08.10.2011 - 08.17.2011
Trip photos: http://s658.photobucket.com/albums/uu306/kkovacs42/Wallowas%20backpack%20trip%20August%202011/?albumview=slideshow
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Day 1: West Fork of the Wallowa River Trailhead to junction with the Ice Lake Trail, 3.1 miles.
Nice, gentle up & down river trail. Beautiful views, but nothing compared to what's ahead! The bridge alongthe Ice Creek trail has been removed, but there's a log across the West Fork that makes it crossable (see pictures). We found it a bit unnerving, and wouldn't have liked to have tried it with a full pack, but was saw many others who made the crossing without difficulty via the log. We were able to find a campsite right at the river. There's a really nice site a bit downstream accessible by crossing several downed trees, but someone had beaten us to it. It had maybe room for three tents. The rest of the area is just OK, with semi-flat spots and room for maybe five tents. As we were eating dinner two guys entered camp & set up tents between ours (very close to the trail) and the "good" site.
Day 2: Day hike to Ice Lake, 11.3 miles (with wandering around the lake)
The trail is nicely graded and heads unrelentingly uphill. The scenery is great from the start, but improves as one ascends until the absolutely spectacular Ice Lake. We saw more wildflowers of various types on this hike than we've seen all year. Plenty of water along the way. Lots of room at Ice Lake for tents. However... just after we got there a group of 10 young men arrived, hooting and hollering and yelling backand forth. Apparently they were a youth group from a local Nazarene church. Then, as we were descending, we passed hoards of people, some with big iron pots and/or produce strapped to the backs of their packs. We asked someone, and apparently this was an annual church outing by an Adventist Church in Milton-Freewater. We asked, and they said they had 35-40 people, and were getting by the 12-person limit by registering in smaller groups. They said the year before they had over 50! Now, Ice Lake is large, but I seriously doubt it could accommodate what we estimated to be 70+ people up there. I felt very bad for the non-affiliated people who'd gone there expecting a wilderness experience. And what kind of message does it send when a church goes out of its way to violate the rules? Sad. When we got back to camp there were two tents about 10 yards away from ours -- a mom with her three young kids. They were actually much quieter than we expected, and would have been perfect neighbors except their need to have a huge campfire in the evening.
Day 3: Moving day. 10.5 miles to Douglas Lake (with roaming time at Horseshoe Lake)
We hiked another 3.4 miles up the fairly gentle West Fork trail to 6-Mile Meadow and the crossing of the West Fork. We ran into two sets of horse packers on the way in. The first was just dumping supplies at 6-Mile, and their group would hike in. The second was a group riding in to Horseshoe Lake, where the wrangler with leave them with their supplies and come back in a couple of days. At the time, both had a lot more appeal than toting in 50+ pound packs, let me tell you! We also met a lot of people coming out, many of whom said the Lakes Basin was busy, but that they saw no one at Douglas Lake. We used DEET for the first time at 6-Mile Meadow, and I applied it pretty much non-stop for the rest of the trip. The West Fork looked like it could have been waded, but we were told by others who'd just crossed that it's clarity makes it deceptively deep. Fortunately there were logs across both places where it was necessary to cross, so we were able to keep dry. One crossing was a bit scary with the full pack, but certainly do-able. The trail became much steeper climbing out of the river to Horseshoe Lake. It crosses a lot of white gravel, and it was a hot day, so really it wasn't much fun in spite of some beautiful views. We eventually made it to Horseshoe Lake, which looked like it was going to be crowded for the night (a group of 12 boyscouts were headed to it, in addition to the horse packers, and it was still fairly early). It's a large lake, though, with numerous campsites both at the lake and a bit back from it, so doubtless there was plenty of room. After refilling our Camelbacks, we continued our slog uphill to Douglas Lake. Honestly, I was hurting, and if it wasn't for everyone saying "there's no one up there" I would have stopped at Horseshoe. I was delighted to find, though, that there indeed was no one there. Huge lake, lots of camping spots, and not a soul around. We scoped out some sites, chose a beautiful one, & set up camp.
Day 4: Day hike down the Hurricane Creek Trail to the old ruins, 10.5 miles
I don't really have much to say about this day, other than the scenery continued to be awesome and the trail wasn't difficult. We had some amazing views of the Matterhorn, and got to traipse through some beautiful meadow. Again, normally we would have needed to wade Hurricane Creek, but well-placed rocks prevented this from being necessary. When we returned to camp we found that we had neighbors at Douglas Lake. (If we're at the 6:00 position, they were at high noon.) But we only knew they were there because of the smoke from their campfire and one pot clink; otherwise we didn't see them at all. Another very quiet night.
Day 5: Day hike across Carper Pass, past Minam Lake to Blue Lake, 14.2 miles Another gorgeous day. We began by hiking past Moccasin and Mirror Lakes to the trail junction that takes one up Horton Pass or on to Carper. We went up to Carper, passing many people who'd spent the night at Minam headed for Mirror, including a couple from Lostine who were goat packers! We didn't get to talk to them much, unfortunately, as the mosquitoes between Mirror Lake and Carper Pass were by far the worst of the trip, so thick that DEET didn't even discourage them much. We were glad we were just passing through! Lots of exquisite scenery yet again. The trail down to Minam from the pass was steeper, with just a little snow on it -- much more pleasant descending than ascending for sure! Minam Lake is huge. We didn't explore it at all, but I'm sure there were plenty of campsites around. Blue Lake wasn't as big or as pretty, and had perhaps two campsites. We returned to our camp after an exceptionally long day to find that people had camped at the 3:00 and 9:00 positions around the lake -- but we never saw their tents, and only saw a couple of people as they pumped water. Everyone was very quiet, and we found it an ideal place to camp.
Day 6: Moving day from Douglas Lake down to 6-Mile Camp, 8.7 miles with wandering around the lake area. We took the unofficial trail from Douglas to Horseshoe Lake, the one that hugs the lakes more, and thought it would have been a much less steep way into Douglas from Horseshoe. It was very nice, passing Lee Lake (a small lake with one or two sites) on the way to Horseshoe. We saw several sites in the grassy areas between the two as well. Definitely the area to come if you have a large group! Anyway, the trip down to 6-Mile was uneventful. We were lucky that we arrived as early as we did. It allowed us to scope out the area, and we found a camp site that was a bit outside the meadow (on the Wallowa Lake side of the place where the trail splits). Although it was very close to the trail, it couldn't be seen from it, and the burbling creek along one side of the campsite blocked a lot of noise... which was very necessary. I swear, 6-Mile Camp was a ZOO. Far too many people, many behaving badly (breaking limbs off trees, shouting at all hours, etc.). It made us wonder why these folks don't just stay at a KOA! Wow, it was bad. Even with the stream next to our tent we could hear revelers carrying on for hours. While there is lots & lots of room to camp, I'd be hard-pressed to stay there again for any reason.
Day 7: Day hike to Hawkins pass, 12.7 miles.
Exceptionally beautiful day hike, by far the prettiest area we explored this trip. The view from Hawkins Pass absolutely can't be beat... probably the most beautiful place on earth (if you like mountain vistas, at any rate!). The trek up the Wallowa River Valley was challenging because of the large number of downed trees. Apparently several avalanches had roared through over the winter. The flowers were spectacular, though, easing some of the pain of climbing over & around trees. We were able to cross the West Fork of the Wallowa River high up, again on some logs, before continuing our ascent to Frasier Lake. We encountered still better wildflowers and views, but the downed trees became very thick. At one point we were wondering how we'd have been able to get through the section above the river if we'd had full packs as we'd originally planned. This section needs some major trail maintenance! Anyway, it's passible with some effort, and the challenging section is brief. We continued up the pass to Frasier Lake, and almost got turned around at the drainage just upstream of Frasier. Fortunately another group we were planning leapfrog with all day found a couple of logs that could be used, and we followed them (thanks Ray, Beth, Terry & Jeannie!). We continued past Little Frasier and on to the pass, where the scenery defies description, running into just a little bit of snow along the way (nothing challenging, but probably not possible for stock). We retraced our steps to complete our day, probably the prettiest of the trip overall.
Day 8: Out, 6.3 miles.
Wah! What more can I say, except I can't wait to go back.
People: All the lakes were busy, and most had someone doing something they shouldn't. The biggest issue was illegal fires, but noise was also a problem. The exception was Douglas Lake, which appeared less populated and quieter than the others.
Snow: Almost all gone from the trails we explored, with the exception of Hawkins Pass, where some snow is still lingering. No problem for people, but I'd be concerned about taking stock up that one yet.
Trail Conditions: Muddy in a lot of places due to horse traffic.
Crossings: No bridges to speak of, but all crossings were accomplished with the aid of well-placed logs or rocks. We never had to get our boots wet. Some felt dicey with a full pack.
Wildlife: Lots of birds, although most were unidentifiable to me (LBJs). Saw the usuals (juncos, flickers, Clarks, nuthatches, chickadees, robins...) as well as yellow-rumped warblers, a rufus hummingbird, a kingfisher, and a GBH at Moccasin Lake. Also saw a couple of overly tame deer below 6-Mile Meadow and lots & lots of chipmunks & other ground squirrels. Not much in the way of big game, though.
Flowers: Amazing, particularly on the trail to Ice Lake and up the Wallowa River Trail between 6-Mile Meadow and Frasier Lake. Notable were mariposa lily, yellow columbine, some unusually colored monkshood, and many shades of paintbrush.
Mosquitoes: We were able to ignore them below 6-Mile Meadow. I was more comfortable with DEET on above that point, although my husband only used it on & off. The only place we felt they were really bad was between Mirror Lake and Carper Pass, where they hovered even though we had DEET on.
Favorite gear discovery: OMG, I LOVE my JetBoil. We did the entire trip on one large fuel canester, and still had plenty to spare. And, I hate to admit it, but I bought Crocs for this trip and love them. They're very light and waterproof and were a surprisingly good addition to my gear.
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