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Battle Ax Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Clodius parnassian (Parnassius clodius) on mountain boykinia, Battle Ax Creek Trail (bobcat)
View south along Battle Ax Creek to Battle Ax and Beachie Saddle (bobcat)
Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum), Bagby Hot Springs Trail (bobcat)
Mt. Jefferson and Battle Creek, Bagby Hot Springs Trail (bobcat)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), Battle Ax (bobcat)
Elk Lake and Mt. Jefferson from Battle Ax (bobcat)
The loop using Battle Ax in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Elk Lake Junction TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Battle Ax
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 15.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4855 feet
  • High Point: 5,558 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

There is only one trail that crosses the eastern expanse of the Opal Creek Wilderness and that is the Battle Ax Creek Trail. Ironically, this “trail” uses, in its entirety, the route of a mining road that once extended from Jawbone Flats up to the Beachie Saddle Junction and thence down to join forest roads leading into Detroit. Culverts on the road have been washed away, and it is interesting to inspect some of the exposed old wooden culverts. The loop suggested takes you down this trail to the Battle Ax Creek Crossing; from here, rise steeply to the Whetstone Mountain Ridge and circle back along the ridge crest past Silver King Mountain and up over the summit of imposing Battle Ax and its expansive views. Between these last two peaks is a huckleberry gathering paradise and you may even encounter a bear to share the bounty with!

Walk up the road in shady Douglas-fir, mountain hemlock, noble fir, and silver fir woods. In just over one-third of a mile, pass the Bagby Trailhead for Trail #544 and continue up the road bed. You’ll pass a good view out to Mount Jefferson before reaching the small turnaround at the end of the road. From here, the trail continues up the old road bed, beginning with a severe washout at a culvert. Sitka alder and thimbleberry overhang the trail. Look up to the right at a cleft in the rock face above. The trail becomes an eroded gully. The steep slopes of Mount Beachie’s rugged northeast ridge hove into view. The tread widens out to road width again and reaches the trail crossroads at Beachie Saddle Junction. To the right is the Battle Ax Mountain Trail, upon which you’ll be returning, and to the left is the trail up to Mount Beachie and then along French Creek Ridge.

Keep straight and drop down an old road bed that has been heavily bermed. Get a view of Battle Ax’s expressive and rugged west face. After the berms, you’ll see an old trail sign designating this the Bulls of the Woods Wilderness Trail #3349: the trail is now the Battle Ax Creek Trail #3339. Keep heading gradually down in a rhododendron understory and cross a small creek. Get another view of the formations on Battle Ax. Sometimes the trail on this old road is brushy with overhanging Sitka alder and young silver fir and mountain hemlock. Loop out and switchback before returning above Battle Ax Creek. The road bed levels for a short stretch and you need to drop in and out of washed out culverts, some metal piping, some wood. Western red-cedar and red alder enter the forest mix and Battle Ax Creek can be heard rushing down to the right and out of sight. The tread becomes mossy and lined with deer fern. Now you will note some very large trees, especially Douglas-firs. There are a couple of makeshift log footbridges over washouts. Reach the Whetstone-Battle Ax Creek Trail Junction, and go right.

Drop down in a huckleberry and rhododendron understory and switchback. Pass a spur leading left to a campsite and then reach the Battle Ax Creek Crossing at another campsite. The creek is usually easily crossed on stepping stones in the summer and fall. Switchback up from the creek and again switchback at a mossy gully. The trail rises rather steeply and hoves in and out of several more mossy gullies, some of them with trickles of water. Note more large trees on this slope of Douglas-firs and western hemlocks: there may also be some blowdown to negotiate. Near the ridge crest, reach the Whetstone-Whetstone Mountain Trail East Junction at a large noble fir and go right on Trail #546.

The trail makes a traverse in Douglas-fir, silver fir and western hemlock forest and then heads up before dropping rather steeply. Ascend again along the forested ridge crest, and then undulate through bear-grass, rhododendrons and huckleberries. You can get glimpses of Silver King Mountain through the trees. Mountain hemlock and noble fir begin to dominate. Pass a campsite on the right and then head up, switchbacking four times up a more open slope cloaked with common juniper, pinemat manzanita, and snow brush. There are views of Battle Ax and Mount Jefferson. The trail drops and makes a traverse along a brushy saddle. Pass below a rocky prominence and traverse an open boulder slope supporting clumps of vine maple, cascara and thimbleberry. Skeletal snags stand like candles. Reach an open saddle and the Whetstone-Bagby Hot Springs Trail Junction. Down to the left, the Bagby Hot Springs Trail #544 leads to Silver King Lake (See the Silver King Lake via Whetstone Ridge Hike).

Keep right on Trail #544 and traverse past a spring. This section can be a little overgrown. Swish through bear-grass, boxwood, and huckleberries. This is mostly silver fir here, with some western white pines and Douglas-fir. Pass below the rocky spires of Silver King Mountain and then head up to a saddle dominated by mountain hemlock and rhododendrons. Here find the large clearing at the Bagby Hot Springs-Twin Lakes Trail Junction, and continue straight along the ridge.

Drop a little down the ridge and then wind up to make two short switchbacks. At a cleared area on the ridge, get a view to Mount Jefferson. Also note the endemic white Gorman’s aster blooming here in August. Drop again then then ascend to another view of Jefferson. Undulate along a chinquapin/pinemat manzanita slope, getting views down into the Battle Creek drainage. Some of the world’s northernmost sugar pines live along this ridge, so keep your eyes open for their big cones along the trail. Rise through a slope of huckleberries to a spur that leads left to a stunning viewpoint that takes in the Cascade crest from Olallie Butte to the Three Sisters. From the viewpoint, descend in silver fir/mountain hemlock woods with huckleberry bushes ripening in August. Cross a trickling brook and rise to the four-way Bagby Hot Springs-Battle Ax Mountain Trail Junction. It is recommended that you make the effort to hike up to the summit of Battle Ax if the weather is good; otherwise, you can cut a mile and a half and about 760 feet of elevation gain off the stated distance by continuing back along the Bagby Hot Springs Trail to the Bagby Trailhead and FR 4697.

To ascend to the summit of Battle Ax, go right on the Battle Ax Mountain Trail #3340. Cross a big talus slope, and head up through the huckleberries. Now pass along a smaller talus slope, and make a level traverse above a bowl cluttered with andesite boulders. The trail rises from here among stunted mountain hemlock and noble fir to a many-faced rock outcrop. Mount Hood peers above the Big Slide Mountain ridge. Traverse the steep slopes of Battle Ax, and make four switchbacks up before traversing again among mountain hemlocks, boxwood, and huckleberry. You are now getting more expansive views all the way to the Washington Cascades. Two more switchbacks take you to the summit ridge. Hike along the ridge to the old lookout site, where a few concrete foundation pillars are all that remain. A spur trail just past the lookout site takes you down a ridge of platy andesite to a stunning viewpoint over Elk Lake (Bull of the Woods). From the summit of Battle Ax, you can see all the way from Mount Rainier to the Three Sisters and west to the Coast Range.

From the summit, switchback down six times on an open slope of platy andesite dotted with mountain hemlock, Alaska yellow-cedar, and the odd whitebark pine. Common juniper and pinemat manzanita form clumps on the rocky slope. As you descend, the forest cover becomes denser although there are still open views to the south. Traverse down to a saddle of fused cinders, switchback, and get a full-on view of Mount Jefferson. Switchback again in a thicket of Alaska yellow-cedar and Sitka alder. Make a descending traverse, getting views of Mount Beachie’s rugged south ridge. Switchback twice below a rocky face and traverse below large overhanging boulders. Make two more switchbacks and descend on a brushy slope of boxwood, snow brush, chinquapin, and Scouler’s willow. Switchback at a viewpoint to a remarkable column on Battle Ax’s east face and get a vista over upper Battle Ax Creek. Traverse and switchback before making a long traverse down in shady woods and across a pile of boulders to the Beachie Saddle Junction.

Go left on the abandoned road bed of FR 4697 to return to your car.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • none

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Battle Ax, OR #524
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • Geo-Graphics: Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest: Detroit Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.