Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

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Born2BBrad
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Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by Born2BBrad » June 7th, 2021, 5:41 pm

What: Loop in the southern Hells Canyon NRA
When: 6/4/21
Who: Just Me (Born2BBrad)

Opening picture:
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General Information

Route: Freezeout TH (3560’), Freezeout Creek Trail to Morgan Ridge turnoff (3875’), up spur to Morgan Ridge (4975’), up Morgan Ridge to jct w/Summit Ridge (6390’), Summit Ridge north past Lookout Mt. (6807’), through Squirrel Prairie (6795’), to Freezeout Saddle (5448’), Saddle Creek back to TH
Miles: 19
EG: 4800’
People encountered: 0, none on the trails, none at TH
Drive time from The Dalles: 5 hours, with stops for gas and rest stop

Links:
Fred Barstad “Hiking Hells Canyon & Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains”

Google Earth overview:
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Topographical overview:
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Trip Narrative and Pictures

Once again research was done using Fred Barstad’s hiking book, Google Earth and CalTopo to come up with an interesting route. This time the focus was on the southern end of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

A ridge called Morgan Ridge piqued my interest. Some maps showed a trail diverging from the Freezeout Creek trail, all the way up Morgan Ridge to a junction with the trail on Summit Ridge (aka Western Rim National Recreation Trail). For most of the Morgan Ridge, a trail can be seen from Google Earth. So a route was drawn on Google Earth, converted to a GPX file, then transferred to my GPS.

From Summit Ridge lots of option abound, but a basic route following Summit Ridge to Freezeout Saddle was created.

The Freezeout TH has a few amenities. Pit toilet, feeding troughs and hitching post for your horses, piped spring, nearby creek, one picnic table and a couple fire pits. Camping is allowed there.

I slept in Hotel Subaru again. That allowed for a bright and early 5:00 am start.

Freezeout TH:
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Don’t hike in NE OR during hunting season:
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While much research was done, that didn’t answer how well-used and apparent the trails would be, especially Morgan Ridge. Absolutely nothing was found about that. It was known that the Morgan Ridge Trail splits early from the Freezeout Creek Trail.

Fortunately there is a well-marked junction to a very visible Morgan Ridge Trail. The junction is nowhere near the junction on the two mapsets that were used.

Morgan Ridge junction marker:
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The trail soon crosses Freezeout Creek. A mid-sized log with peeling bark straddles the creek, making for a fairly easy crossing. The creek could also be crossed in the water, but your ankles would get wet.

The Freezeout Creek crossing:
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The Morgan Ridge Trail is easily visible and does get some maintenance. It closely follows the west side of Freezeout Creek for a while. So much so that it made me wonder if it ever leads to the ridge. It was nowhere near the trails on my GPS. I had spotted what looked like an abandoned trail, right where my GPS showed where the trail was supposed to be, or at least where it used to be. So I followed that to an open spur of Morgan Ridge. There were elk and cow trails that led to Morgan Ridge.

Maintenance on lower Morgan Ridge Trail:
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Climbing the spur up to Morgan Ridge:
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Once on Morgan Ridge, it was easy to traverse on a faint trail. After following the ridge to a nearby saddle, the official Morgan Ridge Trail could be seen leading up to the saddle. It would have been slightly easier going that way, but less scenic.

The start of the hike on Morgan Ridge:
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The actual trail leading to the saddle:
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Once the official trail met the saddle, the trail was much more readable. That’s what could be seen from Google Earth. The trail was never lost from then on for the rest of the trip, even though it was faint and ambiguous in places.

A very visible trail on Morgan Ridge:
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Freezeout Saddle could be seen way over there to the east:
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And the Wallowas way, way over there to the west:
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Imnaha River valley running L-R, w/Grouse Creek drainage:
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The only snow patch on Morgan Ridge:
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Lots of grassy meadows:
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At a certain elevation, there are more and more patches of fir trees, even more so at higher elevations. Along Morgan Ridge within some patches of trees there are hunter camps. Once the first hunter camp was encountered, the trail became even more readable and maintained. In NE OR, many trails are only maintained because of and by hunters. Leftover horse dumplings are the price to pay. They can have the trails in the cold fall and I’ll happily use them in the spring and summer.

Hunter Camp:
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Thanks for the maintenance hunters:
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At around 6400’ on Morgan Ridge the trail becomes and old roadbed flanked on the east by an old fence. The roadbed continues to the junction with Summit Ridge.

Old roadbed and old fence:
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Meadow near the headwaters of Freezeout Creek:
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Shortly before the junction with Summit Ridge there is some kind of fencing project going on. There were new metal fence posts, wooden boards and fencing laying on the ground. Part of the new fence was staged, ready to be put up. It probably has something to do with keeping cows out of Hells Canyon Wilderness. Evidence of cows were all around all the way up Morgan Ridge. In fact there were cows on Summit Ridge nearby the fencing material.

Fencing material:
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Staged fencing:
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The junction with Summit Ridge is anticlimactic. Just one old roadbed (Morgan Ridge) meeting another (Summit Ridge) that is much more travelled. No sign. Just a small cairn. Nevertheless is was the start of a different section of the route.

Summit Ridge junction:
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Going north on Summit Ridge:
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Jensen Spring, the source of Freezeout Creek:
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The Summit Ridge Trail continues north towards Lookout Mountain:
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Just before Lookout Mountain snowbrush encroaches over the trail. The sight, and the smell, of it brought back memories of the “Bushes From Hell” trip.

Snowbrush encroaching on the trail:
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On Lookout Mountain is a communication tower. Not sure of the purpose. There is also the concrete footings of a lookout. There I was able to get a strong enough signal to text my wife, Dawn, a picture of the view and call her. The signal was not from the communication tower, but from Riggins, ID.

Communication tower on Lookout Mountain:
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The Seven Devils from Lookout Mountain:
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After going up and over Lookout Mountain, there is an option to take Marks Cabin Trail to Marks Cabin. Marks Cabin is owned by the Forest Service and leased to cattle ranchers and outfitters. Not much information could be found about the history of Marks Cabin. Going to Marks Cabin would entail adding mileage, and deviating from Summit Ridge. So I stayed on Summit Ridge.

Summit Ridge continues north and comes to Squirrel Prairie. Squirrel Prairie is a large meadow that is the headwaters of Saddle Creek. The prairie is aptly named, as many red digger ground squirrels were observed. Stow your food appropriately if camping in this area.

Sagebrush at 6900’ nearing Squirrel Prairie:
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Squirrel Prairie:
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Near the source of Saddle Creek is a nexus point where several trails converge. Summit Ridge north and south, Marks Cabin option #2 and Bear Mountain. While Bear Mountain looked interesting, it’s a long out and back. So north on Summit Ridge I continued.

Nexus point sign cairn:
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Trail (L), Hat Point (center), Bear Mountain (R):
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It’s at this point Summit Ridge starts heading downhill towards Freezeout saddle. There is a point where the Summit Ridge Trail descends as much as 400’ below the actual ridge. However, I noticed a faint trail that stayed on the ridge and followed that trail. On the ridge some of the best views of the trip were to be had. I kept wondering why the official trail didn’t go that way. There was a reason for that…

Route that stayed on the ridgeline:
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Easy and scenic so far:
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View of the Saddle Creek drainage:
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From this spot I was able to take a 360 video with my phone, upload it to YouTube, share it with Dawn and call her. The video below is better than the crappy ones I usually do with my camera.

360 video on Summit Ridge above Freezeout Saddle:


Link to video on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0OOhwKyJMA

Zoomed in on Hat Point lookout:
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The route I took to get on the Morgan Ridge ridgeline that morning could be seen. Yellow is the route I took. Blue is the official trail. I still like my way better.

Route to Morgan Ridge:
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Summit Ridge starts to get rockier and steeper:
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It seems like Freezeout Saddle is so close:
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There are quite a few stretches on Summit Ridge getting closer to Freezeout Saddle that are very steep and rocky. The trail sometimes gets faint and braids. The key is to always stay on the ridge crest if the trail is lost. Now I know why the official trail to Freezeout Saddle is much lower.

It’s hard to tell from the picture how rocky and steep it is:
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Finally at Freezeout Saddle:
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Looking back up at Summit Ridge it doesn’t look that bad:
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It seemed like the last stretch from Freezeout Saddle down the Saddle Creek Trail took forever and had endless switchbacks. In truth it was only 3 miles with 1900’ EG loss and 38 switchbacks.

Saddle Creek Trail back to the TH:
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----------------------------------------------------

Final Notes
• Much more open sun exposure than shade, but not as bad as the lower elevation hike a couple weeks ago. Probably something like 80% exposure and 20% shade.
• NW Forest Pass required at Freezeout TH.
• Some trail finding skills required. A map and GPS are helpful.
• Dozens of places to pitch a tent, mostly on Summit Ridge.
• Dozens of water sources, not just springs. Some sources may dry up in late summer.
• No poison ivy or poison oak.
• Voice, text and data available on Lookout Mt. and ridge above Freezeout Saddle.
• This was almost as enjoyable to the northern Summit Ridge area out to Lord Flat.
• More trails along this route for side trips and loop options.
• Because I had time and was in the area I drove up Hat Point Road to see how far I could get. I made it within 1 mile of Hat Point. The snow melt there is way ahead of average.
• This is my 1,000th post. Do I get a medal?

Link to pictures on Google Photos:
Link 1
Link 2

Hike on Good Buddy,

Brad
Last edited by Born2BBrad on June 8th, 2021, 6:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
- Jean Luc Picard

Thor the Deer

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Chip Down
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/11/21

Post by Chip Down » June 7th, 2021, 5:56 pm

as requested:
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retired jerry
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/11/21

Post by retired jerry » June 8th, 2021, 5:50 am

No, no medals

I hear there's one for 14,000 though

I really need to find something better to do with my life than posting on a hiking website :)

I love these detailed trip reports. I should do a Hell's Canyon trip some day. Probably too late for this year - too hot.

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drm
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/11/21

Post by drm » June 8th, 2021, 7:30 am

retired jerry wrote:
June 8th, 2021, 5:50 am
I should do a Hell's Canyon trip some day. Probably too late for this year - too hot.
Not if you stay on the ridges.

Since Hat Point is almost melted out, there is a trailhead up there that drops down to the High Trail where there are a couple camps in that sea of grass. It's a well-maintained and switchbacked drop. I guess it's a very long drive for a short hike if that's all you do, but plenty of exploration can go from there.
Last edited by drm on June 8th, 2021, 7:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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bobcat
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by bobcat » June 8th, 2021, 7:33 am

Another very fine trademark report. Love to see these on Hells Canyon!

Seconding drm: keep high, and there's usually nice weather at least through June, maybe into July as well (although occasional drenching thunderstorms).

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drm
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by drm » June 9th, 2021, 6:40 am

July is prime time for the trails which head out from the Hat Point area - they don't generally open till July or late June.

Note that the road to Hat Point is a good gravel road but is very steep in places, with a huge dropoff.

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mattisnotfrench
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by mattisnotfrench » June 9th, 2021, 12:11 pm

Like ships passing in the night! I did much of this hike the week before and we hit huge snowdrifts near Squirrel Prairie. All of that heat the week after must have zapped all of the snow away.

And yes, Summit Ridge north of Squirrel Prairie has some excellent views!
Author of Off the Beaten Trail, 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region and PDX Hiking 365. Website: www.offthebeatentrailpdx.com

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Born2BBrad
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by Born2BBrad » June 10th, 2021, 7:48 pm

Just to reaffirm what was already stated, it's not to late to hike in Hells Canyon NRA if you stay mainly on the high ridges. In fact, late June to early July is the best time to do the Warnock Corral TH hike to Lord Flat and Somers Point.

As mentioned, snow was already melted on the road almost all the way to Hat Point. That means Warnock Corral is accessible now. A Subaru or higher clearance would be necessary.
Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
- Jean Luc Picard

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wnshall
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by wnshall » June 11th, 2021, 2:50 pm

Great trip report on an awesome-looking trip! Did you camp or do it in one day? Boy, I really want to get out there sometime, but so far from Portland!

BTW, congrats on 1000th post!

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Born2BBrad
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Re: Morgan/Summit/Freezeout Loop: 6/4/21

Post by Born2BBrad » June 11th, 2021, 3:29 pm

wnshall wrote:
June 11th, 2021, 2:50 pm
Great trip report on an awesome-looking trip! Did you camp or do it in one day? Boy, I really want to get out there sometime, but so far from Portland!
I did it in one day, starting a 5 AM. Even then I still had plenty of time to clean up, eat, and drive to check out Hat Point Road. With long daylight hours this time of year, a fit person can easily do it in a day.

It is far from Portland. That's why you can be guaranteed solitude from the hordes on Mt. Hood. That's why I feel safe writing TRs for NE OR. The danger of an Oregon Hiker effect is minimized.
Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
- Jean Luc Picard

Thor the Deer

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