Oregon June 2004 Trip Report

(Click on any image for enlargement.)


I had set the goal of completing the Beaver State this year, i.e. reaching the highest point of every county in the state. Seventeen counties remained to be tackled, nearly one-half the total of thirty-six. Seasonality considerations, described here, determined when a pair of visits would occur.

The most challenging summit of the Oregon county highpoints is unquestionably Mount Jefferson, highpoint of both Jefferson and Linn Counties. Its summit lies atop The Pinnacle, the final, precipitous obstacle to any climbing attempt.

Mount Jefferson
Mount Jefferson in August
from the southwest
(courtesy of Bob Bolton).
As with all Cascade stratovolcanoes, the rock on Mount Jefferson is crumbly, nasty stuff - prone to let loose and fall on its own accord without notice, with warm conditions hastening the process. Hence every peak from Mount Shasta in northern California to Mount Baker near Canada is best attempted in the early summer climbing season.

Another noteworthy goal was to climb Sacajawea - highest point of the Wallowa Range in northeast Oregon, and highpoint of Wallowa County. Best climbed in late summer, such as around Labor Day, Sacajawea has two main approach routes. The shorter route, fourteen miles round-trip, is done as a dayhike but has a stream crossing which is high in early summer owing to meltwater descending from the peaks. The longer route, twenty miles round-trip, is normally done as an overnight backpack, with a camp at beautiful Ice Lake just east of Matterhorn, the sister summit immediately souther of Sacajawea. Since the dayhike is feasible only later in the season, an ascent of Sacajawea is preferably attempted at that time.

The north face of Sacajawea
seen from Thorp Creek
(courtesy of Bob Bolton).
The two major peaks remaining for my Oregon state completion bid suggested competing vacation times. Given limited finances, it was not reasonable to consider two separate visits, the travel expenses being nearly doubled with such a proposal. I scheduled my (single) summer return to Oregon for June instead of, say, August, because lack of snow on the infamous traverse under the west face of The Pinnacle is considered treacherous - a traverse required in nearly any Mount Jefferson summit bid that approaches the mountain from the south or southwest as I planned to.

Apart from the great peaks, over a dozen other county highpoints remained in my sights. Northwest Oregon is intense logging country, and some of the highpoints are on the private grounds of major logging corporations, e.g. Weyerhauser. In particular, the Lincoln and Polk County highpoints have nearby logging roads with locked gates several miles from their highpoints. The gates are opened to the public only in the late fall for hunting season. That said, my observations indicate that one may walk-in at any season from the gates, motorized transport being prohibited.

It is clear that Lincoln and Polk Counties are preferably visited during hunting season - so suggesting two separate trips to Oregon, one in late June and one around November 1.

Of the seventeen counties remaining for my state completion, fifteen, as all but Lincoln and Polk Counties, were fair game on the current June trip.

Trip Details

Monday, June 21

The afternoon flight to Portland was uneventful apart from some good east-facing views of Crater Lake, Mount Thielsen, and Mount Jefferson.

Terry Richard met me, outdoors writer for The Oregonian, and, after retrieving gear from his home, drove us to the base of Olallie Butte for the following morning.

Mosquitoes were a major headache as I ate supper and attempted to sleep outdoors on a tarp with sleeping bag. Sunset on this, the longest day of the year, was well past nine p.m.

Tuesday, June 22

Olallie Butte is the highest summit in-between Mount Hood to its north, and Mount Jefferson immediately south. The Wasco County highpoint is a liner - a theoretical point on the northeast slope where the county boundary happens to bisect the mountain. Our goal was this point, one reached by cross-country travel and aided by map, compass, and GPS technology.

The summit trail became buried in snow at about 5,500 feet elevation. In light of the snow conditions, we decided to nix our initial plan of reaching the summit followed by descent to the sought-after liner. After all, the principal goal was to reach the county highpoint, with the summit, remarkably, being secondary.

The volcanic rock on the northeast face was loose and steep. After descending some 200 vertical feet, my GPS unit suggested we were as close to the liner (6,280- feet) as is possible to achieve given our state of knowledge.

In the interest of time, I decided to forego the summit - getting there would consume two additional hours - time possibly required for a late afternoon approach to expedite our next highpoint bid the following day.

The large amount of snow was unusual for late June, a fact that ominously suggested that my highpointing plans would be adversely effected for the remainder of my trip.

We drove through Detroit, a small town immediately northwest of Mount Jefferson. After refreshments, including ice cream, blueberry yogurt and soda pop, we drove to the trailhead for our next highpoint - the Marion County liner high on the northwest slopes of Mount Jefferson.

The Marion County liner lies at 9,000 feet along a north-south trending ridge in-between the Jefferson Glacier to the west, and the Whitewater Glacier to the east. With a trailhead elevation of 4,100 feet, the large elevation gain and horizontal round-trip distance suggests that a backcountry camp would save time for the following "summit" day. Thereby we filled our overnight packs and headed up the trail around 4:30 p.m., our goal being to camp at Jefferson Lakes, at some 5,800 feet, immediately under Mount Jefferson. In so doing a twelve hour, 4,900 foot day becomes a nine hour, 3,200 foot day.

It was not to be. Snow became an issue at 5,500 feet, at times burying the dry trail and forcing us to search for the trail farther ahead as it reappeared at the opposite end of the snow bank. The showstopper came when we had to cross Whitewater Creek. The stream was flowing high, and was bordered by overhanging snow on both banks. A snowbridge was available for the crossing, but neither Terry nor I wanted to risk the attempt since failure would mean a life threatening fall into the torrent of near-freezing water. We agreed to camp on the near bank of the stream and search for safe passage early in the morning.

I considered the chances for actually locating a safe crossing, envisioning all manner of scenarios for how I could complete Oregon should I fail to reach the Marion County liner the following day.

After a cold supper of kosher salami, sourdough bread and hot mustard (plus extra-aged gouda cheese), I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept soundly from "9 to 5".

Wednesday, June 23

Terry woke me with "Adam!" from his tent, and, ice axe and crampons stored, we headed upstream at 6:30 a.m. in search of a crossing point. In less than ten minutes we located a snowbridge that seemed sturdy enough to support our individual body weights with daypack. We crossed without incident, Terry placing colored tape on nearby tree branches to indicate the crossing point on our return. I saved a GPS waypoint.

We ascended mainly on snow, reaching a prominent 7,400 foot hill described in a previous trip report by Ken Jones. The going was slow on sections which required climbing on scree, especially from some 8,400 to 8,800 feet immediately prior to reaching the main ridge on which lies the Marion liner.

We left our packs at 8,800 feet and walked uphill, GPS in-hand, some 400 feet south and 200 feet higher still, to the area of the theoretical point representing the highest land in Marion County. The ridge becomes progressively steeper, and is transformed into a nearly impassible cliff formation at about 9,200 feet.

Terry Richard took numerous photographs of the mountain, its surrounds, and of myself - all with the goal of documenting the experience for an article about county highpointing.

Terry just became the first Oregon resident to complete his state!!

We descended to our packs, enjoyed the views along with lunch, and descended uneventfully to camp in a remarkably short time owing to favorable snow conditions, returning at 1:35 p.m. - some seven hours after starting out.

I had broken down my tent in the morning and just lounged on my groundpad munching food before filling my overnight backpack for the downhill hike - one which commenced at 2:30 p.m. and concluded some two hours later.

On the hike out I spied the summit area of Mount Jefferson and found The Pinnacle to be nearly completely covered in snow and/or ice. I was upset by this observation since it did not look climbable by any of the contemplated routes.

In Detroit I rewarded myself with a pint of Ben & Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Chunk ice cream, into which I mixed leftover granola bars of assorted flavors.

Terry drove us back to the Portland area where he kindly left me at Bob Bolton's home - staging point for my next climbing venue. Terry returned home to enjoy his birthday with family.

I relayed to Bob my observations of route conditions near the summit of Mount Jefferson, and since I had organized a climb of Mount Jefferson with a total of six members, we agreed to immediately notify expedition members of my observations.

The weather forecast was not rosy either, calling for possible lightning / showers for our summit day. Given all the information at-hand, through a combination of telephone calls and E-mail dialogue we took a vote, and concluded that the climb should be cancelled unless the weather forecast improved markedly the following morning.

The Pinnacle
The Pinnacle in May
covered in snow and ice.
(courtesy of Eric Hoffman).
I had decided to share my observations even though I would be the most adversely effected by a cancellation due to the distances and travel expenses from San Diego. A few months ago a fellow county highpointer called me "selfish" to my face ... a position that I cannot reconcile given the above description. Indeed, other expedition members, being residents of Oregon or Washington, had ample opportunity for an attempt later in the summer. In contrast, I cannot simply fly to Oregon from San Diego at the "drop of a hat".

Part of climbing is knowing when to say "enough is enough" in light of objective hazards. Presently, it appeared an exceedingly dangerous and unlikely proposition that we could summit on Mount Jefferson with rime ice adorning The Pinnacle. Rime ice is the typical form that frozen water assumes along the favored route, namely, the northwest slope of The Pinnacle's north horn. At its best, rime ice is virtually unclimbable.

Bob Bolton noted that Oregon had experienced strange weather with little snow in the winter months, followed by heavy snow in May. The resulting snowpack had not melted - so explaining the conditions on Olallie Butte and Mount Jefferson.

I enjoyed supper wih the Boltons and slept well in the library/television room.

Thursday, June 24

Now with three extra days at my disposal, I could start my county-collecting spree in earnest without having to wait for the Mount Jefferson climb to terminate. After a relaxing day at the Bolton's, Rhonda, Bob's wife, drove me to Portland Airport where I rented my passenger car three days earlier than originally scheduled.

Thereby at 6 p.m. I drove east on I-84 towards Sherman County. I managed to visit its highpoint after sunset, having started the hike at around nine and finishing at ten o'clock. I slept atop the back seats with yet another county highpoint to my credit - albeit one far less challenging than a Mount Jefferson!

Friday, June 25

My first full day alone in search of county highpoints. I intended to make maximal use of the considerable amount of daylight hours at these northerly latitudes around the summer solstice.

The next goal was Gilliam County. I used a new approach route, recommended by Bob Bolton (although not used by him). Details are provided in this trip report.

Spanish Peak
Spanish Peak from one-half
mile down spur road 200.
After a four hour driving approach I reached the spur road leading to the summit of Spanish Peak - the Wheeler County highpoint. Details are provided in this trip report.

It was Friday. The counties of northwest Oregon are preferably visited on the weekend owing to log trucks that will run you over from Monday to Friday. Thereby I drove west on highway 26 to a campground in the Ochoco National Forest, arriving by eight p.m. with enough time to eat supper in light before sunset around nine.

Spanish Peak
View northwest from the
Spanish Peak summit to a
late season snowdrift.
A typical day for me on this trip involved fourteen hours of "useful activity", from a six a.m. awakening to an eight p.m. finish. That left me with enough time to enjoy two hours of "downtime", sleeping by ten p.m. so as to get eight hours of rest for the following day. At home I do not maintain fourteen hour workdays - however, when county highpointing, "You do what you gotta do.".

Saturday, June 26

I started the day with an all-morning drive, via Portland, to Yamhill County. After some initial difficulty locating the correct dirt logging road, Trask Toll Road, I found myself on a short hike to the top of Trask Mountain, the Yamhill County highpoint. Details are provided in this trip report.

Tillamook forest cuts
Swaths of cut timber near
Rogers Peak of Tillamook County.
It is around sunset - about 9 p.m.
The approach road for the next county highpoint, Tillamook, is quite steep at times. I started my hike at 4 p.m. and did not conclude it until around sunset owing to a deteriorated trail which I could not follow; and a nasty bushwhack that I did to attain the highpoint nonetheless. Rogers Peak has over 2,000 feet of prominence. Details are provided in this trip report.

I slept at a gravel pit nearly at the base of the approach road, eating supper by headlamp.

Sunday, June 27

Washington County's Saddle Mountain has two possible highpoints. I visited both by morning from my parked car at the intervening saddle. Details are provided in this trip report.

Saddle Mountain
The final 400 vertical feet of
Clatsop County's Saddle Mountain.
Note the hikers as white specks on-trail.
By late morning I was enroute to the Columbia County highpoint. The hike lasted some forty five minutes and was quite enjoyable apart from a short bushwhack up the southwest slope.

Clatsop County's Saddle Mountain is a popular hike in a state park. The total elevation gain on ascent from the carpark is 1,800 feet, and was achieved in 1 hour 1 minute amidst a throng of casual hikers. Once on top I scrambled through the railing to reach the very highest boulder, explaining to surprised onlookers that it must be done for "full credit".

Still just 5 p.m. I drove back east, through Portland, and camped at Ainsworth State Park off of exit 35 on I-84. RV spaces were $16 while tent spaces were $14. I slept in my car and, after explaining to the camp manager that I was not using either resource, managed to sleep for free.

Monday, June 28

Mount Hood from Buck Peak
Mount Hood from the summit of
Buck Peak in Multnomah County.
My plan as of Sunday was to simply use today as a driving day, arriving in Enterprise, Oregon for an ascent of Sacajawea Peak commencing Tuesday. However I was far enough on my way, being east of Portland, that I decided to climb Buck Peak of Multnomah County today and then drive to Wallowa County.

Details of my Buck Peak experience are provided in this trip report.

I took a motel room in La Grande, Oregon, saving the final sixty-two miles to Enterprise for the next morning. There was no need to get all the way to the trailhead because I planned upon a two-day climb, commencing in the afternoon with a backpack up to Ice Lake for Tuesday night, an itinerary in turn based upon a weather forecast of clearing skies by mid-day.

Buck Peak
Buck Peak is at right center
in this view from the south
along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Tuesday, June 29

Sacajawea never happened. The Ranger station personnel advised me that

* Nobody that season had yet attempted Sacajawea owing to persistent snow.
* The snow level was perhaps 7,000 feet - so making for a snow camp at Ice Lake (7,854 feet).
* The Thorp Creek stream crossing is impassible because of a storm the previous day that,
    in addition, had raised the level of Wallowa Lake by one foot.

Still set on the climb, I purchased extra food at a store in Joseph - a half dozen wheat bagels, a package of neuchatel cream cheese, extra candy bars, and a blueberry doughnut. Then I considered my options more carefully.

Buck Peak lake and wildflowers
Lost Lake and wildflowers along
the Huckleberry Mountain Trail
on descent from Buck Peak.
Clearly the dayhike, involving traversal of Thorp Creek, was out-of-the-question, leaving a backpack to Ice Lake as my sole choice. The trail would be covered in snow, forcing me to posthole in soft snow, without snowshoes, to a high camp on snow. I had no snow stakes for my tent.

Figuring that my chances were just 50/50, I decided to bail out, promising myself a return to Wallowa County in early August, under favorable conditions, as part of my next county highpointing trip - one to Utah and Wyoming with the chief goal of climbing Gannett Peak, the Wyoming state highpoint.

My mother kindly changed my return flight to four days earlier, seeing as both Mount Jefferson, a two or three day effort, and now Sacajawea, a two day affair, were both cancelled. She even paid the $50 processing fee. Part of my decision was based upon being able to return my rental four days sooner - so avoiding a roughly $35 daily charge once taxes and insurance are included.

Columbia River Gorge cliffs
The Columbia River Gorge features
many roadside cliffs. Photograph taken
on the drive east to Wallowa County.
A mammoth driving session ensued. I enjoyed the blueberry doughnut with a carton of chocolate milk to which I had added coffee crystals, and, loaded with caffeine and sugar, started from Joseph at 11:45 a.m., westbound for Portland, and, eventually, Benton County.

Five hundred miles later, I found myself at the summit parking lot of Mary's Peak, the Benton County highpoint, at about 8:30 p.m. The hike was trivial, some 0.6 mile one-way with a 300 foot elevation gain. Upon reaching the top I was rewarded with good views at sunset.

I used my cell telephone to call mother, my best friend Edward Earl (who had cancelled his flight to climb Mount Jefferson), and Bob Bolton. Mary's Peak has over 3,000 feet of prominence.

Marys Peak summit
The summit of Marys Peak
is humble and unassuming.
I had amassed twelve of the fifteen county highpoints originally contemplated, the three expections having arisen owing to late season snow that made for difficult (Sacajawea) or dangerous (Mount Jefferson) climbing conditions.

I drove down one-half mile to a campground, ate supper on the trunk as usual, and slept with exceptional depth.

Wednesday, June 30

I was in the neighborhood of both Lincoln and Polk counties. Thereby I decided to scout them out in preparation for my return trip around November 1. There was also the slight chance that by some miracle their gates were open, on this, a weekday in summer.

Marys Peak and coast ranges
View northwest from summit of
Marys Peak towards numerous
Oregon coast ranges.
Alas, both counties await my return. For Polk County I had tried getting to the highpoint via Forest Service roads from an alternative starting point, yet to no avail. I then returned to the locked gate and slept in my car, simply waiting for somebody to show up. When a Weyerhauser worker appeared in his truck, I explained my purpose, the expense of returning in the fall, and even bribed him to take me as his passenger for fifty dollars. He informed me that non-motorized access is allowed year-round, if one is willing to go on-foot (or on bicycle) the entire distance.

For Lincoln County a locked gate also blocked entry, this time at highway 18, as the private Murphy Road. A sign indicated that walk-in entry is allowed. I suspect that for both counties, both landowner and hunter realize that nobody is willing to walk-in. Hence the "walk-in" clause is as good as forbidding entry under any conditions.

I made a counterclockwise driving loop so as to enjoy views along the Oregon coast, stopping in Lincoln City for fresh vegetables and salmon to have later as part of a midday picnic, or as it turned out, as part of supper near my next venue.

Oregon coast
The Oregon coast was a brief
diversion from county collecting.
Hours later I found myself back at Detroit, near Mount Jefferson. I had an early supper with salmon candy, cream cheese, scallions, chili peppers and bagel - topped off with a large ice cream novelty and a can of A&W root beer as I drove on Forest Road 46 to the base of Olallie Butte for a summit attempt the following morning. Salmon candy, a local specialty, has some teriyaki or soy marinade and much sugar. It is totally delectable.

Thursday, July 1

I awoke at 4:54 a.m. and was on the trail at 5:30 p.m. The snowline was perhaps 500 feet higher than nine days earlier, and still was an issue. I could not make good purchase into the snow with my boot heels owing to the earliness of the hour, and, in the interest of safety contoured east to the north summit ridge where I scrambled up a snow-free scree slope with much effort.

I topped-out at 7:54 a.m. and enjoyed marvelous views of both Mount Jefferson immediately to the south, and Mount Hood to the north. I also saw the Three Sisters farther south still, as well as both distant Mount Adams around the east flank of Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens farther to the north and west.

Maple fudge with frozen chocolate fudge bars and a peanut butter granola bar in the car, air conditioning running full, just prior to leaving Detroit for a motel in the Portland area. Wonderful combinations of maple, peanut butter granola (and whole cashews), with and without the frozen chocolate confections!

I enjoyed my evening at the Day's Inn, located off exit 28 of I-205 in Vancouver, just a few miles inside Washington. I especially liked the cheese streusel muffins at the free continental breakfast the next morning.

Adam back in San Diego
I return to San Diego.
The shuttle van concierge moved
while photographing me.
Friday, July 2

While at the Portland airport I attended a gift store specializing in items produced in Oregon that are recognized as indigenous to the area. I mailed to my folks a gift package of assorted edibles, to be enjoyed by myself the next time I visit them. The contents include salmon chowder, smoked salmon paté, and trout jerky; smoked hazelnuts, hazelnut brittle, and hazelnut chocolate fudge; plus marionberry vinegar/marinade and extra-aged white artisanal cheddar cheese from the Oregon coast.

My mid-day flight was uneventful. I did, however, spy Mount Jefferson from the west at perhaps fifteen miles, and, at the limit of my ability to resolve detail, noted that The Pinnacle was now snow-free on its west face ... although the northwest flank, as the most desirable climbing route, was still dressed in white.

Later we passed over Mount Thielsen, Crater Lake, and Lassen Peak.


After some 2,300 road miles in my rental, twelve counties put my total county area at some 800,000 square miles. In addition, I unexpectedly set a new Oregon county highpoint one week speed record of eleven counties - as either of June 22-28 or June 23-29. Had I not driven needlessly to eastern Oregon on Monday only to return west the following day, all twelve counties would have fit neatly into a seven day window.

Here is my county highpoints completion map resulting from this trip. Note the violet, representing concrete plans of a return visit, for Wallowa County's Sacajawea in the northeast corner of Oregon, on my next summer county highpointing trip.

I will return in the late fall for Lincoln and Polk Counties; and, at the latest, next summer for Mount Jefferson.