Backpacking!

My dad and I try to go on a couple of backpacking trips each summer. For our first trip this year we decided to do a loop he has been wanting to do in the Wallowa mountains of northeastern Oregon. The Wallowas are known locally as the “Alps” of Oregon due to dramatic peaks that rise up suddenly from the surrounding farmland.

The loop we planned took us from the Wallowa Lake trailhead up to Aneroid Lake on the first day. The second day was a rather long segment from Aneroid Lake across Tenderfoot Pass and Polaris Pass and down to the West Fork of the Wallowa River. We hoped to find a place to make camp about when we got to the river but we ended up having to go a couple extra miles down to Six-Mile Meadow. The last day was a relatively easy six miles back out to the trailhead. I used Google Earth to make a little video illustrating the trip:

So Friday was easy, Sunday was easy, but Saturday…Saturday was a doozy.

Here's an elevation profile for the trip:

Friday was fairly uneventful. A steep but very scenic hike up to Aneroid Lake. Mosquitos were the only real unpleasantness we faced, and at the end of the day we were rewarded with a beautiful little campsite right beside the lake.

Looking north from our Aneroid Lake campsite.

Saturday wouldn't have been so bad except that throughout the day we were caught in several passing thunderstorms. The first struck right as we crossed Tenderfoot Pass and included quite a bit of hail. After that, the weather cleared just long enough for us to cross Polaris Pass. We had hoped Polaris Pass would be snow-free by mid-July, but sadly this was not the case. We had to cross several snow fields, the most significant of which involved using our trowels to dig steps in a rather steep snow bank. Then using a rope to make sure nobody slipped and went sliding down a several hundred foot long embankment, puncuated by large pointy rocks at the bottom.

Just across the pass we had to descend some very steep and narrow switchbacks down an exposed slope. At this point we could see (and feel) the next thunderstorm rolling in on us and everyone was pretty anxious to get off that slope before it arrived.

The back side of Polaris Pass. If you look closely you can see the faint diagonal lines of the trail coming down the slope.

We made it into the relative shelter of some small stands of trees just before the storm struck. Thankfully, all the lightning seemed to be of the inter-cloud variety rather than air-to-ground strikes. The storm passed pretty much directly over us so ground strikes would have been rather frightening.

Once we made it back down into the trees, the excitement and anxiety of summiting the passes steadily gave way to the exhaustion of hiking about 10 miles with about +1500 feet and -2500 feet of elevation change in a single day. Everyone was pretty relieved when we finally reached Six-Mile Meadow.

Unfortunately, the rain had taken a toll on our baguette.

Compared to Saturday, Sunday was a breeze. We slept in a bit and then packed up our stuff and hiked the 6 miles of gentle downhill back to the car. Newton did refuse to carry his backpack on the last day, but he had been such a trooper on Saturday we didn't really mind carrying his stuff. Also, we saw a bear just across the river!

All in all, a successful trip. Even though Saturday was a bit more than we bargained for.

Additional photos available on Flickr.