Day 17 Steens Mountain
I woke up earlier than usual around 4:15 and decided since I was up and no one else was to go get in one more soak in the hot springs before we had to start our day. I walked down the path in the dark, slipped off my clothes and got in the same pool we had been in the day before, Buch to my dismay though it had cooled off a lot from the previous day, so I jumped out into the cold air and got in the pool next to it which was hotter. I soaked until about 4:45 and then quickly got out and dressed in the frigid morning air. I walked back into camp and Swept Away was awake and decided to go for a quick soak herself before we left. I fired up the stove and made coffee and oatmeal to start the day.
Salty awoke and we shared our morning coffee and packed up once Swept Away got back. By the time we were ready to hit the trail the sun was already creeping up, it was later than I had wanted to start, but sometime when hiking with others you can’t always have your way when I comes to start times, so I sucked it up and we headed up the trail.
The first few miles were up a pretty steep road, even though it was cold the climb had us all sweating quickly and pulling off layers. We knew the day would spent climbing as Steens Mountain is over 9,000’ in elevation and our club was over 5,000’. The road ended as we got higher and then the real fun began today. The trail goes cross country, we had a note on my map where my good friend Dirt Monger had told me, “Wild Horse Canyon is a Bitch, and try to stay high”. Soon enough I would know what he meant. The map said, “this next area has crumbly rock let us know if you find a good way across”…..OK?
We picked our way up above the crumbly rock but soon we were bushwhacking through some gnarly brush, that sat above a very steep drop off. We pushed our way through the brush around the exposed crumbly rick area and soon saw our challenge, a brush choked canyon that seemed to go on forever. The girls were leading the way wearing their tall gaiters, if you remember I gave mine to Salty earlier in theatric because she was getting hives from the sun and the brush combination. They were able to plow through, but ever step I took my shins got smacked, scratched and cut until I was bleeding and falling further and further behind.
The brush was one thing, but the climb itself was no walk in the park either with a steady gain up, up, up….I finally caught the girls as they were waiting for me, Swept Away had some running compression leggings and after seeing my legs and knowing how much pain I was in she told me to put them on, which I did and man that changed the game big time. With the legging on I felt invincible, I was able to push through the sage with no problem, willows, and other pokey grasses were no match for me anymore. As we approached the Willow and Aspen groves I pushed through with all my force.
There is no way I can truly capture how hard this bushwhack was, we had to navigate steep terrain with brush up to our armpits or above our heads. We knew we had to climb to Wild Horse Lake, and as lunch time approached we saw a dry water fall and a bench ahead. We all pushed hard because we figured, let’s eat at the lake. I was ahead of Slaty and Swept Away as we scrambled up the steep rocks to the bench, I crested the ridge only to find it was a false summit of sorts and instead of a lie as big dry flat area filled with brown grass. I said a few cowboy words that would have made a whole on 82nd street blush, Salty came up behind me and said a few words herself. Swept was last and even though she rarely ever cusses she too let few a few phrases any sailor would be proud of. With our Steens Mountain beat down, we decided the best thing to do was eat, so we sat down and had lunch.
After lunch we continued on the bushwhack, each mile was hard earned and we could see the bench ahead. After a couple more hours I crested the final bench and came upon the most beautiful tarn tucked up in a cirque on Steens Mountain and for the first time of the trip saw other hikers…the girls caught up and the three of us marveled at the wonderful tarn, and were shocked to see people. As we began our final climb to the top, we started having numerous day hikers come down towards us. They all looked at us a little sideways, wondering where we had come form. We stopped and talked to a few and one group of older men told us they had gone down Wild Horse Canyon, but couldn’t imagine going up it.
The trail up was nice it even had switchbacks, but seeing other hikers was strange. It was as if our own private hiking trail had been invaded by outsiders, our bubble of solitude shattered if even for a few brief encounters. Finally we reached the top and the parking lot, waiting there with a smile on his face was Ron, he had been waiting for hours and was Hppy to see we made it there in one piece.
We chatted with Ron on our options, each of us was shot on bushwhacking as we had just had our asses handed to us by mother nature. We weighed our options it was 4pm and we needed to go 12 miles to reach our camp for the night to line up Frenchglen for a nero day. We looked at the map and ran some mileage on a road option, we decided to take the loop road which looked to be 10 miles.
We threw some excess gear in the van, but kept our clothes, water and safety gearing case anything popped up. We started down the road, the three of us walking together and chatting, plotting out the remainder of our trip. As the miles clicked off so did our day light, and after hours of going as fast as we could we quickly realized our 10 mile road option ws more like 12-13miles….As the sun set we put on our headlamps and played a game, who could go the longest without using theirs. We were doing well until we got down to the campground, there we flicked them on to find the spigot and find Ron.
As we were filling up our bottles at the pump house getting enough water for the evening and next days 19 mille push to Frenchglen, we say headlights….ROn Pulled up and said, “I was just heading out to find you 3, as it’s 8:15pm, dark and I have your sleeping bags”. We followed him to the camp spot where he had all of our sleeping gear laid out for us to crash quickly. He fed us his left over Pad Thai while we cooked and he said we had grit and determination to be pushing as hard as we had.
With full bellies of warm food, yes all of us had a hot meal because we heated up extra water for Salty, we all turned in for the night. With utter exhaustion we each quickly fell asleep.
PS-Later after talking with many other ODT Hikers we all agree that this was the hardest bushwhack of them all and a few of the strongest hikers I know even admitted to me that they cried in Wild Horse canyon because it was just that hard, and frustrating. As I reflect back on the trip though it was also one of my favorite day sin hindsight and a great sense of accomplishment.