Cowhorn Mountain (Deschutes NF) 05-Oct-2017

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

First off, it seems useful to review where we are here.  This is not the Little Cowhorn Mountain topped with a lookout and located on the Willamette National Forest at the end of a one mile trail. This Cowhorn – what some also, for extra confusion, call Cowhorn Butte – is on the Deschutes National Forest (in the Oregon Cascades Recreational Area) a few miles southwest of Crescent Lake.  Back before this Cowhorn’s cow-horn shaped summit spine fell over in a 1911 storm (some storm!), it was called Little Cowhorn to distinguish it from Mount Thielsen, which was then called Big Cowhorn.  The hike to this Cowhorn Mountain’s 7,664-foot summit is along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) starting north from Windigo Pass, which is reached via Forest Road (FR) 60 (a good gravel road) off State Highway 138 about six miles north of Diamond Lake.

The last time we did this hike in October it was overcast and cold, with a strong wind blowing squall lines of stinging snow granules across the trail and summit.  Visibility came and went, but any hope for big views mostly went.  This October it was the polar opposite – tourism bureau grade Fall weather – sunny, clear, and crisp, with only a light breeze.  Thus it seemed like the perfect moment to do this short, but fun, hike/scramble to Cowhorn’s summit.  This hike is along the PCT and we found a huge cache of trail magic water at the trailhead!

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Gallon and gallons of trail magic water where the PCT crosses FR 60

The PCT itself was in superb condition all the way, as it climbs gradually through a forest,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Along the PCT north of Windigo Pass

past an overlook of the Windigo Lakes (reachable via a short cross-country scramble),

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

One of the Windigo Lakes

to a first view of Cowhorn from an opening in the forest about two miles from the trailhead.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Our first view of Cowhorn Mountain

After ogling Cowhorn, I looked down and saw this tiny (6-inch tall) tree starting its climb to the sky from a similarly tiny crack in a very large rock. Life persists…

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Today a bonsai, tomorrow a towering pine…

A little further along, we came to another viewpoint, this one letting us look at Cowhorn’s west ridge – the one we would be following to the summit.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

The west ridge of Cowhorn Mountain

About two weeks ago, the Cascades had gotten their first snowfall of the season and the PCT in this area was covered in a foot or more of fresh snow, which made for difficult hiking. Some of this snow was still around but had melted back to little more than decoration for the trail.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Snow on the PCT around 7,000 feet

Four miles from the trailhead, we left the PCT (there’s a small cairn marking the spot) and followed a reasonably obvious use trail through the woods and up loose dirt to the false summit.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Climbing the first rise, with Sawtooth Mountain in the background

Past the false summit, we crossed a hogsback of deep red cinders,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Looking east along the hogsback towards the summit

and walked up to the base of the summit pinnacle.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

The snow-covered final stretch to the summit

In summer, this final bit of scrambling is high 2nd Class at best. The snow cover pushed the climbing difficulty up a touch but there was plenty of solid stuff to hang on to and with careful foot placement it wasn’t particularly hard.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Climbing the snow-covered summit block

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

The final 20-feet to the top

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Summit!

The summit is the eroded remnant of a much larger stratovolcano. The layered gray andesite is riddled with vertical dikes of black lava that was squeezed into fractures as the volcano rose.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Contemplating the big view

Unlike the last time we did this, today the BIG VIEW was on full and continuous display.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Diamond Peak and Summit Lake to the northwest

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Sawtooth Mountain to the west

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Crescent Lake, the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, and a new fire (arrow) to the north

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Snow-flecked Howlock Mountain and Mount Thielsen to the south

It was very, very pleasant on the summit – sunny, warmish, almost no breeze. So we sat and snacked and took in the views. But then it was time to head back – motivated by a deep desire to get pie at Beckie’s in Union Creek. Going down was slower than going up, owing to the slippery snow.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Downclimbing the snow

But, soon, we were back on dirt,

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Going down the west ridge; Sawtooth Mountain beyond

and going south on the PCT.

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Along the PCT

A short (8.8 miles roundtrip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain) hike with a neat scramble finish and HUGE VIEWS (if you get the weather right) all around. Almost as good as Mount McLouglin but without 4,000 feet of gain! We ended-up having dinner at Beckie’s and took pieces of pie home for dessert. So many calories but soooo good…

Cowhorn Mountain Deschutes National Forest Oregon

Our track to Cowhorn Mountain

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