Harney County Highpoint Trip Report
Date: August 17, 2009
Author: Edward Earl
Steens Mtn can be driven to within ½ 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 ¼ 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 2½ miles until it ends at a parking lot at the
9500' saddle about ½ mile N of Point 9733. At this point the road is gated;
the remaining ½ 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 2½ 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 ½ mile and 250' gain from car to summit.