Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

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Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by bobcat » June 14th, 2017, 6:06 pm

The long sliver of the trailless Lower White River Wilderness is divided into two sections: that managed by the Mt. Hood National Forest, which has more or less naturally contoured boundaries, and the eastern BLM section, which is bounded by a zigzag series of straight lines. In a 2014 report, Koda managed an overnight in the former section, bushwhacking out of Keeps Mill. I decided to try the BLM portion; however, my access was through the Mt. Hood National Forest’s McCubbins Gulch OHV Area, which bounds the western part of the wilderness. Breaks Road (FR 2110-270) runs right up to the wilderness/national forest boundary at a cattle grid and a large unofficial campsite (I encountered no OHVs).
At the trailhead, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Trail, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Rayless arnica (Arnica discoidea), Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
There are two salient features of this section of the wilderness that I planned to visit: one, of course, was the White River itself, 550 feet down a steep-sided canyon, and the other a two-mile long prairie, partly in the wilderness and partly in ODFW’s White River Wildlife Area, that I’ll call McCubbins Meadow. From the cattle grid, which was blocked by a chain, I followed the brushy road track in what is now wilderness although there are no signs. The road took a dogleg right, and I followed it to an overgrown fence and another cattle grid. On the other side was private property, so I headed due east along the fenceline in a ponderosa/Douglas-fir wood with an expansive manzanita thicket on the private side of the fence. I soon passed a fence corner and continued until I saw a lovely oak wood ahead. Walking through this oak grassland, I entered the northern expanse of the meadow, very open and dotted with junipers, oaks, and ponderosas. I hiked over to the canyon rim and tried to judge a decent bushwhack route down to what is really the center of the wilderness.
Oak wood, McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Slender godetia (Clarkia gracilis), McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Juniper, McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Bi-colored cluster lily (Triteleia grandiflora), McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Lone oak, McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
There were lateral game trails running a few yards below the rim, but the entire slope is forested and no clear descent route presented itself until I found a vertical elk trail that intersected my path. I took the plunge: elk are not known for their generosity in effecting gentle gradients, but here even they had to work in a couple of switchbacks. It was not a terribly difficult plunge, just very steep, and I got lassooed by honeysuckle vines a couple of times. Under a forest canopy, the way was relatively clear, but there were also brushy stretches dominated by vine maple and then a band of lichen-encrusted scree. At breaks in the canopy, I could see across to the Smock Prairie side of the canyon, which seemed to present a much more open descent through oaks and grassland but also a couple vertical bands of rimrock.
Rock wall, below McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa), below McCubbins Meadow, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Once at the river, I headed downstream finding only one level spot close to the water. Otherwise, I took short deer trails, wormed through the vine maple, and balanced along fallen firs. After about three-quarters of a mile of this, I decided that my time was better spent exploring the expanse of the meadow above. Well, the entire slope is brushy and forested, so there are only two real options in selecting a way out: very steep and extremely steep. Of course, I scored the latter, something even the elk had not attempted. Again, I crossed the band of scree, crawled through vine maple, and generally doused myself with forest debris in a slow but progressive and near vertical scramble. Breaks in the woods again afforded glimpses of the opposite and more open canyon walls.
White River, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Looking down the White River, White River, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Beside the White River, White River, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Cliff faces, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
View to Smock Prairie, Lower White River Wilderness.jpg
Once at the meadow, I headed southeast. The northern section of the meadow is separated from the larger southern portion by a band of oaks. As I strolled through the trees, I heard a loud and repeated yelping. Intrigued, I honed in on a baby juniper in the center of the meadow. I scoured for a large bird, thinking maybe crane or turkey. I found a turkey caller nestled snug in the bush. A track of depressed grass led to a spreading oak, where I found the camouflaged hunter comfortably sprawled. Well, on account of the 12-gauge lying casually across his lap, I did not quiz him about the whys and wherefores of his hunt (Turkey season ended on May 31st), but he informed me of a different mode of access to the meadow, we reminisced on the gnarliness of clawing our way out of the bottom of the canyon, and he directed me to explore the vernal ponds and Mima mounds at the southern end of the prairie.
Fallen ponderosa, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Southern section, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Looking down south McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Turkey caller, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Rock buckwheat (Eriogonum sphaerocephalum), McCubbins Meadow.jpg
I continued my exploration, passing a burn section that gave rimtop views to Smock Prairie on the north rim, and returned via the western verge of the meadow, surprising both ground and gray squirrels as well as a couple of deer. I then meandered my way – on a clear day, there would have been great views of Mt. Hood - to the northern meadow and through the woods to my vehicle.
Vernal pool, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Hyacinth cluster lily (Triteleia hyacinthina), McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Woolly-head clover (Trifolium eriocephalum), McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Junipers and ponderosas, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Deer in the meadow, McCubbins Meadow.jpg
Approximate sketch of my route:

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Re: Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by Webfoot » June 15th, 2017, 4:15 am

I have never been out that way. Thanks for the report; it looks interesting!

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Re: Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by VanMarmot » June 15th, 2017, 8:03 am

Nice TR and photos! You found a good way to see more of this wilderness than just going to the river - good to see more attention being paid to this odd little wilderness.

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Re: Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by birdhiker » June 20th, 2017, 7:16 am

There is a nice loop you can do up above the river in Smock Prairie, I was there in Feb and almost stepped on this as I was walking along edge of woods. We both startled the you know what out of each other.

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Re: Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by bobcat » June 20th, 2017, 7:52 am

Nice thighs on that pussy cat! Those canyon slopes would be an ideal hideout - and lots of deer all year (since they actually feed them in the wildlife area to keep them out of the farms to the east).

Yes, Smock Prairie side will be my next visit. Looks like, in addition to circling the upland prairie, you could make a fairly open traverse along the side of the canyon between the rock reefs.

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Re: Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by birdhiker » June 20th, 2017, 8:23 am

I have parked at gate off Smock Rd and wander down to reservoir then do a general loop of area, looking for birds. I was there on 6-18-17 ( Sunday), wandered for about 9 miles or so, nice thing is that neither myself nor my dog picked up any ticks, had a great hike. Only issue was swinging around cattle herd that contained a bull bigger than a rhino. Next time I might try to enter area from one of the roads up north off Wamic Rd. Lots of water for the dog in the irrigation ditches.

I was about 8 feet from the kitty before we saw each other (it was snoozing on some pine needles), my dog leaping into action and barking was the ice-breaker that broke us out of the shocked stare-down I was having with it.

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Re: Lower White River Wilderness 06-11-17

Post by Koda » June 20th, 2017, 9:00 am

looks like a fun area, I was actually planning on turkey hunting there this season but we explored a different area outside of Tygh Valley. Funny thing about the turkey hunter poacher out of season, its also illegal to use recorded or electronic calls. But I suppose, if ones going to poach might as well go all out...
too bad poachers really harm wildlife populations... biting my tongue here to stay on topic.

Fun to read the trip report, great thread and beautiful area. We had wondered if the lower canyon was accessible seems like the wilderness area has some hidden potential. The photos of White River were similar in color and sediment to my trip in 2014. Was hoping to see run clear but considering the source perhaps that's the normal...

that is an awesome cougar picture birdhiker.
lightweight, cheap, strong... pick 2

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