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Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Trip report

Rock Creek to Spanish Peak – 07/20/2021

After spending the night camped near First Creek along the Rock Creek/Ochoco Mountain Trail we got an early (6:30am) start to hopefully climb up the 2000 plus feet to the summit of Spanish Peak before the day got too hot. According to Sullivan’s map (which matched the Forest Service’s map) it was 5.3 miles to the summit.

Forest Service Map

Just 0.2 miles from where we had made our makeshift campsite we came to an established campsite in a saddle near where the Ochoco Mountain Trail supposedly turned uphill to start the climb.
IMG_0375Continuing along the Waterman Ditch.

IMG_0376If this trail sign was marking a junction it wasn’t clear where the other trail was.

IMG_0380Campsite at the saddle.

There was no clear tread other than the continuation of the Rock Creek Trail to the north where it ends at the National Forest Boundary in another mile. There was however a sign for the “Rim Trail” on a tree uphill from the trail.
IMG_0378The Rim Trail sign on a tree trunk.

We headed uphill to the sign and picked up what appeared to be a rough trail but it also looked like it could have been an elk trail.
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We tried our best to follow it uphill but there were no blazes, flagging, or cut logs to indicate that it really was an actual trail and in less than a half mile we lost it in brush.
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The hike had suddenly become an off-trail adventure. Between the Sullivan’s and the Forest Service map we knew the general route that the trail supposedly took so we did our best to recreate it at first. That meant a series of switchbacks up a steep hillside through a sagebrush meadow above First Creek.
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The trail then supposedly wrapped around the ridge between First and Second Creeks arriving at a rock cairn along a rim 2.5 miles from the saddle. We thought that we might rediscover the tread as we switchbacked up, but we did not. As we compared the maps with our GPS we noticed that we weren’t that far below the top of the ridge and that it might be possible to simply climb over the ridge taking a more direct route to the rim cairn. We decided that was our safest bet as we weren’t sure if we would find the trail wrapping around the ridge and even if we did a large downed tree in the wrong spot could make it impassable. We followed game trails through a small stand of trees into more sagebrush on top of the ridge.
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IMG_0402Rock Creek Lake

IMG_0403Gaining the ridge.

We found the trail again on top of the ridge and were soon following rock cairns to the rim.
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IMG_0407View from the rim.

IMG_0408Spanish Peak

IMG_0419A local

The trail was easy to follow along the rim but soon it came into some trees (and past a few wildflowers) where it appeared maintenance hadn’t been performed for a bit.
IMG_0430Astter

IMG_0431Some sort of delphinium I think.

IMG_0433Downed trees across the trail ahead.

IMG_0434Interestingly camouflaged beetle on the upper onion.

IMG_0438Lupine

20210720_084339A checkermallow

IMG_0439Some more downed trees that we had to go around.

We briefly left the trees and were back to cairns in the sagebrush but soon reentered the trees and encountered more obstacles.
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After passing through a couple of meadows we came to a rocky hillside below Spanish Peak where we left the trail and headed uphill following a few scattered cairns along what was shown on the GPS as the “Mascall Jeep Track”.
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IMG_0456We left the trail here, note the small cairn on the left.

IMG_0457Heading uphill.

IMG_0453Scarlet gilia

IMG_0458Paintbrush

After a third of a mile we came to Spanish Peak Road, a dirt track to the radio tower and former lookout site atop Spanish Peak.
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We turned left on the road and followed it another 0.3 miles up to the summit.
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IMG_0467The site of the former lookout.

The view was impacted by the “widespread haze” that had been forecasted but we could still make out quite a bit (and at least it didn’t smell smokey).
IMG_0469 Looking out toward the John Day River valley.

IMG_0470SE to Windy Point.

IMG_0472West to Rock Creek Lake and on the horizon the flat topped Lookout Mountain (post) and pointier Round Mountain (post) in the Ochocos.

IMG_0474NE to the John Day River Valley.

IMG_0477Lookout and Round Mountain and the rim that we had hiked up below Spanish Peak.

IMG_0480The Pisgah Lookout on the far side of the Bridge Creek Wilderness (post).

IMG_0484A hazy Mount Hood to the NW.

After taking a break at the summit we returned down the road to the jeep track and followed it back down to the Ochoco Mountain Trail where we turned left into some trees.
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We passed through a meadow filled with fritiallry butterflies who were loving the remaining hyssop blossoms.
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After 0.3 miles back on the Ochoco Mountain Trail we came to a signed junction with the Mascall Corral Trail.
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Here we made a hard right and headed steeply downhill along the Baldy Creek drainage.
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This trail was in a little better shape having seen some maintenance.
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IMG_0504Baldy Creek was on our left.

The trail soon followed old roadbeds, including another section of the Mascall Jeep Track and just under three miles from the junction arrived at the Mascall Corrals Trailhead
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IMG_0506Red-tailed hawk

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IMG_0519Western tanager

IMG_0527Arriving at the trailhead.

IMG_0529Signage at the trailhead.

From this trailhead we turned right and followed Forest Road 3820 one and a quarter miles (some of which was disappointingly uphill) to Arvid Nelson Road where we turned right for another 0.8 miles to the Rock Creek Trailhead and our waiting car.
IMG_0532Baldy Creek below FR 3820.

IMG_0535A sulphur butterfly of some sort.

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IMG_0546A watermellon or June bug as we called them growing up.

IMG_0549FR 3820 meeting Arvid Nelson Road.

IMG_0550Spanish Peak from Arvid Nelson Road.

This was an 11.5 mile hike with almost 2500′ of elevation gain. The off-trail scramble above First Creek had made the hike a lot more difficult than planned, made more so by having our full backpacks instead of a lighter day pack, but it had been fun (mostly) and despite the haze we had decent views on the day.

Our track in orange

From the Rock Creek Trailhead we drove to Highway 26 then headed east to John Day where we checked into the Dreamers Lodge then had a nice dinner at the Outpost Pizza Pub & Grill before turning in for the night. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Spanish Peak

Categories
Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Trip report

Black Canyon Wilderness and Rock Creek – 07/19/2021

Every year we pick our vacation time in January/February (due to work) so we never know what the conditions will be when we choose. We had a week scheduled in July for a trip to the John Day area in hopes to make further headway on the 100 featured hikes in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (post) and to complete our goal of visiting all of Oregon’s designated wilderness areas (minus the two that are closed to human visitors) (post).

With severe drought conditions present all of the West and multiple wildfires burning in Oregon we kept an eye on the forecast and made daily checks with the relevant National Forests to make sure the hikes that we had planned remained open. While all of the trails were open a red flag warning for possible scattered thunderstorms Monday and Tuesday for the Blue Mountains had us a little concerned. The forecast also called for “wide spread haze” every day but fortunately not for “smoke” which meant we’d probably not have much in the way of views on the trip. We could deal with the haze, it was the possibility of new lightning caused fires that could quickly end our trip and our two days of hiking (Monday & Tuesday) involved our first overnight backpacking trip of the year.

Monday we left Salem and drove to the Boeing Field Trailhead, the first of two stops in the eastern portion of the Ochoco Mountains.
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This trailhead, named in honor of a B-18 bomber that crashed nearby during a WWII training flight killing all four crew members, provides access to the Black Canyon Wilderness via the Owl Creek Trail.
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We headed down the Owl Creek Trail and quickly entered our 45th Oregon wilderness area.
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We descended to the nearly dry bed of Owl Creek in the scar of a 2008 wildfire and in a half mile reached the Black Canyon Trail.
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IMG_0129Aster, paintbrush, and fireweed.

IMG_0134Fireweed, aster, and pearly everlasting.

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IMG_0150Clouds and smoke mixing in the sky made it hard to tell if any thunderstorms might be developing.

IMG_0147We never heard any thunder but we did briefly get sprinkled on.

IMG_0151Ground squirrel.

IMG_0156Columbine

IMG_0158Fritillary butterfly

IMG_0159Black Canyon Trail junction.

We turned left onto the Black Canyon Trail and followed it down into Black Canyon along Owl Creek soon leaving the fire scar behind.
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IMG_0172Owl Creek crossing approximately 1.5 miles from the junction.

In another half mile we arrived at Black Canyon Creek which we easily crossed on small logs.
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IMG_0185Fish in Black Canyon Creek

We were seeing a lot of mountain lady slipper orchids but unfortunately they were all past.
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Three quarters of a mile after crossing Black Canyon Creek we passed the Coffee Pot Trail and soon entered another fire scar, this one from 2002.
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IMG_0201Western Tanager

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Just under 4 miles into the hike we came to the second crossing of Black Canyon Creek and our turnaround point for the day.
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IMG_0214California tortioseshell

Western Jacob's ladderWestern Jacob’s ladder

IMG_0211Black Canyon Creek

After a short break on a log spanning the creek we headed back to the car stopping occasionally along the way to watch pollinators busy at work.
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This was an eight mile out and back with almost 1600′ of elevation gain, mostly on the way back.

Black Canyon Track

From Boeing Field we drove back the way we’d come 4.3 miles to the Rock Creek Trailhead.
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Here we threw on our full backpacks as our plan was to camp somewhere along Rock Creek and then return on a loop the next day by hiking up to Spanish Peak the next day following the route of the Ochoco Mountain Trail and Mascall Corral Trail.

Forest Service Map

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From the trailhead the trail descended to Rock Creek crossing it on a nice footbridge.
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IMG_0288The number of insects on the blossoms and their size differences were fascinating.

The trail then followed along Rock Creek for a bit before the creek began descending more steeply than the trail. At the 2.4 mile mark we arrived at a sign announcing the Waterman Ditch.
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IMG_0301Snacks

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IMG_0310Lorquin’s adrmiral

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IMG_0321A little light on the tread in this section.

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The trail then followed the old ditch passing the remains of a cabin next to Fir Tree Creek in 1.4 miles.
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IMG_0348Fir Tree Creek

IMG_0349Butterflies on coneflower

IMG_0351The cabin ruins.

We continued on heading for Second Creek which was just over 1.5 miles beyond Fir Tree Creek where we hoped we might find a spot to camp or at least refill our water supply.
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IMG_0358Coming around a ridge end toward Second Creek.

IMG_0363Monkshood at Second Creek

IMG_0365This little guy oversaw our water pumping.

There wasn’t a lot of water in Second Creek and the crossing where the most obvious spot to get water was had a whole lot of yellow jackets flying around. We had to do a little hunting up and down the creek in thick vegetation to find a pool deep enough for our pump but finally managed to. What we couldn’t find was a place for our tent or a spot to cook dinner away from the yellow jackets and mosquitos so after getting water we reluctantly continued hiking. After nearly 1.5 more miles we arrived at First Creek where there was almost no water but there was a suitable spot for a tent.
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It had been a long day with this hike coming in a little over 7 miles making it a 15+ mile day for us.

Rock Creek Track (orange)

It was also a warm evening and we had the rainfly on due to the slight chance of rain which made it even warmer. It did finally cool off enough overnight to warrant pulling our sleeping bag/quilt over us and we managed to get some sleep. I woke up once when something fairly big cracked it’s way through the trees below our camp and a couple more times when a pair of nearby owls were trading hoots. It was a more difficult start to our trip then we had anticipated but a good day none the less. Happy Trails!