Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

General discussions on hiking in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest
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seekinglost
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Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by seekinglost » February 28th, 2020, 1:34 pm

Hi, I am currently creating a long distance hiking route that will pass through eastern Oregon in the month of May. This doesn't really seem to be the ideal time frame to hit most of the areas I would like to see here, but of course, this is typical of many long distance routes and sacrifices must be made. I'd be hiking north through Nevada and anticipate reaching Oregon, near Denio, around May 1st, and the Oregon section will end around Hells Canyon/White Bird, ID. Not doing it this year, shooting for a 2021 attempt.

My current rough draft itinerary, with anticipated concerns/conditions noted:
  • Denio to McDermitt - no issues anticipated
  • McDermitt to Rome - canyoneering section through west little owyhee. likely high water levels in May though...
  • Rome to Harper - owyee continued. no issues anticipated
  • Harper to Sumpter - no issues anticipated. filler section, not a highlight of the route
  • Sumper to North Powder - elkhorn crest trail. hit or miss w/snow in mid/late may. spikes & maybe ice axe possibly needed
  • North Powder to Joseph - eagle caps. deep snow in late may. need to exit eagle caps through imnaha river. rerouting this section to skip joseph and go straight to next section
  • Joseph to White Bird - hells canyon. no issues anticipated
So, a few questions:

McDermitt to Rome - I am trying to determine what is a safe water level for the West Little Owyhee to attempt the route from Anderson Crossing to Three Forks. I see the USGS station in Rome for main Owyhee flow rate, but I don't know what those flow rates in the Owyhee equate to on the West Little Owyhee and I don't know what is considered safe for hikers fording either river. With no knowledge of what's safe, I can only speculate from the USGS charts, it looks like May is not a great time with the spike in water flow in the spring. Of course, when I do the hike it may be a low (or high) water year, so I would still like to have a baseline flow rate number for determining the feasibility of the route when the time comes. I've reached out to the folks at the ODNA asking this same question, since this is a section of the Oregon Desert Trail, and awaiting and reply.

Harper to Sumpter - Is there anything worth seeing in this section? I currently have this section as a filler, taking a pretty direct route to Sumpter in order to make up miles... mostly dirt roads to monument rock wilderness, then more dirt roads roughly following the Grant/Baker county line north to hwy 7 and Sumpter. Much of the rest of the route is cross country or involves a ton of elevation gain, so if there's little to see here I'd rather not go far out of my way and just cover miles. But if there are some hidden treasures along the way then I'll certainly consider taking the time to see them.

Sumper to North Powder - I'm thinking this section will depend on what kind of snow year it is. In a normal-ish snow year, doing the Elkhorn Crest Trail around say, May 20th, should not be much of an issue with micro spikes and maybe an ice axe, yeah?

North Powder to Joseph - There's no way I can (well, want to) do the route I initially had planned through the Eagle Caps with the amount of snow that will be present in late May. I'll likely skip Joseph altogether and just go from North Powder straight thru to White Bird, or possibly, try to hitch into Imnaha from Saddle gulch... I see one car here at the TH on satellite but it's probably a real long shot. Anyhow, it would be a shame to walk around the entire Eagle Cap Wilderness, so I'm still considering options that would keep me in the low valleys (looks like they might just beginning to be snow free in late May) and maybe one or two passes. Burger Pass and Frazier Pass look to be among the lower passes in the Eagle Caps, and don't look too challenging on the map. Thoughts on traversing those in late May, with micro spikes and ice axe? If I were to skirt around the Eagle Cap Wilderness to avoid the snow, suggestions for the most interesting route connecting North Powder with the Imnaha River, at say, Indian Crossing Campground?

Thanks for your thoughts and input.

Aimless
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by Aimless » February 28th, 2020, 7:09 pm

Just realize that this is shaping up as a below-average snow year for most of Oregon and be prepared to adjust your thinking about what might be viable accordingly. If your trip works out to plan, it should be quite an experience! Good luck.

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seekinglost
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by seekinglost » February 28th, 2020, 7:54 pm

I'm using NOAA to look at the snow pack and went back 10 years to get an idea of what "average" is. No way I'd base it on just one year! Thanks.

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retired jerry
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by retired jerry » March 2nd, 2020, 7:32 am

ambitious, nice plan

I was in the Strawberry Mountains June 4 2018. There were still fields of snow at places. One spot we had to get over a cornice on a ridge but found a way to hike 1/4 mile out of the way to find a spot. 8000 feet.

So, expect snow in may at elevation, maybe ice axe and traction devices

Another problem I've heard for eastern oregon hikers is water. I've heard of people first caching water before the trip. I assume you've researched that.

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teachpdx
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by teachpdx » March 2nd, 2020, 10:23 am

This is quite the ambitious route and I wish you all the luck with it!

My biggest concern would be water levels in May. There will be a lot of runoff and streams/rivers will be flowing strongly.
Along those lines, I'm curious how you plan to cross rivers that cannot be forded, especially the Snake. Relying on a generous boater, perhaps?

My two cents on Eagle Cap: if the weather is good and you are comfortable with and equipped for snow travel, this route may work and would be your most promising way to Joseph:
-From Buck Creek, over Burger Pass, to Minam River
-Up Minam River to Minam Lake
-Over Ivan Carper Pass to Lakes Basin
-Lakes Basin to Wallowa Lake via West Fork
All of the passes, low or high, will have plenty of snow in late May... so crossing a pass at 7600' or 8600' won't make too much of a difference. And both passes are pretty straightforward without too much intimidating terrain. It's not a route I would recommend in spring to anybody without extensive backcountry experience, but it seems like you have that (or you wouldn't be planning something as intense as this). But I definitely think it's doable with a 3-day stretch of favorable weather and snow/avy conditions. You may need to wait a day or three for favorable conditions before attempting it.

Your best option to skirt the Wallowas but still get a taste would be to head up Little Kettle Creek from East Eagle, over the pass at Crater Lake, and then down to the Imnaha to Indian Crossing. Still a 7600' pass, and more avalanche-prone terrain than Burger or Carper on the ascent, but can be done in a single day from East Eagle to the Imnaha.
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seekinglost
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by seekinglost » March 2nd, 2020, 8:00 pm

retired jerry wrote:
March 2nd, 2020, 7:32 am
ambitious, nice plan

I was in the Strawberry Mountains June 4 2018. There were still fields of snow at places. One spot we had to get over a cornice on a ridge but found a way to hike 1/4 mile out of the way to find a spot. 8000 feet.

So, expect snow in may at elevation, maybe ice axe and traction devices

Another problem I've heard for eastern oregon hikers is water. I've heard of people first caching water before the trip. I assume you've researched that.
Thanks for the info. I was thinking north of Harper is the place to start carrying micro spikes at least, so that confirms it. In many areas, I can simply take a lower too route if need be. Gotta be flexible.

I've definitely heard the same about the lack of water in spots along the ODT. I'm using the ODT's water info for much of my southern Oregon route, although our routes are not always the same it's a great start. I think the ODT hikers usually go eastbound and would be in the Owyhee area like 2 months later than me, so I figure it should be wetter for me in May. Scanning the route by satellite is a great way to look for cow activity, which is a great sign that water is there, as long as the cows are not grazing elsewhere that time of year. Sometimes water sources get turned off when they move the cows to a new area. Dealt with this a bit in New Mexico and Wyoming on the CDT.

It's too bad ODFW doesn't have a guzzler map book for sale like Nevada has... used this extensively to formulate a water plan for my route through Nevada.

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seekinglost
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by seekinglost » March 2nd, 2020, 8:05 pm

teachpdx wrote:
March 2nd, 2020, 10:23 am
This is quite the ambitious route and I wish you all the luck with it!

My biggest concern would be water levels in May. There will be a lot of runoff and streams/rivers will be flowing strongly.
Along those lines, I'm curious how you plan to cross rivers that cannot be forded, especially the Snake. Relying on a generous boater, perhaps?

My two cents on Eagle Cap: if the weather is good and you are comfortable with and equipped for snow travel, this route may work and would be your most promising way to Joseph:
-From Buck Creek, over Burger Pass, to Minam River
-Up Minam River to Minam Lake
-Over Ivan Carper Pass to Lakes Basin
-Lakes Basin to Wallowa Lake via West Fork
All of the passes, low or high, will have plenty of snow in late May... so crossing a pass at 7600' or 8600' won't make too much of a difference. And both passes are pretty straightforward without too much intimidating terrain. It's not a route I would recommend in spring to anybody without extensive backcountry experience, but it seems like you have that (or you wouldn't be planning something as intense as this). But I definitely think it's doable with a 3-day stretch of favorable weather and snow/avy conditions. You may need to wait a day or three for favorable conditions before attempting it.

Your best option to skirt the Wallowas but still get a taste would be to head up Little Kettle Creek from East Eagle, over the pass at Crater Lake, and then down to the Imnaha to Indian Crossing. Still a 7600' pass, and more avalanche-prone terrain than Burger or Carper on the ascent, but can be done in a single day from East Eagle to the Imnaha.

Thanks, you should see the rest of the route! The water levels are definitely a concern in certain places. It likely means I won't be able to do the West Little Owyhee slot canyon, and will have to take the overland route around. Other than this, I don't anticipate many water crossing issues other than the Eagle Caps, this was always my biggest concern. To be honest I was thinking the month of May, being so wet, would be an overall advantage in the sense that water is more abundant. Good catch on crossing the Snake. You don't think I can swim it? :lol: I plan to hitch a ride across at the popular Pittsburg Landing boat launch site... this will also be my ride into White Bird to resupply, hopefully.

Thank you for your route suggestions. I'm kinda thinking a combination of both of your suggested routes to bypass Joseph and go straight through... Burger Pass to Minam, over Frazier Pass to east eagle to little kettle creek and crater lake to Imnaha. I was worried about crossing Minam River but on satellite I see a bridge there at Minam where Elk Creek dumps in. And it looks like the trails here do a pretty good job of staying on one side of the river and not bouncing back and forth. Is that pretty accurate? I can imagine some of the feeder creeks raging pretty hard that time of year too.

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retired jerry
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by retired jerry » March 2nd, 2020, 8:29 pm

I was in wallowas last july 8. Snow at 7000 feet. We turned around. We walked on a lot of snow but weren't into so much. Other people were getting through though.

May? Expect a lot of snow in the wallowas. You might want snowshoes.

Aimless
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by Aimless » March 2nd, 2020, 8:35 pm

There is a bridge over the Minam R. near the confluence with Elk Creek. As the Minam R. trail continues upstream it does stay to one side of the river. To cross Frazier Pass, you will need to cross the Minam R. once, back to the other side, with no bridge available.

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seekinglost
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Re: Long distance hiking through eastern Oregon in May

Post by seekinglost » March 4th, 2020, 7:40 pm

Aimless wrote:
March 2nd, 2020, 8:35 pm
There is a bridge over the Minam R. near the confluence with Elk Creek. As the Minam R. trail continues upstream it does stay to one side of the river. To cross Frazier Pass, you will need to cross the Minam R. once, back to the other side, with no bridge available.
Thanks. I see it, right below Frazier Pass. If it's not snowed over there, I could always walk farther upstream until it is. Sweet!

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