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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

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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2017-09-20 09.52.56

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