PO Saddle Campground to Memaloose
20.91 miles, 4,022’ Elevation Gain, 3,264’ Elevation Loss
When we got up and turned on my inreach I had 3 messages from Mike Higgins and my wife Suzy warning me to be careful with the wind today, with that I sent out a ping with my location for a weather forecast. It was then we learned that we had a major wind event headed our way, the potential for rain and colder weather, the wind though was the concern the forecast stated that later in the day/evening 35 mph winds with gust over 50 mph, and here were in the exposed country on the rim of Hells Canyon.
We all loaded up our packs with essentials for the day and tossed our gear in Ron’s van for another day of slackpacking. We left early with plans to meet Ron up at Memaloose at the end of the day. We started out the hike along an old road and the miles came easy this road is actual part of the Western Rim National Recreation trail, but with o cars it was just a very enjoyable wide trail for us. We found lots of water along the way which was unexpected and also noticed a lot of clouds building over the Seven Devils on the other side of the canyon. We hiked along noticing the shift in weather, the wind was increasing, and the temp was dropping fast.
We stopped at an old USFS/cowboy cabin for water and lunch. We had hoped to get out of the wind but there weren’t really options for that we put on some layers and sat there munching away. After we finished lunch, we figured we better get in some miles fast before the weather gave us a wallop, we had to get to Ron for our shelters so without any hesitation we loaded up and started to pound out the miles. The road became a trail and we followed it along the canyon rim until it dropped is onto a long arm connecting one-fold of Hells Canyon’s wall to another. The landscape was stunning and stopped briefly on freeze-out saddle for a quick photo. As we began our climb back up the rim a cold rain started up, not enough for a rain jacket but enough to be happy I had my umbrella. The views were with amazing views of deep canyons below and forest above on the rim all it under a wonderfully gray layered sky.
Right as we came up on the rim and hit the road, the rain got a bit stronger and then the hail started to hit us. We quickly dropped or packs and scrambled for all the layers we had to bundle up from the weather, crazy to think that a few day earlier we were suffering in nearly 100 degree heat, but so goes life in the Blue Mountains.
We passed a campground on the side of the road and carried on, a mile later saw Ron walking down the road towards us, he let us know the van was just up the road for a break. When we hit the van Ron gave us some cold cokes and mm’s, not just any mm’s though Carmel mm’s maybe the greatest flavor yet. We downed the sodas, loaded up our pockets with candy and sent Ron up the Road to Memmaloose where we would end the day.
The air was now cold and the wind was really picking up, no time to sop because when we did we got chilled to the bone in an instant. We hiked fast wanting to get to a safe camp away from trees for the night. We turned a corner and saw Ron at the end of the landing strip up at Memmaloose (form what I could tell Memmaloose was a pretty big USFS center that can handle planes and probably large fire crews when needed) The three of us scrambled into the warmth of the Van and Ron drove us a few miles up the road to a Hat Creek Rim Fire Tower, while sitting there we noticed a campground down below the fire tower. Sacagawea Campground was a decommissioned campground for car campers, but it did have a big open yet rocky area in the middle of it that was flat and best of all away from any big trees. The strong winds had arrived and were steady at 30mph and gusting up to 50mph just as predicted. With some hiker ingenuity, lots of rocks, and some extra guylines the three of us managed to get both the tents up, stash our sleeping gear, and then we ran the 50 yards back to the van for shelter from the wind.
Now the 4 us hung out in the van, we used Ron’s tea kettle to heat up water for our dinners, and we sat around chatting. The 4 of us swapped stories of the worse storms we had hiked through or been pinned down by for a day in the mountains when hiking. We snacked on some dessert and reluctantly left the warm van for what was sure to be a sleepless night in the wind. As I tried to sleep the wind was about as bad as I have had it, the gust would start with a low grumble as they worked up the canyon and then sounded like a freight train as it came into camp and battered our shelters. The wind kept pushing my tent canopy into my face and between the small bits of sleep, I laid awake in my tent holding on and saying a prayer that my rocked over guylines would hold until morning.
The cabin you reference in the beginning is a forest service cabin for fighting fires etc and is actively still used. Ive been camped in that area and been treated to some crazy storms driving hail high winds and way too much lightning.
Very cool I figured that the complex had to be used by fire teams and the landing strip was for bringing in crews or supplies as needed. That was one of the wildest storms I have been in, I can only remember one other time dealing with that kind of wind, I was pinned on a ridge in the Scapegoat Wilderness along the CDT in 2016, and my hiking partner and I laid in our shelters hoping we wold get hit by all the lightening strikes around us.