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Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Tower Mountain – 06/16/2021

After three days of hiking in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness we headed south from Pendleton planning on spending the next two nights in John Day. While I was planning this vacation I began looking for possible hikes between the two towns. Sullivan had a pair of hikes in the back of his Eastern Oregon guidebook starting from the Winom Creek Campground including a hike to Tower Mountain, the highest point in Umatilla County. A 92′-tall Aermotor steel lookout tower stands atop the mountain and is still in operation during the fire season. Sullivan’s description used the Upper Winom Creek and Cable Creek Trails to reach the summit road for a 16.4 mile out and back or a 16 mile loop by descending the Tower Mountain Trail to Big Creek Meadows and following a tie trail from there to the Winom Creek Campground. Nearly all of the area was impacted by the 2019 Tower Complex Fire. There wasn’t a lot of information online regarding the trails here which pass through the North Fork John Day Wilderness but from what I could find online it appeared that our best bet was to simply start at Big Creek Meadows Campground and do an out and back hike using the Tower Mountain Trail.

We parked at the trailhead for the Tower Loop Trail at Big Creek Meadows Campground.
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Instead of heading off on the Tower Loop Trail though we backtracked along the road to Big Creek and turned left following it to NF-52 (Blue Mountain Scenic Byway).
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IMG_7964Frosty penstemon

IMG_7967Tall mountain bluebells

IMG_7970Big Creek

IMG_7973Sign for the Tower Mountain Trail across NF-52.

The tread for the Tower Mountain Trail was faint to say the least as it started in meadows along Big Creek.
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IMG_7979The trail passed through a stand of young lodgepole pine where it was easier to see but there wasn’t much room to maneuver. Our theory on why the Forest Service hadn’t widened this was to deter OHV riders from using the trail as there is a large network of OHV approved roads/trails in the area.

IMG_7981Back to the faint tread.

IMG_7982Elk had chewed up this section of trail.

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IMG_7995The hare wasn’t too concerned about us and even stopped to munch on some grass just a few feet away from us as we passed.

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IMG_8010The only sign/marker for the trail through the meadows.

On the map the trail appeared to cross a branch of Big Creek which it did.
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We were surprised to find a second crossing (of the same creek) just a few moments later.
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The trail became clearer as we continued on. It followed Big Creek for a little over 3.25 miles, sometimes climbing above the meadows along forested hillsides and other times passing through wet meadows with wildflowers. Some of other sections had avoided at least the worst of the 1996 fire.
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IMG_8032Elephants head

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IMG_8074Milberts tortoiseshell

IMG_8080Fleabane along the trail.

When the trail turned away from Big Creek it began to climb through an open lodgepole pine forest with some western larch mixed in.
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Soon the lodgepole forest gave way to other conifers.
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We began to have views of the Elkhorns (post) to the east.
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IMG_8108Either a cinquefoil or an aven.

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The trail grew a bit faint as we passed through an open meadow with a variety of wildflowers.
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IMG_8138Mountain bluebells

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There was also a nice view south of the Greenhorn Mountains including Ben Harrison and Vinegar Hill (post)
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IMG_8119Vinegar Hill is in the center with Ben Harrison to the right of the green tree in the foreground.

The trail began to climb more gradually and actually dropped a bit to a saddle below Tower Mountain before again climbing steadily to an old roadbed at the wilderness boundary.
IMG_8145Back in forest burned in 1996.

IMG_8147Glacier lilies

IMG_8148Dropping to the saddle with Tower Mountain in the distance.

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IMG_8156The lookout tower on Tower Mountain.

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IMG_8160Huckleberry blossoms

IMG_8163Arriving at the wilderness boundary.

IMG_8164Looking back into the North Fork John Day Wilderness.

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A short distance later the trail ended at Forest Road 5226.
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IMG_8171The Elkhorns from NF-5226.

The road loops around the summit of the mountain so either left or right would have led us to the lookout tower. We decided to go clockwise and headed left up the road.
We arrived at the summit after a 0.4 mile climb.
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We sat at on a bench facing the Elkhorns to rest and have a snack.
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After the break we walked over to the tower to check it out. It wasn’t clear if it was okay to climb the stairs, there was no signage either way. We decided to admire it from the ground though.
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After admiring the tower we continued on the road loop. When we came to a fork in the road we detoured left to a ridge end meadow with a view that included the Wallowa Mountains (post).

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IMG_8201Wallowas on the left and the Elkhorns on the right.

IMG_8203Wallowa Mountains including Eagle Cap

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IMG_8207Balloon pod milk vetch

IMG_8215A patch of snow clinging to Tower Mountain.

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20210616_105410A penstemon

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We completed the road loop and then headed back down the Tower Mountain Trail. We retraced our steps looking for flowers and wildlife along the way.
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20210616_112711Ball head waterleaf

20210616_114428Violets and ?

IMG_8274Tortoiseshell on a cone.

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IMG_8308Fish in Big Creek.

IMG_8312I believe this is a columbian ground squirrel.

IMG_8320California tortoiseshell butterflies

IMG_8321Diffuseflower Evening-primrose

IMG_8324Red tailed hawk

Our hike came in at 12.7 miles with a little under 2000′ of elevation gain. The climb never felt very steep and the scenery along the trail was great.

We were both very impressed with this hike and it wound up being our favorite of the whole trip. Having a map for the lower faint portion of trail was necessary but the trail itself was in really good shape. We then drove to John Day and after checking into our motel had a wonderful dinner at 1188 Brewing. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Tower Mountain

Categories
Hiking Uncategorized

Progress Report – Oregon Wilderness Areas

In our last post we wrote about our ambitious (possibly overly so) goal of completing 500 “featured” hikes in William L. Sullivan’s guidebooks. The topic of this post is another one of our goals, visiting all 45 of Oregon’s accessible designated wilderness areas (Three Arch Rocks and Oregon Islands are off limits to all visitors). This goal should be quite a bit easier to accomplish given the much smaller number of needed hikes and the fact that the wilderness areas aren’t changing every few years. (There is legislation pending that would create the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness in the coast range between Reedsport and Eugene.)

The inspiration for this goal came from a fellow hiker and blogger over at Boots on the Trail. This smaller goal fit well into our 500 featured hikes goal too as thirty nine of the wilderness areas are destinations of at least one of the featured hikes. The remaining six: Copper-Salmon, Lower White River, Rock Creek, Cummins Creek, Bridge Creek, and Grassy Knob were still included in the books but as additional hikes in the back. Between the hike descriptions in the guidebooks and Boots on the Trail’s trip reports we’ve had plenty of information to work with.

This was an appealing goal too. Wilderness areas are dear to our hearts and home to many of our favorite places. These areas are the least affected by humans and we feel best reflect God’s work as Creator. To me they are akin to a museum showcasing His finest artistry. Just as we would in a museum we admire and enjoy the wilderness but we do our best not to affect it meaning adhering whenever possible to Leave No Trace principles.

We have made pretty good progress on this goal so far and as of 12/31/18 we had visited 38 of the 45 accessible areas (and seen the other two from the beach). We’re currently on track to have visited them all by the end of 2020.

Below is a chronological list of the wilderness areas we’ve been to (or seen) as well as any subsequent year(s) we’ve visited with some links to selected trip reports.

Opal Creek – 2009, 10, 11, 12, 14, 18

Battle Ax CreekBattle Ax Creek – 2014

Mt. Jefferson – 2010, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18

Mt. Jeffferson from Russell LakeMt. Jefferson from Russell Lake – 2016

Drift Creek – 2010

Drift CreekDrift Creek – 2010

Mt. Washington – 2011, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17

Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson from the Pacific Crest TrailMt. Washington from the Pacific Crest Trail – 2015

Three Sisters – 2011, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

The Three Sisters from the edge of the plateauThe Three Sisters – 2014

Three Arch Rocks – 2011, 18

Three Arch Rocks WildernessThree Arch Rocks from Cape Meares – 2018

Mark O. Hatfield – 2012, 14, 15, 16

Triple FallsTriple Falls – 2012

Mt. Hood – 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Mt. Hood from the Timberline TrailMt. Hood – 2015

Oregon Islands – 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Bandon IslandsBandon Islands – 2018

Mill Creek – 2012

Twin PillarsTwin Pillars – 2011

Mt. Thielsen – 2012, 14

Howlock Mountain and Mt. ThielsenHowlock Mountain and Mt. Thielsen – 2014

Table Rock – 2012, 15

Table RockTable Rock – 2015

Salmon-Huckleberry – 2013, 14, 15, 17, 18

Frustration FallsFrustration Falls – 2018

Diamond Peak – 2013, 14, 18

Small waterfall on Trapper CreekTrapper Creek – 2014

Waldo Lake – 2013, 15, 18

Waldo LakeView from Fuji Mountain – 2013

Roaring River – 2013

Serene LakeSerene Lake – 2013

Badger Creek – 2014

Badger Creek WildernessBadger Creek Wilderness – 2014

Middle Santiam – 2014

Donaca LakeDonaca Lake – 2014

Bull of the Woods – 2014, 15, 18

Emerald Pool on Elk Lake CreekEmerald Pool – 2018

Soda Mountain – 2015, 17

Looking west from Boccard PointView from Boccard Point – 2015

Red Buttes – 2015

Red Buttes, Kangaroo Mountain and Rattlesnake MountainRed Buttes – 2015

Oregon Badlands – 2016

View from Flatiron RockOregon Badlands Wilderness – 2016

Kalmiopsis – 2016

Vulcan Lake below Vulcan PeakVulcan Lake – 2016

Menagerie – 2016

Rooster Rock from a viewpoint in the Menagerie WildernessRooster Rock – 2016

Eagle Cap – 2016

Glacier LakeGlacier Lake – 2016

Mountain Lakes – 2016

Mt. McLoughlin, Whiteface Peak, Pelican Butte, and Mount Harriman from Aspen ButteView from Aspen Butte – 2016

Sky Lakes – 2016

Mt. McLoughlin from Freye LakeMt. McLoughlin from Freye Lake – 2016

Lower White River – 2016

White RiverWhite River – 2016

Rock Creek – 2017

Rock CreekRock Creek – 2017

Spring Basin – 2017

Hedgehog cactusHedgehog Cactus – 2017

Bridge Creek – 2017

View to the north from the Bridge Creek WildernessBridge Creek Wilderness – 2017

Wild-Rogue – 2017

Hanging RockHanging Rock – 2017

Grassy Knob – 2017

View from Grassy KnobView from Grassy Knob – 2017

Clackamas – 2017

Big BottomBig Bottom – 2017

North Fork John Day – 2017, 18

Baldy LakeBaldy Lake – 2017

Cummins Creek – 2017

Cummins Ridge TrailCummins Ridge Trail – 2017

Rogue-Umpqua Divide – 2018

Hummingbird MeadowsHummingbird Meadows – 2018

Steens Mountain – 2018

View from the Pike Creek TrailView along the Pine Creek Trail – 2018

Strawberry Mountain – 2018

Slide LakeSlide Lake – 2018

Copper-Salmon – 2018

Barklow Mountain TrailBarklow Mountain Trail – 2018

The remaining areas and year of our planned visit looks like this:

2019 – Hells Canyon, North Fork Umatilla, Wenaha-Tucannon
2020 – Boulder Creek, Black Canyon, Monument Rock, Gearhart Mountain

If the Devil’s Staircase is added in the meantime we will do our best to work that in (it is currently on our list of hikes but not until 2023. For more information on Oregon’s wilderness areas visit Wilderness.net here.

Happy Trails!

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

The rain showers that had begun the previous afternoon continued into the morning as we prepared for our last day in the Elkhorns. Fortunately they were infrequent and only one quick shower provided any significant amount of precipitation.
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By the time that shower rolled through we had pretty much packed everything up and had it all under the cover of trees. After eating breakfast we started up the Dutch Flat Trail to Dutch Flat Saddle. The presence of the clouds passing overhead gave things a different look that morning and had pushed some of the smoke out.
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The showers had been coming from the west so we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of blue sky we found in that direction.
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Instead of turning right at the saddle and following the Elkhorn Crest Trail back to the trailhead we went straight over the ridge onto the Crawfish Basin Trail.
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This was a longer route back, just over 6 miles vs. 3.25 miles, but it would allow us to visit the Hoffer Lakes as well as Anthony and Lilypad Lake and only repeat a half mile of trail from our first day.

After a series of switchbacks down the Crawfish Basin Trail leveled off along the hillside above Crawfish Meadow.
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It also passed below the rocky spires of Angell Peak, Lees Peak, and The Lakes Lookout.
IMG_0856Lees Peak

As we made our way around the hillside Crawfish Lake came into view down in Crawfish Basin.
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The lake is one of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Easter Oregon” guidebook which put it on our list of to do hikes if we are ever going to finish all of his featured hikes. There are no trails between the lake and the Crawfish Basin Trail so we were planning on stopping at the Crawfish Lake Trail later in the day on our way from the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead to Sumpter. For now we continued along the Crawfish Basin Trail which wrapped around The Lakes Lookout before joining an old road bed after two and a half miles.
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Just prior to joining the road we startled a group of elk in the trees below the trail. They were never in view long enough for a picture but we were excited to add them to the deer and mountain goats we’d already seen during the trip.

A tenth of a mile along the old roadbed we came to a fork where a trail to the right led up nearly 800′ to The Lakes Observation Point.
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Rock Creek Butte had been enough climbing for us on this trip so we ignored the side trail and continued on the roadbed toward the Anthony Lakes Ski Area passing views of Anthony Lake along the way.
IMG_0874Anthony Lake

IMG_0878Ski lift on the hillside ahead.

Near the ski area we turned downhill on a steep double track instead of continuing around a much longer hairpin curve in the road.
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We then turned right on the road which seemed to see plenty of use.
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In a quarter mile we came to the start of the Hoffer Lakes Trail on the right.
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We followed this trail for half a mile through meadows to the first Hoffer Lake.
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Following the path around the first lake to SE led us across a series of footbridges to the second Hoffer Lake.
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Only a narrow strip of meadow separates the lakes.
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After visiting the second lake we returned to the Hoffer Lakes Trail and followed pointers for Anthony Lake.
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This section of the trail was wide and full of roots. It was also surprisingly steep in places as it followed Parker Creek downhill.
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After half a mile the Hoffer Lake Trail ended at another old road bed near walk-in camp sites.
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We followed a path straight ahead for about 50 yards to get a look at Anthony Lake.
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After making use of one of the picnic tables we followed the roadbed to the right around the lake for .3 miles to a boat ramp where the view across Anthony Lake included Gunsight Mountain.
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At the boat ramp we turned right onto the Black Lake Trail.
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Just 500 feet along this trail was the aptly named Lilypad Lake.
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The trail made a short climb beyond Lilypad Lake before dropping us back onto the Elkhorn Crest Trail a half mile from both the boat ramp at Anthony Lake and the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead where our car awaited us.
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Although we weren’t done with our hiking for the day we were glad to be done with our full backpacks. We took our day packs out and prepared them for the Crawfish Lake Trail then drove 4.5 miles west of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area to the Upper Crawfish Lake Trailhead just off of Forest Road 73.
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The Crawfish Lake Trail began by diving steeply downhill to a creek crossing.
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It then leveled out a bit and descended much more gradually past a variety of scenery.
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There were signs of recent trail maintenance along the way, some more successful than others.
IMG_0961Trail maintenance fail.

Shortly before arriving at Crawfish Lake the trail entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Just 1.4 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the lake.
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We walked along the NW shore for .3 miles to a campsite with a view across the lake to The Lakes Lookout.
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We took a break at the campsite, which was also the location of the continuation of the trail as it left the lake and headed downhill 1.3 miles to the Crawfish Creek Trailhead.

After a brief rest we returned the way we’d come and headed into Sumpter along Forest Road 73. It wasn’t noon yet but the sky was starting to fill up with some ominous looking clouds.

We were planning on staying in Sumpter for two nights. We had unfinished business from our previous visit in September 2017 when snow kept us from hiking up to the lookout atop Mt. Ireland (post). After checking into the Sumpter Stockade we walked through town to the Golden Nugget Cafe.

On the way back to our room we heard the first of the thunder. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that the area was under a red flag warning for thunderstorms through much of Friday with the chance of them occurring into Friday night. Since the top of a mountain is one of the last places you want to be during a thunder storm we decided to scrap our planned hike up Mt. Ireland and return home a day early.

In the end it was probably for the best as we were both dealing with some foot issues after having hiked for six straight days and over 76 miles. Heather was also anxious to meet her new nephew so Mt. Ireland would have to wait for another trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

After we spent our third day in the Elkhorns basically retracing our steps from the second day nearly two thirds of our fourth day would be spent on new trails. Our plan was to leave Summit Lake and return to the trailhead along the jeep track near Cracker Saddle then follow that jeep track down to the Lost Lake Trail which would lead us past Meadow and Lost Lakes before climbing back up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail to the north of Mt. Ruth. From there we would follow the Elkhorn Crest Trail north just under two miles to Dutch Flat Saddle where we would take the Dutch Flat Trail down to Dutch Flat Lake for the night.

There was still a little haze in the air but the smoke didnt’t seem any worse than the day before.
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We could see the haze but never really smelled anything and depending on the angle of the sun and where you looked there were still blue patches of sky to be seen as we left the lake.
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After a mile and a half we arrived at the trailhead signboard and turned right down the jeep track.
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It was a rough, steep road and neither of us would have even considered attempting to drive it.
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It did eventually level out some and was not without some charm as it passed several meadows and through some nice forested sections.
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It also crossed a few wildflower lined streams.
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After one and a quarter miles along the road we came to a signed junction with the Lost Lake Trail.
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Here we turned left on another double track and headed toward Meadow Lake.
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Meadow Lake lay off the Lost Lake Trail to the west just over half a mile from the junction. Both the GPS and the topographic map showed a spur trail/road leading to the lake but we were unable to locate it as we passed by. We used the Garmin to bushwack through some young lodgepole pine trees in the area where the road was supposed to be. After a tenth of a mile picking our way through we came to Meadow Lake.
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It was a nicer lake than we had expected and was home to many frogs.
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There had also been quite an insect hatch (or alien invasion) at some point.
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We walked north along the lake and found a sign near a fire pit.
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A faint trail appeared to lead away from this area back toward the Lost Lake Trail so we tried following it back. It was only marginally better as it too became lost amid the small lodgepoles. Once we were back on the double track we continued north climbing above Meadow Lake to a saddle.
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The old road bed then launched seemingly straight downhill. To make matters worse it was covered with fairly good sized rocks.
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This lasted for about a quarter mile before the trail leveled out in a basin near a nice meadow with a view of Mt. Ruth.
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The trail crossed a stream flowing from the meadow and then began to climb in an equally absurd rocky and steep manner.
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The climb up this side lasted a little over half a mile before leveling off a bit on a forested ridge.
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After passing over the ridge a short and less steep descent brought us to a signed junction for Lost Lake.
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The sign said it was a quarter mile to the lake but it was really only about a tenth of a mile down (steeply again) to the shore.
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We broke out our camp chairs and rested for about an hour. After eating a bit of food and recovering from the earlier climb we continued on. It was another steep, rocky climb for the first three tenths of a mile from Lost Lake.
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The trail then leveled out as it passed a series of meadows below Lost Lake Saddle.
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Gentians were abundant in the green meadows.
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Roughly three quarters of a mile from Lost Lake we passed a rocky ledge where a short side trip brought us to a view of the lake below.
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The trail then passed a couple more meadows before entering an old fire zone where some silver snags still stood.
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A couple of switchbacks brought us back up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail a total of 1.3 miles from Lost Lake.
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We turned right (north) and promptly passed through Nip & Tuck Pass where the trail now traversed along the western side of the crest above Cunningham Cove.
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Just over a mile later we crossed over Cunningham Saddle to a view of Crawfish Basin.
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Three quarters of a mile away we could see Dutch Flat Saddle along the ridge ahead.
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At that saddle we turned right onto the Dutch Flat Trail.
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A short distance down the trail we got our first good look at Dutch Flat Lake.
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For a mile the trail switchbacked down past rocky cliffs and wildflower meadows to a junction.
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Another quarter mile brought us to the meadow lined lake.
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We went about setting up camp then started to explore a bit. I noticed a young bird along the shore so we declared that area off-limits.
IMG_0786I used the 30x zoom for the picture and didn’t get close to the little one.

It was an interesting little lake with a tiny island and lots of jumping fish.
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We found the outlet creek to be particularly unique as it squeezed through a narrow channel between rocks.
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We did find a nice pool along the creek to get water from and as we were doing that we started to feel rain drops. I raced back to the tent and threw on the rain fly just before a decent little shower passed overhead.
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After the rain shower we ate dinner and then walked around the lake which came to a little under half a mile.
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The SW end of the lake was particularly marshy with several inlets forcing us to swing out fairly wide.
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All the wet meadows in the area provided good habitat for huckleberries.
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It also appeared to be an area that would have a lot of mosquitoes but we only noticed a couple and neither of us wound up with any bites. It was the only time during the entire trip that either of us even saw any.

With the hike around the lake our days mileage came to just 10.6 which was the least so far with the following day expected to be even less. We were starting to feel a little worn down but knowing the final day was mostly downhill helped lift our spirits.

As the evening progressed I began to wonder about the possibility of thunderstorms, something that we have yet to encounter while backpacking. Heather is not a fan of thunder and lighting at all and I am not in any hurry to have our first experience with it either. It did shower off and on all night but that was the extent of it and never in any significant amounts. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 4

Categories
Year-end wrap up

The Hikes of 2017 – A Look Back

Once again it’s time for our year end review post. Each year has a bit of a different feel to it, but this year was especially so. This was by far the most challenging year we’ve faced in terms of being able to visit the trails we’d planned on. A heavy winter snow pack lingered delaying access to many areas. Then an unusually bad fire season closed much of the Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters Wilderness areas as well as parts of the Columbia Gorge. Snow returned in mid-September causing more changes to our plans. In the end plans for 39 of our originally scheduled 63 days of hiking were pushed out to future years as well as 2 additional short hikes that were part of multi stop days. Plans for another 12 of those days were shifted around on the schedule which meant that only 10 of our originally planned days occurred as we had envisioned them in January. We had also planned on spending 18 nights backpacking but wound up with a measly 3 nights in the tent. Despite all the issues we actually managed to end the year having hiked on 64 days and covered 751.6 miles.

Here is a look at where we wound up. The blue hiker symbols denote trailheads and the two yellow houses are the approximate location of our two backpacking campsites.
2017 Trailheads

Due to the issues with access to so many locations the mix of hikes this year was very different. An example of this is the average high point of our hikes:

                     2013-2016                2017
Jan.-Apr.    1444′                        1776′
May             2718′                        2355′
June            4900′                        3690′
July             5553′                        6530′
August       6419′                        3048′
Sept.           6400′                        4175′
Oct.             4886′                        3484′
Nov.-Dec.   2042′                        750′

Another example is our mileage distribution:

                     2013-2016                2017
Jan.-Apr.    9.19%                       9.74%
May             13.57%                     14.14%
June            13.75%                      13.50%
July             13.75%                      19.15%
August       19.33%                      6.07%
Sept.           14.13%                      23.28%
Oct.             12.17%                      10.36%
Nov.-Dec.   4.11%                        3.75%

As you can see August was way off the norm with many of those miles coming in September this year. Several wildfires were burning by then and we also changed some plans due to work and family commitments. Finally we chose to stick close to home the weekend of the solar eclipse .

On many occasions we visited multiple trailheads in a single day. We had been slowly increasing the frequency of doing so but this year 25 of our 64 days included more than one stop. In fact we stopped at a total of 106 trailheads this last year.

None of that made it a bad year, it just felt very different. The 64 hiking days was the most we’ve managed in a single year and the 751.6 miles was second only to 2016s 792.8 We managed to make decent headway on our quest to visit all of Oregon’s 45 visit-able wilderness areas by checking 8 more off the list. Rock Creek (post), Spring Basin (post), Wild Rogue (post), Grassy Knob (post), Bridge Creek (post), Clackamas (post), North Fork John Day (post), and Cummins Creek (post).

This year we made use of guidebooks by four different authors as well as a few websites. Most of our destinations can be found in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Oregon guidebooks (information) but we also made use of Scott Cook’s “Bend, Overall“, Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region“, and Bubba Suess’s “Hiking in Northern California“.

A special thanks goes out to Bubba Suess and his Hike Mt. Shasta website for his suggestions and input on our visit to the Mt. Shasta area in July. On that trip we visited four of California’s wilderness areas: Russian (post), Castle Crags (post), Trinity Alps (post), and Mt. Shasta (post). Our visit the the Trinity Alps brought us to the most southerly point while hiking to date. We also reached our highest elevation on that trip when we hiked to the top of Mt. Eddy (post) and saw our first rattle snake along the PCT (post).

We also set a new mark for the western most point reached on a hike when we visited Cape Blanco in May (post).

One way that this year was no different than previous years was that we once again saw and experienced many things for the first time during our hikes. It’s not surprising that we saw new things given that 57 out of our 64 days were comprised of entirely new sections of trail and none of the other 7 were exact repeats. In fact only about 17.2 miles retraced steps from previous hikes which works out to less than 2.5% of our total mileage for the year.

Some new flowers for us included:
Butter and eggsButter and eggs – Yontocket

Possibly tomcat cloverTomcat clover – Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside

dalmatian toadflax along the John Day RiverDalmation toadflax – Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Heart-leafed milkweedHeart-leafed milkweed – Applegate Lake

California groundconeCalifornia groundcones – Jacksonville

GeraniumGeranium – Lost Creek Lake

GeraniumGeranium – Round Mountain

rockfringe willowherbRockfringe willowherb – Mt. Eddy

Leopard lilyLeopard Lily – Trinity Alps Wilderness

There were a few new critters too:
Bullock's OrioleBullock’s Oriole – Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Big Horn SheepBig horn sheep – Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Sheep mothSheep moth – Grasshopper Meadow

Pigeon guillemotPigeon guillemot – Yaquina Bay

EgretEgret – Cape Disappointment State Park

CaterpillarCaterpillar – Cape Disappointment State Park

As is often the case we started and ended our hikes at the coast.
Berry Creek flowing toward the PacificBaker Beach in January

Exposed rocks on Ona BeachOna Beach in December

In between we visited some pretty amazing places. Here are just a few of the highlights:
Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil BedsPalisades – Clarno Unit, John Day Fossil Beds, April

Hedgehog cactusHedgehog Cactus – Spring Basin Wilderness, April

Fern CanyonFern Canyon – Prairie Creek State Park, May

Tall Trees GroveTall Trees Grove – Redwoods National Park, May

Crack in the GroundCrack in the Ground, Christmas Valley, May

Wildflowers on Lower Table RockWildflowers on Lower Table Rock, Medford, June

View to the north from the Bridge Creek WildernessNorth Point – Bridge Creek Wilderness, June

Upper Linton FallsUpper Linton Falls – Three Sisters Wilderness, July

Deadfall Lakes from Mt. EddyView from the Summit of Mt. Eddy, July

Caribou LakeCaribou Lake – Trinity Alps Wilderness, July

Vista Ridge TrailFireweed along the Vista Ridge Trail – Mt. Hood Wilderness, August

Grey back whale seen from Yaquina HeadWhale – Yaquina Head, August

Mt. Adams from Horseshoe MeadowHorseshoe Meadow – Mt. Adams Wilderness, September

Bull elk at Clatsop SpitBull elk – Clatsop Spit, September

View from the Blue Basin Overlook TrailBlue Basin – John Day Fossil Beds, September

Mt. Ireland from Baldy LakeBaldy Lake – North Fork John Day Wilderness, September

Dead Mountain TrailDead Mountain Trail – Willamette National Forest – October

Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mirror LakeMt. Hood from Tom Dick and Harry Mountain – Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, October

Cummins Ridge TrailCummins Creek Wilderness, November

It is only a small sample of the amazing diversity that we are blessed with here in the Pacific Northwest. We are looking forward to discovering more new places next year, hopefully with less disruptions to our plans (including not tossing my camera into any rivers). Happy Trails!

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Phillips Reservoir and Granite Creek

We had originally planned a different set of hikes for the Thursday of our vacation week but after getting a look at Mt. Ireland from Baldy Lake the previous day we had decided to save that hike for another time. The plan had been to hike Granite Creek in the morning and Mt. Ireland in the afternoon.

With Mt. Ireland out and freezing temperatures overnight we were a little concerned about trying to get to Granite Creek in the morning due to having to pass over the 5860′ Blue Springs Summit between Sumpter and Granite. We turned to our trusty guidebook, William L. Sullivan’s 3rd edition of “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” for a solution.

Hike number 142 – Phillips Reservoir was the answer we came up with. We’d passed the reservoir on Monday when we drove to Baker City for groceries. Located less than 10 miles east of Sumpter a hike there in the morning would give the roads time to warm up before attempting the drive to Granite Creek.

When we walked out to our car a little before 7am Thursday morning we felt even better about our decision. For the first time in a long time it was necessary to scrape the ice off our windshield.

We decided to start our hike from the Union Creek Campground.

As we drove east along Highway 7 we had to pull over to get a picture of the snow covered Elkhorn Mountians.
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We turned off Highway 7 at a Union Creek Campground sign and after paying the $6 day use fee we parked at the picnic area and headed for the Shoreline Trail.
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Sullivan’s abbreviated entry for this hike was one of the least enthusiastic descriptions that we’d seen in any of his guidebooks so we were pleasantly surprised by the scene at the reservoir.
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We headed west on the Shoreline Trail which extended 1.7 mile east from the picnic area and 4 miles to the west. The trail passed along the reservoir through open pine woods.
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Within the first mile we’d already spotted a number of different birds.
IMG_0037Osprey and Great Blue Heron in flight

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We continued along the shoreline arriving at a dry Bridge Creek after 1.4 miles.
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Here the trail passed through a meadow with views of the Elkhorns to the north.
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We spotted even more wildlife over the next mile before reaching the Social Security Point Trailhead.
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It was 8:30am when we arrived at the Social Security Point Trailhead so we decided to continue another mile to the Mowich Loop Picnic Area before turning around.
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The trail passed through more open forest before reaching the wide open flat where Smith Creek empties into the reservoir.
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Even more birds could be seen in the grassy flat and in the distance was a group of white birds that we later realized where pelicans.
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Before exiting the trees we passed a carcass that had drawn a large crowd of ravens and magpies who were none to happy with our presence.
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After leaving the trees the trail wound up skirting a meadow and leading us up to Highway 7 a quarter mile from the Mowich Loop Picnic Area.
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We decided to call it good there instead of walking along the highway and turned around. More wildlife sightings occurred on the return trip including an osprey with a freshly snagged fish.
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The fog had lifted off the reservoir by the time we’d gotten back to the car and the weather was beautiful.
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It was 9:30am when we completed our 6.3 mile hike. We felt comfortable with it now being warm enough to make the drive over the pass to Granite Creek so we headed back to Sumpter then made the familiar drive to Granite.

To reach the Granite Creek Trailhead from Granite we turned left on Red Boy Road (Road 24) for 1.4 miles then forked right on Granite Creek Road for 4.3 miles to the signed trailhead.
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From the trailhead a gated mining road headed downhill to the left (our return route) while the Granite Creek Trail headed slightly uphill to the right after passing through an open fence.
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For a little over a mile the trail traversed the hillside above Granite Creek through open pine woods.
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The trail then descended to a crossing of Indian Creek before entering the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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The trail was still above the creek but not quite as far above.
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We had remarked on the variety of trees we were seeing in the forest here which included western larch trees. We spotted one that was already changing into its fall color.
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The forest around the trail shifted from open pine to a denser fir forest before crossing Granite Creek on a wide footbridge at the 2 mile mark.
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The trail once again climbed away from the creek before dropping back down to a log footbridge over Lake Creek.
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Near the 3 mile mark we passed a small wooden box housing Snowshoe Spring.
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Two tenths of a mile later we passed the Lake Creek Trail coming downhill on the left.
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A second crossing of Granite Creek followed .2 miles later.
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Shortly after crossing the creek we arrived at the end of the Granite Creek Trail at the North Fork John Day River Trail.
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This was the same trail we’d started out on for our Tuesday hike.

We continued on this trail just far enough to cross the river on a footbridge.
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We returned the way we’d come but after 2 miles at a fork we headed downhill to the right where we joined the mining road.
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This road passed through mining tailings left over from dredges and hydraulic mining.
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There are still active claims along the road so we stayed on it for the 1.3 miles back to the trailhead.

The total distance for this hike was 6.8 miles putting the two hikes combined at 13.1 miles. The weather had been about as good as we could have asked for and we’d stayed reasonably dry other than our shoes due to the wet vegetation. It was a relaxing end to our week hiking in the Blue Mountains.

On our way back to the Sumpter Stockade we noticed that the corn dog cart (Cajun Concessions) was open even though it was Thursday. After dropping off our hiking gear in our room we walked up the street and each got a hand dipped corn dog and cheese stick. It was now a perfect ending to our stay in Sumpter. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Phillips Reservoir & Granite Creek

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

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

North Fork John Day River

A day after a cold, wet hike in the North Fork John Day Wilderness by Olive Lake we were headed back to that wilderness for another go around. We had decided to hike the North Fork John Day River on Tuesday because it was the lowest elevation hike we had lined up for the week and Tuesday was supposed to be the coldest day of the week.

We waited until 7am to leave Sumpter hoping that the slightly later than normal start would allow time for any potential snow on the roads to clear, especially over the 5860′ Blue Springs Summit between Granite and Sumpter. Ironically there was only a few patches of snow along the road at the summit but 15 miles further north the trees were flocked and snow was falling steadily at the 5500′ Crane Creek Trailhead. There was a good chance we would passing by this trailhead on our hike if everything went according to plan.

Our starting point for the day was another 2.5 miles away at the North Fork John Day Trailhead.

This trailhead is located at the North Fork John Day Campground at the junction of roads 73 and 52. At an elevation of 5200′ the trailhead was low enough that there was no snow and only a light rain was falling as we set off on the trail.
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We crossed Trail Creek on a log then passed through a section of forest before arriving alongside the North Fork John Day River.
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Soon we entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Just two weeks before we’d spent Labor Day weekend backpacking on Mt. Adams (Day 1 and Days 2 & 3) in 80 degree temperatures and we’d just driven through snowy winter landscape but along the river was the first time this year that it had felt unmistakably like Fall.
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We passed several mining ruins before arriving at the “Bigfoot Hilton” at the 2.6 mile mark.
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We hopped across Trout Creek just beyond the Bigfoot Hilton and continued further into the wilderness occasionally being startled by grouse.
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Four miles from the Bigfoot Hilton we came to a junction with the Crane Creek Trail.
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Here we turned left for .2 miles down to the North Fork John Day River.
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After talking with a group of bow hunters camped near by we faced a choice, go back the way we’d come or ford the river and continue on a loop. It would have been a little shorter to go back the way we’d come but the prospect of a loop was too appealing, besides we were already wet so staying dry wasn’t an option.
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The calf deep water was reasonably warm all things considered which was a nice surprise. On the far side we met a couple of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees on their way to do a three day Chinook salmon survey. We wished them luck with the weather before continuing on our respective ways.

The Crane Creek Trail was much more overgrown than the North Fork John Day Trail but it was relatively free of blowdown.
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The trail climbed steadily for 4.1 miles to the Crane Creek Trailhead, the last portion passing through the meadows of Crane Flats where we found most of the snow had melted.
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At the Crane Creek Trailhead we picked up the North Crane Trail which would lead us back to the North Fork John Day Trailhead.
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Remnants of the morning snow remained along this 2.6 mile trail as it passed through alternating meadows and forest.
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We had been expecting to have to ford the river again to get back to the trailhead but ended up taking a right at some point when the actual trail veered left and popped out onto Road 73 just before the river a quarter mile from our car. We crossed the river on the road and walked through the campground to our car.
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It was a much warmer hike than we had been expecting and a really enjoyable 14 mile loop. We would be heading back to the same area the next day for another hike at a higher elevation but for now it was time to head back to Sumpter and get cleaned up. Happy Trails!

Flickr: North Fork John Day River

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Olive Lake

With the forecast calling for the possibility of snow at higher elevations from Monday through Friday of our vacation we were keeping a close eye on forecasts to help choose when to do each of the hikes we’d planned on. The really cold air wasn’t due to hit until about 11am Monday morning so we decided to do our planned loop past Olive Lake first knowing that the high point of the loop was at an elevation over 7400′ in the Greenhorn Mountains. We hoped that by starting early we could stay ahead of any snow that might fall so with that in mind we got an early start and arrived at the Lost Creek Trailhead just before 7am.

The trailhead is located 11.5 miles west of Granite along Road 10. Along the way to the trailhead the road passes the historic Fremont Powerhouse.
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Our plan for the hike was to start on the Lost Creek Trail then take the Saddle Camp Trail to Olive Lake then continue up to Saddle Camp and take the Blue Mountain Trail SE to the Lost Creek Trail and take that back down to the trailhead. We set off on the trail and in .2 miles came to the remains of a redwood pipeline that supplied water from Olive Lake and Lost Creek to the Fremont Powerhouse.
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We got distracted by the pipeline and missed the right turn onto the Saddle Camp Trail. We’d gone almost a quarter mile past the junction when we caught our mistake. Shortly after passing a North Fork John Day Wilderness sign we realized we’d missed it since our map showed the junction prior to the wilderness boundary.
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This was our first time in this particular wilderness checking one more Oregon Wilderness off our “need to visit” list.

We turned around and headed back the way we’d come. The Saddle Camp Trail was marked with a sign that was much easier to spot from this direction.
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We followed this trail through the forest for a mile and a half to another junction.
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Here we turned right and headed downhill for .2 miles to the Olive Lake Campground.
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It is possible to drive to the campground and there is a 1.9 mile trail around the lake which we decided not to take on this day due to the presence of low clouds and wanting to get up and down as early as possible. We did however visit the lake shore.
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After checking out Olive Lake we returned to the junction and continued uphill on the Saddle Camp Trail. After .7 miles we crossed Lake Creek near Upper Reservoir, a large marshy meadow.
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In the next 2 miles the trail passed along the meadow before climbing 600′ to Saddle Camp and a junction with the Blue Mountain Trail.
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A light rain had fallen off and on and now at the saddle we were in the clouds so it was damp. Luckily we had our rain gear on and stayed relatively dry as we traversed along Saddle Ridge. It was a bit of a shame about the clouds because the open ridge would have provided some excellent views along the way.
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It was close to 10:30am when we spotted a cairn apparently marking the high point of the ridge. A few small snowflakes greeted us as we approached.
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The wind had kicked up as well and it was getting cold fast as we passed the cairn.
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As we began to descend to a junction at Dupratt Springs Pass the snow began to accumulate.
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We had to hunt around just a bit to find the Lost Creek Trail sign at the pass but Heather located it and we headed downhill past a large cairn.
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I don’t have a pair of waterproof boots/shoes and this was one of the rare times that I wish I had some and will probably be picking up a pair in the not too distant future. Both my feet and hands (due to taking pictures and not wearing my thicker waterproof gloves) were painfully cold as we entered the first of several meadows on our return route.
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We wound up losing the trail somewhere near the end of the meadow and had to do a little bit of back and forth using the GPS to locate the tread again which we did in another small meadow where we crossed Lost Creek.
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The trail wound up following an old roadbed before reaching the Lost Creek Trail junction at another saddle 2.3 miles from Dupratt Springs Pass.
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We’d dropped out of the snow and the air had warmed up enough that we were warming up some as we descended from the pass. It was just under three miles back to the trailhead from the junction. The trail passed through five meadows and crossed Lost Creek again before arriving back at the Saddle Camp Trail junction where we had turned that morning.
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We passed a couple of bow hunting camps near the meadows but didn’t see any hikers on the trails. We did spot one doe near one of the meadows but she bolted before my cold hands could retrieve the camera.

Overall it was a nice hike that would have been a lot better without the clouds (and frozen extremities). We returned to Sumpter wondering if the 5800′ pass on the road between Granite and Sumpter would wind up being an issue at any point during the week. After changing and warming up we drove into Baker City and picked up some food and supplies from Safeway. We were all set for the week, now we just needed the weather to cooperate. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Olive Lake