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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.
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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

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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_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.

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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!

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

The second day of our Elkhorn Crest backpacking trip began with a welcome chill in the morning. It was actually cold enough to break out the beanie, Buff, and gloves.
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We ate breakfast as the Sun came up creating a nice reflection in Summit Lake.
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After packing up we decided to continue around the lake counter-clockwise to complete a loop around the shore. We crossed a small inlet in a meadow at the southern end of the lake.
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Beyond the meadow the trail passed a couple of other campsites with views to the north across the water.
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Birds were busily flying from tree to tree but one sat still long enough for a photograph.
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After completing the loop we began the 1.5 mile climb back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail. The trail crossed over several small streams and meadows as it passed through a forested section. We spotted two does and a fawn in the area.
IMG_0220One of the does (the fawn dashed by moments later)

IMG_0218Close-up of the doe

As we continued along we were hailed by the group of hikers we had passed early on the first day who had said they were aiming for Summit Lake as well. They wound up running out of gas they said so they set up camp on a rocky overlook of the valley below. After talking with them briefly we continued on to the cairn marking the junction with the Elkhorn Crest Trail where we turned left.
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Our goal for the day was Twin Lakes but we also planned to summit Rock Creek Butte, the highest peak in the Elkhorn Range. We were leaving our options open though. The route up was 9.5 miles away and we weren’t sure if it would be better to wait and attempt it the next day when it would be earlier in the day and likely cooler or if doing it today would be better since the sky was still relatively smoke free in the immediate area. Either way we had time to decide as we followed the trail along the western side of the crest.
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We were very interested in a peak on the horizon to the south. It was clearly separated from the Strawberry Mountains further west and we weren’t sure what it was. When we returned home it was one of the first things I looked up and it turned out to be Ironside Mountain.
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We spotted a number of animals along the crest in the morning including the biggest caterpillar either of us had ever seen digging in the dirt.
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Approximately a mile and a half from the junction with the Summit Lake Trail we came across the only water we would encounter along the entire Elkhorn Crest Trail. A small flower lined stream heading down into Sardine Gulch to join Cracker Creek.
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The trail had left the North Fork John Day Wilderness at Cracker Saddle and we began seeing the difference at a hairpin turn around a ridge.
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From above we couldn’t read the sign without the aid of the camera zoom.
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Someone clearly put some work into that. A little further along the trail we started noticing mining operations along the hillside. We could also see 9106′ Rock Creek Butte further along the ridge.
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The trail spent a short while along a wide section of the ridge top before returning to the western side of the crest.
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We would again gain the ridge top with a nice view down the Rock Creek Valley to the east.
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Nearly seven miles from the Summit Lake Trail junction we came to the Pole Creek Ridge Trail which headed faintly downhill along a ridge.
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By the time we’d reached this junction we had decided to attempt Rock Creek Butte on the way by instead of waiting for the next day. It wasn’t too hot and more importantly it looked like smoke was creeping towards us from both sides so we thought we’d better get what views we could while the getting was good. It was still a little over two and a half miles to the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte where we would turn up for the climb.
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We were having a hard time coming from the direction that we were determining which peak ahead was actually Rock Creek Butte. We were hoping that the closest rounded peak was our goal and not the larger one further away. From the angle we were at they appeared to be somewhat similar in height.
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When we gained the ridge top again though we could just make out Rock Creek Lake in the basin below the further peak which told us that was our next goal.
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As it turned out the peak we had hoped was Rock Creek Butte was 500′ shorter although it did seem to have a possible route up.
IMG_0309Looking up “not” Rock Creek Butte

IMG_0310Rock Creek Butte is still a little ways away.

It took another mile and a half to reach the saddle where we would turn up the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte.
IMG_0327Looking ahead to the saddle.

IMG_0330Nearing the saddle.

At the saddle we left the trail and ditched are backpacks in a group of trees in favor of our day packs.
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Before starting the climb we noticed that we weren’t the only ones traveling south on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. A pair of mountain goats could be seen walking along the trail.
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After watching the goats head over the ridge toward Twin Lakes we began our ascent.
Mountain goat sign was everywhere along the rocky ridge and there was no discernible path, although we did occasionally spot a human foot print in the dirt.
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The half mile route gains roughly 600′ with the final tenth of a mile being the steepest portion.
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A large cairn and register box sit atop the peak.
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From the summit Lower Twin Lake was visible to the south.
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Mt. Ireland and Vinegar Hill lay to the west.
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To the NE should have been the Wallowas but smoke appeared to have overtaken them.
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The view to the north included many of the peaks of the Elkhorn Range but there was no view of Rock Creek Lake due to the broad summit.
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A 500′ stroll across the summit though revealed the gorgeous lake below.
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IMG_0370Notice the golden-mantled ground squirrel sitting atop the large rock overlooking the lake.

Mountain goats were grazing in some green grass by a smaller body of water near the lake.
IMG_0375 (Full disclosure neither of us noticed the goats until I was looking through the pictures at home.)

IMG_0373Looking back at the summit cairn from the Rock Creek Lake overlook.

There were a lot of flying ants on the cairn as well as several lady bugs and some butterflies nearby.
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After recovering from the climb up we started back down just as another hiker was closing in on the summit. It turned out that he had been the other person besides us camped at Summit Lake the night before. We left him to the summit and slowly picked our way back down to our backpacks. After retrieving them we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail following a section of trail that had been blasted out of the rocks.
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Soon Lower Twin Lake came into view followed by Upper Twin Lake.
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The trail made a sweeping curve for the next three quarters of a mile above the lakes bringing around to the opposite end of them before arriving at a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail.
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Although the lakes are only about 350′ below the junction the Twin Lakes Trail takes its own sweet time getting down to them via a series of long switchbacks.
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They made for a relatively easy climb out the next day but I was ready to be done for the day and became rather impatient with the slow decent. After a little over a mile we arrived at the lake and chose a camp stie.
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Both our guidebook and signs at the trailheads had warned about the mountain goats in the area being habituated to humans. A good reminder of why people shouldn’t feed wildlife, without the fear of humans the goats have been known to nibble on tents, clothing and backpacks in search of salt. We made sure not to leave anything lying around outside the tent but it wasn’t long before the first goat passed nearby.
IMG_0407You can see Heather’s arm on the left side of the photo.

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About a half hour later a second goat followed.
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After dinner we watched a nanny and kid circle around the lake and graze nearby.
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We did leave our tent for about 45 minutes to visit Upper Twin Lake which was just .3 miles away.
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More mountain goats were grazing on the hillsides above this lake.
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The goats left our tent alone and we turned in for the night after what would be the longest day of our trip at 15.9 miles. Our original plan had been to return to Summit Lake the next day and stay there again but we were now considering camping along the Summit Lake Trail like the other group we had met had done. The nearby streams would allow us to get water and it would shave off a little distance both the next day and the day after when we were planning on heading from Summit Lake to Dutch Flat Lake. We decided to play it by ear the next day and turned in for the night halfway expecting to wake up to a mountain goat staring at us through the mesh on our tent. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

Categories
Columbia Gorge North Hiking Trip report Washington

Three Corner Rock to Table Mountain

What do we do when the temperatures are going to be nearing triple digits in the Willamette Valley? Take a 23.9 mile hike of course! Okay so that wasn’t our original plan, but due to some navigational errors that’s exactly what happened.

We were headed to Three Corner Rock and then hopefully onto Table Mountain via the Pacific Crest Trail. We’d visited Table Mountain in 2013 starting from the currently closed trailhead near the privately owned Bonneville Hot Springs. Our plan for this hike was to start at the Rock Creek Pass Trailhead where the PCT crosses CG-2090.

After purchasing a Washington Department of Natural Resources Discover Pass online we headed to the Columbia Gorge and crossed into Washington on the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, OR. From there we followed the directions from the Oregonhikers.org field guide to the trailhead.

Our first (and biggest) error of the day happened as we set off on the PCT. Not only does the trail cross CG-2090 but it also crosses CG-2000, which we took to reach the trailhead, further to the north. On the map below the black “x” is the Rock Creek Pass TH and the red “x” marks the PCT crossing of CG-2000.

Rock Creek Pass TH

We hadn’t noticed the PCT crossing of CG-2000 on the drive to the TH and for some reason I had it stuck in my head that our starting point was the red “x”. So based on the direction we had driven to the spot from, we needed to take the PCT to the left to be heading south toward Three Corner Rock. Had we stopped to question why the Sun was nearly straight ahead as we started on the PCT we may have realized our mistake.

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We also hadn’t paid enough attention to the guidebook stating to go right on the PCT from the trailhead so off we went blissfully going the wrong way. From the Rock Creek Pass Trailhead it should have been 1.5 miles to the junction with the Three Corner Rock Trail which meant we had expected to reach it between 45 minutes to an hour into the hike. Instead about an hour into the hike we crossed CG-2000. That didn’t tip us off because based on where we thought we had started and the direction we thought we were heading our route would have included a crossing of CG-2090 which we mistook this crossing for.

Heather had been questioning things for a while but it would have been impossible to be going north by following the PCT in the direction we had from where we thought we started, and we figured if we somehow failed to spot the Three Corner Rock Trail we’d just do it on the way back from Table Mountain instead. The forest along the trail was nice and we eventually came to a footbridge across what we soon realized was Rock Creek.

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Soon after crossing Rock Creek we came to a junction with the Snag Creek Trail quickly followed by Snag Creek itself.

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Neither of us remembered anything about having to ford a creek on our planned route but across we went. We were just over an hour and a half into the hike and now we were both having serious doubts about our direction. We pulled the map out again and this time I also zoomed out on the GPS far enough to see the Columbia River on the display which we had clearly been moving away from. It still took me a few minutes to realize what we’d done. I just kept thinking it was impossible to have gone left at the trailhead and be heading north until it finally sunk in that the trailhead wasn’t where I thought it was. Back we went having to retrace three plus miles and regain nearly 1000′ of elevation.

It was 10am when we made it back to the trailhead, nearly 3 hours after we’d set off in the wrong direction. This time we headed south.

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The funny thing was even though by that point I knew we’d gone the wrong way for at least the next hour I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were headed north. The PCT climbed away from Rock Creek Pass gaining views of Mt. Adams through the trees.

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Near the junction with the Three Corner Rock Trail many avalanche lilies were still in bloom.

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We turned right onto the Three Corner Rock Trail which popped out onto an old road bed after approximately .4 miles.

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We followed the road uphill just under a quarter mile to Three Corner Rock.

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It was really windy on the open ridge and on Three Corner Rock which was once home to a lookout tower.

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It was a five volcano day with a bonus view of Goat Rocks thrown in.

IMG_3386Mt. Hood

IMG_3390Mt. Jefferson

IMG_3394Mt. St. Helens

IMG_3395Mt. Rainier

IMG_3399Mt. Adams

IMG_3398Goat Rocks

To the SE a small section of the Columbia River was visible between Wind and Dog Mountain in Washington and Mt. Defiance in Oregon.

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Despite the wind the views were great, but it did make it difficult to take pictures of the wildflowers in the area.

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After a short break we headed back to the PCT where we decided to continue south toward Table Mountain. We told ourselves we’d play it by ear and could turn around at any time but we’re both stubborn and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we’d wind up making it all the way there.

From the Three Corner Rock Trail junction the PCT gradually descended for 1.25 miles to a road crossing at a saddle with a spectacular display of paintbrush and penstemon. Along the way the trail crossed a rough 4wd track and passed along a ridge still showing evidence of the 1902 Yacolt Burn.

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From the road the PCT traversed along the east side of a ridge through the forest for a mile before arriving at a large clear cut.

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Three Corner Rock was visible behind us.

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The trail climbed through the clear cut for about a half mile before reentering the trees.

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For the next 1.25 miles the PCT passed through a series of wildflower meadows, first on the west side of a ridge with views to the south of Table Mountain and Mt. Hood, then onto the east side of the ridge with a view of Mt. Adams and the Columbia River.

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The views were nice but we spent most of our time focused on the many wildflowers along the trail.

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The variety of colors of penstemon was particularly impressive.

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We had hoped to hop off of the PCT at a sharp right turn just uphill from some power lines and hook up to a dirt road just on the other side of the lines at a saddle. As we came around the ridge end though we couldn’t see any obvious signs of a connector trail so we stuck to the PCT as it began to quickly lose elevation. After looking at the map and realizing that following the PCT all the way to the road would add almost two miles and another 500′ of elevation gain we went back to look again for a connection. After a brief off-trail excursion on a steep slope with thick brush, we bit the bullet and took the PCT down to the road.

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We had to walk back uphill on the road and it was warm. We had benefited from a nice breeze most of the day which helped keep the temperature bearable but there was none along the road. When we arrived at the saddle we spotted a sign near an overgrown roadbed pointing 1.4 miles to Table Mountain.

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We followed the old roadbed for about half a mile to its end where a faint, and at times very brushy, trail continued along the north ridge of Table Mountain.

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When the trail wasn’t overgrown it too was lined with wildflowers.

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Not only was the route a bit of a challenge to follow due to the brush but it was steep at times, especially on two rocky climbs, the last of which brought us to the plateau of Table Mountain.

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Three Corner Rock was visible to the left of the ridges we’d followed to reach the plateau as were the power lines running over the saddle a mile away.

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We picked up the Table Mountain Trail on the plateau and followed it south to the viewpoint above the cliffs overlooking the Columbia River.

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We sat in some shade near the cliffs and took off our shoes and socks to give our feet a bit of a break while we ate a snack. We had no idea how far we’d gone (it was almost 16 miles already) but we knew our feet were sore and we were both developing blisters. We were also getting low on water but thankfully Heather had brought our water filter and we’d passed what I thought would be a sufficient water source in the meadows between the saddle and the clear cut.

We started back at 3:15pm hurrying as quickly as our protesting feet would allow. We both ran out of water shortly before arriving at the seep where the water was just deep enough to use our filter to get some much needed wonderfully cold water. We arrived back at our car at 6:48, almost 11 hours and 45 minutes since we’d set off that morning.

It certainly hadn’t gone as planned but we’d at least come prepared with enough food and water to make it through the day. In addition to some great mountain views and wildflowers meadows we’d learned a valuable lesson about how important it is to make sure you know where your starting point is and to consider everything when determining where you’re at. Had we taken the position of the sun and the description of the hike as beginning uphill to the right of the TH we might have realized much more quickly that we’d misidentified the location of the trailhead on the map. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Three Corner Rock to Table Mountain

Categories
Central Coast Hiking Oregon Oregon Coast Trip report

Baker Beach and Rock Creek Wilderness

Since 2013 our first hike of the year has been somewhere along the Oregon Coast.  Often the weather at the coast during January is nicer than other parts of the State making it a great time to visit.  This was certainly the case this year as the first part of January saw near record snows and freezing temperatures over much of the State.  The coast had not escaped the weather entirely but by the time we headed out for our first hike of the year, things were much nicer there than at home in the Willamette Valley.

Our destination was Baker Beach Camp just north of Florence, OR. This was a change (already) to our plans for 2017 but the forecast for the area was just too good to pass up. Mostly sunny skies and a high of 48 degrees was what was being called for so we left 23 degree Salem early in the morning and headed down to Eugene then west to Florence on Highway 126.

Baker Beach Camp is located at the end of Baker Beach Road, 7 miles north of Florence along Highway 101.  The only signage along the highway was a small green street sign which I noticed just as we passed by it. After quickly turning around we turned onto the gravel road and followed it .5 miles to the camps parking area.

Baker Beach Camp

Baker Beach Camp sign

To start our hike we walked a short distance back along the road and turned left at a trail sign for the Lily Lake Loop.

Start of the Lily Lake Loop

A short sandy climb brought us to a trail junction at the top of a sandy ridge.

Pacific Ocean from the Lily Lake Loop Trail in the morning

The Pacific Ocean was visible beyond Baker Beach and the sand dunes.

Trail signs along the Lily Lake Loop

The Berry Creek Loop would have kept us up on the sandy ridge while the Lily Lake Loop dropped down and passed near Lily Lake before climbing back up to the ridge top and rejoining the Berry Creek Loop Trail. We wanted to see the lake so we followed the Lily Lake pointer passing through a salal filled forest before things opened up along the lake.

Lily Lake Loop Trail

Trail along Lily Lake

We stayed on the paths closest to the lake thinking that one would bring us right to it but instead the lake remained mostly hidden behind first a row of trees then by a reed filled marsh near it’s outlet.

Lily Lake

We could see that there was quite a bit of activity on the lake with several types of ducks and some Canada geese floating on the water, but it was hard to get any clear photos with the vegetation in the way.

Canada geese on Lily Lake

Bufflehead

Bufflehead on Lily Lake

From the lake we climbed back up to the top of the Sandy Ridge which overlooked a small pond and Berry Creek flowing out toward the Pacific.

Moon over the Pacific Ocean

Berry Creek flowing toward the Pacific

There was no sign here and we could have followed the sandy ridge back to the junction we’d been at earlier, but instead we followed a path down to the base of the ridge which led us back to the start of the Baker Beach Trail at Baker Beach Camp. This little loop was just under 1.5 miles.

Baker Beach Trail

Here we turned right following the pointer for Baker Beach. (The Lily Lake/Berry Creek Loop continued from this junction creating an additional 1.7 mile loop to the north of the camp.)

The trail passes through a deflation plain behind the beaches foredune for .4 miles.

Foredune at Baker Beach

Looking north along the Baker Beach Trail

The deflation plain is the result of the dunes no longer expanding due to the loss of additional sand being blown from the beach. European bunchgrass which was introduced in the early 1900’s to help stabilize jetties but spread along the beaches and began stopping the blowing sand from leaving the beach which created the foredunes denying the dunes further inland any additional sand.

Baker Beach

Pacific Ocean from the foredune at Baker Beach

Cape Mountain from the foredune at Baker Beach

When we reached the beach we turned south heading toward Sutton Creek which was 3 miles away. Aside from a few birds we had the beach to ourselves.

Sanderlings on Baker Beach

Seagull and sanderlings

After about 3/4 of a mile along the beach we climbed back up the foredune to get a look at Sutton Creek which we had visited the previous February.

Sutton Creek behind the foredune

Ducks on Sutton Creek

We traveled along the foredune for a bit before dropping back down to the beach.

Patterns in the sand

Baker Beach

We had been considering crossing Sutton Creek and continuing south along Heceta Beach another 2.5 miles to the Siuslaw River but the creek was wide and it wasn’t that warm out.

Sutton Creek

Sutton Creek

After watching several large chunks of sand fall into the creek we headed back with the Heceta Head Lighthouse blinking in the distance to the north.

Heceta Head Lighthouse from Baker Beach

As we were recrossing the deflation plain we spotted a doe amid the grass and pines.

Heading back toward Baker Beach Camp

Doe

Doe

Since we’d cut our hike short (8.2 miles instead of the 13.2 planned) we had time to do another. We could have hiked Heceta Beach like we had planned by driving back to Florence and parking at the end of South Jetty Road, but we had noticed that that beach was already busy when we were at Sutton Creek earlier. We preferred something a little less crowded which led us to the Rock Creek Wilderness.

This was one of the wilderness areas that we had yet to visit and it was just another 8 miles north on Highway 101 from Baker Beach Road. We hopped in our car and drove to the gated entrance to the Rock Creek Campground.

Rock Creek Campground sign along Highway 101

The campground was closed for the season so we had to walk along the paved entrance road for approximately .4 miles.

Road to Rock Creek Campground

There had been one other vehicle parked at the gate and we passed it’s owner on his way back up from the campground area. The little campground was located right along Rock Creek.

Rock Creek

Rock Creek

The 7,486 Rock Creek Wilderness was designated as such in 1984 and has no Forest Service developed or maintained trials. That being said there is a use trail leading from the end of the Rock Creek Campground that can be followed into the wilderness.

Use trail leading from the Campground into the Rock Creek Wilderness

The path was brushy and narrow but passable as it followed along the creek.

Use trail in the Rock Creek Wilderness

Rock Creek Wilderness

Rock Creek

Occasional flagging was present but really unnecessary as the brush was so thick that we had to follow the path in order to keep moving forward. The only real obstacle to speak of was a large downed tree that had fallen over the best path, but game trails led around the root ball.

BIg tree down in the Rock Creek Wilderness

Without an official trail there were no signs to mark the beginning of the wilderness area so we just followed the path as long as we could. After awhile the path led into a frosty meadow where the canyon widened.

Frosty meadow in the Rock Creek Wilderness

It was a muddy in spots but enough of the ground was still frozen to make it passable. Elk and deer sign were everywhere. It was a beautiful spot with the white frost contrasted against the green of a coastal forest while rays of sunlight attempted to penetrate the canopy.

Frosty meadow in the Rock Creek Wilderness

Sunlight through the trees in the Rock Creek Wilderness

The sound of water flowing on every side only added to the ambiance. There was more flagging at the far end of the meadow and some on the far side of Rock Creek but again this wasn’t a day for fording creeks so we declared victory here and turned around.

Our turn around point (too cold to ford the creek today)

When we got home I wanted to make sure we’d actually made it into the wilderness so I pulled up the interactive map on Wilderness.net. The actual wilderness boundary bows away from the Rock Creek Campground making it further up along the creek than I had thought, but comparing our GPS track to that map showed we had managed to get about .4 miles into the Rock Creek Wilderness.

The Wilderness.net map

Rock Creek Wilderness

Our GPS track

Rock Creek Wilderness Track

On a warmer day when you don’t mind spending some time in the creek it’s possible to get further into the wilderness as this trip report indicates.a href=”http://www.cascadiahiking.com/2012/08/rock-creek-wilderness-no-trail-no.html” target=”_blank”>Cascadia Hiking

Our adventure was only 2.2 miles round trip including the road walk to and from the campground but the solitude and remote feeling of the Rock Creek Wilderness made it seem much more removed from civilization.

With that our 2017 hiking year is officially under way. We checked off our 27th Oregon Wilderness Area and still have 18 to go, 4 more of which are planned this year. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157679106715756