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Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Mount Ireland – 07/09/2022

As we continue to work toward our goal of completing the 100 featured hikes (post) in each of the five areas covered by William L. Sullivan in his “100 Hikes” series we headed for Eastern Oregon for a week hoping to check off 6 more hikes from that area. The first hike on our list, Mt. Ireland, had become something of a white whale for us. We had tried to do this hike during a September 2017 to Sumpter, OR but an early round of snow forced us to change that plan (post). We tried again on the way home from backpacking the Elkhorn Crest (post) but a round of severe thunderstorms stymied that plan.

We hoped the third time would be the charm but a little doubt crept in when I checked the forecast Friday night before leaving and saw it called for a slight chance of thunder storms the next day. We left at 5am to make the five and a half hour drive to the trailhead. Our plan was to watch the weather on the way there and if all looked good to try the hike but if it looked like thunder storms were imminent we would drive straight to Baker City where we had reservations for that night and try the hike again on our way home. There were a few clouds in the sky as we approached but none looked threatening so we followed Sullivan’s driving directions to the small, poorly marked, parking area.
IMG_6441A small sign post was all that marked the trailhead.

The trail begins along a closed roadbed which climbs steeply for the first 0.3 miles to a junction with other old roadbeds a view of Mt. Ireland.
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IMG_6445Mt. Ireland from the junction.

IMG_6447Hound’s tongue

There were several old roads/skids in the area but the trail was well flagged (we later learned that flagging had been recently placed by folks manning the lookout).
IMG_6448Flagging on the left marking the “trail”.

After another mile we came to FR 142 where a trail sign marked the continuation of the the trail.
IMG_6450Another flag hanging on the tree to the right.

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IMG_6460Another glimpse of Mt. Ireland.

IMG_6463Small meadow near FR 142 along a tributary of East Fork Boundary Creek.

IMG_6465Trail sign at FR 142.

The trail climbed for nearly another mile from FR 142 to a junction on an open ridge.
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IMG_6472Jacob’s ladder

IMG_6474This was one of three trees across the trail, all of which were easily navigated.

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IMG_6481Ironside Mountain in the distance.

IMG_6483Phlox

IMG_6491Brown’s peony

IMG_6493Nearing the junction.

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The trail to the right led 1.3 miles downhill to Downie Lake a possible side trip but one we decided to skip given our late start, the warm temperature, and we had another six straight days of hikes planned after this. We turned left and headed uphill, steeply at times (most times) toward Mt. Ireland.
IMG_6496Heading uphill.

IMG_6497Pussy paws

IMG_6499Mt. Ireland ahead.

IMG_6503Rock Creek Butte (post) and Elkhorn Peak along the Elkhorn Crest.

IMG_6505Paintbrush

Goosefoot violetGoosefoot violet

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IMG_6522Vinegar Hill in the Greenhorn Mountains (post) with a few snow patches.

It was just over a mile from the junction to the lookout and as we neared the lookout we began noticing signs of mountain goats.
IMG_6526Mountain goat fur on the trail.

I was a little ahead of Heather reaching the tower and when I arrived there were goats at a salt lick placed below the tower to keep the goats from disturbing the tower itself.
IMG_6527Just to the right of the silver stump in the center of the photo is one of the goats.

Mountain goat below the Mt. Ireland LookoutOne of the goats below the lookout tower.

IMG_6530Zoomed in shot of one of the goats leaving upon my arrival.

I rested at the saddle below the lookout tower next to a helipad and took in the view of Baldy Lake below.
IMG_6534Arriving at the saddle.

IMG_6537Baldy Lake below Mt. Ireland.

IMG_6540The tower from the saddle.

IMG_6544The helipad.

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IMG_6542Being watched.

The tower is typically staffed from late-June thru late-September and as I waited for Heather I was waved up to the tower by the current staffer, Warren. Warren and his wife Chris(sp?), who are from Arkansas, welcomed me to the tower where they offered me a chair while I waited for Heather to arrive. Heather soon joined us and we spent almost an hour in the tower visiting. We learned the tower is a bit of an anomaly being steel framed and that the day before 23 goats had been at the summit. Warren also informed us that under the right conditions Mt. Rainier was visible from the tower over 200 miles away. Another interesting tidbit of information was that dietician was the most common occupation of visitors to the tower in 2021 which was Warren’s first year staffing the tower. Apparently they don’t get a lot of visitors which was surprising to us given how great the view was from here.

While we were visiting a nanny and kid came to the salt lick.
20220709_131751The kid was on the other side of mom.

After our visit we returned to the saddle for a few more photos and then headed back down the trail to the car.
IMG_6550The Elkhorns from the tower.

IMG_6558The snowy Wallowa Mountains beyond a gap in the Elkhorns.

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IMG_6559Milbert’s tortoiseshell

IMG_6563Vinegar Hill with Dixie Butte to the left and Strawberry Mountain (post) the high point to the far left in the distance.

IMG_6568Clark’s nutcracker

IMG_6572Butterfly on pussy paws.

IMG_6589A comma?

IMG_6590Beetle on arnica.

IMG_6593Hookedspur violet

After returning to the car we drove into Sumpter and stopped for hand dipped corn dogs at a small stand that is only there typically between July 4th and Labor Day. The owner of the stand had stayed later in September of 2017 and we’d had several of the corn dogs (and cheese sticks) then which were delicious. The next year the stand wasn’t there but it was this year to our delight.
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After a couple of corn dogs (w/jalapeno mustard) and a cheese stick each we continued to Baker City and checked into our room for the night. The hike came in at a little over 7 miles with just over 2300′ of elevation gain.

We really enjoyed this hike and getting to visit with the staffers made it even more enjoyable. It’s really hard to understand why this hike isn’t more popular except that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there about it. It felt good to finally be able to check this one off our to-do list but we would happily do it again if the opportunity arose. Happy trails!

Flickr: Mt. Ireland