Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain

With a beautiful forecast for Sunday I was flipping through my hiking books trying to decide where to go. In Matt Reeder’s new book he has the hike to Red Mountain via Indian Racetrack and I decided to do that. All I have to say is WOW. I can’t believe this hike doesn’t get more attention. The views are fantastic!

Just past the wilderness registration board is the abandoned and unsigned trail to the Basin Lakes area. Matt mentions this in his book, but I didn’t have the time to explore up there today.

Crossing Falls Creek, the outflow from Basin Lakes.

Crazy to think how that creek becomes this (Falls Creek Falls) a few miles downstream!

After that the trail climbs steeply. It’s so steep in this spot that they’ve laid logs down for erosion control.

I saw a whole bunch of mushrooms.

The trail levels off for a bit and then there’s just lots of forest hiking.

Then the trail reaches a meadow with a snowmelt pond.

Red Mountain ahead. Almost there!

Indian Racetrack, where Native Americans used to race their horses.

This is the trail to Red Mountain and thank goodness for that sign or I would not have seen it. Once the trail comes out of the forest there it totally disappears in the meadow.

Back in the forest for the final push up the hill.

The last 0.2mi of trail before it dumps out on the road is very very steep. I was very glad to get onto the well-graded road which shortly brought me to the summit. Oh man the views! An unobstructed 360-degree view!

Looking north out over Indian Heaven Wilderness to Mt. Adams, which had a fresh dusting of snow.

Mt. Rainier also had fresh snow:

Close-up of Indian Heaven:

Looking south to Mt. Hood:

Looking southwest (that forested bump left of center is called The Wart:

Looking west to Mt. St. Helens:

The lookout isn’t used anymore but is in good shape. (You can see from the first picture below how this mountain got its name.)

There isn’t much inside.

It seems that maybe the Red Mountain lookout is in some limbo. A winter storm blew the roof off in 2006 which caused the walls to collapse. Yikes!

Volunteers with the Passport in Time program restored the lookout in 2010 but at that time future plans were uncertain. The website firelookout.com says that it’s slated to become part of the rental program, but I don’t know when that was last updated. A 2011 report from the Forest Fire Lookout Association said that once toilet facilities were installed the lookout could become part of the rental program. There are still no toilet facilities up there and the inside needs a bed, a stovepipe, etc. so who knows what’s going on.

Anyway, I sat on the catwalk of the lookout for over an hour, enjoying the views and reading my book. It was the perfect temperature and I had the place all to myself. Pretty awesome! My timing was perfect because right when I was leaving two other hikers showed up, and five minutes later I passed a group of four hikers headed up (they asked me to take a jump shot of them and I was happy to oblige).

Almost back to the trailhead, just after passing the wilderness registration board, I passed two hunters who were decked out in full camo with facepaint and everything (yes, hunting is allowed in wilderness areas, just like cattle grazing is allowed). Their weapons looked strange…perhaps they were bows? Neither of them carried overnight packs. I turned to see if they would fill out a wilderness permit but they just blasted right past the sign without giving it a glance.

Tumala Mountain (aka Squaw Mountain)

I unexpectedly found myself flying solo this weekend when Greg decided to stay home and rest (still sore after hitting a pothole while riding his bike in Portland a few weeks ago). So I opted for something short with views and headed out to do Tumala Mountain, which used to be known as Squaw Mountain.

Thanks to directions in Sullivan’s book (this is one of his back-of-the-book hikes) I had no trouble finding the trailhead, which is totally unsigned. Mine was the only car there when I set out at 11am.

I quickly reached the junction, which is supposed to be a four-way junction according to the map. But this was just a three-way junction with the trail forking in two directions instead of three.

The left fork had a relatively new sign that said Eagle Creek Cutoff Tr. No. 504 and the right fork had a sign that said Old Baldy Tr. No. 502.

But where was the continuation of the Old Baldy Trail that led north to Old Baldy? I found it on the way back and it’s VERY easy to miss. It is not at the junction with the other two trails. At the trailhead you immediately turn left on this trail instead of going straight. The trail closely parallels the road for a bit. I didn’t see a sign.

Also there is a Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness sign at the junction that is VERY high. What the heck? Did they come nail that up when there was still a bunch of snow on the ground?

So anyway, the trail to Tumala Mountain launched straight up the hill very steeply but fortunately leveled off in a bit.

The trail took a steep dive and soon I reached the junction with the Fanton Trail, which was completely unsigned. This is looking back from the way I just came (the trail on the right) and the Fanton Trail is heading downhill on the left.

The Old Baldy Trail that I was on did have a very old mossy sign which was very easy to miss because it faced the trail instead of the junction.

This used to be…..something. No idea.

There were mushrooms EVERYWHERE. I wonder if last week’s rain had anything to do with it or if they would have been busting up all over the place anyway? In any case they were pretty cool. The larger orange ones were especially prolific.

I reached the junction where the spur trail headed to the summit. Another very old sign.

The trail dumps you out on the old lookout access road and then it’s just a short jaunt up to the summit. On the map this road is gated at the bottom but I know that people have driven up here so the map must be wrong.

The road would also be used for maintenance access for whatever this thing is. Some kind of radio tower, I assume.

Good thing I got to the summit when I did. Some clouds were in the process of slowly covering up Mt. Hood. If I had started a few hours later I wouldn’t have been able to see much of it.

A series of fire lookouts once stood here. Here is the one that was built in 1916.

All that remains now are the concrete steps, which are perfectly situated for sitting on to admire the view of Mt. Hood.

To the south I could see Mt. Jefferson.

Looking southeast out over the forest. Not sure, but I think that bump left of center might be Wolf Peak.

Looking west:

Wildcat Mountain to the north:

Not sure if this is Githens Mountain or Old Baldy:

Old foundation from a garage or shed from the lookout days:

I hung out on the summit for more than an hour, enjoying the views and reading my book. I had the place to myself the whole time. What a very lovely spot! I can’t believe I had never heard of this hike until this summer! The only downside was the annoying and persistent target shooting that I could hear south of me. It started about half an hour after I got to the summit so fortunately I didn’t have to put up with it the whole time. But that kind of noise sure has a way of ruining the ambience.

Heading back through the sun-dappled forest:

I ran into a guy at the trailhead who had just come back from Old Baldy. He said the summit of that particular peak is totally forested with no views at all. Also he accidentally encountered a yellow jacket nest and got stung five or six times. Ouch!

Mirror Lake and Eagle Cap

Last year when Greg and I did the Lakes Basin loop we had hoped to summit Eagle Cap but the hot weather and hard hiking the previous day left us with not enough energy. So this year after finishing our very fun llama trek on the south side of the mountains, we drove ALL the way around to the north side to complete this unfinished business.

Whereas last year we approached Mirror Lake from the direction of Horseshoe Lake since we were doing the loop, this year we took the direct route up the East Fork Lostine River. This route was MUCH MUCH better than the route up the West Fork Wallowa River. (Yes, it is popular too. There were 30 cars at the Two Pan trailhead when we started on a Wednesday morning.)

Crossing the river. All of this shade was nice since it was a warm day.

Then we started climbing those switchbacks and getting better and better views.

Nice waterfall, though I’m sure it looks much more impressive earlier in summer. Possibly Lostine Falls?

We came to several areas where the river spread out into pond-like areas.

The first of MANY views we’d have of Eagle Cap. Tomorrow we hike up there!

Passed an almost perfectly-round snowmelt pond. I saw the large mound of dirt on the other side of the pond and wondered if this is some kind of old landslide.

Looking back to the pond.

The trail follows the river south along this big glacier-carved U-shaped valley. Beautiful!

The river snaked its way through the meadow just below the trail.

The trail crosses the river on a nice footbridge. In our the 2008 edition of Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Eastern Oregon he mentions that this bridge is collapsed. Obviously it’s since been replaced.

Looking downstream from the bridge.

Looking upstream.

Although there is an obvious trail that continues south through the meadow, the official trail leaves the meadow and enters the trees at this point.

Almost there!

Ah, Mirror Lake. A beautiful sight.

It wasn’t quite hot enough for a full-on swim, but we did go out in the water. Hey, Greg is standing on the water!

Nah, he’s just standing on submerged rocks.

We took it easy, puttered around camp, and made dinner. Evening was lovely.

This is a little pond near our site. I was really hoping that all those clouds would light up red and gold, but it didn’t happen. Oh well, it’s still very lovely.

It rained off and on all night, and sometimes it was quite a downpour. When we woke up the skies were completely overcast. Hey, that wasn’t in the weather forecast!

After breakfast we started up to Eagle Cap, hoping that the weather would clear soon.

Where we’re headed! You’d never know from this angle that there is a hiking trail all the way to the summit. No climbing or scrambling required!

Fortunately the clouds were high enough that we still had views as we climbed.

Soon our views encompassed approaching rainstorms. Drat! There was no evidence of thunder and lightning, but we were prepared to turn around immediately if we started hearing thunder. There were small rain storms in every direction. Looking west:

Looking south:

Looking north:

I had no idea there were bighorn sheep in the Wallowas, but we saw a small herd. I only managed to get a picture of one. Cool! (Actually, you can just see a second sheep at lower right, behind a small tree.)

Almost there!

Yay, we made it!

I did not find the hike up to Eagle Cap very difficult. It definitely helped to not be doing this hike on a hot sunny afternoon since there is no shade along the way. I think I was also fueled by the adrenaline that came from my frustration with the weather (yeah, it’s totally pointless to be frustrated by something I can’t control, but if it helped me summit the mountain at least it was a little productive!)

Despite the weather the views were pretty amazing. So here we go…

Looking down on Glacier Lake to the east with Glacier Peak on the right side (with the snowfield on it):

Looking south down the valley of East Fork Eagle Creek:

Looking west, with Minam Lake left of center, Needle Point above it, and the forested valley of the Minam River at right:

A zoomed-in view of the peaks to the west with Mule Peak at center and Granite Butte on the right (Mule Peak’s 1924 lookout is a ground cabin, not a tower, so you can’t really see it in this shot, but wow the views they must have up there!):

Looking west in the direction of Minam Lake (out of view), but you can just make out Blue Lake left of center:

Looking north with much of the Lakes Basin spread out below, with the valley of the East Fork Lostine River Valley on the left, Mirror and Moccasin Lakes in the lower foreground, the Matterhorn at upper center, and the valley of the West Fork Wallowa River at far right.

A close-up of the East Fork Lostine River, which we hiked up the day before and would hike back down the following day:

A close-up of Mirror Lake, with tiny Sunshine Lake at right:

A close-up of Moccasin Lake:

Looking northeast at Horseshoe Lake (you can make out the flat brown valley north of the Wallowas at upper right):

We spent about 30 minutes alone on the summit before another couple showed up. The rain had stopped and the skies were starting to clear up a bit, yay! A short while later another couple showed up. We spent about an hour up soaking up the stunning views and identifying landmarks on the map. On the way down we passed a couple coming up and they turned out to be trail runners. I can’t imagine trail running up here!

They spent just a few minutes on the summit and then came right back down, passing us slowpoke hikers as we moseyed along. They were in such a rush that they were cutting the switchbacks, sending rocks and sand skittering down the slope.

By early afternoon the rain was nowhere to be seen and the skies were finally clearing up. About time!

With our clothes still a little damp from the morning drizzle, Greg laid his out on the rocks to dry. It looks like a hiker laid down here for a rest and then evaporated, leaving behind his boots and clothes!

We spent the afternoon relaxing, napping, and playing gin rummy. Before dinner we went for a little jaunt over to Sunshine Lake, which is tiny but very beautiful. The clear skies were quickly vanishing, but the view was still incredible.

Back at our campsite we had just boiled hot water and poured it into our dehydrated dinner packets when rain drops started falling. We had seen the dark clouds gathering so we were prepared and had already stowed all our gear away. We grabbed our wine and dinner and scrambled into the tent just a few minutes before the skies opened and it POURED. I took a quick video to record the sound of the rain on the tent. Holy moly! (Click here to see the video.)

There was some thunder and lightning with this storm too, which wasn’t too scary because it didn’t last long and it was still daylight. All in all the storm was over in less than 20 minutes, and then the skies cleared up like it never happened!

We went to bed at dusk and fell asleep only to be woken up around 9pm by another downpour pounding on the tent. A few minutes later the thunder and lightning started up again. Only this time it was pitch dark and the storm lasted a FULL HOUR. This was not fun. It was actually scary. We weren’t camped on a high point, and indeed we were surrounded by many things much higher than us. So we weren’t worried about getting hit. But thunder is very loud and it echoed and boomed around the mountains and the darkness made it seem even louder. We’d see a flash, or sometimes several flashes in direct succession, and then the crack and boom of the thunder. It was intense. Finally it ended at 10pm and the ensuing quiet was a sweet relief.

I tried in vain to find some information online about how many lightning strikes we had that night of the 22nd, but I could find nothing. It seems that unlike lots of other weather history, lightning strike information is not as freely available. My guess is that there were 70+ strikes in that hour, probably much more. There was never more than a minute between strikes and it lasted a full hour.

The sunrise in the morning was weird and spooky since the sun was shining through smoke from wildfires in the Hell’s Canyon area. We hadn’t seen it the morning before because of all the clouds.

Except for the smoke a few scattered clouds, the morning was gorgeous and calm. You’d never know about the violent storm we experienced nine hours earlier.

The little pond near our site:

Goodbye, Mirror Lake! It’s been fun!

Hiking out under beautiful blue skies.

A stop at the ponds for a break before the final descent to the car.

Since we were hiking out on a Friday we expected to pass a lot of incoming backpackers and we did. Some of them we passed quite early on because they’d been camped somewhere along the trail the night before. Every one of those people asked us how we weathered the storm and we swapped stories. I didn’t count how many incoming backpackers we saw altogether, but there were quite a few. Even when we got back to the car around 2:30 they were still starting out. We were very glad that we’d been able to time our visit for mid-week to avoid the crowds!

This is the third time I’ve visited the Lakes Basin and it never ceases to blow my socks off. If we’d had more time we’d have loved to make a three-night loop out of this and go camp over at Minam Lake for the last night. Maybe next time! Despite the wild swings in weather we still had a great time on this trip. The Eagle Cap Wilderness has to be one of the most gorgeous areas in Oregon. It’s just amazing.