Eagle Cap: Busy West Eagle Trail Head And Echo Lake
We enjoyed our recent Cached Lake trip out of Main Eagle, so we returned to West Eagle to visit Echo and Traverse Lakes. We found the roads good, but a bit more washboarded than on our prior visit two weeks earlier.
Day 0. August 11, 2019. Mt Angel to West Eagle TH.
We were confused by the trail head kiosk signage, which did not differentiate between the fees to be paid by automobile campground guests and backpackers parking in the trailhead parking area. To further confuse things, there is a linear ‘backpacker’ campground stretching along the trail for the first 3/8 mile.
We met one young man who had gone into Echo the previous day, accounting for 1 of 10 cars in the hiker lot.
We opted to schlep our gear up trail to a nice site with a view of the meadows. Unfortunately, the site was occupied by mozzies, but they were civilized, opting to dine from 6-9 PM, before retiring.
Day 1. August 12, 2019. West Eagle TH to East end of Echo Lake.
Next morning we left earlyish, which means not as early as intended, but early enough to hike the first hour in shade. We were lucky to see a brilliantly yellow-and-red Western Tanager flash about one of the meadows before the second creek crossing. There were a few blow downs, and we waded the first crossing of West Eagle Creek as we didn’t much like the looks of the upstream log crossing.
We met several groups coming out, including a group of 5 who had come up Main Eagle, Bench Trail, and over Wonker pass, and two groups of two who had gone in to Echo. Fishing was bad, they reported. The trail, while evenly graded, did grind us down with its relentless climb into the sun. We were so happy to reach the creek at the top of the switchbacks.
We had hoped to camp at the lake’s east-end campsite with the fancy sit rocks and fire ring, but it was occupied by a large party with at least 5 tents and 6 llamas. We ended up taking an OK site where the inlet creek hits the lake. Good view of the lake, nice fire ring with a built in cook stove rock, lots of firewood nearby, the inlet creek for water, and the biggest meadow close by.
As shadows grew long, a tired pair of backpackers dropped into our camp. They had previously camped at our site and were surprised to find it taken. They set up camp close by but declined our invitation of a fireside chat.
Day 2. August 13, 2019. A low mileage day around the Lake.
Next morning we didn’t feel perky, so we contented ourselves with poking about the lakeshore. We enjoyed the meadow and talus field, explored the dam at the West end, and looked for the best campsites for future reference. The llama party had packed so quietly it took us awhile to realize they were gone. We considered moving to their site but decided the effort was greater than the reward. Other than the people next to us, and a couple late arrivals, we had the lake to ourselves.
Day 3. August 14, 2019. Wonker Pass back to Second Eagle Creek Crossing.
We had heard of the Granite Gulch Fire. While skies were clear on our side of the ridge, when looking into the other side at Lowrie Gulch and Wonker Pass, we saw smoke.
At Traverse Lake, we met a party of six breaking camp. On our way back from Wonker, we met yesterday’s latecomers, a young couple doing the Echo/Traverse/Tombstone Lake loop. We wished them good luck as they would have to pass by the Granite Gulch fire’s bottom perimeter.
Back at camp, we found our close neighbors had departed. To set ourselves up for our long trip home, we broke camp and moved down to the second crossing of West Eagle Creek.
On our way down we met several groups going into Echo. The last group stayed on the other side of the Eagle Creek crossing from us.
Day 4. August 15, 2019. Second Eagle Creek Crossing to West Eagle.
Getting going as early as we could, we were out by 8:30 AM. We met three groups going in—one to Tombstone and the other two to Echo. The young bull elk were stirring, too. Heard a number of practice bugles. We counted 9 cars in the backpacker parking lot, all different from the 9 when we left.
We had a great trip and the two lakes are fantastic—everything one could hope for in a grand granitic alpine cathedral. Snow cover and mozzies are largely gone, streams still have good flow, water is readily available, and the meadows are lush. Trails are now dry and the trail to Echo is now dusty.
We were surprised by the number of people coming and going midweek— the quietness of the south side now appears a legend. Perhaps the Granite Gulch Fire caused some folks to change to South Wallowa venues. An expectation of solitude in August, even mid-week, now appears misplaced, but the scenery is worth rubbing elbows with others.
This forum is used to share your experiences out on the trails.
4 posts • Page 1 of 1
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.
I came down from Wonker past Traverse/Echo in 2014 and they're very nice. (Your "monolith" over Traverse Lake is Traverse Peak, or "The Horn," not sure which - if either - is its official name.) I actually went in via East Eagle on Monday the 12th and had planned to be at Traverse Lake 3 days later but changed plans due to the Granite Gulch fire. (Will be posting a TR in due course.) I was also surprised at all the people in the south side of Eagle Cap midweek! It seems this past week was the week everyone chose to take off and go backpacking there... I agree that the south side used to be more of a respite from the crowds in the north and Lakes Basin, but perhaps that ship has sailed. The south side does have a different flavor from the north, though, which makes it worth a visit despite the more arduous drive.
Will hike off trail for fun.
Go when the forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms all week and you'll have it all to yourself. I know this.
Sounds like y'all had a great trip, crowds notwithstanding. I need to get back in there.
Yep. We saw that forecast and waited with all the other lemmings. From observation, only a few showers hit West Eagle, but elsewhere there were flash flood type events. We drove US 26 thru John Day to get home, and saw numerous locations where run-off overflowed the highway, leaving sand and gravel on the roadway, implausible piles of driftwood next to the road, and the John Day River still muddy.
The Granite Gulch Fire fortunately did not impact us, but did make quite a bit of smoke. When we went into Pop Lake July 27 we could look into the Granite Gulch area and saw no smoke. The fire was reported July 28 but apparently was started by lightning July 14. No closures are yet in place, but the USFS is taking a "let burn" approach, so the fire may burn indefinitely, adversely effecting air quality in the Eagle Cap till the rainy season.
Here's the link to the fire's page on Inciweb:
Anyone considering a visit to the Eagle Cap should check in to assess if the fire's activity has resulted in trail and access closures.
Personally I'm not keen on the "let burn" approach. Yes, I get the "natural fire" role in the environment, which, in the case of the Granite Gulch Fire, with low fuel loads and a non-extreme fire season, might be appropriate. In other situations, like the Whitewater Fire of 2017, less so. When 200 foot plus tall old growth, with limited understory, goes up in a crown fire (the area along the first 3/4 mile of the Whitewater Trail) you wonder.
So check up on that fire's status before going and if you have a camp fire out back, be careful.
Best to all,
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.