Harney County Highpoint Trip Report

Steens Mountain

Date: August 17, 2009
Author: Edward Earl

Steens Mtn can be driven to within mile horizontal and 250' vertical of the summit but is remotely located. I got gas in Burns; at a distance of some 90 miles from the summit, it's still the nearest available, and you should head for the mountain with a full tank. From Burns I headed 2 miles E on OR-78, then turned S on OR-205 for 59 miles to Frenchglen, which consists of just a few houses and a B&B (but no gas, as already mentioned). Just beyond Frenchglen I turned L (E) on the Steens Mtn Loop. This unpaved but well-graded gravel BLM tourist road, which is suitable for any street legal vehicle, heads up the very gentle W slope of the range. After 26 miles I came to a 3-way fork. The L branch goes just mile to a parking lot at an overlook near Point 9730, which some say is a contending summit but most agree that it is 3 feet lower than Point 9733, which is 3 miles farther S. I visited Point 9730 just to silence the critics. I then drove the middle branch for 2 miles until it ends at a parking lot at the 9500' saddle about mile N of Point 9733. At this point the road is gated; the remaining mile would require 4WD to drive, but it makes a nice hike.

Not satisfied with a 250' gain on a peak with over 4000' prominence, I saw a trail that heads downhill to the W, so I decided to Earlize on this trail, which briefly levels out at a junction after losing a little over 100' elevation. The L branch of the junction heads S to Wildhorse Lake at 8400', a scenic lake surrounded by meadows in a bowl about 1000' below me. I hiked down to the lake. Since I'm fond of loop trips, I climbed to the summit of Steens not by reascending the trail, but by scrambling cross-country up a broad, ill-defined but easily followable ridge to the E. A little under 9000', I turned N up the similarly ill-defined but easily followable ridge S of the HP. The cross-country trek is mostly on grass, with an few easy class 2 lava boulders. The summit has a few radio towers and a register. I descended back to my truck via the gated road. It was a nice loop hike, requiring about 2 hours total.

Shame on everyone who tried to tell me that Earlizing Steens Mtn is a questionable proposition (and there were several such folks). The peak is nicely Earlizable on a established trail that's mostly in a wilderness area. Even if the trail weren't there, there are still good cross-country opportunities for Earlization that would make a quality recreational experience. The mountain deserves better than to be hiked a mere mile and 250' gain from car to summit.