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Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 10th, 2021, 5:19 pm
by Born2BBrad
What: Exploring the high ridges in the Wallowa Mountains
When: 7/7/21-7/9/21
Who: Just Me (Born2BBrad)

Opening picture:

General Information

Route Day 1: Tram (4475’), Mount Howard (8241’), East Peak bypass, Hidden Peak (9460’), Aneroid Mt. (9702’), Dollar Pass (8420’), Dollar Ridge (9100’), Tenderfoot Pass (8500’), Jewett Lake (8280’)

Route Day 2: Jewett Lake (8280’), Petes Point (9675’), Point 9395, Polaris Pass (8900’), Sentinel Peak (9420’), Peak 9350, Honeymoon Basin (8400’), Cusick Mt. attempt (9275’), back to Honeymoon Basin (8400’), Avalanche chute (7975’-7200’), Frazier Lake (7127’)

Route Day 3: Frazier Lake (7127’), West Fork Wallowa River Trail back to TH

Miles: 30, much of them difficult
EG: 12,500, much of them difficult (3700’ on the tram)
People encountered day 1 & 2: 0
People encountered day 3: 25ish
People pushing a dog in a baby stroller on the rocky trail: 1
Drive time from The Dalles: 4 hours, with stops for gas and rest stop

Summit Post pages for the peaks
Fred Barstad “Hiking Hells Canyon & Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains”

Google Earth overview:

Topographical overview north section:

Topographical overview south section:

Elevation profile:

Google Earth Video Tour:

Link to video on YouTube


Trip Narrative and Pictures

On my bucket list is to connect the high ridges of the Wallowas from the tram on Mt. Howard clockwise to Chief Joseph Mountain. Much of that I’ve already done.

There was the first foray in 2017 taking the tram to get to Aneroid Mt. Then a similar trip in 2019. A few weeks later was a trip traversing the Hurwall Divide. And let’s not forget the trip going over Sac/Matt/Cap with Van Marmot.

My goal this time was to hit a few more of the peaks, making it so, in theory, they could all be connected in one grand adventure.

As before in some previous trips, the journey began at the Wallowa Lake tram. I’m not going to go into detail about the part from Mt. Howard to Aneroid Mountain and down to Dollar Pass, as you can go to the other trip reports for that. This time, however, rather than climbing East Peak, I took the bypass route. Really that only saves from having to gain an added 400’ of elevation. It was different, with the trail disappearing a few times.

Once at Dollar Pass, the unofficially named Dollar Ridge was crossed to Tenderfoot Pass. From Dollar Pass, the usual way to get to Tenderfoot Pass is to take the Bonney Lakes Trail down to the junction with the East Fork Wallowa Trail, then up to Tenderfoot Pass. The difference is going up Dollar Ridge is about 200 extra feet of overall elevation gain. Plus that is at higher elevation and rougher terrain. But a way better view. Amazingly, I had cell and data coverage on Dollar Ridge due to a sightline to Joseph.

View from Dollar Ridge looking down the East Fk Wallowa Valley:

View from Dollar Ridge looking at Petes Point:

Close-up of Petes Point:

Once at Tenderfoot Pass, I made the short trip down to Jewett Lake to set up camp.

Jewett Lake:

The next morning I got my usual early start, this time at 6:28 am. The first goal for the day was Petes Point. Based on intel gathered from online sources, there were no expected major obstacles. The winds were light, and there were no signs of puffy thunderstorm-producing clouds. My last attempt at climbing Petes Point I was thwarted by dangerously high winds.

Starting the climb up to Petes Point:

View down to Jewett Lake (lower right) and Aneroid Lake:

There is a noticeable tread the entire way up to Petes Point:

There is one spot at 9400’ that required me to stow away my hiking poles and use my hands to climb past. It was not difficult or dangerous, just a minor obstacle. There were great handholds of solid rock. The only other impediment was a four foot tall ribbon of rock to climb over at 9500’.

Spot at 9400’ that required hands:

Ribbon of rock to climb over at 9500’:

Yours truly at the top of Petes Point:

When doing research on climbing Petes Point, I was curious if the ridge could be traversed all the way to Polaris Pass. That would avoid backtracking to Tenderfoot Pass and climbing up to Polaris Pass. I found a couple mentions of such a route being possible, but no specifics. My biggest concern was Peak 9395 being in the way. That would mean going from 9675’ down to the saddle at 8900’, back up to 9395’, then down to Polaris Pass at 8900’.

South ridge of Petes Point going towards Peak 9395:

Similar view from a different angle:

From the saddle mountain goats could be seen on either side of the ridge:

Going up Peak 9395 is not nothing, especially above 9000’:

Like I said, it is not nothing:

Coming down from Peak 9395 to Polaris Pass is fairly straightforward. No obstacles, rocky crags or steep cliffs. There is even a fairly well-worn tread. My guess is that it is because it is fairly easy and close to Polaris Pass.

Tread from Peak 9395 to Polaris Pass:

After taking a short nibble break at Polaris Pass, the next goal was Sentinel Peak. Sentinel Peak is only 520’ higher and 0.75 mile from Polaris Pass. Nevertheless, there are some minor obstacles and rough terrain to contend with. There are also a couple of mini-saddles.

Obstacle on the way to Sentinel Peak:

After Sentinel Peak, the next leg of the route called for continuing along the ridge to Peak 9350, then to Honeymoon Basin. Once again, that called for descending to a saddle and up another peak. From Sentinel Ridge over to Honeymoon Basin would prove to be more difficult than what had previously been earlier that day and the day before. Lots of obstacles and very rough terrain. All above 9000’.

From Sentinel Peak over to Peak 9350. It doesn’t look too hard does it?

Example of rough terrain on the way to Peak 9350:

View of lakes (Frazier, Prospect, Glacier) and peaks (Glacier, Eagle Cap):

View down to Honeymoon Basin with Cusick Mt. in the upper left:

Like I said, very rough terrain:

Research was done regarding the best route down to Honeymoon Basin. The very few mentions of Honeymoon Basin don’t provide a route, but just say, “Drop down into Honeymoon Basin”. Not much help. Using Google Earth, a route was planned to drop down at the first saddle. It was OK, but dropping down from the second, lower saddle would have been much easier. Dropping down from the first saddle requires navigating past a ribbon of rock, with a couple of step-downs. Also, the second saddle has a goat trail. How do I know it is a goat trail? Because mountain goats were on it.

Mountain goats on a goat trail:

Goat hair was all around:

Honeymoon Basin:

After a brief stop to collect water, the next goal was to climb Cusick Mt. Again, research was done on a route. The Summit Post page said to take the north ridge. A difficult class 3 scramble is mentioned. Class 3 is described as “steep hillside, moderate exposure, rope may be carried but not used, hands used in climbing. A short fall could be possible”. I’ve done class 3 climbs before no problem. This couldn’t be any worse could it? Continue reading.

So the climb started on some easy limestone, with one minor hand-hold climb necessary. It soon got steeper, with loose rock and gravel.

Easy peasy, right?

Upon reaching the class 3 scramble, my reaction was, “No #%&%ing way am I going to attempt that!” The scramble itself was not out of my skill level. However, it was hard rock covered with some gravel. In addition, it would not have been a short fall. It would have been at the very least, a many-broken-bones fall.

The start of the class 3 scramble:

The Summit Post page also mentioned the option of taking the very steep scree slope up the center of the cirque. So I went over to check that out, which in itself was difficult. That scree slope was indeed very steep, with lots of loose, super scrambly rocks of all sizes. Less dangerous than the class 3 scramble, but I didn’t like the looks of it. No picture, sorry.

Crap! That meant I had to carefully descent back down to Honeymoon Basin to evaluate my options. It was just before 4 pm, so more than four hours of daylight left.

Option 1: There was not enough daylight to backtrack to Polaris Pass, then descend to a camp spot. There are no options to camp on those ridges, plus no water along the way. That would mean camping out in Honeymoon Basin, then backtracking the next day. While Honeymoon Basin is beautiful, the thought of backtracking ridges I never wanted to do again did not make me feel good.

Option 2: In my research, some guy wrote a post about climbing down out of Honeymoon Basin down to the Frazier Lake area. I remembered that he did it, and that it was very difficult. My logic kicked into high gear. Based on my physical map and GPS map, I surmised where the drop-off point should be. So I set out to find it. The worst thing that could happen was that if I couldn’t find it, I would have explored Honeymoon Basin, and I’d have to spend the night there, then backtrack the next day. I did have over four hours of time to kill.

So off I went to find the fabled Honeymoon Basin direct route! As I progressed, I noticed animal tracks. They weren’t random, seeming to have a purpose. The tracks kept following the most logical path to where the drop-off point should be.

The other side of Honeymoon Basin:

Near where the drop-off point should be, there was an option to go left or right. The animal tracks went left, but to the right looked like a person put a rock on a rock to signify, “Go this way”. I went that way. It led to a route that looked impossible. Note: after returning home and looking at Google Earth, it was impossible.

Go this way! No, don’t go that way!

So I went back to where the option was turning left, following the animal tracks. Bingo! An avalanche chute appeared. And Frazier Lake was just right there. Well, in my mind it was just right there. While the avalanche chute was steep and rocky, the route down looked safe, and it was. At least, for this mountain goat of a man it was. So I descended almost 900’ down to Frazier Lake.

Avalanche chute to heaven:

Looking back up the avalanche chute:

Getting closer, look what I found:

Once at Frazier Lake, the West Fork Wallowa River had to be forded. Off with the boots, on with the Crocs. On the other side a campsite was found immediately. Time to set up camp and go to bed. What a day.

West Fork Wallowa River:

The view from Frazier Lake:

The next morning I got another usually early start. I’ve never been so happy to be on an actual trail. That and going not so steeply downhill. The only other noteworthy comment is about having to cross the West Fork Wallowa River again. Easy as usual, but a wet crossing.

An actual trail:

Also, look at this little cutie:


Final Notes
• Lots of sun exposer on the ridges. Even with application of sunscreen, I came home a pink man.
• Hiking at high elevation is much more difficult due to less oxygen. That and a full backpack.
• No pass required at the TH. Self-filled wilderness permit is required.
• Much route finding skills required if trying something like this. A map and GPS are absolutely necessary.
• No camping options on the ridges.
• No water available on the ridges.
• Voice, text and data available on Dollar Ridge.
• Flappy the hat has been retired. He is damaged beyond repair. He served me well and will be buried with honors.
• No mosquitoes on the ridges. Lots in the evening by the lakes. Used my head net.
• No climbing registers were found on any summit, even ones I found before.
• I still have more goals for the Wallowas. Stay tuned.

Link to pictures on Google Photos:
Link 1
Link 2

Get your hike on before the West is on fire,


Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 10th, 2021, 7:28 pm
by Aimless
Thanks for the report and all the photos. I will be in that same area in about a week and a half and the snow and bug info your report provides is especially helpful. As for the West burning, that seems a given. :( I can only hope the wind blows the smoke elsewhere so the the air is breathable and the smoke haze is minimal.

Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 10th, 2021, 10:27 pm
by Bosterson
Great trip, Brad! Sorry you didn't make it up Cusick. Ben and I came down that ridge from Cusick on our way to Honeymoon Basin in 2018 and I'm trying to remember if there were any scrambly sections. I really remember it being straightforward, but maybe there was a brief moment where we had to traverse skier's right around the crest onto a rocky ledge or something and then continued down through the bowl for a moment to get onto the main rock ridge down to the basin. There was nothing I'd call class 3 though. Nice work finding that chute down to Frazier from the basin! We also did that descent but took a much more complicated route left of where you went down. I've wondered since if there was an easier way towards the far end of the basin shelf and it looks like you found it.

Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 6:44 am
by drm
Yikes, Brad. I think it was around age 60 when my body decided it liked smooth well-maintained trails. This sounds like what I did back in the Sierra when I was young. Congrats on a tough route - and beta for the ages for future ridge walkers.

Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 7:27 am
by BurnsideBob
Wow!!! What a trip!

Yeah, reminds me of off trail Sierra Nevadas, too.

Good on you. Thanks for sharing.


Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 8:32 am
by bobcat
Epic Wallowas loop! I did a similar trip a number of years ago and summited all of those peaks, but like you I had to give up on Cusick. I had continued south along the Sentinel Ridge to Peak 9143 and the plot was to drop down and traverse the head of the South Fork of Middle Fork bowl and then ascend via the southeast ridge. I ran out of time and turned back to Polaris Pass.

Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 9:44 am
by Don Nelsen
Great TR and wonderful pics! I hope to get back up there later this year so thanks for the additional encouragement.


Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 10:23 am
by keithcomess
That is an excellent trip report and a monumental excursion. Genuinely amazing back-country skills, too! Congratulations!!

By the way, what is that metal object you found?

Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 11:02 am
by leiavoia
Amazing. Thanks for sharing so many pictures. It looks like the snow has melted out fast. Having been up and down trails in the area, I can appreciate how crazy it seems to walk the ridges directly. I wish my knees could handle that better. I think tackling Pete’s Point would at least be a worthy goal when I go back.

Re: Wallowas Ridge Walking: 7/7/21-7/9/21

Posted: July 11th, 2021, 12:30 pm
by Aimless
The 'metal object' looks like the sort of tent stake you'd use with a big old canvas tent packed in on a mule.