Walking in the Wallowas, part 1

Wallowa hike trip report, day 1 (July 7):

I wanted a short, easy, but pretty backpacking trip, and things lined up to spend three days in the Wallowas with friends. Midday on the first day, we drove up the Lostine River to Two Pan trailhead. The plan for the day was to hike about 8 miles up to Mirror Lake, the highest of the lakes in the popular Lakes Basin. We wondered how much snow there would be higher up, but J and E are “environmental scientists” and told us they’d checked some satellite imagery and we should be okay.

The group was me, T, J, and J’s brother E, visiting from the East Coast. J and E intended to hike with us the first day, then go off on their own to climb a peak or two, do some fishing, and spend more time up there than T and I wanted to do. Here are the three others viewing the East Fork of the Lostine River.

The first two miles of the trail had most of the elevation gain for the whole trip, about 1,000 feet, and included amazing views of the river, including this great waterfall.

After the elevation gain, including some moderately taxing switchbacks, we hiked up a glacier-formed valley, which included this peculiar little morain-backed lake/pond thingy.

Eagle Cap, the tallest peak in the Wallowas, watched over us as we made our way up the valley.

The farther along we got, the more we encountered big patches of snow covering stretches of the trail. Some hikers we met coming down told us they had lost the trail before getting to Mirror Lake, our destination. Sure enough, a half mile or so before the lake, the trail rose above the valley floor and was entirely covered in snow. We kept going–we could see the little rise where we thought the trail had to go, and we had a couple of phones with detailed maps and GPS that showed us when we got too far from the trail. The snow was compact and wet but quite deep and also sculpted into little moguls that were exhausting to walk on. We were sort of right about the rise–when we got there we could see where the lake had to be, although it was another bit of walking to get there. Mirror Lake, elevation 7,600 feet, was almost completely frozen over, and the banks were covered with snow.

We found a few bare patches to pitch tents and set up cook stoves. My new tent worked well, although since it’s not freestanding it was a bit tricky figuring out where to sink the stakes in the rocky ground. (Next time I’ll try tying the lines to rocks, etc., something I didn’t think of at the time.) (Also, I figured out the next day I’d staked one wrong place on the tent, which made it look a bit lopsided. My brain must have been adjusting to the altitude.)

The air was pretty warm when the sun was up but cooled off at night, down to about freezing. My toes were not cold when I put on sandals. (This picture reminds me of the best part of the whole trip, which was that my recent switch from hiking boots to lightweight trail runners worked–no blisters!)

The lake was beautiful, and we were the only people up there. It felt more remote than it was, like an expedition to farthest Greenland or something.

I had lugged a can of wine in my pack, and we enjoyed it that evening and also built a little fire for cheer. (Canned wine people: I am available for product endorsements, sponsorships, and spokesmodeling.)

I woke up in the middle of the night needing to step out of my tent for a minute. By then, the moon had set, and the sky was as full of stars as I’ve ever seen it. The starry sky curved above, the vault of heaven, echoed by the ice-covered lake and its basin curving below, catching the starlight.

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