Walking in the Wallowas, part 2

Trip report day 2: The next morning it was evident that temperatures had gotten down to freezing or a bit below, at least the air right over the lake: the previously unfrozen edge of the lake was covered with a thin layer of new ice, and there was a spot where meltwater feeding the lake had pushed this thin ice layer into concentric rounds of smashed ice ravines, some kind of Arctic tectonics in miniature.

For me, part of the impetus for this trip was to regain a feeling of competence in backpacking. I did a moderate amount of backpacking in my teens and early 20s — I was very much not an expert, but I could generally make things work, knew what to pack and what not to. I quit doing it when I moved to the East Coast, and really didn’t do much hiking at all for 15 years or so. When I moved to California, I bought a pack on clearance, but it still took me a couple of years before I arranged things to get out on the trail. Two years ago I did a three-day solo trip in the Trinity Alps, my first significant backpacking in about 20 years. It was beautiful and bliss-inducing, but I was clearly out of practice on a bunch of the little things. I was also out of shape. And I ended up with blisters due to not taking enough care of my feet.

Last year I got into better walking shape and refined my kit somewhat, and I planned a four-day hike in the High Sierra in mid-September. Unfortunately, my sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough, even with a liner–something I suspected would be true. That plus a bunch of other little mishaps on the first day out led me to turn back early, only spending two days on the trail I’d planned. And I got blisters again, even worse, despite trying to keep my feet happy. I did some other nice hikes that trip, including limping around the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, but it wasn’t the solid block of time in the wilderness that I’d planned.

So this trip, I made sure the route was easy. I had some new equipment, including a new tent and a really warm sleeping quilt. And going with people helped — things were just much more relaxing.

The second day, J and E decided to stick with me and T, because the passes they had wanted to hike over looked completely snowed in and unfun. We hiked down the Lake Basin from lake to lake. The next lake down from Mirror was Mocassin, which was only half frozen:

The crew:

Moi, with Eagle Cap in the background:

Down another few hundred feet to Douglas Lake. Not frozen at all. Then to Lee and Horseshoe Lakes. Total of about five miles for the day, probably. We camped by Lee. E and J fished in Horseshoe for a bit. The mosquitoes came out but were really just moderate.

I had brought along a field guid to trees but at the last minute left it in the car to save weight. Immediately on the trail, everyone started trying to identify trees. They all knew a lot more than I did, and illustrated the differences between a spruce and a fir for me:

But there was a common pine up there that even J couldn’t quite identify, and I wished I had my book:

The scenery was amazing. Here’s Lee Lake with a tumbling waterfall above it:

The lake was cold and clear, with a big drop-off just away from the shore:

Here’s J fly fishing on the far side of Lee. The fish were biting but stayed out of reach of his line:

In the evening, the moon was in the west.

Trip report, day 3: Our last day presented a simple task: get down from the Lake Basin to Wallowa Lake, where we had left a car. This was a hike of about another 8 miles, all downhill. But not before enjoying a beautiful morning on Lee, where the water had grown completely calm.

Here’s Horseshoe:

After Horseshoe, the trail drops a lot, down some switchbacks into the West Fork Wallowa River valley. Here’s a waterfall that didn’t photograph well but sounded great:

When we got to the river itself, after descending almost 1,000 feet, there were no bridges and two separate strands of the stream to ford. The water was quick and felt colder than the lake water had been. We then got to Six Mile Meadow, which wasn’t six miles long but instead was about six miles from Wallowa Lake, our destination.

The rest of the hike followed the river down to Wallowa Lake. No more snow on the trail, and the jumble of new plants and wildflowers felt like summer instead of the winter to early spring of higher elevations.

When we got to the trailhead, I had no blisters! And felt like I could have walked another five miles, although I was just as happy to sit down. After ferrying everyone back to the Two Pan trailhead to pick up the other vehicles, I was even happier to have a couple of beers at Terminal Gravity in Enterprise.

In all, the trip was a total success. The mountains were unrelentingly beautiful and the weather was good. I felt like I made the right equipment choices and had finally regained some outdoor competence. And the company was excellent. I’ll definitely hike the Wallowas again, but next time later in the season and a different part of the range for variety and also for the road less traveled.

One response to “Walking in the Wallowas, part 2”

  1. Bryan says:

    Loved these photos & your travel notes. This is surprisingly close to Wenatchee! We’ve been looking for places to hike/camp — maybe next summer. I’m also hoping we can prepare for this someday.