Wallowa Mountains

8/29/20…..6 miles…..Aneroid Lake 

I was first made aware of the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon when I was trying to hitchhike across the country a few years ago. I forgot all about them until a few weeks ago when Sara and I drove right by these snow capped peaks and figured we should probably check them out at some point. Our plans got rearranged a little as they do and after bouncing around Washington and Oregon a bit now was the time to do some exploring. 

Yesterday, after bathing in the Deschutes river, we drove west from Bend and last night we slept in the car in the Sheep Creek dispersed camping area outside LaGrande, OR. This was our second(and much better) choice after unsuccessfully trying to sleep at a busy rest area on I-84 near Pendleton. Today, from Sheep Creek, we drove through Hell’s Canyon, resupplied and did laundry in the towns of Enterprise and Joseph, OR. ***Joseph, Oregon named after Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. The Wallowa Valley was originally their Ancestral homeland.*** In Joseph there was a car show going on right on the main drag through town. As our laundry washed we walked around and looked at shiny antique cars while their owners sat in lawn chairs listening to cowboy music and not wearing masks. Maybe ten percent of the people in Joseph wore masks. Other than that, Joseph was cool. I felt like the car show people didn’t accurately represent the town, I could be wrong though. And another thing, antique cars don’t really do it for me, unless you can sleep in them. RV’s, Vans, or cars and trucks converted to something of an RV are the only vehicles that turn me on.

A few miles outside of town is Wallowa Lake and a trailhead into the Wallowa Mountains within Eagle Cap Wilderness. We took our sweet time reorganizing our packs on a picnic table and didn’t get walking until after 5. It was 6 miles to Aneroid Lake and although the trail climbed almost 3000 feet we kept up a steady pace. At the lake we got a great spot and I had time for a quick swim before it got dark. I almost had a very unfortunate blunder while going swimming. As I walked down an embankment from our site to the water I dropped my clothing bag and watched it bounce right into the drink, luckily I scooped it out quickly and nothing inside got wet. 
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8/30/20…..24 miles…..Crater Lake
From Aneroid Lake this morning we climbed up and over a chilly Tenderfoot Pass. In the distance we could see 8-10 mountain goats traversing across the side of a mountain. For the rest of the day any time either of us saw a bright white rock on the side of a mountain, we’d both stare at it for awhile waiting for it to move. I do this all the time. They were all just bright white rocks. After Tenderfoot we climbed higher up and over Polaris Pass. On top of Polaris we could see into the Lakes Basin Area and all the surrounding granite peaks. This place is sometimes referred to as the ‘Oregon Alps‘ or ‘Little Switzerland.’ Although I’ve never been to Switzerland I think I know why. Going down Polaris Pass there was about a thousand switchbacks(maybe not quite that many), and the first few were just a wee bit sketchy with the combination of loose scree and steep slope. We passed Frazier Lake and then ate lunch at Little Frazier Lake across from a waterfall. 

After lunch we climbed switchbacks to the top of Hawkins Pass and then dropped into a valley following the South Fork of the Imnaha River. Looking out from both sides of Hawkins Pass was impressive scenery. We followed the Imnaha for about 5 miles then turned up a trail alongside Cliff Creek for another 5. We came across a few floating heads on the trail making animal calls and carrying crossbows. Shortly afterwards a big beautiful bull elk crossed the trail about a hundred feet ahead of me. Hopefully he goes undetected by the hunters. 

Tonight we camped at Crater Lake, not to be confused with Crater Lake National Park. There seems to be no inflow or outflow to the lake and it must have been caused by a meteor. Lots of fish though, there was a bunch of ripples in the water and just as I was about to go in for a swim we watched an osprey pluck a fish from the surface and bring it to a nearby tree for dinner, majestically.

8/31/20…..22 miles…..Blue Lake 
We started our day walking downhill from Crater Lake on the Little Kettle Creek Trail. This trail wasn’t my favorite but we did see a black bear. I heard some rocks sliding so I walked through a couple trees and looked up on a hill and saw the little fella eating berries or whatever. The trail switchbacked way down over 5 or 6 miles to the East Eagle Trailhead on the southern edge of the forest, there was lots of bear scat along the trail which makes sense. We took a right on the East Eagle Trail following East Eagle Creek back up into the mountains. I saw a bear on this trail too but probably within 10-15 feet of me next to the trail. When the bear realized I was there it quickly skedaddled, absolutely bolting downhill. 

We ate lunch at the creek after about 7 miles then took a side trail up to a couple of alpine lakes; Moon and Hidden. The trail ended at Hidden Lake and it was in something of a cirque(wall of mountains). After exploring for a bit we backtracked back to East Eagle Trail followed it for another mile then took a left up and over Frazier Pass. If you’re feeling froggy I think you could climb up and over a pass behind Hidden Lake and drop down onto the far side of Frazier Pass. There’s no trail but both sides look manageable to the naked eye.

Down the other side of Frazier Pass we took a right and followed the Minam River trail to Minam lake. There was a 1 mile dead end trail up to Blue Lake from here so we took that and have a beautiful campsite next to Blue Lake within another cirque of mountains. Amazingly there’s nobody else camped up here. We actually hardly saw anybody all day, besides a few cowboys and their horses camped down by Minam River. 

9/1/20…..24 miles…..Ice Lake 
While yesterday was chilly and overcast all day and threatening the r-word, today was absolutely beautiful; warmer, sunny, no clouds. I swam in 3 freezing cold alpine lakes today and that’s really all I can ever ask for.

We walked downhill from our campsite at Blue to Minam Lake then up and over Ivan Carper Pass back into the Alpine Lakes Basin. From here we walked past Mirror Lake and Eagle Cap Peak, which the wilderness is named for, to Moccasin Lake. We then took a little detour to do some exploring. We followed an out and back trail that went up Glacier Pass and then down just a little bit on the other side to Glacier Lake. This lake was absolutely gorgeous, my favorite lake in the Wallowas so far and worth the extra effort to seek it out. After swimming we retreated the same way we came, climbing back up Glacier Pass, then back down to Moccasin Lake. We walked a few miles through the Lakes Basin to Lee Lake where we ate lunch and swam again. This lake has a 15 foot cliff that I’m sure people jump off but I wouldn’t recommend, I actually talked to some kids who were just leaving there that said they did it. In order to safely do it you’d have to clear a 6 foot granite shelf at the bottom, definitely not worth the risk to me. I’m just not confident enough in my leaping abilities.

After lunch we took the Lakes Basin Trail down and out of the Basin to the West fork of the Wallowa River. This trail leads all the way back to Wallowa Lake and the car but after a few miles we took another detour up to Ice Lake. The Ice Lake Trail climbed 2300 feet over almost 5 miles but it was well graded and an enjoyable climb. It went past some awesome cascading waterfalls and from the trail we saw a mountain goat in the distance(I’m always pointing out wild animals to Sara or rocks that I think are wild animals). When we got to the lake it was still warm enough to go for a quick dip, so before we set up camp we quickly jumped in and out just as the sun was setting. Just like the name implies, it was icy cold. Beautiful though and a worthy side trip as it sits at the base of some of the highest mountains of the Wallowas. 

9/2/20…..7 miles…..Antelope Resevoir CG, Southeastern Oregon

This morning we backtracked down the Ice Lake Trail to the West Fork of the Wallowa River Trail that leads to Wallowa Lake, where we started, and out of the mountains. Shortly after picking up this trail we got caught up to by Aladdin. We easily picked up each other’s scents and recognized one another as fellow thru hikers. Aladdin had been in the Eagle Cap Wilderness for the last 9 days scouting out a high route which sounded pretty awesome. We talked of long distance trails the 3 of us had hiked and when and came up with a handful of hikers that we all knew. Oddly enough, about a mile before we got to the parking lot we came across 3 more hikers that we had met before but separately; Allgood, the Punisher, and Iron Mike. Aladdin had known Allgood and Sara and I had met the Punisher and Iron Mike briefly in 2018 while we were hiking the Arizona Trail and they were on the Grand Enchantment Trail. Even stranger, just minutes before running into them we were discussing with Aladdin the GET and that we covered some it where it coincides with the Arizona Trail. I just got done telling him we had met GET hikers while on this section. The very people we were about to run into. Hard to follow I’m sure and eerie I guess but not completely shocking. My life continues to be a series of bizarre coincidences. Sara tells me that it’s a small world, and the hiking community is smaller than I think. Besides the chance encounter these three were doing something really cool, literally just starting out on an obscure 600 mile new thru hike called The Blue Mountain Trail(I think). I was a tiny bit jealous. 

Soon Sara and I were out of the woods and back at our car. We took a bath in Wallowa lake, did laundry in the town of Joseph and filled up on burritos and Chimichangas. From here we’re heading south. We drove a few hours to the Snively Hot Springs on the Owyhee River and then a couple more to a campsite on Antelope Reservoir. 

I don’t want to blow this place up but since only my mom and a few of her friends are reading this I feel safe writing it here: the Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness are incredible. I recommend visiting and I definitely plan to be back to explore again. 

Check out our instas for more pictures and stuff: @endlesspsummer @sarahikes

2 Comments on “Wallowa Mountains

  1. LOL…..my guess is you have quite a readership!
    Looks like a fantastic trip. I’ve lived in Oregon for over 40 years and am ashamed to say I’ve never been to this corner of the state. Will try to resolve that sometime soon! Great photos and a very interesting and entertaining read! Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

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