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Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Trip report

Rock Creek to Spanish Peak – 07/20/2021

After spending the night camped near First Creek along the Rock Creek/Ochoco Mountain Trail we got an early (6:30am) start to hopefully climb up the 2000 plus feet to the summit of Spanish Peak before the day got too hot. According to Sullivan’s map (which matched the Forest Service’s map) it was 5.3 miles to the summit.

Forest Service Map

Just 0.2 miles from where we had made our makeshift campsite we came to an established campsite in a saddle near where the Ochoco Mountain Trail supposedly turned uphill to start the climb.
IMG_0375Continuing along the Waterman Ditch.

IMG_0376If this trail sign was marking a junction it wasn’t clear where the other trail was.

IMG_0380Campsite at the saddle.

There was no clear tread other than the continuation of the Rock Creek Trail to the north where it ends at the National Forest Boundary in another mile. There was however a sign for the “Rim Trail” on a tree uphill from the trail.
IMG_0378The Rim Trail sign on a tree trunk.

We headed uphill to the sign and picked up what appeared to be a rough trail but it also looked like it could have been an elk trail.
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We tried our best to follow it uphill but there were no blazes, flagging, or cut logs to indicate that it really was an actual trail and in less than a half mile we lost it in brush.
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The hike had suddenly become an off-trail adventure. Between the Sullivan’s and the Forest Service map we knew the general route that the trail supposedly took so we did our best to recreate it at first. That meant a series of switchbacks up a steep hillside through a sagebrush meadow above First Creek.
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The trail then supposedly wrapped around the ridge between First and Second Creeks arriving at a rock cairn along a rim 2.5 miles from the saddle. We thought that we might rediscover the tread as we switchbacked up, but we did not. As we compared the maps with our GPS we noticed that we weren’t that far below the top of the ridge and that it might be possible to simply climb over the ridge taking a more direct route to the rim cairn. We decided that was our safest bet as we weren’t sure if we would find the trail wrapping around the ridge and even if we did a large downed tree in the wrong spot could make it impassable. We followed game trails through a small stand of trees into more sagebrush on top of the ridge.
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IMG_0402Rock Creek Lake

IMG_0403Gaining the ridge.

We found the trail again on top of the ridge and were soon following rock cairns to the rim.
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IMG_0407View from the rim.

IMG_0408Spanish Peak

IMG_0419A local

The trail was easy to follow along the rim but soon it came into some trees (and past a few wildflowers) where it appeared maintenance hadn’t been performed for a bit.
IMG_0430Astter

IMG_0431Some sort of delphinium I think.

IMG_0433Downed trees across the trail ahead.

IMG_0434Interestingly camouflaged beetle on the upper onion.

IMG_0438Lupine

20210720_084339A checkermallow

IMG_0439Some more downed trees that we had to go around.

We briefly left the trees and were back to cairns in the sagebrush but soon reentered the trees and encountered more obstacles.
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After passing through a couple of meadows we came to a rocky hillside below Spanish Peak where we left the trail and headed uphill following a few scattered cairns along what was shown on the GPS as the “Mascall Jeep Track”.
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IMG_0456We left the trail here, note the small cairn on the left.

IMG_0457Heading uphill.

IMG_0453Scarlet gilia

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After a third of a mile we came to Spanish Peak Road, a dirt track to the radio tower and former lookout site atop Spanish Peak.
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We turned left on the road and followed it another 0.3 miles up to the summit.
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IMG_0467The site of the former lookout.

The view was impacted by the “widespread haze” that had been forecasted but we could still make out quite a bit (and at least it didn’t smell smokey).
IMG_0469 Looking out toward the John Day River valley.

IMG_0470SE to Windy Point.

IMG_0472West to Rock Creek Lake and on the horizon the flat topped Lookout Mountain (post) and pointier Round Mountain (post) in the Ochocos.

IMG_0474NE to the John Day River Valley.

IMG_0477Lookout and Round Mountain and the rim that we had hiked up below Spanish Peak.

IMG_0480The Pisgah Lookout on the far side of the Bridge Creek Wilderness (post).

IMG_0484A hazy Mount Hood to the NW.

After taking a break at the summit we returned down the road to the jeep track and followed it back down to the Ochoco Mountain Trail where we turned left into some trees.
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We passed through a meadow filled with fritiallry butterflies who were loving the remaining hyssop blossoms.
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After 0.3 miles back on the Ochoco Mountain Trail we came to a signed junction with the Mascall Corral Trail.
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Here we made a hard right and headed steeply downhill along the Baldy Creek drainage.
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This trail was in a little better shape having seen some maintenance.
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IMG_0504Baldy Creek was on our left.

The trail soon followed old roadbeds, including another section of the Mascall Jeep Track and just under three miles from the junction arrived at the Mascall Corrals Trailhead
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IMG_0506Red-tailed hawk

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IMG_0519Western tanager

IMG_0527Arriving at the trailhead.

IMG_0529Signage at the trailhead.

From this trailhead we turned right and followed Forest Road 3820 one and a quarter miles (some of which was disappointingly uphill) to Arvid Nelson Road where we turned right for another 0.8 miles to the Rock Creek Trailhead and our waiting car.
IMG_0532Baldy Creek below FR 3820.

IMG_0535A sulphur butterfly of some sort.

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IMG_0546A watermellon or June bug as we called them growing up.

IMG_0549FR 3820 meeting Arvid Nelson Road.

IMG_0550Spanish Peak from Arvid Nelson Road.

This was an 11.5 mile hike with almost 2500′ of elevation gain. The off-trail scramble above First Creek had made the hike a lot more difficult than planned, made more so by having our full backpacks instead of a lighter day pack, but it had been fun (mostly) and despite the haze we had decent views on the day.

Our track in orange

From the Rock Creek Trailhead we drove to Highway 26 then headed east to John Day where we checked into the Dreamers Lodge then had a nice dinner at the Outpost Pizza Pub & Grill before turning in for the night. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Spanish Peak

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Baldy Lake

At the beginning of our vacation the forecast had called for Tuesday to be the coldest and wettest day of the week and then Wednesday and Thursday were expected to be a bit warmer with decreasing chances of precipitation and by Thursday afternoon partly sunny skies. By Tuesday that had all changed and a second weather system was following up the first. Wednesday morning was expected to be a little warmer than Tuesday  meaning less chance of snow on our drive to the trailhead but as the second system moved in that day more precipitation was expected and now there was a chance of isolated thunderstorms.

The good news in that forecast was we had no issues getting to the Baldy Creek Trailhead in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The Baldy Creek Trail set off from a small campground and promptly crossed the North Fork John Day River on a log footbridge.
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We then entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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The 121,099 acre wilderness is made up of four separate areas with this being the third we’d visited during our vacation but the first in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The other two, Olive Lake and the North Fork John Day River, were in the Umatilla National Forest.

The trail passed through a nice, albeit wet, forest for just over a mile before reaching the first of several crossings of Baldy Creek.
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After crossing Baldy Creek the trail almost immediately crossed Bull Creek before entering a small section of forest recovering from a fire.
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We had enough of a view from the area of the fire to get an idea of where the snow line was. We knew going in that we would be hitting snow at some point on the hike since Baldy Lake sat at an elevation just over 7000′ plus the forecast called for 2-4 inches of snow during the day.
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Not long after crossing Bull Creek we recrossed Baldy Creek on a footbridge where we noticed a small amount of snow between the logs.
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As we made our way uphill along the creek the amount of snow on the ground slowly increased.
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In the next three miles the trail crossed Baldy Creek four more times. There were footbridges at all of the crossings but several of them were in such a state that it was easier to find a different way across the water.
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Beyond the final bridge the trail veered away from Baldy Creek and began climbing a bit more. As we climbed we found more and more snow on the trail and the trees.
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At the 5 mile mark we passed a trail sign at a junction.
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We were loving the winter scenery, it was such a welcome sight after a summer full of wildfires. On top of the snow on the ground and in the trees it had started snowing a bit. I mentioned that the only thing that could make it better would be to see a deer or even better an elk in the snow. Not five minutes later I looked up the trail and saw an elk cow staring back at me.
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She disappeared into the trees but then a second cow and two calves stepped onto the trail.
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The trail was now winding around a hillside with several small streams which seemed to be attracting the wildlife. The elk had been at one of these streams and not too much further at another stream was a varied thrush and some grouse.
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Our hike the day before along the North Fork John Day River had felt like fall but now we were in a winter wonderland.
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We crossed a greatly diminished Baldy Creek then came to a junction with a trail coming from Silver Creek Road.
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Baldy Lake was approximately a quarter mile from the junction.
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It was just a bit foggy when we arrived at the lake making it impossible to see the cliffs beyond the lake including Mt. Ireland.
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We found a log and brushed off the snow so we could take a seat and enjoy the lake. The wind was really blowing along the ridge above the lake but it was calm along the water and not particularly cold.
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We hadn’t been sitting there long when the clouds started to lift revealing the lookout tower atop the 8321′ Mt. Ireland.
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Our original plans had called for us to hike up to the lookout on Mt. Ireland at some point during the week but given the conditions we had decided to save that hike for another trip, so for now getting to see it from the lake would have to suffice.

We finally started to get chilly just sitting there so we tore ourselves away from the lake and headed back. It was snowing pretty hard as we made our way back down and we could see the difference along the trail.
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We eventually left the snow behind which ironically made me colder. My feet and hands had stayed relatively dry in the snow but now they were starting to get wet. My hands, without gloves (I’m a slow learner), froze when a brief round of hail passed over. We picked up our pace eager to get to a heated car.

As we passed by the old fire area a little blue sky was visible.
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By the time we’d reached the trailhead there was quite a bit more blue allowing us to bask in a little warm sunshine.
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It had been a 14 mile hike that took us a few months into the future when winter snows will be here to stay. Getting to see the elk had been a big bonus to what was a great hike and fun adventure. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Baldy Lake