The Wallowas


Glacier Lake from Glacier Pass

Normally John and I spend the end of August and beginning of September hiking in Europe, but because I spent part of June in Italy and we are planning to spend Christmas in Europe, we stayed home and decided to explore our own "Oregon Alps". The Wallowa Mountains are in northeastern Oregon, about a 6 hour drive from Portland and even though I have lived in Oregon for 17 years, I had never been.


We decided to combine 2 of the hikes from William Sullivan's 100 Hikes in Eastern Oregon book, Ice Lake and Horseshoe and Glacier Lake; a very similar route is also described in Douglas Lorain's One Night Wilderness: PortlandAfter researching the route a little more, it is the classic route to do in the Eagle Cap Wilderness section of the Wallowas and can get crowded, and considering we were going on Labor Day weekend it would probably be even more crowded. Knowing that information we decided to leave after work on Thursday and camp outside of Pendleton at Emigrant Springs State Park, which would give us a 2 hour drive Friday morning to the trailhead. 




Camping essential
 
We arrived at the campgrounds around 8:30pm on Thursday, we made a quick dinner and hung out in the van on our new swivel seats drinking beer. We got up early on Friday morning and headed to the trailhead at Wallowa Lake outside of Joseph, Oregon. There weren't a ton of cars at the trailhead, so I was optimistic that might not be crowded at Ice Lake. 
View from our campsite

Ice Lake is ~8.5 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead. The first 3 miles are relatively flat, until you come to the junction with the Ice Lake trail, where you take a right to start your climb. As we started our relentless ascent to Ice Lake we encountered a guy on horseback coming down, who said, "you have a long climb ahead of you." Gee thanks! On our way up the 100ish switchbacks we got to see several amazing waterfalls, one which is called Beauty Falls. After almost 2 hours of climbing in 90+ degree weather John was starting to lag behind me, but I was determined to make it to the lake and find a campsite and knew he would eventually catch-up. 


Hiking up to Ice Lake

Ice Lake did not disappoint, it's a spectacular alpine lake at ~7800 feet surrounded by several peaks, one which is called the Matterhorn. Since we got to the lake at 2pm, I was hoping we would be able to summit the Matterhorn, but the heat had taken everything out of John. So, we found a campsite and soaked in the scenery around the lake. 
Our new trail friends at Ice Lake

It was warm enough and the lake was inviting enough that I decided to "clean off" in the lake. It was almost too cold to go all the way in, but I just went for it and jumped in. I didn't stay in very long, luckily there was a perfect log next to the lake to sit on and dry off in the sun. John eventually joined me by the lake, we met several other hikers/backpackers. We met 2 women who had hitchhiked from Cascade Locks to Joseph and had spent the summer backpacking in Washington and Oregon. There was the guy from Bend who had a dog that looked exactly like Oscar. Then there was a guy from Portland who was close to my dad's age who had been hiking in the Wallows for 5 days and got caught in a lightning storm. We talked to him for a while; he asked where we planned on camping the next night and we told him Frazier Lake. He told us to skip Frazier Lake and to camp at Glacier Lake. Glacier was only another ~2 miles from Frazier, but the hike to Frazier from Ice Lake was already over 12 miles, which would make the hike to Glacier almost 15. I was up for it, but I wasn't sure John would be considering it was going to be warmer on Saturday. We discussed it over dinner and he said we will just see how the day plays out.



This could be Oscar's sister
sunset

The next morning, we were on the trail by 7am, I was amazed by how many people were heading up the Ice Lake trail as we were heading down. Several people asked us if the lake was crowded, I told them it wasn't on Friday night. It became obvious quickly that it was going to be really crowded on Saturday night, I was hoping that wasn't going to be the case for Frazier or Glacier Lake.

Ice Lake at sunrise



We continued down the Ice Lake trail to the trail junction and headed south on the Chief Joseph Trail towards Six Mile Meadow. Six Mile Meadow was unimpressive, it is supposed to be a popular area for backpacking, but I don't know why you would camp there when there are so many amazing lakes around. From there we continued another 4 miles to Frazier Lake, and the forest eventually opened to an alpine wonderland. We were surrounded by more Alps-like peaks and waterfalls plunging down the canyon cliffs. As we made our way to Frazier Lake it felt like we were stopping to take pictures every few minutes (editor's note: see, I'm not the only one who does this! --Susan).

John heading out of Ice Lake


We make it to the grass lined Frazier Lake, which was beautiful but not nearly as impressive as Ice Lake. There were several great campsites available, we stopped at the lake to have lunch and debate whether we wanted to continue to Glacier Lake. It was only a little after noon, but it was already really hot which was taking a toll on John. We decided to push on the additional 2 miles uphill to Glacier Lake. 

Fraizer Lake

So much Alpine!
  I let John hike at his own pace, which meant I made it to Glacier Lake 30 minutes before he did. I was blown away when I saw the lake. Glacier Lake sits at ~8100 feet, 300 feet higher than Ice Lake, so it still had a considerable amount of snow around the west side of the lake. I decided to scout out a location to camp while I waited for John. There weren't that many people camping yet, but there weren't nearly as many obvious places to camp as Ice Lake, so I gave up and waited for John to show up to help me. 

looking for a campsite
The view from our perfect campsite

We found a spot close to the lake that would work as campsite, though it wasn't shaded but it would do. We cleared out a spot for the tent and set-up camp. After setting up camp John took off to find the "restroom". I decided I was going to clean off in the lake, just as I was about to head down to the lake I saw people packing up their stuff at what I thought was the best camping spot at the lake. After they took off I looked around to see if anyone else was eyeing the campsite and there was no one. I was a in shock, but quickly grabbed one of our backpacks and ran over in my flip flops to mark our spot. Five trips later, one of which included carrying our put together tent, I had everything in the perfect camping spot. John returned just in time to see me lounging in our new spot. We both headed down to the lake to wash off and to chill our beer. 



How to dry laundry while backpacking
Sunset
 The water in Glacier Lake was a lot colder than Ice Lake, I could only manage to go waist deep, but it was still nice to get in the lake on such a hot day. We enjoyed the rest of the day just lounging at our campsite. We decided we were going to hike out the next day, rather than spend another day backpacking. The reason being is that Horseshoe Lake is only ~6 miles from Glacier Lake and the next place after Horseshoe to camp is Six Mile Meadows and we both agreed we would rather camp in the van than Six Mile Meadows. Though it did mean we would have another 15 mile day. 


Looking down at our campsite

sunrise

hiking up to Glacier Pass

We headed out again at 7am and were met with a stunning sunrise as we crested the partly snowy Glacier Pass (8530'). After Glacier Pass it was mostly downhill to the car. As we made our way through the Lake Basin we passed 3 more stunning lakes, Moccasin, Douglas and Horseshoe Lake. Eagle Cap Mountain reflected perfectly into Moccasin Lake as we passed by. We didn't get as good of views of the other 2 lakes-- the trail just skirts the lakes and it was still early when we passed by, so we didn't want to disturb the many people who were still camping by getting closer to take a quick picture. 

Moccasin Lake




By the time we made it back to van at 2pm, we were disgusting, so we both cleaned off as much as we could in the public restrooms and headed off to Terminal Gravity, followed by Barley Brown's. We camped at the Twin Lakes trailhead, but that is another blog post.


Van shot at Barley Brown's
I can't believe it took me so long to make it to the Wallowas-- they are gorgeous. It might be my new favorite area in the Pacific Northwest or a close runner up behind Mt. Rainier. We will be back next year and hopefully with Susan (editor's note: YES PLEASE).

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