Today our goal was Cornucopia Peak on the southern edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. This wilderness is an immensely popular summer (and to a lesser extent, winter) destination for lots of hikers, backpackers, equestrians, and (in season) hunters and fishermen. But a lot of this activity is concentrated on the north side of the wilderness, up by Enterprise, Joseph, and Wallowa Lake. The southern trailheads – those out of Halfway and Richland, for example – are usually much less jam packed during the summer season. So hiking Cornucopia was our way to getting a little introduction to the less busy side of the Eagle Cap.
It was wildfire season in the West again and haze and smoke had been plaguing Portland and the Columbia River Gorge for several days. Heading east seemed like a plausible way to find some fresh air and clear (or clearer) skies. So we drove out to John Day, Oregon, with a plan to hike up Strawberry Mountain (9,038 feet), the high point in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness (so named for the wild strawberries that ripen to juicy redness in July). The smoke and haze stuck with us almost all the way to John Day and we feared that our hoped for views from atop Strawberry would be seriously compromised. By the next morning, however, the weather system that had brought clouds to the Portland area had also pushed the haze elsewhere. It was clear and sunny for the entire hike, with maximum temperatures in the high 70ºFs. It’s always great when a plan comes together (particularly one of ours).