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Hells Canyon Hiking Oregon Trip report

Freezeout Saddle

Day two of our Memorial Day Weekend trip to NE Oregon was set to be our first visit to the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Our planned hike was a loop described by Sullivan as “rugged” starting from the Freezeout Trailhead and utilizing the Saddle Creek, Summit Ridge, and Freezeout Trails.

According to the weather forecast, day two was also the most likely to provide precipitation with a 90% chance of showers as the day wore on. It had rained a bit overnight at Wallowa Lake so we were pleasantly surprised to have a nice view of the mountains as we drove into Joseph that morning.
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From Joseph we drove to Imnaha where we turned right onto the mostly gravel Upper Imnaha Road for 12.3 miles. Just before a bridge we veered left from the wide gravel road onto a much narrower, steep, more dirt than gravel road for 2.7 miles to the large trailhead.
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Two trails leave from this trailhead, the Saddle Creek and Freezeout. We took the Saddle Creek Trail on the left side of the informational signboard.
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There was a decent amount of blue sky behind us to the east as we began to climb up the trail.
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Ahead of us the Sun was still rising in the east where a few lighter clouds filled the sky.
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We also noticed a few cows on the hillside ahead of us.
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We were busy looking for flowers and ignoring the cattle.
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We couldn’t ignore them for long though as we soon rounded a bend to find several of them in the trail. They began to head up the trail so we followed having played this game before (post). More cows began to hurry down the hillside and cross the trail and then we noticed the bull. He didn’t look overly please with us but he managed to get the rest of the herd off the trail and uphill a bit. We passed on by and then promptly heard several of the cows coming up quickly behind us. I knew this game too from my time moving irrigation pipes in Central Oregon as a teenager. I turned and they stopped then we repeated (like the school yard game “red light, green light”). Knowing this could go on for awhile when we got into a brushy section of trail we sped up and left them behind.
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IMG_7364Heather emerging from the brushy section.

We could relax and start enjoying the hike again. The trail climbed up through open grass hillsides with occasional stands of trees. Views abounded.
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About a half mile from the trailhead the Saddle Creek Trail made a wide arc into the tress to Saddle Creek.
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The trail crossed the creek only to recross it moments later.
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The forest hosted a few different flowers than the grassy hillsides.
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The trail climbed away from the creek and began a series of switchbacks leading back to the open hillsides.
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As we gained elevation the number of blooming flowers increased.

IMG_7415Blue Dicks

IMG_7417Balsamroot

IMG_7421Balsamroot, paintbrush and biscuitroot

The views also got better as we climbed but we also began to notice showers passing by. A bonus result of the showers was a faint rainbow that framed the snowy Wallowa Mountains to the west for a time.
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The Saddle Creek Trail kept climbing, sometimes via switchback and others up and around ridges.
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There was a good number of flowers in bloom with quite a few more to come.
IMG_7464Larkspur and monkeyflower

IMG_7474Paintbrush

IMG_7490Chickweed

IMG_7470Possibly going to be a penstemon

IMG_7459Unkown

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We finally arrived at Freezeout Saddle after gaining over 1900′ in what our GPS claims was 3 miles.
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A trail signpost marked the junction with the Summit Ridge Trail.
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Despite the showers nearby we had a pretty good 360 degree view.
IMG_7493West to the quickly vanishing Wallowa Mountains.

IMG_7496North

IMG_7497South

IMG_7509_stitchEast into Hells Canyon

We rested briefly at the saddle admiring the view.
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After the break we headed south on the Summit Ridge Trail passing more views into Hells Canyon and some different wildflowers.
IMG_7514Cutleaf daisy

IMG_7529A little white alpine pennycress

IMG_7533Largehead clover

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The view toward the Wallows had taken a hit though as some dark clouds and rain showers now lay between us and them.
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We began to run into quite a few yellow glacier lilies when we reentered the trees as we traversed around the west side of a rise along the ridge.
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There were also a few kittentails present.
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We ran into our first non-bovine obstacle in the form of a downed tree in this section.
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Oh if that had been the only other obstacle. As we came around the hillside and spotted a snowfield in the distance.
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The rain “showers” had made their way over to us and at an elevation of approximately 6200′ we were partly in the clouds.
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We hoped it would pass quickly and stuck to looking for more flowers which we found in a clump of hairy clematis.
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We arrived at the snow field and sized it up. There was a clear track crossing from the side we were on.
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We had brought our microspikes for just such an occasion but the snow looked narrow and the footprints were well established from what we could see so we eschewed the spikes and started across. Big mistake as the footprints had smoothed over on the far side of the snow (which was icy and even slicker than usual with the rain falling). I managed to heal kick some footholds and get off the snow without too much trouble but Heather had gone higher thinking it would be easier to get off by going up. Luckily she was able to kick in a little bit of footing and jam her poles into the snow to help keep her from sliding down the hill. I was able to the get a hold of her pack and we got her off the snow as well. Lesson learned, we carry the microspikes for a reason, use them!

A bit shaken we continued on stopping to admire a yellowbell.
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The rain was not letting up so we’d thrown on our rain jackets which we had put off putting on thinking that we were liable to get wetter from sweat while we climbed than wearing them in the rain. The trail had leveled off along the ridge now and we began encountering more patches of snow.
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Just under three miles from Freezeout Saddle we arrived at another signed junction.
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In our guidebook Sullivan has you go straight at this junction showing the fork to the right petering out after a short distance. The Forest Service map which is also on the GPS unit shows the right hand trail (Marks Cabin Trail) going all the way over to the Freezeout Trail. We initially headed straight but the footprints that we had been following through the snow patches disappeared and so had the trail. After about 450 feet we decided to go back to the junction and try the other way which would be shorter and we hoped less snowy. Incidentally the 450 foot excursion from the junction officially took us into the Hells Canyon Wilderness so we at least were able to mark off another wilderness area as visited.

Marks Cabin Trail was no easier to follow as it was faint even when there was no snow.
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We used the maps to stay close to where the trail was supposed to be having to correct course a number of times due losing sight of it under the snow only to find it again by spotting cut logs or a bit of tread.
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After crossing over a barbed wire fence we spotted a cairn in the grass but there was no sign of a trail anywhere near it.
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More map work led us to what at least looked like a trail.
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By now the rain shower had not only not passed over but it was now a snow shower. At some point we wound up a 100 feet or so above the trail and had to climb over a number of logs to get down to it.
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Luckily we managed to get back to it near the junction with the Freezeout Trail which was marked by a small piece of white flagging (not shown as my hands were too cold to unclip the camera from my waist) 1.5 miles (they route we took) from the junction. Heather kept asking where the cabin was which I thought was a strange obsession to see some private cabin while all I wanted to do was get down below the snow. A couple days later she pointed out that we might have been able to warm up at the cabin (if it had been open or if someone from one of the vehicles at the trailhead had been using it) or use it to orient ourselves and make sure we were on the right trail.

We headed down the Freezeout Trail which quickly became faint in the grass.
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The good news was it reappeared and the rain/snow was finally starting to let up.
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The bad news was that after passing over a ridge the trail headed into a gully that was holding quite a bit of snow among trees and other vegetation (again not pictured due to cold hands and a bit of frustration). The trail is described as an old cattleman’s trail in the guidebook and that description fit in the steep gully. We knew the trail crossed the gully but we couldn’t see where and we didn’t want to try and cross any of the steep snow even with our spikes so we picked our way through the best looking gap in the snow patches and found what turned out to be the trail somehow.

We were now done with the snow for the day and soon we were back traversing an open hillside with views albeit more limited than those from the morning.
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(The rest of the photos were a fight with moisture and numb fingers so please excuse the numerous water spots. 🙂 )
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Despite being cold and soaked we were still looking for flowers.
IMG_7668Brown’s peony getting ready to bloom.

IMG_7650Mariposa lily starting to open.

This portion of trail alternated between grassy open areas and ponderosa pine forest.
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After the first mile from where we’d turned onto it, the Freezeout Trail steepened a lot as it headed downhill fast to an unsinged junction with the Long Ridge Trail.
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Shortly beyond the junction we crossed a scenic unnamed creek that refused to sign a waiver forcing me to blur out its identity.
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The trail leveled out somewhat beyond the creek and at another opening we were able to look back up towards the ridge where we’d come from.
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We were now traversing a hillside above Freezeout Creek and gradually making our way down to it through the forest.
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Along this strecht we spotted this cute little flower.
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As we neared Freezeout Creek we passed a junction for the Morgan Ridge Trail.
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Our final obstacle of the day was navigating around Freezout Creek which has claimed a chunck of the trail as its own. A scramble path led up and around a tree which was lucky because the water actually looked quite deep where the trail had been.
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From there it was just over a quarter mile back to the trailhead where we were more than happy to put on some dry clothes and warm up. The GPS tallied a 13 mile hike and it felt every bit of one with approximately 3700′ of elevation gain. The climb up really wasn’t all that bad but we were feeling the steep decent in our knees.

The day had one more bit of adventure in store for us as we headed down the narrow road from the trailhead. A pair of trucks, one with a horse trailer, were heading up and where we met the road was too narrow to pass. Heather had to back up a good distance until we found a spot where they could pass.

After the trucks went by we were able to get back to Joseph with the only other excitement being a pair of turkeys along the road.
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In Joseph we stopped at the R & R Drive In for some comfort food which really hit the spot. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Freezeout Saddle

Categories
Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Trip report

North Point and Round Mountain – Ochoco National Forest

For Father’s Day weekend we headed over to Central Oregon to visit my Dad and our Son. On Saturday we headed to the Ochoco Mountains for a pair of hikes.

Our first destination was North Point in the trail-less Bridge Creek Wilderness. We started our hike near Pisgah Springs along Forest Road 2630. We made the mistake of following Google’s suggested route which led us over an extremely rough section of that road which we could have avoided. We had turned right off of Highway 26 at a sign for Walton Lake and Big Summit Prairie onto Ochoco Creek Road which becomes Forest Road 22. Just before crossing Ochoco Creek, Google had us fork left onto Road 2210 before turning right onto Rd 2630. That was where the road deteriorated quickly into a muddy, giant hole filled mess. Had we stayed on Road 22 past Walton Lake we could have turned left onto Road 2630 a mile and a half beyond the entrance road to the lake. That section and the remainder of Rd 2630 was a fairly good gravel road. We followed Rd 2630 to a fork at a Bridge Creek Wilderness sign where Road 450 went left and 2630 continued to the right.

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Road 2630 became rougher beyond the fork but nothing like the earlier section Google had taken us on. A May 2016 trip report mentioned that the road improved after the first couple hundred yards and this was still the case. A total of two miles from the fork we arrived at an old jeep track near Pisgah Springs.

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We pulled off the road at the jeep track which at one time went all the way out to North Point. Much of the wilderness burned in 2008 and many of the left over snags have begun falling and we’d heard that the track had a good deal of blowdown. Looking uphill from the jeep track we decided to angle left and skirt around the side of a stand of trees.

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The cross country travel was easy through the sagebrush but our pace was slowed due to stopping to admire the many wildflowers along the way.

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Brown’s Peony

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Parsley

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Paintbrush

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IMG_2864Old man’s whiskers

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The terrain began to level after the initial climb (which was short and not at all steep) revealing some open meadows among the trees.

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We encountered additional flowers in and around these meadows.

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IMG_2888Big-head clover

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We took a line along between the meadows and a line of dead trees.

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Using the GPS we eventually veered to the right stepping over a couple of downed snags then briefly following the jeep track toward the rim of the plateau.

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We arrived at the rim between point 6607 to the west and North Point to the east.

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The view to the north was amazing and included some very interesting topographical formations.

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Behind us to the south lay Mt. Pisgah and the Mt. Pisgah Lookout

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We made our way along the rim to North Point which was marked with a cairn.

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From North Point we could see parts of the Cascade Mountains from Mt. Bachelor to the south to Mt. Adams in Washington to the north. The only problem was a single line of clouds moving north right in our line of sight for the snowy volcanoes.

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We spotted a few additional flowers on North Point.

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IMG_2932A stonecrop?

IMG_2940Balloon pod milk vetch

After taking in the views on what was shaping up to be a beautiful day we made our way back to our car amid the ever present sound of birds.

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The hike to North Point had only been 2.2 miles round trip and we were heading for hike number two of the day, but first we wanted to check out Big Summit Prairie. After passing the point on Road 2630 where we had emerged from the apocalyptic section of road from the morning we continued on the gravel road .8 miles to NF-22 where we turned left. After 4.2 miles on NF-22 we turned right onto gravel South Howard Road for 1.6 miles then right again onto Badger Creek Road (NF 4210). We followed this road for 2.3 miles to Canyon Creek Road (NF-42) where we turned left. We drove 9.7 miles on NF 42 which travels along the southern side of Big Summit Prairie.

Covering several thousand acres in the middle of the Ochoco Mountains, Big Summit Prairie sports some impressive wildflower displays from April through Mid-June. We were hoping that we weren’t too late for the show, but alas we seemed to be on the tail-end of the last flowers.

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We stopped near the North Fork Crooked River bridge and took a look at our next goal, Round Mountain rising to the west.

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We drove back on NF-42 12.7 miles to a sign for the Independent Mine on the left. We had been here before in 2014 when we hiked to the summit of Lookout Mountain.

We parked at the same trailhead as before just a few hundred feet up Road 4205. A good sized parking area here doubles as the Lower Lookout Mountain and the Round Mountain South Trailheads.

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From the trailhead the Round Mountain Trail descended into a small meadow before entering some trees and climbing up to a crossing of NF-42.

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The trail climbed gradually through wildflower filled meadows to a view of little Prospect Pond.

2017-06-17 10.54.46Crab spider

IMG_2975Torrey’s peavine

IMG_2985Lupine

IMG_2997Tortoiseshell butterfly

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IMG_3003Balsamroot and larkspur

IMG_3007Death camas

IMG_3009Vetch

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IMG_3019Prospect Pond (and Lookout Mountain beyond)

As the trail continued to follow a ridge uphill the wildflower displays kept getting better.

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The trail briefly leveled off at the wide Onion Pass.

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We soon got our first good look at our goal, Round Mountain.

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Shortly after crossing a road at the 2.3 mile mark the trail traversed an open slope with views of several Cascade Mountains.

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The flowers continued to impress along the entire trail with the pink Oregon geraniums being some of our favorites.

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After another short level stretch along what appeared to be an old road track the trail finally began to climb with some urgency through a series of hellebore meadows.
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The trail was in great shape with only a minor slide which was easily passable.

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The trail wrapped around under the summit of Round Mountain to Round Mountain Road (yes it is possible to drive up).

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We followed the road up past the signed junction with the Round Mountain Trail coming up from the northern trailhead near Walton Lake.

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The 360 degree view from the 6755′ summit did not disappoint. The clouds that had hidden parts of the Cascades had mostly burned off (except for over Three Fingered Jack) and Diamond Peak joined the line of snow covered volcanoes.

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IMG_3131Diamond and Maiden Peaks

IMG_3132Mt. Bachelor

IMG_3133Ball Butte and Broken Top

IMG_3134The Three Sisters

IMG_3062Mt. Washington

IMG_3140Three Fingered Jack

IMG_3141Mt. Jefferson

IMG_3143Mt. Hood

IMG_3147Mt. Adams

The plateau of the Bridge Creek Wilderness was visible to the NE.

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Lookout Mountain rose across NF-42 to the south.

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While Big Summit Prairie stretched out to the east.

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We spotted a couple of flowers near the summit that we hadn’t seen lower including a few pink phlox, a patch of purple silky phacelia, and some yellow bells along the road.

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silky phacelia

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We returned the way we’d come. After crossing NF-42 we spotted a doe which seemed fitting since we were close to a road and we seem to see more deer from the roads than we do on the trails.

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It was a great day in the Ochocos and it had felt really nice to finally spend some time in the mountains. Happy Trails!

Flickr: North Point & Round Mountain

Categories
Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Trip report

Lookout Mountain – Ochoco National Forest

We recently returned from a long weekend in Central Oregon. We had a few hikes that we were wanting to try in June in that area starting with Lookout Mountain in the Ochoco National Forest. Roughly 26 miles east of Prineville, OR the summit of Lookout Mountain is the 2nd highest point in the Ochoco Mountains. The summit is part of a broad plateau of sagebrush and wildflowers which also offers a 360 degree view.

There are a couple of options for reaching the plateau. For our visit we decided to start at the Round Mountain Trailhead on road 4205 just after turning off of road 42. We could have shaved nearly 2 miles form the hike by continuing up road 4205 to the Independent Mine Trailhead but the road is quite rough and I would rather be hiking than bouncing around in a car. The 0.9 mile path between the trailheads was pleasant enough with a number of wildflowers and a deer sighting.
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We accidently left the trail and wound up on road 4205 across from signs for the Independent Mine and the Baneberry Trailhead.
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Our version (2008, 2nd edition) of 100 Hikes in Eastern Oregon didn’t give any information about this trail but a sign at the Round Mountain Trailhead made mention of extensive trail work and renaming starting in 2010. Our book did show an old road leading down to the mine though so we decided to check it out. We reached the Baneberry Trail before getting to the mine and saw that it was an interpretive nature loop. Thinking it would loop us around to the mine we turned on the trail and began the loop. It was evident why the trail was named Baneberry as the forest was full of the plant.
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Many benches and interpretive signs were located around the trail telling of the mining activity, forest, and wildlife.
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As we continued on the loop it became evident that we were not going to loop to the mine site but instead were heading around in the opposite direction. When we had almost completed the loop a trail shot off uphill to the left which we took thinking it might take us up to the Independent Mine Trailhead. We lost the tread in a small meadow but we could tell the trailhead was just on the other side so we followed what looked like it might be the trail through the meadow and popped out at the trailhead.
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From the trailhead we had more options. Straight ahead up the shorter steeper trail 808A, right on what was now named trail 804 or left on trail 808. We chose 808 based on the suggested route in the book. The trail passed through several meadows full of hellbore with views nice views to the north with Mt. Jefferson visible on the horizon.
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The trail then turned south and we climbed up onto the sloped plateau. From here the trail climbed through open ground covered with wildflowers and sagebrush and the occasional stand of trees.
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Big-headed Clover
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Brown’s Peony
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Looking ahead from the lower plateau
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We crossed Brush Creek
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and found some leftover of snow
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There were some small lilies in this area as well as a few shooting star and mountain bluebells.
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We came out of a clump of trees into another sagebrush covered meadow where we could see the summit of Lookout Mountain.
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There were more flowers as we climbed through the sagebrush toward the summit. Balsamroot, paint, larkspur, and columbine dotted the landscape. There were other flowers both known and unknown to us as well.
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Old Man’s Whiskers
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The lupine was yet to bloom.
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A sign stood at a trail crossroads giving directions.
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From the summit we could see Cascade Peaks from Diamond Peak in the south to Mt. Hood in the North.
Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters in the distance:
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We also spotted a very strange plant on the summit which thanks to some detective work form the folks at portlandhikers we identified as balloon-pod milk-vetch.
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On our way down we stopped by a snow shelter built by the Oregon National Guard and U.S. Forest Service in 1989.
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We spotted another deer on the way down and the butterflies started coming out as the day wore on.
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Just before reaching the Independent Mine Trailhead on trail 804 we passed a left over mining building and an abandoned mine shaft.
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We saw what must have been the same doe on the way down as we saw on the way up. She came out of the exact same group of trees and we wondered if she might not have a young fawn bedded down in them. We didn’t want to disturb it if there was so we continued on back to the Round Mountain Trailhead and our car. Day one had provided a great 10.3 mile hike and we had three more days to go. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644735166968/
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