Oregon and Washington end October early November 2004 Trip Report
© November 2004 Adam Helman


Prior to this trip I had but four counties remaining for an Oregon state completion. Of these, two, Lincoln and Polk Counties, are in logging country. Their approaches entail gates that are locked apart from hunting season. Hence they are efficiently visited only in the fall - so explaining the late timing of my trip.

The remaining pair of counties are represented by a single highpoint, Mount Jefferson. It was to have been climbed in late June. However unusual weather and the resulting snow/ice conditions suggested postponement until the following summer.

To make the journey more worthwhile, I added several lower elevation Washington counties that would still be doable despite the late season. I have not dedicated myself to a Washington state completion. Therefore success of this trip depended upon getting just Lincoln and Polk Counties.

Trip Details

The original itinerary called for a primary weekend wherein both Lincoln and Polk Counties would be secured. Logging operations cease on the weekend, obviating the concern about trucks hogging the road and essentially leaving no room for other vehicles.

The following work week, starting Monday, would be used for additional counties in Washington. A secondary weekend would be added to the trip, by delaying my return flight, in case either Lincoln or Polk Counties, for whatever reason, were not secured on the primary weekend.

Weather in the Pacific Northwest in late fall is quite blustery, with rain and short daylight hours quite certain to be in the forecast. True to form, I ended up shortening my trip by a full four days because of a combination of weather and access issues. My return flight was originally set for seven days after my outbound flight. I ended up returning after just three days, however with four new counties to my credit - including both Lincoln and Polk Counties.

Friday, October 29

My Southwest Airlines flights were at midday, and I arrived in Portland, Oregon at 2:20 p.m. The Enterprise reservation, an economy vehicle, was upgraded at no additional charge to a Jeep Cherokee with both high-clearance and four-wheel drive! It was a bargain - $110 with all taxes and surcharges, for an entire week.

I drove to Falls City where I met J.M. at a convenience store around a quarter of six. I transferred all of my gear to his vehicle (a Jeep Cherokee, it so-happens); had yet another (hot) cappuccino drink from the store for its caffeine content; and we started up the approach road for the Polk County highpoint.

J.M. was driver and I the navigator. After a false start up the wrong road, we headed back to town and "got it right". It was a "first" for us to negotiate unfamiliar, unmarked backcountry roads by night with only a GPS unit, map and dead reckoning to locate ourselves. Of GREAT help was to have written down the UTM coordinates of all road junctions prior to leaving San Diego.

We parked short of the upper, locked gate at K-Junction, and started hiking, without artificial light, in complete darkness at 7:48 p.m. Near the summit we entered the cloud, a light mist/drizzle enveloping us, the temperature about 40° F and the wind perhaps 5-10 m.p.h. I had planned upon using the nearly full moon for visibility. However the weather precluded any such opportunity.

From behind some evergreens we walked a short distance to the small meadow's highest area, under the cover of both darkness and the low-visibility conditions.

The entire hike, some four miles, ended just after nine p.m., and was a surreal experience given the darkness and weather. In some sense, Polk County was the crux hike for this trip - and a sense of relief fell over us while both hiking back to the vehicle and driving down the mountain.

We caravaned to Grand Ronde for Lincoln County the next day, sleeping in our respective vehicles at the outskirts of town.

Saturday, October 30

It rained from midnight until about 2 or 3 a.m., the pitter-patter on my vehicle's roof both preventing a good sleep and causing concern for the following day's efforts.

We awoke at 7 a.m., just around first light. We ate some breakfast at a convenience store - although I only had coffee with some Oregon hazelnut brittle and some Pepperidge Farm Milano chocolate cookies.

I parked my vehicle and transferred gear to J.M.'s truck at the open gate, located along highway 18 and leading to the maze of logging roads that would get us to the pair of highpoints for Lincoln County.

It was another navigational triumph to successfully negotiate the road grid without getting lost or even wasting time. The eastern highpoint, spot elevation 3,401 feet, was done with a 1/3 mile hike (one-way distance) and some 300 feet of elevation gain.

Next came the western highpoint, an unnamed 3,400+ foot summit. After a 2/3 mile (one-way) hike we arrived, cross-country and quite damp, to the pair of bumps on the summit ridge noted by Bob Bolton. Only a county highpointer would do this - the combination of bad weather, lack of views, and lack of technical climbing issues suggested that nobody in his right mind would reach this place were climbing "real mountains" to be the driving force.

On the drive downhill J.M. told me he would be heading home instead of joining me for any more counties. He had no interest in Washington counties and had other weekend items to attend to - especially since it was not even noon on Saturday! He treated me to lunch at a convenience store (although I had my choice of fancier venues). Cheese burrito with hot sauce (more like a chimichanga since the crust was fried), and a large egg roll. More hot chocolate for desert - this time with a Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie.

In total over the three days I ended up having eight hot beverages while passing through towns with gas station / convenience store establishments. Without a stove for heating my own food, given the generally miserable weather it was a joy to have "something" hot. Various combinations of a coffee / hot cocoa / cappuccino theme prevailed, enjoyed with Oregon hazelnut brittle, superb hazelnut chocolate fudge, and the cookies noted above.

The brittle and fudge were part of a gift package that I mailed to my parents from the Portland Airport last June. The cookies were part of a large, take-home food package received while visiting my parents over Rosh Hashanah in September. I find it ironic that these Oregon-based foods would travel to Southern California only to be enjoyed, at long-last, in their place of origin.

I drove through Portland and into Washington for Pacific County the next morning. Eventually I camped near an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Pe Ell. After supper in the back of my truck I read a chemistry journal by headlamp for one hour. I reset my cellular telephone, watch and GPS unit to Pacific Standard Time since the shift would occur at 2 a.m. that morning. The vehicle clock could not be reset.

Sunday, October 31

It had been a cold night. Ice encrusted the front windshield and had to be removed before driving out. The hot coffee in Pe Ell was exceedingly welcome - without it, all I had to drink was cold water - a disgusting prospect on a freezing morning.

The temperature rose as my rental vehicle ascended the logging road grid, increasing from about freezing to some 40° F prior to parking at the bermed road some one-third west of the desired highpoint. The valleys were acting as cold-traps. On reaching the summit I noted that every valley was filled with low-lying fog, with clear skies higher up. Clearly some temperature inversion was taking place.

I returned to Pe Ell, and headed for Thurston County via route 6, Interstate 5, route 12, and route 7. All relevant gates were open for the season, and I managed to coax the vehicle all the way to the end of the road approach as given in previous trip reports.

The final two miles, on FR017 I believe, was narrowly defined by small evergreens that threatened to steal the poor car antenna on multiple occasions. Thank goodness the antenna is extremely skinny and hence flexible - able to snap back to its vertical position after being bent downwards by evergreen branches.

The hike itself lasted about one-half hour, entailed some 300 feet of gain and perhaps a quarter mile of horizontal travel each way. I found the summit register left by previous highpointers, yet did not sign-in.

By one p.m. I was back in Morton City where I stopped at yet another convenience store for both gasoline and snack food. The Chai tea packet required hot water, yet I could only find assorted coffee and cappuccino dispensers. Thinking quickly, I filled a plastic cup, intended for coffee, with soft-serve ice cream! The chai tea spices (cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg etc...) went great in the ice cream - into which I crumbled pieces of a Butterfinger wafer bar - a new product with peanut butter cream interleaved between layers of sugar wafer, all coated in milk chocolate.

However I really wanted something hot. So I entered the store again and got hot chocolate - into which I mixed the remaining one-half of the chai tea mix and another inch of the Butterfinger wafer. It was absolutely delicious! At Portland Airport the next day I found an advertisement for chai-flavored cheesecake in the brochure of a gourmet foods company. Given these experiences, I will be experimenting with chai-based dessert combinations in the near future.

I drove to Wahkiakum County, hoping to find a cheap motel in Cathlamet. Only bed-and-breakfast establishments were found, and they were sold out even on a Sunday evening. Eventually I car-camped at County Line Park, located eight miles east, right along route 4 and at tidewater along an arm of the Columbia River. The camp host allowed me to stay for free, likely because I was not using any RV facilities or tent space.

After supper and while reading a chemistry journal, I heard what at first sounded like a truck approaching with excessive slowness. Peeking up and turning off my headlamp, it was a river barge carrying cargo downriver. Later on a paddlewheel steamer plied upriver - evidently a tourist-driven market exists that I was unaware of.

Monday, November 1

It rained for part of the night, and was still raining at 5:30 a.m. when my alarm sounded. Donning all of my GoreTex raingear, I used the facilities and then drove the eight miles west to Cathlamet for that all-important hot coffee with assorted sweets.

The weather was, as usual, not cooperating. I drove up the approach road, and to my disappointment found the lower of two gates locked. Previous trip reports had spoken of just the upper gate being locked during hunting season - so making for a ten mile round-trip hike to the highpoint. In contrast from the lower gate it would be a twenty-two mile round-trip hike, today with just ten hours of light under rain, blowing wind and forty degree temperatures - perfect for a case of hypothermia!

The weather forecast called for improved weather on Wednesday.

There were three county highpoints remaining on the itinerary. In each case the current conditions suggested that the best plan was to abandon further efforts -

I drove back to Cathlamet and, at a pay phone booth, called Southwest Airlines and changed my return flight for that very afternoon. After white chocolate / caramel cappuccino I headed east on route 4 bound for Portland.

The pair of return flights (via Sacramento) were unremarkable. In contrast, the Wendy's sour cream and chive stuffed potato at Portland Airport was wonderfully cheap for airport food ($1.09). In fact, the entire menu seemed to be no pricier than a regular establishment. Some blue-veined cheese brought even more flavor to the party.


This final county highpointing journey for 2004 brings to fifty-four my year's county count, fifty-one of which are in the western states. With 248 western counties, I have more-or-less done sixty percent of the West.

I look forward to completing Oregon next year on a major summit - Mount Jefferson - along with county highpointer Dean Molen who also has thirty-four (of thirty-six) Oregon counties to his credit.