Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On to Idaho! - Summer 2016 - Part Six

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The Eagle Cap Wilderness

"Let's go home through Oregon!" I don't remember when in our trip the Lady made that statement. Memory serves me that it was early in the first half. And I don't know what prompted her decision, but that was it. When it came time, it was "Let's go home through Oregon!" Now it was time.

The heat was oppressive in Lewiston, Idaho but we took care of chores - stocked up on food, did some laundry, watched the temperature rise on the bank's sign across the street. We climbed south out of Lewiston into southeast Washington. What a climb! We kept heading south and going up until we entered Oregon and dropped into the Wallowa River Valley. This place, the Wallowa Valley, felt like a refuge to us, nestled up against the Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

We found a great dispersed campsite (but here they need to be signed as a designated - as in okay to camp here - site) along the Lostine River and settled in.

It had been a long, hot day of driving and chores. We were tired. We carried our chairs down to along the river and the sound of flowing water soothed us. A pair of dippers worked the river and a mule deer doe brought her twin fawns down to water across from us. Quietly watching scenes like this makes us feel like we fit in and are home. The Lady wondered if "Scaredy Bear" would come up this high. A large black bear was in the middle of the road on our drive in. It had been years since we had see a black bear in classic black color. He stepped off the road and disappeared as I reached for the camera.

We wandered up to the Two Pan Trailhead after supper. Deer were everywhere. There is a small campground near the trailhead. It was full. We wandered through and discovered anew why we like to walk in the evening and not sit and stare into a fire. A large classic four point mule deer buck worked his way browsing, walking along with us. He quietly moved between camp sites. No one else saw him. The campers were separated, distracted from the natural world all around them, as they stared into flames. They had also missed all the fire restrictions and no campfire signs.

Sunday would be a long hike up the Lostine River into the heart of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. The hike, of course, started with a creek crossing.

The trail climbs up the East Fork Lostine River. There are switchbacks to gain elevation in the lower canyon.

The upper canyon is a classic glacial valley.

Lakes Basin is at the head of the valley. This is wondrous alpine terrain.

Our last trip into the Eagle Cap Wilderness was in 1995 on a multiday backpack trip with the Big Guy. It was after a heavy winter and most of this terrain was still snow covered. We brought along an extra ice axe and, after a bit of instruction, the Big Guy did quite well.

Today the Mountain Heather was really the star up here with its purple beauty.

The high basin was an incredible alpine paradise.

The Eagle Cap was the high point to the south.

We continued up to the divide - called Carper Pass - between the East Fork and West Fork of the Lostine River.

The Lady has been to the summit of the Eagle Cap twice. The first time when she was a 19 year old college girl on her very first backpacking trip.

To make the summit today would have been a 20 to 22 mile day for us, doable with a nice early start around 6 am. Since we've been to the top, I suggested, instead, a loop hike over and down the West Fork of the Lostine, new territory for us. Still, I knew the Lady's attention would be drawn to the Eagle Cap's summit. We were so close. This is the Lady's discussion on this video.

The dominate rock here was granite. It reminded me of the classic High Sierra. Off to our northeast was the Matterhorn.

This view and looking at both the Matterhorn and Sacagawea peaks on Google Earth really gets me curious about the complex geology of the Wallowa Mountains.

We started down the west side of Carper Pass to Minam Lake.

Could this marvelous day get any better? Yes it could, with making a new friend. What would be the odds of two people both with lifetime involvement in bluegrass music meeting in the middle of the Eagle Cap Wilderness?

Terry Herd is the founder of the Bluegrass Radio Network and host of Into the Blue. Terry is also a four time recipient of the International Bluegrass Music Association's Broadcaster of the Year Award. Terry was on day 6 of a 10 solo backpacking trip.

Minam Lake sits right at the top of a divide. It is the headwater of two rivers. The West Fork of the Lostine flows out of Minam Lake to the north and the Minam River flows out of Minam Lake to the south. Minam River is part of the National Wild & Scenic River System.  

Our route back was down the West Fork Lostine. The upper valley was a classic wide glacially carved U shaped valley.

We returned to the trailhead after 9 hours of hiking and relaxing, completing a wonderful 18 mile day hike.

Since the calendar had advanced into August, all day I kept remembering that August day back in 1982, the day there was a knock on my door. I answered and there stood a healthy, fit young woman with long blonde hair. She was very direct, "Hi, I'm the new school teacher in town. I want to go hiking and everybody says to talk to you. Will you take me hiking?"

We have been taking each other hiking now for 34 years.

Our adventure continues in the final installment - Part Seven - Please Click Here


  1. Monte and Julie, what a treat! I haven't been up there in at least 15 years. Wow, I'm homesick!

  2. Julie and Monte, the winds of fortune were aligned for us that week. I love your photos and recap of the adventure. The Eagle Cap is one of the most beautiful and magical places I know of. As a native Oregonian, I've been hiking these trails since I was 16, and it always feels like coming home. Meeting you two was a special highlight. Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to seeing you on the trail again someday, hopefully soon.