Union County High Point Trip Report

Eagle Cap (9,572 ft)

Date: July 26, 2002
Author: Adam Helman

Canada - Mexico Link


After Barney Metz dropped me off in Boise for my rental, I was left to my own devices for attempting to establish a Canada to Mexico link after we were thwarted by fires in central Oregon that forced closures of multiple county highpoints.

I established the link via Red Mountain of Baker County, Oregon and Eagle Cap of Union County.

After climbing Red Mountain I took the next day off - which was a good thing since the weather turned stormy in the late afternoon when I'd have been high on Sacajawea Pk (of Wallowa County, Oregon) ... with an ice axe as a lightning rod.

You see, my intent had been to make the link via Wallowa County.

However, I was somewhat concerned about the level of effort for attempting Sacajawea in a single day (20 miles and 5,200 ft of gain). The real problem came upon noting that I'd have to ascend a forty-five degree scree slope for 1,200 vertical feet up the SE face ... AFTER hiking in nine miles with a 3,400 foot gain the same morning. No way. How do you climb a scree slope with a 100% grade in safety and without a partner?? I've DESCENDED beasts like that before (such as coming off of Kings Pk - the Utah state highpoint) ... but never ASCENDED such a slope.

The salvation came in a phone conversation with Edward Earl that evening while in my Enterprise motel room. Edward suggested that I consider Union County's Eagle Cap as an alternative to Sacajawea for creating my link: for it too, as with Wallowa County, borders Umatilla County on the west and Malheur County on the south (Barney and myself got both of these earlier in the trip).

Eagle Cap would involve a 20 mile hike, all on-trail, with a 4,000 foot elevation gain.

But I had no map since this was never planned!!!!

Excruciating decision that evening... do I attempt Sacajawea Pk with a very demanding stretch of scree slope that nobody in our group has documented .... or do I go for the well-trodden hike WITHOUT A MAP and with four trail junctions?

I located a kiosk outside the ranger station outside of town (Enterprise) with a rudimentary map of the trail grid around Eagle Cap. I then wagered to myself that I would find other people on the trail with whom I could consult their topos.

As evidence of my original intent to climb Sacajawea Peak, here is a scanned image of the top (white) copy of the US Forest Service wilderness visitor permit that is normally to be dropped in the box at the trailhead. It never got dropped into the box because I never took the wilderness journey indicated. Note the July 25 date of the afternoon prior to the contemplated journey.

As evidence of my actual climb of Eagle Cap, here is a scanned image of the bottom (yellow) copy of the US Forest Service wilderness visitor permit that is normally to be kept on one's person or inside one's pack while traveling. Note how in contrast to the form filled out for Sacajawea Pk, I did not indicate a number to contact in case of emergency. I was confident that Eagle Cap posed minimal objective hazards - at least in comparison to a solo ascent of Sacajawea Pk by an undocumented cross-country route that involves, among other things, a 1,200 vertical foot 45° scree slope.


See Ken Jones' report for trail directions.

If you are allowed to re-do just one county for the rest of your life - let it be this climb of Eagle Cap from the Two Pan trailhead!!

It is "drop dead" gorgeous with splendiferous views for the full circle atop Eagle Cap ... with glacier-carved high valleys, pristine lakes, and serrated ridge lines. Furthermore, you get to see the 3-4 mile long alpine meadow (its entire length) that you walked on your approach to the mountain's base.

The snow cover was just enough to make the final push interesting and also made for a more alpine and surreal setting than a completely dry mountainscape.

Upon reaching the summit I literally "shouted from the mountaintop" (as the famous expression goes),


The echo reverberated into and around the valley below for several seconds before silence again prevailed.

Simply beautiful beyond compare. I was the only hiker (among several parties) with a daypack: everybody else toted full-sized backpacks and camped overnight at the lake basin located 7.3 miles in from the trailhead. Guess I was the only peakbagger with the audacity (stupidity?) to try this in but one day.

The trail is explicit the entire way. The distance from the second to the third trail junction in Ken Jones' report is less than one hundred yards - not the "couple of hundred yards" that he reports.

When there is snow above the lake basin care should be taken to find the trail either through footprints in the snow, and, if that proves untenable, by very careful route selection with a topographic chart in hand.

I started at 5:01 AM and was back at my car in 9 hours 47 minutes (2:48 PM) including 35 minutes for summit lunch and two breaks in each direction. Took a motel room in Baker City that evening.