Spence Mountain Loop (Eastern Oregon) 01-May-2019

Spence Mountain hosts an evolving trail system on a 7,400 acre parcel of land on the west side of Upper Klamath Lake. It’s located 60 miles east of Medford and 15 miles west of Klamath Falls, making it readily accessible for a dayhike when trails in the High Cascades are still filled with snow. Although the trails are designed to accommodate mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners, the emphasis is clearly on biking. The trail maps we found online (and at the trailhead) show both the built trails and (more faintly) some of the old logging roads that criss-cross the mountain. Some of these old roads are named and signed parts of the trail system.

This was our first visit to Spence Mountain, so we decided to do the classic South Ridge-Spence Peak-Hooligan Loop. Starting from the Spence Mountain Trailhead, we ascended the South Ridge Trail, passed Spence Mountain’s high point on the Spence Peak Trail, then returned via the Hooligan Trail. Once we passed the high point, the built trail took us down to an old road (signed Summit Road) and not to the Hooligan Trail at Junction 3 as we’d hoped. So we followed that old road to the Front Side Loop Road, than jogged west on that for a bit to intersect the Hooligan Trail, which we followed back to the trailhead. Some have reported that the Hooligan is a one-way, mountain-bike-only trail but neither our maps nor any signs indicated if this was true. The only bikers we saw the whole day were two that passed us on the Hooligan with no worries. But if some trails are biker-only, like at Mountain of the Rogue, it would be good for hikers to know in advance. In retrospect, we could probably have pieced together a return route on those old logging roads (many of which still show clearly on aerial photos of the mountain) and thus avoided getting in the way of any bikers.

Otherwise, it was a perfect day for a hike – clear, sunny, cool, with a light breeze. The loop was about 10 miles with 1,500 feet of gain. No mosquitoes. No ticks. No poison oak. We had expansive views in almost all directions. The highlight of the day was a pair of bald eagles that circled us then alighted on a branch to chirp at each other and stare at us. 🙂

Map reading at the Spence Mountain Trailhead
Starting up the South Ridge Trail
Howard Bay and the Caledonia Marsh from the trail
Continuing on up the ridge
Mount Shasta and Mount Eddy (E) from the ridge
A pair of eagles (arrow) overlooking the Squaw Point Marsh
We couldn’t tell if they were “just friends” or were checking out nesting sites
On the way to Junction 2
Mount McLoughlin from near the high point on Spence Mountain
Peaks of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness from Spence Mountain: Aspen Butte (A), Mount Carmine (C), Greylock Mountain (G), Mount Harriman (H)
Looking north toward Pelican Butte
Pelican Butte and Mount McLoughlin
Upper Klamath Lake with Pelican Butte (P) and Mount Scott (S) [in Crater Lake NP] on the horizon
Following one of the old roads to the Hooligan Trail
Our loop over Spence Mountain
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Rafting Oregon’s Lower Owyhee River V 18-Apr-2019

Day 5: “Andy’s” Camp to Birch Creek Take-out (5,030 cfs)

The last day on the river is always bittersweet – sad to be leaving such a beautiful and peaceful place but looking forward (perhaps secretly) to a hot shower (particularly enticing after these colder weather trips). Since we’d camped farther downstream than planned, we got a later start than usual for the short run to the take-out at Birch Creek [RM 51].

Leaving “Andy’s” Camp
Going toward Birch Creek
Near Pothole Camp
Pothole Camp
Pothole Arch
Turning the bend at Birch Creek
An old waterwheel used to lift water to agricultural fields on the bench above from behind a small dam (now gone) across the river
Birch Creek take-out on the right
Loading the gear
Good-bye to the Owyhee ❤ 😦
The Birch Creek Grade – not a road to be taken lightly 👿
The road carves its way to the rim
The view west from the rim
Truer words were never written…

The original plan was for all of us – clients, guides, and gear – to claw our way out of the canyon and rendezvous in Jordan Valley for a final good-bye (and ice cream). Unfortunately, the Birch Creek Grade took out the gear trailer’s hitch, stranding Andy, Mike, and Rob in the canyon (temporarily). Those of us who had to catch a shuttle back to Boise from Jordan Valley could only wait so long for them, so we missed out on the final group good-bye. 😥 But we did get ice cream. 🙂 Aside from the hitch with the trailer, this was a great trip, with excellent guides and fellow rafters. Another trip with Momentum is a real possibility for next year. We’ll see… 😀

The river itself, from the Idaho-Oregon border downstream to Owyhee Reservoir, was granted Wild and Scenic River status in 1984. Some of the watershed in Idaho is currently protected as federally designated wilderness, but attempts to secure further protection for the Owyhee Canyonlands (primarily as a national monument) have thus far proven unsuccessful. Now that we’ve had the privilege of seeing it for ourselves, we definitely believe that a way needs to be found to balance legitimate competing interests so as to protect this amazing area for continued enjoyment by current and future generations.

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Rafting Oregon’s Lower Owyhee River IV 17-Apr-2019

Day 4: Upper Whistling Bird Camp to “Andy’s” Camp (6,820 cfs)

Some high clouds came in overnight, but brought no rain, so the day got off to an easy start. This was good, because today would be our longest and busiest one on the river. We started by passing through the towering cliffs of Iron Point Canyon, which are formed from erosion-resistant rhyolite. Then we scouted and ran Montgomery Rapid, one of the most challenging rapids in this stretch. After lunch at Jackson Hole [RM 37.5], we continued on to Rinehart Falls [RM 39.5] to replenish our freshwater supplies, then floated on past now abandoned Hole-In-The-Ground Ranch to a stop at the petroglyphs [RM 42.2]. From there, we passed Devils Tower hoping to camp at Upper Greeley. However, it and the other two Greeley camps were already occupied, so we pressed on to a camp Andy knew about near RM 47. Once there, a few of us hiked up to get a closer look at the stone monoliths standing on the slopes above camp. Then dinner, dessert (‘smores), and bed. A big day, well done! 🙂

Morning at Upper Whispering Bird
Easy packing and wild hair on a sunny morning.
Ancient hackberry trees provide shelter for small birds
Spires downstream of Lower Whistling Bird Camp
Entering Iron Point Canyon
Iron Point Canyon
Iron Point Canyon
Iron Point Canyon
Iron Point Canyon
Iron Point Canyon
Iron Point Canyon
Leaving Iron Point Canyon
Jackson Hole
Sand Lily at Jackson Hole
Floating below Jackson Hole
Working through a big wave train
Rinehart Falls
Hole-in-the-Ground Ranch
Petroglyphs
Pteroglyphs
Devils Tower
Near Greeley Bar
At “Andy’s” Camp
“Andy’s” Camp from above
A sunlit giant rock fin protrudes from the far slope
Easter Island-style rock spires on the slopes
Colorful rock outcroppings
Sunset over the Owyhee
Moonrise at “Andy’s” Camp
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Rafting Oregon’s Lower Owyhee River III 16-Apr-2019

Day 3: Pruitt’s Castle Camp to Upper Whistling Bird Camp (6,740 cfs)

The rain ceased in the night and we awoke to a day of gloriously dry clarity. 😎 The colors and shapes that form Pruitt’s Castle, which had looked drab under yesterday’s cloudy skies, lit up exuberantly in the morning light. After the baggage rafts left, we did a short hike over to view the Chalk Basin and Lambert Dome.

The morning light inflames Pruitt’s Castle
Pruitt’s Castle
Pruitt’s Castle
Rob loading one of the baggage rafts
Starting our hike to see Lambert Dome
Looking downstream over the Chalk Basin
Lambert Dome
Balsamroot was beginning to flower

After our hike and lunch back at the rafts, we broke camp and headed downstream. Thanks to the high flows, we encountered only wave trains before stopping to see Potters Cave [RM 30], an overhanging (now partially collapsed) rock shelter that has been in use for as long as 7,000 years. Then it was a short float to our camp at Upper Whistling Bird [RM 31]. Just before camp, at Whistling Bird Rapid, the river flows hard towards the right wall where a huge flake has detached from the wall. Despite the high flows, this was still a pretty exciting rapid.

Passing Lambert Dome
Going downstream toward possibly threatening clouds
The river cuts a notch in a lava flow at Potters Cave.
Potters Cave
The view upriver from Potters Cave
Continuing on…
And on…
Past sheer cliffs of basalt…
To the beach at Upper Whispering Bird Camp
This convoluted tower of basalt sits directly above Whispering Bird Rapid
Looking downstream from camp
Evening at Upper Whispering Bird (today the tarp had been for sun, not rain 🙂 )
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Rafting Oregon’s Lower Owyhee River II 15-Apr-2019

Day 2: Lower Fletcher Camp to Pruitt’s Castle Camp (4,850 cfs)

The rain ceased in the night, so today started out overcast but dry. We need the rain but life outdoors is just easier when you’re not perpetually moist. The day stayed mostly overcast, with occasional spots of almost clearing. Teaser sucker-holes. Happily, it didn’t rain again, and then only briefly, until we’d reached camp at Pruitt’s Castle [RM 24.5]. After breakfast, we floated down to Weeping Wall Springs to take on fresh, clear water (the river water is pretty silty), have lunch, and take a short hike.

Early morning at Lower Fletcher
No rain brings joy to The LovedOne
Shana, Brad, and Jeff at breakfast
Lunch stop at Weeping Wall Camp [RM 17.5]
Weeping Wall Springs
Looking downstream from above Weeping Wall Camp
The LovedOne holds the raft while water jugs are refilled

At these elevated flow levels, the five named rapids between Lower Fletcher and Pruitt’s were just bouncy fun whitewater – but with wave trains big enough to produce a good soaking from time to time. 😉

Kaity pulls us away from Weeping Wall and into the flow
On the river below Weeping Wall
Churning waters between tall cliffs
Heading into a wave train
Soaked!
A calm stretch toward an elusive patch of blue sky
Shana makes steady progress in slack water

We had hoped to camp at Ryegrass (hot springs!) but that site was taken, so we moved on down to a camp below Pruitt’s Castle, an impressive colonnade of spires formed from white lake sediments interspersed with black and brown bands of lava. The rain held off until dinner was almost ready, then sprinkled on us as we ate it under a trap. It was still raining slightly when we turned in for the night. But, would it be clear in the morning?

Approaching camp at Pruitt’s Castle
Camp at Pruitt’s Castle
Kathy, Kaity, and The Loved One wait out the rain
What would the weather be like tomorrow?
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Rafting Oregon’s Lower Owyhee River I 14-Apr-2019

Background

The Owyhee River and its tributaries incise dramatic and awe-inspiring canyons in the sagebrush and grass-covered plains of northeastern Nevada, southwestern Idaho, and southeastern Oregon. These expansive plains and deep canyons represent some of the most stunningly scenic terrain on offer in Oregon.

The Owyhee River and its major tributaries (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite their astounding beauty, the Owyhee River and its canyonlands are still not easy places to visit. They lie in an area of the state that is remote, sparsely populated, and difficult to access. Towns, services (gas, food, lodging), paved roads, campgrounds, and hiking trails are few and far between out here. But we really, really wanted to experience this area. So, after giving these logistics some thought, we decided to make our initial foray into this area via a raft trip (no surprise here) on the Lower Owyhee River, from a put-in at Rome, Oregon to a take-out at Birch Creek. A major caveat here is that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended float levels for this segment of the river are between 800 and 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). These levels are typically reached in April and May but not necessarily every year (our planned 2018 trip here was cancelled due to low water). Another caveat is that the weather during these months can be vary quickly between sunny and snowing.

Keeping these two caveats in mind, we booked a trip for early April with Momentum River Expeditions out of Ashland, Oregon. We chose Momentum because they have an excellent reputation, were offering one of the earliest trips of the season (we weren’t going to miss the optimal float levels this year!), and we’d crossed paths with them last year on the Alsek River. Our five professional and personable guides (Andy (trip leader), Kaity, Shana, Mike, and Rob) worked really hard – initially in less than optimal weather – to give us an AWESOME experience in a truly wonderful part of Oregon. 😀 The food was an excellent mix of vegetarian and meaty choices. These factors, along with a very congenial group of fellow rafters, made this the unforgettable experience we’d hoped for.

Our guides (L-R): Shana, Mike, Andy, Rob, and Kaity

Day 1: Rome Put-in to Lower Fletcher Camp (3,320 cfs)

After driving up the day before, we met our shuttle in Boise for the ride to the put-in at Rome, Oregon. It had rained overnight and we started out under leaden, but dry, skies. The put-in was busy with private and guided trips anxious not to miss their chance to float the lower river with optimal flows.

The put-in at Rome was busy under heavy skies
The LovedOne geared-up and ready to go

We got on the water before noon, just in time for it to start raining. 😦 We stopped just past Owyhee Crossing [at River Mile (RM) 4, with the put-in being 0] for lunch under a tarp (and flashbacks to our last days on the Alsek River).

Passing under the Highway 95 bridge
Approaching Owyhee Crossing
Our lunch stop below Owyhee Crossing
The LovedOne attempts to enjoy yet another meal under a tarp

After lunch we left the flat ranch lands below Rome and floated through the towering walls of Sweetwater Canyon, the grandeur of which was diminished just a little by the gloom and the rain.

Sweetwater Canyon (with rain drops on the lens)

It was still raining when we pulled into our first camp at Lower Fletcher [RM 9.2]. One thing that Momentum does, if you use one of their tents, is put it up for you (you take it down). While this up service was skating perilously close to “glamping,” 🙄 it was, nonetheless, a welcome relief not to have to struggle with a tent in the rain. After dinner under a tarp near a warm fire, we settled in our dry tent to fall asleep to the gentle pattering of raindrops. o_O

Waiting out the rain…
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Visiting Oregon’s Wilderness Areas (July 2017)

Visits to Oregon's Wilderness Areas

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 48 established and open federal wilderness areas. Two of the 48 (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks) are closed to public entry (and would require amphibious operations even if they were open). Of the remaining 46, we had, as of 2015, hiked or visited all but 18. So we planned some trips to visit these. [Update: When we started this project in 2015, there were 47 wilderness areas in Oregon. One more, the Devils Staircase Wilderness was established in 2019 and we did a drive-by visit to it in 2020.]

Continue reading “Visiting Oregon’s Wilderness Areas (July 2017)”

Alvord Peak (Eastern Oregon) 14-May-2015

Alvord Peak Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon

It was raining when we got up and it rained during the whole 60 mile drive from Frenchglen, Oregon to the turn-off to Alvord Peak at the southern end of the Steens, about 5 miles north of Fields, Oregon. This is Hike #72 in Bond’s 2005 75 Scrambles in Oregon, the difference being that the eastern Steens Road is now paved to the turn-off and beyond. We made the turn and, after a mile of 4×4 driving on a deeply rutted two-track dirt road, reached the trailhead at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness boundary.  There we sat in the truck until the rain quit.  When it soon did, we went for the peak. Continue reading “Alvord Peak (Eastern Oregon) 14-May-2015”

Little Blitzen River Canyon (Eastern Oregon) 13-May-2015

Little Blitzen River Canyon Steens Mountain Oregon

After a night of rain, we woke to clear, almost cloudless skies and new snow on Steens Mountain! We decided to take advantage of these good conditions – which didn’t last all day – to hike one of the classics – the trail into the canyon of the Little Blitzen River on the west side of Steens Mountain (Hike #91 in Sullivan’s Eastern Oregon guide (Third Edition)). The unique combination of clear skies and fresh snow made for an amazing hike!

Continue reading “Little Blitzen River Canyon (Eastern Oregon) 13-May-2015”

Visiting Steens Mountain (Eastern Oregon) 12-May-2015

Steens Mountain Wilderness Oregon

The terrain in and around the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area and the Steens Mountain Wilderness is well known to birders, photographers, and hunters but seems less so to hikers – the various hiking guides for Oregon usually only list a few “classic” hikes in this area. That, combined with it being 6-7 hours from Oregon’s population centers, means that crowded trails are never an issue.  Our plan was to spend a few days out in the Steens checking out some of the classic and not so classic hikes and starting to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Continue reading “Visiting Steens Mountain (Eastern Oregon) 12-May-2015”

Ice Lake (Eagle Cap Wilderness) 8/11-Aug-2013

Ice Lake Matterhorn Eagle Cap Wilderness Oregon
I had managed to live in Oregon for years without making the effort to backpack in the Wallowa Mountains of Eastern Oregon, home of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Some dayhikes, but no real backcountry stuff.  So finally I just made time amongst work, business travel, and everyday living for a quick trip east. Leaving Portland at 4:00AM on Thursday, I made it to the Wallowa Lake Trailhead at 10:00AM – to find the parking area only half full. Predictably – since it’s either the first or second most popular destination in the Eagle Cap Wilderness (the Lakes Basin may be first) – I’d chosen Ice Lake as my goal, with the idea of maybe hiking the Matterhorn and Sacajawea Peak as well. Continue reading “Ice Lake (Eagle Cap Wilderness) 8/11-Aug-2013”