Hot Springs

Owyhee River

Pillars of Rome

Pillars of Rome – Rome, Oregon

Chalk Basin

Chalk Basin

Borax Lake

Borax Lake

Borax Hot Springs

Borax Hot Springs

Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain

Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert

The Island and Lake Billy Chinook

The Island and Lake Billy Chinook

Emerald Pool

Emerald Pool – Bull of the Woods Wilderness

Horsepasture Mountain Trail

Horsepasture Mountain Trail

Footbridge over the Hot Springs Fork

Bagby Springs Trail

Boyd Cave

Boyd Cave

Pine Creek Trail

Pine Creek Trail – Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

Volcanic ash along the Pine Creek Traii

Volcanic ash – Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

Strawberry Mountain

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

Slide Lake

Slide Lake – Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

Mt. Jefferson and the Pacific Crest Trail

Jefferson Park – Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Elkhorn Crest Trail

Elkhorn Crest Trail

Summit Lake

Summit Lake – Elkhorns

Rock Creek Lake

Rock Creek Lake – Elkhorns

Diamond Peak and Fuji Mountain from Waldo Lake

Waldo Lake

Rigdon Butte from Lake Kiwa

Rigdon Butte

Broken Top, The Three Sisters, Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack

Broken Top, The Three Sisters, Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack from South Pyramid Peak in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Carl Lake at sunrise

Carl Lake – Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Hole-in-the-Wall Park and Mt. Jefferson

Hole-in-the-Wall Park – Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Mt. Jefferson and Goat Peak

Mt. Jefferson & Goat Peak – Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Umpqua Dunes

Umpqua Dunes

Bandon Islands

Bandon Islands

Barklow Mountain Trail entering the Copper-Salmon Wilderness

Copper-Salmon Wilderness

Tahkenitch Creek

Tahkenitch Creek

Huckleberry Bushes

Huckleberry bushes – Diamond Peak Wilderness

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Devil's Garden

Devil’s Garden

Sprague River

Sprague River

Tule Lake

Tule Lake

Petroglyph Point

Petroglyph Point

Mt. McLoughlin from Great Meadow

Mt. McLoughlin

Salmon Creek Falls

Salmon Creek Falls

Footbridge over Falls Creek

Footbridge over Falls Creek

View from the Red Mountain Lookout

Washington Cascades from Red Mountain

Klamath Falls

Klamath Falls on the Link River

Spouting Horn

Spouting Horn – Cape Perpetua

Wildwood Trail

Forest Park – Portland, Oregon

Waxmyrtle Marsh

Waxmyrtle Marsh

Sunbeams in the Siuslaw National Forest

Siuslaw National Forest

In addition to the great scenery we saw a wide variety of wildlife and a fair number of wildflowers despite it not being the best year for them. Instead of including some of those pictures here we hope to post a separate 2018 wildlife and wildflower galleries soon.

We’re already looking forward to another year of hiking. If everything works out we will be checking off three more Oregon wilderness areas and a whole bunch of new hikes in 2019. We’ll be doing one or maybe two hikes a month from now until mid-Spring. Since we won’t have a lot of trips to report on during that time we’re hoping to do a few other hiking related posts including a more in depth look at our goals of visiting all the wilderness areas and checking off the 500 “featured hikes”.

We hope everyone has a great New Year and as always – Happy Trails!

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Borax Hot Springs, Big Sand Gap, and Pike Creek – SE Oregon Vacation Day 6

Day 6 of our vacation was the day we began our journey home. Of course we had some hiking to do along the way.  We had three hikes planned along the East Steens Road on the way to Burns from Fields.  We were still operating on Mountain Time so we wound up awake before dawn and were leaving Fields Station as the sun began rising.  It was the first morning where we got to see a good desert sunrise.
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Our first stop was at Borax Hot Springs which was just a five and a half mile drive away so we arrived while the spectacular sunrise show was still in full swing. After passing a warning sign on the road in we parked at a fence with a closed gate.
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Now owned by the Nature Conservancy the area was once used to collect sodium borate crusts which were dissolved to make borax. We followed an old road bed for a half a mile past a pair of large vats used in that process to Borax Lake.
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We saw a couple of jack rabbits along the way.
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Borax Lake has an arsenic level 25 times acceptable levels and is considered fatal to humans. The only creatures able to survive in the lake are the Borax Lake chub that can withstand those levels.
Borax Lake

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We continued following the road beyond the lake which now passed a series of bubbling hot springs on the right.
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The springs varied in size and colors making each one we passed interesting in its own way.
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A half mile from Borax Lake we crossed a fence to the final series of pools.
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We turned back where the road veered left at the last pools. Here Alvord Lake could be seen in the distance where numerous birds were enjoying the arsenic free water.
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We headed back the way we’d come returning to our car and heading back towards East Steens Road. As we drove along the power line road used to reach the trailhead we spotted something furry along the right side. It was a badger! It took off running but paused briefly to look back at us when I stopped to try and take a picture. It was too quick though and disappeared into the sagebrush. We knew there were badgers in the area but never expected to see one.

We got back onto East Steens Road and headed north. At some point our low tire pressure light came on which given the roads we’d been on up to that point wasn’t all that unexpected. We turned right at a sign for Frog Springs where we turned down a bumpy .2 mile road to a parking area and restrooms. This was the way to our next hike but also gave us an opportunity to look at the tires. The left rear was a little suspect but I also checked the gas cap which didn’t seem tightened all the way and can also cause that light to come on. The other possibility was the spare tire. We decided to continue on since if it was the gas cap it could take several miles for the light to go off. From there we followed an even bumpier road a tenth of a mile to the playa of the Alvord Desert.
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Our next hike began on the other side of this ancient lake bed five and a half miles away. I had set up a way point on our GPS unit for the approximate location that our guidebook suggested we park at for the hike to Big Sand Gap. I turned the unit on and we drove across the playa with Steens Mountain in our rear view mirror.
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The only trails to Big Sand Gap are wild horse trails made by the Kiger mustangs as they visit a marshy spring near the edge of the playa. The hike description we were following called for a .3 mile hike left around the spring before following the horse trails into the gap. That was easier said then done as the spring was not visible at ground level and it was only described as a slight rise to the left.
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Big Sand Gap on the other hand was much easier to locate ahead of us.
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We did our best to locate the spring but got pulled a little too far right by some pink flagging on some greasewood bushes and wound up on the wrong side of the marshy area.
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It was okay though as the wild horses had made a clear path on this side of the spring as well.
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IMG_6630Steens Mountain from a horse trail.

There was in fact a confusion of horse trail but we simply kept our eyes on Big Sand Gap and took which ever trail seemed most direct at that moment. Approximately 1.6 miles from the spring we reached the gap.
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Here we turned right and headed up a fairly steep slope toward the rim of the cliff.
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We had to go behind a rock outcrop and work our way up to a higher point where the views of the Alvord Desert below and Steens Mountain beyond were amazing.
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On our climb up we’d both noticed a horse trail on the next hillside over that at least appeared a little less steep. We decided to follow that trail back down.
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Near the bottom of this trail we cut cross country toward the opening of Big Sand Gap and started seeing lizards.
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From the gap we could see our car and decided that we would try and take a slightly more direct route back instead of skirting the spring. Extending a line from our car across the desert to Steens Mountain we were able to find an identifiable peak that we would be able to see even when we lost sight of our car.

With our bearing identified we set off but quickly got side tracked by some leopard lizards. We saw a couple and one was nice enough to pose for a while.
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In addition to the lizards we saw a few hardy desert wildflowers.
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Our heading was good and we were able to go almost directly to our car completing the hike in just under 5 miles. We drove back across the playa with our low pressure light still on and returned to East Steens Road. We turned right and continued north for 2.3 miles to Alvord Hot Springs where we picked up a $5 permit for the Pike Creek Trail and then continued north an additional 2.2 miles to a signed turnoff on the left for Pike Creek.
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The half mile road to the trailhead was really rough and we quickly wished we had parked back at the sign so when we reached a spot where we were able to park off the road we did so and hiked the final short distance following posts for the Pike Creek Trail.
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The well marked route followed a closed roadbed to the Pike Creek Campground, where a juniper was growing out of a split rock, and then across Pike Creek.
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A wooden trail sign awaited on the far side of the creek where we followed an old mining road uphill to a registration box.
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After signing in we continued uphill on the old roadbed toward Steens Mountain.
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As we hiked along we were surprised at the number and variety of butterflies along the trail.
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Pike Creek was quite a ways below the trail and mostly hidden by the green vegetation it supported.
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Just over a mile from the campground we passed into the Steens Mountain Wilderness, making this the 36th different designated wilderness area we’d visited in Oregon.
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Shortly after entering the wilderness area the trail crossed Pike Creek again and then began to climb away once more. Steens Mountain continued to grow closer ahead of us and behind us we could see the Alvord Desert and Big Sand Gap on the other side.
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We had left the old mining road behind at the crossing where a mine shaft and nearly hidden dynamite shed remain.
IMG_6798Mine shaft

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The trail now climbed via a series of switchbacks up the canyon. We entertained ourselves by looking for different butterflies amid the flowers.
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Butterflies weren’t the only interesting insects that we saw during the hike.
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After a little over a mile and a half of climbing since the second crossing we arrived at our turn around spot, the first of three forks of the creek.
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The views just before the creek were a little better than at the creek itself but there were some convenient rocks to sit on under the cover of a juniper tree which provided some nice cool shade while we had a snack and watched even more butterflies.
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We returned the way we’d come under the watchful eye of a local.
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At 5.8 miles round trip this was the longest of the three hikes that day and definitely the one with the most elevation gain.

We once again checked our tires which seemed to still look the same under the eyeball test so when we reached East Steens Road we once again headed north on our way to Burns. It was just after 3pm when we arrived in Burns and we headed straight for the Les Schwab Tire Center to have them check things out. They confirmed that the left rear tire was a little low so we had them pull it off and do a more thorough check. It turned out that it wasn’t the rocks that had done us in but a small nail which I am convinced was placed in the road by the badger.

After being taken care of by the good folks at Les Schwab (free of charge) we checked into the Silver Spur Motel for the night. In the morning we had another hiked planned then we’d be off to Bend for another visit with Heather’s parents. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Borax Hot Springs, Big Sand Gap, and Pike Creek