Monday, September 5, 2016

Lostine River Loop - Wallawas

This Labor Day weekend we had wanted to head up to Washington with Chris and Paris and do a big 30+ mile loop near Glacier Peak but as usual with this time of year there were fires everywhere and the trail was closed due to one nearby.  We found this out the night before leaving so Chris and I had a frantic evening trying to decide on where to meet up that would be convenient for us coming from Portland, and them coming from Moscow, ID.  We decided on a 20 mile loop of the Lostine Rivers (West and East) in the Wallowas of Eastern Oregon and the trip turned out to be the right choice for sure!  Read on:

Emily and I drove from Portland on Thursday the 1st out to the trailhead so we could get an early start on Friday to secure a great camp spot at the popular Mirror Lake in the Alpine Lakes area of the Wallowas.  We were able to hit the trail with Leo at about 9am in the morning and made great time heading in along the East Lostine River valley.  

After some initial climbing we found ourselves in a long flat valley with Eagle Cap Mountain, the centerpiece of the mountain range, front an center above us at the head of the valley.  As we meandered through the valley of scattered trees and expansive views we passed by several rock debris fields where we saw hoards of cute little Pikas.  Leo didn't care at all of course and was more concerned about keeping us both together on the trail.

After a steep climb up from the river valley floor we reached Mirror Lake and were surprised to see that even on Friday there were a lot of people there taking up camp sites.  We explored the shore of the lake and luckily came across a great site with just enough room for two tents.  It had some big rocks to cook dinner on, some logs to sit on and a beach area down by the water to relax at.  It also had a perfectly framed view of the Eagle Cap Mountain towering over the lake which would be great for star photography and sunsets. 

Emily, Leo and I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging and catching up on our books and iPad magazines waiting for Chris and Paris to arrive which they said wouldn't be until after dark because Paris had a class he needed to attend on Friday.  We told them we'd be in our Orange tent and would be waiting for them but our spot was quite a ways down the lake and I was worried in the pitch dark they wouldn't find us. 

Shortly after eating dinner we both noticed two head lamps bouncing along the side of the lake but we didn't want to start yelling and disturbing the other campers so we chose to basically use our headlamps and do a crazy "interpretive dance" with them.  Basically, just acting crazy with the lights so that hopefully the two of them would piece together that we were signaling.  After a few pauses I heard Holm bellow "Ellinger" and I took off jogging down the trail to meet them.  They had been just about to give up and set up camp for themselves!  Good timing!

We had an incredibly relaxing Saturday.  We slept in, ate a big breakfast and basically just chilled out the entire day in the Alpine Lakes area.  I had already run up to the top of Eagle Cap two years before so I had no desire this year.  Instead we just bundled up in our puffy outfits and sat down by the lake together chatting.  In the afternoon I did venture out on a walk around the lake to get some photos of everyone from a cliff face across the small bay our camp was in in.  We watched an Osprey in the distance and captured time-lapse videos of the clouds pouring over the mountains around us.  

Saturday night we witnessed one of the most beautiful alpine sunsets I'd ever experienced.  With storm clouds threatening us throughout the day and some laying low in the valleys below us the setting sun set off an explosion of deep colors as it set in the distance.  They were honestly the brightest reds and purples I had ever seen and I'm not exaggerate here when I say I did very little post processing with the photos seen in this post.  The colors were that bright!

That evening we watched the funny movie "pop star" on the beach and enjoyed bourbon, beer and wine that we had all packed in.  Yes, it's heavy to carry but being able to enjoy it under the stars with friends 10 miles from any road is always something special.  That evening it was partly cloudy but I was able to capture just a few shots of the Milky Way before heading to bed with Leo and Emily.

On Sunday we again woke to beautiful weather and took our time leaving our campsite.  The plan was to head over a pass to the West Lostine River valley and Minam Lake where we head there was great fishing.  It was a beautiful trail and the views heading over the pass were incredible back towards Mirror Lake and Alpine Lakes Region.  We could see the colorful Matterhorn and Sacajawea in the distance and of course Eagle Cap the entire way up the ridge.  This hike was far easier than the one we had planned in Washington and Leo was really enjoying himself hiking alongside us.  

When we got to the top of the ridge we realized we were going to be cutting it really close with the weather heading down to Minam Lake.  Dark clouds were beginning to creep over the head of the valley towards us and we could see flurries in the air.  We picked up our pace as it began to sprinkle on us half way down the pass towards the lake.  

There was an option to head to a small lake called "Blue Lake" above Minam Lake where we may find some solitude but it was a risk with the weather rolling in.  When we got to the edge of Minam Lake we huddled up and made the decision that since we were so close it was worth checking out so we headed up hill with Paris leading the way.

When we arrived at the lake we passed two women on horses who asked us for beta on the pass we just came over.  We told them it was good for their horses but the weather looked bad rolling in.  Hopefully, they heeded our warning as it started to absolutely downpour when Emily and I spotted a flat, clear area at the end of the lake.  We yelled to Chris and Paris who had been holding another spot and then began to quickly set up our tent before it got any worse.  We quickly through our stuff in and urged Leo into the tent so that he wouldn't get too soaked and muddy to sleep warmly.  We heard Paris and Chris setting up their tent under a nearby tree for protection.  

We spent the next few hours huddled in our tent during the afternoon watching movies on our iPad.  When the rain and some hail seemed to have stopped we got up and met Chris and Paris by the campsite for a walk around the small lake we were at just at Sunset.  We had made the right choice as we were completely alone at the lake.  It would have been an amazing chance to fly my drone without bothering anyone but there was no way I was going to huff that big thing this far into the woods on a chance... Sunset was pleasant but not as colorful as the night before because of the amount of clouds now in the area.  

After dinner we retired back to our tents and Emily and I put on another movie just as it began to rain again.  The weather had politely stopped for just enough time for us to enjoy the sunset and eat some dinner together.  Emily fell asleep during the movie, as did Leo, but I of course made it through the entire thing which ended close to midnight.  

When I shifted to put put it away and take out my earbuds I noticed how cramped the tent had become.... the walls and ceiling were caving in on us!  I pushed the top and heard a whole bunch of heavy snow slide off it!  Opening the tent door and looking out I noticed about 2" of heavy, wet snow all around so I snapped a photo of the winter wonderland before chucking my contacts and closing my eyes for the day.

Waking up to the winter wonderland was gorgeous.  Snow covered everything and I think Leo was a little surprised about it when he crawled out of the tent to pee.  There was a delicate mist hovering above the lake which was beautifully illuminated by the rays of the morning sun rising above the pass we had come over to the East.  One of those mountain mornings that you dream about while living in the city.  We were all dry, warm, and well fed so the fresh snow was just a treat, not a worry.

Once again we had a relaxing morning breakfast watching the ducks create trails through the mist on the lake.  I wondered whether the two women on horseback had attempted the pass and hoped they had instead chose to descend.  By the time we had packed up and were leaving the campsite the sun was up above us and quickly melting the snow leaving large puddles where our tent had been.  

We took our time heading down the trail, stopping to take photos along the way and enjoy the last of the snow as we descended below the snow line.  Perhaps this was an early sign of a better winter this year then the past few we've had.  Minam Lake looked like a great place to camp as we passed it but we were all happy that we had chosen to go to the higher elevation Blue Lake as Minam looked to have gotten mostly rain.

When we made it back to the cars the parking lot was mostly empty.  The large lot for horse trailers was completely barren so I decided to take the Phantom up for a flight to show Chris and Paris.  I didn't fly long as I didn't want to disturb any other hikers and I wasn't too sure about the legality of it in that location anyway.  I took it up to 400 feet but wasn't able to see up the valley far enough to get any amazing shots and I didn't want to fly it out of sight.  

As usual we then took off down the road to get beers and food at the Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise, OR before heading home with Emily passed out in the seat next to me, seatbelt choking her as usual.  

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