Before first light we woke from our slumbers cold and stiff from the previous days slog into the night. The air was crisp and felt like fall, with all of our clothes on we walk out of the campground and then headedcross-countryy to find the “road” we were supposed to travel on. We quickly realized that the road had been lost to nature so we made our way cross country up and down some gently terrain. We came to a small stream and since it was so cold we scouted for a way to cross without getting our feet wet, I was close to achieving this and then a small rock slipped and in my foot went into the icy water, dang another day of walking with a cold wet foot.
We eventually found the road, and old two track that was more like a lost road for wagons than one suitable for even a jeep. We picked our way over the lava rocks covered with grass and even though we could navigate OK the going was slow. We entered into an area where the road split and headed on what seemed to be the correct path, a bit a mile later we realized we were in a n old dry stream bed not a road. With a quick look at the map, we realized we needed to cross the hill between us and the road we needed o once again we pushed our way cross country to be found once again on our maps.
As we walked along in the morning sun we enjoyed the scenery of rolling hills and ponderosa pine trees. We eventually came up on the rim of Blitzen Canyon, a deep canyon that held trees and a cold clear running river. We descend the steep slopes and then followed the river downstream to our crossing point. We stepped into the cold water and its cooling embrace made my foot sing in joy as it relived some of the pain form the past few days. When we reached the far bank we dropped our packs and decided to take a break.
We filtered water, drank tea and snacks on a variety of food. Each of us were lost inner own thoughts as we sat by river enjoying the canyon. Once we had our fill we loaded our packs onto our backs and started the climb out of the canyon to the other side. We popped up on a dirt road and started following it towards Frenchglen, we could see the paved road off in the distance and each of us dreaded having to walk the final miles of the day on pavement. A quick look at our maps showed an old dirt road alternate that would take us by a warm spring, so in true fashion we opted for this route.
The Road quickly needed though and we found ourselves in large flat field of high grass, we took off cross country towards the warm springs. The grasses were waist high and golden, we pushed our way through the grass and at the far end of the field we hit an old road. As we walked along the road we looked for the warm spring, we came across an old corral and dirt abode brick shelter but no springs, as we were getting ready to leave Swept Away saw the spring. Never being one to avoid a soak she quickly eased her way into the warm water for a quick bath before we hit town.
We made short work of the dirt road and at the and we came to the historic Frenchglen Hotel, an old White building with a rich history and famous for its family style meals. We entered the hotel around 2pm and we inquired if they had any cancelations so we could get a room, we were told no, but we were welcome to camp in their grass. We bought a few sodas and cookies they had on the counter, grabbed our boxes and went to the yard to sort our resupply.
Ron was there in the van, we told him they had room for 3 for dinner and we had signed up, that put him the odd man out, he was bummed but understood. We charged our phones and other electronics while we sorted our boxes and enjoyed our only rest day to speak of. We had already done over 18 miles for the day and decided to use the remainder of the day to rest, get Salty’s new phone working, catch up with hime and plan the remainder of our trip.
As dinner time approached the grills decided to save the $25 each for dinner and just eat some of the excess food from their mail drops. Ron jumped at the chance to enjoy a meal a the hotel with me, so shortly before dinner, I went to the spigot with my trusty sponge and bag to clean up. I washed as a best I could so as to no smell too bad at dinner. I put on my wind shirt to lock in the stank and then Ron and I entered the hotel and tragically sat me in the corner by the kitchen with him next to me.
The other guest rolled in they were all on a trip with the Nature Conservancy studying the desert. They weren’t too keen to speak the weird guy at the end of the table who smelled and was eating like a ravenous lion on the plains, but eventually, my smile and charm warmed them up. I shared my tales of the ODT, where I had been the things I had seen and the wildlife we had experienced. By the end of the meal I had won them over and as dessert was served one lady said she was full and gave me hers, double dessert is hard to beat. With a full belly, I retired to the grass and my bed for the night. I played my head down looked at some stars and quickly drifted off to sleep.
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.
We woke up a little late this morning after yesterdays long day I think we all needed a little extra sack time to recover from the back to back 30 mile days. It was Sunday morning and that could only mean on thing, Sunday Funday!!! We each packed up and decided that since Ron was meeting us that night and it was a good 27 miles to the Alford Hot Spring resort for the evenings camp, with no shade, we would slack pack the 27 miles for the day.
Slackpacking the art of carrying a day hike load while on a long distance trail is a true treat in my opinion. Some hikers frown upon it and say it’s cheating, but screw that you are still hiking, the only cheating I view in a long distance trail is riding in a car and skipping miles, I myself prefer to go home, look at a map and know that I had continuous footsteps from start to finish.
We walked the road out of Filed Station, another trail stop where we arrived after they closed and left before they opened…Oh well at some point in my life I will try one of their world famous milkshakes. The trail followed pavement some and then turned down a dirt road. A few miles later and we came to a sign warning us of the Borax Lake and Hot Springs, with the ground that could collapse and Arsenic Levels 25 times the recommended safe limits, guess we won’t try drinking that.
The trail traveled around the Borax Lake on a road before sending us cross-country through some wired stuff….First, we had to cross the Borax Salt Flats, a long expanse of ridges and uneven ground printing each of us from ever placing a flat step. Then we came to an outlet stream and marsh, how the hell there could be a math in the middle of the desert living off Arsenic/Borax water I all never know, but there it was…For a good mile or two, we waded through the marsh, with each step a cloud of stinky muck seeped into our shoes and socks. As the marsh needed we saw the next area to cross the sand dunes.
The Sand dunes were incredible, for miles we walked through the sage bush that was chest high or head high and we weave our way around them and the dunes themselves. This area also had various flakes of obsidian that had been worked by humans making spear and arrow points, along with some crystals and other cool rocks. The sun was pretty hot so we all deployed our umbrellas and relished our own shade.
As we sat eating lunch I looked over my maps and saw a note that I had written when doing my planning with Virgo it read, “at this specific waypoint, leave the official route and go cross country along the Playa until you reach the resort”…so after we loaded up on snacks and water the three of us picked a bearing and headed cross country. Eventually, this led us to a dirt/sand road that we walked until we reached the playa.
The Playa is really a large dry lake bed out in the Alvord Desert, I had been here one time with Suzy two years ago when we took a long road trip in our van when I returned home after hiking the CDT. It was one of those times in a marriage when you each have to decide where the other stands and if you are both still in it for the long haul. Luckily for us those 10 days and thousands of miles exploring eastern OR, Nevada and California saved our marriage…but I digress as usual.
The lake bed is flat and as hard as cement, a truly cool place that reminded me of Tatooine in Star Wars. As the three of us cruised along the Playa at a faster pace than usual, a side by side ATV came racing towards us, it pulled up and the two guys introduced themselves and said, your buddy in his Van is up on that hill looking for you. We told then we went off route to save a climb and they agreed to drive back up and let him know. Before they could get there though we saw Ron in his van bombing down the road to drive out on the playa and meet us.
We stopped and chatted for a few, I rammed a beer, Ron shot some video of us with his drone and we trudged on towards the hot springs. The three of us haven’t showered since McDermitt and with our all of our sore feet and muscles, the hot springs siren song was calling us.
We arrived at the Hot Springs Resort, which is really a campground with a few mobile mash units you can rent as a cabin, an office with a heated bathroom and two big hot spring pools to soak in. I ran in the office to pay for our site and immediately drank two root beers, 3 hot pockets and microwave burrito. The food was so hot and I was so hungry that I quickly burned the roof of my mouth on the hot cheese and sauce, but it was so worth it. With a full belly, I headed to the hot springs for a soak.
The Girls and Ron soon followed my lead to the springs and we all enjoyed the hot water. The caretaker had told me there was a bucket there to use to wash our hair if we wanted. After we found it, emptied out the beer cans and rinse it we each took turns showing each other. Salty had me scrub my head and then dumped water on it to rinse. I had Slaty and Swept Away line up side by side and each washed their hair and I dumped 5 gallons of water over each other heads. It wasn’t a true shower but it sure felt good to get the grit out of our hair for a little while.
With clean hear, pruned skin form a long soak and the darkness enveloping us we headed to our site for some dinner. We all assumed our positions, Swept in the chair, Salty and I on the tarp and as the stars came out we each drifted off to our own land of dreams, for tomorrow is our biggest climb of the trip up the Steens Mountain.
The day started with our continuation of the Denio Canyon alternate, we worked our way up a steep drainage that was pretty brushy for the first mile, after that the brush eased and the canyon steepened a bit. About 2/3 of the way up I saw a skull in the grass for some reason it looked different and when I moved it it turned out to be a huge ram skull. We all paused and admired it, took some photos and the one if the horns came off the skull and the smell sent me dry heaving beyond belief. For the next 2 minutes I gagged, heaved and dealt with abdominal pains as my body had a vile reaction the smell of rotting animal.
After that we climbed and passed some historic junk on the way, aka old mining shacks. The mine was an Opal Mine, Oregon had small gold rush in the late 1800’s but it has always been semi precious rocs and gems that the state has been known for. Our Obsidian was a highly sought after and traded stone by the first nations and has been found all over the western states.
We walked the old mine road for a ways passing by some early homesteads and ranches form the settlers. We had to leave the road and gp cross country to connect to an other road, as we dropped down we found ourselves in a gulley with delicious fresh water. We all took break, drinking the cold clear water, taking a few minutes to rinse out our socks form the dirt and dust and eat a snack before we had to push on. The sky stayed cloudy but the temps felt OK.
We walked one last road and then the trail took us cross country. It was in this area that the ODT and the original Desert Trail overlap. For the Next seven to ten miles we saw that we would follow a series of cairns originally constructed for the desert trail. We climbed along a rocky area, and caught the glimpse of our first Carin form there were followed them up to saddle. At the top of the saddle we got our first glimpse of the Pueblos a wonderful mountain range that ends at the Alford Desert and the dry lake bed.
We followed the cairns for a few miles traversing the mountains and all of us lost in conversation, then I had that feeling of something here doesn’t feel right, I pulled dup the GPS and soon discovered we had missed a descent and were once again “misplaced”. We consulted our top maps and decided to make our way down to where the trail was supposed to meet an old dirt road. The next couple of miles were gnarly, dense brush, 60 degree slopes of loose scree and sage that wanted to cut us open with each step. We dropped into a a small drainage and there we discovered a mountain spring, the water was cold and clear and each of us drank freely from it. There is nothing like the tase of fresh cold mountain water free of chemicals and even more so after the water we have been drinking. With bellies full of water we headed down and found the road.
As we walked nth world to rejoin the cairns the sky darkened to a deep black cloud cover that sat low on the horizon. The wind picked up and started blowing hard, the temp dropped and we could see it raining off in the distance. As we came to ur junction to rejoin the bushwhack we weighed our options, go high and bushwhack with storm coming down on us, or plot a corse on dirt roads that barreled the route and be safe down low? We chose to be safe….one thing I make sure to remember is She-ra’s final words to me before I lift, “make good decisions”.
The road walk was pleasant, we wound our way along the mountains and enjoyed some Aspen groves and really cool rock formations. The road was decent too so we were able to make decent time. Eventually we came over a rise and off in the distance was a really big blue water trough. As we hiked along I was wondering if we could get water at that rough if needed. As we got closer I realized the water trough was actually Ron’s van. He was parked there waiting for us.
We stopped and chatted and Ron showed us the boxes he had picked up at Fields Station for us since we would arrive after they closed. He gave me a cold Coors Light and the girls each had a cold drink, but they opted for sodas and tea….Ron told us we were at least 7 miles away, which we knew but the day was quickly running out. The three of us decided to give our selves a break and slack pack the last 7 miles in to town. The girls each grabbed a water bottle and I took out most of my gear and still carried pack but in it was my first air kit, water and an extra layer in case I needed it.
The three of us waved bye to Ron as he headed to Fields Station to wait for us and the three of us set off feeling light as a feather. The girls started to jog a bit down the dirt road, I don’t run so I just walked at a good clip, I stopped top pee and when I turned around the two of them were getting a little ways away form me. For the next 4 miles the two of them continued jogging each 1/2 mile getting father and farther away. I relished the time alone, and enjoyed the changing daylight and dramatic sky as we made our way to the pavement.
Finally we hit the hard top and the last 3 miles of this 30+ mile day. We walked as fast as we could and as the sky turned from dusk to dark the three of us stumbled into Fields Station, Ron had the van doors open so the three of us crawled in to enjoy his couch. And to ur surprise he had a taco dinner bar set up for us. We ate until we were full and then the three of us rolled out the parking lot in front of his van. That wis where we camped for the night, Swept Away crawled into Ron’s reclining camp chair and Salty and I shared his heavy duty plastic tarp on the ground.
As were getting ready for bed and taking our nightly sponge baths, I started to crack up and said, “If only my parents could see me right now…here I am as filthy as pig pen, sleeping in a parking lot like homeless person, and feeling like the richest person in the world.”
Holy hell who threw the switch on the weather? Yesterday was mostly cloudy and cool but my god this morning was downright frigid. When I woke up it was well below freezing so much I fact that our water bladders and bottles had frozen. Luckily we all slept with our filters and batteries so not all was lost.
We laid un our quilts, each of us our own cocoon of warm air and comfort. We looked like a Katabatic Gear commercial since all 3 of us use their quilts. I made hot water for coffee and waked Salty up with some hot coffee since she is stoveless. Finally, as the sun lighted the sky we started hiking.
The day was pretty easy to start even if it was cold, we mainly followed an old dirt road passed a few springs and aspen groves. We enjoyed the high vantage point and then we dived way down to the next valley so we could get over the mountains in front of us. We had to leave the road and hike cross country along a series of drainages. It was fun walking through the waist-high grass at times. The tumbleweeds had all been trapped in the bends if the creek and were tall dried piles, a pretty cool sight.
We came to the junction of two drainages and Salty led the way up to windy pass the high point for the day. We all made it and stopped for a snack. We followed a series of dirt roads from high up the pass down to the valley below. We weren’t sure if we would need to go to Denio NV today for water or if the new alternate we are heading on to fields would have water.
We heard from Renee who is the ED if the trail and she said we shouldn’t count on any water in the alternate. We are the first to do it this time of year so we decided we should get the sure thing and walk the extra mile down the road to the Denio library where we could use a spigot. We dreamed of a gas station or small store with snacks but were treated instead to empty streets and a library.
We had already gone 27 miles, it was 5 pm and we were whipped. We sat on the nice bench in front, had a snack, chewed some basil from their planter box out front, ditched our trash in the dumpster and filled our bottles.
As we sat there a blue minivan pulled up as we were closing up to leave. He was an old cowboy and asked us ,”what are you all doing? He said had gotten a call that people were hanging out in front of the library and his wife was the Librarian, but out of town.
We explained that we were hiking the ODT and had only come to town for water. He asked where we were going, only to scoff at our plans. “It’s too steep they don’t even run cows up there anymore it’s so overgrown”. After a few more minutes we shouldered our packs and he said, “I’m not trying to run you off…”
We left town feeling a little dejected and started up past the cemetery to our next goal the Denio Creek alternate. As we crested the first large hill the sun set below the horizon, so we dropped our packs on a small terraced area and made camp for the night.
The day started like most up at dark, breakfast, and coffee and then each of us packing to get out at first light. We had all slept great last night in the forest and since we had a lot of roads in our future we were ready to lay down some miles.
We traversed around the mountains and the descended down to the next area. As we kept going we realized we were heading for the mountains we had watched the sunset over the night before. We were excited to get into them because they looked so inviting.
We gained altitude gradually all day, then at about 12:30 we stopped at a very dry chicken spring for some lunch. We had already come 17 miles and we all flopped down, pulled off shoes and commenced eating. We lounged for close to an hour as we were starting to pack up, Swept Away looks up and says, “look it’s Ron”. Sure enough, it was him on his way to Fields. He was as shocked to see us as us him. He stopped and shared some cookies and drinks with us. Bonus he had an extra hiking pole and was able to give Swept Away one to replace the one she broke the day before, I tell you this trail destroys gear.
We parted ways and continued on, the scenery just got better and better with stands of aspen trees dotting the landscape and starting to turn their golden fall color. We passed a hunters camp and said hello, they guys were now hunting for mule deer and we’re napping as we went by.
We then started a steep descent to the creek below. On a grade that made our knees scream in pain, we finally reached the drainage. We walked an old Jeep road through the aspen stand, so cool to be in the woods for even a brief second. We finally crossed the small creek where we gathered water.
There was a large campsite by the creek but the temperature there was so much colder because it was in a sinkhole with a creek that we decided to fill up and keep walking. We had to walk another mile until the hills leveled out and provided a spot big enough for the three of us. As we set up camp darkened fell upon us. We ate and joked before all drifting off to sleep.
A good long 30-mile day, haven’t done one of those in a while and it felt great. We are pushing hard to make Fields by Saturday so we stay on a schedule to end our hike at the end of the month. Everyone says we can push it after the Steens Mountain, which is only a few more days away. So with fresh food in Fields and a 3-day push to Frenchglen I’m sure 30’s are about to the steady standard for the rest of the hike.
We started off the day with one more meal at the Say When casino with Ron who agreed to cache our water 12 miles up the way so we didn’t have to carry it the full 45 miles to our next reliable source.
We started out with about 8 miles on pavement we listed to the Joe Rogan Podcast with Elon Musk and the miles clicked on by. We finally made it to the dirt road and walked along a ranch and power lines until we found our water cache and loaded up. The trail then followed a series of dirt roads along some ranch land, of course a mile down the trail we came to a trough over flowing with water form a pipe, oh well better to play it safe.
We began an ascent by the old Mitchell ranch which was fenced but basically an old adobe style ranch house that nature is winning the battle on. A mile up the hill from it and another trough was there with piped water spilling over, damn we have been carrying 12 L for nothing!
The trail then started us up a drainage into mountains, and our map indicated we were entering the Oregon Mountain Range, and it was a stunner. We turned up a creek bed and bushwhacked our way up the canyon. At a creek crossing we turned and there about 50’ Away was a large bull laying in the dirt. He stood up when he saw us gave us a stare and we gave him a wide bearth and all was well.
We then reached the junction of three drainages and to our left laid a 1600’ climb up a very steep slope covered in sage brush that varied from shin to waist high. We all dig in and started up hill. Salty charged ahead, clearly Simone doesn’t live at sea level, Swept Away and I took our time and stopped a few times to catch our breath. Finally after about 45 minutes we all reached the top of the mountain, 7,600’ in elevation our highest point so far.
The sky was starting to turn orange so as we walked down the primitive toad we discussed camping options. For some reason we turned around and on the hill we had just climbed stood that same bull just hanging out eating some grass.
We eventually came to a stand of mountain mahogany trees and decided to camp among them for a wind break and also the ground was soft and Duffy. We all enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the mountains and were thrilled to see a new type of landscape in our future.
Finally we cooked dinner, made some jokes and each of us drifted off to sleep. It felt great to be back in the trail after being in town, for some reason on this trip my desire to be in town is very low. Maybe it’s because when we are out here on the trail we are totally alone with no other people or noises, going to town even a small one seems loud and chaotic