Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you’d like and that was the case with our visit to Hager Mountain. Hager Mountain is a 7195′ cinder cone located in the SE portion of Central Oregon. It’s an area we had yet to explore and were looking forward to a chance to climb up to the summit and survey the area. On a clear day mountain peaks from Mt. Shasta in California to Mt. Hood can be seen. This was not to be one of those days. As we drove southeast on highway 31 toward Silver Lake the sky began to fill with the blue haze of smoke. By the time we reached Fort Rock the Sun, which had just risen, was only a red circle through the haze to the east. We arrived at the trail head in the Fremont National Forest and prepared to start our trek. The faint smell of smoke reminded us of campfires as we set off. Lighting strikes had set dozens of fires in this portion of the State just days before.
The trail set off in a forest of Ponderosa Pine and some Juniper. It looked like there should be deer everywhere but the only one we saw was on the drive there. A few flowers were left over from what appeared to have been a good bloom probably in late June or early July.
Our first glimpse of the lookout tower gave us an indication of what the view up top was going to be like.
Despite knowing we wouldn’t be seeing the views we had hoped for the quiet trail was very nice. It was well maintained and we had it all to ourselves. After a mile and a half we reached Hager Spring. It had an old log fence around it but was dry now. From the spring the trail began climbing a little faster but never too steeply. We passed through various meadows that were full of balsam root and paintbrush but little color remained from their blooms. We were too late for them but the meadows were still pleasant and we had the company of many birds the entire hike.
The trail crested and passed briefly through a forested area filled with fireweed and then switched back up through another set of meadows. Suddenly we came around a bend and there was the lookout.
Heather and I were both surprised to have already reached the summit because the last time we’d seen the lookout it seemed so far away.
In addition to the lookout tower there was an outhouse and a picnic table. After exploring around the summit a bit we made use of the picnic table to have a snack.
It was only 8:45am and we had arrived before the lookout staffer who pulled up shortly after we’d sat down. We at least had some blue sky above us but the smoke surrounded the mountain on all sides leaving us with no views at all. Still it was a nice place to sit and relax a bit before starting our descent.
A plaque on the summit told us about green-tinged paintbrush which is native to Southern Oregon and has a very limited range. Apparently 95% of the world’s population is found in the Fremont National Forest. We kept our eyes open on the way down and spotted a few of the plants near the summit.
We spotted a lot of wildlife on the way down. Various birds, butterflies, and other insects were all over keeping the hike entertaining. I spent awhile attempting to get a picture of a western tanager who wouldn’t sit still but I finally managed to get a shot of him as he took flight.
Despite the lack of views and being too late for the really good flowers the hike was surprisingly enjoyable. We decided that we would definitely be coming back again earlier in the year to try again. What little we had seen told us it would be more than worth the trip. When we got back to our car a series of forest service vehicles and a water tanker truck went by heading for one of the fires. Happy Trails.
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