Union County High Point Trip Report

Date: August 22, 2003
Author: Bill Jacobs

As Adam Helman so fittingly remarked, if he could choose one county highpoint to do over again, it would be Eagle Cap. (Of course, he might change his mind after he makes inroads into Florida and Louisiana.) The first seven miles amble through a serene valley with spectacular cliffs towering on both sides. Half way up the valley the imposing face of Eagle Cap comes into view and looms ahead for the remainder of the trail to Mirror Lake. The whole setting reminds you of the terrain commonly found in the California Sierra. You don't expect to find Yosemite-like topography in eastern Oregon. For a most memorable trip, try to include Union County in your travels through the Northwest.

The journey was made more enjoyable with the pleasant company of Dean Molen. We had planned to meet at Mirror Lake but Dean, exercising discretion, elected to bivouac in his car at the trailhead thus avoiding the camping joys of an all night downpour. When I arrived at the parking lot at 5:30 AM there was Dean sitting in his lawn chair with his miner's light cap on. Having never met Dean before I had no doubt the individual sitting in a lawn chair in the pitch dark, save for his miner's beacon, at 5:30 in the morning amidst the backdrop of an eerie forest could be anybody but a fellow Highpointer.

The route is fairly straightforward with the most vexing trail finding exercise being the starting point from the parking lot. We will let you figure that one out because if you can't, you don't have too far to go to return to your car. On the drive in, don't forget to dutifully wave to the Lostine Guard Station as instructed to by Ken Jones in his trip report. Parking at the Two Pan campground/Eagle Cap trailhead requires a seasonal pass or a one-day $5.00 charge, which can be purchased at the parking lot. For the first time this summer I render unto Caesar his due, having previously pressed my luck and escaped criminal charges in many another government lot throughout the wilds of Oregon and Washington - many do not have on-the- spot toll stations.

The first 7.3 miles follows the winding Lostine River to Mirror Lake. On this portion of the journey you share the trail with the equestrian crowd and their aromatic trappings. The topographical map then shows the trail switch-backing up to Harper Pass. However, a new trail, not depicted on the topos, breaks off to the southwest and takes a more direct route to Eagle Cap. A sign along the trail directs you to the cutoff. For a diversion on our return, we took the longer route to read a plaque at Harper Pass dedicated to none other than Mr. Harper for his many years in service to the ranger corps.

On the climb up we were told, falsely as it turned out, there was a Burger King on top. It was a Pizza Hut (Dean remembers a Dairy Queen). We met several interesting couples on the summit. One of the gals we were talking to seem to have some climbing credentials. We quickly cut to the chase to establish her bona fides and tactlessly asked her if she had ever climbed Bonanza. To our surprise she gave an awe-shucks, "Yeah". She didn't appear to feel she had done anything noteworthy.

Going up the backside of Eagle Cap brings into view some magnificent peaks to the south that we were unable to identify. On the top you have some gorgeous vistas of the highpoints of Wallowa County, Sacajawea Peak and Matterhorn. The many lakes and valleys going off in all directions are a sight to behold.

The trip is a long twenty miles with four thousand feet of elevation change. In the interest of time management Dean and I, two madcap guys in our seventh decade on this planet, had wanted to jog the entire trail for a little exercise but the beauty was so nice we decided to take up a leisurely saunter to better soak in the whole experience.