Friday, July 24, 2015

An Intro to the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Back Country First Aid

I am not usually very responsive at 3:45 A.M., but when the alarm went off that early morning, I was up in a moment. We were heading out on a drive across Oregon to the northeast corner. Finally, after much anticipation, we were going to see the Eagle Caps.

Sometimes referred to as the Oregon Alps, this collection of rugged granite peaks offers over 500 miles of trails, 17 mountain peaks above 9000 feet, and numerous lakes. Hikers could spend weeks exploring this area; we had five days. Our plan was to hike up East Eagle Trail into the popular Lakes Basin. If we were feeling energetic, we would make a 42-mile loop and come down Kettle Creek Trail. If not, we would explore the lakes and return the way we came.

The area we were going to is accessed from Highway 86 between Baker City and Richland. This same website has excellent driving directions if you scroll down the page. There is parking for horse trailers and passenger vehicles as well as dispersed camping near the trailhead. No fees are charged; however, a wilderness permit is required (free at the trailhead) and groups are limited to 6 people in the Lakes Basin.

The hikers with their covered packs
This is big country for those of us accustomed to the coast and Willamette Valley. Hills are higher, the land is rougher, and towns are further apart. On our way to the trailhead, we crossed debris from flash floods, then drove gravel switchbacks past long-abandoned buildings. After hours on the road, we arrived at the trailhead shortly before a random thunderstorm cropped up. Quickly donning our raingear, we began to acquaint ourselves with the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

The climb began immediately, as did the visual rewards. We gradually passed through thick woods into open meadows dotted with wildflowers. The mountains began to show their faces: huge, sheer slabs of rugged granite. Eagle Creek tumbled below. We encountered several downed trees and a few creek crossings, but the trail was never ugly. Faint side paths hinted at hidden campsites, and we set up for the night about six miles in. Our plan was to get an early start and cross Horton Pass into the lakes. It was not to be.

The slow and careful hike out
This is unforgiving country, steep and rocky. Even careful, experienced hikers get hurt here. That glorious first morning in the wilderness, a member of our party slipped and was seriously injured. While our long-awaited hike ended that day, we are grateful to have had this introduction to such a unique and beautiful place. We hope we will be able to return next year to photograph the lakes for a future post.

Wilderness Safety
What's in your backpack? It's easy to jettison survival gear if you have hiked for years and never needed it. It's very tempting when trying to cut those ounces to pare down to a few bandaides, but in an emergency you will need a real survival kit. Here and here are a couple of websites with idea lists. Especially important are a map and compass (they never need batteries like a GPS), water purification (we take a backup system, as well), a good knife, shelter, and first aid supplies. I carry a satellite messenger which I use to send my coordinates to family members. I can also use it to call for help.

First aid supplies are indispensable when you will be miles from any help. We have heard of ultralight hikers who carry nothing but a tube of Superglue. While this may help to temporarily close the edges of a cut, it would not have done us much good in the Eagle Caps. At the other end of the spectrum, some hikers take a kitchen-sink approach, as seen here and here. While these are excellent lists, we aim for somewhere in between. Bandaides and antibiotic ointment are usually needed at some point (in fact, the latter can be used as a firestarter: rub some into a cotton ball and fluff it out, then light). Wind some duct tape around your water bottle. It can be used to secure dressings and splints, cover skin where it might get chafed, and repair torn shoes and broken tent poles. A prepackaged sterile dressing weighs almost nothing, as do foil-wrapped alcohol swabs. I always take an Ace bandage and some stretch wrap (the kind used by vets). They can be used to hold dressings over wounds, to support a sprain, or to secure a splint. We are convinced that everyone should have some basic first aid training; then it's just a matter of transferring that knowledge to a different setting. Here is a simple and practical site on back country first aid.

As much as we enjoy wilderness solitude, the Eagle Caps are not a place to explore alone. Ideally, a group should consist of at least three members; in a medical emergency, one member can stay with the victim while the other goes for help. We encountered more than one solo hiker on this trail, but as we saw, this terrain is steep and remote. As always, your most important piece of equipment is your own common sense.

The Eagle Caps are a wildflower paradise. Following are a few of the many specimens we encountered.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Mt. Hebo Family Gathering: Ravens, Radar, and Rough-skinned Newts

The ravens woke me at daybreak, greeting the new day and squabbling over their breakfast. I snuggled deep inside my sleeping bag, listening to the songbirds awake and begin their summer-morning melodies. Once again, three generations of our family were meeting on Mt. Hebo.

It's easy to pass through the tiny town of Hebo, Oregon, without noticing. Most people remember it as the sharp bend in Highway 101 between Lincoln City and Tillamook. Even fewer travelers notice the small road at the edge of town that leads up the side of Mt. Hebo. Now a peaceful retreat featuring trails, meadows, and a family-friendly lake, this Coast Range mountain boasted its own radar station during the Cold War years. The installation included two domes and a series of tubes which enabled servicemen to move between the buildings when snow covered the mountain. The buildings have been removed, but exploration on Hebo's two summits still reveals scattered traces of history. Trails follow the route of the old Pioneer-Indian Trail; in fact, in places you can observe the bed of the old road that once led from Tillamook to the Willamette Valley.

This is newt a test

Starting in Hebo, drive up the narrow, paved road for about four and a half miles to Hebo Lake. This small campground features accessible fishing docks and parking for the Pioneer-Indian Trail. The day -use facilities also include a popular rustic picnic shelter with a stone fireplace; this is the place to be when Hebo is shrouded in wet coastal fog. The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, but rough-skinned newts are far more abundant. These charming, placid creatures love worms, so use artificial bait to avoid catching them on your hook. They can be fun to observe, but if you handle them be sure to wash your hands afterward as their skin harbors a poison. This should not have to be said, but due to stories I have heard, I must say it: do not eat rough-skinned newts. Just don't. You have been warned.

Continuing up the mountain, you will find a parking area for horse trailers on your right, as well as scattered spur roads and pull-outs that are popular for dispersed camping. Around eight miles up, you will find the first summit. Turn left into the parking area below a group of antenna towers. Walk a little further up the road to an interpretive sign depicting the old radar base. Anyone able to walk on a dirt track can wander out to the edge of the summit, which offers wonderful views on a clear day. Look for Haystack Rock near Pacific City as well as coastal valley farms.

A particularly interesting piece of the radar tower
Return to the road, which now becomes gravel, to drive to the second summit. Here you will find a wide meadow, home to the rare Oregon Silverspot Butterfly, and the remains of an abandoned campground. Wander the meadow for expansive views of the Coast Range and occasional traces of the buildings that were once here. Most travelers will want to return the way they came, as the road is not well-maintained beyond this point. For those who choose to proceed, there are two more lakes, tiny North Lake and small, shallow South Lake. There is some dispersed camping possible at the latter, which is sometimes stocked, but it is not as accessible as Hebo Lake.

As for the Gosen-Case family gathering, boats were floated, marshmallows were roasted, and trails were explored, but no fish were harmed in the making of this blog post, despite our most earnest efforts.
The photographer makes an attempt at angling. Pro tip: if the fish aren't biting, try putting a little herring oil (available at most supply stores) on your bait. This will not catch you any more fish, but you will look like you know what you're doing.

If You Go
To find the road up Mt. Hebo, drive to Hebo on Highway 101 and turn onto Highway 22, which branches off of the "elbow" of 101. As you reach the edge of town, look for Mt. Hebo Road on  your left. If you see the Hebo Ranger District building, you just passed it. Once you are on the road, Hebo Lake Campground will be on your right about four and a half miles up.

The old road bed on the Pioneer Indian Trail
Unless you are camping, expect to pay a day-use fee at the campground. In addition to the accessible docks, there are vault toilets and picnic tables, but no potable water. There is a small boat ramp for non-motorized craft.

View from summit
The campground offers twelve sites, some of which are suitable for trailers. There is also dispersed camping all over the mountain, except for in the second meadow which is set aside for the Silverspot Butterflies.

There are several places to access the Pioneer-Indian Trail; click here for an excellent map. Many hikers park at Hebo Lake, but horse trailers must park a little further up the road. Some people even backpack this trail, which varies from steep forest paths and level roadbeds to faint meadow tracks.

So next time you're on the northern coast, bring a fishing pole and maybe a canoe. Bring a camera. Find a little of Oregon's history. Discover Mt. Hebo.

This is a picture of what the tower looked like in its day...
... and this is the hill that it once stood on.
You can still see where the edge of the tower stood.
One can still find strange objects scattered about. This is a thermos...
... and this is a manhole in the middle of a field...
... and this is a sofa.