Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

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Quince
Posts: 6
Joined: October 5th, 2017, 6:04 am

Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

Post by Quince » July 15th, 2019, 8:08 am

Figured I'd post this as it was tough to get updated info on this one. The National Forest people don’t recognize the “Heart of Darkness” loop that is listed on the Friends of the Ochochos site. Info comes up under multiple trail names. The loop consists of a bunch of trails put together - Rock Creek (823), Rim Trail (822, 823A), Apple (817), Back (818) and Cottonwood (819). Payten (820) takes you back down to Rock Creek. We backpacked the loop starting at the West Trailhead (Rock Creek, Potter Meadow), basically following the Heart of Darkness route listed on the Friends of Ochocho website. The Cascade Single Track website actually has a nice map with all the old trail names on it.

The Forest Service trailhead directions are a bit more detailed than the Friends, but both get you to the West Trailhead if that’s where you’re headed.

We left Portland on Monday - about a 5 hour drive - and hiked in on the Rock Creek/Potter Meadows trail up to camp. Easy going first day. When leaving the saddle camp and looking for trail 822, best to look for a sign that says “start Rim Trail 822” that is sitting in front of a downed log on the left side of the trail. (This will be on the right side between the Rock Creek Sign and the saddle camp). This makes it a bit easier than looking for the 822 sign that is on the tree where no trail is visible.

Tuesday we hiked past Cottonwood Creek. Wednesday we continued out to Boeing Field.

Those two days were a navigational bonanza. Really need GPS for this one. The rim trail has not been maintained. Lots of blowdown. Trail overgrown. We used map, GPS, cairns, cut logs, elk droppings, cow dung (lots of cow dung on these trails and even in the camps), bent plants, a various assortment of tree markers (diamonds, old cuts, old paint, ribbons) to find our way. It’s do-able, just be prepared and allow for the extra time.

Coming down Payten Ridge no problem. When heading back west on Rock Creek (in the old burn area), the overgrowth is very, very thick. It was extremely slow going in this area. We were incredibly grateful to hit an actual freshly maintained trail near Coffee Pot trailhead - a crew was currently working in that area. From there all the way to Boeing it was smooth sailing.

In the 2 1/2 days we saw bones and scat from many species, 4 deer, 3 grouse, 2 turkeys, 2 snakes, a handful of ticks (one embedded in my leg), a couple fireflies, lots of flowers and ZERO humans or mosquitoes (good timing on the mosquitoes). Well, one human. On the road back, after Owl Creek, a white bus came rolling down FR38 and, to our gratitude and amazement, it was a trail crew leader on his way back to town. (Yep, part of the group that was at work near Coffee Pot). He took us back to our car at Potter Meadows, saving us 3 miles of road walking after a very tiring day of GPS-ing our way through thick brush. We are forever grateful.

This trail has way more hooves than boots on it and is in serious need of more crew time. Some great views up on the exposed ridges (not a good place for thunderstorm weather though). Fun for those that want a navigation challenge. Miserable or impossible for those that don’t. Did I mention you really, really need navigational skills for this one? (Maybe, someday, it will be cleaned up and easier to get around, but that was not the situation on July 1-3.

lbennis
Posts: 3
Joined: May 27th, 2013, 7:30 am

Re: Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

Post by lbennis » July 16th, 2019, 5:03 am

Here are some pictures from our trip. Amazing vistas, beautiful flowers, good wildlife sightings, no bugs and no other people on the trail. A true wilderness experience! Tough navigation but so rewarding when you see a sign (cairn, paint, white diamond, tree marked, cut trees) that you are actually on it. I loved going thru the tall grass looking for bent blades that someone (or animal) had been through. You are basically following a game trail the entire 40 miles.
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After 2 miles of bushwhacking through head high bushes we were thrilled to smell freshly done trail maintenance.
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Schrauf
Posts: 88
Joined: June 17th, 2014, 10:28 am
Location: NE Portland

Re: Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

Post by Schrauf » July 16th, 2019, 9:28 am

Yeah, it's a good loop. I did it last year by myself ( viewtopic.php?t=26672 ) and again this year with my wife in late May. At that time there was some brief heavy snow coverage east of Spanish Peak that made navigation tougher, but otherwise it sounds like navigation was easier at that time, maybe due to less thick grass. Don't get me wrong, still felt very off-trail in places. Between the faint main trail and other use trails, would be tough to do without a GPS track.

Last year I did the loop beginning up the Black Creek Canyon, from the South Fork John Day, which I liked better than beginning at Boeing Field like we did this year. But about a dozen wet creek crossings in the first 2 miles when beginning way down there.

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bobcat
Posts: 1955
Joined: August 1st, 2011, 7:51 am
Location: SW Portland

Re: Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

Post by bobcat » July 16th, 2019, 4:37 pm

Great report! I want to do this loop some day. Glad someone is finishing up on the Coffee Pot. AmeriCorps worked the lower end in 2014, but they didn't get to finish the job (up to the trailhead).

bryanbrown4638
Posts: 1
Joined: July 23rd, 2019, 4:08 pm

Re: Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

Post by bryanbrown4638 » July 24th, 2019, 6:39 pm

Schrauf wrote:
July 16th, 2019, 9:28 am
Yeah, it's a good loop. I did it last year by myself ( viewtopic.php?t=26672 ) and again this year with my wife in late May. At that time there was some brief heavy snow coverage east of Spanish Peak that made navigation tougher, but otherwise it sounds like navigation was easier at that time, maybe due to less thick grass. Don't get me wrong, still felt very off-trail in places. Between the faint main trail and other use trails, would be tough to do without a GPS track.

Last year I did the loop beginning up the Black Creek Canyon, from the South Fork John Day, which I liked better than beginning at Boeing Field like we did this year. But about a dozen wet creek crossings in the first 2 miles when beginning way down there.
Do you have an feedback if a hike this time of year (August) that stream crossing would be easy. We are planning on starting at the south fork of the John Day and going up canyon.

Schrauf
Posts: 88
Joined: June 17th, 2014, 10:28 am
Location: NE Portland

Re: Heart of Darkness/Black Canyon Wilderness/Ochochos

Post by Schrauf » July 25th, 2019, 6:16 pm

bryanbrown4638 wrote:
July 24th, 2019, 6:39 pm

Do you have an feedback if a hike this time of year (August) that stream crossing would be easy. We are planning on starting at the south fork of the John Day and going up canyon.
Easy stream crossings this time of year except after heavy rain/thunderstorms. The first crossing is the actual South Fork John Day, which is probably still a wet crossing in August (no rock hopping, about 25 feet wide) but less than thigh deep and not too swift. Then it's about a dozen crossings of Black Canyon Creek which should be very low.

I just wore my breathable hiking shoes and after the first two miles and the last crossing they dried out. You could also just wear sandals the first two miles.

The lower canyon might be pretty thick with brush this time of year. The trail was relatively easy to follow but occasionally brushy even in May.

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