Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

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vibramhead
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Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by vibramhead » August 10th, 2012, 7:30 pm

I took a 7-day, 81-mile hike through the Eagle Cap Wilderness (Oregon’s largest) in the Wallowa Mtns from July 28 to August 3. I started on the less-traveled south side of the range, in an old mining town called Cornucopia, and walked through the Pine Lakes basin, up East Fork of Eagle Creek, over Horton Pass, through the Lakes Basin, down W. Fork Wallowa River to Wallowa Lake, where I resupplied, then up E. Fork Wallowa River past Aneroid Lake, over Tenderfoot and Polaris passes, past the Frazier lakes, over Hawkins Pass, down S. Fork Imnaha River, and through the Norway Basin back to Cornucopia. I had excellent, though sometimes hot, weather the whole trip, almost no mosquitoes, and enjoyed some of Oregon’s finest alpine scenery.

Here’s the GPS track of my route in Hillmap, and here it is in GPSfly.

It’s a 7-hour drive from Portland to Cornucopia, so I bookended my hike with stays at the Cornucopia Lodge, a fairly new place with some nice rooms in the main lodge, and several cabins as well:
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It’s a nice place to stay, and I recommend it. They operate a horse outfitting business, serving hunters and hikers, but I didn’t avail myself of that luxury:
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I started at 7 a.m. on Sat. 7/28. My pack weighed 35 lbs, including 2 liters of water and 3.5 days of food. The lodge’s elevation is 4800 feet. I headed up the west fork of Pine Creek on a good trail through the lovely Pine Lakes basin:
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Above the lakes was a nameless pass at 8400 feet. I encountered only a little snow on the way, as well as a scattering of other hikers. I then contoured down to Crater Lake and made camp at a small nameless lake just to the west of there, at 7400 feet. I found a fine campsite at the west end of the lake, out of sight of the trail. My mileage for the day was 13.3. It being rather warm, a dip in the lake was quite refreshing. I spent the evening reading a novel on the Kindle app on my phone.

On Day 2, I hiked down many switchbacks along Little Kettle Creek to the trailhead at East Eagle, at 4600 feet, where I saw one party of hikers just starting out. From there, it was a long gentle climb up the East Eagle valley, alternating between forests and meadows:

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I reached 6200 feet and the spur to Hidden Lake, my destination for the night. The junction is unmarked, so it was handy to have a GPS to confirm my location. After fording East Eagle, the 1000-foot climb to a saddle above Moon Lake was rather steep. I could have camped at Moon Lake:

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But I continued to Hidden Lake, which is larger and beautifully nestled in a cirque:

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The trail ends on the west shore of the lake, which was buggy and featured a depressingly trashed-out horse camp, so I circled to the east shore, which was breezier and less trampled. My mileage for the day was 13.6. Aside from the one group at the East Eagle trailhead, I saw no other hikers the entire day, though I heard a party arrive on the opposite shore later in the evening. Again, a dip in the lake was just what I needed, and wasn’t as cold as I’d expected for a lake with a snowfield on one end.

On Day 3, I headed back down into the East Eagle valley on an unmarked trail that another hiker had told me about, which avoided having to backtrack and lose several hundred feet of elevation needlessly. I then continued up the valley toward Horton Pass, fretting a bit because a hiker had told me that the Forest Service had told him that the pass was still snowed in and impassible. I was carrying microspikes and hiking poles, but no ice axe, and I was worried that I might have to change my route if the pass wasn’t safe. As it turned out, the west side of the pass was almost snow-free:

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The east side had more snow, but it was easily negotiated, and I didn’t even need to don my microspikes.

The top of Horton Pass is 8500 feet, and from there one can easily climb another thousand feet to the Eagle Cap summit. I was expecting a scramble path to the summit, but was surprised to find a well-built trail. It was less surprising once I saw how many other hikers were heading for the same destination. Eagle Cap is above the Lakes Basin, which is the most heavily-used part of the wilderness, and hiking to the summit is a standard day trip for people who camp in the basin. I must have seen 20 hikers, including a scout troop, on my short detour to the top. But that didn’t detract from the fine views of the Lostine River valley to the north, the Lakes Basin, and Glacier Lake:
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From the west flank of Eagle Cap, I had a good view back across East Eagle valley to the previous night’s campsite at Hidden Lake:
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I dropped back down to Horton Pass, had a nice butt-glissade down a snowfield, and descended to Upper Lake at the head of the Lostine valley:
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Next was Mirror Lake, the main attraction in the Lakes Basin. Forest Service has closed many areas around the lake for revegetation, because the camping pressure has been so heavy. Still, it was a lovely spot, and was far less crowded than the summit of Eagle Cap:
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Next was Moccasin Lake:
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I camped at Horseshoe Lake, the lowest one in the basin at 7100 feet. My site was across the outlet creek from the main trail, and several groups of teenage boys came trooping up the trail until well after dark. I again had a welcome dip in the lake. 11.2 miles for the day.

On Day 4, I walked 9.3 miles, dropping down to the W. Fork Wallowa River at Six Mile Meadow:
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I continued down the well-beaten trail to Wallowa Lake at 4500 feet. I was expecting to encounter horse pack trains, but only saw some droppings. The trail wasn’t as dusty and rutted from horses as other accounts had led me to expect. The south end of Wallowa Lake is a little tourist town, with several mini-golf courses, a few restaurants, RV parks, and the fine old Wallowa Lake Lodge. I spent the night in tidy little cabin at Flying Arrow Resort, where my resupply package was waiting for me:
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I enjoyed a shower, a beer, and a meal, but the luxury was somewhat marred by the buzz of a go-cart track across the street, which stayed open till 10 p.m. I won’t stay there again.

On Day 5, I had a fine breakfast at Wallowa Lake Lodge:
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I think I'll stay there next time.

Then I headed up E. Fork Wallowa River, passing Aneroid Lake at 6 miles, and seeing only two other hikers. At the south end of the lake is a 60-acre private inholding called Camp Halton, owned by a Portland family:
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A caretaker couple lives there from May to November, and Dennis, one of the caretakers, graciously agreed to let me wander the site to gawk at the cabins:
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They also have a boat dock:
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While the cabins are not open to the public, there’s an Adirondack-style shelter with a wood stove that, according to Dennis, is open to hikers if the weather turns bad:
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After touring Camp Halton, feeling thoroughly envious of the caretakers, I continued another 3 miles up the trail, almost to Tenderfoot Pass, then cut cross-country a quarter mile to lovely Jewett Lake, at 8300 feet, where I made camp:
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This seemed like a place that few people visit; it’s well off the trail, and exposed enough that one wouldn’t want to camp here in threatening weather. But it was fine when I was there, and I swam in the lake. There was a good view of Aneroid Lake, a thousand feet below:
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Day 6 was my longest: three passes and 15 miles. First was 8500-foot Tenderfoot Pass, which had only a bit of snow:
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Then I contoured around the head of the lovely North Fork Imnaha valley:
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Various wildflowers were in bloom:
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Next was the trip’s highest pass: Polaris, at 8900 feet. The ascent up the east side of the pass was no problem, and from the top, the view of the heart of the range to the west was stunning:
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But the descent on the west side of Polaris Pass was rather unnerving: the first 400 feet were steep, loose scree and lots of exposure:
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But the views on the descent were fine. Here’s a view across the valley to Frazier Lake, where I was headed next:
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And some asters:
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And here are some elk grazing near the W. Fork Wallowa valley floor:
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After fording the river, I climbed to Frazier Lake:
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Then to Little Frazier Lake:
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And then to Hawkins Pass, crossing occasional snow patches:
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The south side of Hawkins Pass had no snow, but lots of interesting geology:
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And then the descent into the S. Fork Imnaha, another classic U-shaped glacial valley:
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I saw no other hikers after Little Frazier Lake. Down the Imnaha, it was alternating forests and meadows until I made camp in a meadow a bit above the Cliff Creek trail:
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The moon was full, and it turned out the meadow was popular with deer, who grazed around my tent all night. There were still a couple there when I got up in the morning, and they didn’t seem too concerned about me:
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On Day 7, I dropped a few more miles down the S. Fork Imnaha to the Blue Creek trail. That trail hadn’t been cleared yet, and I had to scramble around many blowdowns as I climbed to the nameless 7600-foot pass above Norway Basin. But there were some nice wildflowers along the way:
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Once over the pass, Norway Basin was lovely, and beyond that I could see Pine Lakes basin, where I’d started the first day:
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The last few miles were through a burn and down a rocky mining road, not very scenic:
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I didn't see a soul the entire last day, until I returned to the lodge for a beer, a meal, and a bed.

This was the first long backpack I'd taken with my Droid Razr Maxx, and I found it quite useful. First, the Kindle app was a great way to carry books; I read two novels during the trip. Second, I was surprised at how may places I was able to get enough of a signal to send "I'm okay" texts to my wife. I was able to do so on all the high passes. Also, I had a wildflower app that I used occasionally to ID flowers.
Last edited by vibramhead on August 17th, 2012, 6:55 am, edited 2 times in total.
Time spent hiking will not be deducted from your life.

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cascadehiker
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by cascadehiker » August 10th, 2012, 7:44 pm

Undoubtedly the most epic TR of 2012. I will do this exact trip someday and not feel bad that I copied vibramhead.
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Born2BBrad
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by Born2BBrad » August 10th, 2012, 8:00 pm

Me likey :)

Great idea about getting a cabin in Wallowa Lake and sending yourself a care package. I might try that next year, making sure to stay away from the go-kart track.
Link to all my GPSFly uploaded tracks.

Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
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Sean Thomas
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by Sean Thomas » August 11th, 2012, 12:38 am

cascadehiker wrote:Undoubtedly the most epic TR of 2012. I will do this exact trip someday and not feel bad that I copied vibramhead.
Ditto and amazing pictures! and when you do, drag me along because all of the beautiful wallowa reports lately have lots of us itching to get back there :) What an amazing place and a trip of a lifetime for sure.

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hlee
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by hlee » August 12th, 2012, 8:31 am

Wow, amazing trip! You were quite clever about it, though.

That last wildflower is really amazing. It looks like someone very delicately handpainted a thistle flower inside it. Crazy..

Hannah

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.
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Crusak
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by Crusak » August 12th, 2012, 3:07 pm

Sean Thomas wrote:
cascadehiker wrote:Undoubtedly the most epic TR of 2012. I will do this exact trip someday and not feel bad that I copied vibramhead.
Ditto and amazing pictures! and when you do, drag me along because all of the beautiful wallowa reports lately have lots of us itching to get back there :) What an amazing place and a trip of a lifetime for sure.
Triple ditto! wow, simply amazing.
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bobcat
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by bobcat » August 13th, 2012, 8:32 pm

You took on some of the Wallowas' finest and did it in great style. Thanks for the great report - I hope to be out there in a couple of weeks (maybe).

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Eric Peterson
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by Eric Peterson » August 13th, 2012, 9:39 pm

I'll be out there in about 2 weeks as well Bob and hope to do something again
but do it right this time with a little more!

Nice report VH, very inspirational and made me look up a few things on the map :)

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potato
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by potato » August 15th, 2012, 9:46 am

Looks awesome :) thanks for the TR.
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Slugman
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Re: Eagle Cap traverse July 28-Aug. 3 2012

Post by Slugman » August 16th, 2012, 7:26 pm

That was a great report. I love the Eagle Cap, and have been to some of the places you went, but many were new to me. Fantastic pictures, too.



Grammar nerd alert: "trammeled" means hindered or restrained; "trampled" means crushed by feet or hooves.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. ~John Muir

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