Our quest to visit all of Oregon’s federally designated wilderness areas eventually brought us to the Hells Canyon Wilderness, which encompasses a total of 217,497 acres: approximately 83,811 acres on the Idaho side of the Snake River and approximately 133,686 acres on the Oregon side. Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America: approximately 8,000 feet deep measured from He Devil Peak (in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains) to the Snake River (in comparison, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is “only” 6,000 feet deep). This wilderness is a subset of the much larger (652,488 acre) Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles the border of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho and is split into two distinct halves by the Wild & Scenic Snake River. Recreational activities in Hells Canyon include fishing, jet boat tours, hunting, hiking, camping and whitewater sports (like rafting!). Much of these activities rely on the Snake River, whose pre-dam erosive capabilities esentially created Hells Canyon. The river is home to numerous fish species, an abundance of class II-IV rapids (some of largest in the Pacific Northwest), diverse wildlife, and miles of trail systems.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, we have a project underway to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established federal wilderness areas that we’d missed visiting in years past (less the two – Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks – that are closed to public entry). This time, in conjunction with a rafting trip through Hells Canyon (and, coincidentally, the Hells Canyon Wilderness), we went for short hikes in the North Fork Umatilla River Wilderness and in the Oregon side of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. Continue reading →
Yamsay Mountain is a huge, sprawling (and fortunately now dormant) shield volcano with a glacier-carved crater on its northeast side. It sits 35 miles due east of Crater Lake National Park, at the border of Klamath and Lake Counties. Yet, despite its height and size (it covers 75 square miles), Yamsay is barely visible above the surrounding hills and forests. What makes it interesting as a hike is its size: it’s #73 on the list of Oregon’s highest peaks, #15 of the peaks that share a history of Cascade Range volcanism, and #14 on the list of Oregon’s most prominent peaks (where prominence is the elevation of a summit relative to the surrounding terrain). All this listing makes the peak attractive to peakbaggers and view-obsessed hikers (like us). It’s also a popular winter cross-country ski route. And the recent placement of a geocache near the summit has attracted yet another group of visitors (Yamsay geocache). So it’s a bit obscure but not unpopular.
Last year, my adventure hiking partner – Brad – and I did a partially on-trail, partially cross-country figure-8 loop (post) around the Three Sisters in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness (details). That was such a successful trip that we talked about doing something similar this year and, after some back-and-forth with ideas, settled on a similar on/off trail loop in Oregon’s largest wilderness area, the Eagle Cap Wilderness (details). This time around we would try to reach the three most promient summits in the wilderness: Sacajawea Peak (9,843 feet), its the highest point; Matterhorn (9,834 feet), and Eagle Cap (9,572 feet), the iconic centerpiece of this wilderness and the Wallowa Mountains (it might also be one of the most photographed peaks in the Wallowa Mountains if not in the entire state). Our basic plan was to start at the Hurricane Creek trailhead, go up Thorp Creek, then over Scajawea and Matterhorn, then over the divide between Ice and Razz Lakes into the Lake Basin, then up Eagle Cap, and out via Hurricane Creek. The trip worked out almost as planned but there was still plenty of room for adventure to be a big part of what actually happened. For an different take on how this trip went, look HERE.
In late 2015, as we were assembling our hiking to do list for 2016, it occurred to us that we had yet to at least visit all of Oregon’s 47 established federal wilderness areas (there are three proposed ones but, with Congress now at peak efficiency, who knows when or if these will ever be established?) (OR wilderness). Two of the 47 (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks) are closed to public entry (and would require amphibious operations even if they were open). Of the remaining 45, we had hiked, as of 2015, all but 18. So we planned some trips to visit these. We’re not philosophers (the pay is horrible) but suffice to say that wilderness exists just to be wild, irrespective of human needs or wants. So we understood going in that the primary “human” purpose for these lesser visited wilderness areas is to protect a watershed or a threatened and endangered species or a terrestrial habitat or a fish habitat or all of the above and not for our hiking pleasure. Several have no trails and in those, cross-country travel opportunities vary from good to heroically difficult. So we weren’t planning on long day hikes or multi-day backpacks, just a visit and, if possible without heroics, a short hike. So far our efforts have entailed a lot more driving than hiking – think a road trip punctuated by short walks.
Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (NAR) is a 280,311 acre (438 square mile) piece of high desert located 65 miles east of Lakeview, Oregon. Its western side is a massive fault block ridge that ascends abruptly nearly three-quarters of a mile above the Warner Valley floor in a series of rugged cliffs, steep slopes, and knife-like ridges. Since its creation in 1936 as a range for remnant herds of pronghorn antelope, management of the refuge has broadened to include conservation of all wildlife species characteristic of this high desert habitat and restoration of native ecosystems (details). Warner Peak (8,017 feet) is the highest point in the Refuge and one of Oregon’s top 100 peaks (#87) and is also sought after as an Oregon Prominence Peak. Reaching its summit is an easy, partially on-trail, partially cross-country dayhike that combines peakbagging with the opportunity to see some of the plants and animals that live in the Refuge’s backcountry. It truly is in the middle of nowhere as reaching it involves a 5-7 hour drive from most of Oregon’s population centers and the closest town of any substance is 65 miles away. Still, it was someplace we’d always wanted to visit and, with a high pressure ridge in place for a couple of days, we decided to go for it.