Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

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bobcat
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Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by bobcat » September 12th, 2011, 3:53 pm

I got a late dispensation to take off a few days after Labor Day and decided to do some leisurely (except for the driving) explorations in the Wallowas and Blue Mountains. I drove south from Enterprise to the Hurricane Creek Trail and then took the left turn up the semi-abandoned Thorp Creek Trail about 1 ¾ miles in. The Thorp Creek Trail is no longer shown on the Forest Service maps, but still appears on the Topo map. It is mentioned in Fred Barstad’s book Hiking Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness as part of the climbing route to the Sacajawea summit, and is also part of the summit route for Sacajawea, the Hurwal Divide, and Chief Joseph Mountain in Barbara Bonds’ 75 Scrambles in Oregon.

First, you need to ford Hurricane Creek, and then comes the only possibility of getting lost as you reach a meadow that is also a wide, cobbled wash from Twin Creek. The books direct you to angle up to the right, but Twin Creek has burst its banks in recent years and taken down a lot of trees. The current route goes straight across the meadow, and then there’s a clear path into the trees winding up to Twin Creek. There’s some clambering over logs here, but then the path, now well-used, takes you up a number of steep, dusty switchbacks, along a grassy moraine, and then up some more, with frequent detours around blowdown. It traverses slopes in subalpine parklands and fetches up in Thorp Creek Meadows.
Thorp Meadows.jpg
The meadows are nestled below the marble headwall of Sacajawea, with the Hurwal Divide hemming them in to the west and south. On weekdays during the busy summer hiking season in the Wallowas, you may be the only person camping here, so it is one of the most peaceful destinations in these mountains. Several times, I was inspected, at a distance, by a large mule deer buck with a huge rack, and my every move drew a chattering response from my local red squirrel. Along the creek, summer blooms were still in force, and the burrows of Columbian ground squirrels lace through the meadows. I was only going to spend two nights, and my full day was going to be spent up on the ridges. I checked out the Hurwal Divide (HURricane-WALlowa - get it?) and decided, early the next morning, to follow fell fields up the steep slope straight from the meadow. I passed through whitebark pinelands screeching with Clarks’ nutcrackers and then stayed on the alpine tussocks, with many plants still in bloom, to avoid the scree which composes most of Hurwal’s slopes. Here is a clump of mountain balm:
Balm.jpg
It was a straight shot up to Hurwal’s north ridge. Scrambling up, there were magnificent views across to Sacajawea’s marble headwall, with her ridge extending to an intermediate peak and then the Matterhorn. Glacier Peak and Eagle Cap bracket Hurwal’s south peak:
Sacagawea.jpg
I popped up from behind a rock outcrop and spotted some goats ahead, so crept closer to snap a picture:
Two goats.jpg
They made off as soon as my camera got their attention, but this high alpine meadow was a major hangout for them, with grasses and sedges, and pockmarked with wallows.

Knitting bee, anyone?
Goat wool.jpg
It was a short ascent from the goat meadow to the summit of the Hurwal Divide. It is listed as Oregon’s 7th highest peak at 9,776’ but had no summit register. I put some lined paper in an old drinking bottle and anchored it with slabs of Hurwal shale, fashioning as inconspicuous a cairn as possible. The entire Wallowa panorama was visible and the weather was warm, with high clouds and a couple of showers over the southern and western valleys of the range. My goats, in the meantime, were making their way along the Hurwal Divide towards Ice Lake:
Goat flight.jpg
From the Hurwal summit, my next task was Chief Joseph Mountain, two miles down to a saddle and then along the Chief Joseph ridge:
Chief Joseph.jpg
This walk takes in all five of the rock types that compose these mountains: Hurwal shale, greenstone, the Martin Bridge limestones (metamorphosed into marble on Sacajawea and the Matterhorn), granodiorite, and Columbia River basalt. It is thus one of the most geologically interesting areas in all of North America. From the saddle between Hurwal and Chief Joseph, there are three intermediate peaks before the Chief Joseph summit. The first is composed of granodiorite with grassy alpine meadows and copses of whitebark pine. From here I could look ahead to the Chief Joseph summit:
Chief Joseph ridge.jpg
and back to the Hurwal’s highest peak:
Hurwal.jpg
The purple alpine paintbrush is found only on these ridges in the Wallowas and nowhere else in the world:
Paintbrush.jpg
One gets views east down the BC Creek bowl towards the Wallowa River valley:
BC Creek.jpg
Heading up, there’s a spectacular view of Chief Joseph’s southwestern face, showing bands of shale, limestone, and greenstone:
Joseph southwest.jpg
The Chief Joseph summit is a remnant cap of Columbia River basalt:
Joseph summit.jpg
I found Portland Hiker Eric Peterson’s entry in the register (8/31 I think) requesting advice on a descent route. I was about to scratch out a reply, but thought a response in person would be more useful. I searched around but could not find him (or his mortal remains), but recent posts by his avatar intimate that he survived the trip. There were two Labor Day entries after Peterson’s, both of these parties having come up from Thorp Creek.

Here’s the view south from Chief Joseph. In the center is the Hurwal summit. To the left are Bonneville Mt., Pete’s Point, Sentinel Peak, Cusick Mt. and Red Mt. (in the far distance); to the right of Hurwal are Eagle Cap, the intermediate point between the Matterhorn and Sacajawea, and Sacajawea (shielding the Matterhorn).
Wallowas south.jpg
I had planned to spend a couple of hours messing about on Chief Joseph’s north ridge botanizing and searching for the elusive mountain sheep that are supposed to live there, but the wind had come up, and a squall that had been loitering over the Minam had now reached the Lostine and was blowing my way, so I decided to get down. I headed back the Chief Joseph ridge to the saddle and then angled down fell fields, pine and subalpine fir parklands, and a few chutes until I intersected the Thorp Creek Trail about a quarter mile from the meadows. The rain hit and then dissipated, and I spent the rest of the day wandering about the upper reaches of the creek below Sacajawea’s cirque, which in the past I have used as a descent route from her summit.
Thorp Creek.jpg
My next destination on this short trip was in the Blue Mountains, which I shall post about separately if I have the time.

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texasbb
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by texasbb » September 12th, 2011, 5:01 pm

Awesome, bobcat. I love the Wallowas and yet there's SO MUCH of it I haven't seen...

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Eric Peterson
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by Eric Peterson » September 12th, 2011, 6:32 pm

I found Portland Hiker Eric Peterson’s entry in the register (8/31 I think) requesting advice on a descent route. I was about to scratch out a reply, but thought a response in person would be more useful.
That were me.

I have a thread from the day as well describing the ordeal I went through -

http://www.portlandhikers.org/forum/vie ... f=8&t=9344

That's fun that you saw my entry! :P

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awildman
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by awildman » September 12th, 2011, 7:21 pm

Bobcat, you're a great writer. I can almost hear the Ken Burns voiceover and quiet violin music in the background. :)
Rambling on at Allison Outside

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fettster
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by fettster » September 12th, 2011, 8:09 pm

Love that Chief Joseph picture! You should submit that for a photo contest or calendar if there is one. Those goat pictures are dramatic as well. Fun trip, wish I could've been along!

Thunder Thigh 3
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by Thunder Thigh 3 » September 12th, 2011, 9:25 pm

Thank you for this splendid report - well written, enjoyable read... and I learned some new things! I especially liked the flower pictures - some I did not know, and will now know to look for them next time I am in that neck of the woods.

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bobcat
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by bobcat » September 14th, 2011, 6:20 pm

@ Eric Peterson: Well, of course I peruse your posts. Just wish I had been up there on 8/31 with my little library of Topos and wilderness maps. I could have pointed you down a leisurely ridge with views galore to intersect the human trails down to camp. But then, what's life without suffering and a few little war stories . . . .

@others: Every summer I attempt to troll a ridge or two in the Wallowas. It's my annual attempt at contact with the sublime . . .

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Eric Peterson
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by Eric Peterson » September 14th, 2011, 6:41 pm

Hey Bobcat, I was going to go down this one which was just less than a mile WEST from the
very top of CJMT -
20110831115448.jpg
But the gal state park ranger said to go down BC Creek drainage. I also saw a great
chute that was more towards the lake which I later found out from the gas attendant
in Joseph that I should have taken that down. Live and learn, and I will for sure
pick up the Barstad Eagle Cap book for the next time I visit. In fact the trail I eventually
hooked up with next to BC Creek might actually go all the way up to the HurWal ridge lines,
it may be what she meant but I stayed too close to BC Creek almost the entire way
down and missed it until the very end...

cfm
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by cfm » September 14th, 2011, 6:43 pm

Hey Bobcat, I was in the area last weekend too. Say, do you know what this plant is? This time of year it provides amazing fall color in the Wallowas and Elkhorns- it is profuse on slopes from 5-7000 ft. The flowers are inconspicuous, I finally found some intact blooms. All I can figure is it's some kind of knotweed or Polygonum.
redstuff.jpg
bloom.jpg
Eaglecreek.jpg

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bobcat
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Re: Wallowas: Thorp Creek, Hurwal Divide, Chief Joseph Mt.

Post by bobcat » September 14th, 2011, 7:01 pm

@cfm: It's Alpine knotweed (Polygonum phytolaccaefolium). It's all over the Wallowas, but also in the Blue Mountains and Cascades, although less obvious there.

@Eric Peterson: Yep, a straight creek descent in the Wallowas, not usually a great idea although it does point you in the right direction. The problem is never higher up - it's lower down when you run into falls, cliffs, etc, on the lips of hanging valleys where the glaciers cut.

John

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