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Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge & B.C. Creek Falls

We took an couple of days off for an extended Memorial Day Weekend in order to take a trip to NE Oregon in hopes of checking off a few more hikes of our to do list of Bill Sullivan’s 500 featured hikes (post). The plans included our fist visit to the Hells Canyon Wilderness which would leave us with just seven more wilderness areas to visit in Oregon (post).

We also recently added a third goal of hiking in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. I had recently been looking at a map and began wondering how many of the counties we had hiked in and realized that there were only 5 in which we hadn’t as of the start of May this year: Columbia, Umatilla, Union, Gilliam, and Morrow. We checked off Columbia with our visit to Sauvie Island (post) and we have hikes planned in Umatilla and Union later this year. That left Gilliam and Morrow which are adjacent to one another in the north central portion of the State with the Columbia River acting as their northern borders. Neither of these counties are home to any of the 500 featured hikes but the John Day River acts as the western border for Gilliam County. We had been in Sherman County on the west side of the John Day during our visit to Cottonwood Canyon State Park (post) and remembered that there was a trail on the other side of the river, the Lost Corral Trail, which I quickly added to our future plans. That left Morrow County.

Sullivan does have a couple of additional hikes in the back of his Eastern Oregon book that are located in Morrow County but neither seemed to fit into our future plans. I turned to the map to see if anything would turn up and noticed that the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge was located in the county just NE of Boardman just off Interstate 84. We would be driving that by on our way to Wallowa Lake so I did a little research on the refuge. The Heritage Trail is the only official trail there but other areas are open to foot traffic and we were just looking for something that would allow us to stretch our legs and would allow us to check Morrow County off our new list.

We took exit 168 from I-84 and followed Highway 730 for 3.7 miles then turned left onto Patterson Ferry Road at a sign for the refuge. We drove 2.7 miles along Patterson Ferry Road past a parking area with restrooms to left at a large sign marking the start of a short driving loop.
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We had a map of the refuge with us, but the parking areas weren’t marked which was a little confusing. We followed the gravel road around a field parking at a lot on the right just under 1.5 miles from the start of the loop. A green fence blocked what looked like an old road bed.
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We decided to follow this track thinking that it might lead us to the Heritage Trail. There were a few wildflowers amid the grasses and a pleasant scent in the air coming from the trees.
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By the sound of them there were a whole lot of birds around but we weren’t having a lot of luck spotting them aside from a red-tailed hawk screeching in the sky above and a couple of western kingbirds.
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Several signed tracks split off from what appeared to be the main track that we were following. We aren’t sure but think they were pointers for hunting blinds.
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The track led us toward McCormack Slough where a bald eagle was keeping watch.
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At the slough we tried following a fainter track to the left thinking it might hook up with the Heritage Trail but there was no discernible path around the slough so we made our way back to the main track and returned to the car. Along the way we spotted two coyotes, several deer, a great blue heron and a pair of white pelicans.
IMG_7065First coyote in the grass.

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IMG_7070One of the deer running off.

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We continued on the driving loop and just about a half mile later spotted the parking area for the signed Heritage Trail on the right.
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The paved trail follows an old road between a portion of the slough.
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We followed this trail for about a half mile where it joined an open road and then turned around and headed back. It was a short hike but we did see some more wildlife and a few flowers.
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IMG_7093An egret on the other side of the slough.

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Each of our stops here consisted of 1.1 mile hikes with a nice amount of wildlife. We drove back to the Interstate and continued east onto Wallowa Lake and our second hike of the day.

We had made reservations at the Eagle Cap Chalets near Wallowa Lake, just under 3/4 of a mile from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead and the start of our next hike. We decided to see if our room was ready and it was so we unpacked the car, threw on our packs and road walked to the trailhead.
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We started a 5 day backpacking trip here in 2016 (post) so the first quarter mile of trail was familiar before turning off of the West Fork Wallowa Trail onto the Chief Joseph Trail.
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The first section of trail may have been familiar but being two months earlier in the year the flowers were different.
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Rock Clematis

We turned onto the Chief Joseph Trail at the signed junction following a hand written pointer for B.C. Creek Falls
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The trail descended through the forest to a footbridge over the West Fork Wallowa River.
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On the far side of the river the trail climbed a series of switchbacks past more wildflowers and views down to the bridge below.
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The trail then leveled out a bit as it traversed the hillside above the river passing a viewpoint of Wallowa Lake 3/4 of a mile beyond the bridge.
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IMG_7207Looking further into the Wallowas.

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We arrived at B.C. Creek a tenth of a mile from the viewpoint.
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After two bridges were washed out here the Forest Service stopped replacing them.
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After admiring the falls we turned back, not being tempted at all to attempt a ford to complete a possible loop back via the abandoned portion of the Chief Joseph Trail beyond the creek.
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Sullivan describes a second possible loop option by taking a spur trail through a private Boy Scout Camp. He noted that this trail could be closed to the public at any time but we decided to check it out turning left onto the unsigned but obvious trail .4 miles from the creek.
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After just a tenth of a mile a rocky viewpoint offered another look into the mountains and some purple penstemon.
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We also spotted a sign stating that the trail beyond was closed to the public and warning of surveillance cameras. We returned to the Chief Joseph Trail and headed back down to the bridge and recrossed the river. We then noticed another well used trail and followed it left along the canyon rim above the West Fork Wallowa.
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Flowers dotted the rocky terrain here.
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We kept following the path along the rim to a viewpoint above a small unnamed waterfall.
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The user trail kept going beyond the falls so we did too eventually hooking back up with the West Fork Wallowa Trail a little over 100 yards from the trailhead. We then road walked back past the ground squirrels patrolling Wallowa State Park to the Eagle Cap Chalets, but not before stopping at the Khao Neaow Food Cart to get some Thai food to take back to our room for dinner.
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The food was great and after dinner we walked down to Glacier Grill and General Store to pick up some food and drinks for the room. On the way back we noticed a group of deer in front of the old Edelweiss Inn.
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They were a rowdy bunch.
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Our outing to B.C. Creek Falls was a modest 5 miles and a nice reminder of how much we loved our 2016 trip to the Wallowas. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Umatilla WLFR & B.C. Creek Falls

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Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 5 – Return to the Wallowa Lake Trailhead

All good things must come to an end and it was time for our visit to the Eagle Cap Wilderness to end on the fifth day. We were up before 5am and were rewarded with a soft alpenglow.
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We ate some breakfast, packed up, and then made our way down to Horseshoe Lake.
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We then began a 3 mile descent to Sixmile Meadow along the West Fork Wallowa River. The trail up the river to Frazier Lake had been lined with wildflower meadows but this trail passed through a forest.
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A few flowers were present as well as some ripe oval leaf blueberries.
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Prince’s pine
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We had been discussing the fact that we hadn’t seen quite as much wildlife as we thought we might. A doe and her fawn had walked right past our tent on the first night and we’d seen a pair of mountain goats on the second day while heading up to the Matterhorn, but otherwise it had been a lot of birds, chipmunks and squirrels. As we came around a switchback we spotted a snowshoe hare.
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The trail leveled out as we neared Sixmile Meadow and the temperature dropped. A light frost covered the plants along the path.
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Logs allowed us to cross 2 branches of the river.
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We passed through Sixmile Meadow before turning left on the West Fork Wallowa Trail.
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We were now on a familiar trail but despite having seen the scenery there were some new sights in the form of wildlife.
Grouse
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Buck
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All in all it had been a great trip. We had had a couple of hiccups with Heather being ill the first night and having trouble finding a campsite the second and fourth nights but the weather had been wonderful and the scenery superb. After changing and doing a little bit of cleanup at the car we stopped for lunch in Joseph at the R & R Drive-In which really hit the spot. We each had a Zeke Burger and split an order of some spectacular tater-tots.

We were able to take I84 on the way home but decided to leave the Interstate at Hood River in an attempt to avoid driving through Portland during rush-hour on a Thursday. We drove past Mt. Hood on Highway 35 to Highway 26 then took State Highways through Estacada, Mollala,and Woodburn to avoid traffic. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671217618871

Epilogue – After spending five days in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of NE Oregon we found ourselves at the beach for our annual family reunion in Gleneden Beach, OR. For the first time we brought our camera and for the first time we spotted whales off the coast.
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In the course of a week we’d gone from seeing mountain goats on the way up a 9826′ peak to watching whales surface from sea level. Just one of the reasons why we love living in the Pacific Northwest.

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Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 3 – Into the Lakes Basin

We woke up feeling pretty good on the third day of our trip despite the long hike searching for a campsite the day before. Heather had made it through the night without getting sick and we were up at dawn getting ready to continue on.
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We were a little concerned by an influx of smoke coming up the valley behind us. We figured that the wind had shifted overnight and some of the smoke we had seen from the Matterhorn the day before had made it’s way to us but we weren’t sure. We hoped that it wouldn’t affect our visibility as we began the days hike.

The trail continued through increasingly impressive wildflower meadows to a bridgeless crossing of the West Fork Wallowa River.
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At the crossing we found a single log across the river which I started to attempt to cross on before deciding it was a little too narrow and wet for my comfort.
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Oddly enough there appeared to be an actual bridge way upstream but it was only a snow-bridge.
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The river was only calf deep so instead of trying to balance on the log we decided to simply ford the river and deal with wet feet for awhile. On the far side of the river the trail continued up the narrowing valley past a number of side streams and waterfalls.
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Once again a “Fires Prohibited Beyond This Point” sign signaled we were only quarter mile from a lake.
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The trail leveled out and quickly brought us to Frazier Lake.
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We didn’t see anyone camped here just a lot of tadpoles in the water.
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At the far end of Frazier Lake we left the West Fork Wallowa Trail and followed a pointer for Glacier Pass.
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This trail followed a branch of the river flowing down an alpine valley from Glacier Lake to Frazier Lake. Waterfalls, wildflowers and golden-mantled squirrels awaited us as we climbed ahead of the encroaching smoke that continued to make it’s way up the valley behind us.
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A final wide sweeping arc completed this 2 mile section of trail bringing us just below the basin holding Glacier Lake.
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The beauty and wonder of God’s creation is our main motivation for hiking and although we witness it every time we hit the trail there are moments where that beauty is indescribable and impossible to capture with a camera. Our first look at Glacier Lake was one such moment.
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Backed by snowy peaks including Eagle Cap and lined with wildflowers the blue-green waters of Glacier Lake were breathtaking. We set down our packs and removed our wet shoes and socks to allow them to dry while we soaked in the unbelievable scenery.
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Amazingly we only noticed one tent set up around this gem. Heather quickly decided that someday we would come back and spend at least one night here. We had more hiking to do though, so we eventually pulled ourselves away and continued past the lake and up toward Glacier Pass.
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A couple of patches of snow lingered across the trail but neither were any issue to cross.
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The view from Glacier Pass included Glacier Lake, Eagle Cap, and the Matterhorn.
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As we began to descend from the pass we spotted Moccasin Lake and our ultimate goal for the day, Mirror Lake.
Moccasin Lake
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Mirror Lake
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After seeing no one at Frazier Lake and the single tent at Glacier Lake we began running into more and more hikers as we made our way down to Moccasin Lake. The landscape here contained many alpine meadows and bubbling streams.
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We followed the trail to Moccasin Lake where we had to hop across it on rocks.
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At a trail junction near Moccasin Lake we followed a pointer toward the East Fork Lostine River.
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In another .7 miles we reached Mirror Lake and began looking for a place for our tent. After crossing the lake’s outlet creek we found a nice spot in beneath some tress near a small pond and set our packs down while we looked around a bit more.
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There were already a number of tents set up around the lake and more hikers were arriving all the time. Before we had started to set up our tent a group of teenagers chaperoned by one adult began noisily setting up tents nearby. We quickly decided to move further away to avoid the unnecessary yelling this group was already doing. We settled on a rocky cliff overlooking both Mirror and Moccasin Lakes above the creek between the two lakes.
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The noise from the creek below helped drown out some of the noise and we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around our campsite and exploring the rocky area between the lakes. The smoke that had been coming up the valley near Frazier Lake made a brief appearance early in the evening but it eventually rolled back and was held at bay on the horizon.
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The kids wound up being quieter than expected and after watching a nice sunset we turned in for the night.
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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671957245226

Categories
Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 2 – The Matterhorn and West Fork Wallowa Trail

When we had gone to sleep the night before we weren’t sure if we would be continuing our trip or hiking back to the car after only one night due to Heather having gotten sick during the night. She was feeling pretty good in the morning though and was fairly certain she had just overheated the day before, so we decided to move ahead with our plans and see how she held up.

We had breakfast and watched as the morning light slowly made it’s way into the Ice Lake basin.
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The Matterhorn catching the morning sunlight.
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Our plan for the day was to take our day packs and hike up to the 9826′ summit of the Matterhorn before packing up camp and heading further up the West Fork Wallowa River. To reach the Matterhorn we would need to follow a use trail on the west side of Ice Lake up almost 2000′. We had explored some of the south side of the lake the day before so we went around the north side of the lake to reach the use trail. This proved to be a good choice as there was no wind allowing for some beautiful reflections in the lake.
Ice Lake

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The lupine was just starting to bloom along the north shore as well.
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The trail crossed an inlet creek at the west end of the lake and then grew fainter as it headed uphill.
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The scenery grew more alpine like as we climbed. A few trees dotted the rocky landscape and wildflowers added color.
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Alpine shooting star
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Alpine springbeauty
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Lewis flax and wallflowers
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Ice Lake was getting further away as we continued up.
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The path led to a marble outcrop that overlooked a basin where we spotted a pair of mountain goats.
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In addition to Ice Lake below there were a couple of snow melt tarns visible below the trail.
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The trail had been fairly easy to follow but it became more difficult after crossing a section of red rocks and starting up the marble of the Matterhorn.
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Despite the rocky terrain several different wildflowers had managed to find footholds.
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Once we were on the marble we worked our way up following cairns and whatever footprints we could find in the areas of dirt that were present. A couple of times we realized we had lost the shoe prints and were only following mountain goat hoof prints. We made our way up to a surprisingly wide ridge top and followed it south toward the summit of the Matterhorn.
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The view of the Wallowas was amazing. Smokey skies surrounded us limiting the visible distance, but we couldn’t complain.

The Elkhorns
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The Lostine Valley
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Cairn marking the summit of the Matterhorn with a smoke plume from a wildfire in Idaho in the distance.
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Eagle Cap in the center of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
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In addition to the great views were some interesting rock features.
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We headed back down from the summit stopping along the way to chat with another hiker on his way up. After packing up we took the Ice Lake Trail back down to the West Fork Wallowa Trail. We were surprised by the number of hikers we passed heading up to Ice Lake on a Monday.

When we arrived back at the junction with the West Fork Wallowa Trail Heather was doing well so we continued with our trip and took the trail south toward Sixmile Meadow. IMG_3201

This 3.3 mile section of the West Fork Wallowa Trail wasn’t the most exciting trail we’d been on, but to be fair it was following up Ice Lake and the Matterhorn. We also had remembered the distance incorrectly thinking it was only about 1.5 miles to the meadow causing it to seem like it was taking forever to get there.

We had originally considered setting up camp at Sixmile meadow but after passing the junction with the Lakes Basin Trail at the edge of the meadow we only saw one campsite which was closer to the trail and more exposed than we wanted to be.
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We decided to continue further along the West Fork Wallowa Trail planning on stopping at the first good campsite we found. That proved to be more difficult than we had expected. The scenery along the trail improved beyond Sixmile Meadow as open wildflower meadows replaced the forest but there was a lack of noticeable campsites and the couple we saw were already occupied.
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One of the more interesting flowers we had been seeing on the trip were yellow columbine which was becoming more profuse in these higher meadows.
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After passing an unsigned junction with the trail up to Polaris Pass the West Fork Wallowa Trail passed through a narrow canyon before entering another meadow.
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It was getting close to 6pm and we were getting a little tired and anxious about finding a suitable campsite. Our worst case scenario was to push on to Frazier Lake but that would mean possibly fording the river, another climb and an additional mile plus of hiking. Luckily as we passed through this meadow we spotted a faint path to the left which led to a small campsite next to some trees. We quickly claimed the spot and set up the tent.
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We had gone quite a bit further than we’d originally planned that day ending up having covered 16.7 miles for the day, but this site turned out to be wonderful. The sounds of the nearby river was joined by the distant roar of several waterfalls cascading down the surrounding cliffs.
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Heather was starting to feel a little under the weather again as we turned in for the night and we decided that we would try and take it a little easier the next day. We had already cut down the distance we needed to go to get to our next planned stop at Mirror Lake and we decided that instead of an afternoon side trip we would just hang out around the lake. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671954055746

Categories
Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 1 – Ice Lake

When I put together our hiking schedule for the year one of the most anticipated trips was our first visit to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in North Eastern Oregon. At 355,846 acres it is the largest wilderness area in Oregon and contains 31 peaks whose summits are over 8000′. A variety of wildlife is also present including wolves. Our plan was to visit during the first week of August hoping it would be early enough to see some good flowers but late enough to avoid the worst of the mosquitoes and not have issues with lingering snow. Leading up to our trip we watched the weather and fire reports making sure everything looked clear and thanks to some timely trip reports on Oregonhikers.org we knew that snow wasn’t going to be an issue.

With everything checking out we left home on July 31st and began the 6+ hour drive to the Wallowa Lake Trailhead. Our first little hiccup came as we were driving along I84 and learned that a fire had started overnight closing the interstate just beyond Pendleton, OR. We were forced to detour through the Umatilla National Forest which added a little time to our drive. Luckily we had left the house early and it was just after 11am when we finally arrived at the trailhead.
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The trailhead is located at the end of Wallowa Lake State Park and the area is a very popular recreation area which was evident by the number of people. We strapped on our packs and followed signs for the West Fork Wallowa Trail and Ice Lake.
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It wasn’t long before we entered the wilderness.
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The trail followed the West Fork Wallowa River up a valley with occasional views.
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The wildflowers were starting to fade at the lower elevations but there were still some blooming along the way.
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After 2.8 miles we arrived at the junction with the Ice Lake Trail.
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This trail led down to a crossing of the West Fork Wallowa River.
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From this area we could see the monstrous Ice Falls on Adam Creek which flowed from Ice Lake over 4.5 miles and 2000′ away.
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Ice Falls

On the far side of the river we began the long climb up to Ice Lake.
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The lower section of trail passed through grassy meadows filled with two types of mariposa lilies.
Sagebrush mariposa lily
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White mariposa lily
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The trail then passed through a section of rock fields before reaching Adam Creek.
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The climbing really started here as the trail began a series of switchbacks along the creek. After 14 of them we came to Beauty Falls.
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Ice Falls was visibly beyond Beauty Falls.
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The trail straightened out as it passed through another series of meadows where the wildflowers were blooming nicely.
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Beyond these meadows another dozen switchbacks stood between us and our goal. Although the temperature wasn’t all that high the combination of the climb and being in the sun made it seem hot. It was slow going but we knew we were getting close when we passed the sign announcing that fires were prohibited beyond that point which meant we were about a quarter mile away.
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As we came around a bend we got our first view of the marble rock of the Matterhorn in the distance.
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It wasn’t much further before the blue water of Ice Lake became visible.
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We’d read that most of the campsites were located on the SE side of the lake so we crossed Adam Creek and began searching for a spot.
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In addition to the ban on fires camping is prohibited less than 100′ from the lake or streams. It was immediately evident by the numerous fire rings and obvious prior tent locations near the lake that some people are incapable of following the rules. We picked out an appropriate spot and got settled.
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After relaxing and having dinner we did some exploring following a trail along the south side of the lake.
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We spotted a few of the locals along the way.
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We crossed a nice inlet creek and followed it up to a pretty alpine meadow with a waterfall.
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After filtering some water from the creek we returned to camp for the night.
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It had been a great first day but shortly after we turned in Heather became ill. We were up for a couple of hours as she attempted to get her stomach to settle down. When we finally were able to go back to bed we did so wondering if we would be continuing our trip.

Happy trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157669026671623