Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

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BurnsideBob
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Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by BurnsideBob » September 1st, 2019, 8:40 am

Chapter 3, Part 1. The way in.

Susan and I continued our Eagle Cap adventures with a third trip, this time taking the trail less traveled to Tombstone and Diamond Lakes out of West Eagle TH. Click photos for larger views.

The recent unsettled weather gifted us a dry cold front on the 25th—for you non weather geeks that spells cool, dry, breezy conditions—perfect for tackling the 2800’ climb of the Tombstone Lake Trail.

Thanks to one of our smoke alarms alarming at 4:20 AM, we managed a 6:02 AM departure from Mount Angel, which saw us on trail at West Eagle TH by 2 PM, but, sadly, without Susan’s lawn chair, which somehow never got into the car.
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Third Times The Charm
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Puppy Portage Sans Chair
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Mom, Wrong Way!

For afternoon summer hiking the conditions were delightful and just as forecast—coolish, dry, breezy. We quickly (for us) arrived at the Tombstone/Echo Lakes trail junction 2.9 miles in where we took the decidedly less worn Tombstone Lake trail and were greeted by this panorama:
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We forded West Eagle Creek, which inexplicably was running higher now than two weeks earlier, but the higher flow was being thoroughly enjoyed by a giant toad that would not move out of the way. We grabbed a quick snack past the ford, marveling at the waterfall below Echo Lake, which was brilliantly illuminated by the westering sun.
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Waterfall.

And the westering sun brought a pleasant surprise—shade on the never ending switchbacks up. My oh my, with this luck we should have purchased a lottery ticket!!
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The Switchback with a Waterfall.

After quite a few switchbacks, we ran into two people—one a 75 year old happily returning from climbing China Cap and Granite Peak in fulfillment of his quest to climb Oregon’s 100 highest high points!! Wow, hope I’m out and about at 75, but, actually, I’m almost there. Now Susan, she’s a spring chicken, and has a ways to go.

Our fellow travelers told us there was good water at the meadow at 7500’, but that it would take us at least an hour to reach it, what with the blow down across the trail and the 1000’ feet of vertical between our present location and the meadow. And the blowdown was an issue. At one point we could see that the multiple trunked obstacle in front of us was followed by two more, so, psst, don’t tell anyone, we went straight up slope cutting a switchback.

Also, pssst, right after the last switchback of this set of 39 or whatever, if you cross a low ridge there is water. And that was our intended first night’s destination—not the meadow at 7500’ with, according to Barstad, unreliable late season water. For observant hikers three, yes, three, ducks mark the spot.

So we set up camp amongst the fire killed trees and enjoyed a very quiet evening.
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Fire Camp.
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New Life.

About 3 AM I smelled smoke. In the dim light of a sliver moon, the air seemed clear enough, so back to the rack.

Come next morning’s light, we chomped our oatmeal, and enjoyed(?) our instant coffees before embarking off trail.

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
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Who Reflects Fairest of All
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In Heaven The Ceps Are as Big as Volleyballs.
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The one and only fire ring.
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Wonker Pass (Extreme Left) and Echo Lake
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.

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BurnsideBob
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by BurnsideBob » September 1st, 2019, 9:04 am

Chapter 3, Part II. Tombstone and Diamond Lakes.

Returning to camp, we packed up and resumed trudging up trail to the famous meadow, which did, indeed have water at its bottom, but not in the middle or top, and where we drank like drunken sailors before our final push to the pass at 8200’.
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The Famous Meadow at 7500 Feet.
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No Fires!!!??
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Down to Tombstone.
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Tombstone Lake from the Pass.


Coasting down, we paused to peer into the adjoining basin, green and lovely with a big meadow—the deer and elk must love it as clearly they pass back and forth at the ridge’s low points. Across the Minam River Granite Gulch was fully visible in its fire scarred glory—hardly a smoke in sight.

We found more blow down the last 3/8 mile before Tombstone Lake, but it was not overly bothersome. The lake itself was gorgeous, and after lunch at THE CAMPSITE (the one visible on the cover of Barstad’s book, 1st edition), we poked around a bit and found a campsite we liked better on the lake’s far side. Everyone has their criteria but we like an absence of biting insects, so this was a winner. Plus it had an abundance of flat rocks which we rearranged, transmogrifying an illegal fire ring into a chef’s prep table complete with stone chair and shelves for storing kitchen items.

After two days of excitement, the afternoon and evening passed in a blur. I did try taking some photos of the marvelous stars, but they all were dismal, black-hole failures. You rock, markesc!!
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Evening Light In Camp.

The night had been chilly, and the meadows around our camp sparkled with frost in the first sunbeams. We waited for sun to engulf our tent before engaging the coffee water heating device.
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Diamond Lake Panorama.

After achieving full caffeination, we debated whether to take fishing gear to piscatorial paradise, and the fisher woman carried the day. Diamond Lake wasn’t far away and turned out to be a jewel worthy of its name—clear, deep, blue-green. A very wonderful campsite sits above the lake, just as the Barstad book says.
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The Campsite At Diamond Lake

Again luck was with us. The morning smelled of smoke at Tombstone, and was positively hazy-smoky at Diamond’s lower elevation. But within minutes of deploying the fishing gear, all was clear. And the fisherwoman’s luck? Five casts; five fish. Then the fish stopped jumping and her offerings were spurned. We traded casts back and forth. I lost the lucky lure we had caught the fish with, not only here at Diamond, but at Pop Lake, too!! But I did catch three fish and Susan another one. “Enough!”, I said, “Who is going to eat all these fish?” Susan wanted to keep catching them, but even she agreed we, and everything about us, smelled quite, ah, fishy.

I didn’t believe we would be successful fishing, so I hadn’t brought our Leatherman “Squirt” with its 1 ¼ inch blade to Diamond Lake. We hiked back to camp, retrieved the knife, and then went on quite a ways to a snowbank. There we cleaned the fish, iced them down, as well as our water bottles—cold drinks coming up!!!
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Cleaning the Catch with a Penknife.

Dinner was delicious. And as day transitioned to twilight and then darkness, we sipped an adult beverage. Ahh, so highly recommended!! A perfect day.
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Fish Fry.

That night was warm, in sharp contrast to the previous. We awoke early, and were on trail by the time we crawled out of the tent the previous day. Tombstone Lake was equally gorgeous as we looked back on it. But that Granite Gulch Fire was showing it was not done.
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Granite Gulch Fire.
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Granite Gulch Fire Flareup.

Shortly before the pass, we noticed horse prints coming and going. Lower down, below the 7500’ meadow, the first bad blow down was--GONE!! Cut away. And so were all the others down to 6200’. Thank you, thank you, thank you O horseman!

And then it was down, down, down. Somewhere at a switchback with trees—about a mile above the trail junction, we met two guys on their way in to Tombstone. Fishing, they said. Boy it was hot, we all said. Susan, who had a rather pleasant memory of our trip up these very same burned forest switchbacks, said she felt like a rotisserie chicken—roast one side, do a switchback, roast the other. We admired but pitied our fellow Tombstone hikers hiking in on the hottest day of Summer!

Lower down, with water available, we resorted to wetting our hats and bandanas for personal cooleration. The same giant toad sat at the same place at the West Eagle Creek ford. Several hat dunkings later, we were at our dusty, bedraggled car, now accompanied by five other equally dusty rides, in contrast to our departure when our car had but one companion.

This trip we saw few people and was more in keeping with the South Side’s reputation for light use. Day in—three people; Days 2 and 3 at the lakes, no one; Day 4, two people. We expected trails to be carved up by bow hunting horse parties. Nope. The footprints on the trail said one person passed by Tombstone while we were camped there and the horseman and his horse came up to the pass.


And so ends yet another Wallowas/Eagle Cap report! Roads are still fine—just a little more washboard than before—and now there are bow hunters taking the place of the huckleberryers. Not too many, but some, and they are more mobile so there is more traffic. Meadows and open areas are drying rapidly and some seasonal water sources are done, so plan your water stops. The Granite Gulch Fire remains an issue and, despite the USFS PR statements, that the fire spotted across the Minam presents the possibility of an intense up-hill run should fire weather become conducive.


PS. According to the USFS, it rained the day after we left. Those poor guys—hike in the heat to take a cold shower!! Well, that’s life on the trail.


Best of trails to you,


Burnside
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pano9.jpg
Parting Panorama.
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.

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retired jerry
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by retired jerry » September 1st, 2019, 10:10 am

nice report, looks like a great trip

what pan did you use to fry fish?

what fire?

did you use oil also? salt and pepper?

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Bosterson
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by Bosterson » September 1st, 2019, 10:20 am

Excellent report! You're really doing some fine work at Eagle Cap this year - it really is the best. I was hoping to finally get to Tombstone Lake but that didn't happen cause of the Granite Gulch fire and changing my plan - maybe next time. Good beta on Diamond Lake! Your last pic in the first post - if that's Wonker Pass, then the lake next to it is Traverse rather than Echo. :)
Will hike off trail for fun.

Aimless
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by Aimless » September 1st, 2019, 11:55 am

In that photo, Wonker Pass is at the extreme left edge, almost out of the photo, and Echo Lake is the visible lake. Traverse Lake is hidden, higher up and further left from Echo. You can kind of tell where Traverse is, down in a depression on the far side of a small ridge, almost directly below the furthest left peak.

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BurnsideBob
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by BurnsideBob » September 1st, 2019, 1:37 pm

Aimless has it to a "T" for Traverse. I've marked up the photo to illustrate. The trail into Tombstone isn't high enough to see Traverse's water when you first can look up that valley.
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Bosterson, thanks for the kind words. I've much enjoyed your trip reports, and, noting that you've contributed about both the Eagle Cap and the Sawtooths, do you have a preference? This became a discussion topic this trip--I don't know why really, although the rainbows Susan caught at Heart Lake in the Sawtooths tasted better IMOP.

Retired Jerry, the 8 1/2" fry pan is teflon coated aluminum and part of a medium sized base camp cook set purchased from REI 20 years ago. While REI branded, I think it was made by GSI Outdoors because the pot handle is identical to that in many GSI Outdoor sets being sold today. We take salted butter if we are going to fish. The butter gets used in other foods if we don't catch fish. I've discontinued taking salt and pepper shakers as we find most foods plenty spicy/salty as they are.

Just out of curiosity, has anyone going from Tombstone to Echo, or vice versa, tried to follow game trails on the canyon wall? Sure is a long way down just to climb back up, which is what the 75 year old peak bagger was faced with--his car was at Main Eagle and he was going over Wonker and Bench Creek Trail to get back.

Best to all,

Burnside
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.

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texasbb
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by texasbb » September 1st, 2019, 2:39 pm

BurnsideBob wrote:
September 1st, 2019, 1:37 pm
Just out of curiosity, has anyone going from Tombstone to Echo, or vice versa, tried to follow game trails on the canyon wall? Sure is a long way down just to climb back up, which is what the 75 year old peak bagger was faced with--his car was at Main Eagle and he was going over Wonker and Bench Creek Trail to get back.
Back in 2013 I hiked in from West Eagle to Tombstone/Diamond, then the next day hiked back and up to Echo/Traverse, then the next day over Wonker, etc. I went back down and up again, which wasn't bad except for the thunderstorms. I came back over the 8200' pass in the morning, hoping to beat the storms, but this one hadn't read the book and started in on me about 9:30 as I passed that 7500' meadow. Amazing storm, flash flooding, the works.

Here's that little waterfall at the switchback, first on the day before when I hiked in, then on day 2 after about 15 minutes of storm:

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And here's that waterfall below Echo Lk just before the storm, then 14 minutes later:

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I need to get back over there. Thanks for the report!

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retired jerry
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by retired jerry » September 1st, 2019, 3:17 pm

aluminum frying pan wouldn't way too much

maybe one could find small sealed packages of butter

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BurnsideBob
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by BurnsideBob » September 1st, 2019, 6:59 pm

Hi Jerry. Yes, the fry pan is very light to a fault. Even at the stove's lowest heat setting it is easy to scorch what's in the pan. The answer is more butter, to distribute the heat, since the pan isn't thick enough to do that well.

texasbb, I've never hiked in torrential downpours, but your photos were dramatic. The closest we came to a torrential event was in the Wind River Range. Susan and I were wrapping up a cooked lunch when we heard a loud thunderboom down valley. I peeked around the clump of trees we were cooking behind and yep, there was one black cloud with heavy precip blowing our way. "We've got 5 minutes--I'll secure the cook set up and you get in the tent." I hastily secured everything and ran up to the tent (griz country--separate cooking and sleeping camps) just as the hail started. To my surprise, Susan was in the vestibule, not in the tent proper. Anyhow, we stumbled in while all heck broke loose. After quite a bit of hail, the precip changed to heavy rain. Now our tent has a "bathtub bottom", and even tho it was pitched on a slope water was going under the tent and floating the tent floor up several inches. A very odd feeling. But we stayed dry and warm while Thor did his thing outside.

Now that Wind River trip was a longer one where we couldn't pick and choose the weather. These 4 or 5 day trips we can wait for a good weather window and leave the rain gear at home. :D
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.

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retired jerry
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Re: Eagle Cap Triptych: Tombstone, Diamond, and Off Trail Adventures

Post by retired jerry » September 2nd, 2019, 5:53 am

sounds like a life lesson to me - the answer is more butter :)

another thing that might help is a flame spreader - disk of aluminum between burner and pan, just a little bigger than the flame size

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