Backpacking the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Eastern Oregon
I love how simple and amazing hiking is! For some people, retail therapy does the trick, for me, it’s wilderness therapy. Carrying myself up and over mountains, down and around river valleys, waking up outside and eating with my favorite spork always perks me up!
I’ll admit I’m kind of high-strung and anxious. I worry about everything constantly, but when I’m on the trail, for some reason my brain relaxes. I feel more beautiful and strong and confident with every dusty and impossible step. So, a dose of wilderness was just what I needed as we approach the colder seasons and the brooding over winter starts. Yeah I struggle with things, like, life. Seriously, I admire generally cheerful, the glass is always half-full kind of people. I feel so stuck in the mundane routine of my 9-5 office job, I get bored and easily frustrated with anything that is part of the daily grind. Maybe we all do this? Or, are you guys out living your dream?
Lucky for me I got to escape to the hills for four days in early October with a very fine fellow, my favorite one in fact :)
Our hike: From East Eagle trailhead, at 4,500 feet, follow Trail 1910 roughly 10 miles up East Eagle Creek to Horton Pass. From the pass, do a 3 mile side hike up 9,572-foot Eagle Cap. Then descend about 1.5 miles farther to Mirror Lake in the Lakes Basin, elevation 7,595. From there, follow Trail 1806 five miles over Glacier Pass then follow the WF Wallowa River down to the junction with Trail 1820 at Frazier Lake.
Turn south on Trail 1820 and continue 2.4 miles over Hawkins Pass then descend South Fork Imnaha River Trail 1816 five miles and turn right (south) onto Cliff Creek Trail 1885. Continue from the mouth of Cliff creek all the way upstream about five miles and turn west onto Little Kettle Creek Trail 1945 and continue downstream about 6.1 miles to the East Eagle Trailhead.
Roughly 36 miles and 8,800 feet elevation gain.
We did it in four days and they were all pretty long for us. We recommend doing it in five days if you want to spend much time fishing or spending a day at one of the lakes.
7 miles, up East Eagle Creek
Our hike started at the end of East Eagle Rd, not far past the “Paint your Wagon” movie site (the 1969 Western starring Clint Eastwood), that’s cool, right? and headed up the valley. It’s a gradual and steady climb and I was hiking was slow. I felt like I could barely lift my feet even though my pack was as light as I could possibly imagine getting it. I’m not exactly a minimalist, although I aspire to being one. Ugh, when am I gonna learn how to lighten the load?
We stopped a few times where the trail got close to the creek to refill our water bottles, dropping a couple of iodine tablets in them. Isn’t that one of the most satisfying things in the world, drinking straight from a stream?
We made our first camp near the junction of a side trail up to Hidden Lake. I really wanted to camp at Hidden Lake but my boyfriend vetoed that idea after our late start and knowing I wanted to summit Eagle Cap the next day. That was the best decision of our entire trip! Omg we would’ve died the next day with those extra miles to hike! ;)
7.8 miles, over Horton Pass, summit Eagle Cap, descend into Lakes Basin
Even though the climb up Horton Pass was hot and slow and I had to stop midway up and change my shoes because I thought I was getting a blister on my heel, I was absolutely stoked to be doing exactly what I was doing. It was midmorning and I was in love with the trail. The pace of it, the beauty of it, the determination in both of us to keep going.. .
We ate a quick lunch on the top of the pass, tied sweatshirts around our waists, grabbed a water bottle and the camera and left for the summit. The hike wasn’t too bad, especially without our big packs, and the 360 views from the top were well worth the few extra miles. We could see all the major drainages (Lostine, Wallowa, Imnaha and Eagle) that radiate in every direction from Eagle Cap. We also had a fun a little photo shoot of my new raven tattoo on my back, pretty bad ass!
Our descent into Lakes Basin was a little exhausting towards the end, but we made it to Mirror Lake before 5 pm so we had time to fish and hang out on the water before it got dark. Our second night was beautiful, set up on a granite shelf under the stars with the moon reflecting in Mirror Lake right below us.
11.5 miles, over Glacier Pass, down WF Wallowa River, over Hawkins Pass, down SF Imnaha River
Our third day was intense. We had TWO passes to make it over and half of two river valleys to walk down. But we were on a mission! We kept a steady pace all day and got it done. Gratefully Little Frazier Lake is nestled part way up Hawkins Pass and provided a good resting spot. We took a nap in the sun and then jumped in the lake. The water was freezing but I was glad I did it anyway. The view at the top of Hawkins Pass looking into to Imnaha River was one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever seen. Later in the day when we saw a herd of elk cross the hillside, I was glad it was in the Imnaha, I really loved it there.
10 miles, up Cliff Creek, down Kettle Creek
The first half of our last day was spent hiking up Cliff Creek through a forested valley. We made it to Crater Lake for lunch and took a long break on the shore. The final stretch home was all downhill, but the switchbacks on those last 5 miles descending Kettle creek were crazy! I swear they went from one side of the mountain to other, virtually flat, with a small downhill at the turn of each switch back. Whoever built this trail either got paid by the mile or they had mules carrying all their water and supplies. It was ridiculous, and without water.
We reached the parking lot about 5 pm, cracked open a couple of beers and sat crumpled in the gravel savoring each drop.
Four days well spent and each beer well-earned!
Directions: From OR 86, roughly halfway between Baker City and Richland, turn north onto Sparta Road 852. Continue four miles, turn left onto FR 70. Drive six miles and turn right onto FR 7015. Continue another four miles and turn left onto FR 77. Follow FR 77 about five miles and turn right onto East Eagle Road 7745. Continue about six miles to the hiker trailhead at the end of the road (go past the horse party trailhead about a half-mile before the road ends, otherwise you’ll end up hiking that last half mile to your car at the end of a long weekend, like we did). It takes about 2 hours to get to the trailhead from Baker City, OR.
My favorite spork:
If they have any in stock, it’s your lucky day! Forget about being fed with a silver spoon, feed yourself with a Battlespork!