Category Archives: Central Oregon

Link River Nature Trail

Two weeks after a last minute hiking trip to the Klamath Falls area we had a different reason to head back down to that city, my Aunt LaVonne and Uncle Ron’s 50th wedding anniversary. The celebration wouldn’t be starting until the afternoon, so before the festivities began we took a short hike with our son Dominique along the Link River Nature Trail.

After being chauffeured to the trailhead by my parents (who did their own shorter version of the hike) we set off along the trail which was actually a closed roadbed behind a chain link gate.

IMG_4590

The road paralleled the river which flows between Upper Klamath Lake and Lake Ewauna.

IMG_4594

From the very start the trail lived up to being called a nature trail as a number of different birds could be seen in and around the water.

IMG_4598

IMG_4600

IMG_4611

IMG_4612

At the .4 mile mark we passed the dam that created the lake behind it.

IMG_4616

Just beyond the dam the trail crosses a canal on bridge.

IMG_4621

At the half mile mark we left the roadbed at a post for Klamath Falls and made our way to the river just downstream from the small cascades.

IMG_4622

IMG_4629

IMG_4627

After visiting the falls we returned to the trail and continued to follow the river toward Lake Ewauna through a desert canyon where there were plenty more birds.

IMG_4639

IMG_4636Coots

IMG_4642Scrub jay

IMG_4663White pelican, coots, and a cormorant

IMG_4655White pelican

IMG_4668Coots

After one and three quarters of a mile we arrived at the southern end of this section of trail at w parking lot near a power station. Here we crossed Main Street near the Flavell Museum and then also crossed Highway 39 at a crosswalk into a small parking area for the Klamath Wingwatchers Nature Trail.

IMG_4672

IMG_4673

This trail passed underneath Highway 97 and brought us to Lake Ewauna.

IMG_4684

IMG_4677

The trail itself wasn’t much to write home about as it passed between the lake and the busy highway, but the number and variety of birds made up for the traffic.

IMG_4686

IMG_4680

IMG_4690

IMG_4694

IMG_4695

IMG_4699

After about a quarter mile on this trail we came to a fork signed “Loop B”.

IMG_4698

This was the beginning of a .8 mile loop around a couple of old mill ponds. We decided to go around the ponds counter-clockwise so we stayed right. We saw birds everywhere – in the ponds, on the lake, and in the sky.

IMG_4713Mallards and other birds

IMG_4706Canada geese

IMG_4702Pelicans in flight

IMG_4710Great blue heron among others

IMG_4719Northern shoveler

IMG_4721Horned grebes

After completing the loop we headed back, recrossed the roads, and returned to the trailhead along Lakeshore Drive. We spotted several additional types of birds that we hadn’t seen earlier and many that we had.

IMG_4729Northern flicker

IMG_4739More pelicans

IMG_4746Another jay

IMG_4750Great blue heron on the rocks

IMG_4731Common merganser

IMG_4762Hooded mergansers (in the foreground)

IMG_4757Egret

IMG_4759Western grebe

In addition to all the birds we did see two garter snakes slither into the grass and my parents spotted a muskrat and a deer on their hike. For a short, in town hike it had provided a lot of wildlife over the 5 mile round trip.

We spent the afternoon at the anniversary party with a whole different type of wildlife :). Happy Trails!

Flick: Link River Nature Trail

OC&E Woods Line State Trail

We had planned our final multi-day trip for the year over Columbus Day weekend. We were hoping to have it be the backpacking trip around and up Diamond Peak that we’d planned on doing in September but changed due to the weather. Much like that long weekend the forecast was for rain or snow showers off and on over the four days. Diamond Peak will have to wait until next year at the earliest, but in the meantime we needed to find a less damp alternative.

After looking over our list of future four day trips and checking the forecast for each area we landed on the Klamath Falls area. There were still chances of rain in the forecast but it didn’t look like it would be much more than some light scattered showers.

We started our trip off with a pair of hikes along the OC&E Woods Line State Trail.

Our first stop was at the Switchback Trailhead located along Bliss Road 4 miles south of the community of Sprague River (the way we came) or 12 miles north of Highway 140 coming from Klamath Falls (drive Hwy 140 17 miles east from K-Falls to reach Bliss Rd.).

IMG_3386

The weather was good as we set off on the trail with some blue sky still to be seen.

IMG_3389

At this section of railroad the trains used to have to back up along the tracks in order to climb the mountain.

IMG_3391

From the trailhead there was a good view down to the location of the old track below, but the scenery was dominated by a grove of aspen that were in full Fall color.

IMG_3392

IMG_3384

On the far side of the aspen was our goal for the day, Devil’s Garden, a volcanic landscape a bit off of the official trail.

IMG_3385

We followed the trail downhill to where it leveled out beside a bit of a meadow.

IMG_3394

IMG_3397

About three quarters of a mile from the trailhead we turned right off of the trail onto a dirt track.

IMG_3400

Using the GPS in conjunction with the map in our guidebook we made our way slightly SW onto a second, fainter track through an open ponderosa pine forest.

IMG_3402

As the dirt track curved to the west we left it and continued south crossing a small gully.

IMG_3404

On the other side of the gully we passed through a stand of pines and turned to the SE.

IMG_3405

Soon we were entering the volcanic landscape of the Devil’s Garden.

IMG_3412

IMG_3408

IMG_3416

<IMG_3419

IMG_3421

We were now heading east with the pine trees on our left and the golden leaves of the aspen grove beyond the rock formations ahead.

IMG_3426

It was an interesting cross country walk through the different formations.

IMG_3432

IMG_3438

IMG_3441

As interesting as the rocks were we were drawn to the aspen grove.

IMG_3446

IMG_3449

IMG_3454

We made our way to those trees and decided to pass through the stand and attempt to loop back to the OC&E Trail.

IMG_3456

IMG_3457

IMG_3459

We had to recross the gully which had deepened immensely but remained crossable.

IMG_3471

After navigating a second, shallower gully, we emerged from the aspen and turned left using the GPS to navigate back through the sagebrush and pondorosa to the trail.

IMG_3472

IMG_3477

IMG_3478

We turned right onto the trail thinking that it was a loop, we both had pictured it that way in our minds and there had been a dirt road coming uphill from the south near the trailhead which we took for the return route.

IMG_3479

After being back on the trail for almost three quarters of a mile though we noticed that we had passed below the trailhead and were now heading away from it. We took a quick look at the map on the GPS and noticed that it did not show any road or trail connecting up to make a loop. We then checked the map in the guidebook and sure enough it also did not show the hike as a loop, but rather an out-and-back. We were a bit confused because we were both certain it was a loop and I could even picture it on a map. In any case we backtracked to a point below the trailhead and headed cross country uphill.

IMG_3480

A .2 mile climb brought us to the road we’d seen when we set off earlier. It was later when looking at the area on Google Maps that we realized where the loop idea had come from. The dirt road and the OC&E Trail do meet but that junction was another 300+ yards away and not shown no the GPS map. With our exploring and the extra out and back at the end our distance for this hike was 3.6 miles.

For our second hike on the OC&E Trail we returned to the community of Sprague River and turned east onto Sprague River Road for 10 miles to Highway 140. We then turned left onto this highway and followed it into Beatty (5 miles) where we again turned left onto Godowa Springs Road. Just over a half mile down this road we parked near a green gate. (There are gates on both sides of the road marking the trail.)

IMG_3486

Here the plan was to hike east for 1.2 miles to a fork in the trail where we would complete a two mile loop, with a side trip to Brown Cemetery, before returning to Godowa Springs Road. This section of the OC&E Trail passed through pasture with the Sprague River just to the north.

IMG_3490

IMG_3492

At the .6 mile mark the Sprague River bent north and Spring Creek took over it’s position to the left of the trail.

IMG_3493

We crossed Spring Creek on a bridge where we spotted something in the water.

IMG_3495

IMG_3498

At first we thought it was a nutria given that we see them in fields near water quite often but after looking at the pictures later we discovered that it had actually been a mink.

IMG_3499

IMG_3503

After watching the mink disappear into the bank we continued on to the fork where we stayed right on a fainter track.

IMG_3505

IMG_3507

We crossed the Sprague River on another bridge and then three tenths of a mile later arrived at a junction of dirt roads.

IMG_3508

IMG_3509

At the junction we made a nearly 180 degree left turn and took a right fork uphill.

IMG_3513

As we followed this roadbed uphill we could see that the wet weather was finally on its way.

IMG_3514

After following this road for .3 miles we turned right onto another road which led us to the Brown Cemetery in an additional .2 miles.

IMG_3515

IMG_3517

IMG_3520

A couple of deer bounded away from the cemetery as we approached. We briefly explored the different grave sites then returned to the other road on continued on the loop under a light rain.

IMG_3521

Four tenths of a mile from the cemetery entrance road we arrived at an abandoned railyard where we turned left and passed through another green gate.

IMG_3524

In another .7 miles we had completed the loop and were on our way back to the trailhead.

IMG_3532

The rain had let up and we remained relatively dry which was a win for us. Seeing the mink was a nice surprise and the fall colors at Devil’s Garden had been unexpectedly beautiful. Not a bad way to kickoff a last minute trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: OC&E Woods Line State Trail

Head of the Metolius

As an epilogue to our Strawberry Mountain Wilderness backpacking trip (Day 1, Day 2, Days 3 &4) we visited the head of the Metolius River on our way home after spending a night in Bend.

Our original plan had been an overnight trip in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness but neither of us were left with the energy to tackle such an outing, but the quarter mile paved path the the headwaters of the Metolius sounded doable.

We arrived at the trailhead along Forest Road 14 just after 8am and started down the short paved path.
IMG_9659

IMG_9660

It was a gloriously crisp 55 degrees which felt much cooler than it had at any time during our backpacking trip. Golden-mantled ground squirrels scurried about as we made our way to the viewing area.
IMG_9677

IMG_9663

The Metolius emerges from the springs as a fully formed river flowing north toward the Cove Palisades State Park (post).
IMG_9674

IMG_9668Mt. Jefferson rising above the Metolius River

It may have only been a half mile hike but it was just what we’d needed before we headed home. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Head of the Metolius

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Days 3 & 4 – Slide Lake to East Fork Canyon Creek TH

Hope springs eternal and it was with new hope that we got up on the third day of what had so far been the most grueling backpacking trip we’d undertaken. On paper it didn’t look much different than some of our other trips but the big difference maker had been the heat. It had been hot during the afternoon on some of our previous trips but this trip was different. Not only was it hot during the day but it wasn’t really cooling down at night which meant it was still warm in the morning. Day 3 was no different.

We had an early breakfast in front of a beautiful view of Slide Lake.
IMG_9360_stitch

As we were finishing up we were joined by a doe who was cautiously grazing nearby.
IMG_9365

IMG_9374

As we watched the sunlight overtake more of the cliffs above the lake we noticed our route for the day cutting across the rocks below the far cliffs.
IMG_9377

Seeing the trail produced two thoughts, first it reminded us that we were facing a nearly 1000′ climb out of the Slide Lake Basin, and secondly that the climb would be in full sunlight. We left Slide Lake shortly before 7am and hiked the quarter mile back to the junction with the Sky Line Trail where we turned left following a pointer for High Lake.
IMG_9380

After an all to brief stint in the trees which provided some shade the trail entered rockier terrain where the Sun was already heating things up.
IMG_9381

IMG_9384

IMG_9385

Some years there is a snow patch that remains over the trail into August which requires a bypass nearly straight up the hillside but with this being a low snow year there was no need for us to climb any more steeply than necessary. By 7:30am Slide Lake already looked far away.
IMG_9388

It was also already officially hot. Luckily after a a quarter mile of switchbacks at the 1 mile mark the climb became much more gradual.
IMG_9393

It was still hot but at least we weren’t having to work as hard as we traversed below the cliffs.
IMG_9416

A nice variety of wildflowers splashed the hillside with color.
IMG_9397

IMG_9400

IMG_9406

IMG_9414

IMG_9413

After following the Skyline Trail a little over a quarter of a mile we arrived at junction with the Mud Lake Trail.
IMG_9420

The Mud Lake Basin was heavily burned which revealed both Little Mud Lake which I thought looked like Pacman and the larger Mud Lake.
IMG_9427

IMG_9434

At the junction the Skyline Trail turned right and steepened as it climbed past wildflowers to a ridge end above High Lake.
IMG_9424

IMG_9425

IMG_9430

IMG_9436

The 1.6 mile descent from this ridge end down to High Lake was one of the more pleasant stretches of trail on the trip. It was downhill and the ridge blocked the sunlight leaving it a little cooler than it had been on the other side. There were also plenty of wildflowers and views across the basin to the back side of the Rabbit Ears.
IMG_9440

IMG_9444

IMG_9453

IMG_9449

IMG_9450

We had been scanning the cliffs for animals, in particular California big horn sheep, which the Forest Service Map mentioned as a possible sighting in the wilderness along with deer, elk, and pronghorn. One thing the map didn’t mention was mountain goats so we were a little surprised when we spotted what appeared to be mountain goat fur in a small pine tree.
IMG_9446

Fifteen minutes later we spotted them way up on the hillside ahead of us.
IMG_9459

IMG_9456

IMG_9467

IMG_9458

It is always amazing to watch these animals maneuver on the rocky hillsides.
IMG_9495

We watched them as we made our way to High Lake which we arrived at ten minutes later.
IMG_9474

IMG_9477

IMG_9481

IMG_9483

IMG_9486

We took a nice break at the lake and replenished our water supply before continuing on. We crossed the outlet creek and soon began climbing out of the basin.
IMG_9487

IMG_9489

IMG_9491

IMG_9500

The 1.3 mile climb out of the basin gained approximately 550′ while it passed some of the best wildflower displays of our visit.
IMG_9502

IMG_9504

IMG_9509

IMG_9512

IMG_9514

IMG_9515

IMG_9518

After climbing out of the basin we arrived at the High Lake Rim Trailhead.
IMG_9530

Here I was excited to see a wilderness sign.
IMG_9526

I have been trying to collect pictures of signs for each wilderness area we visit and there hadn’t been a sign along the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail. That sign most likely burned in the 2015 fire. From the trailhead we faced a .4 mile road walk to the Roads End Trailhead.
IMG_9533

IMG_9539Strawberry Mountain from FR 1640.

IMG_9540

IMG_9541

The Roads End Trail follows a closed roadbed for 1.2 miles to the junction with the Onion Creek Trail which we had been at the day before. (post)
IMG_9546

As far as road walks go this one provided some nice scenery that we could have appreciated even more if had been a bit cooler out.
IMG_9548

IMG_9550

IMG_9555

IMG_9552

Near the end of the old roadbed the ground became muddy due to the presence of a series of seeps.
IMG_9556

At the unsigned junction a small cairn marked the familiar path downhill to a saddle.
IMG_9557

We turned left for .3 miles to a signed junction where we turned right onto the Indian Creek Trail.
IMG_9559

The day before we had come from the left having stayed the night in Wildcat Basin. By going right here would complete a loop back to the Pine Creek Trail. It was also 1.3 miles shorter than it would have been to retrace our steps through Wildcat Basin.

After a brief initial climb we gained a view of Indian Creek Butte.
IMG_9562

The trail then descended past some more volcanic ash formations similar to the ones we’d seen near Wildcat Basin.
IMG_9563

IMG_9564

IMG_9567

This was another area affected by fire and there were a number of trees down across the trail.
IMG_9568

IMG_9569

A little past the ash formations the trail approached a marsh filled with tall onions.
IMG_9570

IMG_9572

IMG_9574

A couple of small cairns helped guide us through the marsh but on the far side we missed a sharp right turn and continued straight. We soon realized we were no longer following a trail but that wasn’t anything new during this trip and we could see the saddle we were aiming for straight ahead so we kept going for a bit. Two tenths of a mile from where we should have taken the sharp right downhill we ran into a cliff where we were unable to continue forward. The GPS showed the actual trail as being a tenth of a mile away and 150′ below us. At that point we didn’t know about the sharp right and couldn’t figure out how we got so far off course but there we were. We found a game trail and followed steeply downhill in the general direction of the real trail.
IMG_9576

IMG_9578Our route down.

From above it didn’t look like it was going to be too difficult to go cross country but once we were down in the basin we realized it was going to be a lot harder than we’d thought.
IMG_9579

There were some surprising displays of flowers to be found in the gullies as we crashed through the brush and over numerous downed trees.
IMG_9580

IMG_9581

IMG_9582

After a lot of sweat, a little blood, and no tears (we didn’t have the moisture left to make any) we found the actual trail.
IMG_9585

A hundred foot climb brought us up to the saddle where we rejoined our path from the first day at a signed junction.
IMG_9586

We turned right and headed toward Indian Creek Butte on the faint Pine Creek Trail.
IMG_9587

It was less hazy than it had been the previous two days allowing for some clearer views from the trail.
IMG_9589_stitchIndian Creek Butte, the John Day Valley, and Strawberry Mountain

It was 1.4 miles to a junction on the east side of Indian Creek Butte where we had the choice of staying to the right on the Pine Creek Trail for .9 miles then turning left on the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail for another 1.3 miles to the spring where we had eaten our dinner on the first day. The other option was to go back the way we’d come up the first day around the south side of the butte. This second option was three quarters of a mile shorter and the condition of the trail, albeit is sad, was known to us. We’d had enough surprises for one trip so we deiced to go with the known option.

Even though we had seen this area before there were some new sights to be had.
IMG_9597

IMG_9602

When we reached the series of rock cairns in the green trees on the SW flank of the butte we attempted to use the GPS to follow the actual route of the trail this time.
IMG_9599

That proved to be mostly futile as the brush was just too dense and the tread too light to allow us to stay on course.
IMG_9606

Other than the rare sighting of a cut log we had no idea where the trail was actually supposed to be.
IMG_9608

In the end we wound up aiming for our previous track as shown on the GPS and eventually managed to pick up the actual trail at the same place we’d lost it on the first day. We made our way back to the spring and once again took a break near the lawn chairs.
IMG_9610

This time Heather discovered a mylar pumpkin balloon which we stuffed into our garbage and packed out. We took an extended break in some shade here before setting off on what we had planned on being our last mile for the day down to Hotel De Bum Camp. As we neared the meadow near the camp though we heard the neighing of horses. A good sized group of equestrians had ridden up to the camp and were spending the night there. There really wasn’t any room for us so we decided that we’d just keep going and stop at the next good camp site.
IMG_9614A horse in the meadow at Hotel De Bum Camp

I had thought there might be a couple of spots near Miners Creek when I had checked that area out on the first day but after descending 1.4 miles from Hotel De Bum Camp a closer inspection of the area resulted in us deciding against trying to force a site there. We decided to take another break, have dinner, get more water, and look at the map to see about other potential spots.

The next camp shown on the forest service map was Grindstone Y Camp which looked to be a half mile down the trail. When we arrived in the area we spotted what appeared to be a camp where there were all kinds of supplies stashed in the nearby trees. There really didn’t seem to be a viable tent site though and with all the items about it had an off-putting vibe so we pressed on.

Nearly a half mile later we came to a fork in the trail. On the first day we had come up from the right hand side (north side of the creek) but the equestrians had clearly come up from the right hand fork. We determined that the right hand fork was the trail we should have been on to avoid the ugly bushwhack across East Brookling Creek. We took the right hand fork and promptly crossed East Fork Canyon Creek.
IMG_9616

The trail remained on the south side of the creek for nearly a half mile before recrossing the creek. Near this crossing we spotted the biggest wasp either of us had ever seen.
IMG_9620

A short climb up from the creek brought us to the orange flagging where we had taken the uphill fork on the first day.
IMG_9622

That mystery was solved but the more pressing mystery was where were the decent camp sites. A half mile later (and over three and a half miles from Hotel De Bum Camp) we finally found enough clear level ground to pitch our tent.
IMG_9624

We were somewhere in the vicinity of Bingham Camp and only a tad over four miles from the trailhead. It had been a 15.2 mile day and once again we were beat. We sat in our chairs for a couple of hours while a woodpecker dropped debris on us.
IMG_9630

It was slightly cooler that night and the next morning but still not as cool as we’d have liked as we set off for the final 4.2 miles back to our car at 6:30am.
IMG_9635

The Sun chased us from behind as we followed the creek downstream through the forest.
IMG_9640

IMG_9653

We arrived back at the rental car around 8:15am thankful that we would soon feel the cool breeze of air conditioning.
IMG_9655

Our original plans had been to return to Bend, stay the night with Heather’s parents, and then head to the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness for a single night in hopes of visiting an off trail waterfall (Bruce knows the one), but after the brutal heat we’d hiked through for the previous four days neither of us had anything left. We scrapped those plans and decided to simply head home after the night in Bend.

This was by far the hardest backpacking trip we’ve done, so much so that we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beauty that we were seeing. We had timed the trip well for the flowers it was just unfortunate that it was during a heat wave. One thing is for sure we’ll never forget our first visit to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Days 3 & 4

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 2 – Wildcat Basin to Slide Lake

After a long, hot day the day before we were hoping to wake up to some crisp mountain air. Alas it was not to be as the temperature didn’t seem to have dropped all that far overnight. It was cooler than it had been but we could tell it was going to be another hot one.

After applying a little Deet to deter the mosquitoes that had been waiting for us to wake up we had breakfast in a small meadow near our campsite.
IMG_9146

After breakfast we packed up and headed out of Wildcat Basin via the Pine Creek Trail.
IMG_9151

One of the reasons we were hoping it would have been colder was that the Pine Creek Trail gained nearly 800′ in less than three quarters of a mile as it steeply climbed out of Wildcat Basin.
IMG_9154

As it climbed we passed some interesting ash formations.
IMG_9156

IMG_9158

IMG_9160

We had read that above these ash formations the trail would become obscured by brush for a short distance. After the previous days bushwacking around Indian Creek Butte (post) we were fearing the worst but it turned out to not be anywhere near as bad as that had been. It was a much shorter stretch and there were less obstacles to maneuver around. We hadn’t been at it long before Heather spotted the trail veering to the right into burned trees.
IMG_9163

IMG_9164

The trail leveled out a bit as it crossed a ridge top where we spotted the first of the yellow paintbrush that is plentiful in the area.
IMG_9169

IMG_9173

The trail bent around to the north as it crossed the ridge and soon Strawberry Mountain came into view.
IMG_9176

Our plan was to take a side trip up to the summit once we made it to the saddle below the peak, but for now we were focused on the trail at hand which was passing through some nice wildflowers.
IMG_9180

IMG_9179

IMG_9181

IMG_9182

IMG_9186

We also flushed out several deer but they escaped before I could get any photos.

A mile and a half from Wildcat Basin we arrived at a junction with the Indian Creek Trail #5001.
IMG_9191

Here we turned right crossing a saddle and climbing for .3 miles to another junction, this time with the Onion Creek Trail #368. The view from the old roadbed here was good and we could see Indian Creek Butte as well as Strawberry Mountain.
IMG_9199Indian Creek Butte

IMG_9198Strawberry Mountain

We took a short break in some shade near the junction having already climbed nearly 1200′ on the day. From this spot we had another 450′ to gain over the next 1.4 miles just to reach the saddle below Strawberry Mountain.

A golden-mantled ground squirrel came out to check on us as we recovered.
IMG_9203

Fortunately some of this section of trail was still shaded from the Sun and once again there was a nice display of wildflowers to help distract us.
IMG_9207

IMG_9208

IMG_9209

IMG_9211

IMG_9214

We arrived at the saddle just after 9am. To reach our goal for the day, Slide Lake, we needed to take the right hand Strawberry Basin Trail toward Strawberry Lake.
IMG_9218

Before we did that though we wanted to summit the 9038′ Strawberry Mountain which was to the left.
IMG_9217

Since we would have to come back by this junction after summiting the mountain we pulled our daypacks out and stashed our backpacks in a group of nearby trees. The lighter packs felt great as we traversed across the rocky terrain below the summit.
IMG_9220

IMG_9224

IMG_9225

The trail climbed gradually across the shaley rocks about a half mile before entering a stand of white bark pines.
IMG_9227

Several grouse were present in this area.
IMG_9231

Three quarters of a mile from the junction we arrived at the junction with the summit trail marked by rock cairns.
IMG_9232

We took another short break in the shade of the white bark pines watching the many butterflies that were flitting about.
IMG_9235

After catching our breath we headed up the left hand fork for the final .4 miles and 350′ to the former lookout site atop Strawberry Mountain.
IMG_9233

IMG_9236

IMG_9237

Butterflies were swirling around atop the summit, never sitting still for long. The views were good but not great due to the presence of smoke from wildfires. We weren’t sure which fires the smoke was from but with a number of them burning across the northwest it wasn’t a surprise to have hazy skies. It unfortunately seems to be the new default for the summer months.
IMG_9244Looking north toward the John Day Valley

IMG_9239Looking SW toward Wildcat Basin

IMG_9238View west toward Indian Creek Butte and Canyon Mountain

IMG_9241Looking NE

IMG_9247View east

With all the haze it was tough to make out much in the distance but we were able to make out the Elkhorn Range off to the NE.
IMG_9249

It was a little cooler at the summit where we rested once again before starting back down. As we were traversing the rocky hillside on the way back we encountered another group of hikers on their way up to the summit. They mentioned that they had stashed their packs as well after coming up the Strawberry Basin Trail. They let us know that some of the trail to Slide Lake had suffered from a near washout so there might be a little exposure along that stretch. After thanking them for the heads up we returned to the saddle and retrieved our packs.

It was just before 10:45am when we started down the Strawberry Basin Trail. There was a nice view of Strawberry Mountain as we dropped into the basin.
IMG_9257

After approximately .4 miles of descending the trail leveled out somewhat and we passed the ruins of a cabin and a minute later Strawberry Spring.
IMG_9260

IMG_9261

This was followed by a series of meadows, some filled with wildflowers as well as views back to Strawberry Mountain.
IMG_9263

IMG_9264

IMG_9267

IMG_9269

IMG_9271

IMG_9275

We got our first look at Strawberry Lake as the trail began to bend around a ridge.
IMG_9270

We were now heading south, continuing our descent into the Strawberry Basin. Across the valley were the rock formations known as the Rabbit Ears over Little Strawberry Lake which was hidden in the trees.
IMG_9277

Although this side of the ridge was drier than the north side had been there were still some good displays of color.
IMG_9278

IMG_9280

The Strawberry Basin Trail wrapped around the basin eventually reaching the side trail to Little Strawberry Lake, two and a half miles from the saddle junction with the Onion Creek Trail.
IMG_9281

IMG_9282

IMG_9283

We turned right onto the Little Strawberry Lake Trail for the .6 mile side trip (1.2mi round trip) to the lake. Heather asked about stashing our packs again but I chose poorly and we kept them on. The trail crossed Strawberry Creek and climbed about 150′ through the forest to the little lake.
IMG_9284

IMG_9285

IMG_9290

That shouldn’t have been too difficult a trek but it was so hot (How hot was it?) that we truly regretted not having left our full packs back near the junction. It was also pretty hazy in the basin here so our views of the cliffs backing Little Strawberry Lake were not clear.
IMG_9293

IMG_9295

IMG_9299

The water however was clear which made it really easy to watch the fish swim about.
IMG_9297

IMG_9288

After another short break we strapped on our packs again and returned to the Strawberry Basin Trail. It was obvious by the state of the trails and the number of other people we were seeing that this part of the wilderness is significantly busier than the eastern end.

We turned right and promptly crossed Strawberry Creek again.
IMG_9301//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

IMG_9303

We were just a bit above Strawberry Falls here and I suddenly thought we might not get to actually see the waterfall.
IMG_9304

My fears were eased when Heather correctly pointed out that the trail switchbacked down to the base of the falls.
IMG_9306

IMG_9307

The base of Strawberry Falls was by far the most comfortable spot we would be in during the entire trip. We took our packs off again and allowed the mist from the falls to cool us down. Unfortunately we could not take that feeling with us and shortly after leaving that heavenly place we were once again sweating profusely.

After descending a little over half a mile form the falls we came to a fork in the trail near Strawberry Lake.
IMG_9313

Both trails led around the lake with the right hand fork being the shorter but the left hand fork reportedly having the better views. We opted for the left hand fork and descended to the southern end of Strawberry Lake.
IMG_9315

A series of stream crossings followed as we worked our way around to the western side of the lake.
IMG_9317

IMG_9318

IMG_9319

Eventually the Rabbit Ears came into view across the lake.
IMG_9322

It was time for yet another break once we reached the northern end of the lake but here even in the shade it was stupid hot.
IMG_9329

Since there was no real relief from the heat we quickly decided to press on. After crossing the lakes outlet we turned left and then followed pointers for Slide Lake.
IMG_9331

We climbed gradually for nearly a mile gaining 360′ from Strawberry Lake.
IMG_9333

We were struggling with the gradual climb and now the Slide Basin Trail launched more steeply uphill gaining an additional 350′ over the next half mile. After cresting a ridge we arrived a split in the trail where a horse trail went left and a hiker only trail right.
IMG_9335

Thankfully the trail leveled out quite a bit on this side of the ridge as it traversed the hillside.
IMG_9339

The bad news was we were now out of water, tired, hot, and the trail was indeed semi-washed out in spots. We were almost too miserable to enjoy the scenery which included quite a few wildflowers of which I took almost no pictures.
IMG_9341

We had two overriding goals. First was to stay on the trail and second was to find water. There was a spring shown our our map about three quarters of a mile from the fork but it was dry. To make matters worse we could hear and see Slide Falls in the valley below. It was taunting us with all that water.
IMG_9342

IMG_9345

The trail reentered the trees just after being rejoined by the horse trail.
IMG_9346

A short distance later we came to the Slide Lake Trail.
IMG_9348

We veered left for a quarter mile to the lake.
IMG_9349

We claimed a campsite just across the outlet creek and Heather set about refilling our water supply while I set up the tent.
IMG_9352

When we arrived at Wildcat Basin the night before Heather had been done, tonight it was my turn. After setting up the tent I set up my camp chair and just sat there. IMG_9354View from the chair.

It was only 3:30pm but I was done for the day. Heather would later ask if I wanted to do the 1 mile loop around the lake and I said no. That was when she knew I really was wiped out, I rarely pass up a side trip but at that point I had no desire to get up. We had covered 14 miles and climbed over 3700′ that day and that was enough.

As I was getting ready to start dinner I thought I heard voices and assumed that there were other people camped to our left along the lake. After dinner a woman from the group of hikers we’d run into on our way down from Strawberry Mountain showed up. She said that they were equally finished for the day having gone to High Lake after summiting the mountain. She said that they had gotten to High Lake at 1:30pm, took a swim and a nap, then decided to push on to Slide Lake for the night. They set up camp somewhere on the opposite side of the outlet creek and we never did see them again. The next day Heather solved the mystery of the voices I had heard when she suggested that it may have been this group coming down the trail from High Lake which was located in the same direction that I had heard the voices from.

We stayed in our chairs until a little before 7pm. Out of nowhere a host of small insects appeared which we took as are queue to turn in for the night. It was another warm night which told us we were in for more of the same the following day, we just weren’t sure we were ready for it. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 2

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 1 – East Fork Canyon Creek to Wildcat Basin

After our less than stellar end to our Sunday exploring caves off of China Hat Road near Bend (post)we were facing a later than planned start for our drive to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Typically we’d be on the road by 5am but we had to wait until 7:30 to pick up a rental car before we could leave Bend. The folks at Enterprise were quick though and we were on our way a little before 8am.

Our entry point for our four day trip was the East Fork Canyon Creek Trailhead. From Bend we drove to Burns then north no Highway 395 just over 60 miles to County Road 65 where we turned right for 3 miles to a sign for Alder Gulch and Fawn Spring. Here we turned left onto Forest Road 6510 following the good gravel road for 1.5 miles. We then turned right onto another good gravel road, FR 812 which we followed an additional 2.8 miles to its end where we found a large group of equestrians just setting off on the trail.

The entire area along the drive and much of the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail burned in 2015 so there wasn’t much in the way of signage for the start of the trail.
IMG_8905

It was just after 11:30 when we set off and it was already rather warm. The trail began by losing a bit of elevation before leveling off as it passed below some rocky cliffs.
IMG_8917

The lack of tree cover due to the fire didn’t help the heat situation but we did our best to distract ourselves from the heat by listening to the creek and looking at the flowers
IMG_8907

IMG_8919

IMG_8921

IMG_8923

For the first two and a half miles the trail passed through grassy meadows a bit away from the creek as it gradually climbed up the canyon.
IMG_8926

IMG_8927

IMG_8929

A little over two miles from the trailhead we spotted the equestrians setting up camp at the Yokum Corrals Camp.
IMG_8933

Three tenths of a mile from Yokum Corrals we came to a junction with the Tamarack Trail which led uphill to the Joaquin Miller Trail.
IMG_8938

IMG_8937Looking in the direction of the Tamarack Trail

The East Fork Canyon Creek Trail was becoming more and more overgrown in spots beyond the corrals.
IMG_8947

The vegetation wasn’t too difficult to push through but there were some thistles to avoid and I wound up with a few ticks on my pant legs. Heather was trying out a new pair of Insect Shield tights and they seemed to do the trick as we never did spot any attached to her. (She did wind up with a few mosquito bites during the trip tough.)
IMG_8947

Near the three mile mark we came to Brookling Creek.
IMG_8950

I made it across the creek dry footed but Heather decided to cool off by slipping on a rock and splashing down into the water. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, just wet and after wringing out her socks a bit we continued on. Approximately 1.7 miles from Brookling Creek we came to a fork in the trail where there was some orange flagging attached to a couple of trees.
IMG_9622

The flagging appeared to have at one time blocked off the left hand fork but it was now broken. According the Garmin and our guidebook the trail stayed on the left hand side of the creek and the right hand fork here seemed to just go down to the creek so we took the left hand fork. The trail was fine for a quarter of a mile but when we arrived at East Brookling Creek we couldn’t see where it was supposed to cross or where it continued on the far side. To make matters worse the creek was choked with debris and the far bank was rather steep so our options of where to cross were limited. We managed to find some logs that got us across the creek and then we crashed uphill through the brush.
IMG_8969

IMG_8971

We were able to pick up the tread again with the help of some green flagging but noticed that there was also a trail on the south side of East Fork Canyon Creek.
IMG_8972

By that time we had already forgotten about the fork with the orange flagging and thought we had missed something near East Brookling Creek. A quarter mile beyond East Brookling Creek that trail recrossed East Fork Canyon Creek and rejoined the trail we were on. We were spotting more blooming flowers now including some light pink streambank globe mallow and dark pink monkeyflower.
IMG_8980

IMG_8995

IMG_8976

IMG_8979

IMG_8989

About a mile from East Brookling Creek we once again found ourselves on the wrong side of a creek,this time Miners Creek. This time we were on the south side when we should have stayed on the north side. We were doing our best to bushwack up the creek to a point where the trail was supposed to make a hairpin turn across the creek. It finally dawned on me that the trail was only 30 to 50 feet above us as it ran SW for a short distance after the 180 degree turn before rounding a ridge end and continuing NE. It was a steep climb but we managed to link back up with the actual trail. I headed downhill to the hairpin turn to see if there were possible campsites for our last night near the creek and thought I saw a couple of options. As I headed back up to Heather I regretted my choice as it was nearing 3pm and it was really getting hot out.

After climbing for another 1.2 miles we arrived at Hotel De Bum Camp. A large meadow with a campsite where it almost appeared a bum had lived. Someone had left lawn chairs and freeze dried meals at the site. By the looks of them they had been there awhile.
IMG_9001

IMG_9002

The meadow was nice though and our plan was for this to be our campsite for our final night of the trip. From the meadow there was a view of Indian Creek Butte which was a pretty sight but we also knew our destination for the day, Wildcat Basin, was over two and a half miles on the other side of it.
IMG_9003

From Hotel De Bum Camp the trail gained 500′ over the next mile to another meadow below Indian Creek Butte where there was supposed to be a trail junction.
IMG_9017

A nearby spring allowed for dense green vegetation and numerous wildflowers which appeared to have overtaken the trails in the area. We did find another set of lawn chairs at a nearby campsite and decided to take a short break and have dinner as well as try and cool down before pushing on.
IMG_9023

IMG_9018

IMG_9029

IMG_9020

When it was time to move on we did our best to follow some blue flagging through the vegetation, across the spring to the right.
IMG_9022Blue flagging is attached to a small burned tree 3/4 up the left hand side of the photo.

The next obstacle was a series of bent trees hanging over the trail.
IMG_9030

The trail then became a little easier to follow as it reentered the burned forest.
IMG_9031

We were on the .6 mile section of the Table Mountain Trail. After the .6 miles our route was to turn right up the Table Mountain A Trail (Trail 5000) which is a mile long connector between the Table Mountain and Pine Creek Trails. We missed the faint unsigned junction at first but quickly realized our mistake (we would do the same thing on the way back three days later).
IMG_9034

The Table Mountain A Trail was a mess at this end. Faint tread lead through tall brush with sporadic flagging or an occasional cut log as the only real indication that we were still on the right course.
IMG_9035

That only lasted about a tenth of a mile and then the tread completely vanished.
IMG_9041

We waited a little too long before consulting the GPS and wound up swinging too far to the SE and adding a tenth of a mile to our hike. After checking the GPS we worked our way back toward the trail (as far as we could tell it really was where the GPS said it was this time) and managed to pick it back up at some cairns amid unburnt trees.
IMG_9047

IMG_9050

It was after 6pm now and some clouds were helping to cool things down as we made our way around the SE side of Indian Creek Butte.
IMG_9051

IMG_9054

The trail was faint here too but were able to stick relatively close to it as we passed some nice wildflowers which we were too hot and tired to fully enjoy at that point.
IMG_9056

IMG_9057

IMG_9073

We did however stop to watch a nice buck pass through the brush below us.
IMG_9060

IMG_9064

At 6:45pm we spotted a downed trail sign in the distance marking the junction with the Pine Creek Trail.
IMG_9076

IMG_9078

Here we turned right onto the similarly faint Pine Creek Trail.
IMG_9083

Once again the wildflowers were nice but we were now on a mission.
IMG_9085

IMG_9088

IMG_9094

Just over half a mile from the junction we came to a viewpoint with a good look at Strawberry Mountain.
IMG_9107

The trail continued along a ridge with Indian Creek Butte and the Sun behind us and a rocky ridge top and the Moon ahead.
IMG_9117

IMG_9118

Wildcat Basin was on the other side of that rocky ridge. A total of 1.4 miles from the previous junction we arrived at another junction.
IMG_9119

We stayed right keeping to the Pine Creek Trail and passed to the SE of the rocky ridge.
IMG_9120

The trail descended past some white volcanic ash formations.
IMG_9122

IMG_9124

Soon the trail found some green trees below striped cliffs.
IMG_9132

A mile from the junction we arrived at the meadows of Wildcat Basin and another trail junction.
IMG_9139

IMG_9141

A very short distance to the east from the junction was Wildcat Spring and a campsite where we eagerly refilled our now empty bladders and set up our tent.
IMG_9142

IMG_9145

It was a little after 8pm by the time we were settled and we went straight to bed hoping that the going would be a little easier on day 2 with an earlier start and better traveled trails. Despite the issues it was still nice to see all the new scenery and wildflowers. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 1

Boyd, Arnold, Hidden Forest, and Pictograph Caves (sort of)

Our hike along French Creek Ridge (post) officially kicked off our July vacation it was the following day that we left home and headed for Central Oregon. We were ultimately heading to the Strawberry Mountains but we stopped in Bend to visit Heather’s parents and also to check out a few of the caves off China Hat Road. (Whenever visiting caves please be aware of White-Nose Syndrome and help protect bats.)

Our first stop was Boyd Cave.
IMG_8788

A short dirt path from the day use area led to the railed entrance of the lava tube.
IMG_8791

There was a rockfall warning at the entrance dated 5/26/18.
IMG_8792

We proceeded with caution down into the cave.
IMG_8795

The cave was spacious with varying terrain on the cave floor.
IMG_8799

IMG_8803

IMG_8804

The cave extends for about half a mile to the left from the entrance and a very short distance to the right.
IMG_8815

We explored as quickly as the terrain allowed given the warning at the entrance and then headed for our next stop at Arnold Ice Cave. To reach the parking area from Boyd Cave we continued east on China Hat Rd. an additional 3.1 miles and turned right onto FR 300 for half a mile to a parking area at a signboard.
IMG_8816

The entrance to Arnold Ice Cave is located just beyond and to the left of the parking area.
IMG_8817

A path led down to the entrance where a semi-steep scramble past the remains of a staircase led down to the cave floor.
IMG_8819

IMG_8829

In the early half of the 1900’s ice from the cave was harvested for use by locals but that ended with the advent of refrigeration and since then at least a half-mile of the cave has become inaccessible as the ice has reclaimed that portion. It was too warm for any ice in the accessible part of the cave during our visit but there were some interestingly colored rocks along the ceiling.
IMG_8824

The cave extended just far enough to lose the light of the entrance before forcing us to turn around and climb back out.
IMG_8826

IMG_8831

A more interesting cave (at least nowadays) was our next goal. Hidden Forest Cave is approximately a quarter mile from Arnold Ice Cave. To reach the cave we followed a dirt track south from Arnold Ice Cave.
IMG_8835

This path quickly passed to the left of a pit where we kept straight on what became a narrower footpath after crossing another old roadbed. Soon we passed a second pit on our right.
IMG_8838

We kept close to the rim of this pit on the left then shortly after passing the second pit we crossed a second sandy roadbed and arrived alonside a third pit.
IMG_8840

The entrance to Hidden Forest Cave lay at the NE end of the pit but the way down into the pit lay at the opposite end. We walked along the rim past a really colorful tree trunk and met a few of the locals.
IMG_8846

IMG_8842

IMG_8843

IMG_8844

We followed a path down into the pit where we found a few wildflowers blooming.
IMG_8848

IMG_8849

At the far end of the pit was the entrance to the cave.
IMG_8855

IMG_8857

The cave was a fairly short scramble to a small opening.
IMG_8859

Climbing out of this opening brought us to the floor of the second pit we had passed.
IMG_8860

IMG_8861

After exploring this “hidden forest” we returned through the passage and headed back to our car.
IMG_8863

Our final stop for the day was along the closed Wind Cave entrance road. The small parking area is located along FR 200 which was just over a half-mile back along China Hat Road from FR 300 (2.5 miles east of the Boyd Cave entrance road). A stop sign on the north side of China Hat Road marks the correct road.
IMG_8865

Wind Cave is closed year round to the public for bats but we hoped to visit Pictograph Cave which according to our guidebook and everything we could find online was only closed from October 15th – May 1st. In order to reach Pictograph Cave we followed the closed road for half a mile to the Wind Cave Parking area. Along the road we spotted some really bright Indian Paintbrush amid the sagebrush.
IMG_8867

IMG_8869

We also found the Bat Cave but there was no sign of Batman.
IMG_8873

IMG_8874

There was also a nice view of the snowy Cascades across the sagebrush of the high desert.
IMG_8875

We arrived at the gated Wind Cave where our guidebook directed us to “..continue NE on the sandy double track road..”.
IMG_8876

IMG_8877

This is where our day began to get really interesting. The correct sandy double track was blocked by the log where the Wind Cave closure sign was attached as well as several boulders. A second sandy double track led directly north from Wind Cave past the covered entrance to its skylight.
IMG_8880

We hadn’t seen the correct track and hadn’t paid enough attention to the N versus NE direction this track was heading in and we just kept walking. We were supposed to follow the double track for approximately .7 miles to a gate with a railroad tie. After passing through the gate we were supposed to veer left and quickly pass through another barbwired fence before passing between two signed caves. The guidebook also said that if we crested a rise and could see the Cascade Mountains we’d gone too far. That last part had us really confused because we had been able to see the mountains the whole time as we followed the track we’d chosen. There was another set of footprints in the sand though so we followed them as the track became fainter. The scenery was nice and we spotted several birds including a few hawks and Heather noticed a pygmy short horned lizard.
IMG_8881

IMG_8882

After about fifteen minutes we’d completely lost the track and footprints and realized we’d done something wrong. I should have set up a waypoint on our GPS marking the cave location but hadn’t so using it was no real help. Luckily Heather had signal just long enough to pull it up on Google Maps on her phone. We used her phone to navigate towards the caves location but it wasn’t ideal. First off it was a lot harder to see exactly where we were in relation to the cave location using the phone vs the Garmin and secondly locations on Google Maps are not always correct (sometimes they are way off). We had already gone a little over half a mile and we wandered for another .9 miles in a wide arc in the direction shown on the phone before seeing what looked like it might be a cave near a barb wired fence.
IMG_8886

It didn’t seem to match the description in the book but it was near the point shown on Google so we headed over to check it out.
IMG_8888

It turned out to be a very shallow overhang.
IMG_8890

At some point Heather’s phone ran out of power so we were once again left with only the Garmin which was still no help in this case. The immediate area we were in had several promising looking features and we wandered to the NE a bit checking possibilities. I finally spotted what appeared to be two sets of short sign posts amid the sagebrush way off in the distance. We headed over to check them out since the book had mentioned such signs. As we approached the nearest pair we spotted a large pit.
IMG_8894

IMG_8895

That was the SW opening with no way down. Just across from it was the NE pit which is the explore-able one only the restrictive sign indicated that the cave was now closed year round to protect bat habitat.
IMG_8899

We stopped at the pits edge honoring the closure sign and were not able to pick out the pictographs near the right hand tunnel. At the time we weren’t entirely certain that these were indeed Pictograph Cave due to year round closure and not having followed the directions to get there.
IMG_8900

IMG_8901

We were hot and dusty and had hiked two and a half miles on what was supposed to be a 2.4 mile hike. At least from the cave we were able follow the guidebook directions backwards. We followed a dirt track SSE for .4 miles where we arrived at a railroad tie gate. Before passing through the fence we followed another track east now not being able to remember if after passing through the gate the guidebook had said veer left or right (we had left the book in the car opting to rely on pictures taken with the now dead cell phone). After a short distance we decided that we were on a wild goose chase and the pits we had seen must have been Pictograph Cave. We hiked back to the gate and passed through continuing on the sandy track. We soon ran into a family who asked us if this was the way to Pictograph Cave. We said we thought so explaining that we’d taken a wrong turn and come in form another direction, but there were two signed pits along the track. We continued on eventually arriving back at the Wind Cave turnaround where we discovered how we’d missed the correct sandy track.

We walked back along the road to our car and began to head back toward Bend. We had been hoping to go to the High Desert Museum after the hikes. Despite having spent a lot more time hiking to Pictograph Cave we still would have had 4 plus hours to spend there but two things happened on the drive back, a fire broke out near Bessie Butte along China Hat Road and our battery warning light came on. The fire was far enough off the road that it wasn’t closed yet as we passed by the first firetrucks on scene. Luckily the fire was controlled quickly and didn’t become a major incident.

The battery light was more of an issue. It was Sunday so many places weren’t open and all our user manual said was to stop driving immediately and call a dealer. That wasn’t an option on a forest service road with a fire nearby so we drove into Bend and stopped at the Toyota dealer but they didn’t have any mechanics on duty and couldn’t help. Next we tried a Valvoline Instant Oil but their battery tester was dead. From there we stopped at Baxter Auto where the store clerk was able to test the battery which was low, but that wasn’t necessarily the problem. It could be any number of things related to the electrical system but without a mechanic to check we couldn’t be sure. We then drove to a second Valvoline where, even though it was a long shot, we replaced the battery in hopes that it might work. It didn’t which meant it was likely the alternator. Our vacation plans were suddenly in flux.

We decided to rent a car Monday morning and go ahead with our planned backpacking trip and then we would try and get the car fixed at the end of the week when we returned. Thankfully Heather’s parents offered to take the car in Monday morning for us though and have any necessary repairs done while we were away.

With the plan set we reserved a rental to be picked up at 7:30 from Enterprise and then we realized that we hadn’t remembered our water filter. It was getting close to closing time for the few stores that were still open on a Sunday evening and Heather ran out to Big 5 in hopes of picking up a spare filter. They didn’t have any in stock so she wound up with Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets. We hadn’t used the tablets before so this was going to be interesting. It was starting out to be quite the memorable vacation. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Boyd, Arnold, Hidden Forest, and Pictograph Caves