(I know there are many similar trip reports, so i will just relate the interesting parts for anyone in the future researching this trip.)
- Days: 5
- Dates: September 22-26, 2019
- Weather: Overcast and rainy first night, followed by several days of sun(burn). Nightly lows in high 30's. Day highs around 60. Left a day early due to forecasted storm with snow at higher elevations.
- Route: Wallowa River Loop, as described in Lorraine's "Backpacking Oregon". Wallowa Lake Trailhead > Anaroid Lake > Polaris Pass > Frazier Lake > Glacier Lake > Mirror Lake > Eagle Cap
daynight hike > Horseshoe Lake > out
- Mileage: ~34 miles RT.
- Camped At: Anaroid Lake, Frazier Lake outlet stream, Mirror Lake, Horseshoe Lake.
- People: few. You could get your pick of spots at any of the popular lakes. There were no people at all some of them. Good time of year to plan this trip if you want to avoid crowds.
- Wildlife sightings: Bald Eagle near Mirror Lake, Douglas Fir Tussock Moth Caterpillar, Rocky Mountain Woolly Bear Caterpillar, fearless chipmunks looking for handouts, so so many crickets, giant Mormon Crickets. Another hiker reported a Black Bear sighting 1 mile from trailhead.
- Best Scenery: Anaroid Lake to Frazier Lake, Frazier Lake to Lakes Basin, Eagle Cap summit. (The forested valleys that lead into the interior of the Wallowas are relatively uninteresting. The fun stuff is in the middle.)
- Hammock Camping: I was able to put a hammock up in every location i went to. You need to be a bit judicious in the Lakes Basin because the trees are more sparse and thin.
- Weather changes fast here, so plan for anything.
- Bring extra camera batteries. You will be compelled to take more photos every 100 yards. I took extra and still ran out early.
- Hike Eagle Cap. It isn't difficult, but very rewarding. It is cold and windy, so dress appropriately.
- Lakes were too cold for swimming this time of year.
- Plan to do less mileage than you normally would want to tackle. There is a lot of scenery to see.
- Polaris Pass will kick your butt both ways. Don't underestimate it. My descent took 3 hours just by itself.
- Bring extra batteries.
Day 1: Wallowa Lake to Anaroid Lake
Trail Time: 5 hours
Straight forward forest hike from trailhead to the lake. 3 other parties at the lake. If Anaroid is full, nearby Rogers Lake has many good camps as well (reached just before Anaroid). It rained several hours right after i got into camp. There are also many scenic camps with water access in the meadows on the way up to Anaroid Lake if you are looking for a shorter, simpler trip:
Day 2: Anaroid Lake to Frazier Lake via Polaris Pass
Trail Time: 8 hours (and no pussyfooting around either!)
Hiked out from the lake after morning fog burned off. The highlands around Tenderfoot Pass are very scenic. Long walk up to Polaris Pass and the disheartening thought of having to then go down the other side:
It's steep, no kidding:
Be sure to check out the interesting geology on the way down.
3 hours later, reached the bottom. A jaunt through the forest and up the river valley brought me to near Frazier Lake. You can camp a whole army here! One other party there besides myself. Additional camps along the stream leading up to the lake. Light drizzle overnight. Warmer overnight temps on this side of the mountain.
Day 3: Frazier Lake to Mirror Lake, via Glacier Pass
Trail Time: 6 hours
Extremely scenic the entire way. You'll feel like you're on the John Muir Trail! Plan to have lunch at Glacier Lake:
I met a fellow hiker by himself that wanted to hike Eagle Cap but changed his mind because he was by himself and heard reports of snow. I invited him to go with me the next morning. I camped at Mirror Lake, the closest to the Eagle Cap Trail. 3 other parties camped there. Plenty of space left.
Day 4: Eagle Cap and move to Horseshoe Lake
Trail Time: 8 hours, plus an hour of picture taking on Eagle Cap.
At 4am, me and my new trail partner met in the dark and hiked up to see the sunrise on top of Eagle Cap. (For reference, the trip takes approximately 2.5 hours to the top from Mirror Lake). 28F and very window on top. Totally worth it.
After a snack and break, i packed up and moved through the Lakes Basin until my energy and willpower gave out at Horseshoe Lake. There was no one else camped there, or at Lee Lake, or at Douglas Lake. Warnings to avoid the Lakes Basin area because of rowdy crowds were certainly overblown (at least for September).
I watched the sunset from the lake looking up at Eagle Cap. Just 12 hours earlier i had been watching the sunrise looking down on the lake. Interesting.
Day 5: Horseshoe to Trailhead
Trail time: 4.5 hours.
At this point, i ran out of batteries even though i had taken extra (I warned you!). The hike from the lake back to the trailhead is mostly uneventful. On the way down from the lake, be sure to look out over the valley. You can see where you came over Polaris Pass and hiked South down the valley to Frazier Lake. The rest of the hike is a gentle downhill cruise back to the car. A storm was gathering and rain began just as i left the parking lot. I had originally planned to camp at Ice Lake and tag the Matterhorn, but my energy was depleted and forecast had snow in it. I was glad to leave a day early as i saw the dark clouds swallow the mountain tops in the rearview mirror as i drove home.
Final Thoughts: one of the most scenic hikes i've ever done. Fear of crowds was overblown. There are many different routes you can take through this wilderness such that you can return many times and never have the same trip twice.
Thanks for reading. I hope this helps someone in the future.